A Room of My Own: Writer as Nomad
An “Around the Block” Column
In her essay A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf says that “a woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write fiction.” And for a while, I had it all.
I lived in a spacious apartment that I shared with friends, and the rent was dirt-cheap. My bedroom was one of my favorite places, with its deep windowsills and decorative fireplace. The mantle was decorated with jars of candles; and my desk, so large it took up an entire wall, provided space to read my writing books and write on my computer.
I had a great job. I lived less than a five-minute drive from my work in the center of a charming little town. The hours were flexible and I could set them myself. I could wear whatever I wanted to work, so I lived in jeans and flip-flops.
I even had a personal office. Located just one block away from my work, my office was a cozy room in a two-floor office building shared with other writers and artists. The rent there also was very inexpensive, and I passed the hours on a DSL Internet connection. Most days after work, I headed home for dinner then drove the five minutes back into town to my office, where I often stayed late into the night, blissfully typing away on my laptop – a purchase made using a healthy bonus I’d gotten at work. Yes, life was good for this young writer – I had it better than most of my friends, who all turned green with jealousy when they heard just how good I had it.
But, like any good story, it all came crashing to an end.
In the space of six months, I lost my apartment, my office, and my job. My roommates decided they wanted to move out quickly and buy a house. I had been in a weather-related fender-bender during a snowstorm the month prior and had to dip into my savings account, which was already dwindling due to the recent Christmas shopping rush. I had no extra money sitting around to either find a new apartment or spring for all the rent on our apartment, so I moved back home with my parents. In my eyes, it was a fate worse than death, but I figured the move was only temporary until I could save up some money. Now that I lived at home, I had a 45-minute commute to work and found that I barely had time to use my office anymore. My landlord wanted to start charging me a higher rate, money I no longer had since I was now pouring gas into my car twice a week. So I had to give up the office too.
And then, after my first summer vacation in two years, where I racked up expenses on my credit card, I came home and two weeks later lost my job due to financial problems at my company. Funny how things will keep unraveling after just one little thread comes loose in your cosmic plan, isn’t it?
So here I am now, fall of 2005, crammed into my childhood bedroom with the two years’ worth of stuff I accumulated while living on my own. Here I am with no sanctuary to turn to when the muse strikes. Here I am with no source of income, except the paltry change the government gives me labeled “Unemployment Compensation.” I look at my checks and I wonder, How is this supposed to compensate me? How am I supposed to start over with this?
Because, you see, during the transition from “It’s a Wonderful Life” to “Requiem for a Dream,” I started working on a novel. It started innocently at first – I toyed with an idea and started writing a short story, which quickly turned into a long story, which quickly let me know “I’m a novel waiting to happen.”
After I moved back home with my parents and found myself wondering how I could ever be related to these two people, after losing my job and wondering if I’d have to wear a power suit and sit in a cubicle farm, I started taking a class that promised A NOVEL IN NINE MONTHS. I figured since I wasn’t doing anything better with my life, why not finish that novel? I was super-charged. Finally, something to look forward to.
But after a few false starts and stops, I was ready to throw in the towel. I just wasn’t getting any writing done. I wanted to. But I found that I had lost my favorite writing spaces. My office was gone. My apartment was gone. Now what?
At home with my folks, cramped into my childhood bedroom where I couldn’t walk two feet without tripping on a pile of something, I have no desk. Correction – I do have a desk, somewhere under the two decades’ worth of papers and notebooks that cover it. The drawers are full to overflowing with old journals and half-completed stories, broken pencils, small toys – I slam them shut before the residue of my past can flow out and choke me in nostalgia. So I head downstairs to my parents’ desk and settle into writing. The words start to come out. Good, this is an improvement.
My mother appears. “I need to use my desk.” I sigh. Head back upstairs to my room. Prop myself up on my bed and thank the forces that be that I had the good sense to buy a laptop and not a desktop. Curse an hour later when my lower back feels like there are gremlins inside of it poking at my vertebrae with sharpened sticks. Using your bed as a desk: not a good idea.
So I call my boyfriend. Yes, I can absolutely use his apartment whenever I want. I have a key and head on over.
I squeeze myself into his tiny desk and try not to breathe too hard, for fear that the piles of mail that cover his desk will topple and bury me in an avalanche. The girl cat starts squeaking at me – play with me, play with me. The boy cat starts yowling – feed me, feed me. The door opens. Boyfriend is home. Hi, honey. Zap. On goes the TV.
Slam. Out the door I go.
I try using the library. I set my laptop up at a neat little table, plug in my headphones and pound away for about an hour. I’m in the groove. Things are really going well.
Then, nature calls.
So I have to gather everything up and lug it into the bathroom stall with me, because about fourteen signs posted around me proclaim that the library is not responsible for my belongings so I should not leave them unattended. Point taken.
