Through and through, I am a creature of habit. My planner is the most important purchase of the year and I thrive off my Sunday night organization session where I outline my upcoming week in multi-colored pens. I have certain habits for grocery shopping and laundry and when I like to study foreign languages.
These routines, much like running and writing, keep me grounded and focused. But at some point, routines can become too much. It isn’t until you’ve stepped outside of yourself for a day or a week that you notice how much you’ve missed. You know that feeling of taking a long weekend trip? Suddenly, Saturday seems to last forever as you forget about buying bananas and bread and focus on enjoying wherever you are.
All this is to say that while I appreciate some of the structures I’ve given my life, I can’t help but wonder what’s just outside the box. The new idea for Sunday blog posts is to write about one experience I had in the previous week that was out of routine, that wasn’t predictable, that made me think a little differently about myself and the world I live in.
Challenge 18: Live in Living Color
When I decided I wanted to spend this year finding little ways to see the world differently, I thought back to my life as a summer camp counselor. After my freshman year of college, I returned to my hometown to work full time as a summer day camp counselor at the YMCA for kids in grades K – 6.
While I have countless stories about the joys of working with those campers, I always remember one particular day during free time. At the end of the day as students waited for their parents to pick them up, groups divulged to playing basketball or board games or jump roping. One of my second graders fell after colliding with another camper and scratched his knee. It was nothing too serious but he teared up and sat on the bench with his arms folded. Myself and one of our high school counselors in training walked over. Before I could say a word, my younger co-counselor asked my camper what his favorite color was. The boy choked back tears and said “blue.” The counselor asked him what shade of blue. He asked if it was the blue like my shirt or the blue like his sneakers or the blue like the jump ropes. The boy stopped sniffling and began to answer the questions.
Within moments, the situation had been deescalated and the young camper was back playing basketball – no worse for wear. That conversation has always stuck with me. The idea of focusing on something else very intently, even for a moment, can really make an impact on your state of mind – no matter how old you are.
A couple weeks ago, I was realizing the weight of my own routine, how I wake up at the same time and can practically complete my morning tasks with a blindfold. I shuffle to work with a podcast and barely need to look up to know what stop is mine on the subway. I wanted to see the world through a different lens.
That’s why I decided to play “I Spy.”
Monday – Red
I rolled out of bed for the restroom. My toothbrush was red? I use this every day and I just now realized the handle was red? I went back to my room and flipped my red desk calendar that I’ve been using every day since middle school (all flip calendars should be made without the day of the week, making them perpetually relevant).
I looked around my room taking in the red lining on my running bag that hangs from my closet door and the red five-pound dumbbells that sit perched beneath my chair. My map of America was red. The Ibuprofen I downed to silence my pounding head was red.
I walked to the 1 train. The 1/2/3 train lines are designated on signs by a red circle. I arrived at my job at the American Heart Association | American Stroke Association and of course everything is red. The lobby has red chairs and our signs are red and every email has our red logo in its signature. I walked into my office to see red ribbon gifts that have yet to be delivered and poster board splattered with our red branding.
It was natural to see red. Almost everything in our office is that color. But it was funny to be hyper aware of it. I was sitting in a meeting when I saw a red highlighter on an otherwise empty desk. I focused on that red highlighter with everything in me. I didn’t even know they made red highlighters.
Of course, red follows me throughout my day, but I noticed it more in the little moments where I didn’t expect it. As I was taking off my glasses to go to bed, I noticed the red detailing on the cover of the book that sits on my nightstand. It was those little moments of seeing something when I wasn’t expecting it that made me feel a little more excited about the day.
Tuesday – Orange
Like I said, I could walk to my train in the morning with a blindfold. Down the stairs. Down the street. Up the escalator. Swipe through. End of the platform. But on Tuesday, I noticed the construction under the subway. I noticed a vibrant orange cone sitting near the entrance to an apartment a couple down from mine. How had I never noticed these things?
On the train I saw a man with a bright orange shirt on. That’s a bit out of the ordinary. I had a conversation with a friend who told me his favorite color was orange and that, in general, he feels it’s an underrated color that people should wear more often. I thought of him when I saw the man in the orange shirt.
In my apartment, I noticed the orange lid of my Gatorade water bottle that is constantly at my side. I saw the orange stripe on the flag of Manhattan that hangs above my bed. I was becoming more aware, in general, but I noticed myself still finding red as well. While my eyes focused on orange, I could still see flickers of red in the distance – like this experience was making more present overall.
The biggest takeaway from Tuesday, though, may have been the orange ball. I work in mid-town Manhattan on the 19th floor of a tall office building that sits catty corner from the Chrysler Building. I often find myself peering out the window and across the street to the building adjacent ours. One of the windows has placed sticky notes in the shape of a heart. Sometimes you can see other office workers sitting at their desk or talking on their phone.
