I hear in color and see in music. It’s called Synethesia

     In my last post I wrote about how I hear in color and see in music and Sally told me I should write about it.   What a fabulous suggestion! Well, first I had to figure out what this was, and thanks to the power of Google, it only took two tries to find it.  I searched, “hear in color,” and up popped a few links to something called “synesthesia.” Please read the brief fun facts at Wikipedia.  I found many other links and learned there is an actual organization for people with this. . . this. . . hmmmm, I don’t know what it is. Disease? Genetic mutation? Phenomenon? Whatever it is, now that I know what it is I don’t mind talking about it.

     I was about fifteen when I realized not everybody heard in color and saw things in music.  All my notes were written in every color known to man, and my side notes would read, “think of (insert song).” When someone asked what I was doing, they gave me a weird look after i told them I was writing in the colors I saw.  And thus I realized I was odd and mostly kept that fact to myself.  To clarify, I do not see letters in colors…except the letter “A.”  If it is in caps I see it in red, but lower case is kind of a cross between violet and crimson.  So I see things in various shades.  For the most part I see entire words in color, not usually individual letters, but there are a few exceptions.  And i do not see every word in color.  It is a bit difficult to explain, but I’ll try…

Glenn=hunter green

Glen (one “n”)= neon green

     See how one letter can change the color.  Well maybe you can’t see it, but I can.  So this is how it works for me.  The most recent conversation I had-had this sentence from the person I was talking to, “I know, but sometimes it is hard to get out of your on head.”  In that sentence I only see one word in color: head and its color is navy blue.  I used to think it was a word-color association, but I’m not sure how head and navy blue equate.  Or how Glenn and hunter green relate.  years ago my ex-husband asked me something and I said I couldn’t remember the word but it was on the tip of my tongue and it was orange.  He looked at me strange as I explained myself (most people chalk this up to being a writer/creative).   Later I remembered the place I was trying to remember was, “Georgia.” How does Georgia=bright orange? I don’t know, ask my brain.  My head picks out certain words from a conversation and displays them on a marquee in my head, so i visually see these words as clear as day, and they are in color.  Like I said, only some words.  It’s like a  mental highlighter.

     This phenomenon doesn’t interfere with my life in any way.  It’s not like I stop to see the word or color, its just flashes and they move on.  Oh, and i only see this when people are talking, not so much in print unless I am really studying something in depth, then words tend to light up, but its rare.  I won’t complain, though.  This little niche has helped me through several exams and was a God send in nursing school.  I owned every color pen and highlighter known to exist.  So when I tested I would see the color of the word and the rest of the text sorta followed with it.  Mega bonus! (By the way, it does nothing to help with comprehension of the material. 😦  )

     Okay, so I also see in sound.  This is very rare, but when I am in full concentration mode I hear music.  Not always a specific song so much as a beat.  somethings are kind of blues jazzy while others are insane rocked out electric guitars that hurt my eyes.  Yep, I said the sound hurts my eyes.  I’m not even going to try and explain that.  On an average day this hardly ever happens.  I attributed that to my world moving so fast, but when I slow down and stop to smell the roses or “people Watch,” then it happens.  I assume this is why I must play low, background music when I write.

     the final quirk I have and the one that is most prominate, I think, is personification.  I give words, letters, and numbers personalities.  How does that work? The letter “A” is very proud and stands high above everything else, but lower case “a” is timid and shy and tends to sneak away.  My favorite letter is lowercase “c” because it is always ready to attack and devour something when called to action, but loves to cuddle. 0-6-8-9 are the round numbers and how I remember dates.  My boyfriend’s birthday I can not recall exactly but I know it is one of the fun round numbers. 1-7 are stubborn numbers.  2-3-5 are full of confusion and are various shades of red.  The number 4 stands alone and is very arrogant.  I also do this with full words such as, “brilliant,” which is shiny silver and stands in an ivory tower, or “arrogant” which is shocking pink and tends to scowl… And yes these colors have changed over time, which I just chalked up to age and experience. 

     My day of research has proved that there are variations of this experience.  Not everybody sees “A” as red and not everyone thinks a cute older couple talking is pastel yellow and Etta James.  It’s just me.  I will be honest, I spent years thinking I was crazy or had some gene mutation, and lately wrote it off to side effects of constant migraine headaches.  All I knew is it wasn’t common and so I automatically presumed it was a defect.   Now I know it is a wonderful neurological condition that has helped me for years and not some premonition into degenerative brain dysfunction.  It may sound funny to read, but these are all things I thought.  Not to mention there were clinical trials on tv years ago and so my only deduction was this was some form of a brain disorder.  I immediately tried to turn it off, but it never went away.  I just stopped talking about it so people wouldn’t think I was weird.  My boyfriend says my mind is as amazing as the person I am.  Awe…… Oh, and for those who remember this guy, Billy Joel has the same condition as do many composers.  It seems many people with this are labeled, “creative.” When my book comes out you’ll see just how much I need to use color in description, because I try to get people to see what is in my head more than simply using descriptive words.  But it’s all a far cry from what I really see when I talk to people.  Imagine telling people when they talk I see a blue cat or green dog. 

     Well now that I know what it is and that it doesn’t mean I am going to die from brain melt I will learn to embrace this and not be afraid to say, “It’s on the tip of my tongue…something to do with the color teal.” Thanks for indulging in my senses.  And may you all have wonderful lemon-merangue colored day.

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6 responses to “I hear in color and see in music. It’s called Synethesia

  1. That was absolutely fascinating, thank you so much for sharing all this. What a beautiful talent to have. I can see how it would have been tough growing up with something so unusual but it strikes me that you’re just using your senses in a different way to those of us without synethesia. It’s like any talent – you can either embrace it or try to suppress it, but it will always be a part of you, so it’s heartening to hear you’re embracing it.

    Oh my goodness, I just googled it and discovered that Franz Liszt may have had synethesia. His Petrarch sonnets (in particular the second, no.104) are the most beautiful piano pieces I’ve ever encountered. If synethesia can contribute to that then you’re definitely in the best of company!

    • Thank you. I’m doing more research on it, and i have received wonderful feedback from people. i think it came from my mom, she is very talented in art and with visual cues. Her mind sees a box and five minutes later its some amazing thing I could never conceive.

  2. I have heard of this gift (I don’t think I’d consider it an affliction or a curse) before and find it fascinating. Your explanation is one of the most detailed I have read. Thank you. Try as I might I can not imagine what it all looks and sounds like, but appreciate the enlightenment

    • Thanks, Rick. Basically we see the way that picture at the end of the blog looks. Except for me, I see that in my head when people talk. Its a very colorful world…and 100% drug free ( haha, my friend asked what i was smoking). Just a natural, wonderful, creative, neon rainbow trip

  3. Definitely a gift…I’m sure you are developing it more each day…

    Now, do I have to have a Lemon-Meringue colored day? That seems a little too…well, a little too “Martha Stewart” for me…
    Bless You

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