the Emergency Almanac text / art double issue...winter 2003 / summer 2004
Blink: An Archive of Sight
Blink: An Archive of Sight
A Preface: The Colors and Their Doldrums
any color, white has a lot of hues." Though not exactly a commonplace
observation, the statement seems to ring with calm, the calm of accustomed
perception and possession. Some people, it is true, less savvy or less
calmly self-possessed than our "white" observer, might dispute
that white is even a color at all. But, peering, this author of the
white insight can see clearly a complicated beam, without denying or
betraying the complication.
Of course, others have already taken stock of color before. Over time, the spectrum was bound to attract a literature of its own, and it has. Yet our colors seem to keep changing as our lashes flutter. The horizon of the spectrum will waver, also. The fated effort to describe the inexplicable will continue, paradoxical and blind-sided. As Roland Barthes "saw" it:
My goal in compiling a modestly green anthology of color, an archive of sight, was to see through other desiring eyes. My eyes desire ritually what they will; I need alternatives.
In his "Remarks on Color," Wittgenstein demanded, "One must always be prepared to learn something totally new." Maybe I can't do it well enough by myself. As an ogler of the panorama and the tight corner, as well as of the small thing cornered, I feel my habit of visual hunt and capture as extreme, perhaps narrowing, possibly a vice: I look, crave, suppose, and seize (with the eye).
To search for something "totally new" requires of the soloist a state of peevish readiness that can be punishing. (Or else, more sociably, requires convening the eyes and words of willing accomplices.) For once you have discovered what is "new" to you, have gazed at it, accepted it, and refracted it, you may or may not be able to account for what you've just seenmay not be able to "keep" it. How exhausting for the soloist. How irritating.
The main irritation? If I glimpse a color previously unknown to my senses, name it, and then leave the scene, the color will not struggle to follow me into the future. Anything but. Can I even describe it, in retrospect?
Can I describe the color when I can no longer see it? Wittgenstein decided, "When we've asked 'What do the words "red," "blue," "black," "white" mean?' we can, of course, immediately point to things which have these colors,but our ability to explain the meanings of these words goes no further!"
I accept his conclusion, and yet I also resist his conclusion, for if we gave up trying to explain or describe, our insentience would then come to describe us.
That isn't what I want. Instead, I want to see through those other desiring eyes. And so I have compiled an archive as "a token of the future," so-called by Derrida, that may alter a reader's eventual perception of color by pluralizing the array of hue possible and by itemizing alert eyes in a shifty sequence. I have arranged my archive's contents deliberately to avoid too much synchronizing of synonymous tints. I would rather induce blinking, usher in the "insensate cacophony" of a Borgesian library for any visitors, any readers.
I might ask the reader's eye to swivel a bit and the mind to reconsider. After all, the wavelengths thicken, wobble, reformnonplussed, but not forever.
is not a primary color?"
is not, my friend."
don't know; the color people. The same people who say that '1 + 1 equals
2' and that our alphabet goes 'A,B,C,D,E,F,G.' "
then, are primary colors?"
blue, redjust like the balloons on the Wonder Bread package. Didn't
you learn this in school?"
don't remember. They might have said something about it. Only three?"
permutations of those?"
"Yes . . . . We need to get you a color wheel. Didn't you ever have a color wheel?"
I span my arms over the riparian expanse upon which we live: Lopatong Creek. All very greenwith chlorophyllic, fernlike density. Green may not be a primary color, but here, around us, it certainly is the primary color.
This allows us to breathe. How could a color be more primary?"
not mathematically or psychologicallymaybe environmentally,"
my wife concedes.
As we walk, Ivy, our dog, walks with us, low to the ground. She, too, is named for something green, although she herself doesn't recognize green (or, for that matter, yellow, or red, or blue). (Another disturbing discovery made one night many years ago, while watching public televisiona show on animal senses. I had always assumed . . . .)
also doesn't recognize green (or yellow, or red, or blue). Color-blind,
he has a "system" for differentiationa system that apparently
works. He is proud of his accommodation, his skillful "passing."
