Dear reclusive reader,
In her 1929 essay, Virginia Woolf wrote her now-famous words.
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
Lately I’ve been daydreaming — as I type on my laptop at our dining room table covered with books and papers, my husband at the other end with his stacks of work documents and his own laptop, my oldest daughter singing into her ipod, my youngest playing with her train set and watching Spongebob Squarepants with the volume on high, all of us together in our cozy home. I sit and I daydream about a quiet place. A room, with a closing door. A room of my own.
My daydreams have lingered here recently, in this hobbit-style house in Wales, but I’ve also daydreamed about a private library like one of these or a writerly cabin along these lines. Here, in one of these secluded, quaint, peaceful locations, I could lose myself in my next novel. I know I could. That is all that separates me from the freedom to imagine.
But before family guests arrived last month, I took the time to clean out my upstairs “cloffice.” It is an unfinished, windowless walk-in closet with an open doorway. The walls are unfinished Sheetrock, and a bare lightbulb hangs from the ceiling. When I sit in the metal folding chair at the rickety desk, my back touches the clothes on the rack behind me. Books threaten to bring down the one little shelf, and dozens of other books are piled in three-foot high stacks at my feet.
This is where I wrote The Snow Child. Two hours every night, one chapter at a time. It’s strange, but I don’t remember ever sitting here. All I can recall is the unfolding story, the words sometimes flying from my brain, other times coming slowly, painfully.
As I stood in my “cloffice” I realized I have a room of my own, and yet even it is only a metaphor. There hangs my wedding dress in its crinkly bag from nearly 20 years ago, and there my late-grandfather’s corduroy work shirt. Here is my bathrobe beside my husband’s, and there my daughters’ Christmas dresses with their satin green bows. The books have their own titles — Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, Louise Edrich’s Love Medicine, Report of an Expedition, Fieldguide to Alaskan Wildflowers …
This is the space I occupy when I write.
If I want to lose myself in my next adventure, I don’t need a private hobbit house or an ornate library. If only it were that simple. Instead, I have to be ready to spend some time up here, in my own mind. It’s not a vast space, and it’s a little rough around the edges, never tidied up or completely finished. It’s plastered with memories, some of the magical and joyful, some melancholy and frightening. Its decor is a haphazard gathering of books and words and art and music.
It isn’t perfect, but it’s my own.