Monday Musings: A Room of One’s Own

Many, many years ago, I read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Woolf’s essay on the need of a woman writer to have her own room for that writing. It was one of those books that made me say, “Wow!” And “Yes!” and “This is Truth!”

I’m thinking it’s time for a reread.

Certain books hit us one way when we’re young and quite another way when we’re…not young. If you read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter as a girl and haven’t read it since, go pick it up again. Especially if you have children. Remember the scene with the blizzard? It’s one thing to read it when you’re somewhere near the age Laura was, when you’re the little girl, and another completely different thing to read it when you’re Ma’s age (okay, no, probably 10-20 years older!) and you’re the mother. With brilliance, Laura–the writer–got both sides into that story.

I think that my original reading of A Room of One’s Own was probably right. I think it is a Yes! book. I think Woolf hit several nails directly on their flat little heads. Still…when I read it, I was 18 or 19, barely out of my parent’s house (and only for 9 months of the year!), safely tucked into a dorm, just starting on my dreams of being a writer who might–someday–need that room of one’s own.

Today, I am in my forties, in my own home, a wife and mother, a writer trying to put fiction on the page and do writing that brings in money as well. And guess what–I have that room of my own. It is a wonderful room–lined with walls of books, surrounded by windows that look out on green oaks and the peeling bark of eucalyptus trees. The room has doors I can close, with stained-glass windows my husband designed, built, and installed for me.

Lucky? You bet.

One of the primary feelings I took from A Room of One’s Own all those years ago was the idea of privacy. Uninterrupted, continuous privacy. The quiet to concentrate, to think, and to write.

One of the other feelings, though, was loneliness. Maybe the flip side of privacy? I remember (or think I do) the feeling that having that room of one’s own came with a strong chunk of isolation. I have carried an image in my mind all these years of that room being the dark corner of an attic, or a garret room in a boarding house. Where no one interrupted, but–also–no one visited.

That’s not my room.

My room has space and light and air. It’s got my desk chair, but it has a futon for guests as well, and a rocking chair where my husband or son sit when they come in for a question or a conversation. I don’t often close those beautiful doors. The cat wanders around, trying to hide between those rows of books or jumping onto the top of my monitor and making everything wobble. (What will she do when I finally get a flat-screen one?) The phone rings. I have Facebook & Twitter, this blog and all the ones I read.

Do I get as much writing done as if I had the other kind of room? I’m guessing not. Is that at times frustrating? Um…yeah. Do I sometimes wish the beautiful doors didn’t just close, but had a deadlock and could be cloaked in invisibility? Of course. Would I swap? No.

I think these thoughts are coming along with the bluer skies of Spring, even if it’s still a bit cold. They’re coming as I get some of life’s to-do tasks checked off the list. They’re coming as the house is quiet and tidy, and Bard the cockatiel is singing and swinging in the other room.

My gut feeling is that the room Virginia Woolf describes is a bit too much like Winter for me. A bit too dark and cold, a bit too set apart from other rooms, with other people in them. If I reread A Room of One’s Own now, I’m pretty sure those images she paints will still have a temptation woven through them. But I’m thinking, too, they may not feel quite the absolute ideal that they did all those years ago.

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14 thoughts on “Monday Musings: A Room of One’s Own

  1. Dave Swords says:

    Hi Becky.

    Stephen King advised the same thing in his his book on the craft of writing (I forget the exact title.) He advocated a place to close the world out – completely – at least through the first draft. In fact, his first novel (Carrie?) was written with a typewriter balanced on his lap while seated in the furnace room of a mobile home. I assume his current “Room of One’s Own” has no furnace.

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  2. I think that what a room of one’s own conjures up for me is a place and a feeling of safety. When I was living in places where I didn’t feel safe I had an overwhelming need to have a room of my own, with doors that closed. Now that I am in a different place in my life and I am surround by love and safety, I understand it differently. I love my office, my room of my own. I write in there but I also write in my library which I love and my kitchen nook which I love and my back patio which I love and my courtyard which I love.

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    • beckylevine says:

      I think that may be some of what Woolf felt, if I’m remembering right. That there was no place for her and her writing. Or not just for her, but for women. And that that place needed to have those safe walls and a door she could close and keep close. I’m so glad your world has changed from then. 🙂

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  3. This post really spoke to me and helped me to see a different perspective on my strong desire to have complete, uninterrupted privacy, which I don’t at this time. I venture out to coffee shops, a great space in DUMBO (in Brooklyn), and the library to find my writing semi-peace of mind.

    And although I am productive, I believe I can always get better if I had that absolutely perfect space with a door…my own private writing oasis. A place when the door is closed everyone on the other side understands that I’m working. After reading your post, I never really thought of the potential to alienate my family who may feel like they can’t enter or aren’t welcomed in my dream writing space.

    Thanks for pointing out that a balance can be struck between my espace de privé and the life beyond its walls.

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    • beckylevine says:

      I think there are people who can make the closed-door work without that alienation, and I think we all have to have boundaries to make this writing thing work. It’s a tricky balance to find, obviously, but worth striving for. 🙂

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    • Dave Swords says:

      One added thought, JME, when you mentioned a library. I have gone to a university library in my city. It’s quieter and there were “quiet zones” and study cubicles. A lap top with a music CD helped too. Not everyone has a college library in their town, but for those who do, check it out.

      Also, there weren’t a lot of kids there studying. I wonder what they … 🙂

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  4. Fascinating. I should go back and read it, too. I first read it in college, but reread it seven years, possibly eight, years later, after I had had not only a room of my own, but an apartment of my own in Vienna, Austria, after seven years of marriage. The essay resonated as much then as it did the first time, when I was sharing a dorm room. That apartment is where I started being a writer, marrying what I say with how I say it–even if I was so foolish as to do it in German. I suspect it was not only the space, but the time I had, free from interruptions. And even though I was alone for the vast majority of that year, I don’t remember feeling lonely or isolated. But that was thirty years and a child ago, so it will be interesting to see what Woolf has to say to me now.

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    • beckylevine says:

      I suspect that there are times we want more isolation–when life has been so crowded for a while that it feels good. Living and writing in Vienna must have been amazing.

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  5. Count me in with you and Kathy as having read that book in college and having been struck dumbfounded. The phrase still resonates, but with age I’ve also come to want stretchier, bouncier walls. I think I even lost my paperback copy, though it might be tucked somewhere. How I did love Virginia Woolf. Thanks for bringing that back!

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    • beckylevine says:

      I’m not sure when I got rid of my copy–one of those stages in life where you feel like you ARE managing it all, probably. 🙂

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  6. claudine says:

    This is wonderful. I’ll have to read that book. I’ve fantasized about a writing room. My office is still full of clutter, but one day I hope it will be more functional. Great point about the family welcome. I’ve been having “dedicated writing time” lately, just an hour a day, and then also time when I write as I can. During the dedicated time, I post a note “writer at work.” The other times I’m interruptable. I’ll let you know if it works. Just started.

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