(He reports no accidents yet.) As a young man in military service, he
was able to bluff his way into working as a mechanic on airplanes--despite
the necessity of reading color-coded information. He may not see "green,"
but clearly he learned early on how to recognize it, and still knows
well enough to call it so.
house I grew up inis primarily forest green, though last year
he had all of the "cedar shake" shingles removed, then sided
over in a mild retirement-yellow. The contractor asked if he could keep
the shingles he had removed. "Good for kindling," he said.
The house, now margarine chiffon, nevertheless remains in my head as
I currently live in, an historic house, that of a once-upon-a-time lockender
upon the Morris Canal, is also forest green. The person who restored
the cabinesque home a number of years ago reported that, after some
thoughtful work in the interior, she found herself selecting the exterior
paint with surprising trepidation. With that much square footage and
road frontage, she realized, it was a big decision, aesthetically speakingpossibly
a mistake, a mistake literally "as big as a house." But, in
talking to her, one gets the sense that she wanted it to be not only
aesthetically but spiritually "right," as well. Hence her
our walk, my wife observes, "I think you think you have a claim
I will admit (to myself) that she's (as usual) right. I'm thinking:
"Her ocean is blue; mine is green." Definition seems, by nature,
a provincial, territorial act. I find myself wanting to own green, sublet
it, rent it out to worthy applicants as I see fit.
thinks of green as: a girl-scout uniform, salsa verde, eucalyptus, limes,
jacaranda trees, avocadoes (and subsequent guacamole), unripe kumquat,
guava, pistachio, cilantro, basil, mint and, in March, a welcome alternative
of green as: Mr. Greenjeans, unwanted chores in my grandmother's garden,
my father's Aqua-Shave, his Mennen Speed Stick, algae brushing against
my view of colorful fish inside my grandfather's aquariums, split-pea
soup at church suppers, flourescent tennis balls bouncing wildly off
the side of the house, Heffenreffer beer ("The Green Death"),
coniferous and deciduous trees, a pilgrim's hat on the Massachusetts
Turnpikethe normal, rightful state of the universefrom which
we all depart and return.
Park, in Exiting Nirvana: A Daughter's Life with Autism, says that her
daughter, Jessy, is systematic about categorizations of soundand
sometimes proclaims over certain sounds, "That is not sound!"
Over and over, I find myself wanting to similarly claim: "That
is not green!" I wish to proclaim this over shiny new cars as they
pass-studied variations in metallic tint, each not righta Kia
in a Listermint green, as in a Nintendo setting. "That is not green!"
car goes by; now I am more seduceda more luxurious, coniferous
green, an expensive Passat. What am I being seduced by, lost in? Can
green be bought?
it can be sold.
at Rockwell's painting, "Springtime in Stockbridge," a place
Iand he (he surely more so than I)knew well, and I think
(quietly, for I know he was trying): "That, too, is not green."
"Too wispy," I think. "Too yellow."
I used to think that black poodles, fishes, horses, cats, birds, were painted by the night sky, that is where the animals got their shiny black furs from.
to ourselves in a blue-midnight kind of dark, the sort we will only
remember later as adults, what will come to linger as a vague velvet
backdrop for a thousand summer vacations to come and go before our parents'
separation and our daddy's decision to move on without us.
of choice is Miss Lydie's. We are bored neighbor children from the city,
content for the moment to listen in the night to the opening and closing
of kitchen cabinets bringing forth the clank and clink of dishesplasticplaced
on Formica counters, green and yellow. Some with swirls, some with their
pattern all but gone. Kitchen sounds followed not too distantly by the
crunch of sea fossils from a million years gone as the family man's
Buick pulls into the driveway. A bit of dirt run made by brothers' cars,
uncles' cars, neighbors' cars, all the very same model the salesman
Mr. Pete/Mr. Pete Jr. says was designed especially for "folks like
us." With the sound it makes, the scrape of metal on metal when
the driver's-side door opens then closes to announce the arrival of
the man in the Panama hat. Maybe it's Mr. James home from the insurance
office. Or perhaps, Mr. Tuttle, home early from his dry cleaning store.
