The Colours of my Life

Following on from today’s catch-up post (I skipped a day round about the 4th Feb) – it’s not only Saturdays and Sundays that have a colour, to me. The other weekdays have colours too. Monday is a deep rose/magenta, with tints of burgundy; Tuesday is a new-leaf green, moving to lime in places; Wednesday is buttercup yellow with some golden ochre; Thursday is purple-grey and Friday is pink.

It could be the words themselves; in German, these days have slightly different colours – because every word I hear has its colour, briefly flashing in the air if I bother to notice what it is. Since I mainly live in English though, the days have English words and so the colours are consistent unless for instance Tuesday is named in German, in which case it is suddenly white.

Music and any sound for that matter, appears to me in colour. The high-pitched notes, are always white or pale.  Some have a shape; – the sound of cicadas is always thin lines of white, not much variation in the thickness because it’s a continuous sound, like fine spaghetti, parallel and straight. An equivalent would be the flat line on a heart monitor. But usually cicadas have different notes. More than one note, more than one line. Any word with an eeee sound is white, or light-coloured. The words meat, seek, spleen, are bright white, but pin is grey, because the eee is now dimmer. When I pass cicadas on my motorbike, the lines are thin in the distance as I approach, like shining guitar strings, get more solid and thicker as they get louder, are thickest when I’m going past and then become thin and faint or transparent, as they recede. A bright, loud trumpet sound is like looking into the sun, it’s unbearable. I find some jazz very ugly for this reason, when it’s full of jagged bits of brass and sharp white bits. Much of this synaesthetic sense has found its way into common everyday language: a smooth, liquid saxophone, so-and-so’s chocolate brown or gravelly voice. Those terms are visual.

The word far is mid-grey. The word black or egg, or anything with an et or at e or a, tends to be yellow, with at being less yellow than et, it’s dimmer and has more grey in it, almost like the colour of a buff envelope. This condition – mixing up sound and vision is called synaesthesia. A more in-depth article is here. (The links at the bottom are very interesting too.)

In the first link, the little article says that this runs in families, and that is true of my family. Most of my siblings can see colours in sounds. I also see numbers in a certain way, arranged in space and starting from my left, climbing up from one to ten as steps or piano keys, with ten being a significant, broader step, also more significance given to 12 because it’s a dozen. In school we also learned up to the 12-times table, but not beyond. So 12 is logically a bit bigger than 11 or 13. There is space to stand and rest.

When I learned about negative numbers, they simply streamed off to the left of the Zero, before 1, again into infinity. From 13 up to 20, it’s another straight staircase, which then turns sharply to the right with 21, going up to the right and into infinity with 30, 40, 50 and so on, all standing out a bit more than the numbers inbetween. 100 is quite a big marker, almost a monumental presence! I once had the most unnerving experience in that this very description of how the numbers are displayed in my inner landscape, appeared in a novel I was reading, called The Governess or perhaps The Go-Between. I can’t remember much else about The Governess story at all, except the shock of having my number-landscape described to me. I felt as if someone had been peeking into my mind. Since I’d never described this to anyone, I’m not sure how this could have happened. Maybe the author was another synaesthete. Life is mysterious sometimes.


Here be words...

Both the alphabet and the number system hang in mid-air in space in my mind. Since I first learned the alphabet up to the letter K, there is a small gap between K and L which I always have to make the tiniest leap over when I look at the alphabet in my mind. The alphabet is not as interestingly placed in the landscape as the number system. It just starts at the top with a and moves down to z, with the little gap after the k.


I can’t imagine working with numbers and letters in any other way. If I hear a word I see it spelled in the air, in addition to the colours it has. Naturally over time, this awareness has receded into the background otherwise the mind would be overwhelmed. When I’m listening to a music while I’m working, it would be very distracting to keep dealing with all these colours coming past consciously; they are there, but I am not too aware of them. Perhaps this is why I’ve tended to work in silence for the last few years.

It was quite a thrill to see the movie, ‘Three Colours Blue’ starring Juliette Binoche. When a fragment of the symphony she’s working on, comes to her, she sees an intense flash of blue as well. To me, these notes in the scene are not only blue, there are other colours as well, but I believe each person with this condition (I prefer to see it as a gift) sees different colours. I also believe this ability is more widespread than is currently realised, even though the articles speak of a very small percentage – only 1%. But – is it the sort of thing people discuss at cocktail parties or in a doctor’s office? I don’t think so. To me it was just the way things are, the way I am in the world. I thought everybody saw sounds.

Do you?


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