30 Oct How We Take Up Space
In this inaugural blog post, I want to provide some background on how the DOORWAYS concept came to be. Many of you know I was house sitting and traveling full-time for four years, from 2014-2018. I had the idea back in 2016 to create a house sitting platform for digital nomads, but in 2017 I had a series of experiences that led me to rethink the platform’s mission. There was a common theme to all of them: how we take up space.
First, there’s the issue of wasted space. I had several longer sits in 2017, the longest being two and a half months in France, and this got me thinking about how the house sitting movement might offer some kind of partial solution to the global housing shortage. Take a city like San Francisco, for example, famous for its homelessness problem. Say one hundred digital nomads like myself left the city and lived in other people’s homes instead. If one hundred vacancies were filled by one hundred slightly-lower-income San Fran residents, which in turn were filled by one hundred even-lower-income residents, could this “trickle down” and help relieve the homeless? What if the priority shouldn’t be to create more space but rather to redistribute it? What if the rising digital nomad population could help make this a possibility for the first time?
Then there’s the way we take up space in relation to others, which any solo female traveler could write a dissertation about.
Last summer, in Berlin, a man sat down a few seats away from me in a café and asked my name, where I was from, if he could just sit there even if we didn’t talk. He didn’t move when I said he was making me uncomfortable. He just sat there, asserting his physical presence. Another stranger, a few weeks later, stared at me in a restaurant as I ate dinner, then watched out the window to see which way I turned to go home. An acquaintance harassed me on Facebook and Instagram off and on for a month, adding me under different accounts several times a day, intimidating me into deleting my social media presence. These experiences didn’t fall under the typical category of unwanted attention; they felt impersonal, sinister, indicative of some larger force of oppression I’d never encountered before.
I feel called to come up with a solution to this problem because it is so pervasive and yet so invisible. There’s no tangible trace of it and yet it’s one of the most palpable interactions between people. It’s in the look in someone’s eyes, the language between his body and yours, the way he can condition you to receive a rush of fear every time you look at your phone. What do you do when you are made to feel like the best option is to keep a low profile, live discreetly, become less visible?
I had one more experience last year, on Northern Cyprus, that felt like an answer. I met a sex worker from Uzbekistan who had found her job at a local night club by responding to an ad on Instagram. The North, I found out, was rife with trafficking, mostly of women from Eastern Europe who thought they were filling positions as barmaids or hostesses only to be forced into sex work upon arrival. Many of them were recruited through social media. These women were not allowed to leave the premises of the club, or the apartments adjacent to them, until they’d earned enough money to buy their passports back from the managers. The antithesis of taking up space. I was only able to speak to the sex worker because I went to her, convincing a male friend to accompany me and finding a club that allowed female clientele inside. I published an article about the situation on Northern Cyprus, but felt upon leaving like the only realistic contribution I could make would be to create something useful back in my own world. Which turned out to be Berlin. Even after all those shady encounters–or maybe in part because of them–I returned and made it my home.
These stories will make some readers uncomfortable, and they should. This is the truth, the real drive behind DOORWAYS. It’s my answer and my fundamental wish: I want women to take up more space in this world. Not just with their bodies but with the equally physical space they take up with their voices, their visions, their energy. I want them to be, quite literally, more present. This is how we start to fix this.
That’s why, when I say DOORWAYS is a platform for redistributing space, I mean the space between people as well as the spaces we call home and occupy in our daily lives and travels. After all, home is simply the place you feel most comfortable. That some of us should feel more at home in the world than others is the fundamental problem I am trying to solve.
So, while DOORWAYS is open to all digital nomads, travelers, and holidaymakers, it’s fundamentally designed with this cause in mind and will work to prioritize the people who could use some more elbow room in their lives.