The REI clearance sale made my long researched purchase of winter boots for next year so inexpensive that I selected a second pair of red boots as an afterthought, or more a forward thought, for the part time farm educator position I had just accepted. I initially clicked on the dusted blue color, but they were sold out in my size. After my initial visit to the farm to fill out paperwork, it had been obvious I needed boots. After the boots arrived and my coworkers at the library ooed and ahhed, it was obvious I could never wear them through mud nor manure. I wore my red boots on only sunny, dry days and the first day of my new job. The currant toes peaked out from underneath the burgundy corduroys I bought over the winter.
“You should paint the shelf,” a coworker recommended to me as I surveyed the clutter of furniture that filled my new office. Much of it would go. “That’s a sturdy shelf. Paint it.”
Our basement steps were shelves to store paint from jobs my dad had completed. At home I asked, “Dad, what colors do you have in leftover paint?”
He pulled out white, beige, pale pumpkin orange, mint green and candy apple red. “Here,” he dabbed a spot of several on a post it note. “Take this and see what you think.”
At work I conducted a survey. “Which color?”
A week later, my new boss caught a glimpse of the candy apple colored shelf. “Is your favorite color red?” She turned her head, tucking hair back behind her ear.
“I. Well, I.” This should not have been a shocking question, but it was. Red? Was red my favorite color red?
She sensed my pause, “I figured the boots. And your coat?”
My winter coat hung over the chair. I had forgotten. I turned back toward it. “I guess I decided to challenge myself to buy unique things, like not the black coat, the colored one. The color was red.” So, I hadn't been choosing red, not really, but adventure, originality. And I had, since Guatemala, somewhat dared myself not to buy the dark green and blue my dad constantly said “we looked good in”. Still, I marveled at the idea that those choices had taken on a life of their own. When had it gotten to the point that people paying attention to who I might be, might think my favorite color was red? Fascinating.
Why fascinating? Well. . .
Was red, in fact, my favorite color? No. I didn’t think so, but shades of it were, and my closet attested to that. My conclusion: I started trying to add a secondary characteristic to myself and then became more that than other more familiar traits without noticing. This had happened before. For example, when I returned from Guatemala after Peace Corps, many people told me how much more forceful or take charge I was. I hadn’t noticed neither my lack of leadership presence before, nor my current personality trait.
Red. What about red as a collective trait? Well, I was a Wisconsin Badger. Furthermore, although I didn’t want to admit it, red was also the current political descriptor of my context. I had wondered when I read books about “red” states and emotionally connected to their belief in standing in line, in deserving an American Dream promised when you do everything right. The four years I spent job searching after returning from Guatemala absolutely felt that way. I was angry. Red. I was embarrassed. Red. I was burnt out. Red. Bitter? Well, red foods generally are not bitter, but they usually had a kick to them. And I had been ready to strike out at almost anyone who thought they knew how to solve my frustration. Usually they had ended up listing something I had tried or considered already. My most recent example was less academic. A do-gooder driver just passing through my township pulled over to tell me she couldn’t see me when I was walking my dogs, that the other day she had almost hit me and I should wear a vest. This, I concluded, was a misdirected effort based on an assumption that I didn’t know how to live where I had always lived. It was the guilt that could still redden my cheeks based on the way I had lived my life in development work. It was also the fear that since interview after interview had failed, maybe I didn’t know how to live where I was from anymore.
To fill a slow hour during my first weeks, I read over a leadership training called Real Colors. Its description claimed that the questions determined personality groupings of traits so that you could better interact with others. The coworker who pushed me to paint the shelf red had also lent me the training. I e-mailed her my initial reactions.
“Oooh, are you going to take the training.”
I shrugged to myself, but didn’t respond. I guessed I could.
In my office, Dad stepped back. He rested his brush on a piece of paper towel spread over one of multiple filing cabinets still littering the room. “It’s not going to cover. Red’s a weak color, you know?”
“Weird when it’s so bright. So, one more coat?”
“Maybe two. Or, I could go to the store and have them mix a stronger base color in with the red. It would be deeper then, less candy, but it would cover.”
“That’s fine.” I leaned against my desk. “I didn’t pick it because it was candy red. I picked the brightest color you had. You know, the office is all pale colors.”
Somehow my mind jumped to my brother’s disappointment, along with many others, in the recent Game of Thrones ending. I had read in an article that the viewers should have expected her character’s ending. That in fact Daenerys had shown them who she was all along, but as they grew to like other aspects of her character, viewers chose to ignore her path, to see only the part of her they wanted to succeed.
She was one of my favorite characters too, and after I read what happened, I knew I wouldn’t watch the final season. I didn’t want to see it. I would let it hover as a maybe, a specter, a kind of dream painted a candy red tinted dark to cover.
When he left, I completed the survey's questions. My top color was, despite the low percentage of the population demonstrating its characters, green. I was “complex, curious, abstract, independent, intellectual, logical. . .” My second two colors were within the five point range that proposed did not indicate true dominance. One was gold, “sensible, practical, dependable, punctual, hard-working, structured. . .” I was my father. The other was blue, “peaceful, sincere, humane, accepting, giving, patient. . .” I was my profession.
Orange red as follows, “immediate, generous”. Maybe. “Adaptable, easy-going, mechanical”. Sort of. “wild, fun and crazy”. Never. This category totaled far below the rest. Since I definitely had some gold, I needed red where none was to be found. Red, though eye catching, was an illusion. No, not an illusion. It was a means to an end. It was a challenge always present within myself.
Dad found time to finish the third coat. In between rainy days, he carried the shelves back inside and reconnected each one. I e-mailed my Real Colors results to my coworker who anticipated them. “Green,” I wrote.
“I love green!” my coworker responded, a few days later.
Yeah. Me too.
For more wonderful videos related to teacher training or literacy program development in rural Guatemala, please visit www.child-aid.org. I have no v...