I found an photo album while cleaning out the attic space in my parent’s house a couple of years ago. The small wooden hatch to the attic space was stiff from the years, after a couple of hard shunts it poped up into the darkness. I entered the A framed dark space just under the roof like a time traveler arriving from a different world. I flicked a switch and a small bulb revealed dust-covered boxes and an assorted jumble of clothes and silly things disguarded by time.
The photo albums were placed upon one of the boxes. They were bound in plastic leather in a style long since out of fashion. They held over 50 years of memories carefully taken, printed and placed under thin sticky transparent sheets. They spanned a time from the 50’s to the early 2000s by my reckoning, and then technology stepped in, and they stopped.
I turned the pages of the albums seeing people age and fashions change before my eyes, my parents younger than I am now, my now passed on grandparents, my siblings and friends on streets and sitting on walls, the old wallpaper in the sitting room with the tired sofa, the old kitchen table, the 90s tracksuits, the tall boys with sunken cheeks barely 20 years old. Then off again to nights out and old girlfriends with smiling fresh faces. The sunsets, and ancient buildings, and beaches were nice, but they were flat, it was the people, it’s was always the people, they were emotive, they were alive, they were the stars of this old picture show.
It struck me, seeing lifetimes pass sitting alone with my thoughts, that we know what’s important in life, everyone does! most people anyway.
We curate memories of our times with people. People crammed together into frames at a forgotten New years eve, or an unobserved moment with your daughter on your knee, people at weddings, or on holidays, people with their children, people kissing or laughing or dancing, and we know even if we pretend we don’t, we need other people.
And this truth was somehow lost in the post-war years in the west.
When the then Minister for Housing in Ireland, Eoin Murphy, proposed a short-term solution to the 10-year-old housing crisis, in 2019, he was laughed out of town. His proposal was for people to engage in Co-living. Your talking about building hostels! was the accusation, and in a way they were not wrong, but now with the benefit of experience, I see things a little differently. The capitalist ideal of the late 20th and early 21st centuries was to get a good education, get a job and get a place. Not a bad road map, I hear you say. Having your own space, your own front door, nobody bothering you…..well I did it, in a post covid working from home context, and it sucks. It sucked more than I could of imagined it would suck. Yes, I had ultimate freedom, but I was, after not long at all, lonely. I became aware of people I know who live alone and suddenly felt the realization of how they must feel, them and millions like them. There are some who love living alone, sleeping alone, waking up alone, yes there are! but they are surely a vanishingly small minority.
Yes, you can head out to meet a friend or visit family but ultimately you arrive home to an empty house. How many TV shows can you watch or wassap messages can you send before you feel the knawing reality of your loneliness rest in the pit of your soul. This might sound dramatic but I invite to spend even 7 days without substantial human contact and see how it feels. The late capitalist system with its worship of the individual will call you a wimp, but your not! your human, you’re an ape, evolved to be in social groups from dawn to dusk. The traditional solution to this is setting down, get a woman, have some kids, not a bad route but not for everyone for a variety of reasons, and there is the massive responsibility, and there must be and is another way, and there is, it’s called Co-living.
Context is everything, and whether consciously or unconsciously, we behave differently in different environments. Churches are for quiet contemplation, nightclubs are to dance and drink and let go, the conventions and the buildings make the rules. And so adults share spaces in hostels, they even share bedrooms and bathrooms, because that is the convention, the silent agreement all the participants make to save money or simply to not be alone. And this is reason enough. Like everything balance is important but this balance can be struck with a private room. In the internet age you can run a business from a desk in your room, and have all the peace you need when you require it. I entered Co-living after 5 months and it was a revelation. I quickly found myself nourished in a way I hadn’t experienced in years. The easiest comparison is probably school days, for the simple reason the power structure was explicit and we were all on the same page. The world of work with all of it’s different complexities simply does not work the same way. People often work with the same people for years without ever really forming close bonds or enjoying it. The pandemic and the reluctance of many to go back to the office is evidence of this.
There is a weird alchemy between building and guests that is created in the great hostels. Creating inviting dining and social spaces is crucial to making people feel comfortable, in short making them feel at home. The modern hostels with their funky furniture, bars and profound non-sense stenciled onto walls leave me cold. Just like the great bars and restaurants, the great hostels are genuine, they have a real personality that is hard to replicate. With this in place, the atmosphere follows.
Certain people will just not get a click but in my experience, this is remedied by people either leaving or there being enough people around to absorb the different vibrations. The perfect balance is people getting to know each other over weeks even months with new people coming and going to refresh the buzz, this is where the magic truly lies. You can get to know people, men and women, over long a longer period, you can learn about each other, in an unforced environment, not shouting over music and with no real social hierarchy. You can meet the opposite sex without being on a date with them which frees both parties up massively to just get to know each other without any explicit intentions. There is no comparable environment, and if there is I can’t think of one. Like everything in life there probably is a downside of this lifestyle to be recognized, familiarity breeds contempt is a saying, however bleak, that rings true, and perhaps there is a sell-by date, but by then, maybe it’s just time to try something else for a while. For me, it beats being tied to a mortgage and commuting to an office for 30 years, and after all, if you want, you can get married had have a few kids, but if that’s not for you, and your fed-up living alone, maybe you should consider Co-living, it’s either the way of the future of a return to the past.