Weekly writing challenge : Stylish Imitation

Reading things that can keep my attention for more than two minutes is usually a challenge for me. I need to be so utterly involved, so attached, and so consumed by the words on the paper for me to stay in tune with the story.  With the slightest disconnect, I will just fade away, eventually entering into my own continuum of rotating thoughts that plague my mind. It’s probably ADD or something along those lines, but I just accredit it to being wildly stimulated by all things, all of the time.  So, when I try to think of one author that stands out in my mind, the impact their writing had in my life, and for the way they were able to draw me in and keep my attention for more than just two pages… I choose Charlotte Perkins Gilman, specifically, her short essay entitled, “The Yellow Wallpaper”

I would also go as far as to say that there have only been maybe a handful of stories that I can remember every detail of, as if I had experienced the story myself…this one is at the top of the list.  There were moments of actual self-realization for me in this story.  Moments where I suddenly saw myself in a new light, I understood myself, my thought process… my strangeness.  Moments where I became terrified.  Terrified because I realized that this is me, this is how I think! I thought I was entirely alone..  and the potential to be like the main character in the story was starkly possible.. I could even see my own resemblance to the main character, and the trend developing in my own life very similar to the life of the character. For the first time, I felt like I wasn’t alone, a comforting thought, only to be equally matched by the terrible realization that the path I was on was so very like the one the character in the story was on… one that inevitably drove her to complete madness and psychosis.

But lucky for me, It was about 2001 when I read this story, and the likelihood of me ending up like the character in the story was pretty slim. It was set in 1892, a time when mental illness and anxiety in women was not treated with any real, cognitive type of therapy.  Women in those days were just locked away in isolation, into something called a “Rest Cure.”  Typically, the woman would be ordered by a physician to do nothing, to avoid any mental stimulation for as long as it took to be healed from her mental disturbances… it was thought that sitting in “rest” would eventually just dissipate her anxieties.

The author details a woman suffering from severe depression and anxiety.  Confined to an upstair loft, one room, with windows barred and doors locked. She keeps a journal, which she must keep secret from her husband as writing is not allowed during her “rest cure”… the story is told through her journal entries. Each entry reveals a growing obsession with the yellow wallpaper that dresses the walls in the room she is confined to.

~ I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have!~ Charlotte Perkins Gilman “The Yellow Wallpaper”   –this line made me look at everyday things with a lot more attention.

The way the author sees the expression in things, depicting the wallpaper, its intricate design, its shapes, its spiral, it likeness to living things, allows me to see the wallpaper with ease. I could nearly feel it because of her ability to write in such detail, so much detail that I am standing there inside of the room, confined there with the woman. I am the woman.

Eventually,  she goes completely mad, loosing touch with reality. She merges as one with the wallpaper itself, becoming entrapped within its design, it’s endlessly, spiraling out of control, pattern of chaotic rhythms and mysterious curves, strangled by its tightly woven lines.  The final scene is her husband walking in on her frantically circling the room, gone completely insane. He faints at the sight of his beloved wife as she continues to circle the room, stepping over his body with each pass, forever trapped inside of the yellow wallpaper.

Now, Im not saying that I ever have or do see myself being so close to crazy that I thought that I could end up locked in the patterns of the wallpaper on my wall… no, what I realized was that I needed to be heard, that what I was feeling, even at my most irrationally fearful moments, needed to be turned into something tangible, something somehow understood by if nobody else, then just myself.  If I didn’t, if I just held it in, and did nothing with it, it would find its own way out, manifesting into something much uglier, and much more paralyzing… Obsessive anxieties that made it seem as though my reality could merge with something a little out of this realm at any given moment.