Mister JamesMister Tuttle."
you there, yourself. What you know good?"
with the slam of the Buick's back door or trunk, signaling that there
are groceries to be unloaded, more likely than not, something needed
for that night's supper. Not a nerve pill or two for your mama, found
in the little white pharmacy bag in the glove compartment. No, this
is produce, green and leafy, shooting out from the tops of brown paper
sacks, or maybe bread rolls, wedged against the greens, or perhaps the
meat itself, near the bottom, along with a goodie to be found later,
deep inside the man's breast pocket. But that's only if your daddy is
the sort to be found wearing a Panama hat. Like the tightly woven ones
worn by our daddy, a big-city lawyer, working for the NAACP, changing
folks' lives, an important colored man, making a better world for little
colored children everywhere. No, more likely, your daddy is one of them
always found wearing a baseball cap cocked to the side or a bandana
pushed back off his head, one of those tired and sweaty men shuffling
home from a long day on the wharf in the dark, shouting, cursing, calling
for you in the distance, "Where you at, boy?," his deep-throated
laugh at the sight of you barely heard over late-breaking waves . .
. its roar even more eternal wrapped within blue-midnight, now that
it is truly dark . . . and the man of the house is home again.
Black is the color that represents race, but there are different shades of black. This makes black a color that can be worked to anyone's advantage.
I'm scared of the color purple. Japanese gangsters like to wear passion-purple suits which have big shoulders and narrow edges of pants.
black is the un-color. Devoid of light and lacking positive attributes,
it besmirches everything it touches.
To be blacklisted
is to be labeled a reprobate, usually for no good reason and often by
a mob of paranoid people in positions of power. Applies to social ostracism,
McCarthyism, or exiled political candidates. From the country club to
the big screen and the ballot box.
when a company announces that it's "in the black," it is a
good sign that you should sell your stock. It is a lie employed by big-leaguers
covering up huge losses of money by creating corporate black holes on
the power to provoke hate and bias and negativity. Most famously, it
is an antiquated misnomer for a race of people from the motherland.
Truth be told, the skin of "black" people is actually brown,
but bigots and hate-mongers don't trifle with semantics.
In the dictionary, the same black that is a synonym for African sits beside ugly words like dirty, soiled, swarthy.
the color of the bad guy's hat. The wrong side in a cut-and-dried argument.
A sullied reputation, a chimney sweep's cheeks. A stock market crash,
a festering plague, profane sorcery.
attempts to make black a positive are half-assed words for peculiar
things like black-eyed peas, Black-eyed Susans, and black comedy.
slightly vindicated through its status as the building-block of the
fashion industry. When worn by the chic and the style-chicken alike,
black is the envy of all the other colors. Blue and brown long to be
resurrected as "the new black" in the pages of a fashion bible
or the new line of a design doyenne. The little black dress is an icon.
Classic and classy, sexy and conservative. A jazz standard. Unflattering
only when worn by albinos and depressed people.
black is color in a bad mood.
How will things ever be the same, how will you feel normal again, you won't, you will covet, you will sulk, you will know that you are yellow in every single way.
Suddenly she felt Jonsway's presence in front of her. "I anoint you."
