My Space

a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)

Because my parents had a girl and a boy, I pretty much always had my own bedroom when I lived at home. My brother and I shared a room for a time – was his crib in my bedroom? I forget. I do remember that his first “big boy” bed was a trundle bed, pushed under my twin bed each day and set up each night. But once the living room was expanded, he was given a corner of that for a bedroom until my father finished the attic room for me. Then Kevin moved into my bedroom and I moved to the attic.

I also had my own room when I moved to my first apartment, and when my roommate moved out, I got the entire apartment, that is until my boyfriend moved in a couple months before we moved to Pittsburgh. Since then and until recently, however, I never had my own space.

I suppose I didn’t know I wanted a space of my own. I don’t recall longing for it until the past decade or so. Perhaps I was fine with just Dean and me – we didn’t fill the house so. And the first few years with the kids – they were so busy, I didn’t have time to seek solitude, nor, I suppose, did I desire it. I was having fun being a mom.

In 1994, when my children were small, in order to fulfill my teaching recertification requirements I took a class called Women in Education. It was mostly about women writers and one of our required readings was Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. We also read pieces from other women authors – one story in particular stands out, but I don’t remember the author or enough about the story to find it again. Sometimes I wonder if it was a nightmare – what could happen if I was not careful.

In the story a woman from sometime in the past – late 1800’s? Early 1900’s? 1950’s? – desires a room of her own. Perhaps she just wants to get away from her demanding children or perhaps she wants to write. Maybe she just wants a place to call her own. Anyway, her husband has the attic of their house refinished and she moves in. She loves this place and hangs out there often. Slowly, however, her children spend time there, they go up and disturb her when she needs peace. Perhaps her husband also visits too often. Eventually she throws herself out the window to her death.

I think I might have obsessed on this story, because a couple of women in the class who were work associates with my best friend at the time, talked to her about their concerns regarding my mood. I guess they thought I was depressed. I suppose I might have been – we’d just moved to a new home in a new state. I was stuck in the house most days with two toddlers. I had no friends in the neighborhood and was not socially comfortable enough to try to make some. My husband and I were not adept at hiring babysitters, so we never went anywhere without the children. I also was dreading going back to work, but thought my husband wanted me to.

I suppose it was this time that I began wanting a place of my own. We had a partially finished attic that was usable in moderate weather. Summers were too hot and winters were too cold, but spring and fall were perfect for spending time there. I made it into an office of sorts for grading papers and writing lesson plans.

Eventually my husband and I made a decision to refinish it and we could both use it for office space. He oversaw the project and by summer of 1998 the room was ready to be made use of which was lucky for me because I’d just quit my job to go back to college for a masters degree. My husband agreed to let me have the attic for two years while I worked on my degree.

Those two years were delightful. I spent most of my waking hours in the attic, sometimes working on the degree, other times traveling the new-to-me expanses of the Internet and World Wide Web. I loved the smell of the attic and the freedom of my solitude. The kids were both in school, so I had few responsibilities during the day.

In 2001 I began working full time. I also gave the attic back to my husband. I did so out of guilt. He’d not had a chance to experience this room that he watched transform from a dusty attic to a sanctuary. I moved all my belongings to the downstairs office, one that was shared with the children, two cats and adjacent to the laundry room and family room. I tried to make it my own, but it never did become mine. The only good thing about being down there was the proximity to the laundry room – we had clean clothes more often.

Since 2001 and my move, I’ve been in a blue mood more often than not. Part of that was probably the office job – it was so different from teaching and I didn’t get my summers off. I went part time and worked at home after a couple of years, but that work was usually done in the living room on my laptop or in the downstairs shared office space. I rarely visited the attic anymore – it made me too sad. The sanctuary was no longer mine, but my husband’s. He rarely used it as well, only for bill-paying and if he worked at home during the day or on weekends. When I complained about not having my own space my husband said that I got the entire house to myself for most of the day during the school year. While there was no arguing with his logic – he was right – I still felt that I needed my own space. What if I needed the solitude when everyone was home?

Earlier this year I purchased a newer router – one that had a range that reached the attic office. I tried to work in the attic a few times, and was able to get work done. I eventually did most of my work in the attic again, but it didn’t feel like mine. My husband insisted I keep it neat for him. (I’m not really a neat person).

Then one day I decided to try the other side of the attic. The side with the television and sofa (we’d recently purchased a second-hand Ikea sofa to replace a ratty old uncomfortable sofabed). I’d set up a desk for my daughter’s never used sewing machine a year ago and it looked out over the tulip poplar growing in our side-yard.

The desk was perfect for my laptop. I began having a feeling of ownership and have spent the last few months making this my space. Yes I share it with Dean’s stuff. Yes there is no door between the two areas. But it is mine. It has worked out well. It is away from the main floor of the house – the kids come home from school and do their own things and I can continue working until supper time. Granted, laundry doesn’t get done as often as before, but it’s a small price to pay for my sanity. The large window no longer looks inviting for a dive through and my mood is noticeably lighter, although I do have to share with the occasional bug.

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