Monday, August 31, 2009


I have synesthesia, and it's not debilitating, catching, or even a disease. Those who have synesthesia, or know of this phenomena, will know what I'm writing about; those who don't probably won't understand this post. Synesthesia is a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory pathway---colour--- causes an automatic experience in another---numbers, letters. I'll explain mine.

My days of the week---and months of the year---are all coloured. Monday is brown, Saturday is blue, Friday is red, etc. I also see the week as(this is where it gets strange) an oval stretching out in front of me, in a counterclockwise direction, horizontally. And all the days are coloured. The year is also an oval stretching out in front of me, in counterclockwise direction, but vertically. All months are coloured. When I think of August right now, I'm at the bottom of this oval moving up in a anti-clockwise direction. I'm also moving into another colour---September(white).
Roses smell warm, petunias cold, marigolds smell like shit( just kidding on that one; but they do smell bad). There's plenty more, but that will give you an idea about my synesthesia.

The funny thing about my synesthesia is that I didn't know I had it until my late fifties! I always thought it was just a quirk and mostly ignored it. I also thought that everybody had it in some form or another. I was wrong. I found out about it one day while listening to a radio interview with Jamie Ward who studies synesthesia and wrote a book about it. I was shocked, really. All of a sudden everything made sense. There's a hereditary connection with this, so I asked my family members if they think they have it, and found my daughter also is a synesthete. Hers is about ten times stronger than mine. Amazing! No other member of my family has it.

I'll tell you a story about my synthesia. It goes this way: When I was a young tyke in pre-school, our teacher, in her determined effort to teach us the alphabet, got us to colour the letters. We each had certain letters to colour---inside the lines, of course. I had an A, an R, and a C. R is red, no problem, I coloured it so. C is yellow, no problem, I coloured it so. A is green. Problem! I didn't have a green crayon! Oh no! By the way, scientists who are studying synesthesia say through all kinds of tests they have determined that there are vast differences in coloured letters except the letter A which they say that almost all synesthetes will colour RED. But mine is definitely green.

Anyway, back to my story. I put up my hand and asked the teacher if she had a green crayon? She, all smiles and patience, said that it didn't matter what colour to use. I thought,"Yes, it did!!" I said, " But A is green, and I don't have a green crayon!" I remember the silence that ensued, and the odd look on my teacher's face. And there was a certain panic rising from me over this that did not go unseen by her. She asked the class if anyone had a free green crayon to lend me(to shut me up). I noticed that my fellow students, who did have a green crayon, quickly grab it as if in use, or hide it in their desks. Cruel imps. The teacher sighed, came over to my desk, picked up a blue crayon and said, "This is a nice colour for the letter A, you should colour it blue". BLUE!! Horrors upon horrors; the letter A cannot be BLUE! I said rather weakly, "OK." She waited there by my desk watching me nervously, and quite badly, colouring my letter A with a blue crayon. My mind was sending off signals: WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! I finished colouring it, but couldn't look at it. It was a bad experience.

I soon realized that I should try to contain or at least ignore this quirk of mine--- it could be embarrassing. So, Elementary teachers of the world, if one of your pupils says that a certain number or letter SHOULD be a certain colour, goddammit, get them that coloured crayon. You might save them years of therapy.

Synesthesia is not researched as much as other psychological phenomena, but there are a few books out there to peruse if you are intested. MUSICOPHILIA by Oliver Sacks is one. Dr. Sacks is an amazing neurologists with many books out on various subjects. In MUSICOPHILIA, he just devotes a chapter to synesthesia, but it is quite interesting. Jamie Ward resides in London(I think), and is now probably the leading figure in scientific research in synesthesia. He has a web site where people can take a test to determine if they truly are a synesthete---it's not possible to fake it, actually. He wrote a great book on the subject which I would recommend to anyone interested in this. It's called THE FROG WHO CROAKED BLUE. It's an excellent book with the latest findings in this field. There's also groups on line who have synesthesia---they're banding together. First it's the GREEN A, then it's the WORLD! Just kidding.

Next: God books.

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