A Writer’s Notebook: crayons

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the campus of the Pacific Northwest College of Art, where, in the lobby, I found a pile of crayons on a table. I don’t know why. It’s a college of art — why wouldn’t there be crayons just lying around?

Anyway, I sorted through them — weird color pairings, red-blue with blue-red, yellow-green with green-yellow, everything an opposite, everything hyphenated — until I found the odd color out: “bittersweet.” I used it to write its name in my notebook:

I made a few other notes, and then, when I got home, I wrote this:

The box of crayons was in disarray. Again. I dumped them all on the floor and began sorting them by shade: the greens, the blues, the metallics. But it didn’t make sense to me the way it did when I was a kid. The organization all wrong. So I devised a new system: the primaries, of course, red and brown and black. Then the unimaginative combinations: red-violet, green-blue, orange-yellow. The stupid names: laser lemon, mauvelous, piggy pink. This was easy. Next, the foods: almond, asparagus, cotton candy, macaroni and cheese. Then the plants: forest green, cornflower, dandelion. Was plum a food or a plant? New category: fruits. The exotic earthy shades: raw umber, sepia, chestnut. No, that’s a plant. The emotions: bittersweet, blush. The metals, which still made sense. The skin tones. There was only one. “Flesh.” A pale peachy beige. White folks who’d gotten just a bit of sun, not beach-tan but flushed from an afternoon tossing a frisbee in the park. As though God had fashioned His people not from clay or mud from from putty and plaster. Jesus was indeed a carpenter, it seemed, the people He saved all the color of pine lumber. I unwrapped it. I smelled it. I put the flesh in my mouth, the way a toddler would. It tasted like tallow and a bit of salt. When I pushed my teeth into it the flesh parted in flakes, a shaving at a time, until it broke in my lips. The nib opn my tongue. I sucked at the flesh until it went soft, then I swallowed it. I looked at the shattered end of the crayon, naked in my fingers. I looked at the rest of the crayons, the last unsorted shades, and saw that I had been wrong. Tan, too, was a flesh color. If not of skin, surely of hide. It would taste leathery, like sucking on the fingers of a glove. I unwrapped it, pushed it into my mouth, too. I would need a new category: edible and inedible. But I didn’t bother starting, because I had sorted the colors already and there wasn’t any flesh left.

At the time, my super-secret writing group was playing with a super-secret theme, the details of which I won’t reveal but which involved the word “flesh.” So as I was playing around with the crayons, I was thinking about that — I even wrote the words “‘flesh’ color?” in my notebook — and also about the oddity of naming colors after emotions. So I put those two ideas together.

I actually kind of like this piece, at least in concept, and I might play around with it some more and see if it could develop into something short, a flash piece or (dare I attempt one?) a prose poem, which I’ve been intrigued by lately but haven’t yet been brave enough to tackle.

I think I just dared myself….

Oh, and I wasn’t kidding about the crayons on the table. I snapped a photo of them with my iPod:

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

8 thoughts on “A Writer’s Notebook: crayons

  1. I liked the short piece you wrote. It made crayons sound quite tasty.. I’m not sure if it was supposed to 😡

    But I liked it, you have a good skill for interesting prose.


    1. Yes! Also, cherry! Why didn’t I think to put that in the story? Totally going in there now.

      I used to LOVE having the big 64-color box, but now I look at all the shades and wonder how many of them are necessary, and I always liked blending new shades myself, so now I think the 16-crayon box is probably my ideal size.

  2. Keep this one around, can see posibilities of this going in all kinds of directions. Aren’t brown, yellow, black also flesh colors, just saying.

    1. I think that’s the realization the speaker in this is coming to, yeah. But then, she’s already sorted black, brown, yellow (and isn’t there a Crayola called “Indian red”?) into the primary colors category. And speaking of primary colors, why isn’t white a “flesh” color even though “flesh” is clearly modeled on a white person’s skin? There’s a strange undertone of, if not racism, at least prejudicial assumptions in a box of crayons, which is kind of where this whole piece is headed. If I can pull that off without being too heavy handed with it, I think I’d really have something here…..

      Also, I just noticed I referred to the narrator as “she.” I don’t know why I did that. But in my head, this is definitely a woman. I seem to be writing a lot of female narrators or main characters lately. Interesting….

  3. Nice post! I love your play with language. Some lines make me stop and go, “Ohhhh.” Like ” Jesus was indeed a carpenter, it seemed, the people He saved all the color of pine lumber.” And, of course, this post made me think how a librarian would organize this box of crayons! I could also see ‘blush’ in the skin tone category. 😉

    1. Ooh, interesting — blush as both an emotion and a skin tone…. Man, this thing is rife with possibilities, really, and I might have to expand this more than I thought. Thanks!

      And yeah, I was totally thinking of my librarian wife when I was putting these colors into categories! 🙂

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