Coloring Books are the Future

For my birthday I was given two different coloring activities. My friend Amy gave me postcards, fairy tale postcards to be exact. My friend Jennifer gave me a storybook, an abridged version of Anne of Green Gables. Although, I’m sure I could have dug around the house and found, in one of the many closets I have been cleaning, an assortment of colored pencils, Amy was even nice enough to provide a new box of colored pencils to use.

What does this mean to me, exactly, that two friends both saw fit to give me coloring books? Jennifer admittedly stated, “I don’t get why this is such a big thing,” but it could mean many things. First, they recognize that I have lots of spare time, which I do because I’m unemployed. Or at the very least, I have unstructured time. A coloring book provides something to occupy that time. Second, my friends want me to relax. Coloring, despite Jennifer’s lack of conviction, is popular it is said because the activity is a stress reliever.

I decided that I like the coloring books, but for my own third option that did not occur to me until a month after my birthday while attending an orientation session for a volunteer group. Their program provides multicultural content sessions for an after school rec/daycare program. The content is pretty standard including topics like skin color and culture, but what I couldn’t place was why I was not so much honored that the volunteer coordinator thought I should repeat my Guatemala presentation she saw me give in the summer, but disappointed. As I drove home, my thoughts wondered: coloring books, color, culture, in and outside of the lines. The coloring books then became a choice, one ironically recorded in black and white themes by two of my very dear childhood loves, teaching and happy endings. What is that choice? Continue in a traditional path and support the general narrative not only about culture groupings, i.e. Guatemala and Guatemalans, or color outside the lines.

Jennifer’s gift had remained on top of my wooden desk, wrapped in a recycled brown grocery bag. Amy’s gift was stored upright in a pink basket with other blank cards yet to be sent. On a rainy October Thursday it occurred to me that the best thing I could do was color. I flipped through Anne of Green Gables: A coloring book visit to Avonlea. I thought I might find a favorite scene where I could start. I also surveyed the opening pages, considering the intricate designs as a more appropriate beginning. Eventually I selected the outline of Anne’s boots and suitcase a few pages in. I lasted about an hour, and this is what I thought.

  • I think I started with what seemed the easiest, and then worried if it was repeated somewhere else.If it was, for example the boots, how could I repeat the same overlay of color and shading again?(This continues to be my worry as I job search since leaving my position at the literacy nonprofit in Guatemala.)

  • The book and its many pages are overwhelming.I finished a pair of boots and I wanted to be done.(This is exactly how my transition period feels post Guatemala.)

  • While I was coloring, some previous knowledge, artistic skills in hibernation, awoke.This both eased my fears and raised anxiety around perceived expectations of what I will do next.(In the book I just sucked it up and colored the boots because its’ just a piece of paper with a black and white sketch.In my life, this sensation is almost paralyzing.)

After putting the coloring book back in my room, I returned to my initial question. The book would fill in with color, in my own way, in time. But what did the act coloring mean to me, exactly? Or, better said, how could the coloring book be made meaningful? Upon immediately closing the book and stuffing the pencils back in their cardboard box, I began to imagine who I could share the book with, who might want to color with me, or to exchange pages back and forth. Similar to my blog from last week, that is the answer. At times I will have the skill or foresight to color inside the lines and other not. However, the unifying force continues to be relationships, connections, both personal and professional, which is in fact what I came home from Guatemala to have.

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