Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Christie O. Tate's essay, Tornado Drill Position, and Odeta Xheka's essay, At the Kitchen Table Where Miracles Happen. We asked, "How do you, as a mother and a writer, make space for all the things that matter and get to a place where you can live out multiple versions of yourself on the page?" Below is Brooke Kowalke's response.
By Brooke Kowalke
My office is a tiny little room—sixty-nine square feet according to the robot vacuum that cleaned it this morning. Nestled between the mudroom and the living room, two of its walls are dominated by doors. It's space enough for a chair, a ledge that functions as a desk, and some wall shelving. And then there is the window. It's not huge, but its position right above the desk surface expands my space. I can look up from my screen and see green grass, tall trees, and people walking by on the trail that runs behind our home. The world in here is connected to the world out there. The world where I laugh and play with my family. The world where I meet neighbors. The world where we are now all giving one another considerably more space than we once did.
This little office space is a contested one. It holds shared items—bins to organize bills and school work, the paper shredder, internet connectivity stuff. It’s decorated with artwork made for me by my six-year-old son. Remembering Virginia Woolf's call for women to have a "room of one’s own," however, I've clung to calling this space my office, declaring it my own. I can put words to page. I can think the thoughts I need to think in order to create. There is room here to write about my life, to teach my students, to communicate with friends, to coordinate with my kids' teachers. To do the work I do.
The door of the office—my office—has frosted glass panes. It provides a boundary between the world of my work and the world of my home. But that boundary also allows a glow through from the other side. I can hear the pitter-patter of feet, the sounds of an animated movie, the fixing of snacks in the kitchen. And, I imagine, they can hear the click-clack of my keyboard. The scoot of my chair's legs across the surface of the wood floor. My sighs of relief when I find the right word. My writing work and my "home" work are connected. Separated, at times, by a semipermeable boundary. A boundary that basically disappears the moment the door is opened from either side.
The space and its liminality—it's as much hallway as it is room—epitomizes the room I can make. There is no way to make my various roles completely distinct. I mother while I write, I think about writing while I mother. The key, for me, is to embrace the way these roles intersect and interact. To allow them to make what room I have--limited though it may be--more expansive.
Brooke Kowalke teaches English at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Having grown up in California, she considers herself a "mid-west-coaster." She and her husband have three children—one of whom had Trisomy-18 and passed away when she was 5 months old. Her brief and beautiful life changed everything. Brooke is working on a memoir, excerpts from which can be found in Still Standing Magazine and, soon, Barren Magazine.