I hated to paint as a child. Hated it. Watercolors were a disaster that gave my mother headaches and reminded me of the flood. Acrylic paint was better, sharper, but when I tried to mix colors, they were never right. Everything looked muddy or pale or too red or too green.

Perhaps that’s why every single bone in my body favored pencils and charcoals, not brushes or palettes. Shades of gray that I couldn’t distinguish, that I could smudge with my fingers until I was satisfied.

Now I’m twenty-eight with no one to call my own except for an old, deaf sheepdog named Raymond and a stray cat that I feed four times a week. They don’t give me headaches, not the way my mother does. I have a paper plate palette and sixteen brushes laid out beside an unending blank canvas. There are more paint bottles than I can count, all varying shades of the rainbow that I’d battled as a kid. I don’t know what feeling it brought me – surely not peace of mind or sanity – but I found it easier to breathe once I began.

The colors didn’t bleed the way I remembered, the way that I so feared they would. Sharp lines stayed sharp. Edges looked like edges. But when I decided to blend, they’d blend. I could pull pinks into oranges into yellows and create a sunset right before my eyes. Graphite had never done that for me before. I loved to draw as a child, but now the pencils and charcoals remind me of the drought. There’s little evidence of life in the shades of gray – we breathe and love in color, regardless of what we feel.


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