There was a night last February that I very vividly remember. Jake and I were sitting on the couch and he was talking about an ex-girlfriend of his that had something called “Synesthesia”. I’d never heard of it. Jake went on to explain that his ex had this thing where she saw colors for different letters, like A is “red”, B is “green” or whatever….
I remember looking up at him and going “But that’s stupid—A is yellow”.
It was in that moment that my understanding of my perceptions on the world shifted forever. Hours of research later, I have come to realize that some things that I take for granted in every day life are things that most other people don’t understand.
I have always attributed certain colors to certain letters, but more than that, different combinations of letters and words create different patterns of color in my mind. A lot of people ask me why I read upside down. I am a FAST reader—but especially when I am reading something especially “vivid” (Shakespeare, for example, is just absolutely gorgeous—and the colors always work out. more on that later), I get so distracted by the colors that I get lost in what I’m reading….so I discovered that if I turn whatever I’m reading upside down, I am able to focus less on the colors and instead on the text. I’ve gotten really good at reading upside down–I can read about as fast as I do right side up, but it eliminates the distractions and makes me focus.
It turns out there are like a billion types of synesthesia—pretty much any sense can be “crossed” with another to create a synethestic response. I know that I have the color/letter one, but I also have the color/music kind…which is both awesome and supremely frustrating–if I could have one wish, it would be to be able to share the magnificent colors I experience behind my eyes with the people I love. Last year, for our first date, Jake took me to see the Chicago Symphony play the Rite of Spring. By the end, I was openly weeping–not just because of the music, but because of the incredible picture I got to witness inside of my head.
There are a few works that are particularly fantastic, but it makes sense. Beethoven’s 9th, for example—oh, man. But most scholars think that Beethoven himself probably had this, so I kind of like the idea of him writing music to look at something pretty. What is so awesome about synesthesia is that 100 different people with this will give you a 100 different versions of what the 9th symphony looks like behind their eyes–and they are all right. It’s completely random and always, always beautiful.
The problem is that I see sound most of the time–not just with music. With music it is much more pronounced, but, for example, at parties or in large groups, sometimes the noise and the color can be overwhelming. If a sound or piece of music is particularly powerful, I sometimes will get a “Feeling” with it as well–Lincolnshire Posy, for example—is this gorgeous, rich blue and it feels like the ocean.
I also get freaked out by large things—(insert joke here…done? okay. good)–they “feel” wrong. Things like wind turbines and water towers are terrifying to me.
A lot of people ask me why I dye my hair blue. I usually give them a stupid answer, but the truth is….I’ve figured out how to shade my hair into different shades of blue…and if you look at me from the front, my hair is my name in “synesthesia-ist”.