A Room of One’s Own

I’ve been thinking a lot for several months now about “a room of one’s own” to work in, to read in, dream in, just be in. Last May I moved into my new husband’s house and moved all my furniture and boxes of books into his garage. In June the builders began work on a new addition that would also hold my study, be my workplace, and contain all my books. On Saturday night, they finished. I get to move in this week. My husband, a former librarian, will arrange my books and I will set up my desk, hang my pictures, and readjust my desk chair to just the right height. Ah, then I’ll be ready for anything, right?

Right. And yet…

While it will be wonderful to have a steady place to go each morning to read my email and read student work, I’ve learned through this process that I don’t have to be as chained to my desk as I once felt I had to be to produce my writing. Or maybe I should say I’ve been reminded of that. When I began writing, I did all my work in longhand on yellow legal tablets that I then revised once before committing the story to the computer. As I was typing it in, I did another revision, adding, deleting, changing, getting new ideas. That, then, became my first full draft. Before I was ready to sit down at the computer, I wrote all over the house, in the yard, in the car, at my children’s ballet lessons. It was catch-as-catch-can and it was all I could manage back then. I printed out the revisions and took them with me, doing new revisions by hand on the printout, using the backs of the sheets to add or expand upon scenes.

Somehow, once my children all left home I came to the notion that I should sit at the computer and do all the work on it, revising the same document over and over there on the screen in front of me. I suppose I thought I was being more efficient. Maybe I was, but maybe efficiency wasn’t the object I should have been seeking. Since May, I’ve worked on my writing and on my student packets on family trips to Arkansas, Missouri, D.C., and Italy. I’ve worked on airplanes and in airports, on guest bedroom beds, in baby’s room rocking chairs, and even in the back seat on car trips. At home I’ve worked in an Adirondack chair on a shady porch, upstairs in a small attic room, and sitting in a lawn chair in the middle of a flowing brook with my bathing suit on and feet dangling in the water. I’ve written in longhand and on the lap top, in notebooks and on the edges of a sudoku puzzle book. I’ve also dozed and dreamed and gazed up into the blue and white of the Vermont summer sky. I love that I am no longer chained to my desk.

So. Here I am, excited about soon having this new room of my own, my desktop computer back in its place on a real desk, my books in shelves made especially for them on the wall behind me, a view of rural Vermont before me. I will use that space, of course, but I hope I don’t lose the mobility (and actually pen-on-paper handwriting) that I have regained in these months. I do want to lose the feeling of needing a particular book and knowing it is four boxes deep in the garage. I look forward to knowing exactly where it is on my shelf. I want  to lose the unsettled feeling of having my life stored in the garage, but I don’t want to lose the new/old freedom of writing in the world, writing about the real water running over my real toes, the real little fishes darting through the shadowed water, those little fishes only hints of the much larger ones well hidden in the shade of the rocky pools.

I hope I don’t forget to let my mind wander, doze, dream…and remember:  I met Eudora Welty two times in my life. Once with a friend in an otherwise empty hallway after her appearance at the University of Chicago; another time at a luncheon at the Southern Confederation of Writers in Chattanooga where she pretended to remember me from the Chicago meeting. What a gracious lady! Before I met her the first time, I had read much of her work, but between the meetings I found THE EYE OF THE STORY in which she paraphrased something Virginia Woolf had said about making discoveries in subsequent drafts: “The fishes get bigger the deeper you go.” By the second meeting, I’d begun to understand what those two writing women meant by that and in all the years since, I’ve known I had to keep going deeper to find my real story and I’ve taught my students the same things. Funny what putting your toes into some cool brook water can do for your memory, your writing, your teaching, and your sense of the self you have become as a writer and a woman.

I hope this new room of my own never closes me in, but encourages me to wander, to dream, and remember. I hope it becomes the whole wide world.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “A Room of One’s Own

  1. carmelamartino

    Sharon, thanks so much for sharing this: “The fishes get bigger the deeper you go.” I’m in the midst of trying to go “deeper” into my current WIP. It’s hard, and sometimes even scary, but so rewarding. 🙂
    I love the image of you sitting at work in your new space, in addition to all your wonderful portable spaces.

  2. Kathi Appelt

    Sharon, this post has been lingering in my head. I just love thinking about those fishes, especially since I’m right in the middle of a big revision.
    Love this. Watch out for those toes.

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