If I were an all-powerful benevolent dictator, there are a few things I'd mandate: 1) marriage, reproduction and gun ownership would require a six month curriculum before a person could be licensed to do either. 2) all countries that lie at greater than 43 degrees latitude would have snow for Christmas, and 3) every young woman, by the time she is twenty-one, will have read Virginia Woolf's 'A Room of One's Own.'
I didn't read this book until I was twenty and I remember thinking I wish I had read it a few years earlier because it would have made me reconsider what I deserved and needed as a woman in a largely man's world. Even though I assumed I would have a career after college I also assumed that marriage and children would come along at some point and that the default scenario would be me staying at home to raise the kids. And that's pretty much what happened. It took us awhile to reproduce. But once that baby popped out, I felt satisfied to sit back with him latched onto my boob while I caught up on my New Yorker back issues.
After a few months of doing essentially the same damn thing every single day I started to remember that book. There is tremendous value in staying out of the M-F workforce to give our children the attachment they need to become empathetic creatures. But it is also important for that stay-at-home parent to have something to occupy her brain other than maintaining the domestic front and the metabolic functions of her progeny. Wolfe maintained that a woman needs financial security and her own space where she can be creative, or at least shut the world out and focus her mind on her own interests. And since housekeeping was, and still is, largely done by women raising kids, that personal space was rarely established. Who can afford an extra bedroom simply for a woman to think in?
I hear all the time from my women friends who work and raise kids that they are still the ones mentally and physically coordinating the day to day needs of the family. And it's this constant multi-tasking that begins its insidious work of eroding what our goals might be for ourselves. It seems too often our goals are simply to get to the end of the day having deposited children at school, attended to their meals, their afterschool programs, their homework. The time while they're at school we are getting the oil changed, the groceries bought, the bills paid, the laundry washed, the house cleaned (or in my case simply tidied - don't even think about getting close to my floor). When I come to the end of another day I can sometimes say I spent time writing or studying Google Analytics or figuring out a new plug-in for Word Press.
Now that I have my own flat, I don't feel as restless or resentful. I'm also terrified of how I'm going to be paying my rent in another year. But I try to ignore that screaming voice in my head in order to focus on what I might be passionate about doing for a living. Having my own place is helping. This space of my own, even though I share it with Z, is something I've missed and something I haven't had since I was a kid in my parent's house. As a girl I created an even more intimate space inside my closet. I constructed a desk from a cardboard box, ran an extension cord inside so I could place a lamp on my work area, and I would sit on a stool drawing pictures of young women in princess dresses with conspicuous cleavage. I would also write long, agonizing analyses of how my boy crush looked at me that day and what it might mean for our future together.
The creative area in my current flat is not a room, it is a space. To be exact, it's about three feet by four feet, in a bookcase alcove next to the fireplace. And because it's recessed like this, it almost feels as though I'm in my own room - it just lacks one wall and a door. I've hung a painting by my talented friend Roxanne who inspires me to simply keep doing the work and putting myself out there, as she has done. I have bulletin boards where I've tacked cards and photos that inspire me or challenge me (like the Spanish postcard that simply says 'Que es la veritat?' 'What is the truth?')
My bedroom is mostly bed, so I've put a lot of thought into how I want to feel when I'm there. I've made it so appealing that when I'm having a crap day I often just go crawl into it. My sitting room is dominated by the grand fireplace, which is half the reason I took this flat in the first place. That, and the fact I have big blocks of east and west facing windows which shower fantastic light inside all day. It also means the people at the pub across the street can watch me make dinner or dance around with my iPhone while doing the dishes. The only thing I really miss is having a table, a proper dining table, around which to bring friends for a meal. Last spring I had some friends over for dinner. We constructed pulled pork tacos in the kitchen then balanced our plates on our laps in the sitting room chairs. I'm thinking maybe I should invest in those finger food plates that hang off your wine glass. Then I become a whiz at hors' devours and tapas. That's the only way I'm going to properly feed people my place. Unless all they want to do is drink wine. Which, in this country, is certainly an option.
Having this place is helping me figure out who I've become and where I want to go with my life. When we look for identity, we often point to the things we spend the most time doing. Is that work, parenting, our hobbies? I would like to think my identity is not primarily one thing, but the sum of all things that are important to me. What's most important to me is that I value and deepen my attachments to people and to my creative endeavors. That, and I prevent Z from eating all his Halloween candy in two days.
So how would Virginia Woolf feel about my 500 square foot flat? I think she would approve. This space is soothing and healing and I'm productive in it most days. Even if I never live in a big house again, I will make a space for myself, especially if the rest of the house is shared with other people. And I do want to share again some day. I will want the boisterous chaos of kids and visitors and big messy dinners that get to be enjoyed around a table. But I won't ever give up again having a room of my own.