Thursday, January 28, 2010

Peeling the Orange: Top Half

It makes sense, I suppose, that in January, the deepest month of housebound winter, I would have the richest inner life.  This is the second January in a row that incredible inspiration and interlacing have sent me on a mysterious yet practical journey.

It all started the day I did my Epiphany house blessing.  Remember how I used a colored pencil because I didn't have any chalk?  Do you remember what color it was?  That's right, it was orange.  Why orange?  I didn't choose it for its significance, but mainly because it was the first light-colored pencil I came across.  Then later that day I found a poem that I wanted to print out and put on my wall for the year.  The only paper I had was bright orange, left over from a multi-colored pack I got a long time ago.  That was when I started thinking Hmmm.  Is this going to be an orange year? 

By now you know me well enough to see where this is headed.  Orange.  A color I've never thought much about, and all of a sudden, I'm surrounded by it.  I don't understand what it is about the blogosphere that seems to mystically corral themes into these little bays that I unsuspectingly swim into, but I like it.  And speaking of the blogosphere, it has not escaped my attention that Blogger's primary color is orange.  The combination of this with the orange pencil and paper immediately put it into mind that orange is my color for writing.

When I was homeschooling my oldest daughters, my very favorite thing to do was design unit studies.  There's just something about taking a theme and running with it, following where it leads, that satisfies me like nothing else.  But this is my first time with a color.  And what a journey it's been so far.  I can't even include all the places it's taken me, it's just too much.  And while it's fascinating to me, I doubt all of it would be to you.  Check out this clustering exercise I did with it though, and you'll get a sense of what I mean (you might even see your own name in this):

It's actually quite fitting that I did this, because clustering is a method of connecting and also dividing themes, and one of the main things I've realized about the meaning of the color orange is that it both divides and connects.

One of the most obvious ways that orange divides is in the lines down the middle of the road.  A more symbolic way that was brought to my attention recently was in a post at Diamonds in the Sky With Lucy, in which she described an experience of visiting with "prisoners in orange jump suits, some angry and entitled – others grateful to be alive and willing to transform one day at a time – some both. The only thing separating them and me is the color of their suit." Interestingly, this observation on Lucy's part indicates that she ultimately found a way to connect with the prisoners.

I've already mentioned writing, which is a major way of connecting for me, and also Blogger's prevalence of orange.  The Internet in general seems to favor orange, and of course, is a very popular tool for connecting with others these days. Another example of orange's connectivity would be school buses, which connect students with the school.  Orange is a major color of transportation (a form of connecting us to places) in general, is it not? 

Which brings up Eryl at The Kitchen Bitch Ponders, who posted about her recent experience of being on morphine in the hospital and finding herself in an "orange wind tunnel."  Another kind of transportation altogether.  I'll come back to this in my next post.

After reading Lucy's and Eryl's posts, the orange thing moved more to the forefront of my conscious contemplation.  And then I happened to read Life of Pi, a book which I spontaneously picked off my shelf one day, knowing nothing about it except that it was supposed to be really good, and guess what?  It's about a guy stuck with an orange tiger on a lifeboat full of orange things.  The narrator (who is Hindu, Christian, and Muslim) discusses this:
It seems orange--such a nice Hindu color--is the color of survival because the whole inside of the boat and the tarpaulin and the life jackets and the lifebuoy and the oars and most every other significant object aboard was orange.  Even the plastic, beadless whistles were orange.
Oh boy.  I could gleefully (and I think orange is the color of glee) write a whole paper about the symbolism of orange in this incredible novel.  But for our purposes, I will just point out that the presence of these orange objects on the boat (with the exception of the tiger) is for the sole aim of connecting the survivor(s) with a rescuer.  Also, and this does play into the novel quite a bit, a lifeboat can be a kind of prison, meaning that the function of the orange objects is the survivor's liberation.

One direction this novel brought me was toward tigers.  We are actually about to enter the Chinese Year of the Tiger, which gives me pause.  I thought about one of my favorite paintings of Father Bill:

Long story short, Sadhu Sundar Singh was an Indian Sikh who, at fifteen, had a profound vision of Jesus after having previously violently persecuted Christians. He immediately converted to Christianity and then spent the rest of his life talking passionately and poetically about Christ to anyone who would listen.  He also wrote, mostly parables.  His life was marked by strange and mystical occurrences, some of which are documented and some which are considered legend.  This painting depicts what Father Bill referred to as Singh's mystical meeting with the tiger.  Singh often used the tiger as a symbol of the violence and primal voraciousness in human nature.

Tigers are symbols of many things, but one of the most obvious is danger.  The association of orange with danger is also widespread.  Let's not forget about Agent Orange or the Orange Order in Northern Ireland.  Orange may be the color of survival, but it's also a color of war, violence, and even death.  It's the primary color of Halloween, after all. 

