Saturday, October 30, 2010

21st Century Woolf

It just occurs to me that the best words of wisdom I have heard about writing come from two writers whose works I really haven't read.  Virginia (Woolf)'s essay entitled ''A Room of One's Own" has been my clarion call since before I read it.  And once I finally did read it, two years ago, well, the woman is simply brilliant.  (I just can't seem to get into her fiction.  Huh.)

I don't have her essay here with me.  But I feel that I am living it.  Virginia's contention is that men in her time were more successful authors than women for a number of very simple reasons:  they had the freedom to write, they had the income to write, and they weren't getting knocked up every eighteen months and raising a passle of snotty nosed children. 

Nowadays the passle of kids is a choice, and not nearly as time-consuming as we all like to moan about.  (Is passle a word?)  The exception is the first few years with multiple small children, but those do pass.  Sure, we have to keep the buggers fed and clothed but we now have ovens, stoves, microwaves and take-out menus.  We have washers and dryers so that the laundry doesn't take an ENTIRE DAY out of every week.    Oh  - and the clothes DO make themselves.  Or at least some underpaid and underfed child laborer in China does.  And we have supermarkets.  We aren't raising and slaughtering our own meat or growing and canning our vegetables or going out the chicken shed or milking the cows twice a day.  And we aren't chopping the wood for our heating.  Or spending another day a week on our hands and knees doing the floor.  (Honestly, I can't imagine caring enough about the appearance of my floor to spend an entire day on my hands and knees on it but..) 

So that I think the biology of breeding has been taken out of the mix as an excuse.

Having an independent income would be nice.  No worry about mortgage or college tuitions or those braces Ryan and Andrew are going to need.  But we have the freedom to earn an income.

So that I'm actually forgetting what I was going to complain about in the first place!

Oh.  Yeah.  THE ROOM.  OF ONE'S OWN.  Time, breathing space, a moment to oneself. 

The second brilliant writer I worship but don't read is Stephen King.  Not my style.  Although I will be taking out all of the books under the King section in the Brisbane public library because I want to see what I've been missing.  I'm not into sci-fi or horror or creepy and weird.  I have enough trouble dealing with the horrors of reality and don't need anything more to lay awake nights trembling about.

But he knows how to write.  And he says a writer has to...guess what...write.  (And read too.  Yay.  I have access to English language libraries again and free license to do what I love best.  And call it work.)  A writer, according to Stephen, has to write.  A lot.  And to do that you need a place of your own.  His own words, a century after Virginia said the same thing.

Stephen doesn't say you need a ROOM per say.  He wrote his first two published novels, Carrie and 'Salem's Lot,  ''in the laundry room of  a doublewide trailer, pounding away on my wife's portable Olivetti typewriter and balancing a child's desk on my thighs."  You can either hate people like this or you can try to emulate them.  But the room, according to Stephen, ''really needs only one thing:: a door which you are willing to shut."  And that is when I realize that Stephen's wife, also an author, was taking care of the kids a large percentage of the time he was writing.  I believe he'd be the first to admit it too.  (And the guy was writing four hours a day, at night, while holding down a full-time teaching job, so that I am not saying he had it easy either.  Virginia again.  Independent income.  Which Stephen has NOW but did not have when he started.)

I'm reliving all this in Iglersreuth this month because I don't have internet access.  Poor baby.  Virginia would not be impressed.  But Damon is home, on our only table, working.  He dominates the scene and the access to cyberspace.  And I am drained by the demands of teaching in the mornings, entertaining the children all afternoon (although we have a good time) and then home, hearth and husband to boot.  Always there.  Sapping my space.  I have managed to condense that ''room of my own'', that space with a door, into a laptop and a blind eye to the mischief around me.  And still I am fighting for that.

But Damon is supportive of my writing.  And the kids start all-day school in January.  So that maybe, and maybe soon, my day will come.  I envision myself in puffy blue houseslippers and a flowered house dress, my hair done up in rollers and a coffee in my hand, cheerfully handing everyone their lunchbags on the way out the door.  Never mind the rollers.  Too much work.  Hair in a bandana wearing an old Tshirt of Damon's, sitting in front of the sliding glass doors, sunlight already streaming in at 8 AM, and sitting down to work on my writing.

Virginia's dream realized. 

Because women like her worked hard to make it possible for women like me to have the freedoms and luxuries (and yes, doing the laundry in a washing machine IS a luxury!) we have.  Because technological advancements have given me time I wouldn't have had  a century ago.

And because I've been working long enough, hard enough, with four little monkeys clinging to my back to appreciate the gift of time and space I am being given.

A whole lot of nothing.  That's what I'm getting for Christmas this year.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the work-space issue. Having a room of one's own is heavenly. I don't know what direction things will morph into once our kids each get their own room (no fair!) and I start sharing my space with wifey. I'm sure it will be fine, though. Good luck finding your own space Down Under.
    Please contact me for a private tutorial as you read through every luscious page of Mrs. Dalloway! Please start there with Ms Woolf's fiction and we can carry on a seminar via skype. Please! I've taught it about 10 times and would love to do so again.