synesthesia

I like the sound of that word.

I’ve also always liked how synesthesia works in writing. Practicing synesthesia is like a jolt from a high-octane energy drink. Your writing boosts off your page and pings off the nearest star, smelling of thunder and yelling red.

Ooh. That last phrase was delicious. Notice the synesthesia? I used smell for thunder instead of sound, and I used sound for red instead of sight. I mixed up the expected senses.

What does a baby’s smile sound like? How does a gravestone taste? What smell marks your anxiety?

Now, literary synesthesia is one thing–pretty straightforward and a helpful writing tool. Actual synesthesia is much more complex–I’m fascinated by what I’ve learned just from the Wikipedia entry. I wonder how I would negotiate the world if I were a synesthete with color-graphemic synesthesia (letters and numbers have colors) or chromesthesia (sounds or music trigger colors).

Sounds like a helluva writing prompt. Go to the Wikipedia page, pick a form of synesthesia, and then write a descriptive passage through the lens of that form of synesthesia. May your creativity bounce through clouds.

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at times, only fiction will do

I have been searching for the impossible.

I want to read from the perspective of inside a demented brain. Looking out at the world from that place, what do I see, hear, feel? How?

There are some blogs and articles by those with early-onset dementia or Alzheimer’s, who describe their experience. But I want to know what my mom sees, how her brain trundles along or crackles. Who can record that landscape?

In interviews about Beloved, her novel on slavery and the Middle Passage, Toni Morrison discusses the unspeakable nature of slavery and names artists as the healers, the ones who must perform rites of exorcism and redemption.

And so I find a description of what I think it must be like in my mother’s brain when I read a passage from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Alfred Lambert, the octogenarian patriarch of the novel, has Parkinson’s and dementia. In this passage, he attempts to eat a snack prepared by his daughter, Denise, a chef:

But Denise left the kitchen and took the plate to Alfred, for whom the problem of existence was this: that, in the manner of a wheat seedling thrusting itself up out of the earth, the world moved forward in time by adding cell after cell to its leading edge, piling moment on moment, and that to grasp the world even in its freshest, youngest moment provided no guarantee that you’d be able to grasp it again a moment later. . . . and no sooner had he re-confirmed Denise and the snacks and Chip’s living room than the leading edge of time added yet another layer of new cells, so that he again faced a new and ungrasped world; which was why, rather than exhaust himself playing catch-up, he preferred more and more to spend his days down among the unchanging historical roots of things. (66)

There are other such passages, and I marvel at how well Franzen’s imagination and language translate the interior of a demented brain into something we recognize, a moment when we say, “Yes. That’s exactly how I thought it might be.”

 

language magic

You’ll find two paragraphs below describing the same thing. Which appeals to you? Why? I doubt you’ll find two more disparate paragraphs in tone, style, rhythm, vocabulary, creative musculature. I love putting these two paragraphs side by side.

Imagine the brain, that shiny mound of being, that mouse-gray parliament of cells, that dream factory, that petit tyrant in a ball of bone, that huddle of neurons calling all the plays, that little everywhere, that fickle pleasuredrome, that wrinkled wardrobe of selves stuffed into the skull like too many clothes in a gym bag. (Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain – first paragraph)

Today, when we look at the brain, we see an intricate network of billions of neurons in constant, crackling communication, a chemical labyrinth that senses the world outside and within, produces love and sorrow, keeps our hearts beating and lungs breathing, composes our thoughts, and constructs our consciousness. (Carl Zimmer, Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain–and How It Changed the World, 5)