I grew up in the 1970’s: the era of swirly carpets, psychedelic curtains, bed coverings and wallpaper. The wallpaper was flock, groovy, funky, floral, paisley, repeating geometric, colourful, clashing, kitsch. But you have to admit it, compared with the pared down smooth walls in neutral cream paint of the minimalist mode we have now, there was something going on there, there was movement, activity, shape.
When my husband and I moved into our first house, it still had the original orange and brown carpet with giant swirls. In college my sisters and I shared a flat – part of a large old building known as Blair’s Castle. It was decorated in luscious, heavily textured red flock wallpaper. As a kid, I remember lying in bed looking at the walls, picking out a particular pattern within the wallpaper, following it with my eyes until it morphed into another shape or became something, an animal or usually some kind of face. In particular, paisley design was my favourite, the ever repeating fractal like patterns echoing the world’s elegant chaos.
If you want to read a fabulous story about Wallpaper becoming something, or something becoming Wallpaper, read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, The Yellow Wallpaper.
First published in 1892 this 6119 word story is included in Peter Boxalls 1001 Books: You must read before you die. He describes it as ‘This little slip of prose, a novella running to a mere twenty-nine pages, it is a literary masterpiece’ and a ‘yearning for sexual and intellectual freedom’. It is written in the first person as a series of journal entries by a woman whose husband has insisted she be confined to a room, (decorated in the yellow wallpaper) to recuperate from what he, a doctor, has diagnosed “temporary nervous depression, a slight hysterical tendency;” The story stays with her as she descends into psychosis with the wallpaper as her companion.
If the Yellow Wallpaper is an extreme example of where identification with wallpaper can bring you, I still believe that the dearth of pattern and activity in our furnishings and wallcoverings is a loss in our creative lives. There’s a state of mind that is crucial to creativity. It’s a kind of free state awareness, where you become utterly immersed in what you are doing, an energized focus. Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi identifies nine aspects of this feeling of flow:
- Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
- Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
- A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness the merging of action and awareness.
- Distorted sense of time, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
- Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
- Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
- A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
- The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
- People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.
As a writer, it’s that feeling you have when you are receptive to ideas, when the writing is flowing, when you are ‘in the groove’. It’s the feeling I used to get, spaced out on groovy wallpaper, a narcotic free method of ‘opening the mind’ and ‘chilling’. Its benefits for creativity and healthy mental relaxation – for us as writers trying to open up a path to our subconscious and our memory, for our children, kicking back in their bedrooms – are huge. It’s a way of freeing the mind, letting go of our residual concerns and moving into a world of possibility. It’s a way of creating creative head space, going places. That’s why I’m Missing 1970’s Wallpaper and glad that its coming back into fashion.