17 December 2009

Thinking in color

For as long as I can remember, I have thought in color. I envision the calendar year, for example, as a line drawing shaped like a dissected pie, each month represented by a wedge of color. The cheerful spring and summer months are aqua and pink, fall colors green and yellow, and winter ashen and purple. Colors have a particular sound and pitch. I grid what I see, make visual lists that hang like objects in space. That's how I remember things, and why I can typically find my way back to a once-visited side-street cafe, around a busy airport, or even through back roads.

The senses, handily there for our survival in a vibrating and chaotic world, are not always easy for me to differentiate. This hearing color thing, tasting shapes thing, is called synesthesia. I never understood why I didn't like malls or crowded spaces until I learned more about this extra-sensitivity factor. Sounds and motion reverberate in such a way that I can't chronicle the individual movements fast enough. Instead, I shut down.

Moving abroad to Turkey, I found myself fatigued by even short trips to the grocery store.  I found myself fatigued by even short trips to the grocery store, or to my language school to teach. I would listen to Turkish, a language I didn't know much of at the time, and its tonal value would set off a flurry of reactions I thought was mainly from shyness and sensitivity. Everything I did outside of my house had to be done slowly, while inside I could work for hours sewing or drawing or reading without even noticing the time pass. I filled notebooks with sketches and magazine clippings covered in fabric samples collaged with watercolor painting. To touch something, like silky fabric or hearty upholstery, was to engage with the whole object, its meaning and not just its function. And nearly always in silence, because music competed for attention, filling the airspace with more color and shape.

The ability to visualize numbers and forms in space is the only reason I passed Algebra and Geometry in high school. Useful when trying to remember a sequence, like items on a menu, or when learning a new alphabet, it's less convenient when needing to block out noise, or quiet spaces are not to be had (like at a Turkish family gather under bright fluorescent lights with tea glasses clinking and aunties yelling over each other and uncles moodily discussing politics). I've carved out a nice space at home, though, where I can brush off the words that circle like ribbons of color and chatter like clacking keys and hush them to sleep.

Is this you, too? Or are your senses more tame and obedient?
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