Wo Chan is a queer Fujianese poet and drag performer. Wo is the recipient of honors from Poets House, Kundiman, Asian American Writers Workshop, and Lambda Literary, and is published in The Margins, Cortland Review, No Tokens, and others. Wo is also a member of the Brooklyn based drag alliance Switch N’ Play, and has performed at various venues, including weddings, municipal Pride festivals, Ivy League institutions, and the Architectural Digest Expo. You can find them on Facebook or on Instagram @theillustriouspearl.
What do you remember from childhood about coloring?
First grade was a lack. I moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, knew no English, and had none of the school supplies needed for my public school career. We liked to color at Hugh Mercer Elementary, or maybe coloring is just huge in my memory, but it felt ubiquitous in the curriculum.
When the markers came out, you could practically hear the horns. It was a small holiday each time, and people got excited–show-offish even. See, everyone brought in their own coloring sets, and depending where your mom bought you your markers, you could have the most unique color in the classroom. Beyond blue. Beyond red. Economies of first grade coolness defined by “Razzmatazz” & “Granny Smith ”; “Cornflower” &“Timberwolf”; “Unmellow Yellow” & “The Wild Blue Yonder”. Sometimes people brought in metallic shades, and the market would implode(!!)
I had none of my own colors so I borrowed from my neighbors, pointing for the anonymous stubby pens I could only name by impulse. We were messy and excited, too cool to care or be neat. Caps would drop on the floor, be replaced and mismatched on different markers like ill-fitting hats. Often enough, entire sets of markers would roll off desks, and I would help corral them back into place.
Ms. Treblic didn’t look pissed so much as she looked betrayed. When Christina with the brown pigtails grew distraught and began to cry over her missing markers, I felt all eyes turn towards me, two by tiny two. In lifting the lid to my desk their jaws dropped as if to balance to the universe at the sight of the prismacolor stash I had accrued over months of shepherding marker after lost marker into my own fold. What did I look like then in front of my spectrum of stolen things? An offended dragon? A barefaced hobgoblin, unable of speech and law?
But—but I stumbled into something beyond what my classmates could comprehend: that colors deal as much in value as they do in transgression. I was red-handed and red in the face, called a yellow cur, and would grow through blue moods and purple rain, come out peacocked in Pride parades…. I was saying a lot back then, not knowing how to say anything.
What role does coloring (however you want to define it! choosing color, applying color, whether for art, make-up, food) play in your life today? How would you describe your joy of coloring? Does your joy of coloring connect with aspects of your identity? How/why?
Coloring is an act of saturation, and in extension, satiation. Coloring—choosing color, wearing color, blending color—has become a way for me to negotiateintensity in my own life.
I have a very maximalist palate/palette. I’m a Scorpio, rising Aries. My Enneagram type is 7. ENFP. I love stimulation and sensoria, love bright foods & iPhone games, love birthday cake and karaoke. I’ve even held the title of Color Consultant at two different makeup stores in my short career in the beauty industry!
When you asked me to do this interview the day before my drag show. I had been planning to do my Minnie Ripperton/Bob Ross act (“The Joy of Lovin’ You), and your interview questions came at a perfect time for me to examine and heighten my own intentions in piece.
(The piece begins with me talk-synching clips from Bob Ross’ show, pretending that the audience is watching a live filming. As the piece progresses, Minnie Ripperton’s “Loving You” slowly crescendos into the forefront with birdsong and orchestral music. The character (Bob Ross) is reminded and slowly carried away by his JOY and begins to sing a devoted lovesong to someone off screen. Bob Ross eventually strips down to nude leotard, rips off his chest hair, and squirts paint all over himself [[and the audience [oops.]]].)
I want to thank Fuschia Elizabeth for helping me take amazing photo and video of the night and making this project A++!!
If someone wanted to pursue the joy of coloring, what is an exercise or activity or prompt that you would suggest from your own experiences?
My relationship with color has always been magnetic and intuitive so it’s hard for me to come up with an exercise that is external beyond “work in a makeup store” or “wear loud sweaters”. I’ll phone in a friend who wrote this on a message board:
“Choose two random colors. If you are indecisive, go to a paint store and take up swatch cards of a several colors. You should have a deck of cards thick as Spam. Draw two cards from the deck and read the names. This will be the first and last name. Introduce yourself as that name for the rest of the week. Go out of your way to meet new people. Change your Gmail alias, your Facebook, and your Twitter handle. Write an acrostic poem with your name as the lead letters. Order a drink at Starbucks everyday that week and insist they write your name on the cup. Sign checks, sweepstake submissions, and Youtube comments with your name. This is the name your write in the sand if you go to the beach and the initials you carve into a tree if you are in love. Litter your name everywhere.”
You get to name five Crayola crayons that are based on the palette and mood of the day you are having today. What do you name them?
I’m answering this at the end of my day, sitting cross-legged on my bed and my face lurching towards my Macbook screen. I’ll give you a narrative recap. (Crayola names appear in bold.)
I woke up this morning from having gotten only five hours of sleep, and I was a swirl of Daisy Pickle Green and Patent Leather Blue. On the train to work, the sky over the Gowanus looked like the inside of a Blood Clam Shell Lacquer. I sat in a black ergonomic chair and Microsoft Stupor 97-2003 for a lost amount of hours. When I got home, I had sex (Gas Station Rose Petal). Afterwards, I went to IKEA. Ate a cinnamon bun.
Coloring might seem to some like child’s play. Is there more to it than that? What in your mind is the benefit of coloring in the world?
I’m not sure if *coloring* can help the w-o-r-l-d, but I think the honest, unembarrassed pursuit of joy is a permission we seek out often as adults, especially as artists. And I don’t mean the joy we filter and post on Instagram or tell stories about over $5 margaritas, but I mean dweebish and uncool joys that are almost unsharable beyond subconscious fulfillment and artmaking.
Poems are great for this as they invite you into a space. Performance art is powerful as it fills a room and makes you a contributor to that space. And maybe coloring is some small exercise towards the impulse of joy, before we have any concept of what is dweebish or capacity for insincerity. With any luck, we are encouraged to play and color as children, learning to embody earnest practices of joy. Do it enough and it feels like you are communing with something much larger than yourself or your feelings. To be dwarfed against this—like a moon to its planet—is a form of connectedness felt among artists & creators, feelers & spirituals… so yes, maybe coloring is a gateway to that in appropriately cute packaging.