The words of Virginia Woolf always echo in my mind whenever I am beset by the feeling of being hemmed in. This occurs when the people am talking to brush away what I say as ramblings of a mere woman or, worse, tolerate it because a woman should be tolerated. Woolf believed that for a woman to be a writer she needs a room of her own (and money) given the predominantly patriarchal society that women, to this day, still find themselves mired in. I come from a family of writers and artists so Woolf’s words reverberate greatly in our world. We all need our own room to ruminate and create.

I have never given up on having – demanding for it when necessary – a room or space for me whatever the situation is. At work, I must have my own area preferably near a window so I can look out every now and then. I did get such a space when I was working in Singapore, and enjoyed the sunlight streaming through mid-day much to the consternation of my colleagues who thought me as “a poor thing” because there was sun in my space. Anyway, the problem wasn’t with the physical aspect of it. There were invisible barriers I had to hurdle – from social to political – to, well, be seen and exist.

A social setting is a bit tricky to negotiate for one’s own space. Unlike the workplace, where one is left alone because one has to be a productive employee, a social space doesn’t allow for fences. Privacy is immediately cancelled because the point is to actually let people in and in engage in social interaction. This has somewhat become my bugbear so I find myself skipping large gatherings to avoid awkward moments and possible scuffles. I like my space small, allowing only a few people in when I feel like it. Unfortunately, this has lead people to misconstrue my behaviour as signs of condescension and haughtiness, which could only be further from the truth. I am no social butterfly; however, I am amicable and pleasant to talk to once you get to know me, but my little space is still hallowed ground because I also do not intrude in anyone’s personal space willy- nilly.

It's uninterrupted reading in my little space - the capacious Lobby Lounge of Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta.

It’s uninterrupted reading in my little space – the capacious Lobby Lounge of Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta.

Expanding Woolf’s concept into the field of education, I must have my own space – an office and classroom in this case. Teachers are generally given a desk in a huge faculty room. I have had a desk in such a room earlier in my years of teaching. I didn’t mind it because I had ample space to manoeuvre – literally – and had cabinets for my books and other materials. However, an experience two years ago left me steering clear of the faculty room. I had to share an office with another colleague a year ago, which didn’t turn out well as others hoped it would. Unequal office space and its entire ramifications aside, we were dialectically opposed and no powwow would ever reconcile us – ever.

I need an office to myself because I have and want to think, to write, to hear my thoughts, and to actually work (read: mark voluminous papers and exams). That having an office all to myself is a symbol of status never crossed my mind until I met this Filipino working in a competitor-school. He has an office, he told me, and in the course of the conversation I casually alluded to my office. His stare dripped with incredulity when he learnt that I have one, which had me half expecting him to ask me for proof. It was days later when I learnt the reason for his cockiness: he had the title of director of something while I, in his eyes, was simply a teacher with an office.

Meanwhile, the classroom has been a refuge of some sort especially when the noise in the hallway becomes insufferable particularly when the students are out of their classes. My classroom is situated at the far end of the new wing of the school, in a sort of cul-de-sac, so the din is kept at bay. I can work without being interrupted by banshee-screams, gossip and silly juvenile drama that go on in the hallway. The plus point: I can play Taylor Swift’s Red CD without having to worry about the volume unduly wafting through the corridor. Another point why I want a classroom of my own is I can prepare for my classes ahead of time so when the students arrive we can get to work right away. Sadly, this point is lost on some people and think am being a pompous diva.

It's breakfast in a room with a view, which is definitely my kind of space.

It’s breakfast in a room with a view, which is definitely my kind of space.

A space for reading is also of paramount importance. I usually read in my room or in the living room when am at home, but it is different when I am outside. A little corner with a comfortable chair in a café would do and which is why Starbucks – any outlet – is a perfect reading place, but only when it just opened or during the dead hours of the mall. Recently, I found a nice a little space that I claimed temporarily as my own reading corner for a couple of hours and several hundreds of rupiah. The Lobby Lounge at Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta, with its comfortable sofa chairs and equally spaced tables set the perfect ambience for reading while enjoying cappuccino and muffins. The capacious area, well- lit by the floor-to-ceiling windows, banished all feelings of being hemmed in. It was good to read without interruption, to breathe easily, and just be away from the ruckus of urban life for a bit.


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