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09 June 2010

a room of one's own

'a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction'
 Fanny Price (Sylvestre Le Tousel) writing from her attic room 

virginia woolf got it right. in her famous essay a room of one's own she pointed out that we cannot know the true capacity and genius of women because women rarely create under the same circumstances as men. we are burdened with domestic duties, socialized to care for others' needs, and rewarded for catering to everyone but ourselves.and since writing is a selfish task that requires uninterrupted stretches of time, hours spent actively putting words to paper and sometimes just the need to wander around and let ideas knit themselves together in your mind, you cannot rush. you can't just schedule it into the hour blocks while the kids are in school or wrap wrap it up in time to get dinner on the table. writing requires the freedom, agency and resources that allow you to close your own door, set your own hours, and make your own rules. 

fortunately, i've the luxury of an entire room for myself and the privilege to use it with alice in school until 4pm and al at work until 7pm. this way, mornings and early part of the afternoon are all for myself. it's heaven, but i never was a morning person, so i'm not at my best with this timetable. most of the time i don't ge the feeling of accomplishment and i get carried away. my ideal day would be to sleep away around 10am, then slowly functioning through the day, starting to write late in the afternoon and through the night, when i'm more productive. impossible. there're my mommy and wife-duties by then. but i don't complain at all. better having a forced timetable than not having time to write at all hey! lbecause, like lord byron said, 'if i don't write to empty my mind, i go mad'. 
Writing at Grizfork studio (Pica Pica)

Each day begins
w/ the conversations of magpies
who never run out of things to talk about

Each morning unfolds
w/ the fact of those mountains
who never feel the need to say a thing

I sit at my desk
w/ both of them and try
to grab hold of something that lies between the two

On a good day,
I come close.

--from The Moon Cracks Open: A Field Guide to the Birds 

considering this nature of mine, my father used to say 'you better find a husband who is willing to read what you wrote during the day rather than someone who wants to find dinner ready when he gets back from work!'. he was right, having a partner who appreciates and supports your artist soul is important. i consider myself an artist and believe that the designation artist is not in the first place an honor one earns after years of work but an attitude and goal one takes on in order to get where one is going. and artists don't have much of domestic skills. but i also think that imy responsabilities as a wife and mother are the essence of my life and i don't wish any of them away. i just hope one day my body will eventually adapt to the change (i doubt my night-owl nature will ever turn into an early bird, i'm afraid i'll keep stealing moments to empty my mind!).

so by the time i leave ali safe with her teachers, get home and make myself a cup of tea, i turn the computer on and i'm gone to another place, that space which woolf prophetically described as essential to writing. in there i'm alone with the words but i also use the internet to strave off isolation. for me, establishing a space means finding a way to be alone but not solitary. a place that cointains all my photos, messages and cards around, because when i write i like to be srurrounded by evidence of love. they inspire me. in addition,in every place of mine there must be a world map on the wall. here i've got one pinned with some of the penfriends i met during my trips worldwide. i also like to have eveything at hand. i write well in public places too, but only when ideas are emerging. that's the moment when i can write anywhere. when it's time for the real work to be done, instead, i need to stay here, surrounded by familiar things that suggest my life as a writer. 

it may not be the most romantic of places, but i do good work here. it  used to be the masterbedroom when owners lived here, where they left a permanent desk that doesn't match well with our style, but it's pretty practical and it contains my huge mac as well as papers holder, calendars and phone. i colored it with the books, which spin over from other parts of the house, and with piles of papers hehehhe i wish ithere was a window in front of my desk, rather than a lamplit little corner.  

being writing my priority, i always gave it a space. i remember i wwas in love with my father's studio. he had this cool attic room with the most amazing view from the terrace. the place he built around himself was terribly fascinating, i used to spend hours looking at the things he chose to live up with. and he wasn't even jealous of his things, he let me spy and pop in whenever i wanted. my room at my parents was small and never contained all the books, notebooks and papers i had, so they scattered everywhere. it had a white, immaculate desk that i only used for piling up more papers. i used to write on the floor or in bed. all the piling drove my mother crazy. i saw a writing space, while all saw she was trash and she often removed important notes somewhere before i could get back to them. no matter how much i yelled, she didn't respect me and intruded in every possible way. 

privacy was way much better at my grandparents. my room up there was  modeste but more personalized and, more importantly, i was allowed to do whaetever i wanted in it, even tapping it with nasty teenager posters. now i live with my husband who doesn't remove my papers, but he always complains about the piles, which is unnerving all the same. like my mother, he doesn't seem to understand that my creativity begins with the physical space i occupy when i work. i've to be honest anyway and say he's right to see mess because it's true that i need my own space, but it's also evident that, paradoxically, when i'm writing, i'm truly immersed in the project so that the space dissolves and becomes irrivelant. therefore i try to keep everything tidy and organized, because this is the place where he comes to watch his soccer matches when al occupies the master tv and viceversa, and it's also the place where little ali has her subsidiary mini-desk near mine. 

'the state of my desk is always an indication of how the writing is going' - ronan bennett

so virginia woolf knew that having a room devoted to the work of writing not only gives the writer a refuge in which to put pen on paper, but it validates the work itself. the guardian has posted a nice collection of photos of where the great writing gets done, illustrating the rooms of the most famous writers. 

by looking at these places of great significance, i was impressed by virginia woolf's minimalism. just a chair, a small tripod and a pen was all she needed to write such masterpieces like mrs dalloway.

talk about modesty of genius, huh? even when she moved and finally had a room of her own, minimalism remained essential.

