I picked up The Hours, by Michael Cunningham at a thrift shop (a post modern work based on Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway)--I bought it knowing full well that it was highly acclaimed and of course, I should want to read it. It’s taken me over a decade to embrace its popularity. And after two years on my shelf, I finally read it. You see, I took an entire course on Virginia Woolf in college. It was one of the highlights of pursuing my Women’s Studies degree from the University of Wisconsin Madison. The cross-listed, interdepartmental lit classes that built up my major credits were fairly indulgent, and also a critical motivator. Like, “look what courses I get to take!” And they ALL COUNT TOWARDS MY SECOND MAJOR. With that semester long course entirely focused on Virginia Woolf, I became obsessed, enamored, enthralled, whatever. She was a hero, an enigma, a warrior. A brilliant writer, a total inspiration.
Woolf’s writing made a series of impressions on me, but none so potent as A Room of One’s Own. The title alone speaks volumes, and resonates deeply. It’s such a pragmatic call to action--that in order for one to successfully write, one must have their own resources, and a Room of Own’s Own. Admittedly, I’ve craved this since I was young. I’ve always wanted to live in a treehouse. By myself. In one of my first bedrooms, I claimed one of the two tiny closets in my room (weird architecture, for sure) as “my office”. I did this again as an adult in our 750 sq ft home with newly born twin boys. And again later, in the home we have now, I initially laid full claim to the third bedroom. I can’t say it worked. But it’s been a consistent soul-driven need for as long as I can remember.
Today I write from my messy, cluttered desk space in our “office”, now shared with three others. It’s my desk. My vibe. But it is not a Room of My Own. I crave solitude, independence. And if I’m being honest, it’s not exclusively for writing. It’s for being. For thinking. For making art. For writing notes. For doodling. For daydreaming. I need my space.
How does this work in a relationship? How does one maintain their sense of self, while in partnership with another? The affair one can be most threatened by, in my case, is the affair I have with myself. Truth. I am not seeking another partner. I simply crave the time I can spend alone--feeding my curiosity, pursuing my inspiration, exploring the ideas and whims that strike a hot note for me. This idea can be incredibly unsettling for those near me. I am placing myself first in this narrative...which seems to be counterintuitive to the expectations our society has promoted for so long.
Of course, now there is an entire #selfcare movement, promoting the whole “put your own airmask on first” philosophy. The problem here is that it feels material-driven and luxe-laden. Like “Don’t even with me right now--I’ve earned this” or “treat yo self because you deserve it”. I’m simply doing what I’ve always done to survive. It’s not quid pro quo. You don’t get a night out because you’ve cooked five dinners. You simply do what is necessary to be your best yourself. Don’t get me wrong, #selfcare is awesome, but it shouldn’t be seen as a reward, and it shouldn’t be excluded to “treats”. A trail run or a walk in solitude can be #selfcare. Time to read, without interruption or distraction absolutely feeds the soul. Breathe in, and give a deep exhale, now.
Knowing yourself, and your needs is step #1. Communicating this to your partner, your family is #2. Then, being able to make this happen without anger, resentment or jealousy is step #3. And it has to be reciprocal...this may be what I need, but is that for everyone? Striking that balance is the heavy lift. It comes with a thousand tiny heartbreaks when you are being most honest, and hopefully, can be healed with the grace and love of someone who truly gets you.