In school, I sucked at art.
Not like people casually say, I wasn’t any good at math or science or hitting a baseball.
Teachers confirmed it by failing me in art. There it was a fact, I sucked.
It didn’t matter how much time I put in. They didn’t like my work. Some accused me of not trying. They couldn’t understand being a good student in all other subjects and doing so poorly at coloring.
The colors I used didn’t go together. Everything was super bright and colorful or very dark. I liked colors that stood out. I never understood coloring inside the lines, or having to follow rules. My fourth grade teacher said I might as well use art time to work on other subjects instead of wasting it on drawing.
But mostly, color just didn’t make any sense.
- Why did one color go with another?
- Why did some people say some colors looked so beautiful to them, when all I saw was dingy and dirty colors?
- Why were some colors popular to wear one year and no one would be caught dead a couple years later?
- Why is blue a boy color and pink a girl color?
- Who decided that red is bad and green is good?
I was always different. Even amongst the kids without a lot of artistic talent, I stood out as being particularly non-artistic.
That was fine. I could appreciate art even if I wasn’t going to be an artist.
In fifth grade, there was a picture of different sized colored dots in our social studies books. Everyone was squawking on how the dots formed a picture of a butterfly. I didn’t know what was going on. Was this a prank? Had the whole class ganged up and decided to pull one over on me?
I craned my neck to look at the books of those around me. Maybe the picture in my book was just different.
Nope. Everywhere I looked, it was the same. A bunch of colored dots.
I worked up the nerve to raise my hand and say something. My teacher thought I was messing with him and stirring up trouble. He sent me to the office.
That’s okay, he was more interested in singing and playing folk music on his guitar than explaining things. Like, why we were supposed to color specific people yellow, brown or black on a social studies assignment. I’d gotten in trouble for questioning the rules of coloring people so I already had a bit of a history with this teacher.
I explained it to the school secretary before going in to see the Principle. She didn’t know what to make of it, but was empathetic.
Going into his office, he asked me to explain the referral note from my teacher. The Principle was confused. While I was known for occasionally questioning and challenging the validity of the information I was given, I was known as a good kid and didn’t get in trouble.
As he was getting ready to call my parents, the school secretary suggested sending me to the school nurse and investigate. It was after all a picture giving an example of testing for color blindness. Maybe they should double check first.
Sitting in the nurses office, going through her big book of dots, I was only able to identify one or two pictures out of fifty or sixty. Every so often, I would stop and ask the nurse, if there was really something else there that she could see. And she would patiently reply yes, and would explain it was a number.
I had a hard time believing it. It was like being told there was ghosts that everyone but you could see. The world was not the same place for me that it was for everyone else.
I mean, I’d always known that. I didn’t know that it was a scientific fact.
It turned out I was extremely color blind. Fortunately, I wasn’t a monochromat and could still see color. It was only that I didn’t see it like everyone else.
There are colors that are nearly invisible to me. Others, look dirty or washed out. You can hide red lines in graphs and I probably won’t see them. Picking out flowers for my girlfriend doesn’t always get me the response I’m looking for. You probably don’t want me picking out the paint for your living room.
Being color blind for me is a large part of my identity. Color is a big part of the world and how we see and interact with the world. However, being color blind is more than just about not seeing color like everyone else.
It verified for me, something I had always felt since my earliest of days. That our perceptions are personal. There is no objective truth. We rely on our network of sensors in our bodies and processed through our nervous system and brain to form our connection to the outside world. There is a reality but it can’t be fully known by us. We experience reality through filters, and for each of us those filters are different.
I choose to celebrate the vast differences in everyone’s filters. The universe is already an interesting place. Made doubly so through each person’s lens.
It wasn’t easy for me as a kid to be different. I carried some of that with me as an adult. And while I may have been afraid of my differences – I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I am unique.
But that isn’t the interesting part. The interesting part is how unique others are as well. That while there is this great desire on many people’s parts to fit in. It shouldn’t be about fitting in, but of being accepted for being different. I no longer want to fit in. But some acceptance wouldn’t be bad.
And while I may not be able to change the world or how the world reacts to me. I can make sure that I celebrate others for their uniqueness.
We don’t need more fitting in. We need to embrace the diversity of others, the differences, the uniqueness and say to everyone it is okay being you, whoever you are, so long as you respect the freedom of others to do the same and be different.
No more fitting in.