the text(ure) of words

I’ve been thinking more than usual about words recently, about their placement, the choices we make in which of them we read, what and how we write. And why. How they tumble from between our lips or hands in conversation, how we listen to them, or don’t. And how, in this increasingly Twitterish, texty, Like-says-it-all world, in which (for the record and for the most part) I happily participate—I’m feeling a little nostalgic for a slower way of communicating.

Then, amazingly—in the middle of all this mulling—the universe does what it does so well, accommodates me, by placing in my path a book that not only slows me down but stops me momentarily with its beauty and simplicity and utter confounding complexity. 

The Black Book of Colors (a children’s picture book, which is—as the best of that genre are—so much more than a kid’s book) is written in both braille and visual text on black paper with raised black line drawings, also on black pages. The book, in fact, is entirely black so that on opening its black covers I find myself challenged to see colours not as a sighted person, but as a blind one. 

Colours, I am told, have sounds, taste, textures, smells. 

Well I sort of knew that already, but then it’s easy to attach a smell to a colour you’ve seen, but how do you do that when you’ve never seen red? What, then, does it sound/taste/smell/feel like? (according to the book’s narrator, it feels like a scraped knee)

I’m left in awe of the difficulty braille must pose to someone newly blind, how sensitive their fingertips would have to become, and how calloused and thick and impatient mine are. How one would have to slow down, and of all the benefits that come with taking ones time. I think of what I’m missing as I’m bombarded with a barrage of text every day—ads, billboards, signs, litter-ature everywhere and unavoidable. Subliminal. All that energy I, we, use in automatically translating those trillion words into what they mostly are: rubbish.

There’s something to be said for experiencing words without distraction, allowing them time to sink in rather than bounce off us or inspire an instant reaction of the oh-so-(yawn)-glib kind, to let ourselves ‘feel’ them instead, one word at a time. Not to impress, not to throw back out there, but to mull. To savour. Maybe even allow the things to rattle around our brains long enough to change us in ways we don’t even know…  

“But black is the king of all the colors. It is as soft as silk when his mother hugs him and her hair falls in his face.”  —The Book of Colors, by Menena Cottin, Groundwood Books, 2008


4 thoughts on “the text(ure) of words

  1. Red: it feels like a scraped knee
    Black: as soft as silk when his mother hugs him and her hair falls in his face

    Okay so I’m trying to think like this the above examples (which are exceptional) …

    Green: feels like morning dew on the damp grass that tickles your ankles
    Yellow: as warm as sunlight on my face at noon

    Carin – you’ve given us a new way to “write”, a new way to visualize, to describe, to feel.

  2. I’m so glad you get it, Mary! Isn’t it fun? Such a fresh way of looking at words. And colours is just one ‘subject’. (BTW, love both your examples. In the book, green is described as: “…tastes like lemon ice cream and smells like grass that’s just been cut.”)

    Not possible, after this, for words to appeal only to one sense…


  3. It looks like you’re building up to the Theroux book I lent you. His essays lean more toward the intellectual than sensual (although there is that in there too), but I found he has some surprising and entertaining associations to the colours.

    1. Yes, it’s nearing the top of my pile. Funny how things work, moods for reading, I mean. I love when a book makes its mysterious way to me because of some chance conversation or series of things. Often those books turn out out to be exactly what I was in the mood for without knowing it. (When I read what I ‘think’ I should read, it’s rarely as enjoyable.)

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