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Why every woman needs a room

I know everyone has had different experience of lockdown. Some people were on furlough. Others running their own businesses - flat out with no time to make banana bread or moan about how bored they were.

Others were made redundant and this combined with the pandemic made them question everything. Others managed to find a new direction and used the time to re-launch their careers.

The one thing (actually one of many things) that I learnt is that without the space to work, without a room or an office, working becomes a struggle.

'You need to finally sort that shed out,' my mum said over the phone, 'You've been talking about it for years and it's full of crap and you could get a desk in there and finally get some peace and quiet,'

She was right. I'd been in scenarios where I'd been presenting debrief presentations from my bed (one employer called me out on this despite me telling her there was nowhere else I could go because my kids were downstairs). I'd done client calls barricaded in the front room with a chair and some pillows keeping the door shut.

I noticed that in the beginning people were forgiving of kids running in during zoom calls but this dynamic shifted over time and it was less cute. More than this however was the mental stress of working from my bed.

I felt muddled.

My brain didn't function.

My back ached.

I dreamt about work.

I woke up in the night thinking about it.

I propped my laptop up on pillows and tried to pretend I was Victoria Beckham with some sort of ergonomic futuristic work set up but I felt weird. Bed became synonymous with work and moderating groups, writing up decks, taking client calls- pretending that I had a space when it was clear that I didn't.

I envied the households who'd had their lofts done and (it seemed the men of the house primarily) would head up to their offices each day, shutting the door behind them and emerging 8 hours later.

'I can't work and home school at the same time,' one dad said to me at the school gates.

'I can't either,' I replied but my voice was carried away by the wind.

'I can't do it,' I repeated.

But he'd run off.

Work requires focus. It requires at least a couple hours of focus. I would often be trying to offer up strategic guidance on coffee makers whilst staring at a heap of washing that needed putting away (why is it that only women put washing away?) and layers of dust. One day I looked under the bed and I saw what can only be described as a tsunami of hair/dust/no fucking idea what that is.

So when I wasn't working, I was cleaning- appalled by the level of dirt which I hadn't noticed because I'd been in an office and somebody else was responsible for dealing with it. This domestic load thing has been written about extensively but let's just say that it didn't contribute to great work. It meant that when I was't typing I was tidying. I sometimes imagined I would be found prostrate under the bed - trying to retrieve an old hair band covered in gunk- my heart finally collapsing due to the relentless multi-tasking.

Virginia Woolf famously said - 'A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.'

She was right. A woman needs a room (she also needs money- hence why I work and write and am not at liberty to just write). If she can't find a room then she needs a metaphorical one- a space where she can sit and get on with stuff.

She needs somewhere where she can hide (for me it had been the toilet for many years)

Many of you may be thinking- you middle class muppet- many of us don't have the luxury of a room of their own. And I am of course talking from a position of privilege. I live in a house. It's a tiny house and the boiler is leaking but I am too scared to ask for a quote to get it fixed but it is a house. And I am lucky enough to have a shed at the bottom of my garden.

A shed that was full of car seats, my dad's belongings, old golf clubs that are used once every 5 years by my other half but CANNOT be thrown out and books- hundreds of them. So to cut a long story short mum drove over and we dragged everything out.

We moved my dad's piano so it no longer obscured the one source of heat (a battered smelly heater that hadn't been used in years). We dusted. We cleaned. There were dead spiders clinging to our arms and cobwebs in our hair.

'This is going to be your place to work,' mum said, 'And you can also use it to hide...on bad days.'

Five hours later. It was done. A makeshift desk in one corner. The crap stuffed into a cupboard (for some reason we had kept 20 tins of old paint that had all gone rock hard). Dad's piano with some of his favourite things on top- his hip flask he'd been gifted when he left his university post. A photo of him as a child. My dead step-mum's boxes of trinkets- which had been hidden away for over thirty years.

With the heater on the shed smelt like a charity shop. Like visiting your nan. Like when you open an old book and take a sniff. The dead spiders clung onto the carpet. It was clearly not one of those office spaces you see on Pinterest. It was not one of those.

Then this morning- this very morning I came into the shed and locked the door from the inside. It would only be for a few hours (until pick up) but locking the door felt revolutionary.

I could no longer see the dust or the washing that needed to be put away.

'I've finally done it Dad,' I said out loud, 'I am here. And I've locked the door'

'Why did it take you so long?' Dad whispered as I switched my laptop on, 'I've been here for months - it's chilly but the sunlight dapples through the windows in such a lovely way... don't you think?'

'You're right,' I said, 'What took me so long?'

I felt the immense power that men have felt for years as they've shut their office doors and put their noise cancelling headphones on. I felt the power of potential. The power of being able to leave a full dishwasher and deal with it later. I contemplated a fold out bed and maybe a small potty. I thought about how women never prioritise their own peace of mind. How their work is always something that is done alongside a mountain of other things. How they always put away the clothes. I thought about dad and how he'd never come out of his own shed - how too much isolation is never good either. I also thought how good it felt to sit amongst his things- to hear the branches tapping against the roof as the wind howled outside. How it felt good to feel close again.

Virginia was right.

A woman with a room can do anything.

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