(Head)room of One’s Own

Virginia 1Last year I finally got around to reading Virginia Woolf’s extended essay, A Room of One’s Own, and I find myself still pondering her words today. Although it was first published in 1929, so much of what Woolf wrote rings true ninety years later: it is a feminist manifesto, delivered gently yet powerfully, bringing the place of women in literature and society into laser-sharp focus.

I’ve mulled Woolf’s words over. I’ve disappeared down various rabbitholes as her words and life have cropped up in other books I have read, most notably in Drusilla Modjeska’s beautifully written memoir Second Half First. I’ve read more of Woolf’s own works, including the brilliantly conceived and executed Mrs Dalloway. I’m planning on re-reading The Waves and To The Lighthouse, volumes I have not delved into since my university days.

And yet, despite all this investigation, I am still struggling with Woolf’s central premise in A Room of One’s Own:

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

VIRGINIA WOOLF

I firmly believe Woolf’s statement to be true.

But what, I wonder, would she make of women’s lives in the twenty first century?  Ninety years after the publication of A Room of One’s Own, many things have improved for women in the western world.  Our access to education has improved, along with our employment prospects and our control of our own lives and bodies.

What I think women in the western world have lost control of, however, is our minds.

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

VIRGINIA WOOLF

I would love to embrace this idea as a true representation of my self and my life, to punch my fist skyward and proclaim that my mind is entirely my own, that my freedom is guaranteed because I am not shackled by cerebral restrictions.

But I can’t.

Not quite.

I may have money I earn myself and a place to write (even if it is not an actual room), but do I have space in my own head?

There is just so much…stuff…to remember in any given day.

Remember to schedule a dental appointment. Drop off the dry cleaning. Pick up forgotten ingredients for tonight’s dinner. Replace a child’s gluestick for school. Sign permission slips for an excursions. Meet a work deadline. Return the library books on time. Change the bedclothes. Find light blue cardboard for a child’s project (no, not dark blue or royal blue or navy blue). Collect that undelivered parcel from the post office. Arrange a playdate before netball training and remember to buy oranges for the game. Pay the gas bill. Replace yet another gluestick (what, do they eat them or something?). Phone the electrician to get the laundry light fitting replaced. Feed the fish. And the cat. And the family. Buy a present for an upcoming birthday party. And a card. Take out the garbage and know which bin needs to be curbside on which day. Update the credit card expiration date on — wait, what was the password for that account again?

Virginia 2Our lives are so full, and are lived at such a relentless pace. We bandy around words and phrases like “mindfulness” and “mental load”, but do we ever have time to stop — let alone to imagine?

How can we write fiction if we have no headroom to allow the stories to form? How can ideas flow and characters develop and whole realms emerge from such cluttered minds?

Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.

VIRGINIA WOOLF

I know my own fiction writing is informed, in part, by the life I lead — regardless of whether I am writing a children’s picture book, a longer story for older children, or working on the young adult novel I have been aiming to finish for some years.

Much of the time, however, my fictional projects lie immobile, suspended in that spider’s web as I attend to the myriad minutiae of everyday life that encroach upon it from all four corners. And more often than not, my own innate need to create is ignored in favour of other, far more basic needs — not just of my own — and it is not until I sense my fictional worlds are hanging by a single thread that I make time to write.

Virginia 3Even so, I remain hopeful.

I would rather snatch a moment here and there to write a paragraph, to edit a word or two, or to scribble down a new idea than to fill my pockets with stones and walk into the nearest river.

I am learning, slowly, to prioritise my fiction writing, even if it is — by definition — not real.

Because it is real to me, and gives my life deeper meaning.

And despite her own untimely end (which I may comprehend, but cannot ever condone), I think Virginia Woolf knew exactly what it was like not to have room in her head. Even so, in spite of this — or perhaps because of it — I believe she would have continued to encourage women generally, and writers particularly, had she lived to see our present day and age, just as she did in her lifetime.

Money is one thing, I think she would tell us.

But the room of one’s own — that sacred space needs to exist in your mind as well as in your world.

Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.

VIRGINIA WOOLF

 

A Friday Morning Coffee with Keef

KR 7

Today’s imaginary interviewee: Keith Richards

I’m never quite sure who’s going to show up for my peripatetic (and completely invented) brain-picking sessions with people I admire. After my last foray into imaginary interviewing — when I intended to focus on Virginia Woolf and ended up rambling on about the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius instead — I sat down one day not much later and made a list of people I thought I might like to “meet”.

I made two lists, actually, divided simply along the lines of life or death.

And armed with those lists, I quickly realised that it is much simpler to write about a person who is no longer gracing the Earth with their presence, particularly if they have been dead for quite some time.  In the era of #metoo (fundamentally important as that movement is), it is far more challenging to delve into the thoughts of a living person, particularly when they may or may not end up being outed as a sex pest.

