Yellow Wallpaper

22 Oct

I was going to write a blog this week about creativity and losing it. I’m not going to do this now. I’ve changed my mind  because two things happened last week: 1. a particular book dropped by accident out of my bookcase and landed, slap, in my lap; slap in my lap The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman dropped (the most important book in the world to me, as you’ll come to understand);  and secondly,  the WordPress daily post challenge to write about a colour came my way.  The two came together: the yellowed, sleeveless stained book and the challenge of colour:  a curious coming together  that pointed me to a story I could tell. A story to be told to you now, right here about a woman called Edwina:

NOW.

Yellow is the colour of the intellect

In 1994, I was a mature undergraduate student in Cambridge. I loved my studies. My mind, having lain dormant for a long while (even though I’d always written, created) had, as yet, not found its true medium. A teacher pointed me towards plays and POW, I found my medium. Having found what I was good at my mind went wild. Every book  I could find I consumed, every play I could write, I wrote. I created, created created!  It was an amazing fizzy, fizzying experience. Amidst all of this came Edwina. She was a part-time lecturer. She was a willow-the-wisp: stick thin, with psychedelic orange hair-straggly, covering her face, slightly inappropriate for her age, and skewed glasses, always wonky. She taught me Modernism, and I loved it. Right up my street. 100%.

Every break time we would debate. She would unwrap her wholemeal sandwiches from a mound of tin foil and we would talk. It was amazing. She would inspire me, point me in all sorts of extraordinary directions intellectually and creatively,  and off I would whoosh and create, create, create. A bond grew. Intellectual and personal. A friendship blossomed. Something I trusted. This went on for a number of  years.

At the time I had started my own little theatre company and we were about to put on our first performance. We were all set to come on, and Edwina and her husband had said they would be there (‘they wouldn’t miss it for the world’). I’d peeked out from  behind the staging and they weren’t there. No Edwina. Then Chris burst through the door and said, -Edwina’s dead. Edwina died yesterday-, and all our hearts dropped.

No Edwina. Really? Really. No Edwina any more.  And we hugged and cried, and moved on. The show (surely, mustn’t it, must it not go on? ).

The performance was a great success (great big slaps on the back all round), but our hearts were heavy.

It turned out that Edwina had had raging, terminal cancer for a long while. She had taught right the way through it all- her myriad of treatments-the lot. This explained- the thinness, the paling  of her skin sometimes, the slight jade behind her sparkle-dash eyes.

It was about a week later, just before her funeral that we found out about the real circumstances surrounding her death. It was in the tabloids. Cancer had not actually killed her. Edwina and her husband had set fire to their house, a fire in every hearth, and let the flames take them. The bailiff’s were set to come to reclaim their house (they were in debt up to the hilt). The couple were proud, and had not told anyone the financial strife they were under. What was the point of going on: Edwina was dying and the debt was pressing?

Splayed, tick-tack tackily to the world.

Down. No way out, except to light the match. No way out.

She was found lying on her bed, and he was found beside her on the floor. The smoke got to them first.

And death can make us selfish. Death and dealing with death can flame the ego. What was I going to do without her now? Who was I going to go to when I had a fabulous idea, or found a great article? Who would be my springboard? And more importantly what would I do without my friend: just remember that beautiful Summer’s day when she came to visit and we sat under the arch of sweet-peas and ate cucumber sandwiches? Is that all I’d have: hazing memories? It didn’t seem enough. I needed something more. Some sort of closure, ritual, emotional connection so I could say goodbye (funeral’s, strangely, are sometimes not the right places for closure). So my mother and I decided to go on a pilgrimage. A walk to their burnt house.

Edwina and her husband lived in a pretty little village just outside of Cambridge,UK. Off the beaten track, with a long winding road to follow to get to it. After a bit of toil we found it, and the car’s wheels scritch-scrunched on the gravel as we drew up to the house. Half the thatch was burned and all the windows blown. And to the left was what appeared to be a burned mound of their books. The firemen must have just chucked them out. I don’t know. Just a mound of ash. That’s what it look liked. We got out of the car and just stood for awhile. You could feel the weight of the matter. It was in the dead air around us. The air was pressing, weighty. Them.

I walked to where the mound was. Just to see what had been destroyed, and about half a metre from the charred remains I found a book that was relatively unscathed: a yellowed, sleeveless stained book, with her handwriting on it. Left.  Out. For.  Me. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  The only thing left unscathed and I had found it. The book was a gift for her husband from 1981. A love token. You can see her writing on the page in the photo above.

I took this book home with me. I kept it out for a long while because it kept me connected, and it made me think how amazing and coincidental life is. What were the chances, really, in life, that I should stumble upon this right now when I needed it?  It was curious. What were the chances of me having had such a woman in my life?

This was over 15 years ago, and as the years have gone by and I’ve moved from house-to-house I have periodically stumbled upon the book , and remembered. Edwina is actually somebody I think about most days. She’s always with me because she rests in my creativity. She’s never far away. So it was curious this week when the book literally fell into my lap again. Not only was the title yellow, the pages were yellow, musty, stained. The WordPress Colour and the Book. Too much of a coincidence….

I suppose more importantly (?), other than just charting this rather unusual and dramatic story, what I’m trying to say, is that these sorts of occurrences, these comings together, actually happen a lot, if we pay attention to them and look out for them, and we can use them to take our creativity in different directions. If we dare. These combinations can be stimulating, and make us change tack, direct our creativity in a different way, and that always is a good thing. Isn’t it? But we have to be awake to them. We have to be AWAKE.

Maybe there was somebody like that for you in your life? If there was it would be great to know who and what they meant to you……..

Edwina meant the world to me, and here’s the poem I wrote 15 years ago to mark her death:

 

N.B. (The Yellow Wallpaper is a 19th century book about female repression and illness charting the decline of  one particular woman as indicated by her increasingly disturbing relationship with the wallpaper in her room)

ARTIPEEPS NEWS

  • New Page: FineFocus which focuses on specific techniques, genres, forms and processes in art/writing/creativity. At the moment we have two videos by a young artist CeleneArtiste up which show a new technique of hers. Do get in touch if you’d like to contribute to this.
  • Our First Guest Blogger , James MacKenzie was a great success, and I think brought a  new dynamic to ArtiPeeps. James is now our official ‘ArtiPeep’ English Art ‘Correspondent’ so you’ll be seeing more of his blogs on ArtiPeeps as the months go by. We’ll be having another guest blogger in November, Alastair Cook,  A Film Maker…
  • Also from  Wednesday 7th November we’re adding  a regular Wednesday fortnightly flash fiction element to the blog…..
  • And from today for a month you’ll find our  first ‘Visitor Peep’ in residence on the Visitor Peep Page. Another new poet, Susan O’Reilly, having written for only a year, who will be sharing her work with us. She’s keen to have any constructive criticism…

There’s lots going on!

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4 Responses to “Yellow Wallpaper”

  1. Gunilla Gerring October 23, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    Thank you for your yellow wall paper. Dramatic, sad , tragic and so well told!

    • ArtiPeep October 24, 2012 at 9:16 am #

      Thank you for your kind words. Much appreciated! I’m really happy to know you’re following what I/we write. It’s nice to know you’re out there!

  2. orwell531 October 24, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    An excellent piece of writing, you speak from the heart with integrity and intent. Thank you for this.

    • ArtiPeep October 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

      I’m really glad you enjoyed the blog and for your kind words. She was a wonderful influence in my life and I wanted to communicate that!

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