The room is dim. Light peeks in through a still curtain that doesn’t quite cover the smudged window. Small specks of dust and debris spin and swirl together among silence. The light spills onto a wall, freshly painted white. You don’t even have to squint to see the wallpaper underneath: pale yellow, vertically striped, dotted with vaguely floral embellishments. There are five other walls, also newly painted. Four of them are white, though one is only three-quarters complete, and one is a rich but undersaturated royal blue.
This is the room I made mine from ages 12 to 18. I’d always wanted to paint it, but I continuously put it off. Something was always wrong. I was too busy or I couldn’t decide on a color. I made excuses for five years until, suddenly, it was the summer before my senior year of high school, and my room would only be mine for one more year.
I spent a lot of time tucked away between those walls, surrounded by heirloom furnishings and their dust. I was isolated — two miles of pine trees between me and the nearest town, and 15 miles between me and my closest friends. It was always quiet there — in winter, when snow mounds would deafen echoes, and in spring, when the forest’s murmur generated a cocoon of white noise.
After years of trying to adapt to this borrowed space, painting it was my frenzied and desperate attempt to make it finally feel like home. I really needed a sense of home that year. At a time when everything else in my life was fading and peeling away like antique wallpaper, painting the walls of my space offered some permanence.
So, I painted them, though not without hesitation. Choosing the color white, applying merely translucent coats and neglecting to complete the sixth wall proved my uncertainty.
Eventually, I came to accept this empty space and tried to make something of it. I wrote essays, fiction and poetry. I drew and painted. I created things you could technically call “art,” but they wouldn’t really merit the label. Later, I came to understand that a person creating in empty space can only beget empty art. Thus, I could barely manage to paint in any color but white.
I wasn’t ready to leave that room when I came to UC Berkeley, even if I wanted to be. I’d lived alone for so long, and I didn’t understand what it meant to share space with anything besides cobwebs and antiques. I struggled to step into these crowded spaces, and my first year here was as colorless and empty as the room I’d left behind.
The following years proved more vibrant. The walls around me changed from year to year, but I learned to build a home around things such as friendships and projects. I fell in love with the new and varied things, the cycle of it all. People and experiences rotated in and out of my life rapidly and without cause. Every day proposed new challenges, laughs, heartaches, triumphs, mistakes and embarrassments. I’m left with the abundance of these things and all the different colors that came with them.
The courage to embrace this new crowded world didn’t come quickly or without injury. It was a sensory shock — a bombardment of colors and sounds that I’d never encountered in my dimly lit room. But I’ve been growing for the past four years in this state of discomfort, and my art has grown with me.
I can paint with new colors now: the rich cobalt blue of our manic laughter under a sky greedy with silver stars, the amber red of our little hours in the churchyard — rambles enclosed in the empty bottle of whiskey, the soft gray-green of sleepy secrets never before spoken, the lilac tears on summer grass, the peachy walks through concrete forests, golden-yellow explorations, scarlet shades of regret, charcoal grays of longing.
I have so many colors now — too many. I’m anxious I’ll forget some of the less vibrant, such as the mint green nights in and the periwinkle meals out. But they’re always there, and whether I remember them or not, I’ll create with these new colors — our colors, actually, for my art is not really mine. It’s Hannah’s and Karim’s, Suhauna’s and Alex’s, Hooman’s and Trevor’s, Camryn’s, Ketki’s, Malini’s, Ani’s, Aslesha’s, Arjun’s and Bobby’s.
If you walked into my old room today, it would still look the same: six walls, four white, one blue and one with a patch of unpainted wallpaper. It’s still empty and dim. It feels like a time capsule or an exhibit — an era enclosed in a space. When I visit home, I find myself staring at the walls and thinking about all the colors I’d paint them now, after four years of collecting, bottling up and adding colors to my palette.
I wish I could spend more time staring at these colors I’ve collected. They’re all so beautiful and unique — from the saturated and rich to the light and soft. But the time for admiring them is over now. Now, the best I can do is paint.