A Room of One's Own

I used to have one. When we moved into a two-bedroom rental house thirteen years ago, my husband took the renovated garage for his workshop and I adopted the extra bedroom for my study. More than just a place to write and read, it was my room just like when I was a girl growing up. Instead of a bed, there was a comfy chair for reading, my wooden table, a bulletin board pinned with inspiring quotes and postcards, and a giant framed nude male torso I'd sketched in pink in figure drawing class in college. I spent early mornings there alone while my soon-to-be-husband snoozed. It was my retreat when the world, or Jim, became too much. With two walls nearly filled with windows looking into leaves (pecan on one side, china berry on the other), I thought of it as my tree house; one accessible without the trauma of a ladder.

I finished a novel in that room, two months pregnant. It took my son less than two years to take it completely over. First, the reading chair was replaced by a rocker and my bookcase was scooted down to make way for a changing table. The crib we kept in our room. By the time Cope was two we had all outgrown that arrangement and it became clear that our son needed a bed and therefore a room to put it in.

The day we moved my son's twin futon bed into his room, we carried my desk into the living room, a transition that appeared to make sense because I had been writing at a coffee shop down the street since I gave birth anyway. I spent enough time at The Flight Path that I  actually shed a tear when Ouva, the dread-locked hippie chick who poured my chai tea, moved back to Oregon, only to be replaced by Carla, a way-too-tattooed surfer whose hip-huggers clung for dear life. My so-called desk became a way station for junk mail, bills, and preschool fliers, a sorting table for the recycling bin.

When I won a fellowship to write for six months at a ranch house, I loved the space it gave me even more than the stipend. At the ranch I had a room of my own --one wall of windows looked out on silent deer, busy robins, and furtive foxes. It had not one, but two tables --one for my computer and the current stack of pages I was revising and another for all the other careful stacks of projects I intended to tackle. It also included a couch, the scariest closet ever (complete with deer heads piled precariously on ancient broken chairs), and a bathroom. Luckily there was just a shower, no bathtub, or I might have soaked and never written a single word that winter. Mornings, I wrote in my journal in bed, whipped up a smoothie in the kitchen, and then headed straight to my room where I performed slow yoga to a cassette tape of chanting and then got straight to work, hardly leaving my room except for a quick lunch, until dusk. When I found a stray dog she joined me, a muse snoring beneath the table at my feet.

Returning to our old house in the spring, I demanded better working conditions. An artist and a pack rat, my husband gamely shrunk his collections and projects to one-half the space he'd become accustomed to and we arranged the new corner with our two desks. Above my desk I hung a black-and-white photo of Cope and me laughing before the weathered wall of an old log cabin at the ranch. I bought a bookcase and filled it with books about writing, creating a sort of Cliff's notes of my old study. For five years we gave it the old college try. Which means that I yelled every time I was writing at my desk and Cope and a friend dragged his bike and scooter behind my chair out the door, leaving it ajar so I had to get up to close it. It dawned on me that a room with two doors (one led into the kitchen, the other led onto the driveway) is basically a hallway. I yelled every time Jim, a loveable dyslexic who attracts mysterious wads of paper that vary in value from the only official copy of his birth certificate to a receipt for gas he bought three years ago, every time his piles drifted like snow onto my carefully ordered desk.

But somehow when we embarked on a small home addition, our budget forcing us to prioritize, a room of my own never occurred to me. Perhaps beneath the piles of old school lunch menus and to-do lists I'd also lost track of myself --the inner me that has hardly changed since I was a girl. It wasn't until one evening when we were getting ready for a party at a friend's house that the solution occurred to me. The couple we like a lot --he works in a field similar to mine and is also a potter while she is a writer. The party had a theme --creativity. We were all invited to bring a sample of our creative work that night. As I relaxed on the bed while Jim showered, practicing the essay I was going to read aloud that night, I found myself staring at the framed-out closet wall. A poet friend of mine used to write in her closet -- it had a window because it was an odd old house. We had planned two high windows for our closet to let in natural light. As we got dressed I asked Jim if he would mind letting go of our fantasy of adequate storage. Of course not. He could see my excitement was more important than storing camping equipment.

This is the very first thing I've written in my new room. The walls are unpainted, the electricity's not even turned on yet, but my table is set up. Paint samples are scattered at my feet, different shades of pink, a color I never would have chosen growing up. A twin bed would hardly fit into this space but to me it's as vast as the view from Mount Fuji on a cloudless August morning.
Robin Bradford, an award-winning short story writer and essayist, has published in Brain, Child, Glimmer Train, and many other places. You can find her in two new anthologies -- Mother Knows: 24 Tales of Motherhood and Three-Ring-Circus: How Real Couples Balance Marriage, Work and Family. Bradford works as a communications and development director for a nonprofit affordable housing provider in Austin. She lives with her husband and son, three cats and a dog in a tiny fifties house. Being the mother—of a child over the age of three!—is the best thing that ever happened to her. Contact her at motherload @ austinmama.com  And visit her site at www.robinbradford.net