Scrabbling for a room of one’s own

A Wolfe at the Door

In the 1920’s a famous feminist author, Virginia Wolfe, wrote a a collection of lectures that were eventually published as an extended essay entitled A Room of One’s Own. The point of the essay was that throughout history almost all women had run into serious roadblocks whenever they attempted to write. The average women, as Wolfe pointed out, was bound by social expectations, didn’t have many educational opportunities, and if she was married or sexually active it was hard to avoid multiple visits by the midwife. What women needed to become successful writers, Wolfe argued, was a room of their own. In short, women needed the privacy (and the economic security that allowed privacy) in order write. Male writers, even those with extensive families like Charles Dickens, could shut themselves away in the office or room dedicated to their work and their time was treated as sacrosanct. Not so the lady of the house. If she tried to write no one would think twice about disturbing her about the domestic matters that were her “real” job. Only in a room of  her own, safe from the demands of her household, could a woman finish a thought … let alone put it down on paper and edit it.

Prior to the rise of women’s liberation this kind of freedom was a pipe dream for most women. Only those with wealthy families/spouses could have a room of their own. If they had children, then they usually needed servants who would provide childcare. Women writers didn’t even start to appear as literary canon until the 1700’s, and many of the most famous — Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Jane Collier, Sarah Fielding, Emily Dickinson, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty, Dorothy Parker and Virginia Wolfe herself – never married or if they did marry they didn’t have children.  That was the trade-off they had to make for a room of their own.

While women still remain curiously scarce in the literary canon complied by the intelligentsia, women writers are well-represented in the list of the world’s best-selling authors. A room of one’s own has become more accessible, and like Wolfe predicted, women are using it to write books.

 

Not now, Mommy’s writing

I know I have also struggled to find a “room of my own” in which to write. I have three wonderful and eagerly wanted daughters whom I love profoundly, and for various personal, economic, and health reasons I have chosen to be a stay-at-home-parent (SAHP). I have no regrets about this choice, and my husband has been wonderfully supportive. Nevertheless, I would be lying through my teeth if I said this didn’t have an impact on my scholarship and writing output. Just in the process of writing this post I have been interrupted 17 times (I’ve kept count, just to see) by the demands of parenthood. I have been hard pressed to complete a full sentence even though it is a Saturday and my husband is trying valiantly to perform all the childcare duties so I may have peace while I write. He has tried to keep the girls from disturbing me, but his efforts have most often been in vain. The girls just assume that I, as their habitual dogsbody/superintendent, am the person to go to if they need something. Additionally, if Daddy is busy making lunch for Blossom and Bubbles, my toddler Buttercup has no choice but to come to me  so she can demand to be picked up by the ankles and gently swung right now. Our miniature adrenaline junky sees no reason why Mommy’s odd obsession with the computer should interfere with her fix.

Moreover, my standing desk is in the living area, which makes me readily accessible for the children’s requests. There is a very practical reason for this location – I can work at least a little while keeping one eye on the kids. They are too young to be unsupervised, so I cannot retire to a separate office to work. It is reality, and I have dealt with it.

The myriad demands on my time are the reason it took me more than two years to finish my first book, Blood Will Tell. I fear it may take more than two to finish my next one.

 

Granny to the rescue

Honestly, it would have taken longer if it weren’t for my mother, Wanda Cornelius — or as the children know her, Granny. While the children regard their Daddy’s attempts to parent them without me with derision and pity, Granny does not suffers his fate.  Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup regard Granny as vastly superior to me in all ways and could care less if I am even in the house when she is present.  In the opinion of my children, Granny is a kind of Ur-mother, and much better than the one they are normally stuck with. Granny never fritters her time away by folding laundry when there are tiny toenails to be painted, by gum! Granny never tells them they have to wait until after dinner to have dessert! Granny never tells them they have to pick up their toys!  Granny is awesome!

Plus, my mother is a superior housekeep to me in every way. It takes me an hour to clean a kitchen that Granny can whip into tip-top shape in 15 minutes. The woman leaves a trail of cleanliness behind her, like a reverse snail’s track. I am starting to suspect she isn’t entirely human … she is some sort of tidy-Borg uber-Nona.

That’s why huge swathes of the book were written while my mother scurried around in the background, providing me a cocoon of relative peace and semi-privacy. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude for giving me a “room of my own”, even if it had invisible walls and no soundproofing.

Louisa May Alcott famously said, “Every house needs a grandmother in it”. I now suspect that it was only half of what she was actually thinking, and that the rest of the quote was, “Otherwise, no one can write”.

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