I hit breaking-point three weeks ago. Retrieving my bike from South William Street where I had foolishly left it for the night, I found that it had been man-handled to bits and was no longer my faithful rickety steed. This occurred after having unfortunately lost my wallet in Rome on the previous weekend. The bike was the last in a long line of disasters. At this point I began to have minor a meltdown on the side of the street, a shadow passing over my face like they do in manga cartoons, darkening with woe as I planned some hideous act of retribution.
In the last 5 months I have lived in 5 houses. In that time I have succeeded in losing my iPhone, losing my wallet twice, having my bike vandalized three times, losing all my sunglasses and for the most part having no money. In the midst of this wreck what continued to be most deeply unsettling was the fact of living everywhere and nowhere. I was very fortunate in some ways because I was housesitting and staying rent-free in beautiful homes, most of the time on my own. Since May I have lived in Phibsborough, Christchurch, Stoneybatter, Dalkey and Clontarf, engaging in a sort of socio-geographical pilgrimage across Dublin. I’ve lived with my aunt, my ex, house-sat for friends of my mother’s, and was even my boss’s house guest. I haven’t unpacked my suitcase properly since May, and have become a master of folding clothes neatly; forming mental maps of jumpers and jeans in the vast expanse of luggage I’ve been dragging around behind me. Abysmally disastrous scenarios are my forte – like a duck to water. So all was well and good for a few months. Anecdotes involving my cycling home tired after work to find myself outside the wrong house because I couldn’t remember where I lived caused great hilarity. But as one would imagine, after a while it started to take its toll – my health, my appearance, my performance in work, my mental equilibrium (!) all started to suffer under the strain.
It’s unclear to me whether the chaos came first followed by my homelessness, or whether my lack of a fixed abode is at the root and cause of all the unraveling. But what little insight I have tells me that this chicken and egg dilemma was of my own choosing – living nowhere and losing everything in some ways has a deeply soothing and relaxing quality. Accepting losing things allows for you to be free of the sentimentality you ascribe to things. In fact, it teaches you (the hard way)not to ascribe feeling to concrete objects, it teaches you not to rely on things and knocks you out of all your habits. If you are in a different home every week, aren’t sure how you’re going to get to work because your bike is a bunch of mangled bits of metal, and can’t contact your employer to say you’re late again because your phone has been cut off, when you eventually do make it and don’t get fired it’s been a great day. The world was smiling on you that day.
When looking at the mess my life is in, it becomes apparent to me that surrounding oneself in disaster is a statement of intent. If you try to create order and live sensibly, when things don’t go according to plan it’s inevitably more tragic – things go badly in spite of your best efforts, against your will. If you submit yourself to disorder and unpredictability, you are prepared in a way for things to go wrong. You’ve submitted to Murphy’s Law whole-heartedly and are not only prepared but expecting the worst. The surprise is when things go well. Bizarrely the more you step away from planning for things and relying on others, the more things seem to go right. It’s a matter of perception. You enter into an obligatory optimism, a sort of enforced positivity or faith – Jah will provide. The statement you’re making by living in a state of disorder is a relinquishment of control and expectation. As an obsessive compulsive this was a completely different mindset I had not yet had the pleasure of experiencing. And it suited me.
Another aspect of having things in a shambles was that it kept me occupied and generally so preoccupied that it was hard to focus on anything much else. When your woes are split across a constellation of tiny disasters it is impossible to find the actual source of your troubles, it obfuscates any potential self-analysis.
What’s more, what made the whole headless-chickening around so doable was the fact that it was really kind of funny (funny haha). Living in a mansion on my own with three kittens, coming under the scrutiny of other people’s neighbours, finding weird things in the back of people’s cupboards out of sheer desperation, unfamiliar mattresses, eccentric pets and being known as a sort of luxe-hobo – it was all very entertaining.
However, as foreshadowed by the fact that clearly some form of reflection has occurred in order for me to write this, living in disorder has a short shelf life – one can’t go on indefinitely. The moment when you break down and see the light does come. It is a coping mechanism after all, not a mode of life, and should be prescribed only in extreme cases and for limited periods of time. I knew it was the end of the disorder when I found my poor bike in bits. It was one of the few solid things I still relied on, and my response was so exaggerated that any pop-psychologist might have commented that there was clearly something else going on. Whilst chaos had kept me happy and stopped me from getting low, it had also pretty much worn me down and annihilated my capacity to deal with anything. I was ready to find a house and figure things out.
Sitting in my new home, getting mammied by my two male housemates who alternate at fixing my bike and making me packed lunches, I wonder whether the chaos and recklessness has taught me to relish the domestic and quotidien rather than stagnate in it. By way of conclusion I suppose I would recommend a short, sharp dose of chaos to anyone. Allowing yourself to be a piece of flotsam submitted to the whim of the world can be really quite beautiful.
Roisin Agnew @Roxeenna