The Spinoff: What is a bubble and how does it work? (26/3/2020)
Little Bubbles of Space
The concept of a home is a foreign one to me.
The home itself is not foreign to me. Physically, I have lived in houses my whole life. Yet a home is really just a house which really is just the same as a place, which is to say, it doesn’t mean a lot on its own. It’s the people and the experiences it holds, the life it adds to your own, that make a house become the concept of a home.
Someone once said to me, “a house is made with walls and beams. a home is made with love and dreams” and while it sounds like something you would find printed in cursive and hung decoratively on the back of one’s toilet door, it seems to have stuck with me.
Over the years this concept of what a home is has taken me all across the North Island. I have lived on every compass point of Auckland City (North, South, East and West.) I have lived in several small towns where the only spectacular thing about them is a nice beach or the alarming amount of elderly that make up the population. I have lived in more houses than years I have actually managed to live, yet not once have I felt like I have had a true home.
That isn’t to say that I have never felt the feeling one has when they have a home. A sense of belonging, acceptance and comfort doesn’t necessarily only come from a place.
On March 23rd, my best friend had messaged me in a sense of panic and excitement.
“I have about eight hours to pack up everything I need to take home with me”
“Wait, you’re going home for the lockdown?”
Our ‘home’ town is a seven-hour drive away from the city we both currently live in. It hadn’t even occurred to me to try and leave Auckland for the lockdown.
“I couldn’t imagine staying here. I want to go home.”
It had seemed so simple for her.
I texted my Mom and asked what she thought. We had a moment of shared anxiety of not sharing a bubble together as a family but I knew that my home wasn’t necessarily the same home that my Mom was living in.
So while my friends were packing and rushing to get home, my boyfriend and I decided to move. Within his house where we would be staying, of course.
Ever since I had moved out of my last flat I had been graciously squatting at my boyfriend's family home. For the past few months, I have stuffed as much of my belongings as possible into the barely 4 meter-squared room we shared, and the rest I had dumped into boxes and left upstairs in the ‘spare’ space of his older sister’s room.
We had been wanting to swap rooms with his sister for a while at that point. The upstairs space is the advertised master bedroom of the house. The size of two decent rooms, it is easily three times the size of the room we were sharing before the lockdown was enforced.
Luckily for us, everyone agreed that lockdown was the perfect time for the move to take place. It was something to keep everyone busy in the first few days.
It definitely felt nicer than rushing home to my family and a lot easier than facing the severity of this pandemic. Moving to a new room was a small change to focus on amongst the bigger changes happening in the world around us.
And, more than I would care to admit, during this period of isolation I desperately wanted a place that felt like a home to me.
After moving so often you would think I would have unpacking down to an art form. Decorating spaces is something I’ve almost been forced to find enjoyment in. I love standing in an empty room, puzzling over how best to utilise the space, envisioning ways to make it feel comfortable and welcoming. The blank walls and the space aren’t exciting but all of the potential is.
No matter how many times I’ve moved, it has never changed the fact that all houses are the same at first. They all take time to turn into a home.
I will say, I almost have a gift of making any space feel like a home. No matter how temporary the set-up is for. My Mom used to say it was almost like I blessed every room I stayed in, which always puzzled me seeing as neither of my parents is religious.
When I was sixteen, I came across the term ‘Hygge’, which is a Danish word used to describe a feeling of comfort (It cannot be translated simply into one word.) When I learnt about Hygge, I came to understand what my Mom meant by saying I blessed a room. It goes beyond the space, the walls, what you place within it and how you arrange it. It is a feeling, a concept. It shows in a way you cannot really describe but turns any space you occupy truly into your own.
I poured all I could into arranging our new space. I talked to my plants as I moved furniture around so they could get the most sun. I took care to purposefully place every item I owned. It took me hours to go through all of our clothes as I carefully hung them up in an organisation method that was a mix of ordering by colour and garment and size and preference.
I saved my books for last. My boyfriend and I put my bookshelf together in between his online classes on the second day of moving but I left it to sit in the room, empty and stark white.
