Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Trip Inside My Head

Well Internetland, we've been together for a little while now. We're practically holding hands and everything. I figured it was time to dive into one of the topics I'll be covering in my little slice of cyber space. This one is more for fun and as a helpful explanation to the world about the way my brain is wired. I get a lot of questions about this when it slips out in conversation or if I unwittingly mention it in passing. 

It also came to my attention at the last girls night I was at that not a lot of my friends know this about me! Well, welcome to a slightly extended explanation of why I am the way I am. For anyone who will find this groan-worthy or annoying, I won't force you to read further. 


This is the definition supplied by dictionary.com 


[sin-uhs-thee-zhuh, -zhee-uh, -zee-uh] Show IPA

a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color.

Essentially, there are a whole slew of possibilities with this phenomenon ranging from letters with genders and colours, to ones like mine that are sound- colour based. I refuse to call it a 'condition' or any other negative connotation because it isn't. Anyone who says it is is straight up ignorant.

Growing up, I never talked about it. From early on I understood that not everyone heard the way I do. Whenever I would say that the 'sound' made too bright a colour, teachers would give me the weirdest looks. 

As a kid, when an adult gives you that kind of look you instantly associate it with trouble. And I don't mean the ever so fun relationship ruining game. So I kept to myself. In fact, I didn't even dare talk about it until I graduated High School. It was actually my band teacher who made me think it would be okay to admit. He called people like me- unknowingly because I hadn't told him either- interesting! And that if ever you had the chance to talk with someone who saw sound you should take it! It made it seem like I had something to be cherished, not hidden. 

This is why listening to composers like Mozart make me want to gouge out my eyes. I respect Mozart, Handel, and Bach for that matter, for their musical genius, but for whatever reason the colours and patterns they produce are borderline painful and irritating for me. I tend to enjoy the more minor keys because they have nicer colours and generally a more inviting 'shape' inside my head. Now, if you let me listen to Beethoven, Bruckner, Schumann, Schubert, Whitacre... le sigh. I'll just go hang out in my own little world o' wonder, thank you! And should you put me in a church with phenomenal acoustics? Goodbye outside world! Hello sound bouncing back from every direction! 

The best way I've figured out to explain the way my head works is this:

Look at Christmas lights. Brightly coloured, white, vivid, whatever you have that is handy. If there aren't any Christmas lights, just look at a lamp. Everyone loves those. 

Now, I want you to look at those lights so long that when you close your eyes you can feel the imprint of them on your eyelids- filling the space inside your skull, occupying every available inch. 

Now imagine that this happens every time you hear a sound. 

Airplanes scorching through the skies, the buzz of electric lights, bird songs that echo down your street, a choir with perfect spin, the warmth of a cello, the person you love most singing. 


People shouting in a bar with pounding and pulsating lights that clash horridly with the light show in your head, watching a movie at the theater when the music from an opposing theater cuts through... FIRE ALARMS. Don't even get me started on China ringing.

The list is endless, but basically imagine that every sound that has a pitch (read this to mean everything) has a colour. It may not be as bright and clear as, say, listening to a concert or the phone ringing, but it's there. Gone in the blink of an eye, or lingering, it makes no difference. I'd imagine it's the same as when you hear an everyday noise. I just have a colour that goes along with it. I don't tend to focus on it unless I think about it, but sometimes if the sound is intense enough or catches me off guard that's all I'll see.

In University, I had one of my profs tell me I must do a lot of LSD to 'hear' like this. To say I was offended does not even begin to cover it. This is the way I hear. I can't imagine any other way. To say that the way I hear can only be a product of drugs (all of which, for the record, I have NEVER in my life even considered touching) made me want to slap him upside the head with a dictionary. 

One thing that drives me nuts is when people sit there plaguing me with questions along the lines of, "Oooh! What colour was that? How about that?" "Doesn't it bother you?" "Is it a different colour if I do thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis?" "You're weird, aren't you?"

Uh. No. Kind of used to it. I've had... oh... twenty-three years to get used to it. How long have you heard without colour? Doesn't it bother you? Is it a different sound if I do thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis? You're weird, aren't you.

Now, please don't get me wrong. I love giving people information on it when they ask, but it's all about how you ask. Don't treat me like a circus act or some freak because I hear things a little bit differently. There are a lot of people out there who hear like this, and a heck of a lot that read in colour. Every synesthetes' version of synesthesia is a little different. No colours are the same for a sound, and some can come in quite handy!

I can say this because I regularly feel jealous of people who have static colours. This meaning that an 'A' will always be, say, orange. For me it changes from instrument to instrument, to where I'm hearing it, to any number of factors. It's always different.

Do you have any idea how sweet that would have been in Music School? Hellooooo perfect pitch! But, alas, mine is different. And I have come to love it. 

I'll be sure to do more posts on this as it is a wonderfully liberating way to talk about it and maybe someone out there will find it interesting or helpful! This post is more of an introduction to the world of Syn and if ever you have any questions about it or how it works, I will do my best to answer them! There's a lot of really terrific resources out there for understanding it- heck, I didn't even know what it was called until I stumbled across it in a book and realized what I experience was a legit thing! 
I hope this post was an eye opener and that maybe now you will have a better idea of just how crazy and wonderful the human brain is! :) Seriously. It's like magic. If you have Syn and are reading this, pleeease feel free to comment or explain yours! I love love LOVE hearing about other people's experiences! I hope I didn't offend anyone or step on any cyber toes with this, it was not my intent! 

Enjoy! :)  

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  1. YAYAYAYAY I'm so glad you shared this. I also can't believe you never told us. RUDE. jk I still love you but this was so great cause now I feel like I can understand what it must be like for you.

  2. I just found your blog, and this was the first post I read...this is amazing. Brave of you for sharing! Can't wait to start reading.

    Love, Rachel

  3. I learned about this "phenomenon" or in your case, part of your life, when I was in a poetry class in college. It was so much to grasp at first, it seemed like such a huge thing to have happen. I think it is incredible that you have this, and offensive even to me that your teacher would react that way. It's one of those rare things that most people don't even know about, and I think it makes you awesome!

  4. Thanks, everyone! Geeze, it's wonderful to talk about this stuff here! :) thanks for the support and general lovely words of encouragement! :) you people are gems!