For the first time ever, while teaching “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I felt inspired to act out the last scene for my students: look, this is what she means, I said, crawling around the edges of the seminar room, fitting my shoulder into an imaginary smooch in the imaginary decorative wall-covering. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, I’m a little frightened at how much I identify with this narrator today. Did you ever register why she’s having her breakdown in a rental house with gorgeous views? Her own home is being renovated. There is no mention in the tale of plumbing mishaps—postpartum hormone/ neurotransmitter issues seem more immediately relevant—but hey, man, that’s all just leakiness and poor fittings in the house-as-self.
So, this afternoon we’re scheduled to move back in; the house won’t be finished but it should be liveable again. I am not confident that the transition will be smooth, but as I packed up our bits and pieces this morning in the house we’ve been borrowing from Kate, I confess I was muttering like a madwoman in an attic: I’ve got out at last, in spite of you dilatory contractors!
Meanwhile, here’s the list I’ve been keeping in my secret diary: evidence of how flooded with work and craziness our life has been for the past 7+ weeks. This is what’s happened since I last slept in my own bed.
1. I drafted many poems involving plumbing metaphors.
2. Madeleine’s height finally exceeded mine and Cameron outgrew a bunch of clothes. These factors compounded with a seasonal shift and poor Lexington shopping options put us into repeated sartorial emergency.
3. Madeleine earned her learner’s permit, began to motor around Rockbridge with an anxious adult in the passenger seat, had her ears double-pierced, and drove us bananas with her county-dwelling chauffeur requirements.
4. Cameron fractured his left wrist blocking a goal at soccer practice. He now refuses to allow his spiffy blue fiberglass cast with Gore-tex lining to be defiled with Sharpie signatures, which I remember as being the best part of the whole miserable adventure, back in the days of clumsy plaster.
5. Both kids finished their first academic marking periods without major crisis; Chris and I started teaching our fall courses, taught six weeks, and submitted overly generous mid-term grades.
6. Cameron commenced an optional science fair experiment involving varied watering conditions for small plants, because we all thought our lives needed further complication. We do not understand where these plants will live once we complete the move.
7. We started off spending much time in our damaged house talking to contractors and watching progress but, as the general disorder increased, became too depressed by the whole thing to stand being there. It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw—not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.
8. Extremely frustrated with certain contractors, Chris and I took turns weeping, yelling, gnashing our teeth, and picking out tiles, but never gnawing on Kate’s nailed-down beds or tearing off strips of her wallpaper (she has neither, for which we were grateful).
9. I realized how destructive poll-reporting is to our democracy and, worse, to Chris’s mental health. The man is really suffering this election cycle.
10. When not suffocating under avalanches of student essays and poems, I reread Sarah Waters’ Night Watch, only realizing during the horrible protracted abortion scene that I had, in fact, read the novel before and felt cruelly tortured the first time around. Mindy Kaling’s memoir cured me. I just finished Chabon’s Telegraph Ave: A-. I’m wondering why none of my friends have mentioned Rowling’s book: that bad?
Back to reading student responses to Gilman’s gothic short story. Wish me an unhaunted, clean, peaceful night in my own bedroom tonight even though it is, in fact, painted yellow.
"This work is unlike any other, in its range of rich, conjuring imagery and its dexterity, its smart voice. Carroll-Hackett doesn’t spare us—but doesn’t save us—she draws a blueprint of power and class with her unflinching pivot: matter-of-fact and tender." —Jan Beatty
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