Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

It’s an exciting week. Cricket’s Slice Of Life is back. She has a wonderful blog where she posts three writing prompts every Sunday and asks you to use one of them to write about something that has happened in your life. if you enjoy writing I urge you to give it a try. It has really helped me make sense of a lot of things that have happened in my life.

One of the prompts this week is living with regret.

A bit of a gloomy prompt, you might say.

I would like to be like Edith Piaf and stand loud and proud singing:

Hey world, don’t you know that I have no regrets?

But we all know life is not like that.

We all live with regret. It flows through us like blood coloured differently to our normal blood; a little darker perhaps, after all –  it contains some of our darkest thoughts.

You know how regret goes –

If only I had tried a little harder to make things work

I wish I had told her I loved her when she needed to hear it

If only I hadn’t been so weak

I wish I had known how strong I was

If only I had said NO

I wish I had thought of someone else but myself

The list could go on for days, maybe years, until the regrets we have kept contained in our hearts burst  like giant feather pillows in a fight, coating the world with sombre white. Until all we can see is regret. Only regret.

I don’t want to live like that. I regret many things but if I dwell on them they become greater, more powerful than they ever really were and I am caught like a wild animal in a trap, clinging to the past.

Having said that, there is one thing I really regret it. It’s something I think about all the time, but it’s a whimsical little regret of mine, so maybe you’ll forgive me for holding onto it.

My cousin, Patrick, and I were very close as children. People who didn’t know us thought we were twins. We did everything together. He was my best friend. It will sound odd to say this because he has been dead for many years, but in some ways, he still is my best friend.

You might think that I am going to say I regret his death. Of course I do. I wish he was still here almost every day but I know that such things – who lives and who dies – are out of my hands.

The thing I regret does have something to do with Patrick, however.

For as long as I can remember Patrick wanted to be an artist. He drew everything he saw. He had notebooks full of his stuff. I was in awe of his ability because my artistic ability tends to lie along the lines of stick figures with bubble heads, and he could draw or paint anything.

Patrick’s big thing was art as experience. He went on about it for years. He believed the past reinforced the present and heightened the future. He believed personal experience was what informed his art. He was very aware of the role nature played in his work. He immersed himself in the natural world – sleeping in the woods, building huts from sticks, making clothes from bark. He was a weird kind of Irish caveman.

I need to understand colour, he announced one day. I need to know why the poets say what they say about colour. I need to see it.

That’s when we started our Book of Colours. There was a song from the ’60s that we both liked by the folk singer Donovan. It went :

Yellow is the colour of my true love’s hair

in the morning when we rise

We used to sing it all the time. We based the Book of Colours on that – ways of describing real colours in life and how the artist could replicate the feeling you got when you saw the colour. It was a difficult task, typical of Patrick’s ability /need to over-complicate things.

He had me working on it for over ten years, even after I moved to Australia. When I found a colour I really liked, that created a strong response in me, I had to describe it in a few lines, and photograph it if I could. It was a painful, often thankless project, but some of the colours we found were truly beautiful.

The poet, Robert Browning, in his poem De Gustibus talks about a cypress tree with a trunk ‘many hundred years red rusted.’ I found that colour on an actual tree when I went camping 200 kms from Sydney when I was 17. It was on a River Red Gum. The bark looked like it had been painted every day for years with a mixture of brown and red paint and then the rain had come and tried to wash it all away, turning the bark rusty. Patrick was delighted when I found it.

In her poem Retrospection, Charlotte Bronte talks of a sunset with ‘tints of crimson clear.’ I saw such a sunset once, not on the Yorkshire moors as Charlotte Bronte had, but on a Sydney beach after a sweltering hot day when the sky looked as if it had been painted with very watery raspberry cordial.

So many colours. So many tales of how they were found. That Book of Colours is lost now. I searched for it after Patrick’s death but no one knew what became of it. Some suspect Patrick burned it, unable to bear the frustration of not being able to capture on canvas the colour that lay within. Others suspect he buried it in his beloved woods.

I am sorry it is gone. I would like to create stories from the colours. That would be my art as experience.

So many colours in our world, gathered swiftly like a scoop of pebbles on the road. Secretly flowering in our hearts. Like passion. Or love. If you see a colour in the day that you love, take heed. For it glimmers and glows and glistens just for you.

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16 thoughts on “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

  1. That made me feel rather sad. Such a shame.

    I don’t hold onto regret either. It’s odd really because I am overthinker so you might think I would. But I seem to be able to draw a line under things once I have done the required thinking about them.

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  2. >> the frustration of not being able to capture on canvas the colour that lay within. <<

    Even if he could, there would always be accusations of ‘artists’ licence’. Hell, I even get those with photographs ‘Go on! Admit it! You used a filter on that, didn’t you’ Sometimes, I think people go around with their eyes closed … or, at least, horse-blinkered.

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  3. You have already created a story from the colors. This is so beautiful, and such an inspiration. You could recreate such a book, different of course, on your blog, finding poets’ descriptions of colors. I would love to read it. Or just read your own. The image of him burying the book in the woods is so sad but makes so much sense. Thanks for visiting.

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  4. that sounds like a lovely project, yes a shame that you lost it but obviously it made a real impression on you and that is what really matters, the traces of the book that linger with you…

    I try not to have regrets either….

