In a cosmic coincidence, on the 22nd anniversary of my mom’s death, I went apartment hunting for my mother-in-law in order to give her some options for her life. My mother-in-law lives outside Boston and has been somewhat isolated there, what with the weather and the lack of public transportation and walkability in many suburban areas. My husband’s family has been trying to find a way to get her into a living situation that affords her some degree of independence, but that also keeps her occupied and socially connected. We thought she might be happier near us, my two step-daughters, her grandchildren, and a Church in our neighborhood that she loves. Our neighborhood is urban and people walk here, so it proves to be much less isolating.
After some searching around, I stumbled upon a spring quarter sublet, and it seems perfect. So perfect that Ed joked that if Joyce didn’t take the place, I might take it and make it into my writer’s sanctuary away from the noise and clutter of family life. I admit that the two rooms, sparsely furnished, impeccably clutter free, held some allure in their marked contrast to my current living conditions.
Specific moments of our lives seem attached to the kind(s) of rooms we occupy during them. The first apartment that I rented on my own was a one-bedroom boxy but cozy, over looking a courtyard on a busy Chicago street. At that moment in my life, it felt like a sanctuary — I was separating from my first husband, and the small neatness of this apartment cleared my head and helped me to re-prioritize my life. I’d moved here from a sprawling house that my ex and I owned in a far off suburb.
My next living space was a condo on the Lake — when I lived there it seemed like it was always summer. It was bigger, a two-bedroom, and once again on a busy street, Sheridan Road. We painted it bright vibrant colors and it felt spacious compared to the boxy apartment. When I lived here, I ran, a lot.
Our current condo is vibrant, too, in terms of color. But also because two four-year olds fill the space with chatter and laughter, and sometimes rants and tantrums. We have walls full of books and between the books, toys and random assortment of the furniture acquired in various other apartments, our home is a patchwork that reflects this stage in our family’s life.
When I’m 76, Joyce’s age, I wonder where I’ll be. I hope that where I live, the space is filled with books, light, color, and voices (more than just the ones in my head).
Though I have quite a bit to go before I’m 76, you made me think how lucky I am to have a dedicated space in our house to work and make art. We even have a rule that when the door is closed, no one can disturb me (unless there is an emergency.) JB also has an art space in the house but it is in the basement (way too cold and gloomy in winter) and in our bedroom. He does not have the privacy I have. (However he is retired and has privacy for most of the day.)
This is all to say that Virginia Woolf had it right on. Our personal environment helps to shape the way we maneuver in the world. The ability to have physical sanctuary and to use that sanctuary in any way we see fit helps to keep us sane and grounded and generative.
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