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The pandemic gave me a room of my own

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

Virginia Woolf‘s enduring gift of words that a woman should have a room of her own has finally hit home for me. In particular, Woolf’s talk where she offered these words referenced the intersections between women and writing fiction. In order to do so, women need privacy, autonomy, power — a room. Many have extrapolated that statement to go beyond the need of a room for writing. I too am embarking on that extrapolation.

As a girl and an only child until I was 14, I always had my own bedroom. There I played with my dolls, read books, listened to music, and talked too late into the night on the phone with friends. I was allowed to decorate it in the way I wished. My grandmother even let me pick out a painting at a mall art store to hang in my room.

I can recall playing pretend apartment. I lived in an apartment with my mother, but pretended that my bedroom was my apartment. I would close the door and pretend to jangle keys in the non-existent key slot. I had a play kitchen for a while where I could “make” my own meals. Sometimes in these pretend games I lived with my imaginary children, but just as often I lived alone enjoying my self, my imagination, my poems and songs that I composed. My bedroom was my world.

Fast forward to becoming a mother and wife by 21 years old and a room of my own was hard to come by. I shared a bedroom with my daughter and her father for a while. After we divorced, I lived on my own with my daughter for maybe a year or so. Then, I moved back to my mother’s Brooklyn apartment and took up my old bedroom. I bought a day bed that came with a trundle bed so that I could sleep with my daughter again by my side.

As a single mother who was a student and/or was working full-time, even when I had my own bedroom, it wasn’t like it used to be when I was a girl. For years it was just a place to rest, get dressed, and maybe read a little. I gave up on making a world that was just mine after I had a child. Everything that I did was towards getting a good education so I could get a decent paying job to take care of myself and my daughter. There was no more poetry. A creative life disappeared in the pursuit of stability.

Fast forward I have now been with my second husband for almost 17 years. In 2018 we moved into a four bedroom three-story twin home. On the second floor there are two bedrooms. When we moved in one of the rooms was designated as the guestroom. In the other 2nd floor bedroom we put a pullout couch and our largest TV. We called this room the TV room and, it happened to also serve as my office.

I have worked from home since 2015 and have always carved out a space to get my work done. So, in this new home, behind the couch is my desk. A little space. I envisioned that by day I would work at the desk and take up just a couple of the draws in the built-in closet system to hold office supplies. After all, the primary use of the space was supposed to be for my daughter to flop around on the couch watching cartoons and for my partner to watch sports on the big screen TV over the weekend.

Once the pandemic hit, my first grader and 3 other children were using our finished basement as a classroom. My partner started working from home and set up a workspace in the guest room. We were all together all the time.

My desk faces the three bay windows so that I can see outside. No longer meeting anyone in person one to three times a week, I was stuck at home. The TV room slowly started to become my office. When virtual school was over, my daughter couldn’t come in this room to watch TV. I needed her to respect the space as my office, to knock on the door, observe when I was in a meeting and try to leave me alone unless she really, really, REALLY needed me to get her a popsicle.

Then, at the end of May 2021, I quit my job. Surprisingly, I still kept coming to the TV room to spend my day. I was transitioning into consulting work and trying to build a consistent writing practice. I still needed my corner facing the window.

At some point during that summer though, I did something I couldn’t fathom doing a year prior. I had saved handwritten note cards that were thank you’s or birthday wishes from friends as well as thank you and farewell notes from work colleagues. I read some of these one afternoon and realized that some of them were really inspiring, motivating, and a good reminder of the value I offer to others. Rather than relegating these momentoes to a box, I decided that they should be decoration. There’s a slither of wall space between the closet and window. I used thumbtacks and started hanging those cards up. The room was shifting from being the TV room to a room of my own.

In October 2021, I had a work retreat that turned out to be a spiritual revival for me. I wasn’t expecting that. Nonetheless, when I got home, I was determined to create an altar. In my bedroom I had carved out a spot in a little alcove to place a chair and bookshelf. I intended it to be where I could journal and meditate on a daily basis.

Well, I ended up creating that altar in the TV room, which at the moment, become my office. It is my room. It is my retreat from child, spouse, and the cat. It is where I find flow when working or writing. It is where I pray, meditate, and journal every morning. I wind down from the day in here, watching TV or writing.

So how do I feel about this room? The best I can describe it is thinking about how an English lord must have felt in the 1790s when he retired to his study or the Library. The domain was inherently off limits to others. When he was in that room he was not to be disturbed, he could close the door and do whatever he wanted in there.

I had no idea how much I desired that autonomy and power to go to a room of my own. Not since childhood have I felt connected to my creativity and imagination as much as I now allow myself to be in my own room. It is now known in my family as “mommy’s office”. Sure, the little one can come in here to watch TV sometimes. And, I have absolutely no problem kicking her out. If a game is on, my husband now asks if he can watch in my office but more often than not will watch in the kitchen or the smaller television in his office/guestroom.

Claiming a room of my own took decades. First, I suppose I needed to have the actual space to do so. Then, I had to find a reason to possess it. It took 3 years to do so in this house and 25 years as a grown up to have my own room again. Having the space also makes me feel more empowered to take up other space too. I am more willing to share my ideas, thoughts, assert my needs, etc. since having a room of my own.

In 1929, Woolf noticed that it was practically impossible and improbable for women fiction writers to have a room of their own. Yet, she affirmed that it was necessary. Stay at home mothers, working mothers, single women, women creatives and entrepreneurs — we all need a room of our own. I am so grateful to have the privilege of having space to have one and sense enough (eventually) to claim a room of my own.

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