Monday, January 2, 2012

A Room (or Desk) of My Own

I'm paraphrasing Virginia Woolf in this post, referring to her extended essay entitled "A Room of One's Own" first published in October 1929. The essay derived from a series of lectures she delivered at Cambridge University and was ostensibly written from the point of view of a fictional narrator exploring women as writers of, and characters in, fiction. It presents the argument that women need a space of their own--literally and figuratively--to write in order to be able to produce within the structure of society where women did not have a clear right to a role other than as wife and mother.

Embedded within the idea of a room of one's own is the implicit notion that a woman must also have the financial means to pay for that room (and secure it for life), and that women's relative poverty (contrasted with men in similar stations in life), legal rights (or lack of), and societal roles often prevented them from having that room where they could write, or otherwise create, freely.

Woolf herself was deprived of a formal education because her father, like many others of that era, did not believe in wasting education on girls. Only the boys were sent to school. Any learning that did occur was usually of the kind thought to be useful in attracting and holding a mate, but nothing along the lines of an actual career or profession.

So what does this have to do with our house?
In some respects, women have come a long way since 1929. But in others, well, not so much. I'm no writer (and certainly no Virginia Woolf) but that doesn't mean I don't also yearn for a place to think, to write, and to create.

A letter in Woolf's handwriting
The opportunity I have in building this house with my wonderful husband is to exercise my own right to carve out a space for myself. And I'm doing just that. In fact, I'm carving out two spaces: a desk in the living room and a crafts and sewing room in the attic. (Though I'll admit I sometimes still struggle with whether I'm creative enough to deserve such spaces. Isn't it ridiculous? I'm undercutting myself by feeling I have to prove worthy of a "room of my own" but how do I know whether I have the stuff to create something of value if I don't give myself the space and time to try?)

There has been progress of course. Like many women of my generation, I have had an education and I've lived alone before marriage--having an entire house of my own in fact. And yet, once married it is difficult to claim personal time and space within the confines of family life. Why is it that the wife and mother is always deemed interruptable? Why don't family members seem to understand or honor the projects and activities we work on?

Children often tend to view their mothers as existing solely for their--the child's--own needs. I'm guilty of this as well. It never occurred to me as a young girl that my mother might have her own interests and ambitions that didn't involve me! And I see it is the same with Miss K.

Woolf's room at Monk's House
To me, a room of my own is also literal and figurative. It means a place where my things are untouched by others and I don't have to share supplies or put away projects when home or work duties call. Most of the time I am happy to share space and things with Miss K. We have great fun together and as she gets older I am beginning to see what a wonderful, funny, and amazing person she is becoming. But sometimes the sharing and the answering of questions and the stepping back from my own ideas to give hers room to bloom is too much and then I long for something that is JUST FOR ME.

A room of my own also means having a little bit of time to myself just to think. An opportunity to let inspiration bubble up. I try to quickly write down these "bubbles" of ideas so that I can go back and flesh them out, someday, when I have more time. A snippet of writing; a quick sketch for a dress I might sew for myself; a new idea for the garden.

So I have my little desk in the corner of the living room, with its lovely stationery, my treasured Mont Blanc pen, two bottles of ink--one black and the other blue-black, my address book, and several blank journals. Much of this is symbolic for I really do most of my writing at the computer. But at the computer table I am competing with everyone else for a scrap of space, and I dare not leave anything unattended or will find that it has disappeared.

The attic, on the other hand, is a work in progress. Not yet usable (it is still stacked with boxes to unpack), it will eventually be the place where I can sew, draw, and paint, and store all of the supplies to fuel my creativity.

I feel very fortunate to have these spaces and the potential they hold is liberating and inspiring, but also humbling. I'll try to use them productively in honor of Ms. Woolf and all the others before me. How could I do less? Wish me luck.

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