It is a bitter-sweet realization, to know that you can’t just live a breezy life of “take it as it comes”…  that you will constantly have to work on yourself and your personal development to stay sane… but if things were not so, then the yellow wallpaper would just be yellow wallpaper.  Nothing noticeable, good nor bad, passed by without a thought or a glimpse of the slightest potential that it harbors.  Charlotte Perkins Gilman helped me realize that I needed to express these observations in some way or another.  It was her influence that kept me up so many nights, thumbing through a thesaurus, carrying on a secret love affair with words and their ability to define some thing a thousand different ways. It was her who helped me reach for a pen, or a brush, or some clay every time I felt afraid of my own self, to clarify and understand what it is that makes my heart race or obsess or fear… I imitate her style every day and emulate her struggles with an abundant vocabulary and over-stimulated mind.

Because the character in the story was forced to sit in isolation, without stimulation or the ability to express herself properly, she ended up going mad….and I would have gone mad too. And even if to realize for just a moment.. the potential that you have to go mad is there, real and possible, even at a far distant reach… it is scary enough to make you work at never going there.  To be as assertive and expressive and honest, and as gratefully happy as I can be when I produce things constructed from my emotion that balances my soul.

The way the story was written was what gave me the ability to see this within myself.  Her descriptive writing style made it impossible for me not to have made that connection. It saved me, and so I write and so I do things artfully.

She wrote that story about herself. It was her, Charlotte Perkins Gilman that suffered from what was probably by todays definition, postpartum psychosis, a serious panic, anxiety disorder after her first child was born. She wrote it with aspirations to help other women who suffered from anxiety and to prove to the medical community that the “rest cure” did not work, and in fact had quite the opposite effect.  She needed to be heard, to be understood, to be artfully expressive. Eventually, after years of writing, and expression, Charlotte healed herself from her depression. From 1892, all the way to 2001, she reached me, and my easily distracted, anxious mind.  She helped me, by the detail within her writing, saturated in truth, honesty, fear, and desperation…  and terrified me all at the same time, what a perfect combination.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

7 thoughts on “Weekly writing challenge : Stylish Imitation

  1. susanmeekerlowry

    This is incredible, Lynn. I’d never heard of this writer, but I’m glad you found her! Interesting too, about the wallpaper. It brought me back to my childhood down the lodge where the wallpaper on the walls in one of the stairways was of scenes that I used to get lost in, imagining myself living in that time period, a little girl in the Victorian era, which is when I feel I should have lived, rather than these times now. (Even as a child I felt that, perhaps even more then than now). Then, after moving to the Union Farm in Vermont with Peter in my early 20s the big front room that was Robin’s room first then ours after Robin moved back to MA, the wallpaper took me to a place I called Perhaps – the land between here and there. I imagined myself getting lost in that space where anything was possible, I only had to think of it and it would be real. The whole concept of the space between, that I later focused more on and wrote and talked about, even in my presentations when i was an activist, came to me from that wallpaper and I reallly can’t explain why. But I do know that the power of the space between is real and that’s where changes are made in our perception of the world. How I explain it is that it’s like the space between the in-breath and the out-breath. A space of nothingness that allows for all possibilities. The space between seeing an object and labeling it. If we can expand on our time in that space, we can change the world (or at least ourselves). I have since learned that this space between is an actual concept of physics, more in the realm of consciousness studies or the cosmos and that people with greater minds than mine have pondered it too. All from wall paper! I wonder, after reading this piece of yours, how many people, perhaps especially in the past, perhaps especiallly women, were impacted emotionally/spiritually by something as basic as wall paper.

    Reply
    1. 27roots Post author

      thanks!
      ~The space between… and our perception of it… yes! I think most people just hum drum right through those empty spaces, missing out on all of the potential that exists there, never even aware of it… But those of us that do take notice, or subconsciously enter into those places, are drawn there by powers beyond our comprehension… I think this is where we become enlightened, but also where we can become lost- like the character in my story, and so many of us that struggle with real depression and anxiety. Thanks for speaking of these places and all of the mystery that is there.

