Creativity demands space–space to digest our experiences, reflect on emotions, contemplate the human experience. This space provides us with opportunities for introspection, a necessary component of artistic processes. Without such space, we find our muses have left us and the distractions of our daily lives leech beyond their usefulness and rob of us any creative impulse.
This is the old trope of writer’s block. There is nothing new about “letting life get in the way” of creative processes. The creative experience and the creation of art in its many forms provides a window to our soul and insight into our worlds. Yet, it also exposes us to critics and criticism. Sometimes it is simply feels safer to succumb to the “busy-ness” of our lives than it is create a space for vulnerability.
It is especially difficult when managing the unyielding demands of a three-year old social butterfly who demands the limited emotional life-force that survived from a day of constant civil interactions that stress the introverted self.
It is notably difficult when April does not just bring rain showers, but snow, wintery mix, and icy roads that restricts any out-of-doors excursion such as shopping in crowded grocery stores where the produce is not quite seasonal and the ring of the cash register, not matter how calculated, tightens the chest.
It is extraordinarily difficult when distractions, like the children in the front yard of the apartment across the street howl “yard sale,” shift focus from the opportunity of writing mean poems and super short shorts to the present fantasy of the kind of financial security promised by degree, job, homeownership.
This past summer, we started visiting the local library on a regular basis. Our toddler’s reading selection seemed to be growing thin and the steady two-or-three-books-a-night made the circulation tight. With the additional expenses of homeownership, we were on a mission to find ways to save money and take advantage of the resources in our new community.
As couple of weeks ago, during our last “refuel” of children’s and adult literature, I noticed a flyer for the library’s “Reading Group.” This month, they were reading Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, which was on my growing list of books to read this year. Eager to join a group that would discuss the books we were going to read, I grabbed a copy from the circulation desk with the plans to read it before the next meeting and check out this group of readers in this community.
The Reading Group
At 4:25, I showed up at the library, armed with my read Patchett novel and ready to discuss the complexities of story ownership that was a central theme within the book. When I walked into the room, which usually held art and photography exhibitions, there was a circle of chairs and a couple of the members already catching up with the events of their lives.
As the room began to fill, I began to wonder if I was in the right space. I was easily the youngest person within the room by at least one generation. As I listened patiently to the other members critique elements of the book and provide their own insight, I considered getting up and excusing myself. I could give myself the excuse of “at least I tried.” I could justify it by telling myself had put in a good effort and could return comfortably to my introverted life.
However, when the reading group promptly wrapped up at 5:30, I lingered for a few minutes in my chair as I tried to not look too eager to leave. At this time, a couple of the group members began to talk with me, about both the book and about the history of the reading group. They encouraged me to come back next month as they were eager to attract younger members.
One of the many critiques of our generation is the lack of traditional community involvement. For me, the reading group–I believe it is intentionally not called a “book club”–provides an opportunity for social entrance into our new community. It also provides me with an outlet to engage outside of my work and family lives.Since completing my master’s, I’ve been looking for something to “work on” while I’m at home, in addition to the traditional mother-homeowner responsibilities. Finally, the reading group encourages me to do something that I have neglected over the last decade–to read for the joy of reading.
When moving to a new city or town, finding outlets like a reading group can help you connect with new people within the community. Even if your move is only one city over–like ours–each community has its own characters and story. Learning the story of your new community can help you find role within it.
I began my 2018 reading challenge with A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. The essay is based on a two papers delivered in October 1928. The essay discusses the challenges women writers have faced and the possible conditions these women would need in order to prosper like their male counterparts.
The idea of reading Woolf’s essay haunted me for the last six months as I completed my master’s degree. I was exposed to the work when I was an English major so I searched my undergraduate anthologies and looked for a free PDF of the essay online. I finally found an edition (1929 no doubt) in the shelves of the local library. The due-date stamps on the card holder indicate that the text has gone years between loaning, which could be seen as a sadness for this historical commentary on “women and fiction.”
The book, with its thick pages still showing the signs of their initial cut, feels like I’ve travelled through time. The font is antiquated and the margins are wide. Paragraphing is limited. The voice feels distant as Woolf writes from her London perspective.
Yet, there is something carefully telling about Woolf’s journey towards her conclusions regarding “women and fiction.” She searches the canon for examples of women writers and finds few. She postulates the journey of a hypothetical sister to William Shakespeare and the additional challenges she would face due to her womenhood. She describes the challenges of the limited space women have within the 1920s home to write, women who often resorting to the sitting room, a space located in the front of the home, and who were often interrupted by the needs of the home and family.
We can draw correlations to the challenges facing women in the twenty-first century. Notable women who do not receive the recognition they deserve. Inequality amongst genders in many professional fields. Persistent challenges in the strive to have it all while managing family and career.
However, Woolf does take time to remind us of Jane Austen, one of the first novelist. Period. This position solidifies her membership within the canon. In her perspective in this new written form, Woolf argues that Austen could be unapologetically feminine. The additional triviality of the novel as a genre also meant that Austen would not face the same censors her comrades would years later.
Austen writes of concerns facing women of her time and covers themes like sisterhood. She also portrays the opportunities of proposals and marriage from both social and economic perspectives. Because of the timing of these novels, these viewpoints are not through the masculine lens that will later develop within the genre.
As a reader ninety years later, I reflected most on the importance of the unapologetically feminine voice. Our world is constructed around the masculine norm, but values that are historically viewed as feminine issues, such as health and education, are equally important and must remain visible. Yet, on a more personal level, I also considered how my own actions and beliefs are impacted by the masculine norm. Therefore, in my professional realm of higher education, I began discussing community, one that is based in shared objectives and aggregated supports. In my professional realm, I began discussing relationship building under the guise of social capital for all members of our community. I discussed caring and kindness when reviewing institutional values–and not in a hug-a-teddy-bear kind of way.
Ninety years later, we still have a long way to go to ready to world for whom Woolf calls “Shakespeare’s sister.” However, by promoting these values within our daily lives and recognizing the validity of historically feminine perspectives, we can improve the world for all.