September 20, 2017 – A room of one’s own

Pastels on display in Sue’s studio.

Last week Sue, an artist in our community, texted to say she wouldn’t be coming to paint with us on Thursday.  She had a project to finish.  She was reclaiming her childhood bedroom as her studio.  Many years ago she and her husband moved into the house in Greenbrae she grew up in, and raised their three kids there.  The room that she shared with her sister, and then was hers alone when her sister went off to college, was her husband Paul’s home office.  A lightning bolt recently struck her:  she needed her room back!  Their kids are launched into their lives – either in or finished with college – and there are now rooms sitting empty.  And – this room has the best light and an amazing view giving it an inspiring sense of spaciousness – it needed a higher purpose.  After all, Paul mostly looks into a computer screen when he’s in that room.  No more painting at the kitchen counters – Sue was going to have a room of her own.

Sue’s reclaimed space to paint in. Annie-dog seems happy to be there at Sue’s feet.

She collected her things that were stored in spots all over the house:  her art supplies, personal books and teaching materials.  She re-arranged the closet to store it all.  She painted the room previously a rich chocolate brown a sunny pale yellow.  Some new furniture from Ikea to store things and work on and she was set.  I had the privilege of being her first visitor – it was a thrill to share in her excitement.  Sue is often a fountain of enthusiasm, but this seemed different – yes there was all the material work she’d done, but there was something else too.  She was making a statement to her family, to herself and to the world that her creative self must have its place, its own physical space.

Sue’s reclaimed space to paint in. Annie-dog seems happy to be there too.I had a moment like that.  Joe and I were remodeling the house.  We started with three bedrooms – we each had a sleeping room (we get much better sleep in our own beds) and he had a den.  The remodel was replacing one of the bedrooms with a large master suite on a new second story.  That upstairs room would primarily be his room and there would be – for the first time – a TV in the bedroom.  Before the remodel I was painting in a corner of the garage that I’d set up for myself as a studio.  But the new garage would have no windows and no nook for me to nestle into.

We had a talk in the middle of construction about how the rooms would be used in the new floorplan. The assumption was that we’d use the rooms as we did before to which I heard myself say, “so there will be three places (bedroom, den, living room) to watch TV and I still don’t have a place in the house to paint?”  I’m writing this post in that room right now – it’s been my work/paint/create space for the past 11 years.  Though I know that my sweetheart really misses having a den, I can’t imagine being without a space that my creativity calls home – a place that is my space – no one else to negotiate with about any part of it.

I saw my Sister Mary for spiritual direction last week – the first time since my big hike, so she wanted to hear all about it.  At the end of my tale, she said that I now have a “Mount Whitney room” inside me.  She talked of how Carl Jung said that complex people have many rooms inside them and that if we say vital and alive, we create new rooms inside us throughout life.  This was in the back of my mind as I visited Sue on Friday, the idea that we have an artist room – a watercolorist room, inside us.  I can feel it.  This room holds our knowledge and skills of the craft of watercolor, our sense of accomplishment from the paintings we’ve done and the relationships with the people with whom we share all of this.  We use the word “side” to describe aspects of a person – one could have a tomboy side, or a glamor side, but “room” is more alive to me.  Rooms are three dimensional and they have boundaries that contain distinct parts of us.

As I left Sue’s house I was making the connection between her inner and outer room and wondering about the relationship there must be between the two.  If we have no inner room the outer room is superfluous.  Who inside us would tell us to go into the room and make stuff?  But once the inner room is established to a degree, it seems the outer room becomes an imperative.  The occupant of the inner room insists upon it!

Without realizing it until now, the relationship between a person – an artist – and their creative space is something that I’ve been curious about for a while.  There is something magical about visiting a studio – this is where the magic happens!  One I visited was gorgeous, a huge room, freshly remodeled, built-in storage all over and an enormous work table – supplied to the hilt with things to create with.  Its occupant called it her “craft room.”  I told her that “this wasn’t her craft room – it was her studio!” People dream to have studios like those of some of the artists in our community:  one studio in an attic space with a window looking out on the neighbor’s roof tops – you have to climb up a ladder to it – the quintessential artist hideaway.  Another is also built in an attic space, but this one is bigger with little windows in dormers and a chaise longue for when the artist needs a little rest.

And when I was working at Light Rain I was invited into the studio of one of our clients.  She had a big, beautiful high-ceilinged store that sold art-oriented things for the home.  Next door was the biggest single-artist studio I’ve ever seen – as big as the whole store!  It was filled with cases of books, bones, shells, sponges, antique objects, paints and lots of in-progress work.  Oh, my.  What a space! I wonder about the enormity of this artist’s imagination – of her inner room – that it requires this much space to create from.  I honestly wouldn’t have any idea what to do with all that space for just my own creating.

I see the connection between these women, these artists and their spaces and see how one reflects and creates the other.  Virginia Woolfe gave us the phrase “A room of one’s own” from her essay about Judith Shakespeare, Will’s fictional sister.  It’s largely a feminist piece – women in her time did not enjoy the relative freedom and resources many of us have now.  Though we have more resources, education and freedom empowering us to create, and many of us have inner and outer rooms-of-our-own, there is the need to support women’s creative lives.  I discovered online an organization called “A Room of Her Own Foundation” whose purpose is just that.  AROHO provides women writers and artists a way to gather and connect to each other.  I found this line on their website:  Whenever and however we are in each other’s presence we are AROHO. (A Room of Her Own)

This past week marked six years that I’ve been at the center of such gatherings of women (and a few men) artists.  Thanks to my amazing Mama’s generosity, 537 Magnolia Avenue in Larkspur, California has become our collective room-of-our-own.  The building shelters us and our shared purpose as creators contains us as we make art, thereby forming and reinforcing each of our inner rooms.  The energy of the collective carries us until such time as our inner room grows so large that we need our own room-of-our-own, like Sue just has.

It’s a big step in a person’s life:  to claim resources for our self on behalf of our creativity.  It’s one form of brave.  It had to take courage for Sue to assert to her husband that she wanted his space, as it did for me, knowing it meant my hubby would no longer have his man-cave.  There’s always a cost.  This is what Virginia Woolfe wanted for herself and for us – to declare that there is something within us that is worthy of these resources, the time and space to create.  By doing so, we participate in the unfolding of ourselves as people and in the expansion of our society as a whole.

To your brave – and with my love,


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