‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is wasted.’
For us, October always evokes the colour orange. Of course, this is related to the leaves changing from a fresh, summery palette to a warm, autumnal palette, and the pumpkins of Halloween (and also maybe because they both begin with ‘o’? We’d like to think that this isn’t the case but…). It’s fitting, then, that this issue’s long read is about colour. There’s almost too much to be said about colour — it intersects numerous sub-sections of science, art, geography, culture, geology, and history — so, instead of trying to cover everything, and in depth, we’ve selected our favourite stories, ideas, and facts as a little sample. For a comprehensive read on the global history of colour, we’d recommend Colour: Travels through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay.
Technically, autumn starts in September, but we feel it most in mid-October. Enjoy the leaves, storms, crisp mornings, dark afternoons, and, if you’re so inclined, lattes of the pumpkin spice variety (on that: it has become such a cultural phenomenon that Spotify has its own ‘Pumpkin Spice’ playlist, as well as tons of others made by everyday peeps).
Cover image: Longrun Meadow, England, being
Cover quote: Aesop
G O O D S T U F F
Organise your veg
It turns out, not all vegetables belong in the crisper drawer of the fridge (if you want them to be at their best). This new knowledge has recently changed our lives. Long greens (leeks, asparagus, spring onions, celery, kale, etc) do like the fridge, but they stay fresher and wilt-free if you put them in a bag with a napkin to absorb excess water. Potatoes and garlic like to be in cool, dry, dark places like cupboards. Onions and tomatoes are happy in cool, dry places. Oh, and keep apples isolated — they have a tendency to ripen vegetables and fruits in their immediate vicinity.
31st October isn’t just about Halloween but also Samhain, a widely celebrated pagan festival marking the end of the harvest and the end of summer (the latter is the translation of ‘Samhain’). Here’s a simple ritual that offers good stuff for all: light three candles — one for your past, your present, and your future. Take a moment to reflect on the events that have passed and where you are now, and set intentions for the colder, darker season ahead.
Song Exploder is a podcast hosted and produced by Hrishikesh Hirway. Each episode features a musical artist talking about how a particular song of theirs came together. To complement and support the story, various elements of the song in isolation and production are played, e.g. the demo guitar riff or two sounds layered. The podcast has been around since 2014 and covered a vast array of songs and genres — and it’s still going strong. You can also find video episodes of Song Exploder on Netflix; there are currently two short seasons.
N O T E S O N
We use the word ‘stoic’ to describe people who endure hard times without complaint. It’s likely that this usage is linked to Stoicism — a school of philosophy favouring reason and reality. While being described as stoic may no longer be a completely positive thing (not expressing dissatisfaction doesn’t make you ‘better’ or healthier, after all), the Stoics themselves have a lot to offer us modern humans.
Stoicism was founded in 300 b.c. by Zeno, a philosopher from Cyprus, and was popular during the Roman and Greek times. The Stoics subscribed to three pillars: logic, science, and ethics. They believed that relying on reason and clear, unbiased judgement, living in harmony with nature and the universe, and having a sound moral compass would help them find contentment. The Stoics also accepted the nature of things and looked inwards to make change. They encouraged trusting who you know you are rather than what others say you are, and examining the self before taking on someone’s accusation as fact. The tenets of Stoicism aimed to free people from anger and jealousy and also inspire them to treat everyone as equals.
The original description of Stoicism (‘free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief’) might sound unhealthy, but it isn’t about suppressing emotions or refusing to feel. Instead, it centres on recognising emotions for what they are and dissecting the true meaning of human states we regularly assign to ourselves. In a particularly life-changing article, modern Stoic philosopher Ryan Holiday examines ‘passion’ and finds that it’s often, dangerously, confused with ‘care’.
Notable Stoics include Seneca and Emperor Marcus Aurelius (who wrote Stoic classic Meditations). For a first foray into Stoicism, we recommend most of Ryan Holiday’s work, although The Daily Stoic book in particular is accessible and fun in its format.
