“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Those words, first published in 1929, mock me here in 2013. While I do agree with Mrs. Woolf, I wonder what the woman who doesn’t have the resources to obtain a room of her own is supposed to do.
My living situation is unsettled at best. I have no room, no desk, and no real space to call my own. I get very little work done when I’m home. Stephen Pressfield says in The War of Art, that any excuse for not writing is resistance manifesting in your mind. This seems at odds with Mrs. Woolf’s assertion. Part of my non-productivity is resistance and laziness but I can’t help wondering what a room of my own might do to help. Until I get a room of my own, I am forced to improvise. The outcome of my writing in various locations outside of my home has been measured in degrees from abysmal failure to great success.
Denny’s is my writing home away from home. (And yes, I am referring to the national chain posing as local diner.) I started going to Denny’s with my best friend several years ago. We would eat Fit Slams and talk for hours. Eventually, he would leave and I would stay. The lack of Wi-Fi, the fact that it never closes, a patient waiter, and unlimited free refills of coffee equaled the perfect writing environment.
I was in the middle of my MFA program when Denny’s truly became my sanctuary. I was installed in the corner booth writing my thesis paper with my laptop, copies of Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery and Richard Matheson’s Hell House, my plate of devoured eggs, and my bottomless cup of coffee. I usually had the same waiter, Arturo. He never asked me what I was doing but he refilled my coffee like a champ.
Most students finished their paper in two months. I was going on my fourth. I had sent my mentor a frantic email the month before begging if I could send my fiction along with the draft of my paper or else he would never see it. Then, sitting in my booth, I was having a breakdown trying to finish the paper. I knew I couldn’t do it. I was struggling too hard to make a point that I thought was simple. In short, I felt like a failure. What the hell was I doing in an MFA program anyway? What was I thinking? My spirit broke. Since Denny’s didn’t have Wi-Fi, I picked up my phone to draft an email to the head of the program to tell him I needed to drop out. In the strangest (and best) timing imaginable, I received an email from my mentor with feedback on my previous month’s packet.
As I read his email, I heard his Australian accent in my head. He told me not to stress out. He said that we are writers, not critical analysts. The paper is extremely difficult for everyone and I was doing better than I was giving myself credit for. He went on to talk about my feedback and his kind words brought me to tears. It was not the first nor the last time I would cry in my Denny’s. His words stopped me from making what would have been one of the stupidest decisions of my life.
No way. I can’t write at the park. The wide open space somehow makes me feel claustrophobic and I start to have a panic attack. I like writing in public and amongst activity and noise but something doesn’t work here.
The Tattoo Shop
I am a frequent guest at my local tattoo shop. So much so that every time I call the shop, they recognize my number and greet me by name. It’s a good place to write. Mostly because I arrive really early to every appointment and need a way to kill the time. Also because the tattoo shop has a permanent role in my writing life. Several of my tattoos are inspired by my identity as a writer.
“To The End” is tattooed on my right thumb. I put it there so I can see it when I write. It was inspired during a lecture that Susan Orlean gave at my school about starting and ending a book. She said that it takes courage and curiosity. Courage as in lack of fear and curiosity as in evidence that you care. She said it was curiosity that carried her all the way to the end. I walked out of that class repeating that phrase, to the end, like a mantra.
There is an old fashioned nib pen tattooed on my shoulder. It was freehanded during an art and music festival in the middle of a German beer garden. It was one of my first steps into feeling comfortable with my identity as a writer.
Going down the back of my right arm is the sentence, “It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.” It’s a line from the poem, “The Sycamore” by Wendell Berry. It was a month after a nasty breakup and also around the time of my first ever publication. My life was changing drastically and this tattoo was a fitting way to represent that.
These inspiring writers, these tattoo artists, I bleed for their art to be put into my skin. It becomes my art that I will carry for the rest of my life. I will bleed, too, for my art, my writing.
If I can’t write in a room of my own, I will write in the rooms that I find. Especially those with unlimited free coffee refills.