If you've ever wandered around your neighborhood wondering about the lives inside of your favorite homes, Instagram account We Live Here Now is for you. Planted at the intersection of flash fiction and real estate fantasy, the account imagines how people came to live in their homes—who they are, how they felt, the ties that strengthen when a couple shares a space.
Sharlyn Anderson is the voice behind the account, giving each post its heart and soul and imagination. We spoke with her about the genesis of the account, using Instagram as a medium and keeping an air of mystery around the houses she profiles.
we live here now. we knew it was the one from the google street view before we even saw it in person. the palm tree out front reminded us of the first time we went away together, before we were even dating. a last minute trip to Palm Springs. in another act of spontaneity we rented a car and drove to Disneyland. we rode Indiana Jones 30 times in one day. we ate Dole whip and joked about getting matching palm tree tattoos, but we didn’t. now we don’t have to get matching tattoos, you said one morning, looking out the kitchen window at the palm, sipping on your coffee. uh, yes we do, l said back, a little annoyed. what are we getting? you chuckled. what about 2525? l said, it’s a good number, good address. so we did. 2525 near our collar bones, near our hearts. l don’t think we’ll ever live somewhere again where there isn’t a palm.
How did you come up with the idea of We Live Here Now? What were your major sources of inspiration?
We Live Here Now originally started on my own personal account as an occasional post series. I am a realtor by trade, so I already had a peek into the lives and homes of others. After years of followers asking for it, I started a separate account for @weliveherenow_ on January 1st with the promise to post a new story every day. That has since transformed into an original post every weekday, with a custom post on Sunday for that week's giveaway winner, which has been a really fun addition.
In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer writes, "Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living." By writing about the imaginary lives of the people in these homes I am allowing myself the pleasure of trying on these other lives. I think social media can con us into thinking the life we've chosen might not be the absolute best one imaginable and this project helps give me peace that the one I've chosen is good, and enough, and not my only option. It sort of allows me to have it all while keeping what I've got. And it allows me to be overtly romantic, which I think people crave but won't willingly admit.
Do you know the folks in the homes?
I do not know the people in any of these homes, and I'm not sure I want to, only because I'd like the imaginary stories to remain the truth as I see it. What if the magic is lost? Though I have already had a couple commenters who know the owners or previous owners, so that may increase over time!
There's something particularly effective about using Instagram as a platform for these stories—does it influence what and how you write?
It does. The other day I wrote a story about a couple who started in the home as roommates and fell in love over time. I was particularly proud of it and so excited to post it, but it was much too long for an Instagram caption, so it really had to be edited down quite a lot. I am still happy with the end result, but some of these stories deserve longer formats and I would like to explore finding a home for them this year. I love getting comments like "This should be a book!" I'd like to say back, "I'm writing it, send me a publisher!"
we live here now. the night we moved in you asked me to dance with you on the balcony upstairs. you lit a couple candles and Etta James' haunting voice echoed through the whole house as we swayed back and forth holding each other. you tucked my hair behind my ear as l pressed myself to your chest, humming along to the beat of the song and the beat of your heart. l never have been much of a dancer, but you're a great leader. each step you take is easier to follow than the last, and at least l'm enthusiastic. and that's kind of how this goes isn't it? one of us taking the next step and the other jumping on board, eager to see where it takes us. that's what led us here. that's what led us across the county for my artist residency last summer and back again for your job this last fall. it's what led us to cross the line between best friends and best friends who make out sometimes and just happen to love each other. it's what led us to get matching tattoos because we wanted to memorialize the first morning we woke up together. l smile every time l see that life size tangerine on your arm. it's what led us to buy this house. l wasn't so sure we were ready and you were certain that if we didn't l would walk by it 100 times a week and be so so sad we didn't live here. and you were right, of course. l would have been. but we do live here now and we dance on the balcony and in the kitchen and in the backyard by the light of the moon. we take evening walks and every time we turn the corner l see the house again and l am so glad we are the ones who live in it, just like you knew l would be. so we'll keep taking more steps and the other will follow. l hope we'll be fancy footing around each other for the rest of our lives.
Almost all of your stories are about couples in love and building a home together, that particular brand of intimacy — did you intentionally decide to focus on that?
I did. I like to joke that I am a hopeful (as opposed to a hopeless) romantic. I truly believe that love and connection are the driving force behind everything we do, whether or not we decide to acknowledge it. There is a lot of really important and beautiful art being created that focuses more on making statements on the current state of the world, and We Live Here Now just isn't that. I would like it to be a shining light in people's days, a respite from the never ending news cycle of doom.
I am filled with joy with every single comment left about sharing the post with a loved one, or crying on your daily commute, and I can't believe my writing elicits that kind of emotion. What a fun, lucky thing to be a part of.
What intrigues you about people building a home together?
I have been drawn to the idea of home from a very young age. At ten I would beg my parents to take me to open houses on the weekend, so I have been a big fan of websites and publications centered around interiors for a long time. Actually, Apartment Therapy was one of the first places I noticed talking about more than the makings of the home in a physical sense. With the question, "what is your favorite thing about your home?" appearing in many of the early house tours. People were taking the liberty to answer that question about who they were sharing their home with. I love that idea, that home is not just what surrounds you, but who you invite inside, who you share yourself with.
Do you have any favorite stories or books that center around a home?
Do songs count? Miranda Lambert has a song called The House That Built Me that I think it a beautiful representation of what space can mean to a person as it helps shape them into who they are. Cam also has a song called Village that really captures the idea of your heart becoming your own home, that everyone you love has made up who you are and you keep them with you always. My siblings and l are obsessed with it and send it to each each other all the time!
I hope that my captions read the same way that song lyrics might, telling you enough of a story to capture your imagination, but leaving enough out to let you run wild with it and really make it your own. I think that is part of the reason the stories seem to resonate with people, they can see themselves in them. I love when couples tag each other in the comments, I know I've written something that reminds them of their own relationship and that is really special.
we live here now. no, not the apartment building behind, though we used to. that's right, we live in the van. you finally found a way to stop my leaving - you just come along. so now l write, and you play, and we just meet the band there. l sit on bar stools and in laundry mats and in the passenger seat and marvel at just how much FUN life can get if you say yes to it. how brushing your teeth in the tiny sink is really intimate. how one morning our sunrise comes up over sky-rises and the next it comes up over a sea of pines. how time isn't linear and we make up our own rules when you don't have an electric bill to pay. how we can chase all our dreams right down then interstate. l never really understood the appeal of dating someone in a band, you were just a someone in a bar l said yes to. l was used to people in bars and really used to leaving them. but then you wrote me that first song and every single thing in my life changed. you stopped my whole world. l quickly figured out it wasn't the late hours or adoring fans or free beer or good hair that was so appealing about that person in the band, it was how that person in the band makes you feel like the person in all the songs. so we live here now, in the van, where you finally figured out how to stop me from leaving, one love song and one sunrise at a time.
Do you have a favorite house in Portland?
It's actually hard to answer this because my favorite home was torn down earlier this year. My roommate and I joked that they moment it disappeared (it was dilapidated and on a large lot) we were out of here. We moved in a couple of blocks away and not even a month later there was a wrecking ball. It was pretty heartbreaking. Portland is changing a lot lately and while I understand that development is necessary, it's still hard to witness. Hopefully this project can help commemorate some of these older homes and give grace to the stories lived inside of them. So my favorite home in Portland? It has to be mine.
Thanks so much Sharlyn!