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  5. I regret very little in my life mostly because I spend so much time on any decision I make for fear of regrets. That in itself can be a conundrum.

    That is a real shame about the book of colours but maybe you could start a new one as a silent tribute to Patrick and his unfinished work in this life. If anyone can make up for the loss of the original I have faith that you can Selma.

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  6. book of colors – that sounds like a wonderful idea, too bad the one you and Patrick create is lost, maybe someday it will turn up, somehow, somewhere

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  7. RELUCTANT – that line in the sand is important, isn’t it? Otherwise you just go round and round in circles, your head full of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys.’ It’s no fun.

    TRAVELRAT – I definitely think some people go round with blinkers on. And photographers don’t only have filters to contend with but things like Photoshop. Despite that, there still are some beautiful colours occurring naturally.

    QUERULOUS SQUIRREL – that is a brilliant idea. I think I might look into doing it. You have really inspired me. Thank you!

    ANTHONY – oh, absolutely. Regret can end up taking hold of us if we let it. And really, life is too short.

    CRAFTY GREEN – the traces do linger. Maybe I should call them that – traces rather than regrets !!

    ROMANY – that is a conundrum. However, I am all for the well-considered decision.I think I’d like to consider a Book Of Colours as a project. Thanks for your encouragement, hon!

    PAUL – you have made my day. 😀

    LISSA – wouldn’t it be incredible if it did? After all this time. I hope so. I really do!

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  8. So much to say on this post Selma – beautifully written as always.

    Firstly, I am afraid that I do have regrets these days that I find harder to shed. I used to live very lightly but now, maybe cos I’m widowed and living alone, maybe cos I’ve hit 50, I seem to have run out of the energy required to let the past go. It’s as if all the sadness of the past is gunking up the engine and so starting up the motor every morning gets harder and takes longer. I keep trying though 🙂

    Your book of colours sounds magical. Although I can understand your sadness about it I think that if Patrick did bury it, it kind of adds to the magic of his story. Does that make sense?

    I also completely agree that Patrick can feel like he is still your best friend, even many years after his death. My darling brother died mountaineering when he was 21. I have already lived more than twice as long as he did, and I have lost most of the rest of my family but his is the photograph I keep close to me. He was so young and gentle and was just beginning to find out who he was.

    And I agree with Romany Angel. You should start a new Book of Colours – make it an online one and the world could share in it.

    Thank you for sharing Patrick with us. I feel as if I know him now. 🙂

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  9. PUDDOCK – I am quite overwhelmed by your comment, but I assure you in a very good way. I am sorry to hear you lost your brother at such a young age. The image of you keeping his photo close will stay with me for a long time.

    Despite my apparent ‘breeziness’ (one of my mother’s words) regarding regret – I do feel it myself. Perhaps it is something that plagues us as we get older. I don’t really know. But often I think – ‘If only things were different.’ I think one becomes weary of the difficulties life bring at times, so regret takes hold. I also think it is a process we occasionally have to go through.

    I am thinking about starting another blog or a weekly post here called Book Of Colours. It would be something I would enjoy. Thank you for your wonderful comment!

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  10. Just last night I was reading to my 8 year old son about color. The book informed us that colors cannot be fully and accurately described with words, which is why we have books of color chips. It’s the only way colors can be matched. I have a similar opinion of music. I used to want to be rock critic (a little embarrassing, I admit) and then realized that music can’t be described with words. I’m afraid that writing a book that attempts to describe colors with only words would be an impossible task.

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  11. RICHARD – aaah, but there would be images too. Photographs, art. It would be exceedingly difficult to describe colour by words alone, I agree. Unless I was one of the greats.

    Rock critics have a tough job. Music is so subjective. It stirs emotions in us that often can’t be defined. I know a couple of them who do a pretty good job but occasionally they miss the mark. However, like anything else, the more they write, the better they get. It’s never too late, Richard. Maybe you should give it a try.

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  12. Wonderfully written as always Selma. With only knowing what you have written about Patrick, I think he did indeed bury the Book of Colors. Too much love and committment to the project to just throw it aways or burn it. As for regret, I have come to realize if I express my regrets in writing I can release them. I am able to look at all sides of the issue causing me pain, attribute blame where it is needed and forgiving as much as possible. I guess that is what middle age is all about. Examining your life and coming to terms. Having wonderful friends and writers such as yourself has helped me more than words could ever express.

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  13. Charming, sad, and so special. So many emotions I feel from reading this. Here, it feels like your regret is tied into missing an tapestry, that unique part of Patrick and yourself, woven together. I enjoyed reading how this came about and how you contributed to the book of colours. I, too, was going to suggest starting this yourself, even before reading the comment thread.

    As an artist and a writer, I chose “colour” as part of my art business’ name. There are other reasons, too. Oh, I think it would be a beautiful gift to yourself and your readers, to let your memories of Patrick “colour” your Book of Colours.

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  14. CRICKET – you have made such an important point. Writing about regret releases it for me too. I think at this stage of our lives we do begin to examine everything and make our peace where we need to. I agree, the interaction with other writers and friends is brilliant!

    GEL – I love your tapestry metaphor. That is exactly what it is like for me. I know how well you understand colour because I see it in your work. Thank you so much for your kind words.

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