Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own is a great meditation on the importance of owning a place to write without regard for boundaries and limitations. And while her essay is more about women breaking into the male-dominated literary scene at the time, I’ve found that the essay resonates with me in my own way. Of course, my womanhood is certainly a factor that has influenced my life experience. But in my adult life, I’ve found that my “Americanness” (or consequently, my Otherness) have had more effect on my experience than my gender, or other aspects of my identity.
Over the past several years, I’ve moved myself to different cities and countries, all the while trying to find a place of my own, to think and write and learn about myself. I’ve learned just how important it is to establish a “safe zone” that I can retreat to, a safe mental place where I can create, and a private space of my own to repair, rebuild, recharge.
I’ve spent the majority of my adult life living in places where it feels sometimes I don’t belong. More often than not, I’ve been the outsider, the foreigner, the gaijin, the waegugin, the personne étrangère. Sometimes while living abroad, it’s a difficult task just to go to the market or the post office. Fumbling to spit out my carefully practiced, yet still clumsy words that crumble out of my mouth. My tongue trips all over itself and my confidence wavers when I meet with a blank stare or a perturbed, impatient, even dismissive glare. After those breakdowns in communication, when I feel small and simple, embarrassed and trivialized, I take great comfort in knowing that I’ve got my Place waiting for me. In Seoul, it was a tiny one-room studio that was all mine. In Japan, it was my bedroom with the sliding glass doors and mini balcony. Here in the States, it’s the kitchen table. They provide the space where I can reflect, get over those icky feelings, eventually laugh to myself about it, and ultimately grow thicker skin.