Words and images by Yael Cohen
A lot has been said about the color blue, I’ll hardly be the first. This isn’t to say this is an analysis of blue as a color, or blue as an emotion. But blue as perspective — the color of distant vaporous memory, opaque and often hindered — blue that moves. To illustrate my point, I have to begin with a tracing. To frame a lighthouse, a flower vase, a day in fall — a vision of the mundane in a steady flow that proves to be significant.
Soon it’ll be March again. I’ve never thought much of summaries, quite the opposite actually — I often find it rather hard to let go. But after a year in which most things felt out of reach, I admit the pull of a retrospect seemed in order. In my nostalgia-laden pursuit, I scrolled through my notes app and found an entry from December 2017. It is a list of my year in photos; a visual diary of the past imperfectly logged and the future uncertain in which twelve photos and a few lines became a chronicle of themes: photos of ice cream dripping down my wrist, a visit to my hometown, and the repeated horizon line — blue in the fading summer light. These moments seem quite quotidian and equally impossible to revisit. Some snippets pertain all the same: “we walk a lot,” or “unbearably hot.” I scroll through again, this time taking a closer look, as this past year has so carefully instructed:
January, “In his room, he has pink and blue balloons for me.” May, “My mother always has flowers in my room when I visit, purple in the blue light.” June, “In Montauk taking in the sun. The blue seems endless.”
Most notable was the presence of blue, abundant and at times overwhelming. And yet, discovering a repeating thread weaving my memories together, I felt completely enchanted. Blue had often presented itself to me as an index of perspective. Maggie Nelson’s Bluets guided me through heartbreak and has since become a part of me, Pablo Picasso’s somber monochromatic portraits of his Blue Period configured my view of modern art, and Rebecca Solnit’s Blue of Distance, from which this essay borrowed its name, offered numerous late-night thinking. So what to make of this blueness? Not a sacrosanct, but some kind of tincture. Perhaps to push towards a more specific truth.
To be completely transparent, I wanted more than just the propensity to seek levity. I wanted to avowedly confront this missing when this blue appeared. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve visited home and almost a year since I’ve been to the opposite coast. I felt like I had been living life from afar. “I’m too tired and I miss you too much”, Simone de Beauvoir wrote in a letter to her lover and summarized my sentiment. It’s a tangible feeling this missing, more often seemingly without end and maybe so.
Immersed in all things blue, poetic or quite literally, I came across a butterfly sketch Vladimir
Nabokov made for his wife, Vera. I later learned Nabokov had devotedly studied blue butterflies rumored to have enlightened his writing style and inspired his passages. With the image of the butterfly in mind, I wish I could say this piece was a reflection on change and renewal in light of recent events. But memory, let alone this blue, is never like that, never just gives you the answers that you want. Bouts of nostalgia provoke making sense of small occurrences, and so I turned first to Alexander Theroux’s The Primary Colors for meaning: “blue is a color that moves easily from reality to dream, from the present to the past, from the color of the daytime into the blue amorphous tones of deepest night”. Then, to art: “classical paintings used no blue”. To the Greeks, the color was “vaporous”, “essentially atmospheric”, and “unsubstantial”. No, this blue spoke of the bits that linger. The kind that slowly fades. Picture snow on the mountaintop or the underside of clouds. The center you cannot hold, or so it seems.
I skim another one of my diary logs, perhaps the most direct:
August, “I saw an Yves Klein’s blue for the first time and I think of you.”
Yves’s blue was unexpected. A wash of color that was as prominent as a physical touch. With this diary entry, the meaning of blue had crystallized. It wasn’t just the memory of the painting. It was the crowded museum, the warm humid air outside, muffled and sweet. The normalcy. It was just another day at the museum, yet in the context of my list it was salient. And so I saw this blue for what it was. Or more importantly, what it revealed about a more recent year — this moment in front of you is alive. Its brevity sacrosanct. Which is to say, the trivial and the familiarhave a touch of the infinite too. The last entry in my visual diary reads:
December, “My last trip to the seaside this year, a reminder of that distance between here and there.”
That December was an outpouring. The ceaselessness of the waves crashing on the granite rocks. The lighthouse in bright white. The dark blue horizon line extending. Some things are made to be known many times over. Reading through these logs, I see this isn’t about epiphanies or about any insight. This is about stillness; a farewell to another year to show that beauty is its own reward. If memory comes and goes in blue disguise, let it.
Months pass like years and in the end, there it was. Stretched out in different colors — glimmering — an entire year has come to a close. This time with no diary to mark it. Only the haunting feeling it bestowed. The year the pier halted construction. The year of careening to the corner bodega and back two avenues towards home. The year of taking walks to see the flowers of daffodils and pink magnolias. The year of inside and out. The year in which I chiseled at my writing, and chiseled, and chiseled. The year we finished all our jars of honey. The year of perpetual becoming. And while it does not seem obvious when busy on the phone or distracted by a book, there is a sense of affirmation to these small moments. Even if devoid of any blueness. These are intervals in which I can say there’s a piece of me here, and here.
Margaret Atwood once wrote, “We’re caught in time’s current. It moves. It leaves things behind.” The first snow in Central Park in a winter of things looking different and all the tiny flakes mimic her words and dissolve in mid air. “Some certainties emerge, then flicker,”, I wrote on the eraser board on the fridge, right below ‘honey’ in blue marker. I’m done wishing for time to move any faster. I’m the girl who waits. This is not the keeping, but the letting flow. This is a blue like no other. Like the southern shadow of the moon. Like the offing seen from the shore.