documenting my synesthesia

The other day I went to Summit Music Hall (what they are now calling The Summit club under new ownership) with some friends and I had a conversation with Chandini about how she is a synesthete, and it made me realize I think I am one too.. Synesthesia is a neurological condition where certain stimuli triggers the physical sensation of other senses. I first heard of this phenomena when I was 13 or 14, listening to a podcast in the backseat of my parents’ van on family vacation. I thought it was so cool, I wanted to learn as much as I could about it because I thought it was so interesting. I listened to that podcast over and over again. I think this speaks to my quality of being obsessed with artists/ creatives, as a young person these people were living in a different reality than me, so much so that they saw things physcially manifest themselves different than I did. Synesthesia also seems to me to be a kind of pop culture phenomena, like I know a lot of famous artists who say they are synesthetes like Avey Tare, and also Michael S. Judge whose podcast has recently been keeping me company while I cook. Chandini bringing it back into my life though, made me reconsider it as an adult and realize I experience that in oddly specific ways. Namely "Ordinal linguistic personification", which I will attempt to describe to you, dear reader, as best I can in what follows.

0 is feminine white colored like a mother to all the other numbers, a god figure

1 is hard and masculine, alone, he wants to be with all the others so badly, sometimes he fucks it up. maybe he’s co-dependent like his focus is to complete the others?

2 is like a baby and they want to protect her she’s very pure and soft, light pink, innocent

3 is a little boy, playful and mischievous, like Puck or a cherub, mixes things up in unexpected ways you wouldn’t expect (like 7+3=10), my favorite number

4 is a boy but more conservative and shy than 3, agreeable, goes with the flow, wants to appease everyone else

5 is a boy, short and stout, yellowish, ugly and conniving, selfish, wants to make it all about him

6 is a girl, she’s more mature than 2 but still young, like teenage. she’s special, many numbers want to link with her but she is can be impulsive and uneven

7 is a boy, him and 3 are best friends, i noted 7+3 earlier being a nice numerical expression to me, he’s more of a fuck up and less pure than 3. sometimes he messes up. he tries to be good, but sometimes makes things ugly and unbalanced. it makes sense to me, given their personalities that 3+4=7

8 is an extremely developed expression of womanhood and femininity. she’s the older sister of 6, and also she cares for the other numbers, but they all are in love with her and want to be with her. i imagine her like meg from little women basically, like exactly that figure of the prettiest and most responsible and domestic sister. writing that, i think 6 is more like a Jo for me.

9 is a 17/18 year old boy, he wants so badly to be taken seriously by the older numbers. 3,4,5,7 want to impress him, like a very human relationship in that they know they can combine forces with him to be more powerful so they want to do that. another numerical expression that fits in the narrative is 3+9=12

10 is a father figure, he’s out of the house most of the time but when he comes around all the numbers are enthralled by his presence and want to impress him.

At the same time all of the numbers are children. Their desire is to play and have fun, experiment and see what they can make each other.

These associations used to be much stronger for me when I was younger and did basic arithmetic in school. I have memories of doing math in class and just letting these little stories and personalities bounce around my head. Like, that’s what made me understand math concepts and be able to work through problems. As I grew older and began working with abstracted math expressions it became less strong. I haven’t thought about this ever as concretely as I just have in the text above. It’s hard to explain, and a weird feeling that I just have these concepts floating around my head and that’s always what it’s been for me. Part of what’s triggering this for me is teaching a 5th grade twice a week, and doing work with solid numbers for the first time since elementary school.

I think I also have this with text, and that’s what makes me a good reader. Reading books, I free associate like that and just completely let my little subconscious fill the spaces in the text up. I don’t think my thing with text is so concrete, like a lot of synesthetes see specific isolated words or letters as a color, and I don’t think I experience that. But today for example, I was working in an 8th grade English class, and I picked up To Kill a Mockingbird and it had just been so long since I opened a book written in such frank American text I felt washed over with tan and brown and green. Like the way the woods behind my parents’ house looks in sunset in the summer. I used to read a lot of books like that, and The Yearling and others I can’t remember, but it is the physical words and colloquialisms printed on the page which do that for me. Not just the memory of reading To Kill a Mockingbird when I was twelve or thirteen at my aunt’s house in Pennsylvania, the words and the book itself seems to radiate a color and an essence. Maybe everyone has that, maybe that’s just memory, I don’t know.

Another thing I experience while reading or talking on the phone or filling out paperwork or completing assignments (basically anything where my head is focused on something outside of my physical body) is that I feel like I am in a different physical space. Often these are places I just go to in my every day life, but am not there at that moment. Recently, I feel like I am walking down Hunter to Goodale, specifically on the corner of Hunter and Third Ave. I remember in college I used to feel myself in the Iuka Ravine, at the foot of the Summit bridge, in the green space with the bench. Other times, in the Knowlton School of Architecture, walking up the ramps which lead you to the top floor. It’s not that I am intentionally going to these places, I just feel myself there when I am using my head hard and not present in my physical body. It’s pure subconscious pairing. The activity is met with the physical space. The only explanation I can come up with is that these are just places my spirit inhabits.

I also just watched part of a Michel Houellebecq interview where he talks about when he reads St. Paul, he feels like he is There with him, like right present with him physically. That’s a somewhat different experience than synesthesia, but I like to think I feel that when I am reading too.

This was perhaps uninteresting to read, I am trying to just do some work on my psyche and explore those things in my mind that are so specific and internal to me, that it’s hard to explain. I am experimenting with myself. As I said before, I’ve never put any of this in writing before. I hope by noticing this so solidly and documenting it doesn’t affect these sensations, make them less pure, to the point where they leave me and I don’t experience them anymore. That is the dangerous crux of writing anything that you experience down. Once it solidifies in print, on a computer screen or in ink, it becomes something else entirely.