When I was single, I never needed a room of my own. I wrote whenever I wanted, day or night, in my tiny studio apartment, where I lived alone. Drafts of poems and stories and books would be strewn about for days, undisturbed. My clerical job didn’t require me to take work home; I could even write at my desk when business was slow.
My unencumbered writing life changed considerably twenty years ago when I earned a graduate degree and fell in love in the same year. After graduation, my boyfriend—now husband—Jorge and I moved into an apartment together. I soon joined the ranks of adjunct instructors commuting across congested Southern California freeways to teach at community colleges and universities.
My writing suffered.
I used the dinette as an office and stole two or three hours a week to write on our small dining table, when it wasn’t being used for eating, lesson planning, grading papers, paying bills, or other activities. I had difficulty switching from my hectic life into writer mode. My creativity needed to be eased into gear, and I couldn’t escape reminders of the tasks waiting for me to complete—grading, cleaning, and more. I longed for a room of my own where I could shut the door and immerse myself in the world of the piece I was writing. I wanted a room I could decorate to express my eclectic taste and inspire me.
Ten years ago Jorge and I became first-time homeowners. Finally I had a room of my own—almost. We lived in Long Beach, California, where home prices were rising. All we could afford was an old 765-square-foot house with two bedrooms and one bathroom in a working-class neighborhood. The guest room, its size more suitable for a child, doubled as my writing and schoolwork room. To make it welcoming for overnight guests, I decorated it in neutral blue and brown hues, not the bright aqua, hot pink, Prince purple, and tiger orange I prefer. I did not display many of my cherished decorations. My doll collection, images and sculptures of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and ofrendas for dead loved ones might seem odd, tacky, or even frightening to guests. Although I couldn’t fully express myself in the décor and had to frequently relinquish the space for visitors, I relished having a separate place to write.
A scientist by day and musician by night, Jorge turned the bonus room behind our detached garage into his music room and bedroom. I’m a night owl, and he wakes up at 4:30 in the morning to get ready for work, so we’ve slept in separate bedrooms since we first moved in together. He sealed and painted the bonus room, laid laminate wood flooring over the concrete, and installed bars on the windows and a security screen door.
Within a few months the local newspaper ran articles about recent break-ins in the neighborhood, and I felt unsafe sleeping in the house alone. Jorge was happy to move into the guest room—my writing room. He had grown weary of walking across the backyard to the house to shower on chilly winter mornings.
We decided to share the now-vacant bonus room. Jorge rented a small storage unit for the music equipment he used infrequently. We hung long curtains from the ceiling to divide our spaces. One side was his rehearsal space; the other was my office. Because of our different schedules, we each had the room to ourselves: I used it during the day before teaching night classes and Jorge used it at night after work.
This arrangement didn’t last long. Jorge has many good qualities, but neatness isn’t one of them. Whenever he prepared for an upcoming music performance, it looked like the Santa Ana winds had blown through the room. He left electric cords and gadgets scattered on the floor, my desk, and every other surface. His mess often remained there for up to a week, until he had time to put things away. I soon gave him back the bonus room. We needed the money he spent on the storage unit anyway. I stored my office furniture in the bonus room and garage and moved my writing materials into my bedroom.
The living room became my work space, where I used a laptop cart that I rolled into my bedroom when I finished writing for the day. Again I had difficulty switching into writer mode. This time I didn’t have a table on which to handwrite ideas and early drafts, nowhere to set the materials that were integral to my writing process— multicolored pens, a writing journal, and literature and images that inspired me. My creativity stifled, I focused on writing short poems and accepted that they would evolve slowly.
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