The fragile shell tapped open on Mistra's lower teeth. A heavy gelatinous mass slid onto her tongue, bringing the gray taste of moldy soil. Footsteps pounded away, moving so fast a breeze rippled past her. She took a deep breath and swallowed, as instructed in the holy dream. The lump slid down her throat, coating it with slime. She fought a grimace. The feet from thousands of bana mites scurried over her tongue.
every surface, obscuring all but a small portion of the front window,
the absurd cargo renders the car practically inoperable. Behind the
steering wheel, amidst years of want ads and weather reports, a narrow
cavity barely provides space for a driver. A factoid cocoon for our
mysteriously motivated mummified motorist.
against the wagon's grease-streaked windows, headlines remind passersby
of disasters past and prsent. AIDS Epidemic Spreads. Middle East Peace
Accord Fails. Yankees Win World Series. Crumpled into dashboard covers,
display ads implore us to Buy Now! Limited Time Only! A rolling archival
billboard of urgent unrest.
I had time to observe, to await the driver's return, to conduct an interview,
to see if the junk heap will actually move. Time and answers both in
short supply, conjecture must suffice.
state of the newspapers, faded by the sun, deteriorated with age, suggests
a mature manic obsession. A recycling errand doomed by permanent procrastination?
An amnesiac paperboy who has grown old trying in vain to remember his
route? Perhaps the papers represent makeshift insulation, protection
from external threats. A barricade of yesterday's facts and figures
might offer safety from drunk drivers, the military industrial complex,
and the dreaded snakehead fish. A madman's airbag.
evokes an unexpected sadness, a sadness fueled by apparent evidence
of lost reason and active paranoia. By suggestion of painful past events
remembered too well. By the enigmatic implication that wherever we are,
even in transit, our burden of historical precedent surrounds us. At
times, this weight is simply unbearable.
forthright to lead us into the high hills of boysenberry; and there
we are still dithering. The cane of berry bludgeoned, for instanceand
that was the lesser charge in our Eckenspittel town politics. Worse
was his branding of us with the great color.
branding color is unevenly divided between tones of juicy and irksome,
like a dullard sway in the national banner of a conundrum. The sway
should shiver your patriot capillaries, cause the painful renegade erection
of guilty sable premature wings. (Wings, you know, have sinful bones
buried in them.)
feel that sway, the flush of imaginary longing. Almost imaginary.
like a freckle. You know Les-Les, who has got all the freckles? That's
'cause she duped the pilot and the cargo, took the catch, and wallowed
in it one long afternoon. And sallow-color, mussed in the vessel's hold,
churned till she bended down her cortege of jabbering decolletage to
be so finely imprinted.
writhe! Ambidextrous. How ambidextrous was she! grisly with handfuls
of bootleg splash docked covertly. Running every whichway, like the
inventor hoped it would while straddling a tousled migraine in the ravine
that precedes our dusty village. He ever so spun that sallow do-re-mi.
the cooper nix the smithy? you well may ask. With a kabong on his quarryand
with Domsung our aggrieved sallow-spoilt boy to pinch-hit, or if not,
then to report like a sailor on the gloomy naysay nitwit who was gandering
globulous into the berried night.
has also nicked the national color. Please don't take it personally.)
both itch and bathe, milady. Aren't you jealous? Two cubic feet of brew
for the splattered sheep who cannot wag their tails, since they don't
have any, yet still must flock?
crouches amber in the slot, about to encroach on sallow, baby. Such
would devastate our vague constituency.)
thou vote for amber in a pinch, instead of for "us"? Would
you do it for whose sake?
oven. Convict the righteous.
color is the seared body politic?
I need a holy blue like my cat's eyes to forgive myself.
Black was the color of my father's stream of flowing hair and full bushy beard that enshrouded his kind face.
I look up at the black sky covered by black clouds and fumble around to feel for my paddle.
Chuck defend his guitar. In Mississippi, to a teenager, seafoam green
did not imply masculinity. In fact, we told him, your guitar is the
color of an old lady's sweatshirt. At the time, do-it-yourself sweatshirt
art had grown into a minor industry in Mississippi. Entrepreneurs dedicated
their boutiques entirely to the sale of sweatshirts decorated with puffy
paint, forming patterns that felt like the Rocky Mountains on a graphic
relief map. The designs, made of silvers and yellows in various sun-star
patterns, were most easily distinguished on a teal background. Great-aunts
and grandmothers wore them to go antiquing and eat brunch.
play a solid blue guitar, we asked, or a dark green? Chuck said seafoam
green was the color of the Gulf Coast, but we found no logic in this.
