A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. – Virginia Woolf
Growing up as an only child, I always had my own room. At times I had my own bathroom, even my own balcony. When I was nine the entire top floor of our condo, which included two rooms and a loft, belonged to me, though I usually played in the storage nook halfway down the staircase, which I also claimed. At our house in
Dorm life in college was miserable. With parents who lived overseas, all of my things were with me, and I had to share a room a fourth the size of what I was used to. My roommate and I agreed an off-campus apartment was in order the moment we were allowed to have one. I had my own room again, and eventually my own apartment. Heaven.
Then I got married and had kids. I’ve accumulated more things over the years and my personal space has shrunk. I have to wonder what Virginia Woolf would think of my ‘room’ today.
Here is my desk. It’s a bit cramped, but it’s mine, at least until one of the kids commandeers my computer to play Webkinz or leaves artwork or trinkets they’ve made for me on one of my piles of papers. During the day, it’s a little oasis in an otherwise chaotic house. Beside me, I have vintage postcards of Roycroft and other
To my left is a wall of photos and sketches of the women of generations past and present, other than for a lone photo of Carl by the lamp. The cabinet, not generally left open, is where I cram correspondence and research material related to my book. What doesn’t fit in there fills filing cabinets under the printer, the lamp and my desk. Things I've not yet found a home for wind up stacked behind my monitor. That pile is frightening. Yes, I can find things, but only when I don’t need them.
To my right hang examples of the artwork my great-grandmother, Madonna, did at Roycroft. On the bookshelf rest a menagerie of family photos and rocks plucked from the spot where Carl and Madonna met and the Ojibwa reservation where Carl once lived. One of Carl’s paintbrushes is in the vase, though I often fiddle with it when the words don’t flow. It still smells faintly of turpentine and I love running my fingers over the patches worn smooth from long use. In case you're curious, the nude woman in the one photo is Madonna.
My most constant companion through the day is the dog. If only he would always be as sweet as he is in this photo. While writing this he’s attempting to hump one of the cats. Seeing she just spent the last 20 minutes sharpening her claws, I imagine she’ll win this battle soon. In the meantime, I have earplugs.
My space is cramped, but manageable, at least until three o'clock on school days. After that, all hell breaks loose. My room is not a room at all, you see, but one wall of a living area in the middle of the house. This space is also occupied by three animals and three kids. The 39-year-old boy may not look like a kid, but he’s the loudest and has the biggest toys.
Here is his space. Keep in mind that I took this photo while sitting in my desk chair and no, I did not zoom in. The corner of his desk is 52 inches from the back of my chair. He’s a gamer, so when he’s home, he rarely leaves this desk unless one of the kids needs him or I present him with a list of chores. Now, out of courtesy to me, he does wear headphones. This prevents me from hearing the incessant music, gunfire or other sound effects. A drawback of his chivalry is that the children always come to me to fix drinks, snacks, malfunctioning electronics or out of boredom. Another negative is that his new headphones are equipped with a microphone, in which he frequently talks to other players. Imagine what a disruption it is to be immersed in the world of 1908 Toronto and have the guy behind you pipe up with, ‘Can I blast this one away with the regular machine gun or do I need the vaporizer?’
Hence the bright pink earplugs. Yet, if I wear them while children are home, who will notice when heads are bonked or the verbal sparring comes to blows? Even on those occasions when I put my husband in charge of his offspring for a few hours, I can't escape the household melee because I don't have a laptop. Volcanoes built in the kitchen erupt to squeals of delight uttered less than ten feet away from me. When the phone rings, I hear it in triplicate. If a visitor should push the doorbell, it chimes directly overhead. Just seventeen feet of echoing laminate floor separates me from the big screen TV, fully pimped with surround sound, a Play Station 2, a Wii, and an Xbox.
Sometimes desperation allows me to tune it all out enough to work. I wrote a heated argument scene to the soundtrack of Dora the Explorer. A pivotal romantic scene got penned while my husband and a neighbor jammed to "American Woman" on Rock Band. Madonna was indeed an American woman, but Carl was decidedly not telling her to stop knocking round his door ‘cause he didn’t want to see her shadow no more.
Clearly I need a proper space of my own, but my only option is to take one of my daughter's rooms. I can’t ask an eight-year-old to share with a four-year-old, especially since she's had her own room since birth. Doing so would rob them both of a private place to dream, something that was vital to me as a child and helped shape me into the writer I am today. There’s no place for a makeshift office in my bedroom, and I’d never sleep if my computer were there anyway. A room could be built above the garage but at great expense. Right now I’d settle for a little shed in the backyard, provided it had electricity and a window air-conditioning unit.
When I expressed my desire for my own space to my husband, he smiled, kissed my cheek, and told me I could have anything I want if I just sell a couple of million dollar books.
Yeah, I’ll get right on that, Honey. Now, go watch the football game in our bedroom.