Monday, January 25, 2010

The Right to Write

Today, in honor of Virginia Woolf’s birthday, I would like to pay tribute to a woman who had the courage to point out the special burden that women continue to bear by encouraging all you women writers out there to…


--What? What is it?

Uh, nothing I was just wonderin’ where you were…

--OK, you’ve found me, now shoo away. I’m in the middle of something.

Where was I? OK, yes, a tribute to something or other. Oh, yes, of course. I was going to talk about Virginia Woolf and her famous essay "A Room of One’s Own." I remember reading it in my twenties, and I didn’t understand that what Virginia was talking about was the fact that even if you are lucky enough to have an office and time on your hands – neither of which women of her era ever had -- the one thing you find it hard to achieve is….



I need help!

--With what?

I can’t find my other shoe.

--Well, you found one of them, the other one can’t be far away. Just keep looking….

(Fourteen seconds pass)


--Oh, for God’s sake (stomp, stomp, stomp). Here it is. Right here. It was UNDER your jacket, which is on the floor, where it shouldn’t be. Now go downstairs with your sister and do something non-destructive. I just need ten minutes to concentrate.

All right then, back to the Woolf thing… uuuhhh...imperturbability! Yes, that’s the word I was looking for. Imperturbability is more than having a room of your own. With a door. That can be closed. What’s most important is that that door should not be knocked upon. After all, there’s no point in having an office if just anyone can walk into it, ask you for fruit chewies, and stare at you even as they promise they won’t talk at all.

Imperturbability is hard to come by. And it’s not just the outside world intruding on us. It’s our own sense of guilt that undermines us, too. How do you get to the point where you feel you have the right to not be interrupted? I guess the truth is: maybe you never do.

Of course, it might just be the case that any writer at an early stage of his/her career will experience this. Unless and until you’re earning your keep through your writing, you can’t be considered professional, and therefore you’re not deserving of imperturbability. This is probably why I have evolved a sense that I must “earn my office” by getting published. Right now my “office” is a corner of a spare bedroom with a laptop perched atop a rickety, folding bridge table from the 60s that was left behind by the previous owner of our house. It’s easily broken down and packed away in the event that we have a guest who needs the room. (My desk is so temporary, sometimes I feel like I’m perpetually camping.) In other words, I must give way at a moment’s notice to someone else’s needs. This, of course, was Ms. Woolf’s whole point. Women always had to give way to the needs of others. In her time, women didn’t have the opportunity to slink off and work on their own unless every other job, duty, and social responsibility had been fulfilled. And when did that ever happen? Exactly. Never.

Of course, I realize that times are different, and I choose to give way to others. No doubt there has been progress, but I still feel guilty about my writing time because I haven’t earned my office yet. The simple answer to this problem is, unfortunately, to be selfish. To just declare your Right to Write. To pick a day or a few hours here and there and guard it against all intrusion and interruption, foreign and domestic, no matter how cute or cuddly. It’s hard. It’s darn near impossible, especially when those intruders have the sniffles, but…


--WHAT NOW??!!!

EW! The cat just threw up on the stairs!

--Fine. Just step around it. I’ll be there in a minute.

It’s what you must do if you ever want to get anything done. Guilt is an inescapable part of the deal, and you're just going to have to endure it. I’m telling you, it's the only way…

Hey, Mom! Good news.

--Oh, yeah?

You don’t have to clean up the cat barf.

--Why's that?

The dog ate it.

There. You see? Sometimes problems take care of themselves while you’re working. Perhaps Virginia is looking out for us all.