March 4th, 2008

Always Open

I have issues with signs. I see “End Roadwork” on a handy bright orange rectangle and I think it is a call to action. One that struck me as an instruction some time ago was the sign on a gas station: Always Open.

Taking inspiration from random signs might or might not be brilliant. There aren’t a lot of burning bushes in my neighborhood, so perhaps God has resorted to the usual advertising channels. Always Open is not bad advice, as far as normative statements go. Opening to new experience, new ideas, new people: all good. I think that at the time I saw it, I needed exactly that message, since my life seemed to be getting narrower and narrower.

Lately, however, I have been learning about the value of being closed. Virginia Woolf famously argued that every woman needs a room of her own with a lock on the door. (She was also in favor of relatives dying and leaving a person enough to live on so that artistic pursuits could be followed without having to worry about how to get by.) A room of my own seemed an incredible luxury, one that could be dispensed with when I was figuring out how to get by a while back. It was an interesting experience, really, living without a room. Most of the time it was fine. It put me in the middle of what was going on. It helped me keep things tidy. I liked the way I had to simplify my life because of it.

When I was upset or sad, it was hard. There was no place to go to suffer privately, except the bathroom, and since there was only one of those, even that place was not immune to interruption. When I wanted to do anything without interruption, it was rough. There was no helpful physical barrier to remind anyone that I might be doing something important. I learned to hoard my time alone.

Now I am spoiled. Not only do I get to sleep in a bedroom on a bed, not only do I have an actual closet, I have a whole other room just for myself.

But I found myself using old patterns anyway. I get up early. I need to. But I also want to, because when everyone else is asleep, I can do what I need and want to do without anyone needing me for anything else. I found myself snapping at Brent or the kids if they happened to wake and say even a good morning to me.

I have discovered the door.

When I close the door, no one talks to me. I only have to deal with the distractions in my own mind. I can write stupid stuff without the sense that someone might be looking over my shoulder. I can try to write brilliant things without losing the thread of my argument in answering a question about the location of socks or Mississippi.

The door, however, makes me feel guilty. I don’t want to shut everyone out. I am trying to do it anyway, in hopes that I will actually DO the things that people are supposed to do in their own rooms to fulfill their potential and all that nice fluffy stuff.

If it doesn’t work, I know the sign is still there on the gas station. It can send me another message later.