“Women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.”
—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
[Scene: I have taken my little boys to the park, a park that they absolutely loved on our first trip to it last week, in the hopes of getting some writing done in the shade of an ample oak tree the the center of the park while they play. This has seemed completely within the realm of possibility on several occasions, and so I didn’t think myself a complete idiot for having tried on this day.]
I used to think that Virginia Woolf was so passé.
[After typing just this first line, Oliver has interrupted me for the first of what will turn out to be countless interruptions, thus making this particular trip to the park to play and write a complete and utter failure.]
[Next scene: Several days later, at my kitchen table, while the boys scream and run around naked, waiting for breakfast to appear….]
Having taught feminist theory at the college level for some time now, until recently anyway, I always taught Woolf with some trepidation. The irony, however, in this instance is too rich and her relevance too real for me to let pass without further remark.
A room of one’s own, an actual physical space where a woman can cultivate intellectual, literary, creative, artistic, and even moral capacities necessary to her flourishing and general well-being. A room, if you can imagine, constitutive of her very freedom. All of this once induced much eye-rolling from me, seen as the epitome of white privilege, the least attractive kind of feminism, appealing only to naive first-year English majors from good, clean, unbroken families.
Now that time has passed and life taken its course, I see it was I who was naive, to imagine that such a thing was superfluous to the struggle for women’s emancipation (something, by the way, which sounds very old fashioned, but which I still believe is a real thing worth fighting for). Having taken for granted for so long expansive time, solitude, space not constantly invaded by others, a body that was mine in some real sense and not always pulled, poked and prodded by others who put their own needs above my most basic ones. No, now V. W. is my muse. I cling to her and the idea of that room day and night. Sure, it’s true that many are less free than me. I get that. And I am acutely aware how bothered some will be that I write these words at all, let alone while mothers are presently having their children ripped from their arms in this Land of the Free. And though that is a horror unimaginable to me and to most of the mothers I know, and I certainly would never put my own emptiness these days in the same category as that kind of suffering, it is also true that a woman can be made unfree in a myriad of ways. I used to say that to my feminist theory students all of the time, with the sadness of someone who cares for them and knows how many times they will rediscover this truth over the course of their lives. And I suppose that my present circumstance, in which I, unlike the women about whom Woolf wrote, have played some role, for sure, has helped me to see how the denial of time for oneself, specifically time to improve oneself and to make moral, intellectual, and artistic contributions, is a kind of oppression that is most pernicious, not least of all because to carry out of all the little tasks and functions for children and spouse necessary to their own flourishing is to put yourself in the service of others as you watch your own status and capacities diminish. If you are not watchful, ever-vigilant. And people say to me, “It is the greatest gift you could give your kids and family,” or “you will never get this time back,” (yah, that is exactly what I am afraid of, thanks) or “you’re actually taking on the most important role there is—mother.” I find most of that trite and cold comfort, if not offensive. I love my children, yes. I want to spend time with them, yes. But not at the expense of my own sanity and flourishing. Anyone who knows me must know this. (All my friends nodding vigorously now and rolling their eyes. Don’t worry, I am more to say to you later about why I chose this and how I didn’t fully.)
For someone like me, writing, reading, and thinking are what feed my soul. It cannot come last—after my kids, husband, community, politics, etc. It’s not a luxury, to have that time and space, like I once thought. I cannot find myself any other way. My center just will not hold. There’s no self, no family, no community, no politics, no nothing without this. So at the risk of being just another nitwit with a blog, the gift of social media and technology that keeps on giving, here goes.
*Ignore the typos and bad writing. I wrote this in less time than it took you to get ready this morning, while doing more things than you will likely do all day today. So, there.