A Room of One's Own

In college, lo those many years ago (and by that I mean about six), I took a course on the Bloomsbury Group for one of my advanced English electives. Though it focused mainly on Virginia Woolf, it also concerned novelist E. M. Forster (whom I love), and John Maynard Keynes, an economist, who must have provided for some weird balance in a group otherwise composed of writers, artists and critics.

Having been an economics major during a short stint of non-self-realization, I found this fascinating. Keynes was the fellow who, when the confronted with prior economic theories such as Adam Smith's "invisible hand" (laissez-faire economic philosophy: the idea of a self-regulating no-government-interference economy: Everything will balance out eventually, y'all keep your shorts on), made the famous quip: "In the long run, we are all dead."

I can't help but wonder how much that famous quote and even some of his theories had to do with his relationship with a bunch of writerly and artsy types.

Virginia Woolf wrote one of my favorite books, Mrs. Dalloway, and several other books such as To the Lighthouse, which I wanted to understand but found too meandering to get a hold on. Everyone else seemed to understand it, however. I was in class with a bunch of young, intellectual 20-somethings who smoked in talkative little groups before and after class and spouted a lot of opinions about symbolism, stream-of-consciousness, and literary analogies during.

A few weeks into the semester, I visited my professor's office, concerned about my grade amongst this group of know-it-alls. She was the English department chair - a woman who painted, wore long gypsy skirts, scarves and hand-made jewelry. She'd earned her PhD in literature from Harvard and researched primitivist constructions of identity, Scheherazade, and magical realism. I shopped at Banana Republic and scored higher on the quantitative section of the SAT than I did on the verbal.

When I told my professor how inadequate I felt daring to analyze the works of Virginia Woolf, and moreover, how harebrained I felt sharing anything I might be thinking in front of this sophisticated, verbose, way-younger group, she said, "Let me tell you a secret. The people who talk all the time? They don't know what the hell they're talking about. They just like to hear themselves talk, and generally, I just let them."

I continued to put in the work, wrote the papers, spoke only when called on, and earned an A in the class.

My current main character is reading A Room of One's Own, which is actually a couple of essays/lectures that Woolf combined into a treatise on the need for women writers to have both unearned financial support and solitude if they are ever to write works of genius. I'm not sure yet what my character will think of it. (She's a high school senior and I've chosen this for a school assignment.) But I am enjoying reading through the book again.

I don't believe I'll ever write anything of profound genius, certainly not what Woolf had in mind. But I believe in the power of what she envisioned - and I intend to do what it takes to get myself to that place. All I really want to do, besides the loving of family and the taking care of cats, is write. Life is too short to spend it doing things that cause misery or crush dreams, obviously. But it's also too short to just shuffle along, with day-to-day survival as the only focus.

Because in the long run, we're all dead.