Lately I’ve been pretty content with staying in one place.
This comes as a shock to both me and my parents, as I feared that my semester abroad would make me feel claustrophobic back in this small college town. Now that I’ve been back for two months, it seems as though its acting more as a stage to relax, recharge, and reflect. Even though the vigorous classes and workload are anything but relaxing, I’m no longer juggling them with the need to jet off somewhere every weekend and when I return to my apartment at the end of the day, it is just mine. I’m no longer sharing a small space with three other girls. I loved them dearly (and still do) and was delighted with the time I was able to spend sharing an apartment with them, but by December I was putting on noise-canceling headphones and sitting on the floor of my closet to get some alone time.
Since I have an apartment to myself, I’ve quite rapidly wrapped my head around being able to spread out my things and claim this space as my own. The comfort also comes from knowing I don’t have to worry about packing my entire life into two suitcases that meet airline requirements at the end of the semester. I have the luxury of buying a 99-cent flowered tablecloth from Goodwill and hanging it on my kitchen wall for decoration if I please. Mother Hen bought me a pack of 100 hangers at Walmart and I have proceeded to hang up every piece of clothing I own in my massive walk-in closet. It feels good to have all of my clothes with me to be able to experiment with my creativity. It is also nice to know that after a long day of exams, I have my favorite red sweatshirt clean and waiting for me when I return home at night, or that I have four different pajama bottoms to choose from when I get out of the shower.
This is not to say that I regret any part of last semester though. Packing lightly helped me avoid extra fees so I could instead spend that money on more experiences like ziplining in Toledo or going to an underground concert in Paris. Going on weekend trips to cold destinations with only a carry-on allowed me to quickly exit the airport and get on with sightseeing. I know that in the near future I will travel this way again, but this semester I am basking in the maximalism.
I suppose ‘maximalism’ still doesn’t quite feel like the word to describe it as I’m not just blindly accumulating material things without cause. I write this while sitting on my bed, which is just a mattress lying on the ground since I do not have a bedframe or any other furniture in my bedroom. So I suppose the correct thing to say is that I’m enjoying deliberate maximalism. I missed owning books so I could write inside of them while abroad and instead got a library card to the Madrid public library and checked out a few books a month or read essays online on my phone. Now I don’t have a bookshelf, but I have three stacks of books that sit neatly on the floor. I didn’t buy any decorations for my apartment, but wanted it to feel like my own so I used the photography lab to print out a thick stack of my photos from around the world which are now lining my walls like wallpaper. Notebooks that document the last three years of my life sitting on an upside-down tub in my living room that I use as a storage area next to my desk. During study breaks I like to pick one up and flick through the pages. Sometimes I will find a passage of desires I wanted in my past that look a lot like my current life. Like an ode to the things I did to get to the place I am now. It always makes me smile. Reflecting on my time abroad with so few material items while packing to go back to university made me realize that I didn’t need an excess in everything to feel comforted in this new space, just the things that mean a lot to me. Like books and clothes and photographs. Not like furniture and decorations and cooking supplies (but maybe that’s still just me attempting to revolt against domestication).
Spending such a long time in another city also made me realize that no matter how small you think the area you’re from is, you’ve never fully explored it. You don’t yet know the best places to hang out, the best venues to sneak your camera into, or the best restaurant to eat at. You also aren’t even aware of some of the best people in the city, even if they go to your university, even if you’ve had classes with them before. So while I was trying to get to know a different part of the world I realized that I don’t even really know my own corner of the world. When people abroad asked me where I was from I would proudly answer with a city from the Midwest instead of NYC or LA, but upon my return home I realized that if they would have asked for recommendations, I wasn’t sure I could give them any real ones. I didn’t know the rich history of the city I came from or even the small part of the city I spend most of my time in and I didn’t have a definitive reason as to why I picked my school. I was young and was told to go to college and didn’t want to think much about it. So now that I’m back in the States I’ve been doing more simmering. Exploring my own towns as if I’m just a tourist visiting. With all the places I’ve visited that I never knew existed and all the wrong turns I’ve made while driving, a lot of the time I feel like a tourist. Nothing like taking an eight-hour plane ride across the ocean just to be appreciative of where you came from.
This idea of simmering and appreciating feels as though it would be visually represented by thick syrup slowly, carefully, and deliberately oozing out of the bottle. The simmering and appreciating also comes into play more than just exploring my city. It has also changed my way of being. Taking the things that I like and examining them with a closer eye to see why exactly I like them. Take Little Women. I’m a big fan, always have been since I first read the book when I was eight. I watched Greta Gerwig’s rendition of Little Women on Saturday night after I was done with all my work and wanted to relax. I’ve watched this particular movie a multitude of times but when I would sit down to write an essay on it, I couldn’t put my love or thoughts into words. They were just floating around like unnamed masses. So I researched the director, and I watched her other movies. I read about her inspiration for rewriting Little Women for the screen and sat astonished while watching videos where she casually broadcasted her incredible critical thinking skills. I read about Louisa May Alcott from all different perspectives and then from her own perspective through her diaries published to a museum’s website. I acquired an entire page of thoughts from my investigation that helped me put into words and analyze the thoughts that had previously been those unnamed and unmoving masses. I feel connected to the movie I love just as I am beginning to feel connected to the city I live in. Once again I have arrived at the all too repetitive conclusion that one must thoroughly educate themselves.
Being abroad isn’t the only thing that opened doors for those homebody characteristics to enter into my conscious brain. My parents and I were in Texas last week for spring break. I was excited for it and ready to explore a new city again, especially one closer to home, since it had been a while since I walked unfamiliar streets. I indignantly informed my parents that since we were driving I was going to pack a very large suitcase with far too many things in it because I could and they were not going to have a say in the matter. They immediately obliged, unfazed. I often think that my grand rebellions are far more revolutionary than they actually are. Despite lugging this suitcase across southern America I still came to situations in which I wasn’t adequately prepared. It got extremely cold and windy one day and all I had was a long sleep shirt and a cropped sweatshirt to keep me warm. It rained that evening and I didn’t have a raincoat or umbrella. I grumbled in the dining room of our rented condo and Mother Hen shook her head, speaking on my existential need to always be prepared and in control. I hate it when Mother Hen is right about something so intrinsic to my personality
She is right, though. I am feeling awfully content right now with staying in one, controlled, fully stocked space in which I am wholly in charge, prepared, and therefore always the boss. I decide what goes in and out of the fridge and pantry and therefore no longer need to mull around in the kitchen wondering if it is appropriate roommate etiquette to throw out Maeve’s rotting peppers. I can use the shower whenever I want for as long as I want without worrying about the other person. I can use the entire closet space as my own and hang up workout shirts, just because.
So if we’re being honest here (which unfortunately, we always are), maybe I’m just basking in the name of comfort and selfishness, which isn’t a bad thing. I don’t tend to live this kind of agreeable and self-centered life forever, so these are my four months to get my fair share of it and recharge before the next adventure begins.
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