Monday, March 15, 2021

A Room of One's Own


I learned about quotation marks in dialogue from my babysitter. Her name was Maria, a red head with more freckles than face and an attitude to match.

“It’s so people know what they’re saying,” she said. “Otherwise it all just blurs together.”

Maria was full of great writing advice. She told me to start at the beginning and end at the end, that I wouldn’t always know which was which, but that was probably okay. She said people like adventures, and that people could have perfectly fine adventures in their living rooms if they wanted.

She told me I needed space to spread out. To write. She’d been reading Virginia Woolf, she said, who knew a thing or two about it.

As a nine-year-old, I figured I was pretty worldly. I’d moved at least three times—once to Gibsonton, FL, known colloquially as Carnie Town because it’s where the off-season carnival folk settle—had a cat named Yoda, and had seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show (by accident, at my aunt’s house). I was the oldest, with four brothers and sisters who looked up to me when they weren’t beating on me and was called “Little Mama” by my relatives because I was the small child wrangler at holidays and family parties. So when I sat down to write a story, I figured I knew what I was doing.

I didn’t have my own room (and wouldn’t for most of my life, moving from sharing with two little sisters to two daughters and then a wife) so I sat in the backyard on a slab of concrete that had great ambitions to be a patio, but never quite lived up to its potential. I wrote on loose-leaf notebook paper that sometimes blew away when a big gust of air cut through the yard, with a pencil that had a cupcake eraser on the top, the cherry long bitten off by one of my brothers.

I was going to write a story, I decided, about a little girl with dark hair and scabs on her knees and a noisy house full of too many people. One night, when the girl couldn’t sleep because her sisters were snoring or talking in their sleep, a leprechaun would come to her window and whisk her off to a magical land where there were more trees than people. I’d read the Chronicles of Narnia—I knew that when children were brought to a magical place, eventually, they would have to come back. But this was my story. It was all well and good that the Pevensies were happy to come home, but my little girl could stay in the magical land for as long as she wanted. Forever, even.

I wrote many, many stories after that one and the theme running through most of them was escape. Girls and women who were so boxed in by their lives, when the first chance to run away came along, they took it. My escape came through them. With earphones on and Word doc open, I drifted away to new times and places and though 99% of those stories never saw the light of day, I remember them as doorways to escape from work, from life, from children and parents and siblings who all needed something from me when I didn’t have much to give.

My wife asked me what I wanted for my thirtieth birthday.

I told her, “A room with a door I can close.”

I’m thirty-four now and writing this from a chair in the corner of my living room. It’s seven in the morning on a Saturday. It’ll be hours before my wife and teenagers get up, so I can almost pretend that this is my space. But I can hear the clock on the wall ticking away the minutes until they’ll want breakfast and attention and for me to alleviate their inevitable boredom by planning a full day of Target runs, drive-through lunch, and maybe a walk if the sun stays put and all I can think about is what I wouldn’t give to be whisked away to a magical land with more trees than people.

I announced in December that I’d finally signed my first ever multi-book contract with a publisher. Along with it came a decent advance—not enough to quit my job, but enough that it bridged the gap between “maybe we could someday buy a house” to “let’s buy a house.”

After eight years in a tiny apartment with only so many nooks to escape, I knew what I wanted.

As we scrolled through listing after listing, I told my wife, “I want a room with a door I can close.”

On April 2nd, we close on a hundred-year-old house in the city, with delightfully creaky floors and stories in the walls and at the end of the hallway, with two windows facing the backyard—a magical land with more trees than people—is a room with a door that has my name on it.

“This,” Maria would say, “This here is a beginning.”

I tend to agree. 

1 comment:

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Beautiful, beautiful post, Kat!!

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