Gone Beige

 We are becoming more beige every day it seems.  We bought a beige house with tasteful, neutral trim, and now we’ve even replaced the red car out front with one of those silvery-beige half-assed SUV numbers.  Not quite a sedan, not quite an SUV: a boxy beige number that just blends into the pavement and looks like what everyone else on the street drives.

Open the door of that beige facade, and you’ll find the entire house has been painted with the same warm and modern beige shade with grey undertones.  What can I say, the color matches everything.  Looks very mature and cohesive.  Great for the resale value. 

 On one hand, I don’t want to think the transition to beige is telling, that it speaks of an overall descent into the tedium of middle age.  But at the same time I can’t deny it was pretty much the highlight of my month buying that new beige not-quite-station-wagon that is now parked in front of my suburban beige two-story house.   Even though it meant sitting in a car dealership for five hours to buy that car, still it felt so much more exciting than my usual lazy Saturday afternoon routine.  I mean, it was the fruition of six months of online car shopping and price comparison, the result of a carefully cultivated list of car options, safety ratings, miles per gallon considerations, and a heated competition between features available on the base models of all the cars I’d been reviewing.  Finally, a winner was chosen, and I was going in for the kill.  In the end, I chose beige because the only other option they had on hand in my price range was black, and black just didn’t seem a wise choice.  Too hot.  Shows dirt too easily. 

But certainly our thematic transition to beige is not indicative of a slow descent into boring-ness.  Or at least it doesn’t have to be, right?  Last night, looking at that beige car on our beige driveway in front of our beige house, I was filled with the urge to run inside and paint something neon.  Well, not neon.  Let’s not get carried away.  But to paint something a bright and bold color, to splash a wall or two with emerald green or sapphire blue.  Or maybe, at least, get a few more throw pillows for the couch with some vibrant embroidery; that’s so popular these days.

This morning I drove my new beige car down a congested freeway with a few thousand of my closest friends, most of whom were also driving beige cars, wound my way into a grey parking garage, parked the car in an open spot, stepped out and jumped when the beep of the door locking reverberated off the garage walls, and then joined the walking throng on the way into the office.  The sky was grey, too, as rain was on the way.  It was Tuesday, but one of those Tuesdays with a Monday vibe to it.  Too early in the morning, too early in the week.

But last night, before I inwardly rebelled at the sight of the beige descent on our house, I had a few moments when I remembered what it was like to be bright and vibrant and lit up from within.  See, about a year ago, I started to feel the impending whitewashing of this beige season of life.  I started to feel bored and tired and maybe a little bit trapped in the drifting ennui of middle life.  I started to feel like I was suffocating beneath the weight of parenting and work and bills and the pressure of every moment of every day belonging to someone other than me.   I began to think that if I could not carve out a space and a time of my own, a place where I could be fully myself on my own terms, I would shrivel up and die inside; the beige would take over and coat everything that had once been remarkable about me.  Like a caged animal, I paced and watched, and when the tension of confinement rose to panic level, I threw myself at the strictures of my life, shoulder to the bars, head tucked and braced for impact.  I made one desperate attempt, one quick thrust, with the hope that it would be enough to gain purchase, to wedge open the encroaching closeness and give me enough room that I could breathe again.

In that moment of panic, I sent out a nervous and somewhat meager call on social media, inviting anyone I knew who felt like the beige was eating them up, too, to join with me in rediscovering the pursuit of creativity.  I asked all my digital friends who had any interest in making creative endeavors a larger focus in their lives to start a group with me, to come together and fight the beige as a team.  I envisioned a subdued group of thirty- and forty-somethings who used to make things, who weren’t ready to give that part of themselves up though they didn’t know how to restart those old engines, and also I dreamed that we would grow into an eccentric troupe of makers and doers, people invested in living above the level of survival, giving themselves to art and music and poetry in every spare second they scrape together.

Two women answered my call, and from the moment we met together for the first time, I felt like I could breathe again.  It’s hard to describe how reassuring it is to meet with other people also mired in this exhausting stage of life who are willing to stand alongside you and commit to not letting the necessary drown out the beautiful.  What’s more, every time we meet, I become more and more convinced that the urge to create, to seek beauty and to engage in the act of making it, is itself so very necessary.  In an often sad and twisted world, heeding that inner call to make something beautiful, poignant, delicate, or revealing feels like the ultimate act of survival.  It’s the loveliest embodiment of our fledgling hope climbing out of the chrysalis, bursting from the corners of over scheduled and overstimulated lives, and emerging into the beige world like a burst of color that lights up everything.  Nothing is more necessary to me at this stage of life than the ability to remember there is more to my existence than beige.  I need not create a masterpiece to find a place of blessed margin; I need only to engage in the act of creation itself.  Pen to paper, brush to canvas, fingers to strings: the method matters just as little as the mastery of the skill.  To make, to create, to be involved in the endless tradition of putting something good out into the world, that is the thing.  That is the end unto itself.  To find the creative voice inside and listen to it, to shake off the apathy and fear and just begin, that is the goal.

And so I am not afraid of going beige.  Not now that I am part of this little tribe of women willing to fight the apathy right along with me.  Our group has grown from three to four; perhaps one day we will be a proper tribe of old eccentric artists making the rounds of each other’s art openings and book signings. But for now, it is enough to carve out time to meet with each other, share a drink or a meal, tell each other what we are making or doing these days, and remind each other (and ourselves) that the perfect is the enemy of the good and that the trying is the thing.  Just start, we tell each other, and you’ve already succeeded.  And we toast our progress, and it burns right through the wash of beige, and then we go forth lit up and alive.

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