Repurposing life's challenges into something of beauty
Bridgette Picou

When we were children, we learned all kinds of things. We learned things as vastly different as our languages and cultures, but one thing that was pretty much universal was coloring. Coloring was a way to teach us our lessons in a fun way.

We were given crayons and taught to color. It kept us quiet in church or at the doctor. It kept us occupied on long car rides. It taught us what color was in the first place! We chose a color and started to scribble. All over the page at first, then eventually, gradually, we learn to color within the lines. We're "encouraged" to color within the lines. It is actually one of our first subtle lessons in conformity and striving for perfection although we don't know it. We get better at it with practice. There are contests and prizes for the best picture. Whose picture looks the most like reality? Who stayed in the lines and had the neatest picture?

I can remember my first brand new box of 64 crayons. Five or six shades of blue, pinks, and greens! Enough shades so you could actually draw your friends in living color instead of everyone being just one shade of brown or white. I was very proudly a Burnt Sienna color.

The box even had a sharpener built right into the box! Sharp pointy edges were best for staying in the lines. Then, if you add a brand new book no one had colored in? Best thing ever! I loved the ones with flowers or the ones with crossword puzzles in them. I remember being in class in elementary school and kids jostling to get the unbroken crayons. There was a definite sense of let down if you got "stuck" with the leftover mismatched broken crayons. You remember? The ones the teacher had kept from the year or two before? Those were the naked crayons that the paper had been taken off of and that some of the color from the other pieces of crayon had transferred on to. They had dents in them from being held too tightly or being nicked by fingernails. They weren't fresh from a box of eight, or thirty-two, let alone sixty-four. Plus, everyone wanted the newest coloring book with all fresh new things to color. If you got an old book, you turned past all the half unfinished pictures, even the pages that just had a few marks on them to get to the new clean page. After all, the last person didn't want to finish that picture, why should you? They had colored outside the lines, used the wrong color for the ball, had the nerve to put wings on an elephant, and you can't change one thing into something else can you?

When I became HIV positive, I started to become more of an affirmations person. Daily things I could say and read to remind myself I could and would survive day to day. Quotes and affirmations to encourage me to get up and function, and to take my medication, even as I wasn't even sure if I wanted to live. Basically, they started out as a way to give myself something to do, until I could figure out what to do. One that resonated within me was "Broken Crayons Still Color." I had been broken (or so I thought), and I was trying to figure out how to turn the page for a fresh picture.

When you break something, you start to look at it differently when you try to put it back together. Can it be outright fixed, or can it be repurposed into something else?

Broken crayons are a perfect example. If you put tape around two pieces of a broken crayon, you still know it's broken, and it's weak where the tape is covering it up. Glue doesn't stick well to wax, and as it heats up in your hand, it breaks again. Actually using the "broken" pieces is what works best here. The curves of broken crayons could still stay in the lines of a drawing and in some cases, fit better along the edges and corners. The flat space created by a break? Perfect for shading and covering more surface area more quickly. If you take the only shade of Burnt Sienna in the bunch and break it in half, you can share and two people can enjoy the color at the same time. 

If I am like a coloring book, the pages of my book have marks on them—marks that make people turn past them, without seeing the potential underneath. That the stupid yellow someone used to color my ocean could become a beautiful sea foam green with the right color blue layered over it. Could they see that the black lines drawn across the middle of the page over the green grass could be connected, and instead of being misplaced lines could actually be a stairway to the sky?

My HIV doesn't make me damaged or hazardous goods. It makes me a survivor, with more compassion for people and life. I could have chosen to let my early fears, anxiety and shame color me bitter and broken. It hasn't. It's a choice I have to make at intervals when dealing with stigma and ignorance. People are like crayons. We really shouldn't pick over and through the broken ones to find only the traits we like. People don't start out broken. Life and situations, disease and addictions break them and leave them naked with pieces of life rubbed off and transferred onto them. Doesn't mean they can't be repurposed into something pretty.

Anyway. Just a thought. A challenge to your thinking. Broken Crayons Still Color.

Bridgette Picou is a licensed vocational nurse in Palm Springs, California. She is also an active HIV blogger and contributor to the CDC’s “Treatment Works” public service campaign. She wrote the activist comments for this year’s Positively Aware HIV Drug Guide. Finding a voice in advocacy and activism is a natural progression, since she feels that every time she fights for someone else, she affirms her own life.