Things are not always what they appear. Take the color black— The visual essence of foreboding. The embodiment of darkest night. This is the color of the soul when fear takes over, when joy is eclipsed by worry and doubt.

Enter childhood. I can’t tell you at what age the fear set in but like most children I became afraid of the dark, afraid to be enveloped in something I couldn’t see. Black.

My mother was an artist. She recited poetry. She danced ballet. But the thing she loved best, and the thing I loved most about her, was the way she transformed blank canvas into sweet scenes of the every day. Like the imagined worlds under my covers at night, she would drape inanimate objects on tables and will them to life. Still Life was her universe and color was obsession. Like some parallel alternate dimension, her eye could detect the seemingly invisible hues that no one else could see. Like her ballerina arms in first position, color seemed to dance to a rhythm only she could feel.

In so many ways I was like my mama. Even before the realization of any “gifting,” I understood things about the world that could not be named, only felt. At night I would pull the covers over my head and play with words in my mind like my mama played with colors, trying hard to memorize in darkness. 

When mama worked in her studio she would close the door just enough but always left it cracked enough to let in the light. Painting was her time but through the tiny opening I could look in, was invited in, to watch her enter something kindred to my undercover world, someplace foreign and safe, somewhere precious and hers. I watched as she opened the basket that her mama, Blanche, brought from Paris, pulling out her brushes one by one as if caressing a child. I wondered as the colors of her world spilled out from tiny tubes, making rows and circles of paint puddles that I wanted so badly to jump and splash in. 

She was never more centered, more “found” than when she was lost in her paint puddle world and I wondered what that meant about me, until the day she invited me in. 

Surrounded by the overpowering smells of turpentine, she perched me on her stool and began her alchemy of color-blending that swirled like we’d dance together on the living room carpet [we were rarely allowed on the living room carpet]. 

In this moment, everything changed but I’m not certain you are ready to hear—
Black is not a color. 

While mixing equal parts red, yellow, and blue, Mama whispered,

“you make your own black. how dark and how scary, or how beautiful and how clear, you decide.”

Mama was an alchemist. Or maybe perhaps just a little more than wise. The world she painted for me was not only beautiful as far as I could see, but as far as I could imagine.

Things are not always as they appear. There is something more in the black. Something richer and dimensional that requires lingering there. A second look. A sixth sense. Black is not a color. It is a spectacular creation of my own humanity. Brush to paint. Paint to canvas. My hand, manifesting what is inside of me.    

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