Red, an Exercise on the Challenge of Interpretation.
June 1, 2016
These pages present a compilation of creative writing that was written about the color red. Each writer was given no context other than the topic and was asked to express their individual interpretation of it through a piece of writing.
Like the color red, music, art, literature and the spoken word are all up for interpretation. What’s red to some is orange to others and what is beautiful to one may be incomprehensible and frustrating to another — in short, you’re not going to feel the same way about all of the writing you read in this section. Some of it, we hope, you will find easy to see as beautiful. Some of it you will find easy to understand, even if you may dislike it. Some of it will be frustrating, seemingly impossible to comprehend.
It is easy to form an opinion on things that we understand. Pepsi or Coke? In-n-Out or Five Guys? Regardless of which you choose, the answer is simple because soda and burgers are not complicated concepts. When people are faced with creative work that is more abstract or difficult to fully understand, the immediate response is usually to dislike the work or to label it “pretentious,” a scapegoat word for the viewer’s inability to access.
Most people interpret things (writing, art, conversations about politics) with the intention to respond and form an opinion, not to understand. An immediate desire to decide between liking or disliking something often hinders us from true comprehension, which may require more time to digest. It isn’t laziness, per se, but a habitual distaste for things we feel are confusing or difficult. Before forming a negative opinion on a piece of creative work, it is useful to be mindful that each piece has a context and a creator with an idea and intent for its interpretation. It is not only wise but also respectful that we try to understand the piece before disliking it.
If you understand something and decide you dislike it, that is an entirely valid opinion. We are fully entitled to our distaste if we do not like what the piece represents or what it means, as long as we have taken the time to understand it.
These works are intended for you to read for the sake of reading, forming whatever opinions you wish after contemplation. Look before you leap, think before you speak, and seek to comprehend before you form an opinion.
I walk into the bathroom, using my elbow to flip the switch. The room fills with light, and I glance at my reflection before reaching down and turning the faucet on. Hot water. Scalding water. You can’t wash it off with cold water. It just doesn’t work. So sticky. It was so sticky.
I watch as the red washes from my hand, swirling pink down the drain. Reaching for the soap, I scrub off the last remnants. The house is quiet, no longer ringing with shrill cries. The rooms that once contracted with the soft breaths of sleep have now settled, the woodwork no longer straining against those inside. A faint drip falls in the room adjacent to me, the carpet sloshes with each step, warm and wet.
full lips waiting
she doesn’t knock
bare feet over
fabric swishing across waxy legs
the scarlet catches
a glass slipping off the
edge of a low table
but no blood is drawn
thick wine trickles down
but leaves no stain
a voiceless exit
trailing behind her
pulling the door to a crack
her glow following her out
she leaves a void in her wake
Red evokes emotions I’ve felt while standing in line in public bathrooms, simultaneously trying to plug my nose and my bladder– fear (that my nose or bladder will somehow become unplugged), animosity (towards my fellow bathroom goers), and regret (why did I sell my soul to the devil if I didn’t even get a fastpass to the front of public bathroom lines?).
As a little kid, red was a picture perfect summer.
Sounds of the ice cream truck sent every kid in the neighborhood running
A couple of dollars could buy you any type of popsicle you desired;
I liked the red ones, where crimson lips would make
My sugary actions caught red-tongued.
Popsicles that dripped crimson on the sidewalk
Ants would flood the crime scene we created
Crimson like blood
Scraping our knees on the blacktop
Band aids shielded us from the pain we felt
Years later, red on the sidewalk
No longer meant melted popsicles
Amongst news of mass shootings
Red took on a different meaning
No longer was red the color of popsicle pools
In the blazing summer heat
Red was real
Band aids could no longer heal these wounds
People would flood the scene like ants
Holding on to the last breath of the child
Lying before them
The truth slipped between their fingers
Band-aids can not heal these wounds.
This world is encompassed by
Eyes reaching wide enough to hide
Behind the eyelids that squint as
Fleeting smiles fade from view
Now eyes are closed
Yet they can see the
Tattered seams of undone dreams
Tangled in throats that scream
For someone to listen
But all it yields
Is blood that glistens
Seeping through the tears of skin
Eyes covered in crimson
Forearms tremble as pain within
Along with hearts and souls
And those eyes so wide as if their edges are
Reaching to encompass how much you love
To my Canvas,
You gave yourself to me
And from your veins I took red
You poured lemon grass in my violent storms
And blood orange in my tortured skies
But I repaid you in watercolor
Only muted hues passed these lips
For those cost me nothing
Those betrayed nothing
I saved the true colors of my passions
the violets and rich reds for this aching beast
But all the pastels I painted you in
Paled in comparison to this bleeding heart
As time wove your tales through my eyes
As I suffocated in the heat of your embrace
I lost myself
I dripped upon my canvas, in spite of all I had,
a blistering yellow
You grew near me with your kindness
and I grew to tease you with my blues
But before I fell out of your trance
You ripped from me rich tones that bubbled past my tongue
But for all your efforts
I still held the rich tones of red for greedy self
For reds were worn by my truth
They were the flesh of my heart
And I could not part with sinful red
You remained through my moods
All my hues wore themselves on your sleeves
You were violent in your approach
Because through all the hideous fragments of this painter
You made me splatter in sharp staccato
shred through paper
Until I poured boiling red upon your skin
At last I found a canvas
To transform fickle crimson
To tender scarlet
thank you for letting this artist bleed red again
|1. What did you make before you were gone? What would I remember? The latchkey fireflies on the ceiling of the schoolbus. The impressions on a courtyard’s grass in a wet heat, like the shading of a helicopter’s wings. The last branch that broke before we knew that we had gone far enough. Your visage, like a religious painting. The breath of the tungsten above our heads and the avocado of the tennis courts, unseasoned in the darkness. The tractorclaw shadow in your faraway, beheld between spells of averted gaze. Drunken noodles in a dim restaurant and my sad feeling: preemptive. My body felt weird. The mustard color of your coconut curry, the musty curdle of close quarters. I lied before, but it’s easier this way. How do you make a room unbearable? What is this thing with a thousand names, that I call a dream? I loved the baboon’s eyes and the sounds you seemed to make, like ice
cream in an amplifier.
