What does it even mean to have a home?: Revisiting This 2+ Years Later
It’s been over two years since my piece about trying to make home for yourself when the concept of a stable living situation is alien to you. When that was written, I was at my parents’ house in Johor Bahru, back after 10 years abroad, so desperate to get out again that I turned it into an online project. My basic needs were covered, but I was trapped: by lack of opportunity, by restrictions on dress and attitude, by perceptions of myself that never gew past childhood.
As I write this, I am about a week away from two years in Melbourne. I’m living in a one-bedroom apartment by myself in Thornbury, the first apartment made available to me. It was a slow and rough start, but I’ve had a whirlwind of friendships made, revisited, and ended, major shifts to my artistic practice, more space to reconnect with who I am away from parental expectation.
In both this apartment and in Melbourne, for the first time in possibly my entire life, I have no deadline to leave and no obligation to stay.
My current living situation isn’t ideal, though it is doable, and definitely better than Malaysia by a long shot. While I live not that far from the city, near the queer artist enclaves and hipster neighbourhoods favoured by my peers, it’s only really been recently that I’ve had regular visitors. (My most frequent visitor thus far is my friend Bradley who’s also collaborating with me on a performance project; he prefers working at my place over his for various personal reasons related to safety and comfort.) This plus living alone in general does lead to a lot of loneliness, especially when I am stressed or depressed or ill — that being said, there have been times where friends have shown up to help in moments of need, which I deeply appreciate.
I am not allowed to hang anything up on the wall unless it’s from the picture rail or I get pre-approval to drill holes for frames — not even Blu-Tack. This is extremely annoying as I do like having art on the wall and also find wall-based planning tools, like whiteboards or calendars or even just sticking up a list on the wall, much more effective. If I had it my way, I would completely cover every inch of wall in art, postcards, notes, memories — just like those teenage bedrooms wallpapered with posters of their favourite bands. (Ironically, as a teenager I wasn’t fond of posters on the wall as I was creeped out by the idea of the person in the poster “watching” me.) I’ve made a backdrop made out of a cardboard box as a workaround, sticking some posters and small art on it, though things have already fallen off. I did also try hanging up wall planners and Kanban boards via the picture rails: some held up, some fell under the weight.
My altar is out in the open, free from prying judgemental eyes; however, as it is in a slightly hidden nook, it does make it easier to ignore. Indeed, I’ve not really interacted with my altar for many months now. If the altar was moved to my bedroom, I would probably make more of an effort to engage with it, engage with my spirituality. The main reason I haven’t changed its location is because it’d require moving my bed, which requires help, and I’ve not managed to organise a time to do this yet.
I have become much more comfortable cooking for myself, to the point of even experimenting with Tumblr shitpost recipes. Hard Rubbish days and the Rough Trade Melbourne group has helped outfit my kitchen with a food processor and a deep fryer for free or a bottle of wine (the former has come in handy; I haven’t had the chance to use the latter yet). I don’t know if I’m able to host a food party yet, mostly because of space, but I’d like to!
Still no pets — I’m worried that my terrible allergies from last time will kick in again, even if my suspicions are right and I’m actually more allergic to kitty litter than to kitties. There are a couple of neighbourhood cats that visit and it breaks my heart that I can’t let them do more than just hang out outside. I did idly consider adopting ferrets, mostly because I love the idea of having something draped across my shoulders, but they are highly social and I am highly busy.
As I’m approaching two years here, with no places to move in the horizon, musings over making a place a home have returned. I was on a Queer Eye binge and wished for Bobby to come and give my apartment a makeover — mostly so he could figure out how to put up ALL THE ART, but also because he could probably figure out how to make my apartment more home-like in ways that elude me (my lack of ability to picture spatial scale doesn’t help).
I do have a few ideas for how I would make my apartment more home-y: moving the altar to the bedroom so I could have a more accessible spiritual space, putting in a futon or sofa bed so I could host overnight visitors, changing my desk/dining table into a setup that’s more enticing to work on than doing all my work on my bed or bedroom carpet because it’s more comfortable. And of course, ALL THE ART. But I am just one person, with just enough money to live on, not enough strength to lift a bed by myself.
My parents have been thinking of buying an apartment here in Melbourne, for me to live in and also to further circumvent inheritance shenanigans, but even then it’s mostly been their wishes over mine. I don’t really aspire to have my own property, but if I do, I would most want it to be a shophouse or a warehouse: a spot for me to live in and make myself at home, the rest of it space for community — coworking, rehearsals, meetings, parties, workshops, even some small retail. A place where I can host dreams, ideas, projects, creativity; where they can meet each other and work together; where home is not just where you are but also where your people are.
Though I could still replicate that even in my apartment. In some ways, I already am. Coworking dates that often turn into distracted hilarity, a Kanban board filled with Post-Its of ideas, as much art as I could put up given my limitations — most of whom are from people within my communities.
If I made the changes I want to make — from the sofabed to making my bedroom more of sanctuary — would that then manifest the effect I’m after? Would people feel more drawn to coming to my place, staying for tea and cake, talking about inspirations and playing with concepts — if the place felt good enough for me to do all those things? Would the place feel more hospitable, more welcoming, if I made it more welcoming of me?
I have no deadline to leave and no obligation to stay. I have thought about moving, mostly so I wouldn’t feel so lonely, but there hasn’t been an offer strong enough to convince me to undertake the significant stress of moving, even justfrom one end of town to another. Part of me still feels like everything is temporary, that I have to pack up everything and go, that I will never be able to stay long enough to nest.
I did manage to go through my things in Brisbane: a very emotionally taxing process where I was confronted with my past, old dreams and nascent projects and possibilities that could have turned out if I had stayed, no matter how much suffering it would have needed. My American things have moved from my aunt to an online acquaintance — I have just emailed her with a plan for getting my things back here, hopefully it will work out. I brought most of what I want from Malaysia to Melbourne, save for my favourite books from childhood and my keytar that I’m convinced is cursed because trouble happens every time I try to bring it anywhere. There’s something quite freeing about being able to manage all the things I’ve left behind, reclaim what I still want after all these years and truly let go of what I don’t even realise was there. Clearing up unfinished business. Pulling myself back together, letting go of what isn’t me anymore.
Will I ever feel comfortable enough to make a place a home? Certain enough that all my hard work will not be destroyed because of a sudden eviction — or, if that’s the case, be able enough to manage?
What does it mean to have a home when the option actually is, for once, viable?
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