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.