“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, A Room of One's Own
Altogether there were three: two boys and a girl, obviously bright, interested in life, wanting to make something of themselves, hoping to give back in a significant way. More than a week earlier they had asked to meet with me. I found them stimulating and young: At ages 18 and 19, teetering on the brink of adulthood, their brains were obviously not “done” yet. However, their energetic enthusiasm filled my office and ricocheted off the walls.
“We have a problem,” said Neil.
“Yeah,” echoed Nels and Anita in chorus. "A BIG problem."
The problem was that each came from large families of relatively low-economic status. “We have no rooms of our own,” explained Neil. “There’s usually chaos at my house.” The other two nodded emphatically. “And when I finally do go to bed,” Neil continued, “both my brothers snort and snore like Puff the Magic Dragon.” I had to laugh, unaware that Puff had been either a snorter or a snorer.
“Exactly,” said Nels. “We need space.”
“A place to think,” added Anita. “A place to figure things out.”
The three glanced around my office. “Not much space here,” said one. “Where do you think?”
“I think in my head,” I said. “I don’t need much space.”
“Well, I need space,” said Anita. “You know, a room of one’s own.”
Their problem and her comment took me back. Way back.
Among the writings of Virginia Woolf, one of her most famous is the essay, A Room of One’s Own. Born originally out of concern about the position of women (especially professional women), its bigger picture challenges all individuals. Every person needs a room of one’s own: a place to examine life, to dream, to figure out whom one was meant to be, to plot one’s direction and craft one’s journey.
Philosophers have spoken to the need for self-examination. Socrates reportedly went so far as to proclaim that an unexamined life wasn’t worth living!
I understood what the three young adults were saying. You need always to be exploring. The desired outcome will be to arrive where you began and, perhaps, truly know yourself for the first time. A room of your own is essential. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a literal space in your present abode—although that’s ideal. It can be a virtual room, a place to which you can retreat at any time, anywhere.
I’ve had both.
The builder of my childhood home probably never intended the space to be a room, just a pause between the first and second stories. However, jutting out over the back porch, this ten-foot-square landing pad provided a near-perfect retreat for a teenage girl. My personal Camelot!