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Life in a nutshell

ALL THE COLOURS: Discovering the power of emotion through colour and poetry

At a time that feels completely surreal, I have been consciously taking time out to view the world around me and trying to make sense of world events that have shifted our global reality to a completely new way of being. I won’t even articulate what that has felt like, because I’m not sure I can. You know exactly what I mean because you’ve been feeling it too: one day everything is fine, and three days later we’re laughing hysterically at how everything has just turned to shit! 

And yet I feel very strongly that words do create worlds. My 91-year old aunt whom I haven’t been able to see for weeks now, has the most remarkable ability to quote poetry – long, beautiful rambling verse from as broad a range as Shakespeare to Kipling to Milligan. Her love of words has ensured that while she may be physically isolated from her family, her inner world is peppered with poetry of all kinds, and I’m convinced it’s keeping her company at this peculiar time. Because it’s often about perspective isn’t it? Is one lonely or alone? Are we keeping busy or getting dizzy? Are we experiencing love or fear? I love journaling, and while my words and thoughts have been jumbled over the last couple of weeks as I have swayed between various states of being, I have also turned to the words of others as a way of finding meaning and navigating down this exciting and terrifying road that lies ahead of us. 

Here is an excerpt from what I think is a beautiful poem by American author Mary Ruefle that I was recently introduced to, about colour. (Or color, if you follow American spelling rules.) Colour literally colours our lives, and I found it particularly evocative at a time when our world seems to have shrunk and grown simultaneously into shades of bewilderment, fear and joy together in one.

“Blue sadness is sweetest cut into strips with scissors and then into little pieces by a knife, it is the sadness of reverie and nostalgia: it may be, for example, the memory of a happiness that is now only a memory, it has receded into a niche that cannot be dusted for it is beyond your reach; distinct and dusty, blue sadness lies in your inability to dust it, it is as unreachable as the sky, it is a fact reflecting the sadness of all facts. Blue sadness is that which you wish to forget, but cannot, as when on a bus one suddenly pictures with absolute clarity a ball of dust in a closet, such an odd, unshareable thought that one blushes, a deep rose spreading over the blue fact of sadness, creating a situation that can only be compared to a temple, which exists, but to visit it one would have to travel two thousand miles on snowshoes and by dogsled, five hundred by horseback and another five hundred by boat, with a thousand by rail.

Purple sadness is the sadness of classical music and eggplant, the stroke of midnight, human organs, ports cut off for part of every year, words with too many meanings, incense, insomnia, and the crescent moon. It is the sadness of play money, and icebergs seen from a canoe. It is possible to dance to purple sadness, though slowly, as slowly as it takes to dig a pit to hold a sleeping giant. Purple sadness is pervasive, and goes deeper into the interior than the world’s greatest nickel deposits, or any other sadness on earth. It is the sadness of depositories, and heels echoing down a long corridor, it is the sound of your mother closing the door at night, leaving you alone.

Brown sadness is the simple sadness. It is the sadness of huge upright stones. That is all. It is simple. Huge, upright stones surround the other sadnesses, and protect them. A circle of huge, upright stones — who would have thought it?

Yellow sadness is the surprise sadness. It is the sadness of naps and eggs, swan’s down, sachet powder and moist towelettes. It is the citrus of sadness, and all things round and whole and dying like the sun possess this sadness, which is the sadness of the first place; it is the sadness of explosion and expansion, a blast furnace in Duluth that rises over the night skyline to fall reflected in the waters of Lake Superior, it is a superior joy and a superior sadness, that of revolving doors and turnstiles, it is the confusing sadness of the never-ending and the evanescent, it is the sadness of the jester in every pack of cards, the sadness of a poet pointing to a flower and saying what is that when what that is is a violet; yellow sadness is the ceiling fresco painted by Andrea Mantegna in the Castello di San Giorgio in Mantova, Italy, in the fifteenth century, wherein we look up to see we are being looked down upon, looked down upon in laughter and mirth, it is the sadness of that.” 


There are many additional verses – red, green, orange, pink, white, black, etc – and they would be too much to post here, but the breathtaking nuance for me of this entire piece is tucked away at the end of the book (where only the most avid of readers would bother to read) and – spoiler alert – it simply states as follows: In each of the colour pieces, if you substitute the word happiness for the word sadness, nothing changes.

BOOM. New perspective. Right there.

This poem took my breath away when I read it. Maybe it will be the same for you. When I showed it to my sister, she was completely underwhelmed. You may be underwhelmed too, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a question of the time we’re in at present or maybe it’s just me.

Because nothing changes and yet everything changes. That’s the beauty of this for me: sometimes it’s that one little word that holds so much energy, so much power. Or none at all. You get to decide.

And then tell me, what is the one little word that resonates for you at this altogether peculiar time?