Chartreuse. The color of your creativity.
That phrase pinged around my head this morning. I wrote it on an index card, attributed it to L.L. Barkat, and pinned it to my bulletin board. But then I wondered, “Did she really say that—like that?”
Laura Barkat has unofficially mentored me for several years. Last spring I hired her as my official life coach, and we spent an intense month together while she helped me uproot and replant my writing life. She saw abilities in me that I didn’t recognize—like a talent for journalistic-style and humor writing and a penchant for adventure and taking on dares. Who knew? (Well, I guess I discovered the daring part back when I had that fling with T.S. Eliot.)
I told her stories about life in the little three-room (four if you count the bathroom, five if you count the porch) house where I grew up in the 50s and 60s. I told her how my mischievous—and sometimes rebellious—mother had painted the kitchen cupboards chartreuse and how one day when my parents were gone I used the leftover paint on the walls of our “screen porch.” I don’t know why we called it a “screen porch.” Maybe just because it was enclosed but unheated. It also served as the cottage-motel office and a place to store fishing poles and tackle boxes, boots and winter clothes.
At the end of our time together, Laura gave me a pair of chartreuse pearl earrings. They had a double meaning for me because back when I was a new blogger, I called myself a “deep see diver.” I searched for beauty in unlikely places, and my feature photo was a strand of white pearls in an oyster shell. (Actually, I think it was a clam shell. Still.) And, what she didn’t know is that I used to wear pearls as my signature; one day a hospice nurse who cared for my mom even showed up wearing a string of pearls. She said I inspired her.
It’s not unlike Laura to unearth little surprises that stitch together past and present. But chartreuse as my color? I thought red was my color. The color of hope. The cardinal’s color. (And didn’t Emily Dickinson say that hope is the thing with feathers?) Also, red is the color of my favorite geranium—just about the only flower that has a hope of surviving my care.
I don’t remember the color red growing up—except maybe in the cleaning of fish, in the Mercurochrome my parents used to paint on my boo-boos, and in the Sunday “funnies.” I do remember lots of bright white snow, sunny yellow summers, and our woods (even the lake) in several shades of green—and of course the chartreuse kitchen cabinets and porch walls. Chartreuse is precisely halfway between green and yellow on the color wheel, so it’s either yellow-green or green-yellow depending on how you look at it. But the name itself—where did it come from? It was time to learn about this color—and perhaps even myself.
There’s a town in southeastern France, Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse, in the heart of (surprise!) the Chartreuse Mountains in the French Alps. The Grande Chartreuse, head monastery of the Carthusians, is there. Since 1737, the monks used instructions from an ancient manuscript to make the Elixer Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse (Elixer of Long Life) that people started to use as a beverage because it turned out to be “tasty, too.” (Cue up Lucille Ball.) In 1764 the monks adapted that secret recipe to develop a “milder beverage,” a liquor based on the 130 plants and flowers that give it a natural green color. It’s known today as Chartreuse—specifically “Green Chartreuse” since they also make a Yellow Chartreuse that’s even milder and sweeter.
Home design website Houzz calls chartreuse a “vivid, electric color. Happy even. It’s the inside of a perfect avocado, a bed of scotch moss, or the belly of a lovebird.” You’ll also hear glamorous, elegant, mossy, outdoorsy, pizzazz, bright but not jarring, crisp, springy, flashy, earthy, bold, wow, and bam. Oh, and a little ray of sunshine.
In the late 1800s, the fashion industry started to promote chartreuse-colored clothing and accessories, and in the 1920s the color reflected boldness and rebelliousness. (My mom was born in the ‘20s.) Chartreuse resurged in the ‘50s and ‘60s in clothing and furniture—and apparently paint as well. According to an article on the psychology of chartreuse, tech companies currently favor the color in offices because it “reflects individuality and creative thinking which are highly valued attributes in the field of technology.”
The author also claims that chartreuse represents “enthusiasm, happiness, nature, growth, and youth.” (I especially like that last one.) It’s a high-energy color and great for motivation, inspiration, focus, concentration, and creativity. Chartreuse lovers also enjoy challenges and seek adventure. (And maybe dares?) On the negative side, these folks sometimes struggle with balance between the calmness of green and the excitement of yellow. I can identify!
Back to my misquoted index card. In the community section of Laura’s new blog where she shares reflections on creativity and writing, I posted a picture of that little house I grew up in. I told her of my chartreuse escapade, and this is how she actually responded:
Chartreuse. The color of mischief. The color of creativity. The color of your inner writer. Vibrant.
I’m claiming chartreuse as my happy juice and writing Laura’s true words on a second index card. Our HOA won’t let us paint our front door anything other than white, but I might consider a chartreuse wall in my office. Until then, I’ve got earrings—and a dare to wear them with.
And you? What’s the color of your creativity?
A few brave writers pull back the curtain to show us their creative process. Annie Dillard did this. So did Hemingway. Now L.L. Barkat has given us a thoroughly modern analysis of writing. Practical, yes, but also a gentle uncovering of the art of being a writer.
—Gordon Atkinson, author of Turtles All the Way Down
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