Friday, April 08, 2011

A Room For All

I read Virgina Wolf's poignant essay "A Room of One's Own" when I was an undergrad. Likely around 24 or 25. At point, most of my space was, well, my own. It seemed quite clear to me that a woman could not create unless she was a lone with space carved out to belong to her. In her solitude she would create as men create. The monastic image was strong, and it was an image that is repeated throughout both the world of art and study. One can not create unless one has a cell in which to worship either art or academic theory. Without this cell there is nothing.

And I held that image close, vowing to always have a space of my own come what may. I held it, that is, until I started my master's degree. At this point we had three kids, in a two bedroom apartment. There was no space for me. I wrote papers on the floor while I nursed Piper. I read theory while at the park with half an eye on beasties running amok. I wrote my thesis at coffee shops distracted by the human drama playing out at the table next to me. Sometimes I longed for space that was mine but there was no solution. Anything better would be unaffordable. The sad irony was that in order to do what gave us pleasure we had to expect a smaller scale of living.

When we finally were able to move a bigger house, we were so used to living together in a common area
that we didn't really adapt well to sitting at a desk in a quiet room to work. I finished my thesis on the living couch surrounded by the beasties and H. That felt right. I ended where I had begin. A venture that started in the home life and ended there as well.

Now I am wanting to honestly put forth some effort into my writing. I don't know if I can make a living from it. Likely not. But I feel that I am put that part of myself off for a long time, and that now it's time to give it a chance again. I can not deny that a part of me wonders if there is a way to write, well, without that room. I worry that I didn't get into a program because everything I did was half assed because I was always half distracted by the chaos of my life. I never wrote anything without some kind of noise, questions, minor explosions happening about me.

I worry about these things as I type, nursing Rowena, with the keyboard precariously balanced between a boppy pillow and my knees. It is not comfortable, and I have to stop every few second when the keyboard slides down or R kicks me in the neck. If that's not enough, there's always Piper with her five year old chatter begging me to do go to see the chickies.

As I began to envision our little house furnished, I fret about this room. And this in turn makes me ponder the possibility of being an artist and a mother. I feel that I being asked to choose just as I was asked to choose when I was an academic. Can I write and still home school four beasties? Do I just shelf the writing until they are older? Do I shelf the mothering so that I can write? Is it possible to write what is in my head with any kind of beauty when I am answering questions about poop?

And then I get angry because Woolf wrote from a position of privilege. Yes, I know she had many issues but you know what? She had money. She had the luxury that so many women at the time did not have. Money and space. What would happen if instead of challenging women's right to have a room of their own, we instead challenged the bourgeois assumptions about how and where art should be created? What if we asked ourselves what would art look like when a mother creates it in the midst of chaos? What if we really honored the idea that women could be mothers and artists? Mothers and workers?

Because the reality is that even now we are not supported in our multiple roles. We are allowed to be one thing at a time. We are not given the resources needed to be either thing very well. And when we try to create in the spaces of where we are, our work is dismissed as "mommy writing" or "crafts." The reality is that most women I know are too poor to afford spaces of their own to create in so we make do with what we have. Perhaps we need to continue the fight to haul art's ass out of the world of the rich and smack it down in the middle of life.

My art is not always pretty. Often it is hasty, chaotic, filled with errors. But it is art that is created in the vital pulse of life. My writing is always done in the center of joy, love, frustration. It is made in the midst of bodily functions like shit and piss. Poetry is created in between loads of dirty diapers and tiny bright pink clothes. I develop characters while I scrub oatmeal from dishes. I type while I feed my baby from my own body. I bounce ideas off with my partner while we push girl beasties on swings or walk with them through lovely woods. My art is not solitary or privileged. It is art in the heat of living.

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