Transforming Vivid

S is working on a scrapbook of our year abroad. She is good at them – the last one she made, of our 2008 Fringe tour, perfectly evoked the chaotic, grimy glory of the tour itself. She’d probably make more than one book per decade if we weren’t so busy having scrapbook-worthy experiences.

I helped her out by getting photos printed. For an artsy guy, I’m fairly clueless about graphic design. It’s not about spacial relations – when I’m directing a play, I can move humans around as smoothly as Tetris blocks – and it’s definitely not about telling the story. The problem is colours. I am, and always have been, colourfucked.

It’s not the same thing as colourblind, not quite. I’ve done the tests online, and I can find the red numbers amid the green blobs. The problem is, I can’t bring my brain to care. If you showed me the same pattern tests devoid of any context, I’d say, “Yep, those sure are a bunch of blobs.” Then, if you asked me thirty seconds later, not only could I not identify the numbers, I wouldn’t even remember the colours. Remembering colours seems extraordinarily low-priority to my brain, to the point where I can’t even tell you what hues I’m sporting right now.

(Checking…it’s a blue shirt, black hoodie, blue jeans.)

Many colourblind people have difficulty distinguishing blue and purple, because they can’t see the red element in the purple. A colourfucked individual has no trouble with purple and blue, but can never hope to distinguish between fuchsia, magenta, and puce, because who cares? Who made up those words in the first place? Had they never heard of the words “light” and “dark”?

Here’s an article about an artificial intelligence tasked with inventing new names for colours. This seems like the fourth circle of Hell to me, but the AI didn’t seem to mind. It got off to a rough start, with names like “caae blue” and “saae ble,” but once it hit its stride, the results strike me as essentially on-point. If there’s a colour called “ecru,” why not “snowbonk,” “dope,” or “stummy beige”? I think my mind is too limited to grasp the idea of infinite colours, partly because it involves having to memorize infinite ridiculous names.

I can accept industry jargon for fashion designers (human or otherwise), but I resent any expectation that a layperson should ever need to distinguish between indigo, electric indigo, and French mauve. I avoid Bejewelled-style games that rely on quick colour-matching, and I still have a hate-on for those “3D secret images” that were all the rage in the 1990s. I’m sorry, but do they really expect me to stare at a bunch of blobs for five minutes when the payoff is going to be a 3D bunch of blobs? I’d rather spend my time watching (eggshell white) paint dry.

In 1997, at the National Theatre School, they put us playwrights into an Art History class, and they tasked us with pairing up coloured chits in order to match complementary shades – the kind of pairings that are supposed to “advance and retreat” under the gaze of neurotypicals, creating those 3D masterpieces or the bombastic majesty of Barnett Newman’s “Voices of Fire.” Smartass that I was, I wondered aloud what this assignment could possibly have to do with playwriting. Still a smartass today, I continue to wonder.

But a smartass can still be smart. Despite my chromatic handicap, I matched the chits perfectly – by noticing that each one had a number printed on the back, and adding up the numbers of complementary colours always yielded the same sum. This event serves as proof that I loathe colours so much, I’ll stoop to using math to avoid them.

Flashforward to last week. Under a gainsboro gray sky, with highlights of dolphin and ash, I picked up the thick stack of prints from Quality Photo in Sydney. It was all there – Nepal, France, all the way back to Japan – and I was startled and impressed. The prints seemed brighter and clearer than the locations themselves had been. They were vivid.

While S sorted and glued, I reflected on the idea of vividness. The word shares the same root as vivacious, convivial, and revival – it’s a kernel of language meaning “life.” The notion that colours might “live” is not new, and indeed someone less colourfucked than I might take it for granted. S sometimes weeps when she sees Van Gogh’s art, because the colours and brushstrokes are so vivid, they seem to contain some portion of the painter’s soul.

There’s that hoary stereotype about native tribes believing that a camera can steal your soul. As I looked at the prints, I could believe that some ineffable essence of those places – France, Nepal, Japan – was surviving in the photos themselves, and eventually in the scrapbook. That made me glad, because I’ve already begun to mourn the loss of my own imperfect recollections. Even when I make a conscious effort to commit something to memory, it’s hard; the particulars, the textures, and especially the colours all start to soften and smudge as soon as I turn away.

As glad as I was, the captured memories also made me sad. Whether it’s because of some genetic flaw, or only by gainsboro-gray state of mind, I hardly ever feel the vividness of places or experiences, even as they happen, and even when I apply myself to do so. At the end of the sabbatical, I wrote down a list of “Moments” — nearly a year’s worth of singular experiences, the kind that each deserve their own 1,000-word posts. Some of them have already had them, but there are others whose magic has now been distilled to a single handwritten line in a list.

Also, I can’t find the list anymore. It may be time to give myself a promotion, from “colourfucked” to just generally “fucked.”


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