The Story Behind “I Asked a Color Once What Made It a Color”

JAlstonHeadshotPlease welcome today’s guest, Jon Alston, here to tell us a bit about a piece of his flash fiction that we published in our Fall 2013 issue

The Story Behind “I Asked a Color Once What Made It a Color”

by Jon Alston

I am a man of science. Always have been. Even as a writer, science drives a good portion of my fiction (but not in a sci-fi kind of way). In high school I took AP calculus, AP chemistry, physics, etc. I was a nerd. And I loved it. I even got into college as a chemical engineer.

Then, seven years later, and after going from chemical engineering to mechanical engineering to animation to film to theatre production design, I somehow landed in creative writing. Don’t ask me how, because I’m still confused by that wild journey.

Before college, I wasn’t a reader. I hated reading. And I hated writing. True story. Something about words and stories told in this textual medium just didn’t interest me. I had reasoned that all books were boring and a waste of time, based solely on my exposure to Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, The Catcher in the Ryethe typical high school lineup.

Not until I met my wife (at around 19) did I start reading; she exposed me to great books, starting with The Chronicles of Narnia. I had no idea that books were written like that, and had stories that were more than realist attempts to expose our monotonous and mundane existences.

I Asked a Color Once . . .” comes out of my aforementioned love of science. Of analyzing and quantifying the world around me. The simple science in this story is accurate: the light we ‘see’ is reflected light off of an object, thus giving a ‘color’ to the object whose matter reflected the light. It’s why the sky’s blue. All the light we don’t see is absorbed by the object.

When I learned this concept in high school, the pretenses for this story started growing. I had reasoned that it was impossible for the light we ‘see’ to be the actual color of an object, and that an object’s ‘true’ color could never been seen. When approaching this story, it only made sense that color itself would be the one to explain its own reality and our perception of it. Who else has the proper voice to explain a scientific concept or theory besides the objects and ideas that are the root of the concept or theory?

My musings go far beyond this story, into more complicated questions. Can we really see an object’s actual color? Do objects possess a ‘true’ color, or inherent color, that light accurately portrays? Do we all see the same thing when we talk about ‘color’? We can all agree (for the most part) that what we have defined as ‘blue’ is in fact blue. But does that mean we are all seeing what I think of when I see ‘blue’?

I Asked a Color Once . . .” is just the tip of the iceberg of my confusion. It was a way for me to creatively explore this deeply scientific questioning that I always do. This story is only one of many of its kind, and many, many more stories like it are yet to come.

Jon Alston is a native of Northern California, and graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from California State University, Sacramento. Married for over seven years, he and his wife run JSA Photography. On the off chance he isn’t writing or working on photography, he works for Copilot Press as Assistant Editor editing and binding handmade books, and teaches English at the International Academy of Design and Technology. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in such journals as Midnight Screaming, Conium Review, Skive, and The Encyclopedia Project

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