My parents gave me an Ordinary Name, not knowing they should call me SilverTiger. It’s quite a nice name, noble sounding, and I sometimes use it for Official Purposes because Official People like ordinary sounding names. Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that my name has a colour. It is red. I don’t mean that it means red. It doesn’t. It just is red. Well, to me. Other people don’t seem to notice.*
Letters also have colours. For example, ‘a’ is red too and ‘e’ is a sort of light oatmeal colour. This has nothing to do with the words they are in. These are their own colours. The alphabet has a shape. I can see this shape whenever I think of the alphabet. If I think of a bigger alphabet, say one that uses letters or other symbols as well as the usual 26 letters, I can see them in the alphabet too.
The number system also has a shape. So I can “see” the numbers laid out in front of me. I can rotate this shape and look “back” at the negative numbers. They are spread out too but slightly differently from the positive numbers. It’s hard to describe the shape but, for example, you step forward to 12 and then jump sideways and down onto 13.
Time also has a shape or, rather, different shapes depending on what I am looking at. For example, the week has a shape and I can see it stretched out ahead of me. If you say “Thursday next week”, then I can see next week and Thursday in it in its place. I can then “zoom in” on Thursday which, of course, has a shape too. Days are shaped and there is subtle texture depending on whether it is the morning, the afternoon or the evening.
The hours have their shape as well. This is perhaps why I don’t like digital watches and never wear one. I understand what they are telling me but I always have to translate the message so as to see the shape of the time.
All this is quite normal to me and I assumed that everyone saw things like this. “No, they don’t,” said Tigger when I told her about it. Being Tigger she straightaway went and looked it up on the Web. She soon came back with something called synaesthesia. It sounds like something that should put you to sleep (like this article, perhaps) but it isn’t. It refers to experiencing one sense in terms of another. For example synaesthetes may “hear” images and “see” music.
I wondered whether all synaesthetes saw the same colours or shapes. Apparently not. One might think of ‘a’ as red, another may think of it as blue. Possibly nobody else “sees” numbers and time in the same shapes that I do. I don’t know.
I also don’t know whether it is useful, whether it is a hindrance or both or neither. As it’s the way I have always thought, it’s not possible to tell. I wasn’t very good at school and took a long time to learn to read and to do arithmetic but I don’t think that has anything to do with synaesthesia. It might have to do with being dull-witted or being too clever and insufficiently stimulated by what was going on in class. Guess which explanation I prefer.
Anyway, that’s about me and synaesthesia. Maybe you too have it and never knew.
*Except for one interesting case. My mother used to be obsessed by fortune tellers and psychics. One day, one came to our house. I was very young but remember this incident clearly. She asked my mother “What is the name of your little boy?” and when my mother told her, she replied “Oh yes, that’s red.” I remember it because I saw my name as red too but it was the first time anyone else had said it.