A L B U M S F O R W H E N E V E R
“Talkin’ Bout a Revolution”
“Behind the Lines’”
Tracy Chapman’s eponymous album comments on a wide array of social and political issues of the eighties — and, it seems, today. The musician writes candidly about a lack of faith in the police, people stuck in poverty, racism, domestic abuse, injustice for women, and the ills of the capitalist dream. Most of us know Chapman for “Fast Car” and “Baby Can I Hold You”, but her first release was “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” which imagined a turning of the tables in which ‘poor people gonna rise up and get their share’. Perhaps the most memorable song from the record is “Behind the Wall”, an acapella account of hearing domestic abuse through a wall.
This may all sound bleak, but the common thread running through the album is love and its role in affecting change. Her raw, soulful voice, and the simple, contemporary folk sound also bring light and poetry to the record.
Chapman got her break as a musician when she was studying Anthropology and African Studies in Massachusetts and a student mentioned her to his music industry father. Two years later she was signed, and a year after that, Tracy Chapman was released.
D I V E I N
One day when I was in secondary school, we arrived to find that our school hall — home of assemblies, exams, and break times — had been painted pink. Why? Research had shown that pink induces calmness and reduces anxiety.
Colours often mean different things in different cultures. The colour of mourning is a prime example: white in many Asian countries, red in South Africa, black in the west, purple in Thailand, blue in Mexico. In the U.S., yellow has a reputation for meaning ‘coward’ (see: ‘yellow-bellied’ as a synonym for ‘chicken’ and ‘yellow journalism’ which refers to sensationalising to sell papers), but in South Africa it represents resources thanks to its resemblance to gold, and in Polynesia it’s seen as the colour of divine essence.
Linguistically, there can be huge differences, too. In old Japanese, there was only one word for both ‘green’ and ‘blue’. Each colour now has its own word (allegedly a shift that was influenced by western culture), but the green ‘go’ traffic light is officially called ao — the word for ‘blue’ — and green is still treated as a shade of blue. The language of the Pirahã people in the Amazon refers to colour specifically in only two ways — light and dark. Comparisons to other existing things are then made to elaborate and accurately describe. On the other end of the spectrum, Russians have two words for different types of ‘blue’ (goluboj for light blue and siniy for dark blue). Interestingly, scientific studies have found that Russian speakers are able to visually distinguish between light and dark blues much faster than English speakers.
We should make a brief pitstop here to ask: what actually is colour? To cover the science but keep it simple: when the human eye sees ‘white’, it is really seeing the full range of visible light available to us (in electromagnetic waves, a type of energy). A ‘red’ object is really an object absorbing the wavelengths from the white light around it and rejecting the red, which is the part we end up ‘seeing’. So, colour is both real and not real. In Colour: Travels through the Paintbox, Victoria Finlay explains: ‘Everything in the universe — whether it is classified as a “solid” or “liquid” or “gas” or even “vacuum” — is shimmering and vibrating and constantly changing. But our brains don’t find that a very useful way of comprehending the world. So we translate what we experience into concepts like “objects” and “smells” and “sounds” and, of course, “colors”, which are altogether easier for us to understand.’
In Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire, Peeta Mellark says to Katniss Everdeen, ‘Isn’t it strange that I know you’d risk your life to save mine, but I don’t even know what your favorite color is?’ Knowing someone’s favourite colour is often seen as a benchmark of closeness because preferred hues are viewed as important markers of who we are. Cult ‘80s romcom Valley Girls sees character Fred Bailey introduce himself as follows: ‘Hi, I'm Fred. I like tacos and ‘71 Cabernet. My favorite color is magenta’.
Chakras (energy centres) are a fundamental pillar of early Hinduism. They’re found in seven areas of the body and link with our nervous system, internal organs, and hormone glands. Each chakra has its own specific colour, e.g., the sacral chakra — the centre of creativity and sexuality — is orange, while the throat chakra — communication central — is blue.
