“I was just another long-haired teenage kid with visions of grandeur, strumming a tennis racket or a broom in front of his bedroom mirror”
– Jon Bon Jovi
I was lying on my bed this morning, and I realised that for a long time I have had the habit of lying in a ball on top of my duvet, pulling it up over my legs and back like a badly folded tortilla wrap. It made me think of the various beds and bedrooms in which I have grown up, and how they have changed with me.
A lair, a chamber, a haven, a bunk room, a berth, billet or box, your bedroom is your dream-space: it is where you can make-believe that you are Anne, looking out of Green Gables, or one of the Mallory Towers girls, planning a midnight feast by the swimming pool. Bedrooms are the cocoon in which we work out who we really are. We can dance to Christina Aguilera in the mirror, and then post a link to some obscure band not yet signed, so that people think that is what we really listen to. Bedrooms are where we work through our emo, hipster and tomboy phase. They are where we get embarrassed because the neighbour saw us changing because we forgot to close the curtains that one time; where we can throw identities and clothes on the floor higgledy piggledy without being judged.
Our bedrooms are our entire worlds when we are children – a stage for a makeshift castle-fort made of chairs, rugs and cushions; for teddy-bear wars and pillow fights, Scalectrix races with elaborate banks of books supporting the track, and a half constructed Lego pirate ship; giggling after lights out. The sofa is a trampoline and the ground a dangerous river we musn’t touch. Downstairs, Mummy’s in charge – “No dressing up at the tea table!” – and there the magic is broken, the homework has to be done, and the imagined world stops as we descend the stairs to reality.
Inevitably, a change happens. When I was 11, I was given my own room for the first time. Suddenly I was at the other end of the landing, and my sister cried while I carried piles of clothes, my lamp and other items into the cosy room that became mine within minutes. And then you start going to the cinema on a Saturday and everyone gets their ears pierced and the toys you once loved are tidied into boxes and you stop playing and start living – you make plans with friends and fight with your parents. You go to a concert and get the poster, your best friend sends you a post card, and you stick these little fragments of your life on the wall.
Popular culture is full of references to teenage bedrooms: think Taylor Swift videos, the Sims. Tavi Gevinson blogs a lot about bedrooms – she makes references to The Virgin Suicides and Ghost World, as if these films somehow contain the distilled essence of teenage angst, and the quirks of fandom and self-discovery. Tumblr blog Teenage Bedroom is “a homage to all of us when we were young and exciting”. People send in images of their bedrooms, and it’s fascinating to see how their world is caught up in nail varnish collections and cologne, photos and posters, rugs and guitar amps, duvet covers and candles, books and boxes. I can’t help feeling like an intruder; there is something inherently bizarre in recording what other people’s most private spaces looks like – almost a baring of their souls.
And yet, in a way, it makes sense that someone whose teenage bedroom no longer exists is remembering it, because they have “grown up”, and their bedroom is pregnant with new meanings – it is a place to sleep, get dressed, have sex. Kitsch has made way for candles, and suddenly you’re either living your childhood dreams, or curled up on your bed crying because reality finally hit and it missed the mark.