Virginia Woolf has been on my mind lately. This past weekend I celebrated both my husband’s birthday and my son’s first birthday. We had a small-ish party for my son and I spent last week dashing about, buying cupcakes, and napkins and birthday banners and dips and chips and food, ice and beer and juice boxes and bottles of real Coke and Pez-colored straws and galvanized tins. And presents and wrapping paper and cards. Everytime I started an errand, I’d think, I simply must not forget to pick up the flowers! And everytime I thought about flowers, I’d giggle and feel like Mrs. Dalloway.
You see, I am not a skilled party-thrower or homemaker. Growing up, I wanted to be glamorous and fun and have a corner office and wear stilettos and have people cook for me. I was so bored by those simple tasks, such as cooking and sewing buttons and arranging flowers. I refused to learn, and was content to let my mother and grandmother do those things, taking comfort in the fact that my mom always knew just how to sew a button or boil an egg, so I didn’t have to.
But now. Now I regret not paying more attention. My grandmother was an old-fashioned cook, the kind that made both biscuits and cornbread (from scratch) for every dinner (or supper, as she called it). The kind that never used a recipe or exact measurements. The kind that knew that a pinch of sugar in every dish was that unexplainable difference. I grew up in her kitchen, watching her make hotcakes and sausage, bacon and eggs, fresh sweet tea aged in the sun, meatloaf and ham and mashed potatoes and everything good you can think of. And yet I never learned to cook from her. She’s gone now, and I look back on those missed opportunities with regret. Why wasn’t I a little curious? Why didn’t I ever just stand up at the stove next to her and watch her do her thing? Usually because I was in the other room with my head stuck in a book.
Now I’m a mother. And it feels a bit silly to still be calling my mom to ask how to boil an egg. Or to have to ask my husband to sew a button on my shirt for me. Because that is what mothers do, they know how to do things. They make the world feel safe and sure, for as long as they can.
So for me to be rushing about, thinking of flowers and cakes and serving platters, was exhilarating. It was like getting to be someone else for a day, someone that is good at these kinds of things, someone that knows how to arrange flowers and already has the cupcake stand and the right serving platters. Who knows NOT to buy an ugly orange plastic tablecloth that looks like a trash bag meant to dispose of a dead body.
So besides pretending to be Mrs. Dalloway, Ms. Woolf has been on my mind for another reason. Since my project has started over a week ago, the simple question of where to write must be addressed. Our home office is not set up yet. Even if it was, our house is lovely but older, and there is no quiet room in the house, no where to be “away” from my son and his musical banging and all day long soundtrack of giggling, gurgling, babbling, whining, crying and screeching. Not to mention that it is near impossible for me to ignore him. And he would be standing outside the glass doors to my office, with his little hands pressed to the glass, his nose pressed to the window, grinning at me with his jack-o-lantern teeth, enticing me to cuddle and play. No writing would get done at home.
I keep thinking Virginia Woolf had it right. The two biggest obstacles to my writing life (besides the obvious procrastination and self-doubt) are money and place. I can’t write full time because I need a paycheck. And one truly needs a “room of one’s own” to get away from the ordinary, to let her thoughts percolate and burst, fizzle and soar. So. What to do?
For now, Starbucks is my room. And can I just say that today I love my room? To my left is a gentleman that has a phone plugged in to the jack and resting on the table. When I say phone, I don’t mean an I-phone, aBlackberry, or even a regular cell phone. I mean the smooth rounded plastic kind that used to hang on my parent’s kitchen wall. The base attached to the wall, a rectangular piece of plastic. The receiver is rectangular as well, but rounded so as to fit snugly between one’s shoulder and one’s cheek. Ours was cream, but the one next to me is black. And it rings. The man keeps answering the phone, conducting business as if it were perfectly normal to bring your own phone and phone cord into a coffee shop.
The man across from me is whispering furiously into his cell phone, but in French. I can only make out a few words, enough to know that he seems to be arguing with his wife about the car. This requires much sighing and blowing air out of his pursued lips, which shoots his uncombed hair straight up off his forehead. He then has to brush his hair back off his forehead, before dropping his head into his arms. His next move is to throw his head back and roll his eyes, dropping the phone in the process. Once he puts the phone to his ear, he starts his little routine all over again. I don’t know about you, but domestic squabbles with my husband do not contain this much theatre and are not accompanied by as many cheoregraphed hand movements. Even domestic fights in French are more fun.
There is a woman across the way, who is here everytime I am. She has a muddy-colored dog, is always wearing a different hat and seems to be attending her own bible study. She has a beautiful crimson-colored leather Bible, with pink and green and purple post-its stuck to every page, words circled and highlighted. But she mutters under her breath. I can’t hear what she is saying. Is she praying? Practicing? Preparing to lead a class? I got a glimpse of what was playing on her I-pod last time. Metallica. Not kidding.
And I’ve got good coffee, a little Grateful Dead and Radiohead playing softly in the background. Good coffee, good music, great people-watching. All of the elements I need to get to the writing.
So maybe V.Woolf had it wrong. I don’t need a room of my own. All I need is a computer of my own, and a Starbucks filled with enough people and stories to get me started.