My Month of Yellow

Written by Jordan Cooley

I believe I first got the idea of keeping a color journal from reading Maggie Nelson’s memoir Bluets. In it, she explores and questions her love of the color. Each vignette, another fact or anecdote of blue in Nelson’s life until slowly, it unfolds that she is using the color to talk about the grief and hope of heartbreak.

It made me wonder how I could use something other than words to explore my emotions, wonder what would surface if I put such a strict boundary around my journaling. And so, I chose the color yellow and decided to paint each day of January in it.

For the most part, I stuck to it. There were days that were bookended with painting — the mornings consisting of coffee and splashing yellow, saving a bit of the page for how I would feel later that night. Somedays, I would start with that intention and then forget to paint the other half. Others I would paint in the evening, only after the day had settled.

The shapes and patterns I created make me so proud. Often, I struggle with the assumption that writing can and should accurately communicate what I feel. So, when I can’t find the words, I feel unseen by myself. I feel lost, like I have failed a core part of who I am.

With this project, I was able to delight that there wasn’t pressure to communicate fully, only to paint how I felt at that moment.

So, when I realized half-way through January that I had missed almost a week of painting, I also noticed that I hadn’t gone grocery shopping; I hadn’t done my laundry; I hadn’t been caring for Jasper like I usually did and that sense of failure and shame crept up.

This break correlated with when I started talking to my ex again. Looking back now, it makes a lot of sense. I have a pattern to withdraw into myself, to stop projects mid-way through, to not practice basic self-care when I behave in ways that aren’t consistent with my values. When he and I broke up, I decided that I was done settling and yet, there I was meeting up with him and excusing old behaviors again.

I had tried to convince myself that it was fine: that he was healthier; that I was stronger.

In reality, I didn’t want to reckon with certain truths: that I was lonely; that we still weren’t healthy together; that I was mourning the loss of what I thought was a good love; that we weren’t a good love and I was willing to go back to him. Painting during that time would have meant acknowledging all of that, bringing light to the fact that he and I were really and truly over.

There is such grief in the loss of love. Coming into the new year, I thought I was past those feelings. But looking at all the yellow I painted (and didn’t paint), I can see that I’m not.

But I also see that it’s okay. As Maggie Nelson asks of blue, “If a color could deliver hope, does it follow that it could also bring despair?” I ask of yellow, if a color could show the shame and grief I still feel surrounding my ex, does it not also highlight the growth I’ve gone through? That I recognized both of our unhealthy behaviors within a week of talking rather than months? That I was able to leave this time without questioning my worth?

And the answer is yes. I can both mourn what is over and take pride in what I learned from it all while still moving forward.

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Jordan Cooley is a writer and self taught artist in Austin, TX. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in English and has worn many hats, including Slam Master and President of a poetry non-profit called Mic Check, financial analyst for JP Morgan, researcher and executive assistant for AmeriCatalyst and now bartender at Better Half Bar. Each day, she is feverishly working towards becoming a better ally, a more nuanced writer, and a woman who accepts the goofy slips and slides of life. Follow on Insta @jarcy_ and on Twitter @jrcooley_ to see what kind of falls she makes on the daily.

Chelsea Francis