Orange is therefore also the color of fear, but this can, with a different perspective, be translated into alertness, noticing.  Which brings me back to the orange on the lifeboat.  In order to connect the survivor with a rescuer, attention must be drawn to the survivor's vehicle.  This is also the purpose of the many orange signs and symbols that exist on the road.  Pay attention, approach with caution.  (Interestingly, the orange traffic light - I'm sorry, it is NOT yellow - not only signifies caution, but it divides - connects? - the stop and the go.  It asks you to decide which you're going to do.  Will you speed up or come to a halt?) 

Another way of expressing alertness is wakefulness.  And isn't there something in us that associates orange with mornings, when the orange sun comes up and we drink our orange juice?  Then consider the color of a Buddhist monk's robe, garb which signifies a life of dedication to spiritual awakening.

So, putting aside the more personal and tangential directions I've taken this, let's review for a moment:  Orange (so far) symbolically relates to:
  • connection/division
  • imprisonment/freedom
  • danger/safety
  • survival/death
  • transportation (movement/stopping)
  • fear/wakefulness
I have no grand summary of Ultimate Meaning here, but it's been a boatload of fun playing with these ideas and images.  I'm beginning to think that orange is the color of synchronicity/serendipity/interlacing.

This journey actually has led me to some very practical applications, but I don't want to take you there just yet.  Because, let's face it:  orange, maybe more than anything else, is silly.  I mean, Tigger's orange, as my son pointed out.

And speaking of silly, here's one of my all-time favorite jokes:
Q:  What does an orange cone on the side of the road mean?
A:  "Psychedelic witch embedded in asphalt."

I'll leave you with this, which I dedicate to Dan Gurney, who reintroduced the poetic Tanka form to me recently:

Lines Written on the Hem
of a Buddhist Monk's Robe

Just because we know
that orange rhymes with nothing,
denotates two ways,
segments and defines the road;
orange is a sweet koan.

Me in my orange bandanna.
I'm counting Tanka syllables.


  1. Wonderful Tanka to end a wonderful contemplation about the color orange. I feel honored! Thank you, thank you.

  2. Can I have an assignment please? What's MY word? I love this. I want to try it.

  3. In the summer when my feet are always on display I tend to paint my toenails orange. Unlike all the other colours I've tried it seems to work with everything, from my gardening clothes to my smartest frock.

    It was such a thrill to see my name on your cluster map, and thank you for the link.

    Love the Tanka, and your whole orange meditation.

  4. Hi Polly
    I love the way that your mind works... I recognize the routes... And
    also love mind maps...
    Orange has always represented, to me, the life force- energy and vitality- orange is all about aliveness.

    Metaphors and symbols can be very powerful conveyers of meaning and provide illumination often at a sumbiminal level- beyond the power of words.
    Go with orange!

    Happy days

  5. It's not surprising that all the most nutritious veges and fruits are orange...
    Paw paw , pumpkin, carrots, oranges...

  6. Polli,

    Synchronicity, yes. I am wearing orange right now, The Life of Pi is one of my favorite books, and I am developing this incredible connection to tigers! I have several pictures laid out right now to work with collage and/or soul cards. Let's stay "tuned in". Can't wait to see where life is taking us! : )


  7. Dan - You're welcome! And thank you for bringing so much poetry into my life lately.

    Kate - It's one of those things that if you start looking for it, you'll find it. (Or it'll find you.)

    Eryl - Thank you!

    I'm going to have to get me some orange nail polish. That sounds like fun.

    Your wind tunnel is going to factor more strongly into my next post. I hope you don't mind.

    Delwyn - Thank you! I did a clustering exercise with my students today. They chose snow as the topic; it was fun.

    Some of my favorite foods are orange. The one I'd add to your list is sweet potatoes - yum. I had to look up paw paws - now THAT sounds wonderful!

    Rebecca - Ha! I love it. Will you post pictures of your collage explorations? I'd love to see that. I'm curious how this connection with tigers developed. I think I can see something tigerish in you.

  8. I wish I could come up with something that could top Rebecca Johnson's synchronicity, but all I've got is this: I was born in the Year of the Tiger (1986), my high school colors were orange and white, and that my favorite Winnie the Pooh character was always and always will be Tigger.

    Once again, a fascinating, lively, educational and well-written post, friend. This is amazing stuff. This interlacing is almost frighteningly acute! I'd say orange is a favorable omen for the year, though, from reading this! "Orange is a sweet koan." I'll remember that every time I eat one. Thanks for the lesson, teach.

    "Psychadelic witch embedded in asphalt." HA! That makes two great jokes I've read on blogs today...speaking of synchronicity...

  9. I graduated from high school in 1986.

    I think you're right about it being a favorable omen - what I'm realizing though is that it's an intense energy to integrate and keep flowing.

    Did you notice that Nathan Bransford's site is orange? I'm not sure if it's a "sign" or not, but it makes me like him that much more.

  10. Don't mind a bit, looking forward, in actual fact, to seeing what you write about it and how you connect it to whatever you connect it to.

  11. Jeez Polly, I finished highschool (we didn't call it graduate, we just up and left)almost 20 years before I feel an old crone...
    I love the intensity in your self portrait. who took it?
    Oh yes
    How did I forget sweet potato and kumera.