|2. The tattoo in the thatching below your breast, of iodine and ink; of pin and pencil. I might not know what we are for, but I do know that when my cheeks get red, I would like to give the color to you. I said the things which made me feel less lonely, but were you alone? I couldn’t tell. The trembling crest and the flowing cleft and the spaces and places that I didn’t know, do not know, and all the other parts that make a woman. Georgia O’Keeffe went blind and Frida Kahlo died three deaths and you are alive. Who was I on those tennis courts that I didn’t do more than feel sorry for what I might do? The moonlight was wet and the water was water and I felt alright. I wore that night’s mosquito bites like how some people in Egypt marked their doors with lamb’s blood. I thought you wanted to be eaten.|
“I used to be scared of reimagining the colors, you know. Always scared that I’d forget and start making them all up again.”
“Imagine this,” the guide said. He stared into the man’s eyes. “In front of you is ‘The David.’ Not the big one, but the bronze one, slender and sly. Donatello’s. What color is it?”
“You just said it. It’s bronze.”
“No, it’s made of bronze. What color is it?”
“Oh.” The man stood still. Rubbed his fingers together. “It’s red. Yes, it’s red.”
The man’s eyes strained. His blunted black tux, frayed at the fringes, seemed to compress his form. What had once seemed a lean figure had warped into a gaunt frame, lines creasing the corners of his eyes. The cane tapped.
“I… I can’t seem to remember. The shade escapes me.”
“Red.” The guide pondered. An image of a red “The David” crossed his mind, and he smiled. Then he focused on the task at hand. “Excuse me for asking, but what are you doing here? A blind man in a museum of art?”
“A friend. She said I should come. She said you could return the colors.”
The guide paused, forgetting, losing vision of what he was to do. “Where do I begin? What do you see?”
“Nothing. It’s all red.”
“What is red? What does that mean?”
“Funny, I don’t know. A feeling, I suppose. What is red?”
What is red? Around him the aroma of colors, wisps of pink and dashes of crimson spiraling. The fears that had once held him captive dissipated, and the world behind his bleached retinas bloomed of laughter and magic.
Red, a shade out of his world, a gift amidst forgotten memories. Something he could shape into his own. And really, what else could it possibly be?
She is the crimson streak at dawn, up above everyone else, fiery and fierce; energy explodes through her fingertips. He is her complement, a soft mauve, muted, a support color, not one to stand out by itself. She is the red leaves clothing the trees at fall, skipping along the sidewalk, barely skimming the sodden ground, dancing with the wind.
She floats barely above him, the vermillion, vibrant leaf scraping the faded red paint along the edge of the curb. He shrinks for the comfort of the shadows but discovers he cannot escape her touch. She is everywhere. She’s in the plants, in the trees, on the streets, in the sky, inundating his life, until all he can see is red. At first, she finds his faded, apathetic outlook a challenge and takes it upon herself to brighten him. But sharing all the rich red she has with him saps her energy, and she finds herself worn and defeated. And so the dancing leaf and the peeling paint separate.
Until one day, they find middle ground in the copper ambience of autumn and in the red blood cells that flow through both of them. They realize that their differences, their vibrant and pale reds, are nothing more than different wavelengths; one of them absorbs more light and heat than the other, and the other scatters light better. He counters her blinding fire-engine red and teaches her the soft promise of a coral splattered sunrise so she doesn’t drown herself in her own horizon. And she repaints him, the color of stalwart firebrick, so he doesn’t fade away, becoming nothing and forgetting everything. She teaches him to live.
They make an odd couple, and everyone stares in wonder at the girl with untamed, molten gold-red hair, defying gravity and everything around her, and the boy with squeaky-clean cardinal sneakers, not a speck of dust smudging his shoes. Wild and intense. Rigid and proper.
But they don’t see her burgundy bleeding heart, throbbing, pulsing, exposing herself to him, the world blaring carmine traffic lights that scream at her to stop. She’s raw and hurting, and her crimson dissolves, so he does what he does best — support. He’s the sturdy mahogany, the venetian red blanket that drapes quietly over her. She allows herself to melt into him and discovers within him the same fiery passion that she once exuded so vibrantly. It is he that reignites her ashen spirit.
And all their unconventional, flawed palettes of red — red and everything in the visible spectrum — blend together to create the classic shade of love.
Red represents the polar opposites of ourselves that we so viciously wish to deny.
It’s the vulgar velvets of vexations
Of pulsating anger burning holes in our lungs forcing flames down our windpipes,
Are rather traditional depictions of the kindled sparks within us.
But its lighter hue…
Is the bright burning deep in our cheeks when that someone walks by gently uttering your name, into
The scrapes and slashes on ourselves we’d do anything to cover up.
Gashes dripping the same shade of retaliation,
But this time, forcefully formatted into potent shame.
Our hearts never rupture their cadence for our conscious minds,
Rather those impulses we so innately cloak ourselves within,
The scraps of highs and lows
And the harsh realities of our own rock bottoms.
Red is part of us
And no matter what other colors we mix in,
there’s no getting around its dark stains.