Dani Shapiro
August 1, 2008

A Room of One’s Own

Since this blog is named after a favorite Virginia Woolf book, Moments of Being, and since so much of what I understand about life I learned from the great VW, I find myself moved–not for the first time–to consider the importance of a room of one’s own. Mostly because, at the moment, I don’t have one.

Crazy, I know. I think that my single best writing situation was during the writing of my first novel, Playing With Fire. Just as early success can be a curse, having the perfect writing room at the age of twenty-six can also be its own kind of curse–since that particular writing room (or anything like it) will probably never again exist in my life. For six years, I lived on the top floor of The Dakota, famously on the corner of Seventy-Second and Central Park West. (My reasons for living in The Dakota are too surreal and unlikely to chronicle here. For the curious, it’s all explained in my memoir Slow Motion.) Anyway…the top floor of The Dakota had once been the servants quarters of the building. I recently heard that these rooms are selling for literally millions of dollars. But back in the 1980’s I lived in a string of such rooms, approximating a railroad flat, with my little Yorkshire terrier Gus, and a very nice struggling actor-waiter boyfriend. A friend of mine, owner of a palatial apartment on a floor down below, happened to have an extra room (an extra room!) on the top floor that he had forgotten all about. He lent it to me. It was perhaps twenty paces down the hall from my apartment. Every morning, while still in my pajamas, I trotted down the hall with Gus, coffee mug in hand, and settled into my spartan room, furnished only with a desk and a chair. There was no internet–or if there was, I didn’t yet know about it. There was no phone. I didn’t yet have children, and so saw no need to be reachable at all times. The window overlooked the interior courtyard of The Dakota, a glorious, cavernous space unlike almost any other in the city. Across the courtyard, a man who kept a similar schedule to me also worked in his warren on the top floor. He kept his window open in all but the most freezing weather, and his cigarette smoke drifted outside. I never met him, or knew his name, but in his own way, he kept me company.

Leaving home, walking a few steps away while still in pajamas, to a blank slate of a room with no possible intrusion of the outside world–it was a little bit of bliss I was too young to appreciate. Now–a scary number of years later–as I write this, I am sitting in Starbucks in Southbury, Connecticut. Around me are other people working on laptops, as well as moms with young children who make me all too aware that I am not, at the moment, with my own child. The music is okay–not too intrusive. But lord knows, it isn’t a room of my own.

Of course, I could rent an office. I have rented offices in the past. In fact, Michael and I have a two-bedroom apartment in the town near our house where he works, and where theoretically I should be working too. But the truth is, it isn’t a room of my own. It’s a room with my husband with whom–love him as I do–I cannot share work space. The place I work from–the blank slate–requires a kind of anonymity. It doesn’t necessarily require silence, or even solitude. But I do need to be able to forget that my domestic life exists, even for just a few hours. Strangely enough, lately I have been working quite well at home. I’ve cleared my desk so that camp/doctor/school forms are not in direct view. I have moved the pile of invitations and correspondence to the side. So when I sit at my desk, I am closer to the blank slate, and with a little bit of luck and tenacity, usually I can push myself to the place I need to be.