This was where Leonard came out in July 1931 to tell her that The Waves, which he had just finished reading, was a masterpiece. This was where she struggled for months on end with The Years, trying to cut down on her smoking (from six or seven to one a morning in 1934). This was where, on Friday March 28, 1941, on a cold spring morning, she wrote a farewell letter to Leonard before walking down to the River Ouse, leaving her papers in disarray, with several revisions of her last essay on Mrs Thrale in the waste-paper basket and immense numbers of typewritten sheets lying about the room (credit)
minimalism seems to mark luis de bernieres' room too. 

Anyone who works at home needs a refuge from the rest of the household, as far from the house as possible, and definitely without a phone. Mine is in one corner of the garden, overlooking a vegetable patch and young orchard, and I feel great happiness in it. I am hassled only by the cat - a catflap would reduce the inconvenience.
just like what we write, where we write is part of our identity and necessary to the process as a whole. many writers share woolf’s philosophy, and set up home offices or studios in which they can work in privacy, surrounded by their favorite scenes and souvenirs. 
maggie gee

mberyl bainbridge

some don't hide the piling and a bit of artistic mess (necessary), like marina warner.

others don't need conventional desks to write.

wendy cope
 simon callows, who writes between theater performances in his dressing room.
 charlotte mendelson

the thing all the rooms have in common are books. 'it's all about the books and where to put them' (simon armitage). these rooms awoke my voyeurism and gave me a hard time chosing my favorite room, because each one is special for its own reason. in the end, i can say my favorite one is margaret drabble's room. neat, practical, cozy and with a view. and with an extra space for jigsaw. i love them too! perfect, isn't it?


  1. I love this post! But first of all I'd like to know, where did you climb to to take the first picture?
    Do you hand-draft your blog posts before typing them up (btw, you have a beautiful handwriting!)?
    I don't like "messy" places in my own home, but I find them intriguing in other people's home (where I don't have to clean:)). I would love to read something that you wrote!

  2. thanks, babes! mmm i don't know if i can share the secret for your first question! LOL
    yes, i do hand-draft for posts, i'm still old fashioned, u see? and no, my handwriting used to be much better. definitely not now. i think it can get worse through the years -yuck! anyway thanks sandra!
    as for my stories, i can share them with you ... if you really, really want. i'm not sure it's the style you like! :))))

  3. Sandra told me i should read your latest post... and she was so very right. I could hardly believe my eyes! Just the other day, when a friend told me she set up her own "space"... I asked her if she knew of Virgina Woolf... and the first thing i did on Monday morning was look up and read her entire story... to refresh my memory. I too live in a world filled to overflowing with books.. and papers, notes, and lists... and trinkets... and photos. I love "things" - mostly old things with character... and never feel truly comfortable in a sterile, neat orderly environment. I am very lucky to be married to a great guy who is not bothered by my clutter... and encourages my creativity!.. and so I guess what i'm trying to say in all my excited babbling is AWESOME POST! :)

  4. I really really want to.... we won't know till we try, right? I think I should open my horizons and try new things...

  5. hey melody, thanks! what a honour, i feel flattered! and i should pay sandra for making such a good publicity for my posts eheheheh

    you know, virginia woolf is one of my favorite writers, and not because she was an early feminist, but because she was so complelx that the only way she could reveal herself with was through her writing.

    we're in the same both then, you and i. we both love to be surrounded by things. i don't feel at ease in a sterile environment, no no.

    and we're lucky to be supported byy understanding men. though mine yells at times LOL but that's when i pass limits, u know ...

    and yes, sandra, if you want to try and open your horizons, then my style is what you need!

  6. This is an awesome piece. I really like how you dug photos of different writers' work places and how you showed us your own.

    I write at my desk at home, but also in cafes. I have my local pub and different cafes downtown, where I do most of my work. Ultimately, the inspired writing I do outdoors and the stitching and editing I do at home. I agree with the need to close the door, too - first drafts just have to be your own.

    I don't have kids yet and I am trying to make the most of it...but I am also trying to write regardless of what's going on. Life has its way in interrupting constantly, so I tend not to pay attention and to follow my routine whatever it takes. Because places and times and secondary to my writing. There will never be this perfect moment or spot where the masterpiece will materialize itself. It's up to me at the end of the mess.

    I am a housewife freak - I like things to be ordered and clean, but I also lapse into bohemian periods, so I guess I've reached a balance. I don't mind doing house work because I find it relaxing. Cooking is so inspiring and ironing John's clothes is a bore, but gives me the time to think. I refuse to succumb to stereotypes - I can do anything!

    My relationship with my husband is built on love and on the understanding that I am a writer. I am lucky to be so well pampered, supported and loved, and I am grateful. Of course, this needs work too. I work to appreciate his needs too, and when we both succeed, we are happy and we develop as individuals, not just as a couple.


    P.S. Writing is fuckin' awesome! :)

  7. thanks, bobby. yes, writing is so fucking awesome! and we writers tend to like the same things. we should all unite, right?

    it's true that there's no perfect moment for a masterpiece. though i'd like to win a pulitzer for the one of my novels that's much more appreciated, u see? ahahah isabel allende got her first book published at 40, i still have a few years to go!


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