Friday, June 21, 2013

Posted from my Work-Nest

Like everyone else here, I’ve come to realize that the things I will miss most once I’ve lost them are not objects that can be bought with money. I really think the things that give me the most joy (besides the presence of other beings: my spouse, our furry children, my two grown stepsons) are space and time.

Spending eight hours a day in monotonous, entry-level jobs taught me the value of time for myself. Between semesters at university, I worked in various government offices as a clerk-typist in the time Before Computers. My office uniform had to consist of dresses or blouses and skirts with nylon pantyhose that stuck to my legs in summer heat. (If memory serves me, this was also the time Before Air Conditioning.) Tappity-tap-tap was the dance my fingers did on a keyboard all morning and all afternoon. By evening, my mind didn’t feel capable of producing an idea for a poem, a short story, a play or even a letter to the editor. I thought of myself as someone who once had the ridiculous ambition of becoming a writer (especially after winning a national student writing contest in high school: clearly a fluke). But now I was in my twenties, so I had to grow up and accept the reality that my life would never improve.

I thank Whomever that it did. Teaching jobs have been the perfect complement to a writing life. Teaching gets me out of the house, it brings me into contact with other people, it actually forces me to discuss ideas and analyze other people’s writing, and then – best of all! – it provides me with unscheduled time. I don’t know of any other paid, structured job that includes “free time” within working hours. Teachers at the university level are expected to produce something more tangible than knowledge in the minds of our students, so we are provided with time and office space to do “research,” whatever that means to intellectuals in various fields. For English instructors, it usually means either scholarly or creative writing.

In 1929, Virginia Woolf famously claimed that women writers need rooms of their own, and the assumption that women don’t need or deserve any such thing helps explain why so many women eventually lose their creativity, or never express it in any way other than sewing curtains or knitting afghans.

I never really understood the significance of having space of my own, mine, all to myself, until I acquired my own office at the university AND a room in my house that we call the “library” because it is stuffed full of books, but where I spend time at the computer while Spouse uses her laptop. Something in the air of both rooms was inspiring, and I rediscovered writing. 1999 was a watershed year, when my miserably-paid marginal teaching job was transformed into a middle-class career (thanks to an aggressive academic union), my new income qualified me for a mortgage, Spouse and I moved into a character house (built in 1914) in the artsy neighborhood of our choice, and I got my first erotic story published in an anthology with the work of writers who seemed vastly more famous.

In the new millennium I’ve had ups and downs, but I’ve never sunk to the levels of despair that threatened to drown me in the past, when I was often told I was at the peak of my life, and that women’s lives go downhill after they turn twenty-five or maybe thirty. Ha.

Who knew that I only needed time and space of my own? Those are the things I would miss the most if I had to give them up.

Everyone on earth needs a room, a shed, a nest, a den or a cave of one’s own. And everyone needs a few hours to spend there, not tending to anyone else’s needs. There should be a new drinking toast in every language. Instead of “To your health!” friends should drink “To your space!”


  1. I've lived alone for well over a decade, and I'm not sure I could go back to living with other people. That sounds kind of terrible when you're in a relationship, and in a society that wants to see everyone in pairs it's hard to convince anyone I really and truly enjoy having my space to myself. (Oh, she must be in denial!)

    Also, I thought you wrote that you have furry chickens and I was about to get really excited. Furry chickens! That would be amazing.

  2. Thanks for your honesty, Giselle. Furry chickens would be amazing! Actually, our two small dogs and three big cats are amazing, esp. in the way they get along. Several weeks ago, we had to put our cockapoo to sleep. She and our big male Himalayan cat seemed very close. He moped, stopped eating and got crystals in his urinary tract after she disappeared. Lately, our little black female Pomeranian, Olivia, has been approaching the cat (who is bigger than she is), grabbing and licking him. He complains but doesn't fight her off. Watching our pets is like watching a soap opera.

  3. Hello, Jean,

    I've always been lucky enough to have my own space, at least since I was a kid and shared a room with my sister. In fact I now share an office with my husband, but I have my own desk, computers, bookshelves, even filing cabinet drawers. And he respects my writing enough not to bother me.

    You're an inspiration - though I suspect that women of the current generation may not appreciate how fortunate they are.

  4. Jean, I know we've been traveling similar routes (or at least our writing has) for a long time, but I hadn't realized that we published our first erotica in the same year. I'd done some science fiction and fantasy before that, though, so I was getting into the groove. I had relatively rewarding work building a small college town retail business, but the time came when I suddenly realized how old I was getting, and that I'd better get down to writing whether I had the time or not.

  5. one thing that fascinates me is how people are able to carve out private space even in public. i watch someone sitting on a bench reading a book, drinking coffee or having a cigarette. it's their own private paradise. i don't have a room of my own, but i have my whole apartment for at least eight hours every weekday, including the office my husband & i share. but being able to have some kind of private space, especially when we're so crowded together, is essential. the imagination being the best private space of all. thanks for the post, Jean.

  6. Thanks for the comments, all. True enough, Amanda, that some poeple can enjoy "private" moments in public space (Alison Tyler is one erotic writer who has claimed to do most of her writing in coffee shops), but this only works if all the passers-by are polite enough not to invade one's space. I haven't mentioned parenthood, but single motherhood, in particular, usually means having NO guaranteed privacy, ever -- not in the bathroom, not in one's own bed at night. When I finally had my own space (esp an office that no one could enter without knocking first) and time to spend in it, I realized how deprived I had been before. (After Spouse & I moved in together, we had 3 kids between us & hordes of teenage drop-ins, often friends of friends of our own brood.) All this time, I had been blaming a lack of talent for my failure to do enough "real" writing (poetry and/or fiction). The solution to the problem was stunningly simple. I hope writers of all generations (esp women, who still seem less likely to have their own space) understand this.

  7. Sacchi, running one's own business sounds like another time-eating venture. That would make an interesting post, esp since many more people have fantasized about doing this than have actually done it successfully.

  8. The only time I ever had a space of my own was my art gallery. Nobody ever came in (location, location, location) so I had lots of time to myself. Too bad I wasn't writing at the time; I could have gotten lots done. I did do lots of reading, though.

  9. Lol, Daddy X. But it's unfortuante you had private time when you werent' looking for it.


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