“Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own.” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
One of the perks of being an Episcopal priest is being invited to participate in a CREDO conference. It’s almost like our Momma-Church’s thank you gift for attending vestry meetings, being on call for pastoral crises and editing bulletins week after week. The point of the eight-day CREDO experience is for clergy to take a long look at their spiritual lives, vocational callings, health and financial wellness. You walk out of the half-conference/half-retreat with something called a CREDO plan. The plan is more than a list of New Year’s resolutions – it’s an attempt to re-order your life, or at least it was for me. The second of my three CREDO goals was to live more creatively.
When I was a child, I loved to draw. I was fortunate to have a family that could send me to art classes on Saturdays. I was in every play my school put on from seventh grade through my senior year. I started writing poetry in high school and graduated from college with a degree in English that was filled extensively with creative writing workshops (whereas most of my classmates had taken literary criticism seminars). I thought that I would always have access to my right brain.
But as life unfolded (marriage, seminary, six years of ordained ministry, and motherhood), I got simultaneously busy and lazy.
I got busy doing lots of wonderful and fulfilling work, and I got lazy about my creative life. I let sermon writing “count” for my creative writing outlet, baking brownies from a box “count” as handiwork, and the only colors I ever used were highlighters when reading required texts. It took a while, but after about a decade I realized something was missing. Call it serendipity, the Holy Spirit, a wake-up call, or hitting the wall – whatever it was, I realized that I needed to use both sides of my brain. I realized that I wanted to make a mess. I realized that I missed space – both the physical kind and the temporal kind … And so, step one of living into my goal to live more creatively was to create a room of my own to be used on a day of my own. I would have a place to go on my day off that wasn’t Target.
I am very lucky to live in a house that has some elbow room, including a pretty-much-unused-just-the-place-where-we-throw-all-our-crap room. After I returned home, I spent the morning of my next weekly day off throwing out all the stuff we had thrown in there. A lot of it went straight to the trash, three garbage bags of it went to a local outreach-based thrift shop as a donation, and the rest got relocated to the attic. I singlehandedly dismantled a bed frame (no sense waiting on my husband!), and shoved all the pieces across the hall. I cleared out four shelves of books to make new storage space on my old college dorm bookcase, and consolidated all the birthday and Christmas wrapping paper in a far corner. I vacuumed. Pushing and pulling, I moved what was a breakfast table in our old house (but doesn’t fit in this house’s kitchen) into the room, and then I windexed the windows.
Ta-Da! A room of my own! Here’s to you Virginia Woolf. I will write! I will paint! I will journal and pray and draw and maybe even learn to play the violin!
The next step was to shop all around my house for my old copy of “Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain,” an unfinished scarf I started knitting four years ago, unopened paints I had purchased last summer while inspired by a workshop I had attended, several half-full journals, and a few (dusty) Martha Stewart-esque project books for crafty living. I lovingly gathered it all from high closet shelves and out from under beds. I considered raiding the boys’ art supplies but managed to stop myself. And I tacked up two inspirational posters. Mind you, these are not the corporate inspirational posters with natural images and the definitions of “teamwork.” Rather, one was a collage I had made, a patchwork of prints and papers, and the other was a museum print of a John Singer Sargeant painting of young girls lit by lanterns. I had never hung the print because I live in a house filled with boys and men, and it seemed to girly. (But this is MY room, and I am a GIRL!) I also robbed the kids’ playroom of the CD player (which is just my jambox from college days) and went out to the garage for two stackable chairs. They aren’t cozy, but maybe one day a nice, cushy chair will live by the window.
Sigh… So lovely. After lunch, I went up there and stood at the doorway admiring my work and my new space. I allowed myself to believe that creating the space was in and of itself a creative activity for one day, even if that day I didn’t do any more work in the room. After all, I’m going to have to get someone to show me how to knit again! After dinner that night, I took my husband up to see the room, and he was duly impressed – both with the transformation and with the physical labor he knew I must have done on my own. (No more getting away with handing over strenuous tasks.) What a great day! It was almost unbelievable that I could give myself this gift.
But all this was on a Thursday, and on Saturday we heard the scratching sounds. The squirrels were back. In the crawlspace…in the roofline…somewhere. We live in an old house, and this is our second (or third?) go-round with these uninvited guests. I must admit that while I am a strong woman who has survived great emotional upheavals and my share of life’s challenges, I am a little freaked out by the idea of creatures living in my own home. I suddenly couldn’t bring myself to go up there. The downstairs of our house felt safe enough, and fortunately that’s where we all eat and sleep and do most of our playing. But I was loathe to go back upstairs. The room of my own, while not actually inhabited by these creatures, no longer felt like “my own.” It wasn’t a sanctuary. Too close. So I waited a week for two guys to come to my home to do the dread work necessary to remove said-invaders.
Now they are gone. And I’m trying to spend time there. Really, I am. I seem to have answered Virginia Woolf, but now I need to respond to Wendell Berry. In “How To Be a Poet,” he instructs, “Make a place to sit down. / Sit down. Be quiet.” So I need to actually inhabit the place I have made. I need to sit down in it and be quiet. For awhile, I know, I’ll just rearrange paints and books. I’ll think that I really am lucky to have a house for my family, let alone a room just for me. I’ll listen to some music and look out the window. Eventually, I hope I’ll sharpen my pencils and put some lead to paper. Maybe I’ll even write something other than a grocery list.