Sea green is the color of the ocean. Seafoam, that perimeter of froth
at the junction of surf and sand, is technically not green at all, but
Chuck but he knew what we knew, and it is still truethe seafoam
green guitar has a trivial place in music history. At Seattle's Experience
Music Project, amid the tobacco sunburst, swamp ash, dakota red, and
solar fire guitars, a vintage seafoam green rockabilly guitar stands
withdrawn and insecure in the display case, anonymous, its exhibit label
resting face down on the floor. The rounded body and aquatic tint echo
rock and roll's earliest days, the genre still seeking acceptance, when
musicians used the instrument to compose passive, uncomplicated melodies.
At that time, in the 1950s, seafoam green, the color of a Miami hotel,
proved as inoffensive and soft as the lyrics of "Love Me Do."
Although Fender made a classic seafoam green Stratocaster in the early
'60s, the best musicians still favored a bolder finish. Which is more
historically relevant: Jeff Beck's seafoam Stratocaster or Eric Clapton's
song "Seafoam Green," off the album Big Black River, the northern
Mississippi band the Hilltops hang the fragility of a lovers' relationship
on the importance of green mouthwash. That is, at least, my interpretation.
The song is not successful, and only half-intelligible. The lyrics are
drowned out by jangly, driving guitars. The only line sung with any
clarity is the refrain; unfortunately, the refrain could not be more
I left Mississippi for college. Chuck moved to Texas, leaving his band
behind. He sent me pictures once of a solo performance given somewhere
in Deep Ellum. He's standing on a plywood stage, staring down at the
strings, his fingers moving methodically across the neck of a Gibson
painted with a gleaming wineburst finish.
My father's worn-out green plaid pajamas with fringed edges, always inches off the ground, exposing his calloused feet.
"Are you sure that I shouldn't make them blue?" that I saw red.
My walls were bare; white and bare, like me. I couldn't take it anymore. My thoughts had nowhere to go. I couldn't write, I couldn't think. This was the life of the mind? This was my fortress of solitude? I looked at my red couch, but knew that if, God forbid, I would sit on it, it would be all over. It enveloped you. Once you sank onto this low-riding devil, it was like you were Peter Lorre, at the whim of some phantasmagorical Looney Tooney evil red monster which was technically your possession.
It was the opposite of being stoned and trying to get the red out of your eyes. It was a horrible limbo of color and mind.
And they say red is the color of love. I'm still giving "them" the benefit of the doubt. That's why when I moved in here I brought a big red heart with arms outstretched. It was a throw pillow . . . a big red throw pillow shaped like a heart with arms. So far, the only affection the throw pillow has gotten is that of the couch, when I violently slam it as far away from the bed as my little red studio can allow.
The only other stimulus I received was an Italian film poster with Marcello Mastroianni holding a gun to you through the big red O of "DivOrzio All'Italiana" ("Divorce Italian Style"). I suspect being held at gun-point while you're trying to write is certainly going to make you bleed best-sellers. It doesn't help that "DivOrzio All'Italiana" is the only thing blocking the outside world from looking through your first-floor window. At many points I had the thought of flipping the poster over onto its back, but then I divorced myself from this idea, Italian style.
"So you like these curtains?" my mother asked me.
"Yes, mother. They're very . . . red."
"Do you think you're going to need help putting them up?"
"No, Mamma, non ti preoccupare. Me and my friends will have no problems doing it. Are you sure they're going to keep the light out?"
"Yes, don't worry, they're very thick."
We filtered our conversations from any emotional attachment, now that we didn't live together anymore.
"They'll look very nice with your red stools."
I told her there was a red motif to my home, and that hopefully it wouldn't drive me insane.
