Friday, April 1, 2011

Ramblings of a synesthete

Lately I've been thinking quite a bit about writing and cooking. Both of these favored activities of mine are inextricably linked. I think about writing when I cook, and I frequently write about cooking. The two things are the same in many ways for me. Both letters and words, as well as ingredients for cooking, can be used to make something which is enjoyed by myself and others. The process of creating, and the end product itself are very important. Rarely in life do I enjoy the journey as much as the destination. With writing, and cooking however, I can say that the journey is at least half of the pleasure.

I have
This condition is neurological in nature. Synesthesia is the stimulation of one sense evoking the involuntary stimulation of another. I can "taste" words, "smell" music, and "see" the colors of days, weeks, months and years. When I read, I enjoy the very act of reading for not only the story's sake, but because reading plunges me into a colorful land of lush scents and powerful tastes.

I have at least ten different types of synesthesia. The one I talk about the most is Grapheme/Color synesthesia. I also experience Grapheme/Gustatory synesthesia. words, letters, and numbers all have their own unique texture, scent, color, and taste.
The letter "B" is kind of peachy colored, and very soft like old warn velvet. It smells fresh-- like spring-- but doesn't have a taste. The letter "Y" is very bright red in color, is kind of slimy (but not bad slimy more like fun slimy) and it tastes very strongly sweet. My least favorite letter is "U" because it is gray, rusty in texture, smells like decay and tastes like old pennies.
A word will most often be a blend of its component letters. So the word "May" is dark blueberry purple-blue for "M", light green for "A" and red for "Y." However the first one or two letters in a word tend to have the strongest influence over the word's general appearance, texture and taste. Because I don't like the letter "U" I really avoid words like ugly, understand, or umber. Even words like just or cure are not very attractive because the "U" is so close to the start of the word that it muddies the rest of the word. I almost gave Laveau a different name because of its final letter. However because her "U" comes at the end it is bearable-- most of the time.

Words can also have their own associations independent of their component letters. Take the word "Tuesday," it tastes strongly of oatmeal cream pies and is squishy and I like it very much. Even though it has a "U" I still love tuesdays and every time I say or read, or see the word Tuesday in ASL, I taste oatmeal cream pies. I am rather fond of oatmeal cream pies so this is a positive association. The word "Didactic" has the taste, texture and scent of green apples. Like the kind of apples which are so tart they make you pucker and your teeth hurt when you bite into them. The component letters of this word in no way suggest this association, and the word's definition itself has nothing to do with the way I experience it. It is truly a pity that I don't have a reason to use the word didactic more often, because it is one of my favorite words.

Sometimes I want to insert a particular word into a phrase not because it would be appropriate to use for the topic at hand, but because that word evokes such a strong synesthetic response relating to the topic I'm discussing.

Being a synesthete has strongly influenced the way I view the world. All of my senses are bound together and engaging in a hobby which most people would find boring, such as reading the dictionary, is for me, a fun and exciting experience. Just like I love to go shopping for new and unusual herbs or ingredients, I very much enjoy reading the dictionary to learn new words. I do it because I like expanding my vocabulary, spicing up my writing but also because the words themselves, are for me, works of art and I love experiencing them.

I could go into my kitchen, take a head of letups, chop it up, add some tomatoes, baby carrots, some celery and an onion. I could pour some Kraft Ranch Dressing over the whole thing and would have, what most folks would consider, a perfectly respectable salad.
I would much rather work with red spinach, baby Romaine, Nappa Cabbage, sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers, Greek olives, snow peas, red onion, and some lovely lemon basil Feta cheese topped off with a hand made gorgonzola dressing.
This is what I think a salad should be, made with care and skill.

Writing and reading are the same way. It is a craft-- an art form-- and something which should give as much pleasure to the writer as to the reader.

I can't explain what it is like to have synesthesia to someone who doesn't have it. All synesthetes will not experience letters, numbers, music and other stimuli inn a universal way. Each synesthetic experience is unique-- just like we are all unique. (and there goes that "U" again!)
For me, my synesthesia brings the world into sharper focus-- I imagine synesthesia is almost the same thing as experiencing movies in 3d.

It can also be very distracting sometimes. Especially if I learn a new word or phrase-- I can get so focused on "experiencing" that word that I tune everything else out and pay little attention to the actual meaning of said word or phrase. This got me into quite a bit of trouble in school as a kid. I could never explain why I would not understand new material sometimes. I didn't have a word for synesthesia and just assumed that everyone had the same sensory input going on in their head as I did.
I think it would be fun to write a book and include all of my favorite words. It probably would not make logical sense at all, but it sure would be wonderful to read.

1 comment:

  1. this was such a wonderful post. I had never heard of this condition, but it sounds so interesting.