Naming Crayons, Courage and Love

Why I Didn’t Lose When Dandelion Was Lost

I first wrote this blog in September and for lots of reasons, much having to do with inner critics and creative courage, I didn’t post it immediately. But last week I came across a story of one of five finalists for TIME magazine’s kid of the year, a little girl named Bellen Woodard who has invented her own set of crayons called More Than Peach™. And so, Bellen, because of your creative/collective courage as an activist and movement leader — this blog’s for you. xoxo

Laser Lemon. Unmellow Yellow. Yellow. Canary. Banana Mania. Goldenrod. Almond.

Seven shades of yellow crayons sit in this year’s Back to School box of 120. Plus Green Yellow if you lean toward the greens. Plus Sunglow if you add in some oranges. And Apricot if you sort by saturation and hue. 

The crayons show up like Schroedinger’s Cat in this box mixed and matched (or mismatched) in no particular order, just arrays of delight that go well side by side. When I first opened the box, it was absolutely unclear how many new browns were now here. I recall hearing that crayons were intentionally added to explicitly meet the needs of all children to find their own tone of skin. We all need to feel seen for our beauty, our God-given glow of our soul showing the world who we are, that we’re most welcome here. The party would not be complete, not the same, without you and me.

My skin would be closest to Piggy Pink, perhaps Peach. It’s too pale for Apricot. Definitely too freckled for White. I actually prefer drawing with Pink Flamingo, or Periwinkle (but that’s blue, which my cold toes often turn). My freckles are actually, almost exactly, Raw Sienna. And that’s why I’m writing about Crayola Crayons.

Years ago, in a chapter on coming back to life from caregiver burnout thanks to creativity, I wrote this:

In addition to visits from friends for afternoon tea, we did have moments of light, like candles on cakes, like dappled light through the leaves, like late-day sun that gives you a rainbow, just for a moment, and then the sun sets. But it wasn’t enough. The rest of the time felt lifeless and flat. Like all the crayons had melted and the only ones left were Burnt Orange and Raw Umber.” (Page 298 of Damocles’ Wife).

What I edited out was “And what would I color with those?”  I still feel some shame around my blind bias, still etched in my head, even though edited out. I welcome this discomfort, since it’s waking me up to what really matters.

This year’s box of 120 has Raw Sienna, Burnt Orange, Burnt Sienna, plus Desert Sand, Peach. Gold, Copper, Chestnut, Mahogany, Fuzzy Wuzzy, Bittersweet, Sepia, Tan, Brown, Beaver (really?!). And Tumbleweed, which also looks a lot like my freckles (or age spots). They fill up two rows-by-eight, a subset container inside the big box. Then there’s Gold, Antique Brass, Black, and Shadow that I sorted into another small box with Gray, Timberwolf, Silver and White, plus some leftover purples. Why isn’t there a crayon called Elephant? Or “Elephant in the Room.”

Turns out, I was wrong about the big box of 120. The new skin tones are extra. For $2.49 online you can get 24 Colors of the World Crayons representing skin tones in shades of almond, golden and rose.

But whose job is this naming I’d like to know? And these days when Black Lives Truly Matter so much, could we petition for crowdsourcing by kids to pick the names of some crayons? That’s why I love knowing about 10-year old Bellen Woodard and her own set of crayons called More Than Peach, which you can order here.

How many kids notice the color names printed on crayon wraps? Do you remember a need to do that? Crayola has tri-lingual naming these days. Tickle me pink= palo de rosa = rose chatouille. I can’t pronounce them precisely but the words feed my soul.

Periwinkle = florecita azul clara = pervenche

Burnt sienna = sienna rojizo = sienna brulé

Sepia = sepia = sépia

TIME magazine describes how Bellen Woodard’s crayons are named for things found in nature—there’s “Sahara” and “Reef,” “Koko” and “Serengeti”—but each is also clearly labeled “skin color.” (Read the article here by Jasmine Aguilera.)

Naming is Vital

Creative courage is much more than crayons and colors and noticing names. And yet naming is vital to making our world anew.

Paolo Friere (on page 89 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed) writes this:

“Naming of the world, which is an act of creation, is not possible if it is not infused with love.4

Footnote #4 says this, “I am more and more convinced that true revolutionaries must perceive the revolution, because of its creative and liberating nature, as an act of love.”

Friere goes on to explain, “Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is a commitment to others.

My Life is Not Diminished Without Dandelion

I remember a few years ago when a furor arose because Crayola decided to retire the crayon called Dandelion. How indignant folks felt, nostalgic for coloring green grass under blue skies dotted by the magical flower-weed that is bright yellow-gold before it transforms to those wispy-wish feathers of white. How can you be a kid artist without Dandelion yellow in the big box and small boxes of crayons? Dandelion also doubled for Sunshine that you’d draw in the corner up there in the sky.

Now the box of 120 has 7 in yellow, but 16 at least, maybe 18 or 20 of browns. I do not at all begrudge the now-7 yellows (the smallest cadre of colors). The range of browns, purples, pinks, oranges, reds, greens, and yes, all the blues, are plenty to choose from, almost too many to sort, much less use all at once, and still mix if you’re ready. (I paused as I wrote that, asking myself what other word besides “ready” represents the deeper meaning of skill at blending, shading and choice to create your own gorgeous palette and style.)

The smell of the wax, the blending, the deepening, the drawing of life, reimagined, is vital—to me—for my personal growth from creative expression. To color (with words and with crayons) offers a way of finding my voice.

I have not lost a thing by the “loss” of Dandelion from my big box of crayons. I can see plenty of dandelions in the grass. I am heartened and happy to see so many browns plus the extra collections. I’m hopeful that countless kids beamed with delight when they saw how many options there are to draw family, self, and friends. I wonder what pictures they’re drawing, what marvelous artwork is flowing, and I hope there is plenty of paper, and plenty of tape or magnets to display their creations to honor those artists.

This box of 120 represents possibilities. Let it not represent a scarcity mindset, a greed, or fear to get messy.

This box of 120 represents possibilities. Let it not represent a scarcity mindset, a greed, or fear to get messy. The not-yet-used tips have an appeal—a sense of choice still to come. I remember a sense of abundance, in those many years past, of feeling entitled to pull back the paper and use even more of that crayon because I had an idea busting out that demanded more color.

Go ahead, use the whole crayon. You deserve it. There’s plenty. We’ll even go back to the store and get more. Let’s play with the leftovers. Let’s melt the wax. What should we make? Let’s explore? Yes, do let loose!

I love crayons. I love how many colors there are. And how many still need to be named. I’m sure there’s a few we can retire to make room for more.

#REFLECT: What are you willing to let go of and commit to with collective courage to make room for a world of more equity, justice, freedom and love?