There’s one window I’ve always been drawn to. Leaning against this office window are 5 giant tennis balls – the kind you would use in an elementary school gym glass. I always see them and wonder what they’re for. What company does the man behind that window work for? I looked at them again on Wednesday. Four of them are that green/yellow tennis ball color. The fourth in the line-up is orange.
Wednesday – Yellow
People always associate yellow with Happiness and with smiley faces. I woke up to the infamous yellow “smile” sign staring at back at me from across my bookshelf. Above that is a canvas my friend painted for me that says “smile” in green over top a yellow heart. I went through my morning routines, noticing the yellow contact lens holder and the yellow M&M mug that holds all my pens on my night stand. I saw my stuffed animal Dug (yes, from the movie Up) that guards my room while I’m at work.
Above my desk at home I have a framed picture of the Pittsburgh incline overlooking the Point. The trim on the windows on the incline is yellow. I’ve stared at this picture every time I’ve had writers block for the past year and a half and I’ve been on that incline more times than I can count but for the first time I can really tell you about the windows. They’re yellow. They are really, really bright yellow.
Because the frame juts out a little bit, I have my family Christmas card and a small Polaroid leaning in the frame. The Polaroid picture is one of my colleague and I at the Brooklyn Heart Walk. It’s just us in the photo and I’ve looked at it about a million times but today, I saw my friend’s yellow shirt for the first time. She’s wearing a bright yellow shirt. How has that never caught my eye like that before? Now it is all I can see.
For general society – yellow signifies Happiness and the classic smiley face. For me, it’s a productivity color. When I finish a task in my planner, I highlight it in yellow. The more yellow, the better. It’s Wednesday, and I’m feeling okay about the yellow to pen ratio.
Thursday – Green
People think you can’t find green in Manhattan but I step out of my apartment and it is everywhere. I see it in our street trees and in the park across from my door. I see it in the outdoor spaces that occupy my free time and in the damp moss that clings to the Hudson River rocks.
I have a sticker on the inside of my computer that says “Be happy and smile” on top of a rainbow design. It’s got every color but for some reason, I am just noticing the green – and the sticker in general – today. I see the green of multiple Excel documents at work as I spend much of the day tracking reports.
On my way home, there is a woman with green shoes on my subway platform. She is wearing a black skirt and a beige jacket but her shoes are a dark, forest green.
Back in my apartment, my suitcase still sits on my bedroom floor – a memory from my last trip and a constant warning reminder that I need to get things together for my upcoming adventure.
Friday – Blue
By Friday, sickness and fatigue have won. I barely register the blue mailbox on the way to the subway or the fellow commuter’s blue backpack. I sit at my desk, considering a cup of tea, looking at my white whale mug with the blue accents. It’s an adorable mug.
By early evening, I head to an Urgent Care center where she tells me I have strep throat and that she can’t believe how swollen my neck is. I tell her I can. The seats are blue in the waiting room. We’re watching “Diners, Drive ins, and Dives.” The exam room has a blue chair that I sit on while also kicking myself for the one time I don’t have my book with me. I’m not good at sitting still and no amount of blue shades can fix that. She subscribes an antibiotic. It is half blue and half purple. My slippers. Blue. My running shoes. Purple with blue accents. The sweatshirt that hangs over my desk chair. Blue. The daily meditation mindfulness book. Blue and white stripes. The last thing I see before I close my eyes is the background of my 2018 Road Atlas, still open on my dresser. It is blue.
Saturday – Purple
It’s amazing what a purple and blue pill and a good night’s rest can do. I wake up and throw my purple blanket off to the side. I push my purple winter coat, hanging on the over-the-door frame off to the side so I can open the door. I swap my pajamas for equally comfortable leggings.
My friend and I call them my funky leggings because they are a wild array of colors that shouldn’t work. I stare at the patterns of circles that are red, white, pink, orange, light blue, green, and dark deep navy. But there is no purple. I pick up my purple pen and sit down with my journal.
Saturday May 12, 2018. Where do I begin…
Paying attention to the colors that swirl around me was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. It was calming in a sense to focus on colors. When my mind wanted to wander or my planner ratio of yellow highlights to incomplete tasks felt overwhelming, I remembered to think about the colors.
It was a weird experiment but definitely something I recommend doing, even if just for a day. There’s a joke about the unofficial uniform of New York City being black and grey. Especially in the winter months, it seems like everyone wears their black jackets and their grey scarves and hustles from place to place in a gloomy fog. And that’s true. You do see a lot of those neutral colors on the subway platform. But it’s when you notice someone with a yellow rain jacket, that you smile. I want to find the yellow rain jackets of the world. I want to be a yellow rain jacket.
Force yourself to see the world a little differently this week. Not necessarily in the big life-changing ways, but in the little things – like the colors you notice on your daily commute. I won’t promise an inspiration revelation, but you will absolutely appreciate your world in new light.