I don't know how many of you fine folks are aware of this, but I decided to take my writing to the next level and make it official: I'm getting my MFA in Creative Nonfiction at a local university and at the beginning of the semester we were asked to choose a paint chip color that represents us right now. Now no one who follows this blog should be surprised by my answer- gray. Shocker, right? In fact over the past few years that we've actually been putting the house together rather than taking it apart, I've chosen to paint each room a slightly different shade of gray. The kitchen has a blue undertone while my studio is more of a minty shade. My love of gray is lifelong but right now, here is how I came up with my response:
I chose the paint chip, "foggy day" but not for the reasons one might think. First, I have a deep and abiding love for the Victorian era and there is no more Victorian weather than fog. As a kid I grew up watching Jeremy Brett star as Sherlock Holmes in the miniseries and I became addicted to the image of 19th Century London with its gas lamps and cobblestone roads. The color gray was synonymous with the air of mystery that wound its way through Arthur Doyle's prose, making his stories come alive.
Later, when I started developing an interest in history, gray also lent itself well to my growing appreciation of all things mysterious and creepy. Gray has gotten a bad rap, being generally associated with doom and gloom, but often times it is doom and gloom that inspires incredible bouts of creativity—like every horror film ever made. Most every corner of my imagination is clouded with fog; the fog of history, of spirits, of death.
I have some very vivid memories associated with the color gray, most of them of photographing various buildings. The first time I photographed Northampton State Hospital for the Insane was in the fog. It was winter and the ground was covered with snow. Because the hospital is at the top of a hill in the bowl of the Pioneer Valley, the fog settled in and hovered just about the roof line of the asylum, floating in wisps in and out of the empty window frames. The fog made the red brick of the hospital look like granite instead, like a desaturated photograph.
There is a great deal of mystery in the fog and dark and because of that, human beings have become inherently frightened of both, yet the waning light brings us closer to a state of true meditation where we are uninterrupted by the demands of the day. But instead of embracing the fading of the day, human beings have learned how to fight the darkness with artificial light that draws out the hours, pushing back the nights when we could be embracing the darkness of thought and the spark of imagination it ignites.
I love gray, rainy days when all I want to do is sit, cozy in my reading chair with my old Rochester lamp burning and my cat in my lap, pretending I’m in 19th century London around the corner from Baker Street. Or I imagine I’m walking through the haunted halls of Ohio State Reformatory, or the back wards of Westborough State Hospital. I will settle in with a cup of tea watch my favorite thrillers, or perhaps an episode of Masterpiece Mystery, the opening credits of which also fostered my love of grey scale, the muted, less colorful sibling of black and white. To this day when I hear the sounds of the lady fainting in the opening credits, I get a thrill and remember watching Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express for the first time.
Strangely gray fog also transports me to our campsite on days when summer thunderstorms rock our trailer and a heavy mist rolls off the reservoir. Sometimes we will take the boat out after one of these storms and it feels as if we are the only ones on the water in a land that time forgot, bobbing along on the gray, misty waves until the sun breaks through and warms the day, chasing the gray away.
In many ways, the grayness of fog is also the herald of sun and light. It is the end of the storm, the gray day that breaks and brings warmth and new beginnings. It is the absence of color, yet the foundation of so many. It is the fog of creativity in which I live on a near constant basis, and I find I’m alright with that!
So there you are kiddies, don't be afraid to think gray thoughts and if any of you teachers out there are looking for an activity to try with your students, grab a few paint chips at your local hardware store (go ahead, they're free!) and ask your kiddos to do the same. I bet you'll get some interesting answers!