A Room of One’s Own

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; it is necessary to have five hundred a year and a room with a lock on the door if you are to write fiction or poetry…That five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate, that lock on the door means the power to think for oneself…

Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own.
– “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf

Not too many years ago, it was popular for women of notable social rank and particular luxury to keep a bedroom separate from their husbands. Jackie Kennedy had one, Lady Slim Keith had one, the Duchess of Windsor and Ann Woodward had one, which even facilitated her supposed motive for shooting her husband as an intruder. There were many reasons for this – demanding social schedules required a separate dressing space for formal events, without having to be bothered to wade through your husband’s cufflinks and ties – written correspondence was had not yet been dumbed down to a laptop and an Internet connection, therefore necessitating a proper desk, stationary, and a private place to think – and it lent an air of mystery, if not an illustration of gender separation, to a relationship, when a woman could bathe, dress, and apply makeup in private.

But most importantly, perhaps, the women who could afford it kept a separate bedroom from their husbands because of the underlying desire to have a space entirely uninterrupted, solely to themselves. This practice fell out of fashion for a good while, with the suggestion that couples who don’t sleep together obviously don’t have a happy marriage. (Because, of course – how could you be happy in a space completely outside your husband’s realm?) Thankfully, construction trends seem to be bringing it back.

When I moved into this rumbly old house, I had privately staked out one of the guest bedrooms for my own. It trumped, in my opinion, even the master bedroom. It had two nice windows, one that looked out onto the backyard. It had a spare closet, and the most blank wall space – a treasure indeed, for those of us with a veritable library of books that we tote around with us like old friends and battles-scarred comrades.

But I kept these desires to myself. It wasn’t, after all, my house yet – it was Jack’s, and I supposed it was bad form to start putting up claim flags when you’d only been asked to move in a few days prior.

Then, one day, we were standing there in the doorway, contemplating ideas for the empty room.

“What about a library of sorts,” I suggested shyly.

Jack eyed the room carefully.

“Yes, we could do that,” he said. “But I was thinking maybe more like a study, for just you. It’s important, after all, for a woman to have a room of her own, don’t you think?”

This was definitely, indeed, without a doubt, the man I’d been waiting for.

“I want to do it myself,” I said, after I’d brought paint and supplies home. “It’s important that I do it all by myself.”

Jack agreed, but four coats of paint on a 13×13 room takes a long time by yourself, and so he took to sneaking in while I was at work to put extra coats on the ceiling and trim.

It’s finished, and moved into, now.

It has creamy off-white walls (“Coconut milk?” Jack asked, staring at the label on the paint can. “I want to be the person paid money to think these names up”). It has a red loveseat from Macy’s that folds into a twin bed, with room enough for Jack and I to sit side by side and talk in the evenings, him with his feet on the footrest and me with my knees tucked up under me. It has a brown and red and beige polka dot arm chair where I do all my fiction and essay writing. It has an chocolate stained desk where I pay bills and write letters.

It has brown and red boxes of all shapes and sizes for my stationary, my files, my photographs, and other treasures. It even has a large black and red butsudan – an engagement present from Jack – for my gohonzon.

The floor is all hardwood, and the lighting fixture, door, and heating vent are the originals from 1910.

And best of all, it has seven huge bookshelves that line the walls like railroad tracks to Wonderland. Jack made them himself, spending hours designing them, cutting them, sanding them, and finally hanging them.

They hold all of our books. A whole shelf for feminist theory, another for non-profit management, another for biographies. A whole separate shelf for my Stephen King collection, and another for all Jack’s books in French. Tons and tons of space for things in between.

Like my heart, it’s a small space that is entirely my own. It holds secrets and hopes. And, like my heart, I don’t even have to let anyone in if I don’t want, but of course, I do.

Increasingly, this house is becoming more and more the symbol of both our lives intertwining.

“Did you ever think you’d get married?” I asked Jack the other day.

“No…yes…well,” he said, thinking. “I didn’t have a word for what I wanted. Or at least, I didn’t have an idea to put with that word, until I met you. The concept was sort of like the parlor downstairs. When I bought the house, there was this big open space the front door lead into. It wasn’t the living room, and it wasn’t the dining room, but it was obviously meant for receiving people. I couldn’t think of a word for it. But then you came over for the first time, took one look at it, and said, ‘Oh, you have a parlor,’ and it was so obvious. Of course it was a parlor, and you named it perfectly. The concept of marriage was like that. I had the word in my vocabulary, but you were the one who named it perfectly.”

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