And then, of course, there’s that pesky money problem… because I’m still paying off my summer vacation credit card bill – the one I thought I’d have no problem covering when I thought I’d still have a job. And the fact that I am making no income means that I have to charge basic necessities – gas, food – and that means an even bigger bill that I can’t afford to pay.
It’s frustrating beyond belief. Because I want to take advantage of this sudden freedom, which I’m trying to view as one of those “blessings in disguise,” trying to take advantage of all this time I now have to write. Because I want to fill in the gloomy hours that surround job hunting and resume posting and ass-kissing emails with the bright moments of creating a world that’s all my own. Because haven’t I been saying all these years that I’ll write a novel when I finally find the time – and now that I’ve found the time, I’m desperate for the space? (Oh yeah, and the money, too.)
Yes, Virginia, there is a need for a room of one’s own. Writing, by its very nature, is such a solitary act, such a personal outpouring of self as to become a sacred ritual for one, by one. Each time the creator sits down to write, it is as though she is wrenching her insides out for the world to see with the tip of her pen (which sounds more romantic than saying “prying it out with the edge of her keyboard” or “pulling it out with the AC adapter of her Powerbook.”). Sacred rituals require sacred spaces. Writing is no exception. So when you have no church to make your sacrifices in – well, it gets that much harder.
And money, Virginia. Oh, Virginia, you know what you were talking about – not that you ever had to worry about it, Miss Trust Fund Baby. I sit down to write and I can’t think of anything other than the nasty aftertaste in my mouth from all the Rolaids I just took, because I gave myself indigestion thinking about how in the hell I’m going to afford to pay off even the minimum balance on my credit card without the bank calling to laugh in my face. “Thirty-seven cents? You call that a bank account? HA!” And then my mother comes in and demands her desk, or the cat jumps on the keyboard and I’m faced with five pages of kkkkkkk when I get back to the computer after a bathroom break, or I’m in the library and I need to go to the bathroom at all. Dammit, Virginia, isn’t there another way?
I’m finding that instead of expanses of time yawning wide open and waiting for me to slowly amble towards them, there are precious scraps of moments in which I get a great idea, or have half an hour of the house all to myself, and in that time, I sit, wherever I can, and I write. I’ve pulled my car into parking lots and scribbled on notepads and I’ve taken tiny notebooks out while I’m at the bar, drinking away my no-apartment-no-job-no-money-no-pickup-truck blues, and scrawled down a line or a plot point that hit me in between rounds of house special dollar drafts – all charged to my credit card, of course. I keep my laptop in the car trunk in case I stumble upon my boyfriend’s apartment devoid of male presence during feline nap hour. I do my best, living the life of the nomadic writer.
I’ve given up being wistful for the two years when I seemingly had it all – great apartment, great office, great job. For I’m realizing now that in those two years, when I was utterly content and knew I could write whenever I wanted, I didn’t. I never felt the urgency I do now, the ticking of the clock against me, saying, “Hurry, Raquel. I’ve got the next hour clear in my schedule and it’s all for you.”
I know that someday, the tides will turn and things will eventually shift back into some semblance of normalcy. But until then, I really must go – for the desk downstairs is free and I’m not sure how long that will last.
Raquel B. Pidal is Managing Editor for Wild River Publishing, providing copyediting, content editing, and manuscript analysis services. She enjoys using her extensive knowledge of the writing and publishing process to provide guidance and coaching to writers every step of the way from idea to polished draft to printed book.
Raquel has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience in both fiction and nonfiction. Her projects have included ghostwriting two memoirs; content editing numerous manuscripts in the fields of memoir, fiction, and business; copyediting and proofreading manuscripts; and providing in-depth analyses and critiques of fiction and nonfiction manuscripts.
Raquel is currently the Editorial Director for Winans Kuenstler Publishing, a high-end trade nonfiction publisher that offers ghostwriting and publishing services to business and thought leaders who use their books as a platform for their professional and personal brands. She is experienced in project and content management and book distribution.
Previously, Raquel worked in the publicity department at Harvard University Press for two years. She has also worked as an editor for corporations such as ETS (Educational Testing Services) and Aramark. For three years, she served as Program and Youth Services Director at the Writers Room of Bucks County, where she and Joy Stocke worked together on the literary magazine The Bucks County Writer.
Raquel has a BA in English with a minor in Creative Writing from Ursinus College, where she won several awards and honors for her writing, and an MA in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College.
Articles by Raquel Pidal
Book Reviews: Voodoo Lounge
Essays: Around the Block
Letters From Around The World: Cuban Couch
PEN World Voices: The Future is Now – Opening Night at the 11th Annual PEN World Festival