Virginia Woolf wasn’t kidding. Having a room of one’s own matters. That is why teachers who keep their materials on carts are the ones who we pity. It is the reason why we still have stigma around cubicles. It is the reason that we put our names on doors.
In a couple of weeks, I will lose my own room. For the past 9 months, I have been able to meet with people on my own terms. I have been able to put my children’s artwork on the walls. I have been able to avoid ridicule from everyone who ventures into our office for my manual typewriter sitting on my desk.
We are all moving to a historic school building, one of the first ones built in my district. And this is rocking our department to our very core. We spent at least an hour today meeting to just discuss the anxiety around the move (not the move itself, but dispelling the anxiety around it). There is a serious reorganization underfoot and it makes everyone nervous. The feeling in the air was that our family was splitting up. It was a divorce proceeding, or at least the aftermath of one.
“On this day, you can pack your stuff. The next day, you will no longer be able to visit your old home. The day after that, you will be surrounded by strangers.”
This isn’t what worries me, though. I could care less about the loss of being around a few key people. I usually talked with them through online collaborative means, anyway. The thing I am worried about is losing my own space, and losing my sanity along with it. There are very few places that I can really be alone in thought. My room was one of the last vestiges of a bygone era.
For years I lived in the basement. I did this on purpose. As soon as my parents would let me, I moved all of my solid-wood furniture down to the basement and set up camp. I put up christmas lights on the ceiling. I plastered the walls with posters from the local art movie house. I let the technology on my desk spill over onto my dresser and on my bed and on the bookshelf and on the floor. This was the space that other people only visited when I asked them.
I don’t want to return to those days, but I do wish that I could figure out how to preserve some of that privacy. For as open as I am about my work and my collaborative instincts, I feel the need to have a space to spin around in my chair if I need to and not be questioned about it. I am not in any way looking forward to going back to sharing the music I choose to listen to with others. The privacy that I crave is the kind that relaxes shoulders and puts feet on tables. The kind of privacy I desire lets me put up sticky notes and record videos of them.
I want to be able to go for a few hours at a time without having to put up a facade of work sarcasm. The small talk gets ridiculous after a point. And, that point is about after the first 15 minutes of the day for me.
So, I internalize this privacy and I put all of the christmas lights into my head. I use headphones and I step out to make phone calls. I drop out of the space that is supposed to be so colegial. I find reasons to be away from co-habitation. And that is exactly what it is. It is an environment in which we are all a part, but no one has the space to create something new. Everything just seems to take on the sanitized undertones of being civil to one another all of the time.
And this is the grand irony. In all of my calls for collaboration, I still want it to be a choice. I want to be able to go in and out of collaborative spaces at will. I want to be able to begin from a place of personality rather than homogeneity. And for me, this isn’t negotiable.
My privacy isn’t up for debate. Whether or not my official space is found within cubicle or an office, I will always seek out a room of my own. I will plan on finding the spaces that will let me set up shop and let my stuff spill out onto the floor. I will intentially create works that require collaborative spaces that others CHOSE to come into rather than are set as a default.
While I do not bemoan change in my life, I believe in marking its passing. Others can be nervous about shifts to job description or responsibilities, but the only thing I will be looking for are places to ask real questions and get beyond the political fight awaiting all unchosen spaces.
If I had a glass in my hand I would raise it to this:
To finding the next room of my own, wherever that may be.
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Please let me start by saying I'm sorry that you are losing your own room…sorry for numerous reasons…mainly because I know what that can do to a person. I didn't realize this until my 8th year of teaching…3rd district…and I was a full-time teacher in a different room for each class and had a desk in an office with many people who thought their plan periods were meant for small talk. I felt like I was suffocating…a slow, miserable death. I couldn't choose to collaborate, because my ideas were no longer at the tip of my tongue. I think you have the right idea, in that you find a space and you walk in the hall. I became good friends with the librarian and she allowed me to use her “storage” room whenever I wanted or conference room when it wasn't being used…as odd as it may sound to many the privacy in a dark, overstuffed storage room is where my ideas could come again…I could listen to my music without headphones, not have someone tap me on the shoulder or yell my way every 30 seconds…I felt free again…so much that even my students saw it…” I like the work again, Ms. Cahill.” I wish educators would understand what privacy and space can do for many; however, I also understand that some choose to smalltalk through it all. I hope you find your “hidden” space, so you can continue to grow and help others do the same. If you can't, I hope you can work from home or vocalize to a boss that you need some form of change. I agree with you… I'm extremely collaborative…but I think the best collaboration comes when you are in balance as a person which means it comes by choice and involves minimal (but enough) small talk. I wish you the best!
I've been interested in that moment you are describing for a long
time: “I like the work again.”
That moment when you have been rejuvenated and everyone else knows it.
That moment when everything around you seems new again is brilliant.
And it doesn't take a lot. A room of one's own is both a small expense
and a huge benefit. It is a wonder that we don't try to construct more
spaces for choice collaboration rather than forced collaboration.
Thank you for supporting me in working through these issues. It means a lot.