Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Room Of One's Own



Reason I have not blogged for the past few days: I moved to Liberal College Town Law School over the weekend. It was a looooooong drive, and we did it non-stop. And we still had to shop for and assemble furniture and unpack all the stuff I brought up. And apparently it takes a few days to get internet access.

But I'm back, baby. Back in school, back in the city, and back to the blog. It feels good.

Some observations:

  1. Moving is a pain in the ass. I hope I get into the JSD program, just so that I don't have to do this again in a year.
  2. Moving is expensive. I went a wee bit over budget, you know, $1000 instead of $500. When you look at the frugal options and how depressingly uncomfortable/bad they are, you kind of want to just put it on the credit card and pray that one day, you'll get tenure.
  3. You can decorate a 260 sq. ft rectangular studio tastefully and inexpensively! Watching design shows isn't such a pretentious pansy thing to do after all! Living like a grad student means living frugally and not eating out much and shopping even less. But it doesn't mean living without a sense of design and proportion or in ugly squalor.
  4. Everywhere is colder than Southern California at night, except maybe Florida and Hawaii. I mean, it's in the 50s. What's up with that?
  5. Liberal College Town is a lot more urban than I thought it would be. Grittier too. And yes, very liberal, you see a lot of stuff you thought went out of style in the 60s for sale. Bourgie Metrosexual Law School was in the suburban part of Bourgie Metrosexual City, and I had to walk a good mile to the nearest coffee shop or newsstand or store. Here, it's all around the corner. Heck, I live on top of a coffee shop.
  6. Living on top of a coffee shop is very cool and urban feeling. Like you're in an episode of Friends. Except, you know, with people of color.
  7. This is a city where everyone walks everywhere, and so everyone wears sensible shoes and polar fleece jackets. What, were stilettos and chandelier earrings just a Bourgie Metrosexual City thing? What's up with that?
  8. Living 6-7 blocks away from school is one thing, but the fact that it's at the bottom of a steep hill is quite the other. It's going to be a fun walk with 25 lbs of books and laptop strapped to my back.
  9. You can only sleep through so many motorcycles revving, cars backing, and police sirens firing before you wake up a little earlier than you want to. This is the unfortunate consequence of living in an apartment that faces a busy street.
  10. Having to walk a mile to the nearest decent grocery store is a pain, but you do what you gotta do.

So after four days of driving, moving, and unpacking, all while suffering from strep throat, and all the while growing increasingly homesick and missing my children, and finding myself in a weird, loud, busy city, how do I feel?

Great. Free for the first time. I have to make my own egg-drop soup, and I have to call long-distance to hear the children's voices. But it's great.

I have my own apartment. It is a tiny apartment, to be sure, but it is mine. It is my tiny little refrigerator, toaster oven, and child-sized rice cooker. If I had bought the Hello Kitty version, it would be no more ridiculous. It is my window that faces the noisy street. It is my tiny crisper that holds four apples for $2.69 (ouch!)

Grad student poverty is nothing new, but it is in a weird way, something special. There is something delightful and Yentl-like about suffering for the sake of learning. And I'm not truly poor. I've know true poverty, and this isnt' it. I'm eating brand-named snackfoods and watching basic (free) cable TV after all. I have just enough to keep me comfortable (well lit, well fed, well temperature-adjusted, and at least comfortably furnished) so that I can focus on my studies.

I am in my tiny studio right now, still nursing a sore throat and a bit weirded out by the lack of voices (whether of my parents or singing/screaming children). It's 55 degrees out right now, in the middle of summer, and wrapped in a polar fleece robe. And all I can think of is Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own":

Woolf's basic argument was that a " woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." Substitute "fiction" for any other intellectual or academic pursuit, and you've got the plight of many a working mom or tapped out daughter/aunt/caregiver. I wasn't as productive last year as I wanted to be, mainly because though I had a room of my own, it was a porous room that allowed noise and distraction through its membraneous walls. You cannot lock your door against children--it is almost too cruel to shut out those you love, and too impractical when it's something like a dirty diaper or a sick child. You do what you gotta do.

Well, I don't gotta do that anymore. I had to move many, many miles away to get a room of my own, one that I can occupy by myself for seven days a week. Not all of those days will be productive. But all of those days will be mine. I don't have to think of Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays as belonging to the kids anymore. I don't have to cram all my work on Tuesdays and Thursdays and all of my errands and chores on Sundays.

The days are mine, however short-lived they be. This room is mine, no matter how small it is. And so for the first time, my life is mine, to live as I choose and in pursuit of my own goals and needs, rather than in service of others or in acquiesence to the greater good of the "family."

It is an experience, a feeling, that is much bigger than me, even if it is all about me. It is at once liberating and heartbreaking, to be divorced from all that is warm and familiar so that I might be able to read and write in peace. You may think it the solipsism of a blogger (or rather, any other first-person writer/journalist) to extrapolate from personal experience some larger meta-universal theme of humanity, as if my experience is a microcosm of all newly liberated women's experiences.

Of course I don't think that. My story is too weird to be representative of all women who have moved out on their own for the first time. For one thing, I'm doing this at 25, not 18. I'm not some stupid co-ed who is like, totally excited about the floor parties and the Fall formal, or "Dormal." For another, I have a common among Asian-Americans, but not among aspiring law professors background of having a very strict-to-the-point-of-weird and parnoid Asian father who up till two years ago wouldn't let me move farther than a 50 mile radius from home. And finally, it's not like I'm merely homesick for my mom's cooking. Heck, I can cook that myself. I miss my responsibilities, much as I am relieved not to have to perform them. And by my responsibilities, I do mean the hard-won realizations that come with adulthood that taking care of your aged parents and your siblings' children is something good and not merely burdensome. No, this is not the story of some 18 year old. Nor is it the story of your average aspiring law prof. It's my story, and it's hopefully strange enough to tell without being too tiresome.

But it may be like the story of Shakespeare's sister, had I not moved away. This is why this moment is bigger than me. Woolf speculated about the lost women writers of her time, "some mute and inglorious Jane Austen" or that "Anon . . . was often a woman." Well, I am pseudonymous, and a woman too. This blog has given me a wonderful outlet for writing late into the night, when all is finally quiet and when the kids are at their own homes. But now I may more seriously write during the day, night, or whenever I want. I can write with my full attention, not during naptime, or not when the kids are occupied with crayons, or not after I am exhausted by a day of childcare. I can write on seven days, rather than two. I hope that I do not turn out to be a mute and inglorious failed writer. I hope that by moving away and finding a room of my own, I will not be another lost woman writer, or another silent academic. I hope that in moving away I am avoiding becoming a "woman at strife against herself," unhappy because I never dared to actively pursue my intellectual dreams.

Woolf closes her long essay, as I will mine, with a a call to let Shakespeare’s sister to "live in you and in me, and in many women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up dishes and putting the children to bed."

Amen to that.

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