Image provided by Clara Sperow

Clara Sperow
8 November 2019

Almost every window in my apartment is broken. The bathtub faucet drips eternally. Two out of the four burners work and there’s a rat that scuttles around outside so often that my roommates and I have named her.

But, in spite of this—maybe even more because of this—I absolutely adore my first apartment. I love that my roommate got the lamp in our bedroom off the street because our light doesn’t work but we kept it because the warm lighting it gives off makes the room feel like home. I love having a space where I can collage at 2 AM on the couch and cook soup in the kitchen at 2 PM. The chronology of our address (2340) makes me feel aligned with the universe, like I am where I’m supposed to be. Being in college involves so much learning and relearning—so much personality demolition and reconstruction—and what better place is there to do this than an apartment that is simultaneously run-down and beautiful?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the places, the spaces, we inhabit. A few days ago, as I was heading home from class, I glanced at a relatively empty, grassy area of campus I walk by nearly every day. I tend to romanticize my free time when I don’t have any—I’ll daydream about sleeping in the sun, painting—but when I actually have a couple of hours and nothing to do, I often find myself bored and lacking creativity. But, on this day, instead of continuing to walk and ignoring the urge to sit on the grass, I stopped. I realized that there was nothing I had to do for the next twenty minutes and no reason I couldn’t indulge in a moment for myself. So, I set down my bag, put in both of my earbuds, and let myself relax into the soft grass and light.

As I lay there, I became increasingly aware of the area around me. I looked at the buildings I’ve never been in and the buildings I’ve spent hundreds of hours in. I let myself stare at each of the leaves on the tree above me and all of the fallen ones around my body. It nearly made me dissociate thinking about how much, and how little, spaces can mean to us. For example, my childhood bedroom—a room I spent close to fourteen years living in—is jam-packed full of memories, of me. In the room is a duvet cover I’ve had for nearly five years, and it’s covered in random paint stains. Baby blue, gray-rose, and numerous other colors speckle it, each representing a different phase of my life. Each stain contains the memory of a time I spent hours repainting my walls alone or with company, a time I spent just sitting on my bed painting canvases while watching documentaries in the middle of the night. A square inch of that room could fill me with enough emotion to write a ten-page-long poem, but the grassy area that I was thinking about this in was eleven times bigger than my bedroom and almost completely devoid of emotion, of any form of intensity.

When I first moved into my apartment, it was just empty walls and broken windows. It was full of past emotions, past intensities, but none of my own. And I still haven’t decided if I think ghosts haunt places or people because in so many ways it is the same thing; to haunt a place is to haunt lives and to haunt a person is to follow them throughout the places they pass. Our lives are so deeply grounded in the places we call home that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. I feel at peace in my apartment, and I wonder if this has something to do with the people that lived here before me. Maybe I feel less attached to a patch of grass because no one has ever filled it with themselves. No one has taken hour-long baths there, hung their paintings on the walls, baked birthday cakes for friends. No one has given the trees and their leaves the intensity and meaning my roommates and I have given the rat that likes to run by our kitchen window.

So, when I hear my bathtub faucet dripping in the middle of the night, I let myself smile and roll my eyes; I let myself wonder when it started doing that, what the apartment felt like when it didn’t drip. I’ve also been trying to pay closer attention, give more meaning, to spaces outside of my apartment. I’ve been looking at trees longer and thinking about how certain classrooms make me feel. Doing this has started to make campus and other open, unfamiliar places feel a little more like home.

A couple of years ago, I went and watched the movie A Ghost Story in theaters. When I purchased my ticket, I had a few ideas of what the film might be like, but an hour and a half of almost no dialogue and Casey Affleck standing under a sheet was definitely not one of them. When the film ended, my friend and I stayed in our seats, not talking, for nearly ten minutes. It was like we were characters from the film—all we needed was Casey Affleck standing under a sheet a few feet away from us. I loved A Ghost Story; it might be the most spiritually provocative film I’ve ever seen. One of the main things I loved about the film is how it deals with the concept of inhabiting spaces—specifically homes.

At the start of the movie, a young couple is in the process of packing up their belongings and moving out of their house, but, about five minutes in, the husband (Affleck) dies in a car crash. The wife (Rooney Mara) continues her life and moves out of the house, but the husband’s ghost stays. The majority of the film consists of this ghost watching as new people move in and inhabit the space, watching time pass and rewind in a sort of existential reflection on existence.

In one of the rare moments of dialogue, during an intimate party in the home, a man rants about the purpose (or rather lack thereof) of human lives, saying:  “Everything that ever made you feel big or stand up tall, it’ll all go...You can write a book, but the pages will burn. You can sing a song and pass it down. You can write a play and hope that folks will remember it, keep performing it. You can build your dream house, but ultimately none of that matters any more than digging your fingers into the ground to bury a fence post.” Shortly thereafter in the film, at some point in time after the people who threw the party have moved out, the house is demolished while the ghost stands static inside.

So much could be said about the movie, about the concept of finding purpose in human existence, about inhabiting a space that has existed and will continue to exist for such great lengths of time that it’s difficult to mentally grasp. There’s also a lot that can’t be said because it isn’t understood, but I’ll leave you with this: if, in the grand scheme of things, nothing you do “matters any more than digging your fingers into the ground to bury a fence post,” then everything you do is equally momentous as it is insignificant. As students, it's so easy to get consumed by college, by stress. It’s easy to feel like the world is centered around your next midterm or the “difference” you’re striving to make in the world. Ultimately though, I think listening to a faucet drip or spending twenty minutes sitting in the grass is just as, probably more, meaningful. So, stop and let yourself indulge in moments for yourself. Let yourself see the value and beauty in the mundane and the insignificance in what feels all-consuming. Allow yourself to be just as present in an open field as you are in your home.