Finally, a room of one’s own. Well, four rooms actually, with a tiny kitchen and a bathroom at the back. It’s upstairs, above an old bank, on a highway in a country town that some have called ‘a bit of a truck stop.’
In 1928, Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One’s Own. In that succinct little book, she developed a fictitious female author named Mary Carmichael – someone who would write fiction in the footsteps of her predecessors like Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and George Eliot. Woolf predicted that, 100 years later, the female author would become so proficient that she’d write without referencing her sex (or her gender in modern parlance):
“Awkward though she was and without the unconscious bearing of long descent which makes the least turn of the pen of a Thackeray or a Lamb delightful to the ear, she had – I began to think – mastered the first great lesson; she wrote as a woman, but as a woman who has forgotten that she is a woman, so that her pages were full of that curious sexual quality which comes only when sex is unconscious of itself.”
In 2022, I’m six years early for that 100-year anniversary. As I set off to live in the rooms of my own, I can only promise to try to be anywhere near as talented as our imaginary Ms. Carmichael. If I don’t have the talent, at least I will have the room. Oh, and I’ll have an income that I made on my own because we’re allowed to do that these days. It might not be quite as high as my male counterpart, and I probably do three times as much of the childrearing and housework as he does, but at least I get to make a living on my own terms.
A key moment of A Room of One’s Own occurs when Woolf is denied entry to the library at Oxbridge – a fictional university, somewhere between Oxford and Cambridge:
“… a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction.”
So, while women today have the freedom to walk into any library we want, we still live somewhat in the shadow of male superiority, especially in the halls of power – our parliaments, our board rooms and those boys’ clubs that form around entry into those hallowed grounds.
Woolf said that, in addition to a room with a lock on the door, female writers of fiction needed £500 per year to ensure that they could write freely. I looked up what £500 per year would be worth in today’s money and it’s just under £35,000, or about $60,000 in Australian money. That seems a reasonable amount for a careful woman to live on, especially if writing fiction is all she really wants. But it’s hard to come by if you live by your pen – the average writer in Australia earns less than $15,000 per year from their creative practice.
Woolf had a room of her own. At one point she had a little garden shed. She also received an income from an aunt who passed away. This income made sure that she had notes in her purse to spend in cafes in London:
“I gave the waiter a ten-shilling note and he went to bring me change. There was another ten-shilling note in my purse; I noticed it as it is a fact that still takes my breath away – the power of my purse to breed ten-shilling notes automatically.”
Meanwhile, she pondered why women at that time didn’t write as much as they were capable of. Poverty, primarily. Distraction, certainly. Ultimately? Patriarchy.
I’m going to shut the door on all these reasons and then I’m going to double bolt it. It is my intention that, while I’m writing, poverty (or the fear of it), distractions and the patriarchy won’t touch me. Maybe I’ll be successful at writing characters who, as Woolf desired, are not representations of myself or my gender, but maybe I won't. It doesn’t matter because what I have is an opportunity to spend three months in four rooms of my own.
A surprisingly large number of people have asked me what my husband will do while I’m away on my self-imposed writer’s retreat. I guess he’ll just work, take care of the kids and do a lot around the house. He might miss me a bit, and he’ll come and visit from time to time (I’ll guess unlock the door for him), but most of all he’ll be supportive of the time I need to write.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever earn anything from this. But I’m considering it an investment. An investment of my time, in myself, and in the important potential of what I can do with this ‘one wild and precious life’. I’ll let you know how it goes.
In saying that, I’m not sure what will happen to the blog. I’ve got some great topics that I’m toying with right now and I feel compelled to keep exploring them, and to continue with the blog format. After more than 12 years rewriting mostly government content, and spending way too much time writing tenders and proposals, I’m loving the freedom that writing the blog gives me. I’m also loving the act of writing itself. I’m learning so much about the craft and am reading like a maniac – my curiosity has grown exponentially; after all that dry content for so many years, I’m honestly relieved that it’s still there. It seems that my creative, curious self still has stones to turn.
And I’m very grateful for the support and feedback that so many of you have given me as I’ve begun this new journey. I’d love to stay connected with you as I head into Western Victoria to what we can only hope is literary nirvana. But please forgive me if I drift away from my current weekly blog publishing schedule. I might be busy creating my own distractions in the form of characters, dialogue and story arcs. We’ll just have to see what happens!