… when leaving the train. It’s an everyday announcement. I’m not sure if it means don’t leave a bomb please, or please save us the lost property, but you hear it so many times it doesn’t remind you to do anything. Just mind the gap. That really does matter!
This is my first blog from my new home, and it’s taken me lot of adjusting to come to recognise that I am permanently here (as in, I am going to be here quite a long time). No, I shan’t be moving again next year or the year after, and whatever I dislike or that feels awkward or less than I really want, this is it. Water-leaks into my cupboards are my leaks. Truffle-coloured walls are for me to sort out, and there just isn’t much of this place to alter to my individuality. (But the olive-green wall was the first to go, painted three times on the day before I moved in!)
I’ve been having dance workshops in someone’s home, in a room as big as the floorplan of my flat. And yet this bedroom is really lovely, and I’m glad it’s as big as my lounge. I shall get used to restricted space and limitations, and probably swap the car for something rather smaller that will find the under-sized parking spaces possible.
I used to live in a more spacious semi-detached house, with a large garden. I have always lived in a semi, always with a garden, often with fruit and veg growing, sometimes a pond. I have a larger car because it’s been useful for larger pieces of wood, garden provisions, and taking things away, for transporting my son to university and back, and for family holidays.
And now, I have none of these things. That dream, for what it was worth, and for all its enjoyments, is over.
So why is it that the most difficult space has been my second bedroom? In reality it is my office/working space, and potentially it was to be where a guest could stay, as in my last rented flat. But this time, it has acquired history from my family house. I rescued some OK-ish white metal shelving for storage, and added my belongings that I’d taken with me.
I guess I didn’t want to fall down the gap, so as I left, I checked around that I had everything. Bench vice (the bench went), angle grinder (for loan: I have nothing to grind), router (for woodworking, not the Internet), and tools for everything (some of which really have been useful already). I don’t want to call in any handyman to do what I know how to do myself. A girl can be self-sufficient when she’s learned what to do.
And yet, after a morning assembling the shelving, and an afternoon of putting everything away in them as neatly as a first shot could permit, I was left looking at a wall that was dominating domestic space in what has to be said is an unusual way. It isn’t how most spare bedrooms look. My dad had one, but then he had five bedrooms to play with and no shed. I like having my practical means of survival. These are my skills and abilities, encapsulated. Yes, this is a part of me; these are my belongings, and whilst I do know other women equally capable, it does leave me wondering whether some of these are belongings I should leave behind, and whether for anyone else, they are a marker of not being a ‘real’ woman. Does this room detract from my femininity? I have already thought of screening the shelves with floral or pink/purple curtains, but the truth is, the futon won’t fold out for a guest because of the shelves and the rest of my stuff that won’t quite fit in. Portfolios of years of art classes, pictures with too few walls to go on, boots without cupboards, regular office equipment and stationery …
I have left the train, and I am stationary. Some things have moved off without me already. What are my belongings? Is there lost property? Should I ditch some of this in order to become a more regular female traveller? It isn’t materialism so much as attachment to the means of doing things, that I feel torn by.
Today is also my birthday. It is only the second time in my life that there has been no-one special to have thought or asked: ‘what would you like for your birthday?’ But a card from a friend arrived in time, a pretty card from my mum, and a very pink ‘Sister’ card (bless you: you have no idea what a wonderful feeling that gives me). I shall never again receive a blokey card, featuring some sport I have never played, boats I have never wanted to be sick on, diy debacles, or drunken lounging. Why did I ever get any of those? And yet some of the things on my ‘second bedroom’ shelves would have appeared on them – and I don’t want a card with a girl wearing a tool belt.
It is many years ago that I was in a short poetry interlude, writing from a hurting heart, and several times about wanting to be wanted for who I am, not for what I can do. It felt as if my place in life was to be able, not simply to be. And here I am, being more me than ever, yet still hanging onto belongings that define what I can do.
And if I could swap my room full of these belongings for a person who wanted me simply for who I am, I would leap out of bed now and throw it all away in an instant. It isn’t about belongings. It’s about belonging.
The whole theme of my script with the many psychiatrists it took to decide that the problem is my body, not my mind – was that of not belonging in the gender assigned me at birth. Not belonging with male peers from the word go, on a boys’ table, in a boys’ playground, in a boys’ school, as a teen boy, among young men, in a male team and environment.
As I woman, I belong at last, in the right place. But perhaps with too many belongings, and no-one special to belong with.