No room of one’s own
In spite of the difficulties, paradise on earth: a space of my own, a bed of my own, a desk, a chair, books and more books…”
In “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf says that for a woman to write fiction, she must have money and a room of her own. She highlights the limited opportunities for women during her time, as well as the historical invisibility of women’s voice in literature. (I could almost see her arteries bursting in anger when she went to the British Museum and found volumes of books about women—written by men!)
I started to develop a liking for writing in sixth grade. But my family had little money and I had no room of my own.
When you have no room of your own, you ache to know where your skin begins and ends. When you have no room of your own, you try to find a calm spot within yourself amid the sonic boom of shared living.
In being deprived of privacy, where everything in my life seemed to be communal — the bed, blanket, slippers, towels, utensils — I discovered how to build a room of my own without using cement and bricks.
Our family used to collectively sleep on a “papag,” a wooden bed. We’d rationalize the hardness of our bed by saying it improved our postures, that it made our spines as stiff as a bamboo pole.
When it rained, we placed plastic buckets over our heads and let the burble of water serve as a lullaby. I remember doing assignments with a pail of rainwater beside me. Even when I started menstruating, when I was already a “dalaga,” a young woman, I was crammed in between my brothers every night.
I made my “own room” in notebooks. As a high school student, I was a prolific diarist. And the main driving force behind my writing was the change in my body and consciousness: I was having crushes on boys.
Ultimately, I wrote a love letter to a boy when I was in first year. Delicate cursive on delicate stationery. I wrote it in English, and I might have used phrases like “chaos of my heart” or “melancholy in your eyes” to impress him.
Puppy love — a deep aspect of the young person’s emotional life where privacy is in its urgency. I made my love special by writing about it on notebooks and hiding it away from others. It was the only thing no one in the house could lay their hands on.
My parents were proud of my achievements at school. However, after high school, I stopped schooling because they couldn’t afford to send me to college. I wasn’t used to spending the whole day in the house. I would walk my way to the nearest mall in slippers and spend all my afternoon at a secondhand bookstore.
Booksale became “my room.” I was very happy that I could buy a book for as low as P5. I placed high sentimental value on my copy of Henry David Thoreau’s journal which I bought for P10 for my birthday in 2006.
I was lucky to have read him during the hungriest time of my youth. He gave dignity to my situation.
“Again and again, I congratulate myself on my so-called poverty,” he wrote in one of his entries. I dreamed of not only having a room of my own, but also a house in Walden Pond.
I wonder how many Filipino girls and boys have to grow up with no space they can call their own. I wonder how the claustrophobic layout of the house of the poor affects the sense of self of its young inhabitants.
Anyway, young people create their room elsewhere: under a big tree, on the streets, at online games. Or, sometimes, the skull is enough.
Having a simple room of my own is one of the most treasured aspects of my life right now. It has given me new life. I can spread my whole person on the bed, dance around with nothing on, invite people for sleepovers, make an altar to my inner life. This is Woolf’s ideal.
Would the days of sweet aloneness in my room end? I can’t imagine myself in bed sandwiched between some children and a man who, having shed the veneer of poise of the early stages of dating, now snores and farts unabashedly.
Is a woman born into the world so that generations could lean on her earthly tenderness during the innocent hours of repose? If so, it’s like a life cycle that can be expressed in a biblical parody: To crowded bed you were born, to crowded bed you shall return.
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Greth Barredo, 28, lives in Bulacan.
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