      Reply
      1. susanmeekerlowry

        When I was writing my first book, I had finished all of it except the part about Gaian Economics – what it is, how to think of it. Since I have no degree in anything, let alone economics, and since my premise was to model healthy economies after healthy ecosystems I decided to ask the Earth what was the most important thing to communicate in the book. At the time a group of friends and I had started The Institute for Gaian Economics in a beautiful old Victorian in Worthington, MA and I was there when I was working on this part of my book. There was a brook that ran down back so I took my yellow lined pad (no computer then) down back and walked up the brook until I found a little manmade pool someone had created years and years ago in the brook. I sat down in the grasses and observed. And asked Gaia my question. Almost immediately I heard, “The power of the space between”. That was really the first time I had heard or thought about the concept. I thought: Thanks a lot! Because how can you communicate that? So I thought to share a story about how our perception of things changes how we feel and thus how we act. The story in the book was: you’re walking along on a brilliant fall day not really paying attention to anything except the thoughts spinning around in your head. Then a brilliant red leaf falls directly in your path. You have a choice. You can ignore it and continue on as you were. Or you can notice the leaf, pick it up and think, “How beautiful!” and give thanks for the gift. Your mood has shifted. You are no longer caught up in your thoughts. And perhaps the leaf even offers something to you about what you were thinking about.” So you continue on your walk in a totally different mood than before. Perhaps you pass someone and now you smile at them and they smile back, and the gift continues giving. It’s our choice. And the place we change is that space between. Then (back to my book), I continued observing and noticed how everything was connected. How the breeze blew the grasses, how the water flowed around obstacles, how, over time small changes were incorporated into the whole seemlessly and even large changes like the pond itself were over longer time also incorporated so to me it appeared as if the pool had always been there. So these became basic principles upon which to base/create an economy as if the Earth really mattered: cooperation, appropriate scale, participation, reciprocity, harmony and balance. And so on. . . . All from paying attention to the space between.

        And yes, when I was younger, before Jason was born, I also was tempted to lose myself in that space, in the scenes of the wall paper, especially the wall paper at the Union Farm which seemed to me to be underwater, a whole underwater kingdom of Perhaps. I thought, what a release it would be to just go with it, just go to Perhaps and stay there. But in the end I guess I’m basically too sane to lose myself that way.

  2. laurenichole89

    “And even if to realize for just a moment.. the potential that you have to go mad is there, real and possible, even at a far distant reach… it is scary enough to make you work at never going there. To be as assertive and expressive and honest, and as gratefully happy as I can be when I produce things constructed from my emotion that balances my soul.” Especially the “assertive and expressive and honest.” Speaks so much and I try to do that. I’ve often wondered if I was truly mad.. you know, Alice in Wonderland kind of wonderings. So much life can happen in the imagination, both terrifying and hilariously uplifting. I’ve always drawn or written. It’s like my tangible connection between reality and imagination. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not the only one who views life this way… noticing the little things. For instance, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to fly just centimeters of the ground… would anyone notice? Or what if there was a world that existed only between the moment between daylight and night and could only be entered (or exited) in that moment? … now I’m way off topic. The point was thanks for this post. It reminded me to look at the small details again.

    Reply
    1. 27roots Post author

      thanks for reading the post! I think of those dream like things all of the time… flying a few centimeters from the ground- its funny you mention this, because I have had that thought too. Actually, a lot. In my dreams, I would always be flying… but not soaring high above the mountains and tress, always just a few centimeters from the ground. The grass would move so fast. Its funny how the conversation here went into the ‘places of the in-between.’ Like the character in the story, going to some place she couldn’t return, the yellow wallpaper… yes, I wonder if there are specific moments when you can enter into these places… some of us drawn there by unknown forces.

      Reply
      1. susanmeekerlowry

        I actually believe there are specific moments to enter places. I used to think about things like this a lot more when I was younger, esp. in my 20s & 30s. Like going into the hollowed out place in a giant Redwood tree and finding a whole other magical land. And isn’t that what Shamanism is about? At least in part? Moving into other realms for a specific reason (of course I never had a specific reason, it was just to BE there and NOT here).

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