Panic! At the Yellow Wallpaper
by Katherine Schloss
I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve been dissociating lately. It’s not something that I do for fun, nor for attention, and it’s a step further than the daydreaming that I did as a kid. The isolation of this damn panorama (apologies, PANDEMIC… no actually, let’s stick with the memified equivalent because the Coronavirus doesn’t deserve a lick of respect from me or anyone else for that matter) has been tricking my brain, a brain that’s processing data from a screen for most of the day. Being a humanities student, my professors almost never used to let me take notes on a laptop. It was a thing that sometimes rested on the red couch of my apartment when I would frantically charge it last minute to turn in a paper @ 11:59 on the dot, but otherwise its existence was largely back-of-the-pack territory. I don’t have to remind you that literally everything exists on our screens right now. I was always someone that was trying to stay away from technology, not in an ignorant way but in the sense that my friends’ faces and stories fascinated me a whole lot more. Now, bored despite an endless list of things to get done, I’m taking binge watching to the next level. I would like to dedicate this blog post to all of the shows that have allowed me to escape from my own overloaded brain, even if just for a little while.
Towards the beginning of this whole thing, I finally got around to watching Sex and the City. I finally understood Carrie’s obsession with getting into all the hot new clubs and her attachment to shoes. I envied her ability to subsist off of writing one column entry a week, owning a gorgeous apartment in the city that I long to peruse, and getting invited to all of the functions. I started braiding my hair at night to achieve a semblance of her own curly mop, hair that I had once relished chopping off time and time again but which has now come to cascade far past my shoulders. I decided that I would never take brunch for granted, or strutting in a cute dress under the streetlights, collecting memories that I would quickly write down so as to never forget any of it. I began to analyze myself as Carrie, with her proclivity for repeating the same old bad patterns, and I wished to reinvent myself. I viewed everyday as a chance to start some new creative project, to put that crazy artistic drive that I’d been feeling to work.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit became very real. I now get startled when I turn corners to find one of my family members there, and have vivid dreams about terrifying situations that I’ve never been in and certainly hope to never experience. I also began to become very knowledgeable about things that I’ll never need to know, perhaps as a classic move to avoid my own reality? I have become an expert at the televised iteration of what it is to be a doctor, and do not envy any of my friends that have recently taken the MCAT. I’m also very aware that I get lost in period pieces, mulling over the silk that I’d choose for my own gowns and the delicious gossip that I would acquire. I brought back my letter writing. I became so-so at embroidery. Perhaps my own repulsion at the garish, gaudy, sour yellows and puke greens that Penelope Featherington in Bridgerton was subjected to wearing brought back a deep memory of The Yellow Wallpaper.
I spent a while trying to find my own copy to no avail. I remember reading the short tale in high school, about a woman dealing with her own mental health in a time when doctors thought that a trip to the countryside was the cure for any and everything. I’m not sure why this story stuck with me. Is it the way that I, too, used to search for shapes on the ceiling and creep myself out by imagining figures in the shadows? Is it the overly descriptive imagery- I do love to drool over some good old flowery language- as evidenced by: “The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.”
The woman in the story wishes for “more society and stimulus,” but her husband takes her to an ancestral hall to spend the summer away from those things. She doesn’t want to tempt fate and label it as a haunted house, but I can just imagine how haunted the shady garden and broken greenhouses would feel. Ultimately, though, the haunting happens within her own mind. She tries going on walks, but with little to do becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper in the room that her husband has forced her to stay in. She writes, “I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.” She begins to see things in the wallpaper, one being a woman that she wishes to help escape. Readers can of course assume that there’s a metaphor at work here. I think my point in bringing this story up is that, despite my own recently fairly sedentary state, my imagination has been running wild. I wish that I could escape to the countryside for a brief respite, but I know that what I’ll eventually desperately need is the bustle of the city. Undoubtedly, my own dreams are getting more and more absurd as the world itself seems to no longer present itself as capable of normalcy. I think that it’s comforting to know that others are going through the ebbs and flows as well, but sometimes I really do feel like I’m on my own, tearing away at a pesky wallpaper, trying to make sense of it all.
Does watching these shows bring me closer to realizing who I am? Will any of us be the same person after all of this is over? I hope not. I hope that the turbulence of the last year or so has taught us that it’s okay to not have it all figured out, but also that our society overall needs to reevaluate things from all angles. Regardless, I’m trying to be grateful for the time that I’ve been given to explore and allow for growth. Here’s to hoping I can at least write a book based on my insane dream journal and make something out of the horrors I often face at night. And please forgive me if I ever rig a Buzzfeed quiz so I can be a Carrie. Just let it happen.
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