in which teaching becomes a metaphor. or something.

Next week I am teaching Virginia Woolf’s brilliant and amazing essay A Room of One’s Own.

So on my list of “to do” for the weekend is this note, jotted down while I was in a meeting: “find a way in to Room.”


Of course, what I meant (I think) was that I need to figure out how to help my students tackle this long essay.

But the metaphor?

Woolf says that if each woman could have her own income (which Woolf pegs at being about 500 pounds a year) and a room with a lock on its door (one assumes locking from the inside, not outside, which is to say locking out and not being locked in), then it would be possible to develop “the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think.”

Wouldn’t that be nice?

It is a room of independence, I guess you could say; and Woolf was smart enough to understand that without freedom from economic worry, it’s very difficult to feel the freedom to create.

In this house that we’re renting, there’s a little room tucked in between the entrance to the garage and the laundry room. On the floor plan of the house, this room is designated “maid’s room.” Lots and lots of people have live-in help in Abu Dhabi, in part because if you hire someone full time, you have to sponsor the person’s visa–and in order to get a visa, you have to have a place to live.  We don’t have any live-in help (I don’t want any witnesses), so I have adopted that room as my office.

My god. It’s another room-based metaphor: my “room of my own” is…the maid’s room.

And that’s the challenge, isn’t it? In between driving and errands and laundry and housekeeping, in between earning money and making lists and going to meetings, somewhere in all that, a person should find the courage to write exactly what she thinks.

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9 Responses to in which teaching becomes a metaphor. or something.

  1. Kristin October 6, 2013 at 12:33 am #

    I always loved teaching “A Room of One’s Own.” Although I taught the abridged version. One challenge was getting the students to believe/understand that Shakespeare’s Sister was a FICTIONAL character. They would get so enraged at her fate and start hating on Shakespeare for abandoning her. Ahh empathy.

    I often complain to my husband that the reason I have papers and baby wipes and random plastic bags tucked under tables and behind doors is because I don’t have a “room of my own.” I don’t want the space that’s available to me though – too removed for a mom and caretaker of the home. Still, I would love to have a space to be all mine. Lock and all.
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    • Deborah Quinn October 6, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

      Your comment about teaching Woolf’s essay makes me laugh. It’s like when I’ve taught Swift’s “Modest Proposal,” a satire about killing Irish babies for profit. Inevitably someone (or someoneS) would be OUTRAGED and utterly HORRIFIED…and then I’d say um…satire? joke? NOT REAL?
      I will say that having this “office” to myself–after decades of desk in the living next to the lego pile, or in the kitchen, or wherever there’s room–it’s weird. Weird to be over here in a corner and not in the mix of the family doing its thing. Weird but maybe good, too. But it’s taken a while to get to this point – and I think in part it has to do with my kids now being a little older & not needing (at least in my own mind) the constant watchful eye of Mommy…

  2. Michelle Longo October 6, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    The maid’s room. That’s really something, now isn’t it.

    I have a room of my own, or at least I did. It as supposed to just be for my writing. But then I started working from home, and now that’s where I work-work. It doesn’t feel like mine anymore.

    I wonder if I had the room and it had the lock, would I have the ability to get inside and use both for the intended purpose?
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    • Deborah Quinn October 6, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

      I think it’s so interesting what we do with “our” spaces–our ability to carve them out from a corner of a couch or something, and then what happens when we get the “real” space. A home office where you work-work makes me wonder what would happen if your writing became also your work. So it would be your work-work-work space? Or maybe Virginia had it wrong and if a person has to work for money in her own room, then it’s not hers any more: it belongs to whomever we’re working for. Hmm.

      • Michelle Longo October 6, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

        I feel like I’m leasing a space in my home to my employer. It’s odd. I’m grateful that I don’t have to go out, but it’s odd just the same. If writing could be my work, I don’t know where I’d do it. Although, I do write my yeah write posts in there, just not my personal blog posts or my book. So weird, right?
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  3. susan w. October 7, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    “My “room of my own” is…the maid’s room”: love that!
    Since I married straight from living at home while in college, I didn’t have a room of my own until I was in my mid-forties. I still remember that heady (but scary) feeling of finally having one.

    • Deborah Quinn October 7, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

      It’s funny isn’t it, that a room of our own is both scary and exciting? Are we scared because we grow up confined, with little sense of our own freedoms? Or is it the idea of having something ALL our own? I dunno. And it’s something that somehow I would’ve thought subsequent generations of women would’ve figured out…and yet they’ve not done so, I don’t think. Where is our Virginia when we need her?

  4. Suzie October 7, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    I am so close to having my room be my own. I contribute much of the break up of my marriage to not having a room of my own, because the soon to be ex works from home and has worked from home for the past 7 years. He’s always, always, always, home. I have thought about one’s need for her own room for many years.
    To be honest, if I had my own room (or a suburban house with many rooms) I probably could have stuck it out longer. That’s another beauty of NYC.

    • Deborah Quinn October 7, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

      Is marriage supposed to be a “sticking it out?” I wonder. I mean, a part of it certainly is (and Virginia would probably have some things to say about that, as would Leonard)…I know couples in which both people work from home. I’d go starkers if that were the case for me. And no house is big enough, I don’t think…there’s always the “so, what’s for lunch…” Gah.

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