“I live in London.” I’ve been saying that sentence a lot, feeling it roll around in my mouth. Where do you live? “I live in London.”
I have been saying that sentence for five weeks now after 11 years of saying “I live in New Zealand.” I’m watching the way that sentence doesn’t just signal a shift in my domicile; it signals a shift in my identity somehow. I have gone from living at the edge of the world to living at its center. I have gone from making the unusual choice of living in a place surrounded by natural beauty to a more common—and also delightful—choice of living in a place surrounded by history, by commerce, by people.
“I live in New Zealand,” said in my American accent, conveyed something about me that was consistent with my identity. I was a person who moved around the world and tried this new adventure. Somehow that whole chapter gets wiped out when I say “I live in London” with this still-strong American accent. I keep wanting to explain that I moved to London from Paekakariki, that my house and my dog and my favorite chair are still there. But the taxi driver/ customs official/ random stranger doesn’t want the full story. They want to place me and move on. And so I am partially placed, partially seen.
We have begun to make a shift in the way we are thinking about our time in London, and that shift has odd tendrils into my identity too. We had been thinking about a kind of 60/40 year: London for 7 months and then Paekakariki for 5 months. And then who knew what would happen next. But the move has been both more difficult and more wonderful than we anticipated. We love our little flat overlooking a garden square (that we do not have the keys to enter). We love walking to Sloan Square for the Saturday market, walking to Hyde Park and watching other people’s dogs run, walking to Westminster Abby and being dazzled by the history under our feet and above our heads. And I am missing the sky and the moon and the dawn. The sun has rarely been out at all, and the city is crowded enough that sunrise and sunset are invisible in any case. I miss knowing always what phase the moon is in, always knowing which direction is north.
And I miss my friends. I miss knowing people to just call up and hang out with. And seven months isn’t going to make enough of a change in that; it’s not enough of an investment in time, in me, to make friends in this new place. So we’re now thinking that we’ll stay in London longer—and also spend more time in New Zealand. It’ll be back and forth more often rather than on and off, here or there. We will start to really live a bi-hemispheric life. In the southern hemisphere in August. In the northern in September. In the south for the lovely summer in December and January. And so on. Maybe that way we can create full lives in both places? Or will it still feel like half lives everywhere? I guess we’re about to find out.
“I have a home in New Zealand and a flat in London, and I live in both of them.” That’s a longer sentence, but it feels somehow more like the identity that makes sense to me, that I want to hold on to in the world.
ps Picture today is the view from our flat on one of the very few blue sky days…