One of my favorite moments in the movie An Education happens near the end when Jenny goes to visit her former English teacher Miss Stubbs. Jenny walks into Miss Stubbs’ studio apartment, which appears neat and spare. But Jenny can’t stop looking around the room. She says, “This is lovely. All your books and pictures and. . .”
Miss Stubbs smiles a little and says, “Paperbacks and postcards, Jenny.”
Jenny persists, “That’s all you need isn’t it? Just somewhere to. . . ” before exclaiming over Miss Stubbs’ small reproduction of Edward Burne-Jones’ The Beguiling of Merlin.
I think this short halting exchange expresses a lot for intense bookish girls like me, where we’ve read so much about the world between the pages of a book & badly want the evidence of a worldly life on display. And I found myself recalling this scene as I was cleaning up my study in preparation for some new bookcases my husband and I are getting ready to bring home.
Before I moved out of my mom’s house, my bedroom was stuffed with books, CDs, furniture and “hope chest” items like plates and linens. I had huge framed reproductions on every wall. I was so ready for my place, but not really in the domestic sense. I didn’t want to “make a home” with whoever my romantic partner maybe. I wanted walls where I could paint lines of poetry; I wanted pictures on every flat surface; I wanted a never-ending supply of bookcases for my books. Just the idea of personal space where I could be what I wanted was thrilling.
Flash forward to today. As I was moving around framed posters, books, boxes of craft supplies and more folders of past writing than any writer should probably keep, I realized that I had it. It being the personal space that, like Jenny, I had wanted as proof of my experienced adult life. I have a small three-bedroom house that has somehow become full with the stuff of 31 years of life. Part of me rejoiced as I realized I had gotten what I’d wanted. But then another part of me realized I either needed to get rid of some stuff or find a bigger place.
I guess if I had to bring this train of thought full circle, I would say that Miss Stubbs has it right. I do just have postcards and paperbacks. The truly irreplaceable real estate I own is inside my mind. I can finally understand what years of English teachers and great writers have tried to impress on all of us: that what we construct inside of us is the greater achievement. Having a place to express those inner personal workings and thoughts is simply a very fine luxury.