AROHO: A Room of Her Own
Finding a Room of My Own and Expanding that Room for Other Writers
On a bright summer day amid the red rocks at Ghost Ranch, three years after I’d left the convent, I found myself in a situation not unfamiliar to me: I realized I no longer wanted to do something I’d signed up for. It turned out that the Ghost Ranch workshop on the spirituality of the natural world that I thought I’d registered for was actually going to be a week of heavy-hitting Calvinist theology. I tried to sign up for pottery, but pottery was full. Hiking and Navaho weaving and archaeology were full too. The only available opening was a group called Circle of Women.
At the first session I introduced myself to the group: “I’m Mary Johnson from Beaumont, Texas, and this workshop is my fifth choice. You should know that at this point in my life I don’t trust women much, especially older women.” The group didn’t flinch. Over the next few days, we talked, we “shared.” I spoke of adjusting to the real world after life as a nun. A short woman with orange hair talked about retiring early from a high-powered corporate position and having lost her mother a week earlier. I managed not to run away when we all swayed to the beat of an enormous drum. One morning the leaders approached me. “We think you should tell the group what you need.” I told them I didn’t think so. They insisted. I spent that afternoon trying to find the right words, and kept returning to the title of a book I’d picked up in Santa Fe but hadn’t read yet. When the time came, I told the group that I wanted to write my story and that I needed privacy and financial support; I needed a room of my own.
Half an hour later, back at my room on the Ranch, the short woman with orange hair knocked on the door. Darlene Chandler Bassett looked at me and said, “That room of your own? I can help you with that.” Darlene offered to pay my graduate school tuition if I would help her start a foundation for creative women. It turned out that she’d come to the Ranch with a copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own too.
AROHO began with that commitment of two women in the desert. Over the following ten years, AROHO sponsored five $50,000 Gift of Freedom grants to five extraordinary creative women. In 2003 we began gathering women writers at Ghost Ranch for week-long retreats, fostering a community that extends well beyond that week. AROHO women have since written scores of books, poems, articles, and plays.
Finally, after ten years of writing, my memoir An Unquenchable Thirst, can be added to the list.
I found a Room of My Own, and that room keeps getting bigger. You too can help creative women build and expand rooms of their own. Thank you.
A Room of Her Own Documentary