I had a conversation with a friend on Twitter who is also moving this month. I said how funny it was to be moving; that I'd really only lived in my parents' house, then a series of very temporary college-era situations, and then the apartment Hanna and I have shared for the past seven years.
This next home will be something new: a space selected together, as wives, with our adult lives in mind. It's a space we've purposefully chosen to (landlord and life willing) serve us well for the next five to ten years, in a neighborhood we picked for more than its (relative) affordability. For the past seven years we've lived on the periphery of a village, Brookline, we never actually belonged to -- although our marriage certificate is filed in their city hall! Starting next week, we'll be living in Jamaica Plain, and thinking about how to put down actual roots there.
In that context, I started to think back on the places I've lived in my life thus far. Here they are.
The Childhood Home (1981-2007, with gaps).
My parents bought a home the same year they were married (1976), a late-nineteenth century farmhouse that had once stood on the outskirts of a then-tiny Midwestern town. It housed the first postmaster of Holland (Mich.) and also these two lovely women -- a schoolteacher and an artist -- whose suggestive double portrait I keep over my desk at work. A two-story, three-bedroom house with a tiny bedroom in what used to be the pantry off the kitchen (when built, house had no indoor plumbing) this was the architecture of my childhood. I was brought home from the hospital to a living room that housed a table saw, watched scary movies through the crack in the lincrusta peeling from the stairwell, and warmed my toes on the forced-air vents in the floorboards. Situated in Holland's historic district, it was a block and a half from the public library and a foundational location for many aspects of who I am today.
The College Apartment (2000-2001).
Although I was a townie in college, officially circumventing the on-campus housing policy for underclassmen by living with my parents, the third year I was enrolled at Hope I decided to share an apartment with a good friend of mine (also "living with parents"). We were two houses down from the railroad tracks and at night the freight trains felt like they were coming right through the walls. We took turns cooking, mostly recipes from the Moosewood cookbook, and had a dish-washing schedule that sometimes we followed and sometimes we didn't. On Wednesday nights I bicycled back to my parents house a mile away so my family and I could watch The West Wing together. We each paid $250/month of the five hundred dollar rent (I know!!) and didn't realize at the time that we would never pay so little for housing ever again.
The Mountaintop Cabin (Fall 2001).
After my first year of independent apartment living, I spent a semester in the Cascade mountains in Southern Oregon, living with four other students in a tiny five-room cabin in a re-purposed logging town turned off-campus community. There were two doubles and a single in the cabin, and I arrived early on move-in weekend to claim a single -- a onetime mudroom off the kitchen that basically had room for my twin mattress and the dresser. We heated the place by keeping the woodstove in the living room stoked into the late evening, and banking it at night as we trailed off to bed. Once more we took turns cooking communal meals five nights out of the week, gathering each night except Friday and Saturday to discuss the day's lecture and reading, our independent research projects, and the social tensions of our hothouse environment. Even when two of the five residents basically moved out to live with partners elsewhere, we continued to gather all five of us at dinnertime to touch base.
The Parsonage Next Door (2002-2003).
I spent about six months at my parents' after Oregon, which worked out well enough but made clear I needed a little more independent space at this point in my life. It so happened that our next-door neighbors (and good friends) were in want of a live-in nanny during a year when one parent was going to be out of state completing an advanced degree. So I moved into a suite in the corner of the house with a bedroom and bathroom to myself, periods of childcare responsibility, and otherwise a great deal of autonomy. The cats (Butterscotch and Pikachu) used to hide in the walls in the bathroom, reappearing from beneath the bathroom sink at unexpected moments. Apropos of not much else, this was the year I discovered Fingersmith and wondered, once again, if I might be a dyke.
|Seagulls at sunset at Hillhead Halls (2003-2004)|
Oregon hadn't quenched my wanderlust and I used the remainder of my (grandparentally-invested) college fund to spend a year reading cultural history at the University of Aberdeen on the northeast coast of Scotland. I lived in University housing on the edge of a sweep of city park and a stone's throw from the North Sea in Old Aberdeen. 69A Burnett Hall was my address, sharing a kitchen and washroom facilities with four Scots first-years and, come January, another American. This was an era where, although I had a laptop for writing, we still have to go to the central computer labs for Internet access. For the first (and last) time since I was nine years old, I had no paid employment; between lectures and seminar discussions and research for my history essays I walked the length and breadth of the city, old and new, wrote letters, obtained a public library card, and had more leisure reading time than I have ever had since.
|Kitchen at "The Farmhouse" (2004-2005)|
Returning stateside in July, I was unexpectedly handed a nine-month house-sitting gig when family friends going on sabbatical rang up to ask if I would be interested in staying in their home, rent free, for the academic year. It was my final year of college, where I was completing the last requirements to graduate after a prolonged seven-year stay. I spent the autumn, winter, and spring commuting twelve miles to campus from a rural holding situated next to a county park and across from a llama farm. The three family cats, half feral, came and went largely at will -- though in the depths of winter they particularly enjoyed sleeping under the woodstove. Every Friday night I had my college roommate ("The College Apartment") over for dinner and to stay the night before she left early for a Saturday morning shift at a yarn shop in the nearby village. This was the living room where I wrote my senior thesis on masculinity and pacifism during the Civil War, and where I celebrated the end of an academic era.
