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Interview: how my synesthesia affects my life

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Pat Duffy

This is a very lovely description of synesthesia.For more about this phenomenon, visit the "Synesthesia Resource Center" at https://www.bluecats.info

E. Tims

I'm glad you are all honest about your extra perceptions. My first memory of something odd that nobody else understood was that I was about 8 years old and I smelled a men's cologne and told my mom it smelled "grey". There is absolutely no other way to describe it, and I was surprised that my mom didn't understand that something could smell grey. At about the same time I used to smell a candle that my mom kept on her dresser, because I loved how pinkish-purple it smelled. But that candle was actually red! I forgot about those unexplainable sensations until I was about eighteen years old. I was chatting on a forum and offered to tell everybody what color their name is. We were having great fun with it, and somebody came along and mentioned synesthesia. I had never heard of the word before and mistakenly thought it was their name (so I told them it was yellow!). They told me what the word meant, and since then I have researched it a little further. Whole words have very strong color sensations to me, I actually do not experience individual letter's colors very much. Some words and colors also have smells or flavors, or both, although some words and colors have nothing at all. I have not told anyone I know about these experiences, except for my brother. He and I have a joke about "purple" because of it. Purple has absolutely no meaning, smell, flavor, or color, whereas all other color words do have something. So when I have nothing to say, instead of saying "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (from Mary Poppins), I say "purple".

Jennie

It was on a hot day a coupal of months ago when my parents thought i had it. I asked them "Do you see numbers and letters as colours?" And they just looked at me like an alien. Since then it seems ive found more about myself. When i touch things colours apear in my head, infact all the colours apear in my head. For example the pine dinning table in my house 'feels' red with a yellow/gold grain.
And even wearder is music.

You know music videos you see on music channels? Well music is just like that in my head. My faverout has to be Enjoy The Silence by Depeche Mode because its a story in my head. A guy trying to protect a girl, running from men in gas masks and trench coats. In the end he gets shot and i see the child taken away. Its so cool (but sad...) and so when i hear music i always look far off.
I can sometimes see music as colours and also, i get annoyed because my brain seems to pull apart every instrument in a song. So i cant relax with a song because all i can think of is the guy in the background.

Thanks.
You have realy helped me vent my intregue!
Jen

Erin

Hello!

I recently read the book A Mango Shaped Space. If you haven't read it already, which I suggest you do, you should know that the main charactor is a synesthete. I think your condition is very, very interesting! You shouldn't be shy about it, because I'm very very jealous!
Now I know you must get this question a lot but I'm very curious to know what color these names are:

Erin
Erynn
Olivia
Taylor

Those are the two ways I spell my name, and two of my friends that have read the book also.

Thank you for your time.

Hi Erin!

I am sorry I have taken so long to get back to you. So many people write to me, now, so I am going to have to start sending one of those annoying automatic messages saying that I will get you when I can...blah blah blah...but I hate those, and I know everyone else does too, so I keep putting it off!

You message was very special to me! So I was sort of saving it for one of my happy luxurious coffee sunny mornings with cats reveries to answer it.

I have not heard of the book A Mango Shaped Space, I will definitely check it out, as soon as I've finished with this message.

I love all the names you have listed, and you must know that I don't like all names. Names that start with E are a lovely grey, misty, not really silver, but almost mysterious and misty. It is fortunate for my husband that his last name is Erskine, and I told him I would have to think twice about adding it to the end of my name if it didn't start with a good letter like E, and E is one of the best.

R (second letter) is the rich, dark brown, of fertile soil. So this gives both Erin and Erynn a rich brown tinge after the grey.

The N is another of my favorite letters, it is a hard color to describe, sort of a more solid bluish grey, or grey-blue. Sort of like the reflection of storm clouds in a cold winter ocean. It is more metallic than misty. It blends very nicely with the E and the R.

The I is jet black so of course that goes well. I prefer Erin to Erynn, because the y in there is too yellow to go with the other colors, and it looks like it is trying to hard. And why have two Ns when one should do the job? I am a pragmatist. Eryn would be better if you want an odd spelling, and I am the only one would would be bothered by the yellow y. You must know of course that no two synesthetes have the same wires crossed, so I am shocked if one would tell me that E isn't grey. What else would it be?

The main color of Erin or Erynn is grey because that is the first letter. You could try imagining a large swath of grey, tinged with rich soil brown and blue grey. Throwing in the Y puts a surprising jab of yellow in there.

Olivia is mostly white, since O is white. Now that, curiously, is something most synesthetes agree on. But don't you think O looks white, since it is a hole of nothing? I feel the same way about the number 8, which is really just two O's on top of one another, so that is also white.

