A Room of One’s Own (but Woolf probably wasn’t talking about the bathroom)

I’m going to use such gems as “fart” and “puke” and tie it all together with a literary quote from Virginia Woolf. Classy, huh?

Imagine a young, newly married woman going to visit her in-laws in their spacious home. That was me.

My husband and his parents were in the living room, and I wandered away into the family room on the other side of the house. I don’t remember what I was looking for. But while there, I had some intestinal discomfort and passed gas. A lot of gas. But I was alone in a room, so I just walked away leaving the pungent evidence behind to dissipate. No problem, right?

Ack! Did David and his father just go into the family room? But it hadn’t been long enough! I stopped short at the door when I saw the two of them in there, standing and sniffing. I watched his father bend down to peer into a corner. I waved frantically at David and beckoned him over. “What are you two doing in here?” I hissed quietly. He gave me a puzzled look. “There was a stink in here. Dad thinks the cat had an accident. He’s looking for cat poop.” I looked over at my father-in-law as he stood up from his bloodhound impression and said, “I can’t find anything, but I still smell it.” I froze, mortified, as he took a long, deep sniff of my fart.

I could have blamed the cat. I could have wished them good luck in finding a nonexistent cat poop and left them to it. But I really wanted them to stop sniffing immediately. Also, I’ve never been a good liar. “Tell him to stop looking,” I whispered to David with desperate eyes. “Why?” Then his expression changed. “Was that you?” he asked. I backed away guiltily. His father, a bit hard of hearing, missed our whispered conversation. But I heard him and David chuckling as I made a quick escape. Of all the rooms in the house, if they hadn’t chosen that moment to search for a book in that room, I would have made a clean getaway.

I tell that embarrassing story to show the benefit of extra rooms. Now I live in an apartment that is so small you can’t pass gas anywhere inside without everyone knowing it. There is no extra family room where one might be able to get away with an anonymous gaseous event. And as most parents can tell you, even the bathroom has lost its privacy. I remember being a kid and sitting on the floor in the hall, talking to my mother through the locked bathroom door and pushing notes under the crack when she pretended she couldn’t hear me. And now I have my own child who calls urgently for me once I’m in the shower, only for me to find out that his pressing need is a piece of gum from my purse. Or he might be clamoring at the door because a granola bar needs to be unwrapped or the tv channel must be changed. You know, urgent emergencies!

What does any of this have to do with writing?

Virginia Woolf wrote that in order for a woman to be a writer she needed a room of her own. (Woolf wasn’t talking about privacy to use one’s own bathroom, although I’m sure many of you will agree with me – undisturbed bathroom time is the dream!) The room of one’s own is for the woman to be able to leave the common living area and retreat into a creative space away from the frequent interruptions of her household.

I have no room of my own in my tiny apartment. I don’t even have a corner to myself. Some writers get out of the house and choose to work in coffee shops. But I find the noise is super distracting. For me, the particular task of writing requires silence. True, I’m alone after my husband has gone to work and Sweetboy has gone to school. But by then my thoughts are cluttered and the hours fly by filled with housework, errands, and obligations. The need for space and silence is why I do most of my writing in the solitary hours before the sun rises.

But this morning, I am stuck here being quiet and still. Sweetboy is home sick from school with the stomach bug that’s been going around. And sick little boys are restless sleepers. In an apartment this small, most anything I do will likely wake him up. And he begged me to stay close. So I am sitting here, on the couch, with Sweetboy’s feet in my lap, and the vomit bucket within close reach, with my writing paper leaning on a large hardcover picture book called This Is The Firefighter. I can’t leave to do errands. I can’t do noisy housework. I’m rubbing his feet, keeping puke off the couch, and writing. It is a fitting portrait of a stay-at-home-mom who wants to be a stay-at-home-mom-who-writes. I’ll make do without a room of my own. Like now, holed up in my apartment for a sick day, I have found an unexpected tiny pocket of silence in which to write while sharing my space with some little feet.

Where do you make a room of your own in which to write? How do you carve out space when you need it? Maybe you’ve become adept at grabbing the unexpected pocket of space and quiet.

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