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Report on the state of grey affairs. Sunday 26 April 2020

Clem Rousset

April 26th, 2020 4:41 min read 1289 words

After the last report, I remembered a picture. I knew it still existed somewhere and, surely enough, I managed to find it on an inactive tumblr blog. It shows a close-up on a pair of cupped hands holding a small brown frog. It is shot from above. The focus is a bit off, leaving the head of the frog slightly blurred while the outline of its back legs remains sharp. It is possible to make out a pair of blue jeans, some dark shoes and what appears to be a leaf-covered floor in the haze that is the rest of the image. There is a pink-reddish hue to the whole picture, which is maybe what makes the pale hands stand out so much on the darker, muted background. I can’t remember if this was a conscious decision made during the editing or just a clumsy use of the white balance.

I’m the one holding the frog in the picture. It was taken during summer 2014 in Switzerland, on a small expedition me and my best friend took to the nearby forest. I chased that frog for a solid 10 minutes before catching it, holding it up in front of the camera to then release it. I was wearing a golden Casio watch I got for Christmas on my left wrist. I recognise this pair of jeans I would ruin shortly afterwards while learning how to skateboard. It was my first summer on my own, with complete control of my own schedule, a flat to myself and no family around.

I am 19, almost 20 and I just completed my foundation year at the ECAL, which means that I am now officially attending a Bachelor’s degree. Nursing a broken heart, I am staying at my best friend’s house for a week, and together we draw, try our hand at photography and go on walks. In this picture, the future is not a source of worry. The blueprint of the next three years I will spend studying before obtaining a diploma is laid out in front of me. I am not yet scared of failing, still riding the wave of a small victory. I have minor concerns but nothing out of the ordinary. What is to come, while remaining in the domain of the not-certain, still-open-to-changes, can be envisioned. There is a path to it, and a crudely drawn map of how to navigate it. This keeps the unexpected at a reasonable distance, far enough to feel comfortable.

I am looking at that image right now, and as I do I am getting more and more annoyed. I am annoyed at my own nostalgia for this object, at my fond glance at it. Looking at dusty frames with wet eyes is good for old people I say to myself, before feeling bad for thinking something like that. Why is this memory so important right now. Why am I replaying it in my head so much. I don’t want to fixate on the past; but as I am thinking that, I realise that the reason why I am drawn to this picture is probably also the reason why « What are your plans for the future? » has recently become an infallible prelude to many panic attacks.

Grey has been hopeful for a few weeks. We are slowly recovering, coming to term with grief. Now, we are hearing about ‘what comes after’. About ‘the end of it’. What are you going to do when it’s ‘over’? People exchange words, a few metres apart, assuring each other that ‘hopefully it’ll be over soon’. What lies beyond — in the aftergrey? — is what some of us are trying to get a glimpse of.

I must say it makes me smile a bit, when I hear that ‘this will be over soon’. If there is such a thing as an aftergrey, rest assured that it will still be grey. When you go through a tunnel, despite the change in scenery, you remain on the road. Grey was there all along. We were simply able to see it for a moment.

But grey is on the move. Now that everything has been gently dusted with it, its meaning has shifted. In an ashy world, grey things are nothing more than things. Now that our focus is not on the overwhelming greyness that immediately surrounds us, now that we can see the horizon again, we realise that it has become the greyest point in the landscape.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the horizon was always grey. Probably the greyest thing. The horizon is not-quite-there-yet. It is then. It is where hope is aiming at. Potentiality, promises and the unknown. In the face of a present that is essentially disappointing, that is not enough, the horizon is what we turn towards. It is another time and place where utopia resides. It is the hunch that there is something out there, something that needs to be reached for. Everything is possible behind the horizon. You name it. Which implies that maybe, behind the horizon, the Earth simply ends. And you will fall.

The horizon was always grey. But the way I see it now, it is at its greyest. The greyest of grey. A grey that is nothing else but grey. Almost perfectly inscrutable. Not suitable for any kind of blueprint. Unmappable. A scary grey in which I find hard to see any utopia. To see anything at all. And, I’m not going to lie, a part of me is bracing itself, getting ready for the drop.

Hope carries us through grief. So maybe most of the work to be done should be about remaining hopeful in the face of a confusing present, with a hardly legible future ahead. I don’t think it will be easy. It is not. Facing the horizon, I’m holding a picture up to my eyes, and the contrast with the cryptic grey behind it is so stark it becomes painful to look at. But maybe if I keep doing it, I will start being able to find echoes of the image in the fuzz. Maybe that’s what hope is about these days. Squinting to try and spot, in the dancing murk of the horizon, a forest to catch frogs in. Who knows.

I received a face mask my grandma made for me. It took a month for it to arrive via post. It is blue on the outside and pink on the inside. It smells like her house.


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