I had felt strangely nervous. Placing my books out in a room is usually the first thing I do when moving into a place. My books have always been highly important to me, a personalised collection of all the words and worlds that mean the most to me.
Yet I felt strangely disconnected from them and the tradition I usually upheld moving from space to space. It felt like once my books were out, this would be it. This would be the place.
I was so acutely aware of the fact that this was not my real home, this was my boyfriend’s house, his family house, a place I would always be welcome in, certainly, but not necessarily a place I had ever really considered calling my own home.
I just couldn’t get over the feeling that this was not my space, no matter how much care I put into personalising the room.
Of course, there is nothing permanent in shelving my books, not really. It turned out to be the most therapeutic thing I had done in months. Reacquainting myself with these books that have travelled with me through houses after houses. As someone who is so consistently uprooted, there is a comforting constant in being able to escape into the same stories, wherever I happen to be.
Little consistencies, little traditions, seem both important and irrelevant at this time. Important as a source of comfort and a sense of normality, irrelevant in the sense that there seem to be more important things to maintain than comfort and tradition.
Having a birthday during a pandemic isn’t something one plans for. It also isn’t something you can plan for once it happens. In a time where you technically, legally, can not leave your house to go and celebrate with people, it is a bit of a strange experience.
Apparently I know a lot of people born at the end of March and the start of April. My birthday came after a lot of them, towards the end of the original level 4 lockdown, so I knew how the day would go. I received a lot of phone calls, along with a lot of promises of celebrations once the lockdown was over.
“Don’t think that a little pandemic will make us forget about celebrating your birthday! Your 21st at that!”
The only one who really seemed to be able to read the room was my Mom.
“Instead of a big 21st, you can have a big 22nd! It’s important but not that important, right?”
A lot of people wanted to know what gifts I had received. I don’t know what they were expecting me to say other than ‘none’, which was the truth, seeing as all the stores were shut and the post was only delivering essentials.
Easy enough to say, gifts are unfortunately not considered an essential service.
Yet everyone was seemingly surprised that I had received nothing. More than that, they seemed surprised that I wasn’t kicking up a fuss for a birthday which was, apparently, “so important”.
It was like I was forcing myself to be pouty when I said, “Well, of course, gifts would have been nice but I really don’t mind.”
In all honesty, it was one of the nicest birthdays of my life. I had a White Russian for breakfast. Having nothing to do and nowhere to go, I lounged around in bed all day reading. I shopped online and bought myself a few things that wouldn’t arrive for weeks. My friends sent me videos of them doing shots in my honour. I drank a healthy amount of Vodka with my boyfriend. His mom baked me a 5 layer cake and also gave me my one gift, a onesie that she had made for me herself over the past week.
It was one of the nicest gifts I had ever received. Everyone in the family had one, especially made by her. I almost cried at the gesture.
Add on the hours spent talking to people on the phone, laughing with friends and family, it felt like I was being showered in attention. It definitely wasn’t a terrible start to the next year of my life.
However, it does seem, in the confines of my newly made room and at the start of this new year of my life, I have mentally regressed. The onesie, as wonderful and comfortable as it is, seems to be the only thing I can put on most days. I lounge around like a comfy toddler who has to force herself to get a degree. I have the TV on at all hours, rewatching trashy teen dramas that I obsessed over in high school. I blast emo pop-punk and dance when I can manage to find the energy. I sat down one day only to find that 72 hours later I had reread all of the Harry Potter books and had done nothing else.
While I didn’t go back to our high school hometown with the rest of my friends it seems I have still managed to go back to a place of comfort, in my own way.
I even feel the same as when I was sixteen.
Half of the time, I don’t know what I’m feeling.
I don’t think anyone can really know how they feel right now though.
People are expecting life to carry on, for our society to stay unchanged. People just want to stay in the comfort of their very little bubbles where everything that is real and serious almost feels like it’s happening a whole world away.
Our little bubbles of spaces can’t keep us locked away from reality. No matter how much we want them to.
They are bound to pop eventually.
The Little Book of Hygge
© Anneliese Tuarau Jones