If I remember my Cliff’s Notes and reviews of the film The Hours correctly, Virginia Woolf said a woman needs “money and a room of her own” to be a writer.
My fiancé probably doesn’t know Virginia Woolf from Virginia Slims, but for my birthday he gave me a room of my own. We’d been calling our spare bedroom “the office” but using it as a boxroom. So we cleared out the junk and unused furniture to make room for the presents Collin had given me: a big desk that is nicer than any piece of furniture I’ve actually owned (it’s not even made of particle board!), a new bookcase for all the books that I have had in storage since we moved in together, and a hobby table for me to craft on (which I have taken to menally referring to as my §280A(c)(1) Violation Table, because I am technically a lawyer but also, more relevantly, a huge dork).
So now that I have a room of my own (and some money, if the furniture made of actual wood did not tip you off), is it enough? I should probably read Woolf’s actual essay and sample the 80-odd years of scholarship on it before embarking upon this line of discussion, but this is Just A Blog so I’m going to throw caution to the wind and just go out and say: no.
Of course, it helps. I am able to will myself into “writing mode” much more easily when I have a designated place to do it, especially one where I have more control over the basics of the environment like the light and noise levels, the temperature, the presence or absence of cats. And of course there is the tremendous emotional gift that my fiancé gave me along with this set of furniture: saying, “I support you, I believe in you, I want you to chase your dream.”
What else do I need, other than this room, other than money, and the freedom those two privileges give? Health insurance. I can’t get affordable single-payer insurance because I have a pre-existing condition (depression, which is cheap to treat, but that’s no matter). I’m straight, so I have the privilege of being able to marry my partner and be added to his health insurance plan without our taxable income skyrocketing. And I have money saved, so I have the privilege to wait to do this until our wedding this July and meanwhile bleed money to secure mediocre health benefits.
I’m grateful for these privileges, but still frustrated by this situation. I do not like having to depend on my dude for access to medical care. He has dreams too, and I don’t want his life choices to come down to whether I can get my prescriptions filled. So I need to get myself a proper full-time job with benefits. I am well-educated (see above, re: J.D.) so I should be able to do this, eventually (although last time I was really trying to get a job, it didn’t feel that way).
Before you tell me, “Shove it, rich girl!”, and/or “you’ve used the word ‘privilege’ too many times in this post”, let explain I’m emphasizing my advantages to highlight the severity of the problem here. I am so tremendously privileged I have multiple avenues to health insurance in the United States’ difficult system, and my pursuit of happiness is still frustrated by the basic human need for access to medical care.
To be able to affordably see doctors in this country you must be able to hit some magical privilege combo of already healthy, straight, cis, rich, employable, able to work full-time, and lucky. Why is that an acceptable scenario to anyone?
My quest for health insurance is frustrating my desire to write. Big freakin’ deal. As that last sentence should convince you, this is no huge loss to the world. I’m not Judith Shakespeare over here. But with millions of people choosing a job or career path or expressed gender identity or spouse or what diagnoses to seek/avoid because of the health insurance system in the United States, some of those people must be making the wrong choice, not only for their individual happiness but for the good of all of us. And millions more who effectively have no choice at all that will give them access to acceptable medical treatment.
So, again, I never actually read Woolf’s text, but the trickle-down gist I got was that the explanation of what makes it so difficult for a woman to be able to write reveals the general injustices of the system which all people should be motivated to dismantle? Right? So, yeah, let’s just say that to write a woman needs money, a room of her own, and health insurance, and I’ll let you draw whatever other conclusions you would like.