The rest of Olivia is not at all white, so it starts off white and then there is a confusing jumble of pleasant colors. The L is deep blue, so you have this immediate contrast of the O and the L together, white and dark blue. The I's just blend in as they are black. V is orangey tan, or tannish orange, I don't know how to describe it. And the A at the end is primary red. So my main impression is white, with dark blue and a little peep of aggressive color at the end.

I love Taylor, except that it has been overused as a name for babies in the past few generations. But T must be one of my MOST favorite letters! Like R, it is also rich soil brown, but lighter, and I don't know why I just love it! I have loved it since I was a kid. So again it is fortunate that my husband's name is Tim, which matches his dark brown eyes. My favorite names all start with either T or E.

The rest of Taylor has this splash of red from the A, then subsides down into brown again at the end. The L and Y (blue and yellow) get sort of run over by the A and T colors, so it is mostly brown with a bit of red.

If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask! That was fun!

laura

i usually don't see whole words as colors, but "holly" really is a fuzzy red. sort of a light red. i am like you in that i never thought (and still don't) that there was anything remotely strange about the way i see things. i remember asking my mom about the letters and numbers, and her writing it off as a vivid imagination. but like many people, i was sixteen or seventeen before i realized that not everyone saw what i did. and early twenties before i realized, no one sees what i see. i have been married for twenty years and my husband still thinks that this is some kind of affectation, or memory that i have forgotten.

i don't see colors when i look at letters and numbers, i just know they have colors. but also, age, gender and personality. the number two is a tall woman with dark hair who is stern and overbearing. and blue. four is a pink child, school aged, who is the daughter of five and six. eight, nine and ten are all bachelors. i see shape or texture with music, and some other things have color, like friday is purple, and wednesday is orange, light orange, like a dreamsicle. thursday is grey or brown. anyways, lots of scattered things throughout life. i thought i was the only one until i discovered synesthsia on a website by accident one day a few years ago. i was so excited, i went and told everyone, and they just looked at me like "do you realize how badly you need therapy?"

that's my story.

Christina

Holly(a cherry red with a dash of light green),

You probably won't want to talk to me because I'm probably quite a bit younger than you but I thought I'd leave you a comment anyways. It's nice to know that there's other people like me out there. I always thought I was different and alone in the world so I never told anyone. I didn't realize how colorful my world was until I read a book on this. Everything seems so different now. Like the number 2 is a bubblegum pink and the number 5 is an electric blue. It's truely amazing what people like us can see and as you said I can't imagine the world without it. I would really like that you would write me back.

~Christina(a dark purple with stripes of lavender)

Stephanie

Hey Holly (indeed a fuzzy red),

I just wanted to drop a(nother) line of "Hey, I'm a synesthete too! What's wrong with everyone else?".

Stephanie (an embarrassingly bright yellow)

Maria

This is amazing! I'm so glad that other people see music as colours, and that someone would understand why I paint songs or just sounds!

Patrick (a green-blue)

Holly, I too have synesthesia, but I don't think it's as strong as yours, as colors don't just seem to jump out at me from text. I also haven't decided for certain my colors for certain letters like H and Z, more abstract letters. The abstractness of 2 was also hard for me to realize for a while until I realized it was red for me. I just did a google for synesthetic alphabets and this was like the first page that came up.
I must admit though, that your alphabet is pure agony to me! I think the ones most painful to me were 4 and 5. How can 4 not be green to you?? and 5 is like so blue to me. The letter M has always stood out to me as a very loud, ugly shade of red, so I was surprised to see your M as colorless. Also N as colorless? It's so pink to me. I have to agree with Jac on the colors for names he described- David(blue), Jac(medium green), Kirk(yellowish), and George as the color of tree bark with white in the middle. And words for me don't necessarily appear the same color as their first letter. I guess we're all wired differently and perhaps all just crazy!

Melissa Moon

Hi,
Glad the book is almost finished,it's amazing that what herbs do has never been a book till now. Look forward to reading it.
O is white for me, A is red which seems to be the one thing many synesthetes see in common. Like you I see i and 1 as black and 3 as golden.
Seeing the colors had an amazing and unusual effect on me, for which I’m very grateful. I was born partly deaf, but I didn’t know. No one knew, because I had the colors. Glorious crossed senses that let me see colors in letters, numbers and time. I thought everyone lived in color like me! Now I know I’m a synesthete. I love living in color. My life is a lucky kaleidoscope.
My mother taught me the ABC when I was four. My eyes followed her wide red-lipsticked mouth moved and the colors started coming and never stopped, the complete red of A, the almost blue of B, right down to Z in sparkly black. And then she taught me the numbers. The pure bright golden of 3 was my favorite. So the black and white of every printed page, and the blurred wordsounds when people spoke were bright like a cottage garden in Summer!

