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How I Came to Be Home-Free

What does “home” mean anyway?

I’m about to buy another plane ticket. Leave another city. Return “home”. I think a lot about that place: home. What is it? Where is it? What does it mean? Do I choose it or does it choose me?

I’ve spent a lot of my life living in one place and yearning to be in another. I’ve spent a lot of my travels looking for the perfect place to stay. I’m going and not coming back, is a phrase I’ve said more times than I can count. I always come back.

Where are you from? they ask.

Vancouver, I respond.

Oh, so you grew up there?

No.

High school?

No. Well, one year of middle school. But, otherwise, no.

Oh.

It’s been my chosen home. The city I’ve spent the most time in. The place I’ve cried the most, loved the most, fucked up the most, made my art the most. But is it home?

What is home?

When I first “gave up” having a fixed address seven months ago, I started spreading the news… Did you hear? I’m going to be homeless! It didn’t like how it sounded in my mouth — too crass, not encompassing of the fact that it was a choice — but it seemed to be the only fitting description. I was, indeed, going to be without a home.

You see, a new dilemma arose as I approached thirty. I’d been living in a shoebox-sized room for nearly a year, in a house with five roommates and one bathroom, I worked at a bar, had zero savings, was totally and completely single, and suddenly I started to feel like shit about it.

My situation was not an accident. This was the life I had chosen. The room was small, but the price I wanted to pay. The roommates were many, but the house in a good neighbourhood. The bar had flexible hours, good co-workers, and mindless labour. The lack of relationship — the lack I used to blame on others until I realized I’m the one who pushes them away — provided the space I needed to do exactly what I wanted when I wanted. All of it was designed to create more time and space for making films.

I made my shoebox beautiful

I’d been pairing down my life for a couple of years at that point. By the time I graduated from film school, took the only job I could find — reality television — subsequently burnt out of said job, took a soul-scrubbing backpacking trip, and returned to Vancouver, the housing market had gotten completely out of hand. Getting in to a good space at a decent price seemed nearly impossible.

For awhile I lived deep in South Vancouver (the outskirts of the city) in a decent-sized room with a normal amount of roommates, but the isolation and commute became too much. So I moved into the shoebox.

The kernel of living home-free had been planted in the spring after I wrapped production on my calling card short film. Blindly catapulting myself through the process, I looked at my bank account after we wrapped to discover there was not a. single. penny. left. I knew the people in my life would help, but I desperately did not want to ask for (more) money — as many of them had contributed to funding the film.

I brainstormed all the ways I could make money fast. None of them seemed great. So when friends with a dog mentioned they were heading out of town for three weeks, I saw an opportunity. I sublet my room for the month, packed a bag, and moved into their apartment. I had the whole place — and whole bathroom (!!) — to myself, plus dog time and a new neighbourhood to explore.

My quality of living had immediately gone up.

But it hadn’t yet clicked that this could be my new way of life. I moved back into my shoebox right as we finished post-production (the first time) and during that blissful, naïve month before rejections started rolling in and three-oh wasn’t quite yet in spitting distance, things didn’t seem so bad. It sucked having to share a bathroom again, but I was picking up shifts, money was coming in, and it was all going to be worth it as soon as my film made its debut in the world.

But then things took a sharp turn. I started dating someone. I stopped dating someone. Then came the rejection for my film. Rejection after rejection after rejection. The first couple weren’t so bad — I more or less brushed them off. But, when two weeks before my birthday, the “thanks, but no thanks” letter from VIFF — my hometown film festival — arrived, I tipped over the edge. That was it. I was never going to be successful, find love, or live in a home with less than a 6:1 ratio of human to bathroom.

I sat in my shoebox crying, feeling very sorry for myself, asking, what am I doing with my life? why do I even bother? how am I ever going to get out of this place? I’d made sacrifice after sacrifice, tweaked my life so precisely to achieve this goal and — was nothing going to come of it? I began moping around, refused to plan my birthday party. Checked my email obsessively at work and hid in the bathroom crying every time I got another rejection.

Aware of my frustration and disappointment, my mom offered to get me an Akashic record reading to help me gain clarity.

Wait. What now?

via Wikipedia: the Akashic records are a compendium of all human events, thoughts, words, emotions, and intent ever to have occurred in the past, present, or future. They are believed by theosophists to be encoded in a non-physical plane of existence known as the etheric plane.

Weird, right? I know but, GUYS, trying out weird stuff is the best. Just think of it as really quick, efficient therapy. Anyway, the point is what I took away from it: Nathalie, the reader, tapped into the records and we started the half an hour session by me explaining my situation — the struggle, the sacrifice, the rejections, the impending old age — everything I felt wasn’t fair, because I’d worked so hard. She listened over everything, paused, and responded, There is no sacrifice. It is a privilege to follow your dreams.

Oh.

Shit.

Yeah.

She was right.

Here I was, whining and moaning about my life — a life that I had chosen — and why? Because of some arbitrary number / age and corresponding societal expectations? Because my film had been rejected from a few festivals? Because I had to share a bathroom with more than the ideal amount of people? Because I had an easy, fun, well-paying job that allowed me the freedom to pursue my art? Yeah, no.

The reality is, I am lucky. I am lucky to have a passion. I am lucky to live in a country where I can pursue my passion freely, easily, and with government funding. I am lucky to have friends and family who not only believe in and support, but champion me. I am lucky to possess the privilege and autonomy to make choices like how I live, where I work, and who I love.