KR 2

True. But you also see my sex pest problem…

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I turned up in my little patch of cyberspace this morning and discovered Keith Richards waiting for me.

Not really, obviously.

But after spending an evening this week watching Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America, the Rolling Stones’ documentary about their 2016 tour which culminated in their historic Cuban concert, there he was.

Keef.

With plenty, as always, to say. And, one can only assume, probably not all that bothered about whatever acusation anyone would level at him — the man, as he freely admits, has lived long and hard, and outlived many it was readily assumed he would predecease.

KR 6

Good question. How do you play with your time?

I’m not what you’d call a diehard Rolling Stones fan. I don’t have a standout favourite Stones song, but harbour soft spots for several (depending mainly on my mood). I know better than to put myself in the middle of any pointless Beatles vs Stones battles, because there’s actually no contest: the world is a better place for having both bands (I stand firmly with the girl from the taco ad on that one…“¿Porque No Los Dos?” ). And I can’t say I prefer any one of the Rolling Stones over another: I tend to appreciate them collectively more than I do indivdiually.

And yet, I have to admit there is something undeniably intriguing about Keith Richards.

Unlike the 2015 film Under the Influence, which focussed solely on Keith himself, the Olé Olé Olé! doco is about the whole band, though it does shift (seamlessly, I might add) from ensemble pieces to individual portraits of the band members. The juxtaposition of these different points of view enhances both: the concert footage of stadiums seething with fans is made all the more massive, while the one-on-one sequences achieve greater intimacy and poignancy. As the band wends its way (via private jet and with police escourts) through South America, we glean insights from each member into the various countries they are visiting and how they have changed during the fifty (yes, fifty) years that they have been performing there, into life on the road, and into life itself.

KR 8

Richards in Lima, 2016.

There is a beautiful moment in the film when Richards can be seen, initially from a distance, sitting poolside at a clifftop hotel in Lima, playing an acoustic guitar. The pool is turquoise, his shirt scarlet, the sounds flamenco. There is no doubting his musical ability: this is a man who, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s phrase, has done his 10,000 hours, playing everywhere from small pubs to gigantic arenas, or simply noodling away with an instrument and an endless succession of cigarettes, whiling away the time. Richards’ observation of Lima is that it has changed, markedly, since he first visited it in 1968: cities spring up “like tombstones” he says, as the camera pans out to reveal a skyline full of skyscrapers, resembling a cemetary more than one would like to admit.

Richards is a man who, quite clearly, knows how lucky he is — he seems, genuinely, to appreciate the trappings of fame he gets to enjoy, but he also appears to be acutely aware how fortunate he is to be doing what he loves (sorry, make that absolutely loves) for a living, and to be doing it with a bunch of blokes he has been hanging out with for five decades.

There is something that sticks us together. It’s nothing you’d ever catch us talking about. I feel I’m awfully blessed, really.

KEITH RICHARDS

KR 9

There’s a glimmer of it in here….

There is an occasional glint in his eye or a throaty chuckle that betrays the fact that he doesn’t half mind his own notoriety, either, but it’s nothing malicious — if anything, now that Richards is aged 75, these small glimpses remind me in some way of my own globetrotting gypsy grandmother who, at a similar point in her life, may well have had the same sense of mischievous glee in behaving in ways that were not generally considered to be age appropriate.

And finally, beneath all of this is a strong, unspoken sense that Richards knows just how lucky he is to be alive.

And that, for my money, is something worth remembering.

 

A Visit From the Philosopher Emperor

Marcus 1I find it hard to believe that it is almost March, and that this year I’ve only managed to get fingers to keys here in my small patch of cyberspace twice. I thought, when I began this post, that it was going to be about Virginia Woolf — but as you will see, it didn’t turn out that way at all.

Last year I threw myself into the effort of picking a Word of the Month each month and mulling it over, drawing out the meaning I found in it and making sense of how it fitted into my life. I considered doing something similar this year, but found myself unable to settle on a theme.

I did wonder, after watching Gladiator for the umpteenth time, whether I could focus on a list of lesser-sung qualities or pseduo-virtues, much like those offered in the film by Commodus to his dying father, Marcus Aurelius, but know myself well enough to realise I am not the sort of person to hold up ambition as something to aspire to. Ambition may have its purpose and its place, but I am much more likely to agree with Marcus Aurelius himself, the last of the Five Good Emperors, that wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance form the cornerstones of a good character. More to the point, I am also aware that many people have written about such ideals since…well, quite obviously, since Roman times.

I then began pondering whether I would write a series of monthly posts at all.  I don’t mind working under pressure and am generally unfazed by deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise), but with a new school and work year offering a far more complicated set of variables than I have had to deal with in recent times, the prospect of a more fluid approach than that I had in 2018 had real appeal. After all, these are meant to the musings — rather than the rantings — of the Daydream Believer, and the prospect of committing to a  monthly post seemed a little, as Commodus might have put it, ambitious.

