Inside the Lines.

You finally learn how to grip things, so you grip the wax blue crayon with hands so chubby the knuckles have dimples.  You furiously scribble scribble scribble lines and circles and dots on the paper with the indecipherable drawings.  It’s so much fun to fill the page with yellows and greens and blacks that you laugh with glee.  You can use any color you want.  You even go off the page once in a while.  You have no sense of manners or consequence.  Rules, what are those?  Aesthetic value?  You make your own patterns, designs, characters, and letters.  You color Caribbean Green right over the spot where you colored Fuchsia Purple.  You hold four crayons at the same time and drag mazes of lines all over the place.  It’s all so pretty and original and all yours.

One day, however, you notice that everyone keeps correcting what you have colored.  Your mommy isn’t displaying your masterpieces onto the fridge anymore. 

“You have to stay inside the lines!”

Apparently there’s a method to it.  The black lines on the page represent something.  Those little circles are eyes.  The clunky L shapes that point in opposite directions are Santa’s boots.  The spots with the wiggly outlines are the cow’s spots.  And everything has its own predetermined color.  You have to use a darker crayon color for Pocahontas’ hair and skin color than you do for Cinderella.  The girl in class who stays inside the lines gets a Gold Star! on her paper.  So, you start to do it too.  At first it’s hard and your crayon lines are wayward, left and right and diagonal.  But with time your hand steadies and you color in one direction.  Someone teaches you to outline each section first, then to color the inside ever so gently.  You throw away the crayons that break.  You blow off the specks of wax so as to not leave smudges.  It’s all so pretty, but not quite original and not at all your own.

You color how they say we should, though.  And with time, coloring loses its magic.  There are equations to deal with and battles to fight and debates to be had.  Coloring is for the mindless, the sloppy and childish. 

Every now and again, despite your maturity and busy schedule, you’ll color alongside a child.  It’s fun to revisit old times.  You remember how much fun it was, how you loved the smell of crayons on your hand.  And you’ll remember the liberty of coloring outside the lines.  But it’s your duty to remind the little one next to you that the Little Mermaid has red hair, not purple, isn’t it?     

You pass along the advice which you dare not disobey:  Stay inside the lines.

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