Read the runners up from the ELLE Writing Competition

Colour Theory by Hila Shachar


One of the things I used to find incredibly unsettling about having synaesthesia is that it determines for me what colours I associate with certain people.


For someone like me, who values control and order, this involuntary association and sensory perception is something I navigate like a rock in the middle of a room: I dance around it cautiously, try to understand it and what it’s doing there, but ultimately fail because that rock is solid, stationary and unnecessary.

The colour I instinctively and unfathomably associate with or ‘see’ when I think of, hear and look at my mother, is white. It makes no sense really because she is not a ‘white’ person. Personality-wise, she is a purple and red person; a vivid, rich, deep, instinctive woman who should not be categorised into the nothingness of white. She is also an artist, so for her white is just the starting point for a colour theory that stems from emotion combined with good aesthetics.


And yet, white she stands in my mind, under the film of my lid when I dream, in photographic flashes when I think of her at work. I think of her more often now that I’m in England and she is back home in Australia. When we talk on Skype I see white all around her. I don’t tell her this. Because of her, when I think of home in my new apartment in England, I feel as if my whole life has taken a sensory colour theory of white, blankness, like the canvas she would start working on.

For many years I thought I could add colour to this canvas myself and make my brain fit my sense of what my relationship with her should be. But the moment I moved to England, I realised the value of this blank canvas. No, my mother is not a white, but what she has given me is the ability to move to the other side of the world alone and start from blank, from the nothingness I used to fear and worry about.

What I want from my relationship with my mother is for her to remain white; to remain that space into which I can empty myself and start all over again, no matter how many times it takes, and know that in the process I am not losing but gaining my self. My mother knew the value of white before I did, and tried to tell me that the nothingness of beginnings is something I should dance with rather than always seeking the endings. Perhaps my brain knew this too. Or perhaps this is the universe’s big joke on us seekers of control.

I still know she is technically a red or purple (and sometimes a gorgeous shade of orange you won’t find on anyone else); I know she is her own being. I also know she is malleable enough to be white when I need her to be, and so am I.

Words by Hila Shachar

Read Next: