Reflections on “A Room of One’s Own”

A Room of One's Own Title page from 1929 edition

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.

A Room of One's Own Title page from 1929 edition
Title Page

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.

The foreword to "A Room of One's Own" reads, "This essay is based upon two papers read to the Arts Society of Newnham and the Odtaa at Girton in October 1928. The papers were too long to be read in ful, and have since been altered and expanded."

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.

Final sentence of the essay reads, "But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while"

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(re)Starting Again

I thought about deleting this blog and starting again. But that’s not real life. There are no do-overs. There are no restarts that wipe away the past.

It is obvious, if you look at the dates within this blog, that I have not posted in more than a year. In that time, I completed my master’s degree, purchased a house, focused on family and negotiated turning 30. I also worked on my goals for my career in higher ed and reexamined my health goals.

I think it’s time to find some space in my life to write.

BenchI’ve made a few changes to this site and will continue to do so over the next couple of months, so check back often!

Searching for Inspiration

Inspiration is one of the most exhilarating, yet fleeting conditions of the human experience. When inspiration hits, it is hot and passionate and invigorating. It can make you mad with thoughts and feelings and determination. Everything becomes sharp, well-formed, musical. You are focused, able, confident.

Your heart beats in your chest as you relish the high that only inspiration can give you. The excitement is nothing short of dangerous. A wild look comes into your eyes and you feel the intensity in every inch of your soul.

And then it is gone.

You spend time searching for it. Blaming the lack of it for your reluctance to do what it is you do- paint, play, write. Seeking to regenerate the spark.

Because, indeed, it is a spark.

And it can be done. It took twenty days of writing before I really wrote, before some came from my fingertips that was art, even it is was sloppy and childish and undeveloped. Twenty days of writing, of inviting the spark, of coaching inspiration back into existence.

For twenty days, I wrote for 30 minutes. It often felt like a chore. I committed to writing and my partner in crime would remind me to do it. Sometimes, I would blow it off, surf Facebook, house hunt or check my bank statements. Sometimes, I spent the time and wrote down feelings, emotions, dictated the scene around me. Nothing generated. Nothing organically creative.

For me, I felt like a failure. I wondered if I had allowed something so core to my identity that I dread sharing too much of it with others to fade away. I wondered if I let “the real world” rob me of my essence, the softness of my cold New England heart that bleeds for Frost, Dickinson, Lowell and many more. I feared that I had made a mistake and allowed the drive for financial stability and the naysayers of creative ventures to sway my unsteady commitment to writing. I feared that my bed was made.

And then, in a moment of brief clarity, it was there. I felt it as I broke lines to create choppy phrases in a rough poem. I felt it as I exploited repetition to emphasize my opinion of the piece. I felt it wind down as real life started to call me back and self-doubt set in.

To feel inspired is to feel fearless. I share this story often with students before they are about to take an exam: When I was preparing for a solo performance, by instructor told me to feel inspired because the chakra that houses fear also houses inspiration and if I felt inspired than I would not feel fear as I stood before the audience.

And it worked.

Our lives are filled with excuses to fall into fear. Fear of failure. Fear of mockery, of wasting time, money. Fear of not being good enough. Even, fear of success.

It is not easy to replace fear or reluctance or indifference and acceptance with inspiration and motivation and determination. It took twenty days of determination before I felt a glimmer of inspiration.

To be inspired is to be fearless.

Setting Up For Success

Confession: Yesterday, I forgot to write.

Since June 1st, I set a challenge to write for thirty minutes every day. The purpose of this challenge was to address the time (or lack thereof) that I dedicated to an activity for me. Not for the boyfriend. Not for the child. Not for work. Not for school. I needed to dedicate time to the writer, an identity that I occasionally considered dishonest. How can I be a writer if I do not write regularly?

I wanted to set aside time to free-write, to gather fodder for bigger projects to come.  And, the exercise started off great. I wrote for thirty minutes. Sometimes, I would just put words on a page. Sometimes, I felt like I was actually getting somewhere. I wrote about my life, my feelings. I wrote about inspiration quotes and narrated the moment.

And then I started to shave that time. Maybe I would check on my bank balances or credit card statements while I set up my document. Maybe I would sneak-a-peek at my work email to see if I missed anything as I thought of something to write about. Sometimes, I would start the timer on the session and then get distracted with something else and never returned to the document.

Therefore, my dwindling commitment made it easy for me to forget to use the time I have been setting aside for writing. I got caught up with the nightly routine and was exhausted from a long week of work, school and house searching. Before I knew it, I was crawling into bed and the day was over.

When I did remember, I was a little annoyed. But I also realized that I have been cheating. I am not allowing myself the ability to fully engage with the process. I would start the timer when I’m tired. I would grumble about the additional commitment of my very limited time. I would search Pinterest, Facebook, and Zillow as I’m “thinking of ideas.” These are not effective writing sessions. I knew it then and I know it now. I have not been setting myself up to succeed.

The writer’s greatest enemy is herself. Success in writing may mean not giving into the hundred thousand different need demanding my attention at this moment. Maybe the needs wait. Maybe I find a better moment for writing.

Only twelve more days to go.