"I Taste Colors" - Art, Synaesthesia, and Mental Mapping (originally published 12/2018)

Ali Azmat and Junoon - photo by débora Ewing
My brain's tangly. I'm working over a short story which isn't a story, and my writing compatriots have requested I interject synaesthetic impressions throughout. I'm angry that they're so nosy, and yet I can - should - do this. I have to first pin down what synaesthesia means to me and then clean up those little bits of writing so they can be seen for what they are.

I honestly didn't know synaesthesia is a thing until a friend explained to me exactly how my brain works.

For one, a certain color may trigger a taste in my mouth. Words are tangible in my mind, like I can touch them. I recently learned the word pareidolia and it makes sense to me, too: I find patterns. I can recognize the same pattern visually, aurally, texturally, and apply a music pattern to art, or cooking, or gardening. You know, conceptual skeletons. People get confused if I tell them the soup needs to be more blue, but if I just make it more blue with the right spices we'll all approve.

To me everything is the same. I just try and show the world what I discern in terms that might lead them to share my vision. Everyone uses a different vocabulary. I like the challenge, mostly.

Eventually science could bear out my theory: all disciplines ultimately measure intervals. At some level everything can be reduced to binary - 01110000 01101001 01110011 01110011 00100000 01101111 01100110 01100110 00101100 00100000 01100011 01110101 01101110 01110100 - reducible to Space and Not-Space. Figure and ground, which can be interchangeable in the right circumstances, because 0 is not empty.  Or empty is a measurable thing.  This is a debate as old as Aristotle and Sir Isaac Newton.

That which is represented by absence is the most interesting to me.

If you can define the color blue as binary, you can probably find a particular coffee that has a very similar binary pattern. Reducing taste to code is going to be tricky, but I will say that my favorite blend - Sulawesi and Jamaican Blue Mountain - tastes to me distinctively like a blend of rust-red and very deep cobalt.

Scott Mayfield is a composer and Theatrical Music Director in New England. He's a synaesthete; he finds incredible mashups by correlating patterns with music, but not always music. Scott reminds me:
"...well, a painting is a synaesthetic novel, after all."
And by gum, right there  he's solved my literary quandary. I've been writing paintings when everyone's expecting a linear story. Expectation is the mind-killer, the little death...no, I can do this. It's funny, because my landlord told me that every painting needs a story to accompany it, for sales purposes.  My story-painting needs a story-story. I do love to be difficult for myself.

I've recently made friends with @sciencegeekmel, a neuroscientist-poet who wrote and recorded this song about synaesthesia:

Bleed Into One - Melinda

Diana Gonzalez of As The Crow Flies Studio points out that synaesthesia is different for everyone, and doesn't think she has anything more or less relevant to add to the conversation.
"Your experiences probably make as much sense as mine."
Diana prefers to put emphasis on supporting the arts and artists. Even if your budget is tight, you can do that through Patreon. Diana explains:
I think Patreon is the shit. If handled right, it's potentially how every artist can make a sustainable living, rather than it being just a few lucky ones that get to. I can throw a dollar in the hats of artists whose work I love but may never be able to, or choose to, own. It's not about spending a lot of money, it's about a community of support that's accessible for everyone no matter what their financial situation. Who can't afford 12 dollars a year in this country? You spend more on Starbucks or fast food in a week."
You can throw a dollar in Diana's hat and feel good about it. She is sharing her vision at pop-up markets and craft shows. She leaves ninja #artbecauseart in the form of poetry and trinkets tucked into glass bottles, to be found by people who are looking for something. You know who you are, looking-people - you're like me and see the trees, the bugs, the rocks, the downy woodpecker busy outside my window right now, not just the collective forest.
photo courtesy of As The Crow Flies Studio

Look into the intervals and tell me what you find therein.

Further Reading:

As the Crow Flies Studio is creating mixed media art
Become a patron for as little as $1/month - this will get you sneak previews into new projects, for starters.

I just learned this word, and in trying to determine whether it's different from synaesthesia, or how, I found this excellent blog post by Ummijameel. I'd like to sit down over çay and talk further on this - not because I think Ummijameel is Turkish, but because I like çay.

Mike Doughty is creating stuff
Put a dollar in Doughty's hat - you may remember him as front man for Soul Coughing, but I remember him as the author of one of my favorite poems:


Against hands, a smooth
is smoothed around
and skin
rushes up to it,
cooing sweat like a whistle
defecting a steampipe.

Oiled, the machine chuffs,
and the brain is dry, and the nerves
scurry off with messages to no one
in charge, while this equals this; 
two arms locked into each other
are without a mind to differentiate
between limbs and hips, therefore,
I have come here to get lost.

copyright 1996 by M. Doughty 

Reprinted here without permission because I'm still trying to acquire it. Dood, if you don't like it, inform me and I'll take it down.

What is synesthesia? 
Get the proper medico-scientific jargon here. 


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