This post has been with me for a while but was inspired by Dolly Alderton’s recent ‘The Life of Dolly’ column on city living (The Sunday Times Style, 13th January 2019). You can read it here.
As with most decisions made in my early twenties, my choice to stay in Glasgow after graduating has been riddled with self-doubt, fear, embarrassment and anxiety. It’s all rather odd considering my ‘choice’ to stay was never really a choice at all, but rather a path I was walking along, quite contentedly, which I never even considered veering off. It was passive. Even aside from the practical factors – living situation, economic fits, a desire for a niche career in the Scottish arts scene in particular – Glasgow remained, and continues to remain, the right place for me to be. My home is here; my heart is here. If I try, I can’t find a reason big enough or good enough to outweigh the simple fact that I love this city. So why were so many of the months following my graduation tainted with uneasiness?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen friends and acquaintances soar into careers, lifestyles and places they’ve aspired to. I’ve never once assumed their achievements easy or straightforward, but nonetheless I’ve watched as they thrive in London’s bustle, saunter Edinburgh’s cobbles and culture shock themselves abroad. I’ve felt awe, pride and wonder at their ability to forge a path through new streets, new people, new atmospheres and do it with little more than an occasional comment about needing a break away from the city. As I sat at home, feeling a few steps behind on the job hunt, growing more uncertain of my aspirations, I’ve often wondered if perhaps I should’ve veered off that path after all. As with anything, when you plant that seedling of doubt, it goes on to spread criticisms like weeds: Am I cowardly? Weak? Boring? Should I have stepped away from a familiar, safe place when I had the chance? Should I have been bolder and braver and gone against my gut? Did I stay out of ease, rather than anything else? Of course, I’ve never once felt these things about my peers who returned home or stayed where they studied. We don’t question what leads others to their decisions in the way we might interrogate ourselves.
What I’ve come to realise from these interrogations (I’ve found unemployment becomes like therapy, without the therapist) is that in a world which encourages curiosity, adventure, exploration and open-mindedness, the craving for security and stability can be misunderstood as fear. Fear to go out the comfort zone, fear to learn something new, fear to challenge your boundaries. Twenties are the time for really living right? To go out and be fearless and wild and spontaneous? Well, right I guess, but so, I hope, will be my thirties and forties, fifties and beyond. I’ve learned that feeling an affinity with a place, much like falling in love with a person, is unpredictable and should be boundaryless.
I grew up moving around the UK. I was born on the South coast of England but was raised in a Scottish Borders town. Being eight when I moved, and returning frequently to see family, I feel connected to both equally. I’m flooded with childhood nostalgia whether on a pebble beach or a heather-strewn hill; I’d take fish and chips on Southsea sea front as keenly as a Forsyth’s steak pie by the Tweed; my future home is one day a red brick house and the next a stone cottage. Since arriving in Glasgow aged 18, I’ve flitted between homes, hosts and holidays more times than I could count. I’ve visited Portsmouth and Peebles, found a new home in Dorset, spent time in Surrey which has been the base for many a London trip, so I know the mingle of underground lines as well as I do Glasgow’s sleepy subway circle. My childhood, adolescence, and now adulthood too, has been a beautiful, exhilarating and exhausting thrill which maps its way around Britain. I’ve felt sad to leave the Surrey suburbs, coastal views, London bustle, rolling hills often, yet it’s on a rare occasion I don’t shed one glistening, movie moment tear as journeys bring me back to my Glasgow home.
I’ve learned, gradually, that whether you have five houses that feel like home or none at all, there will likely be one place you feel an affinity with. A room, a view, a route, a house, a path – whatever shape it takes, it sings to you in the way a joyful memory or a tender moment can. It rushes through you to your heart, making it fly. As my train scoots along the Clyde back home, I feel that affinity, no matter where I’m coming from. Not only do I see the Tall Ship’s masts, the modern curves of the Riverside, the soft bounce of waves, but I see sunset strolls, podcast-heavy strides, failed jogs, tentative kisses, hearty laughing, exhausting bike rides, tears shed, nights danced. As I come back to Glasgow, I can’t not see a web of stories, a map of memories; I can’t not see a life established. On realising that, I’ve come to forget, or ignore, or disregard the doubt. Instead, as I stroll through my affinity place, I give it credit, and I give credit to my choices, however inactive they may be. As my friends soar in cities unknown, my heart soars in this place right here. To disregard that would be to disregard a life well-lived.
Written by Katherine Warren