Lucky. Lucky. Lucky.

I was shook. There was no struggle. There was no sacrifice. All I needed to do was change my perception. But through seeing it clearly, I realized I didn’t want to stay in it anymore. I wanted more freedom, more time, less survival work, less roommates. So I decided to lean in.

No apartment = no rent. No rent = less survival work. Less survival work = more freedom. More freedom = more travel, writing, film, photography.

Most people responded with excited congratulations and mild disbelief. How? they asked. I’m not quite sure, I replied. But I’m going to figure it out as I go along. As usual, I overcompensated in my confidence to hide my uncertainty. Perception is reality, I’d repeat over and over again. So when my friend, musician, theatre artist and fellow nomad, Devon More, told me she preferred the term “home-free”, I got excited. These were words I could roll off my tongue. I gave my notice, arranged to put all my things in a friend’s storage locker, and lined up one month of dog sitting. I had no clue where I would go next.

About a week after I gave my notice to live a life on the road, my film got accepted into its first festival. I’m not saying it’s a coincidence but maybe… maybe I was holding on too tightly and I just needed to let go.

Today: seven months, three countries, seventeen cities, fourteen beds, seven couches, five air mattresses, two foamies, and a thermarest later, I am writing this from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I’ve attended film festivals in Vancouver, Portland, San Jose, and Oklahoma. I camped during a windstorm in Joshua Tree. Spent ten days writing in Halfmoon Bay. Dog sat in Oakland. Drank mezcal margaritas in Calgary. Spent my first three months savings on getting my wisdom teeth pulled. Crashed across the entire city of Los Angeles. Hung out in a Mexico City hostel with my mom. I stayed with new friends, old friends, strangers, and family. And during all of this I only dropped and shattered one french press on the Skytrain (yes, I was trekking around a full coffee making set-up).

When pet sitting, I would have nice apartments to myself while often getting paid for my services. When couch surfing, I could spend quality time with family and friends I normally didn’t see very often. Sometimes people would go out of town or have an extra room and invite me to stay for awhile. In all these scenarios I could focus my extra time on writing, filmmaking, and photography. All of it allowed me to explore new places and, well, live freely.

San Diego Greyhound station, en route from Los Angeles to Oklahoma

It hasn’t all been easy. Travel days can suck. And I’ve worried a lot. I worried about where I was going to sleep — sometimes I would know weeks or months in advance, but sometimes it would be hours before sunset and I still was unsure. I worried about overstaying my welcome. I worried about disappointing people by leaving too soon. I worried again and again whether or not I was making the right decision about where to go next. I still worry. But it’s getting easier.

That’s been the hardest part: facing uncertainty. Facing uncertainty and accepting generosity, trusting my intuition, and letting go of whatever perceptions I think others have of me and, more importantly… the perceptions I have of myself. Because, in life, there’s always something to worry about and repeating this process again and again and again — constantly looking for the next place to stay; putting my finger to the wind, asking where to next? — well, if you do it enough times, the worry starts to fade away. Not entirely, but slowly, bit by bit.

It’s amazing the clarity that comes with discomfort, forced to make these decisions every couple of weeks. Checking in with myself on what I’m doing and where I am and what’s best for me in the coming days, weeks, months. There are so many times I wished someone would figure out the answers for me, make decisions on my behalf. Stay here. Go there. Do it now. Wait. But it is my decision to make every time.

When you trust your gut, balance it with your rational mind, listen to your heart, weigh the pros and cons, and trust your intuition, it will always work out for the best.

Being home-free has taught me to communicate more clearly and to ask for what I need. It has taught me to listen — to my owns needs and the needs of those around me. It has shown me that nothing is superfluous — not the clothes in my suitcase or the people I spend time with. Everything suddenly becomes vital, necessary. It has shown me me the deep generosity of the humans I’m surrounded by. I am so grateful for the people who’ve opened their homes to me, shared their lives. It is the kind of time you don’t normally get to spend with people, at least in these adult years. I owe them everything for their generosity.

It’s bittersweet every time I pack my bags. I fall in love so easily. There are several times I thought I would stop, settle down in a new place. I haven’t yet. Not because I don’t yearn to, but because the home-free journey continues to command me. It may not be forever, but it is for now. When I started this essay I thought I’d be in Vancouver for the summer, but in the time it took me to write it, opportunities of other places continued to present themselves.

I’m coming to accept that I will always be torn between multiple places. I will always been drawn to both discover new places and return to old favourites. I do want a fixed address — to be clear, multiple fixed addresses... but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever stay put in any one of them for too long.

What I understand now is that “home” is not a place. Home is the place I am. Home is me. I am home. And movement feeds my soul.

I know going home-free is not for everyone, but I hope my journey inspires people to look at their lives in a different way, to colour outside the lines. Unhappiness with your circumstances is an opportunity for change. So often we allow the frustrations in our lives to guide us into depression. I don’t know where I’d be — or who I’d be — right now if I hadn’t made those changes. So think outside the box. How can you hack the system to work for you? If you let go of societal expectations and, most importantly, the expectations you have for yourself, what could your life look life?

Lean in to your life. Whatever that means for you.

Live by your own rules. Trust your gut. Find your flow. Take the risk. Trust that the Universe has your back. I promise you won’t regret it.

Woodward, OK for Twister Alley Film Festival — after 6 months home-free, the first time I paid to rest my head

xo

Kelly Tatham is an independent filmmaker, photographer, and writer whose work explores the quest for love and the true nature of reality.

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