A Closet of One’s Own
In 1929, Virginia Woolf published an essay entitled A Room of One’s Own on how vital it was for a woman to have a dedicated place in which to write. She meant this room of course to stand as a metaphor for a larger point, that women lacked the money and social liberty to pursue the creative life with the same freedom as men. But at its most elemental level, her advice applies to all writers. We all need a place to call our own in which we have the reasonable expectation of not being disturbed by small children and unwanted telephone calls.
Taped to one wall, I keep a quote from Teddy Roosevelt:
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat.
I’ve been lucky. Ever since setting out as an independent writer, I have managed to secure a space that was just for me. My current office in our home in Seattle occupies a tiny room just outside the entrance to a walk-in closet. The office is so small that it appalls my writer friends who possess more commodious digs, but I do believe it is the best office I have yet occupied. It faces north, and so is always the right temperature and is never suffused with excess glare; the street out front is quiet. From November through February, I have long views of forested hills, a slash of blue water, and, in the far distance, the snow-topped mountains of the North Cascades. In spring—which in Seattle begins in late February—a tall Japanese plum outside my window slowly swells into full bloom, and suddenly my office becomes a tree-house, snug and private.
Over time, my window sills and bookshelves have accumulated various bits of debris, including a Nunzilla and, for reasons that escape me, the severed head of a Ken doll. Still taped to a window is a card from a Hong Kong hotel, the Park Lane, a decade-old reminder of one of the stranger reporting trips I’ve made. High above the two doorways that open into my office I’ve nailed two decomissioned street signs from San Francisco, one for Point Lobos Avenue, the other Parnassus. And on every horizontal surface there are photographs, dozens, some framed, most not, almost all of my children at varying ages, the prints layered like tree rings. One of my favorite photos captures my wife and me on the day after our marriage, sitting at a picnic table at Donner Pass in California, presumably dining on something other than human flesh. It is a wonder how these simple things can cause memories to blossom, and make one feel snug in a room of one’s own.
I also often quote Teddy to my children:
Do the best you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.
This annoys them greatly.