Monday, April 6, 2009

the luxury of being alone...

"For my belief is that if we live another century or so...and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting–room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves...if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come..." --Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One's Own, 1929

Right: This nine-year-old girl currently shares a bed with two little brothers in a California motel. Her parents and a baby brother have the other bed. (Credit: Monica Almeida/NY Times)

Reading this article about families displaced by the economic crisis (can we call it a depression yet?) has been causing me to reflect on one of those privileges, generally afforded more to men than to women, and far less to kids from families in straitened circumstances: private space.

It's something I've taken for granted--X and I don't have children, so we rattle around in a 2100-square-foot, four-bedroom house. When I started coursework in computer science, though, I found myself working a lot more on the Windows box in the library, which I need for two of my classes (and now use for the third, with a PutTY connection). Being down there with X and the cats was pleasant...but, I have to admit, kind of distracting. So last week, with X's blessing, I moved the library computer upstairs to my study and realized how important it was to have a dedicated workspace where I could think and concentrate without interruption.

I've discovered now that I can work--really get lost in my work--for long periods of time without getting distracted....and that I'm not lonely--just knowing that X is somewhere in the house is comforting, but I don't have to be in the same room with him.

I think, though, how lucky I've been, mostly. Growing up, I had my own room on an upper floor in my family's house, which I did not have to share with my sister. I had a desk and bookshelves, and it was quiet. My mother, like most mothers, made a lot of noises about me spending so much time in my "ivory tower," but I was (and continue to be) rather introverted, and it was a sanctuary without which I would have gone nuts. This is what I would do when I came home: walk into my clothes closet (a tiny 4 x 6 space), close the door, breathe deeply in the darkness, and emerge into my room as though it were separate in space and time from all the craziness in other parts of the house.

I think now of women and girls who no longer have rooms of their own, who live in motel rooms and with relatives, with no place to put their books or do their homework or sit quietly and think, or write. Will they again, someday? What will it do to their hopes and dreams, all this overcrowding, this lack of lockable doors? That private space, so briefly a common expectation in shared Anglo-American culture less than ten years after Virginia's death, is now more important than ever.

Project Dignity in Southern California is helping the family of the young lady in the picture pay their motel bills each month while they get back on their feet...and hopefully, give her a room of her own sometime soon.

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