    Paw paw = papaya - orange ones or with a red tinge - they are my favourites... we have them for breakfast every single day - with muesli and home made yogurt.

  12. I took that picture myself, actually. Which is probably why I look intense - I'm concentrating on getting the camera at the right angle.

    Mmmm - muesli and homemade yogurt. Can I come over for breakfast tomorrow?

  13. That's what I mean. The energy of integration, progress and forward movement. Favorable that the universe is showering you with these orange omens so early in the year like this.

    WHOA! You graduated high school in 1986? And I was born in 1986? The year of the tiger? And my high school colors were orange? As is Nathan Bransford's excellent-and-extremely-helpful blog that you directed me to?


    I drank some orange juice this morning, too. And ran several yellow (uh, I mean orange) lights.

  14. Oh...and speaking of yogurt, my Ma bought these rather awesome yogurt creamsicle (creamsickle?) flavor.

    Okay, this is getting spooky.

    P.S. Have you taken a look at the moon tonight? Pop says it's 17% larger than normal. Biggest it's going to be all year. Some orbital fluke, I believe.

  15. Those lights ARE orange, are they not? I've always called them orange lights.

    Oh, and get this - '86 is a palindrome of the year I was born.

    I tried to look at the moon earlier but it was filmy through clouds. I'll go look again, maybe it's cleared up by now.

    Orbital Fluke sounds like an emo band name.

  16. AHA! Postie, go to A Mindful Heart - he talks about what's going on with the moon tonight.

  17. I am still in the process of reading the details in the post, but I do want to is WARMING to see this affection to ORANGE in the winter. I find this fascinating.

  18. You were born in the year 8,691?

    Hee hee...okay, I'll shut up and go over to a Mindful Heart now.

  19. Well, Jennifer, the orange is gonna HAVE to warm me, since my baseboard heater system went caput this weekend!

    Why, yes, Postie, I was. Doesn't that explain a lot about me?

  20. What a fascinating commentary on the color orange! I used to hate orange but I too have discovered it this year and use it in decorating. I like it. It's lively, fun and makes a do you. I signed up to follow you. Stop by my place and perhaps return the orange favor.

  21. Very interesting post...I love how it wanders and connects.

    The Life of Pi is one of my favorite books in a that kind of terrible, wonderful way... so rich and yet so awful, what the human soul must do to survive what only humans can inflict; yet, survival is itself is so beautiful. I should read it again; that is the kind of book one needs to read more than once and write about (as you have done) to feel like it's truly been explored.

    As for the color orange (and since I'm in a Spanish mood these days, I would like to say I love their version, naranja -- so lyrical), you have explored some very interesting associations. When I think of orange, I immediately can hear my mother saying how much she loathed orange. It wasn't until I was in my early 20s that it struck me what a beautiful color it was, that it wasn't evil afterall. My sisters have said they had similar revelations. Reading your meanings of orange, I am wondering if it was one of those associations that made her hate it so. Hmmmmm....

    Thanks for another very thoughtful post! I hope you do have an orange year -- sounds like it would be one of discovery.

  22. Boomer Pie - Thanks! I don't think I ever hated orange, but it definitely wasn't my favorite color.

    DG - There's so much more I'd like to write about Life of Pi and about the color orange, but I don't want to overdo it. That's one thing about orange, it's like hot peppers - a little goes a long way.

    Thanks for bringing up the Spanish word for orange. It is indeed a beautiful word.

    I remember when we moved into the house I grew up in in Toronto, the basement walls were orange, and my mother was appalled. She painted over them immediately.

  23. hi polli - i feel both sad and warmed to be coming to this party a little late. i opened my blog feeder a couple of days ago and saw this was a longer post so saved it for when i had more time. then yesterday, i couldn't get the "reader" to open... long story short - i am so glad i saved this for now. fascinating journey with orange - and i am so honored to have been a part of the twists and turns (although i couldn't find my name on the chart :-(

    i am savoring this post before i move on to your next. i'm also fighting the urge to push my cat out of my lap and go look up which chakra orange is associated with... i'll do that soon!

    would also love to know more about the tankra!

  24. oh, i'm cracking up now as i began to read your next post and see where it begins. so glad i let aslan stay in my lap :-)

  25. I know - my posts are too long, even when I divide them up. I'm just too chatty for my own good.

    I have to admit, I sometimes get you and your sister mixed up! Your layouts are very similar and you post in a similar way about similar things, so on the chart it says "SS" where it should really say "lucy." Sorry about that.

    If you want to know more about tanka, visit Dan Gurney's blog. He's the tanka king.

    Wow - I just realized - Aslan's orange!

  26. that's so funny about "SS". i did see that on the chart and wondered "what's up with that?" i'm getting much better in my older age to stave off sibling rivalry, so i didn't notice any overwhelming resonance of jealousy :-)

    and aslan... he is indeed "orange" although i prefer to call him "golden".

  27. Your post was quite good than other blogger, so simple yet imformational.
    mind if I put a link back to you?
    tuxedos suits
    anyway I'm william



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