When chakras fall out of balance, it can manifest in physical or emotional issues (the same belief applies to meridians in Traditional Chinese Medicine). To realign a wayward chakra, along with yoga, meditation, and activities directly related to the chakra (e.g., singing for the throat chakra), people also increase their engagement with the chakra’s colour: food, places, clothing. In fact, you can often tell if a chakra is severely out of whack just by your natural choices (once, I found myself craving all orange foods and wearing an orange jacket I hadn’t worn in years…).
Remember that stripey dress meme on the Internet circa 2015? Some people said the dress was black and blue, and others that it was white and gold. Most of us knew someone who saw the other colour mix, and repetitive, exasperated arguments ensued (“but it’s black and blue!”). It was, of course, all down to science and the unique individual. There have been many theories but one that seems to stand up is (in brief) that the eyes of the white and gold camp don’t function as well in dim light.
Colour psychology is a field of study that explores the connection between hues and humans. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was a pioneer of modern colour psychology in the 1900s, researching the symbolism of colour across a wide range of areas from art to royalty and publishing works that transformed the field.
The link between colour and human wellness, though, is longstanding — the ancient Egyptians left us documents detailing their use of colour therapy (also known as chromotherapy today). They built temples specifically for ‘colour cures’, assigning each room a specific colour. Crystals of that colour were hung in the room’s window so that sunlight could pass through them onto the unwell part of the patient’s body. They believed that the specific frequency of that colour could provide healing powers.
Politics is awash with colour. The two main political parties in the U.S. are so tied to the colours red and blue that since the 2000 presidential election, the media has referred to them as ‘blue states’ and ‘red states’. During Hong Kong’s 2014 Occupy Central movement, yellow umbrellas, which protesters had brought as sun protection, were used to fend off tear gas, leading to the movement being nicknamed ‘Yellow Protest’. The yellow umbrella became the symbol of their struggle.
We can find colours in the names of many other global political groups and movements through time: Mao’s Red Guards, Mussolini’s Blackshirts, green parties worldwide, the light blue flag of the United Nations (intended to represent peace), etc.
Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon which affects the senses. One of the many forms it can take is grapheme-colour synesthesia which results in synesthetes assigning specific colours to letters or numbers, for example ‘a’ being ‘red’. Another colour-related form of synesthesia is chromesthesia — seeing certain colours when listening to music. It’s common among musicians (and could be the reason we have so many fantastic musical works). Jazz pianist Duke Ellington once said that the same note played by different musicians appeared as different colours to him, which helped him bring his band together. Other famous musicians with chromesthesia include Billy Joel, Pharrell, Lorde, and Stevie Wonder.
R E A D S F O R W H E N E V E R
Gratitude — Oliver Sacks
When it comes to writers who explore the human condition, Oliver Sacks remains the most eloquent out there. The British neurologist wrote a number of books about his patients (most famously Awakenings, which was made into a film starring Robert de Niro and Robin Williams). Gratitude, published a few months after his death, is a slim offering but is so poignant it’ll stay with you long after reading. The four essays that make up the book explore Sacks’ feelings about facing terminal cancer, death, and aging, but they’re far from morbid. Instead, expect succinct, beautiful meditations on gratitude and a celebration of a life well lived (and maybe a tear or two).
R O O T S
We know them as little booklets containing information on, say, the symptoms of psoriasis or the tenets of a religion. But pamphlets weren’t always practical, informational guides. The word ‘pamphlet’ comes from the comedic Latin play Pamphilus, de Amore (‘Phamphilus, or Concerning Love’), written in the 12th century. The play was popular and widely circulated on its own which is how we arrived at the modern understanding of a pamphlet. When it entered Middle English, a pamphlet (known then as a phamphiletor or panflet) referred to a small, coverless work that was issued by itself. Two centuries later, pamphlets became what we know them as today: short works covering current interest subjects. In the mid-1800s, pre-magazines, they functioned like magazine articles and were especially important in c0mmunicating political and religious issues.