Marcus 2So, having unfettered myself from all sorts of strictures, I gave myself permission to meander down some old Roman roads, following the trail of the Philosopher Emperor and his wayward son.  Commodus, according to Cassius Dio (who witnessed his actions and antics firsthand), was “not naturally wicked but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived. His great simplicity, however, together with his cowardice, made him the slave of his companions, and it was through them that he at first, out of ignorance, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature.” Ouch.

On the other hand, Marcus Aurelius is generally well remembered: he was the last of the Roman Emperors to be associated with the Pax Romana — a period of relative peace and stability through the Roman Empire which, almost miraculously, lasted for more than two centuries. Our old friend Cassius Dio says that after Marcus Aurelius died, the Roman Empire turned “from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust”.

Before he departed this life, however, that old Stoic Marcus Aurelius had some things to say that are quite possibly as relevant today as when he wrote them, back in the second century.  “The soul,” he said, “becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.”

These, history tells us, are some of the thoughts which coloured Marcus Aurelius’ soul:

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.

You have power over your mind — not outside events.  Realise this, and you will find strength.

The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.

He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.

They’re not bad are they? It’s probably a shame that Commodus didn’t listen to his dear old Dad…but at least history has preserved Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and Cassius Dio’s Roman History for us all to dip into whenever we wish to.

Marcus 3So that’s what I think I’ll be getting up to this year: delving into the thoughts of people who I happen to find interesting, diving into the depths and exploring topics and stories and ideas I find intriguing. I suspect that Virginia Woolf might get a look in somewhere — I know she tried to today, but Commodus must have had other ideas — and maybe Frida Kahlo, and Ursula Le Guin and goodness knows who else I happen to encounter.

It will be a twisting, turning, and somewhat eclectic journey, I’d imagine, but this — as always — is an open invitation to join me and whoever I visit along the way.

 

The Thrifty Fictionista Takes to Her Bed…

TF Adventure

I would MUCH rather be on an adventure than have the flu.

So, it finally happened.  I thought, when I got laryngitis a couple of weeks ago (much to the eternal — or perhaps infernal — amusement of my children), that I had done my time with lurgies great and small this Winter.  Or Spring.  Or whatever the damn season is, given that the temperature rocketed up to 34°C two days ago before plunging back to a wild and windswept 12°C.

Unfortunately, my own temperature has been vacillating just as unpredictably: influenza has me in its evil grip, and the Thrifty Fictionista has taken to her bed.  Still, rather than railing against the indignity of barely having the energy to get out of said bed, or boring you with my symptoms, I have managed to haul myself upright for a minute or two so I can tell you what has been keeping me sane for the past three days.

Books.

Books, books and more books.  And even though recently I have been reading things like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (which I freely admit I could not read in bed as I found that a bit too disturbing), and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (which I highly recommend — both as a read and a concept), and Jane Harper’s The Dry (which is as fine a debut novel as you’ll ever read as well as providing an unflinchingly accurate depiction of life in small outback Australian towns), I have — as usual — a confession.

TF Kell

I do wish I had a coat like Kell’s…

The Thrifty Fictionista can’t read such things when she is sick.

No, when I am sick, I need magic.

And so, the past few days have I reached for my Kindle (which, with its amazing capacity to deliver whole books into my waiting hands without leaving my bed, seems like magic itself) and buried myself in V E Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic trilogy.

On Wednesday, I re-read A Darker Shade of Magic, because it had been quite some time since I had dipped into the world of Red London.  Or Grey London or White London, for that matter.  And given the flu made me feel like I was already well on my way to Black London, I found myself wishing for a coat like Kell’s — you know, the one that you can turn inside out and every time it’s a different coat — and for the ability to wield Antari blood magic.

As Hasari…I wanted to whisper.

Heal…

TF Spells

Oh, for a working spell, not days stuck malingering in bed.

But the flu had other ideas, so I kept on reading and followed the thief, Lila Bard (you just have to love a girl who would like to be a pirate, don’t you?), and the magician Kell on their adventures through the various Londons, saving cities and rescuing (or was it resurrecting?) princes.

On Thursday, I started reading A Gathering of Shadows, and was gratified to discover that it was considerably longer than the first book, as the damn flu showed no signs of abating even when hit with hard core antibiotics and a decent-sized helping of The Bloke’s best Spaghetti Bolognese. I love that Lila did wind up becoming a pirate — ahem, I mean a Privateer — and thoroughly enjoyed meeting her Captain, Alucard Emery, and I relished the magic and mayhem of the Essen Tasch tournament.

And now it is Friday, and I have just downloaded the third book, A Conjuring of Light, hoping that it will bring me just that: light relief from being stuck in this bed.  Still.

So, without further ado, I am going to get on with it, not least because I need to lie down again…but also because I am grateful for the escape.  For the distraction.  For the adventure.

And — mostly definitely — for the magic.