And so I stood there holding these pennants in the sky, defying the bull of the world to run through my window. I was sweating. I'm a perfectionist, and I wanted the red curtains perfectly parallel with the city. They were heavy. I was sweating more now. I took my shirt off, my pants off. I stood there in my red underwear, in these six-foot windows, looking over First Avenue. I didn't care. It was my last bastion of nudity before this large red cape would shield me forever. I screwed the last screw in and collapsed on my bed, in anticipation of the first night without the golden yellow prying my eyes open at six in the morning.
I slept. I slept and slept. And when I awoke, I looked at my friend. He had just awakened. We looked at the curtains, then each other. We didn't say a word for a minute or so. We looked around the room. I hadn't formally thanked him for helping me the night before. But this was more than necessary.
"It's like a Kubrick set," he said.
my head. Originally, I thought it would eventually drive me mad. Then
I closed my eyes and opened them again. A warm, fuzzy feeling massaged
my shoulders. I knew I wouldn't go crazy. It was just beautiful. The
curtains were red, all right. And I realized there was nothing wrong
with a bit of light entering the room; especially when it was filtered
in such a spectacular, picturesque, colorful, pen-liberating way.
Here are some things that mauve is not: it is not the color of yodeling (maybe yellow?) or Coney Island (orange and blue and gray) or the crackle-pop of a record on an old turntable (olive green and gold). Mauve has a pasty texture in your mouth, tastes like nothing in particularRhetorical Wedding Reception Chickenand has a subtle but regrettable aftertaste.
The insides of a living thing are never mauve. They're blood-curdling red and juicy pink and maybe a squirmy sort of yellow or pale blue-gray. Amusement parks are never painted mauve. I have never before seen a mauve crayonand really, thank God for that.
Gray is where I will go. I cannot wait to be it, to know my hair will always match my black stockings, to pick the gray of potato peel from my teeth. I cannot wait for gray, to give up solid foods for the opalescence of tapioca and the dust of applesauce.
of these, as one might expect, is "blue," introduced as a
Crayola crayon color in 1903. The newest, "denim," was introduced
nine years ago. My prediction: with the introduction of some new-millennium
colors, the blues could sweep the whole top ten next year. My suggestions:
blue. A painful mottling of blue, purple, brown, and yellow, "boo
boo blue" is sure to kick all the other colors' asses.
blue. "Staring into her blue eyes, I could not discern if she was
crying tears of joy, sadness, or rage." Borrrrrrring. And wordy.
The literary world needs something newfresh. The struggling writer
need only begin, "Staring into her boo hoo blue eyes . . . ."
and get on with the story. See? A breakthrough for word economists and
the melodramatic alike.
could also benefit. Poor Shakespeare, regarded as a genius by some but
simply as a sadist by others, may merely have been the unfortunate victim
of the Pre-Crayola period, when acute visual descriptors were less commonplace.
Had a wider spectrum of colors been available, perhaps his works would
seem less confusing. Observe this improvement to King Richard's lines
in Richard III:
boy blue. Little boys aren't really blue, but does it matter? Is the
Caribbean really green? No, but introduced in 1996, "Caribbean
green" is ranked as America's sixth-favorite color.
in the name: Tickle me pink. Unmellow yellow. Purple pizzazz. Fuzzy
wuzzy brown. They're all real Crayola colors. It's less about the visual
and more about the feeling. When introduced in 1998, fuzzy wuzzy brown
wasn't actually fuzzy, was he? He was a crayon--a brown crayon. Little
boy blue, come join the crayon box.
the blues will win. They will beat cerise, a color I'm sure was only
ranked number nine because of the predominance of Americans pretending
to know what it was. They will force purple heart--currently number
threeto retreat to velvet cases, to rest behind glass where it
belongs. And if nature is any predictor, they will overpower Caribbean
green. After all, I've never heard anybody say: "Heylet's
go to the Caribbean. The water's so green there."