Thursday, February 02, 2006

With apologies to James Brown, UPS Brown, and Downtown Julie Brown...
I keep a jar of colored pens on my desk. When I am happy, I write with the pink one, the red one, the purple one...actually, every color except for brown. When I am sad, I use brown.

The color brown just feels wrong to me. In elementary school, before I was old enough to assert my fashion independence, my mother used to make me wear a lot of brown (because children aren't supposed to wear black?). Picture it: Brown corduroys, a brown turtleneck, and brown leather clogs. In between heaving sobs, I protested, " sigh-sob)...A TURD." Besides, chubby little girls should never be forced to wear corduroy, lest their thighs catch fire during recess. Hear that, Mom?

As far back as I can remember, I've associated things like colors (and days of the week, and pretty much any noun) with other things that didn't make sense. Like: Green is smooth (it should be jealous, right?). Wednesday is blue. Blue is cold. Pork is pointy. I could go on indefinitely. I found out a few years ago that it, the weird association thing I never knew had a name, has a name: Synesthesia. In the simplest terms, it means that you associate one sense with another, like seeing sounds or hearing colors. Most of the research is fairly recent. I discovered it while flipping through an old issue of Utne Reader at a friend's house. The perceptions are involuntary, they aren't shared between people who do this, nor are they interchangeable (the number four is maroon, but maroon doesn't evoke the number four). Some synesthetics can taste words. I can't. I've met one person who does it, but I suspect there are many more out there with synesthesia who aren't aware that not everyone thinks chartreuse is shrill or that chicken is smooth.

It's not really a "condition" and hasn't affected me negatively (as far as I know, though I understand it could explain my deficient math and foreign language skills, but so could laziness). What's really interesting to me is that the synesthetic perceptions are consistent throughout your life. They begin when you're a child and never change. So the number five will always be orange to me, the letter "R" always bitter, and brown will always be desperate.

So I wasn't a difficult child. I was just wearing the wrong colors. And now I wear a lot of black because black is calm. I rarely wear white, even just to bed, because white is very, very loud. I can adjust my personal space, for the most part, so that I'm surrounded by colors that don't shout and objects that don't make me want to cry.

But there's always a brown marker, isn't there?


  1. Great post...and I say this as I wear all black and feel totally calm and at peace. I actually learned a lot from this post because I'm constantly making such random associations.

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  3. The hottie UPS driver with the King Street route has done a considerable job redeeming the color brown.

    Toot! Toot!
    Beep! Beep!

  4. Oliver Sacks needs to interview you for his next book.

    BTW - for the longest time I wondered why no one else could hear that strange buzzing / ringing noise... then I read about tinnitus.

  5. Uh, you need to see:

  6. Don't you know that brown is the new black?
    My friend Janet has synesthesia. She also just put a name to it a few years ago. I have to admit that when she told me about it I was jealous. I wanted to have it too. It seems to me it would be like seeing and experiencing the world in a whole other dimension.


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