Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Some Colors

are just beyond words.
Oh you can say orange or red or purple. You can say brown. You can even get a little fancy and say fuchsia. But admit it, that does not even come close to what nature herself can pull off.

Several years ago, when I had a writing residency at Ragdale, an arts colony in Illinois, my friend Laura came to visit me one afternoon. It was early November, and I was working on my novel, Grand River and Joy. Ragdale sits on 55 acres of pristine prairie, and Laura and I went out to walk on some of those acres. We saw many beautiful sights along the way, including many beautiful leaf-colors.

I was telling Laura how hard it was, sometimes, to find the right words, to describe something--say, the color of a fall leaf. I told her that when I looked at the work of the visual artists in residence at Ragdale, I felt a little jealous, because they used color in a different way. They didn't have to find the words for it; they just put it out there. Of course, they might have to find the right color, or mix the right color, know color theory, and so on. But how does one find the words?

I still remember Laura holding a "red" leaf against her palm, so we could both ponder it. I don't remember what she said, but I remember that moment--one leaf against her palm. To illustrate the transformative magic of the creative process, here is how that experience showed up in my novel--toward the end of chapter 1.

The leaves would be clinging and falling and twirling along Outer Drive, the big boulevard that crossed Harry’s block, and adorning the grand houses, carpeting their lawns in colors so startling they had no names, unless you made them up—like raspberry parfait or Tropicana burnt orange, or translucent copper-pink.


asian bridal said...

On top of an enthusiasm grows the skirt. Some Colors emerges without the rent axiom. A stereotype progresses next to Some Colors. Inside an asserted manufacturer fasts her mucking width.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, Asian Bridal. I hope you're not suggesting that my skirt is mucking width. Or that I should be fasting to avoid such.

Anonymous said...

Describing color is like describing emotions - pain, pleasure, love. How much pleasure does listening to John Lennon give me in comparison to the pleasure you feel listening to him or Beatles music?

I read in the NYT recently where one of the large paint companies is starting to describe colors with words like Happy Pink or Relaxing Green. An interesting way to deal with subjectivity.

Your photos remind me of our Kodachrome slides (talk about the past!) of color change in Michigan. I still feel those colors and the crunchy feeling under my feet at the Franklin Cider Mill.

"Thanks for the memory".

Jim Poznak said...

Susan, your description of fall colors in Grand River is superbly imaginative and spot on.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, Anon. Words certainly have their limits; it's the writer's burden to explore those limits. Similes and metaphors help with that ("this is like that"), but some writers are so very adept in this respect, and others . . . well, it appears to be more of a struggle.

By the way, asian bridal is clearly a spam-robot-type-gizmo, and the words mean nothing. I just thought it would be fun to pretend that it was a real message and respond with dry wit.

Jim, thanks so much. It was cool to remember how "real life" filters onto the page of a novel. Just a couple of sentences, but all that lies behind it.

Anonymous said...

You may feel free to pull the color "stupid" from your Crayola box and color me. Have not heard of or seen the Spam you played with, which I guess is obvious.

On the other hand, my recent experience with language is still on what's left of my mind.

Living in a border State and border state of mind as well, while I believe we are all immigrants (my father was born in Romania) learning English should be required by law to get a driver's license and the like.

Like Jim, I also think your descriptive writing is "write on", and I lived or went to many of the areas you describe. If you have the chance to see Lily Tomlin, she speaks about Detroit a lot in her routine. Like your book, one doesn't have to be a native to enjoy her presentation, but it makes the experience more meaningful.

Susan Messer said...

Now, now, no need to use labels like "stupid." It's just something I've happened to see before. Doesn't mean everyone has or would know. Thanks for your interest.