(Written 10th Feb)
It’s Ash Wednesday, and one of the first things I need to do is to remove as much of the pink as I can. So first stop for me is the hairdressers, to try and dye away my pink hair. When I get to the hairdressers I realise I’ve already overlooked one thing, as I’m wearing pink socks… it’s going to be quite a challenge to notice all the pink things, and to stop using them!
As the hairdresser finishes and I look in the mirror, it feels quite strange to be going brown again, already I’m starting to feel not quite like myself.
It may help if I explain a little of my journey in to pink in the first place. I tend to think quite a lot in colour, and for a long time the colour that I associated with myself was blue. I painted my bedroom at home blue, my car was blue, my wedding dress was blue…. even my husband mostly lives in blue! In 2004, this started to change.
On Christmas Day 2003 I had a miscarriage, and my health also started to deteriorate, with bad asthma and significant fatigue (which was eventually diagnosed as underactive thyroid). I wasn’t very well, and I had to withdraw from a lot of the different things that I had been doing – I could no longer help on the summer camp that I had been involved with for years, I had to stop leading the youth groups that I was involved with, I had to reduce to part-time working hours. There were a lot of challenges to my identity.
I went on a reflective workshop lead by Rev’d Val Corcoran, and I started to play with colours and textures to represent my life journey. Towards the end of 2004 I started doing City & Guilds embroidery, and in our first term our focus was on colour, exploring all sorts of design work based on colour, and playing with colour in paints & threads. Colour was emerging as a significant thread throughout that year.
At work we were looking at questions around workplace dress & identity. I followed this up by booking an appointment with the fabulous Diana Blakeman at House of Colour, to work out styles of clothes and colours that suited me. I was somewhat surprised to find out that I was a Jewel Winter, and that bright pink was one of the colours that most suited me. I didn’t really want to hear that, and really wanted to just carry on with the black, navy & white that I mostly lived in. She challenged me to try wearing pink for a couple of weeks and to see what happened.
Soon after, in early 2005 I went on a silent retreat at a convent. I explored the image of God, firstly by playing about with paint to try and capture my own thoughts. The gold ball that I painted tried to capture my image of the holiness, the preciousness of God – but also something of the awe and perhaps remoteness, and also a bounded feel, for me this was something about rules and regulations, about laws and striving for perfection.
I then spent time looking at images of God drawn by different artists, from different traditions. I was particularly drawn to one icon, and in particular the red colour within it (Icons were not something I had particularly encountered prior to this – I’d grown up in a Baptist church, this was definitely new territory for me!) The blue and the gold I was familiar with, but the red really struck a dissonant chord with me.
For the first time the humanity, the passion, the intensity, the feeling and excitement of Jesus the man struck a chord with me. Red was not a colour I had ever associated with God in any way. I spent some time with this image and exploring further scriptures to dwell on this colour aspect of God. The image I then painted was this:
This started to capture some of the movement, the energy, the dynamism, the desire of God. It was really challenging to put this on paper, as it was so different to the imagery I had let stay in my head for a long time. Part of me wanted to screw up this painting as soon as the paint started to touch the paper, it felt almost irreverent; opening me to a completely different perception of God. I spent some time sitting with this, letting the associated scriptures and imagery sink in.
I spent several days praying on this in retreat, of encountering these different aspects of God, and letting them seep into me. I created a simple card/ fabric butterfly, that felt like the new, fragile me, emerging from a chrysalis – the chrysalis of pain and poor health, but also the restrictions of trying to meet others expectations of me.
The encounter with this redness of God, the life-giving energy, was a realisation for me of the invitation to live the fullness of life, to allow myself to get to know myself better, and to let different aspects of my personality & skills to flourish. And as colour has always been significant to me, this was the start of me really accepting the pink colour – the colour that had been identified when I had my colours done, started to feel like a God-given colour for me, and became almost a short-hand to myself, a reminder to be the person that I am, to allow myself to flourish and live, to love life and appreciate the goodness around me – and to encourage that flourishing in others.
Later that year, as part of my City & Guilds we had to create a wall hanging. I decided to use this colourful journey and to represent it in stitch & fabric. The spiral shell, still hanging in our living room, represents that journey, that transformation.
Ten, eleven years on though, I wonder if I have almost stopped that transformation by capturing it in an image like that. I’m reminded of Wittgenstein’s words: “A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.”
(I’m pretty sure Wittgenstein didn’t have in mind a pink spiral shell when he wrote these words.) However, I wondered if that is what had started to happen to me – had I become captive to this image of transformation, of pink. Was I inside it, or outside it? Was I stuck in a pink loop with no escape? In using pink as almost a short-hand to myself, had I tried to capture it… was I still experiencing God in this way? Was this colour still true to myself? Did it still represent who I am? Or am I restricting myself, stopping the continual change & transformation by hiding behind this colour?
I’m not really sure, and I think that is what I’m hoping I may find out as I continue on this journey through Lent. I’m only one day in, and already I’m feeling very uncomfortable, and not at all sure that I’m going to make it to Easter… Easter is feeling a long way away!