One upon a time there was a place called Barb Town. I created it in our spare bedroom around seven or eight years ago when I decided I needed a place to work, and it was a pretty awesome place. It had a desk, a lap top and a pretty brown chaise lounge that I could use when I didn’t feel like sitting upright. Granted, it didn’t have a bed, but I figured on those three or four days a year when my mother slept at our house, she could use the master bedroom. The one with the nice queen-sized bed and private bathroom. The other 361 days a year, I had a place to escape to. A room of my own, to quote Virginia Woolf.
The problems started when my mother refused to sleep in the master bedroom. I mean like stomping her foot, crying tantrum refused. It made her feel too guilty, she said. So we bought a bed. At first she tried one of those roll-out beds, but as she got older, I started feeling bad and so the chaise lounge was moved in favor of a real twin bed.
Next, my husband decided I needed a large screen and speakers for my laptop. A nice thought – except he was the one who wanted the screen and speakers. So he could go in there and listen to music videos and things.
Oh, did I mention that everyone uses that laptop because the other one was too slow?
Wasn’t too long afterwards that boxes started appearing in Barb Town. All the items that needed storing en route to the attic began stacking next to the bed. Other things began appearing as well. A phone, a waste basket, hooks on the door so my mother could hang her bathrobe.
Finally, last summer my husband built a new desk for the room. A big desk with room for his docking station and a second large screen. That way he can work at home. He’s in there now, typing away while I’m set up at the kitchen table.
If I were to complain, his answer would be entirely accurate: “What’s the big deal? It’s not like you use your office anyway.” He’s right. I have taken to typing on my Alphasmart in the living room. But how can I explain that a large reason I don’t use my office is because it stopped being MY office about two months after I moved in?
Now I know, in the overall scheme of things, sharing an office or a laptop doesn’t sound like a big deal. Only for me, Barb Town represented more than an office. It was a public declaration that my career mattered. That I mattered. And in a way, its appropriation is a metaphor for how I feel my writing is often seen by my family. As something to be fit in around their needs.
Don’t get me wrong. My family is supportive – well, as supportive as they are capable of being anyway – and if asked, they will tell you that I get plenty of writing time and space. (Lord knows they are incredibly patient regarding deadlines.) But every once in a while, I think about the demise of Barb Town and I wonder what would happen if my career didn’t have to be balanced with everything else? Imagine what I could do….