I’m entering week two of a house swap in the Bay Area. I lived here for almost six years, so visiting always feels a bit like coming home. I’m reminded of the smells (jasmine, eucalyptus, rosemary), the sites (the Golden Gate, the hills, the jaw-dropping expanses), and the temperature extremes that make calling this time of year “summer” an oxymoron. But what I’ve been thinking about the most is the thank-you note I should be writing to Craig Newmark for making it possible for me to stay here, rent-free, for one month. See, I’m one of those people who believes in the power of Craigslist – a place where you can find good people based primarily on their ability to craft a good sentence. In my numerous apartment rentals – and now, my new-found love of house swapping – it’s amazing that this level of trust can be developed in the online world. For me, and my interest in seeing and learning about spaces, I find the ability to engage in a house swap to be a wonderful adventure – having a level of trust with someone that is equally balanced by their level of trust in you. In determining an undefined value for each of the spaces so that the swap seems “fair”. And in believing that a person is going to care for your space as you care for it yourself. Seems impossible. Yet in my experience, it works. Surprisingly well.
In last week’s post, I wrote about two amazing spaces that I had the pleasure of experiencing, if only for a short time. While the first space is one I can visit at any time (thanks mom and dad) the second one is seen by only a rare few, and one which I will probably not get a chance to experience again. Yet its impact will have an effect on me for a long time. So I wonder – will this happen with the space I’m in currently? How is this similar (or not) to my visit to these other places? Can a non-exclusive, non-historically-significant space, have a similar impact on me?
I’ve written a bit about the quality/quantity/cost relationship with products and spaces, and the change in this ratio over the years. But there is an “x” factor that I haven’t brought up yet – one that is of particular importance to me, and is something that we all experience in one way or another. The emotional connection to products, or spaces, exists for all of us in one form or another – memories of our childhood home, visits to a sick relative’s house, or a vacation in a distant locale where a home’s structural “norms” are quite different from our own. All of these can stick with us for a variety of reasons. But when you stop to think about it, it seems impossible. Logically, why would a non-living structure affect us in such a way? Why would a space that we only experience for a short time have such a profound effect on us? And why can two people enter the same space and not feel the same emotional connection?
As I sit and write this, I’m looking around at the owner’s personal affects – the stickies on the wall in front of me, reminding her of various to-do’s. The African memorabilia, collected during her years of living there. And of course, the two cats that inhabit this space, who seem to be getting familiar with the stranger who is now feeding them twice a day. In short, I am getting very comfortable here – in getting to know the house, its noises and various quirks, how certain doors stick and some doorknobs are harder to turn than others, I am forming my own connection with the space. It may take quite a bit longer for me to feel comfortable with the little village center up the street, and the neighbors who left me notes should I need assistance, but strangely, the home feels like my closest companion at the moment. A non-living, non “feeling” structure – how can this be?
I’ve got two weeks left to my stay, and I’m still making plans to see old friends, visit some cultural institutions, and indulge in some of the fabulous food establishments that make a visit to the Bay Area a memorable experience. But today, I plan on tidying up the house, taking care of the cats, and taking some time to sit and experience this wonderful space I’m lucky enough to be staying in. The humans in my life can wait. These four walls will only be with me for a short time, but I have a feeling that the emotional connection will linger on.