April 20, 2010

A Room of One's Own

Virginia Woolf  famously (and long-windedly) said, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

All I ever wanted, even before I started writing, was a space of my own, something inviolable that belonged to only me. I shared a bedroom with my little brother for six-almost-seven years, and when my older brother married, went from the twin beds of babyhood to the big girl world of a double bed and a huge dresser that held only my clothes. Santa brought a bookcase that year. Books and a door behind which to store them: What riches.

Still, the space was not all mine: Mom dictated when the sheets were changed, when I cleaned and what constituted "done," and even when I could read. (Not at all after bedtime, whether by flashlight, the glow of the streetlight in the alley between Warrington and Livernois, or the fading twilight of an early bedtime on a long summer night.) There was no place where my wishes and desires, however small, were not summarily overruled.

Barbie, on the other hand, had a whole house to herself.  There, within its cardboard walls, Barbie had everything she wanted. (As long as she didn't need to eat or pee.)  No one but me could tell her what to do or when she couldn't read.

A couple of years later, when we lived in a different house, and the living room was on the same floor as my bedroom, and family was always just a hallway away, I took to playing in my closet. Like a teenager leaving home for the first time, I furnished my nest-within-a-nest with cast-off and purloined items. First, a scratched and dented TV tray, sneaked up the basement stairs and behind my mother's back as she watched Love of Life and General Hospital, the pop! of its metal legs snapping into the plastic brackets making me hold my breath. A second stealth mission netted a folding chair from our card table set, which I unfolded slowly, hoping to minimize but really just prolonging its screaky complaints. Neither item was regularly used and so, unlikely to be missed. Their misappropriation, however, would not have been tolerated: Those are not toys, young lady, and You don't need to be playing in your closet where I can't see you, and Go outside and get some fresh air!

Shoving my clothes to one end of the closet (and repeating as necessary) left just enough room for my table and chair. A pink crib for Jeannie, a baby-sized doll,  fit neatly beneath the smushed-up clothes. A red plastic desk lamp from my nightstand provided just enough light for reading and writing. Mostly I wrote at our dining room table, one foot tucked beneath me, but there was something particularly thrilling about the stories set down in that little space. Behind that closed door, I was a grown-up writer, with a baby and a place of my own.


  1. I enjoyed your post..I finally at 52 have my very own office space where I can write, eat, watch tv, or do whatever I want..when I was young I used to write and draw under the dining room table (that had a long tablecloth and was never used)

  2. Thanks, Doreen. Congratulations on finally having a room of your own! I bet you have fond memories of that space under the dining room table, though.

  3. You share so much - and transport me back to my own experiences! My 2 younger brothers moved out of my room when I was 5, while my 4 older brothers lived upstairs in the attic dorm-style. I had the coolest closet in the world I think, except maybe yours :)

  4. Being the only one to have a room of your own, now there's a story in that, Mary.