Coloring Club

Brick red. Maize. Pine green. Cornflower. Raw sienna. Sepia. Gold. Silver. Copper.

What am I talking about? The Crayola 64 crayon box, of course. To my mind, the set of 64 was the greatest collection of them all.

I’ll bet you can remember that good crayon smell. Do you remember how you always had to peel the paper on your favorite colors, and how heartbreaking it was when one of them broke? And how you never used white?

A brief history: The first crayon was invented in 1902. First there were 8, followed by 16, 24, and 48. And then there was the set of 64, in 1958, and it was so unbelievably perfect that it was unchanged until 1990. (Little known fact: the Crayola crayon with the gross and ridiculous name “flesh” was renamed “peach” in 1962.)

The reason I’m bringing this up is that I just got home from a meeting of the Tucson Coloring Club. It was like being a kid on my first day of kindergarten. I didn’t know anybody. I carried my supplies in a bag and set them down on an empty chair. I went to the lunch line, got my lunch, and ate it with someone I didn’t know. Then I joined the rest of my new friends at another table and began to color and talk. It was probably the most relaxed I’ve felt all week. I want to be five years old again.

The Tucson Coloring Club is just one of many local Meetup groups. I recently signed up for a few that sounded interesting, including a hiking group that’s probably about my speed (out-of-shape to intermediate) and another group that goes to dinners and plays together. I decided not to sign up for the Tucson Python Club or the Tucson Geek It Up. The coloring club seemed like a nice, easy way to get my feet wet. Besides, I already had one of those trendy adult coloring books lying around the house.

We met at one of my favorite cafés, Bentley’s, which is about 20 miles from home. I ordered coffee, quiche, and a salad because I was starving when I got there, and decided to eat at the counter next to the table, in case I spilled something. (I could just picture myself knocking over my coffee cup or splashing blue cheese dressing on somebody’s art project.) Unfortunately, that meant sitting with my back to the group for a while, but then someone else’s lunch arrived and she joined me. I felt like I fit in.

After eating, I rejoined the group at the big table and began to color. There were the usual questions about where I live and work, etc., but there was also ample time to just listen to others and to color quietly. Some people never talked at all, and that was okay, too. It was just such a relaxed and accepting group.

There was a 20-something ex-teacher who colored a complicated design in an art nouveau book. She told us that every time she finishes a page, she writes a letter on the back of it and sends it to her grandmother. She talked about her grandmother, who lives far away, doesn’t like to talk on the phone, and may be depressed. Their only way of communicating is through those pretty colored pages.

Then there was a 60-something man who used to work in the computer field. I think he’s retired now. His coloring project was a geometric design with big open spaces. He said he likes the big spaces because he doesn’t have to plan too much about which colors to choose. He was friendly, asked lots of questions, and (refreshingly) didn’t talk about himself very much.

And there was an occupational therapist who teaches others how to work with their hands, but who’s been diagnosed with MS and is losing her ability to work with her own hands. She discovered that she can hold on to gel pens pretty well (and I suspect it’s good therapy, too). She’s been trying to figure out ways to get out of the house now that she needs to use a motorized chair. She’s able to fold it up and put it into the trunk of her car, but when she gets places she needs help getting it out and unfolded. She’s going places anyway, and figuring it out as she goes along. “I don’t have any other choice,” she added with a smile. We discovered that, by sheer coincidence, she lives right around the corner from me. Looks like I may be carpooling with her if I stay in the group. She seems nice and, who knows, I may have found a new friend in my neighborhood.

Some of us talked about our favorite colors, how we choose colors, and whether we press lightly or hard when we color. One person opened up about why she moved away and then came back, touching on some family issues. Another talked about a friend whose daughter has been cutting herself. A man talked about how he was in counseling and has used art in therapy. For a bunch of strangers who spent less than two hours together, the topics we covered were pretty amazing.

It was just so nice to sit there and think about colors today. It literally brightened up my day.

*****

My new photo book about the Pacific Northwest, “Standing in the Surf,” is available in e-book and paperback formats here:

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