Tag Archive | lyric essay

Legends, Fakers and Painterly Writers – On Synesthesia 2

Some people have synesthetic experiences during seizures or on psychedelic drugs. Some say it’s more prevalent in artistic people. It’s a condition that tends to run in families so it’s believed that there’s a genetic basis. Scientists believe that all babies are synesthetes but as they grow and go through synaptic pruning, the senses fully differentiate in normal development. When I was young, I had a set of colored magnetic letters that loosely correlated with my letter-color perceptions.

Last year, a site called “I Write Like” was posted all over Facebook. The first time I tried it, I was told that my writing style resembles that of Vladimir Nabokov and I was floored by the coincidence. Though I’ve never read any of his work, I learned about his synesthesia while reading Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Nabokov described himself as a painterly writer and it was the first time I heard of any writer whose synesthesia informed their work. It was a revelation that at least one other person might have had a similar inner world.

Famous Russian pianist and composer Alexander Scriabin faked synesthesia and created a contrived color-based musical system based on the New Age teachings of Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, which combined science and esoteric beliefs. The founders of the Theosophical Society timed its inception to intricate calculations of astrological aspects. Numerology was considered sacred and perhaps a musical-number-color system supposedly based on a condition linked with psychedelic shamanic journeys and artistic creations imparted an ethereal quality, icing on the metaphysical cake.

It’s hard to describe the synesthetic experience to someone who doesn’t have it. One woman I used to work with would always ask me what it meant that, for example, 6 was a light blue. What was the underlying, psychic meaning of it? What did the color tell me about the intrinsic feel of the number 6? “It doesn’t tell me anything, it’s just light blue,” I would answer and she would get mad, as if I was ignoring special access to some universal truth.

I am a painterly writer, especially when writing longhand. Each letter is like a specific colored pencil. Colors inform word and phrasing and permeate through all aspects of what I put on the page. In fiction, I pick character names that are aesthetically pleasing in color and sometimes this bleeds over (unconsciously) into real life. A disproportionate amount of my characters, as well as boyfriends and crushes, have had names that start with A or J (red and green, respectively) and that are artistically agreeable in color.

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For today’s writing sample, here’s another sample from the lyric essay “On Synesthesia.” For the first excerpt (the beginning of the essay) click here.

Don’t forget, you can check out other Friday writing samples here. And there’s always the Published and Older Works sections to explore as well.

~Emilia J

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What Color is Your Eight? – On Synesthesia 1

The color of the number 8 is a purply violet-black but not a bright violet, more dull. It’s almost more of a vibration than a color. August is similar but darker, almost burnt and yet more radiant. The letters D and P are both green but D is pale sage while P is an intense forest green. Tuesday is a muted cerulean blue.

Regions thought to be cross-activated in graph...

Regions thought to be cross-activated in grapheme-color synesthesia

Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense evokes another, habitually and involuntarily. Some synesthetes sense different tastes with musical keys, feel “personalities” for different days of the week, or perceive months as having specific spatial locations (“November is two feet to the right”) but the most common form is color-grapheme synesthesia, where letters and numbers have immediate, unchanging color associations. This is the form of synesthesia I experience, as well as colors for months and days of the week that in some cases do, and in some don’t, relate to their letters or numbers.

In his bestselling Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Oliver Sacks explores synesthesia, musical and otherwise. He describes psychologist Patrick Ehlen’s early experience of saying aloud to his first-grade class that he was “counting the colors until Friday,” to which the class burst out laughing.

One day in third grade, my class was talking about colors and feelings. The teacher asked everyone what color we thought anger was and everyone said “red.” Of course it was. Vowels and first letters set the tone for the word and A is a rich, deep red. Then she asked us what color sad was, and the rest of the class said “blue” as I started to say “red.” Sad has that deep red A and the S, a duller shade of red. Most people thought of being sad as “having the blues,” but for me it was as deep a red as melancholy. It was the first time I remember being conscious that others didn’t see these colors.

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This is an excerpt from “On Synesthesia,” a lyric essay I wrote about, you guessed it, synesthesia.

You can check out other Friday Samples here. And don’t forget you can always check out Published and Older Works for more samples.

~Emilia J

Next Up: Legends, Fakers and Painterly Writers – On Synesthesia 2