“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Virginia Woolf
Isn’t that every aspiring writer’s dream regardless of gender?
I grew up in a small village in the east of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. My grandparents came to that place in 1939 as refugees with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. My mother was seven and my dad ten. They lived in tents under dire conditions in a place where they didn’t even speak the language. Through hard work, determination, and a will to survive, they beat the odds and turned that place into the paradise it is today.
Growing up, we didn’t have much, but we had stories and we had books. My parents loved to read and they passed on that love to us. I would feverishly wait for the start of the school year when I would stay in bed with all my new books. I would make their spines crack gently as I opened them for the first time. I would sniff their special smell, look at the pages, the pictures, and then start reading.
As a child I shared a bedroom with my two siblings. My bed was in a corner by the wall. My most cherished memory of my childhood is sitting on my bed with a lap-desk that my father had made me, immersed in my books or scribbling with my pen in my notebooks, with the sound of rain beating on the roof.
I was a teenager when I got my own bedroom. In a corner next to my bed I had a desk with a typewriter which I only used to write term papers. I did all my scribbling and writing in that corner in long hand using fountain pen. I would fill page after page only to tear them up afterwards.
Back then I didn’t think I had enough material to write about. I hadn’t really lived my life. The only life I had known, the only people I had really known, were the ones living in my village. Later I discovered that a writer could focus on a small place; that if he wrote about it honestly and intimately enough, he could make it his own, and he could make it matter.
Years later when I moved to Dubai with my husband, I carried my writing with me. I fixed a corner of my bedroom to be my sanctuary, my writing corner. The only difference from my previous corners was that this time I had a real desk with drawers on both sides.
I don’t know why exactly I never considered any room in the house for writing other than my bedroom. Maybe because I am someone who gets scared very easily and late at night when I would sit to write, having my husband sleep in the room gave me some kind of security or safety. Even with him in the room my corner was my place of solitude. It was the place where I was free to go into my own world and dwell in it for as long as it took. It was my place to be alone and write my stories and my books.
Moving to Montreal, I shipped my desk with me and again set my writing space in a corner of my bedroom. I thought finally I would be able to write what I had wanted to and dreamt about all along.
Shortly after, my husband passed away and I found myself in a hole, at the bottom of a bottomless pit, in almost total solitude. Inside my house I was so alone that I almost felt alienated. I felt so isolated from my surroundings and even myself. It was then I realized that only writing can save me. My corner became my sanctuary, my shelter, my refuge, my altar, my home.
Joseph Campbell writes:
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”