For mother’s day I gifted myself a writing desk. Armed with a $100 budget, I made the trek down to the local Ikea. With change left over for an ice cream treat, I purchased a desk, chair and lovely laptop caddy. I returned home and cleaned out a corner I’ve never known what to do with anyway. I assembled my desk and put it in a south facing window. After opening the blinds, I exhaled. For me that was the beginning…again.
I struggled through reading Room of One’s Own the first time around. At 20 and being a fan of the contemporary feminist intellectuals at the time, I could not wrap my mind around the lofty language of Woolf. Angela Davis‘ Women Race and Class was my feminist bible. Davis’ ideology matched my socioeconomic status where Woolf spoke to a crowd of privileged women. The 20 year old struggling student me didn’t get the need for a woman to have her own room when the only room I’d ever had had been mine alone. I was more invested at that time in the liberation of a national mindset that gave women rights to control reproduction but did (does) not provide for equal pay and still required that a woman buying a house as ‘single’ pay a higher interest and one purchasing a home as ‘married’ sign below her spouse. I had some issues with the economics of the feminist discourse (and still do). I believed then and still do today that the women’s rights movement has gotten waylaid by right to life versus pro-choice.
As a single younger woman I lived for me. All money I made was my money. Every space I inhabited was my space. Virginia Woolf‘s principles were my reality and I took them for granted. When I married and I gained a different perspective.
Growing up with Christian sensibilities I struggled with ‘surrender’ in marriage as any good feminist would. But because of my complicated nature, I very much wanted a traditional union. I wanted someone to rely on. I wanted to become one with another. To do this I relinquished individuality in order to become part of a whole.
In the midst of that transformation, Woolf started to make sense. I became one of the privileged middle class women she spoke about in her lectures. Although I worked outside the home, my husband was in fact head of household. As his ‘helpmate’ I surrendered both my room and my money to the union believing that together we were stronger than apart. With that in mind, the mere practicality of Woolf’s advise to have “a room of one’s own” became a romanticized illusion.
In my marriage everything was shared, there were no distinct spaces or places in our home. Eventually he created a makeshift office and I took what later became the baby’s room as my own but even those spaces where joined. I would often wake to find him working on my computer and likewise I kept files on his. I did not have my ‘own’ as Virginia advised. I was a part of a whole and as such purposely relinquished my individuality.
I believed then that my acquiesces was crucial to the marriage success. I believed. I was not coerced. I believed. So I resigned my separate life — the ‘own-ness’ of things — for a life joined and complete. And eventually, I ceased to breath. Not the literal suffocation. Nor did I develop respiratory problems (though I’ve known women who have as a result of their struggles with surrender in unions). Instead I started to feel like a weight was on my chest. An invisible weight holding me in place.
While packing for a road trip one year, I grabbed my copy of Woolf’s Room and shoved it in my bag. I pulled it out at some point between here and there and started re-reading it. Slowly, her message began to sink in and I started to grasp how much I had let go in an effort to join. Re-reading Room was a turning point for me in my marriage. I made the conscious decision to attempt differentiation within the confines of marriage. Christian women should hold on to their hats here because what I am saying is that I started to consider my life apart from my husband. A separate life lived parallel one to the other and with intersecting points but no longer the conjoined two headed creation we had become. In this new view his role as head of household and my role as helpmate shifted as I considered myself as an individual requiring my own space and money. The marriage ended without true exploration of these ideas.
Now as a single mother, I again consider my need for separateness. My son is my own. Truly. And most mothers will tell you it takes some getting use to have a part of you live outside of your body. He coughs and you think ‘we’re‘ catching a cold. Not he but we. The symbiosis required in mothering another goes much deeper than the union of husband and wife. You plan on your children differentiating and support them going out into the world to ‘find themselves’ while you remain home and foundation. You purposefully retard your growth and development in order to help them soar. There is no longer a you in there because you are mother. Every room, every dollar is taken over in the dedication of bringing up productive, happy, well adjusted adults.
However, if the adage ‘you can’t take care of anyone if you don’t take care of yourself‘ is true than creative spirits need places to create apart from the roles and responsibilities we take on. Woolf got that, in the very core of who she was she understood that if a woman is to truly honor herself and be of use to this world we gift our children she must have a sacred space to…be.
In the beginning of my new inaugurated single life there was no space, no place in my home that was distinctly mine. Somewhere made just for me to create and be. I decided it was in fact time for me to design a room of my own. Exhausted from the demands of work and caretaking, I found that I had no energy no ump no ‘mojo’ for anything more creative than replacing pepperoni with slices of fresh zucchini on his pizza (a novelty at first but don’t try that twice in a row).
So I took a weekend when my son was with his father and christened a corner of my room as mine. I took care in planning the space. The same care I took in planning my child’s nursery believing that nurturing the creative in me was just as vital. I cleaned every corner and took away the makeshift tv table that had served as desk for nearly 4 years. The uncomfortable stool, I’d been using as a chair, went back to being a plant stand. I measured the space to make sure whatever purchase I made would be the right fit. My primary requirement was being able to look out the window. After assembling my desk and chair, I cleaned out the filing cabinet that had become more of junk drawer and discovered hidden journals from preadolescence. What treasure! They reminded me that writing has always been my means for spiritual and emotional growth. I would have roped off the space or set up an electric fence to keep out dust particles and jelly stained hands but that was impractical so I settled on lecturing my then 4 year old with this nook belongs to mommy and mommy alone and if you see me working don’t come pointing water guns or any other gun like contraption just play in your room till I’m done.
The I sat about creating. Gun shy about writing I started with photography. I thought as long as I’m creating it’s no matter the medium. But writers write. And medium does matter. In June I took a flying leap determined to write what I wish to write no matter if it matters. Virginia was write all along. I should have started listening years ago.
Do you have a room of your own?
2 Comments Add yours
What a great essay. I’m so glad you’ve come to this point where you are carving out some time for yourself. Your writing is good, and I enjoy reading it every day!
I have only very rarely had a room of my own… as a kid I shared with my sister, in college I always has roommates. Now that I’m married I also share everything. Our apartment is simply too small for either of us to have our own room. But I *always* did have my own desk.
I, too, struggle with the submission part of being a Christian. In fact I flat out rejected that part of the bible for years, deciding that since it was written in a different era (and by men) that it simply didn’t apply. But now I am starting to see some value in it. The way I view it is not that we should let our husbands walk all over us, but rather that we should give our husbands respect and allow them to lead without constantly trying to control everything. I love to have control over every tiny thing, no matter how stupid, so this is difficult for me.
The thing I just can’t wrap my head around, though, is what to do if your husband is a bad leader and is hurting you through his choices? I suppose a spiritual leader would have ome answers, but I can imagine it would be extremely difficult to deal with.
I don’t think that submitting o your husband means giving up everything that is yours (space, activities, identity…) I don’t see hy we shouldn’t still have those things… I don’t think it is in conflict with marriage.
Thank you for making me think!
Thank you. I really appreciate your reading my post. I am also thankful for your thoughtful responses.