What do you suppose Woolf really meant by her famous comment, ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own to write fiction’? Which would I rather have, a mythical place called ‘a room of my own’ or the grit of daily life that squeezes every drop of energy from my day? Before Woolf scholars swoon let me say there is nothing to be afraid of; her comment is quite timely even if, for me, it does not mean exactly what she intended. I have enjoyed reading Woolf this week and find her remark an inspiration for my study plan.
Studying in a self-directed program like The University of London International Academy is best enjoyed with a bit of inspiration; it is a very interesting and challenging program. As the new term approaches I am thinking about what I have learned, what I want to accomplish, texts, and time. As students, texts and time are the two things we can manage to achieve the results we want.
There is an old adage, ‘work expands to fill the available time.’ This year I will have less time available than I have in the past to study but I also want to accomplish more. That is quite a Gordian knot to ponder. This week I considered how to achieve my new goals while reading Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’ and thinking over Park Honan’s biography of William Shakespeare. Honan points out how Shakespeare was able to concentrate in the midst of a busy schedule and the challenging extremes of early modern life. That was an amazing, inspiring insight for me; Shakespeare managed to write astonishing texts between plague epidemics, economic upheaval and personal difficulties. While reading his biography I became impressed by how intensely he lived in a very difficult world.
Woolf’s world was no less difficult and intense. As I contemplated her essay I realized how I have craved that elusive set of ideal circumstances presented in her famous quote. Whether you interpret her sentence literally or metaphorically it comes down to freedom to work without externally imposed limits. I decided to consider Woolf’s comment allegorically as my mind made the leap between her comments and Honan’s observation. It occurred to me that I can make a room of my own by altering my perception of the limits within which we can all convince ourselves we function. It is very liberating to think the daily chaos I feel must be managed into submission can also be the grit in the oyster forming the pearls of my productivity.
Embracing chaos instead of fighting the competing demands of job, family, friends, and home has potential. Maybe embracing Shakespeare’s example presents a neat Alexandrian Solution for my need to achieve better results with less time and more challenging material.
Ultimately having less time is really not significant. We always find time and resources for something important to us. Building on my skill set to achieve the results I want is significant. What is required to succeed is a new kind of focus and efficiency. I am looking forward to developing a more refined set of work skills that are actually as important and valuable to me as my reading and writing skills. This combination of skills represents the resources and intellectual freedom needed to create my allegorical room. This year the stress and limits of a hectic daily life are a positive part of my plan. Anyway, who is afraid of Virginia Woolf when a little re-framing means the limits and challenges of academic pursuit are actually part of the solution?