The Grandparents' Spare Room (May 2005).
When our friends returned to reclaim their house, I embarked upon a peripatetic late spring and early summer. I spent a month in the spare bedroom at my grandparents' house while finishing a final core requirement for my B.A. -- a three week science course for non-majors during which the professor taught us how to repair cars, construct a battery, and tried to convince me to major in Engineering. Each morning my grandmother, who passed away this March, would leave a place for me at the breakfast table waiting for when I came down in the mornings. We all three of us -- my grandmother, grandfather, and I -- were leading relatively independent lives, but cohabited fairly gracefully together.
The Lesbian Land Trust (June 2005).
When my May Term ended, I blew out of Dodge for ... Missouri, to deliver the fruits of a collective research project on 1970s feminism to the research participants who planned to publish a book on their own history: a group of lesbians who had settled on a land trust outside of Springfield. I spent the month of June living with one of the founding couples, one of whom I was nominally assisting with an editing project in exchange for room and board. While I was technically there to work for her, I suspect I got more out of being there as a refuge post-college than she got out of me as an editorial assistant. While at the time I was still deeply uncertain about my inclinations and longings, in retrospect the brief retreat among a community of lesbians (and bisexual women partnered with lesbians) was a key experience added to my repertoire of "how to live.
|Hawkhill Women's Land Trust (2005)|
My first post-undergrad job was a paid internship with the study abroad program I had enrolled in to attend the University of Aberdeen. During the fall semester of 2005 I lived in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and worked for the program director out of an office on the campus of Wabash College, one of the few all-male undergraduate institutions left in the country. For the first two months of my internship they put me up at a local hotel, where I had access to a full slate of cable television channels and watched a lot of "Charmed" and the various CSI spinoffs. For the second half of the fall, I was relocated to an recently-purchased off-campus house furnished college dorm-style. Since I was in the midst of radiation treatment for my thyroid condition, what I mostly remember from that fall was how my raging metabolism made it possible to eat whole gallons of ice cream at a single sitting and still be losing weight precipitously. Don't try this at home, children.
The Family Friends' Spare Room (Summer 2007).
The summer before leaving Michigan for Boston, I moved from where I'd been living in my parents house (still, at that point, simply "home") since college two blocks west to stay good family friends while my brother moved temporarily into the space I'd just vacated. The musical chairs of a family with three children in their college and post-college twenties. Life in a town your whole life and this sort of thing happens: the friends' home, recently purchased, was actually a house where ten years previously I'd spent a lot of time babysitting two little boys with a mania for trains. The guest bedroom I stayed in was the former site of their Thomas the Tank Engine train table. This time around, I spent less time playing trains and more time reading through all of Laurell K. Hamilton's back catalog.
|North Hall (Fall 2007)*|
Moving to Boston, I made the decision to life for a least a year in their graduate student dorms. At the time, Boston felt like a temporary way-station for graduate school, I didn't know the city, and I didn't know anyone to room with. I'd also never actually gone apartment hunting. So I moved into an American dorm for the first time in my life. While utilitarian in the way I'd intended, I hated campus life with a passion; returning to school was indignity enough without mandatory hall meetings and the ventilation system that distributed skunky pot fumes throughout the building in the depths of every night. Luckily, by December Hanna and I had pretty much decided I would take over her roommate's half of the lease when her roommate graduated in May, so I was able to count down the months to leaving the enclosed monoculture of student housing for good.
(*I spent a lot of early mornings and late evening Gchat-stalking Hanna from that desk)
|Just moved into Allston, May 2008|
Hanna and I spent a year being roommates before finally working out what we should have known by that December discussion about housing: that actually we wanted in each others' pants. Over the past seven years, we've transformed temporary student digs, with "hers" and "hers" living spaces, into a workable one-bedroom apartment for a married couple and two cats. It's been a long, piecemeal process with numerous trips to IKEA. But each year for six years as we considered whether to renew our lease the answer has been "yes." Almost literally step by step -- as we abandoned the T for our morning commute and turned to walking daily through Brookline, coffees in hand -- we took the space and the adjacent neighborhood and made it our own. Even as we were making Boston our own.
|The same room six years later...|
A week from tomorrow, the movers will be arriving to help us move into a second-floor condo unit in the Hyde Square area of Jamaica Plain, a space that will functionally double our living quarters, provide us with a porch, and eat-in kitchen, a yoga and meditation space for Hanna, and bike storage for me. We'll be a ten-minute walk from the Emerald Necklace and a ten-minute bike ride from central JP. Our morning commute will be a brisk climb up over Parker Hill, or a meandering stroll through Olmsted Park to Brookline Village (for coffee), and on down the course of the Muddy River to Countway and, a mile beyond, the MHS.
Reports from along the way will be found here, at the feminist librarian!