From Anam Cara by John O'Donohue


MRS. KEPPLE INTRODUCED ROY G. BIV to us in first grade, to help us always remember the names of the seven major colors of the rainbow, and ever since I remember being alive and communicative, each of these letters and colors was a part of life as I saw it, easily understood pillars of reality regularly employed to both describe and create.

Every color, that is, except "I". Indigo.

In spite of Mrs. Kepple, if you were to ask me the colors of the rainbow, I would say: red-orange-yellow-green-blue-purple. I don't ever remember requesting an indigo crayon or describing the tint of a delicate blouse as indigo. Shades of the other six colors always seemed to suffice. As I write this, I want to make an exception for indigo blue. At some point, I must have described something as indigo blue. But by virtue of its possession of its own letter, indigo can't be the shade of another color. It has to stand alone from blue. And from purple.

It's an enigma. 

Newton placed indigo between blue and violet sometime in the mid-1660s, but there doesn't seem to be a consensus around exactly what it looks like. By the distinguished Dr. Oliver Sacks' account, who dosed himself with hallucinatory drugs explicitly to experience indigo, it is BRIGHT.

My sister, Carly, sent me a needlepoint pattern for my birthday two years ago. In search of a tactile task (other than removing our french doors to make them open in the opposite direction, which I did last weekend... my husband was nonplussed), I pulled it out of the drawer.

My maternal grandma loved needlepoint. I have clear memories of her on her corner of the couch, stitching beside her collection of tiny crystal figurines, and I understand it completely now. Stitching and stitching across the grid has felt like balm to me. Architecting apps, also on a grid, feels that way to me, too.  

Carly creates paintings that are layers and layers of color. She mixes her own pigments and applies them in meticulous gridded lines, day after day slowly revealing what she calls a "Prismatic Painting". Other times she's looser with her rules and creates "Jewels". 

My sister, by giving me something of grandma's, was stitching her own thread.

My grandma was a mother of nine. Carly is an artist. I have always loved math. The arc of our lives have seemed so different, but each of our respective grids -- Grandma on the couch cross-stitching, me arranging pixels at my desk by the window, Carly in her studio covered in paint -- in 3D they are prisms, just like grandma's crystals, my rock collection, Carly's "jewels". In our own ways and times, each of us has been drawn to the grid, to the prism, to the same thing Newton used to determine the seven colors of the rainbow and the only thing that could resolve the question of indigo. 

In Carly's words, "It has always been a thought of mine that just by virtue of being near a grid or prism a mind attunes to the great web of the universe and its mysteries." Maybe indigo is a crack in the facade, hinting at the hidden machinery but never fully revealing itself. Maybe it's the reason this attraction to the prism exists in the first place. Maybe it's the attraction itself.

I may never know what indigo looks like, but I believe this color says something about the significance of subtlety and the importance of the hidden connections, the threads, the matrices that connect us through time and space. 

I also believe Dr. Sacks when he says it is bright. 

Carly's Prismatic Painting #8. The holes built into these canvases finally make sense to me.

Carly's Prismatic Painting #8. The holes built into these canvases finally make sense to me.