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.