My parents gave me 'The Times' to read at 4. Even that grey newspaper was a mass of colour. They thought I was ‘intelligent’ because I could read it. But wordsounds were too blurred to use for much thought. The colors gave me a natural memory system, which helped me read, spell and remember words very well. Best of all they hid the deafness from me, my parents and everyone else.

Not hearing enough to be affected by words, I stayed in a world where everybody was beautiful to me. My world was beautiful bodies. Focusing on mouths, I loved and read them. Lip-reading without knowing. Music didn’t exist for me. It was even more blurred, meaningless noise than voices. I watched people listening to music, with no clue to what they were doing, or why. Not hearing enough to connect with peoples' words, I was quiet and told I was ‘shy’. Not hearing enough to be affected by words, I stayed free and innocent of attitudes, opinions and ‘conditioning’.
The colors masked my deafness throughout my childhood, teens and early twenties. My deafness protected me from the burdens that come with words. The colors and my deafness shielded and cocooned me from the words of the world. I stayed free from the word control most people take for granted as 'reality'.

Tony Greenfield

Hi there,

I have just discovered that not everyone else in the world thinks in colours.. It's nice too see someone else who does!

I tend to feel colours more with units of time and numbers than words, although I definitely have a coloured alphabet.
I have definite colours of days of the week, months of the year and numbers. As I've only just started thinking about it, I'm going around giving each colour a numerical value!

I also see music as colours, which is an almost impossible thing to describe.
I recently found out that Kandinsky painted music like this, and I knowing this I can completely see what his paintings are about.

Anyway, enough of my waffling, thanks for the great site, keep it up!

Tony Greenfield

George

According to the fantastic book "A Natural History of the Senses," Vladimir Nabokov was also a synesthete.

I've read that a much higher percentage of artists and musicians experience synesthesia, but it seems like a chicken/egg issue.

What color is "George"? To me it sounds brown like pine tree bark, dry, with cracks and grooves.

Hello!
I don't know when you posted this, because I have been doing nothing but wrapping up my book, not eating, not bathing...I haven't left the house for a week! But I'm almost there! So I apologize if you have been waiting for a reply.

It sounds like your senses are more complex than mine. George is simply a nice orange shmear with a bit of white in the middle. Not bright orange, either.

Jac

Holly
(white as a whole but that black little o makes gives the name depth of soul)

Thanks for sharing your synesthesia with the web ring. Much like yourself, I have kept my glorious colors to myself for years. I think I recall that my teenage friends way back when didn't have such an open mind to understand why David was blue and Kirk was golden yellow. Teenagers just have this thing about being labeled as being weird. “Hey look there goes rainbow boy”!

At any rate, eventually I grew into an adult and am blessed/cursed with the colors and share them freely with people I know. I do refrain from bringing it up on a first date… but eventually that too becomes a confessional. My students each year get informed of the fact that I will remember them more for their color than their name… and instantly 150 young people want to know the color I see their name. Then of course they want to know the color of their dad, mom, cousin, dog, fish….

The night grows late but I did want to send you a quick not to show appreciation of what you wrote in your website. I think I may be interesting to learn about herbs as among my 1.4 million interests, cooking ranks very high.

A Sleepy man…
Best to You, Tim and yours…

Jac ( medium green)


P.S. I have been known to make coffee grinders overheat.. ;)

Hi Jac,
Hey, what a great email! Thank you so much!
You are the first synesthete to email me and talk about such. The way you describe it, sounds a lot like how I perceive it, as well, if that makes sense. You are far more courageous than I, however, in admitting to your students about your "condition", but I am starting to mumble a confession to them every now and then.

So what do you teach, that makes you so sleepy? I know all about being sleepy. My partner struggles mightily to get me to bed at a reasonable hour, trying to protect my health.

Now, I must say that David is not blue, and Jac is not green. David is clearly dark brown and Jac is the color of grape jelly, with a little yellow tinge. But you are right, Kirk is definitely golden. Do you have your letter's colors posted somewhere so I can judge them?

Do you ever feel like the colors of letters as written in advertisements are "wrong"? Not different, but Wrong. I sure do, and it irritates me that people don't know better. But I am very tolerant. Can you imagine that most people don't have this? I think it must be very blah. And how on earth do they remember words, ever? I can only remember a word or number by first recalling its color.

Now after this little burst of a grateful email, I warn that I so busy I communicate vs. time in a sawtooth wave function pattern, very intermittantly, mainly because this book and school and looking for another teaching job in a warmer state are keeping me so damn busy. But I wanted to thank you for one of the most interesting emails that I have received concerning my site.

Warm regards,
Holly (fuzzy red, not a terribly attractive hue)


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