I was recently stirred to thought by a blog post from the imcomparably brillant and sensitive Terri Windling on “rooms of one’s own“–that old Virginia Woolf chestnut–accompanied by some gorgeous photos of Lewtrenchard, the gorgeous English country estate once owned by Sabine Baring-Gould, a writer I mostly know (as a vampirologist) from his Book of Werewolves in 1865.
My first response was, “well sure, a 17th-century Devonshire manor house is a swell place to write, if you happen to have one kicking around.” My room of my own is nothing so elaborate–indeed, it need not be. It’s more a time of day than anything else. I habitually stay up late–one of the reasons that my morning class is killing me–because the small hours of the morning are the only hours I truly work in silence, and solitude, and without interruptions. It’s like running an ironman competition. As long as I outlast everybody else out there, never mind that I get up at 6:45 a.m. to get ready for my classes, I have a little bit of peace and solitude to do my work in. I am en extrovert, socially speaking, and I love love love being around people. But when I need to create, even silent company can be deafening.
All this got me thinking about alternative ways of building “rooms of one’s own,” and it got me thinking of a particular tradition at the College where I teach. My school is of old an Anglican college, and to this day its religious ceremonies for Remembrance Day involve a church service with a High Anglican communion kit that was carried onto the beaches of Normandy, by a student who died on the battlefield performing last rites in the trenches to fellow soldiers–ours and theirs.
It’s a thing designed specifically for those Christian soldiers we sing “Onward” about–a modest little wooden case with a handle, not much bigger than a Power Rangers lunchbox, containing a chalice and a few other curious objects–everything needed to perform Extreme Unctions, I’m guessing, on wounded and dying soldiers right there on the field. It’s literally a travel kit for ritually connecting with God, a sacramental cell phone of sorts for those emergency calls, because souls are important and not everybody could make it to a field hospital.
The story of how it came back to the College after the death of its carrier is rather miraculous and not mine to tell. But it did get me thinking about ritual connection, and the bridges between our thinking, fearing human selves and the Great Mystery beyond, and how we love to use an assortment of gimmickry (rooms of one’s own included) to facilitate that connection.
A room of one’s own is nice–but we don’t need much to connect to the divine spark or the God/dess in all of us. If a theology student-turned-soldier could get a direct hotline to God with that little box while under fire from the blazing thunder of German cannons, then I’m willing to bet that a small container, ritually packed with the objects and tools we each fetishize most as writers–though it be shaped like a Power Rangers lunchbox–would give most of us all the Room we need to make that connection even among the chaos, the intolerable noise and terror, of our quotidian lives.
If your “room of one’s own” was nothing more than a travel kit, about the size of a Power Rangers lunchbox, what would it contain, and why?