Legends, Fakers and Painterly Writers – On Synesthesia 2

Some people have synesthetic experiences during seizures or on psychedelic drugs. Some say it’s more prevalent in artistic people. It’s a condition that tends to run in families so it’s believed that there’s a genetic basis. Scientists believe that all babies are synesthetes but as they grow and go through synaptic pruning, the senses fully differentiate in normal development. When I was young, I had a set of colored magnetic letters that loosely correlated with my letter-color perceptions.

Last year, a site called “I Write Like” was posted all over Facebook. The first time I tried it, I was told that my writing style resembles that of Vladimir Nabokov and I was floored by the coincidence. Though I’ve never read any of his work, I learned about his synesthesia while reading Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Nabokov described himself as a painterly writer and it was the first time I heard of any writer whose synesthesia informed their work. It was a revelation that at least one other person might have had a similar inner world.

Famous Russian pianist and composer Alexander Scriabin faked synesthesia and created a contrived color-based musical system based on the New Age teachings of Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, which combined science and esoteric beliefs. The founders of the Theosophical Society timed its inception to intricate calculations of astrological aspects. Numerology was considered sacred and perhaps a musical-number-color system supposedly based on a condition linked with psychedelic shamanic journeys and artistic creations imparted an ethereal quality, icing on the metaphysical cake.

It’s hard to describe the synesthetic experience to someone who doesn’t have it. One woman I used to work with would always ask me what it meant that, for example, 6 was a light blue. What was the underlying, psychic meaning of it? What did the color tell me about the intrinsic feel of the number 6? “It doesn’t tell me anything, it’s just light blue,” I would answer and she would get mad, as if I was ignoring special access to some universal truth.

I am a painterly writer, especially when writing longhand. Each letter is like a specific colored pencil. Colors inform word and phrasing and permeate through all aspects of what I put on the page. In fiction, I pick character names that are aesthetically pleasing in color and sometimes this bleeds over (unconsciously) into real life. A disproportionate amount of my characters, as well as boyfriends and crushes, have had names that start with A or J (red and green, respectively) and that are artistically agreeable in color.


For today’s writing sample, here’s another sample from the lyric essay “On Synesthesia.” For the first excerpt (the beginning of the essay) click here.

Don’t forget, you can check out other Friday writing samples here. And there’s always the Published and Older Works sections to explore as well.

~Emilia J

11 thoughts on “Legends, Fakers and Painterly Writers – On Synesthesia 2

  1. Right on, I checked out your post and loved it! It’s interesting that you say that your synesthesia isn’t useful b/c to me it sounds endlessly fascinating. Also interesting that your sister has it too–I don’t know of anyone in my family has it. No one’s ever said anything to make me think they do.

    Just out of curiosity, do you know your myers-briggs letters (or your sister’s)? I know some pwople who think there’s a certain synesthetic tendency in certain types. I’m conducting a very informal, completely unscientific study.


  2. Hi Emilia, I had never heard of synesthesia until recently, when some of the comments on one of my #fridayflashes mentioned it. I find the concept quite fascinating, I don’t really understand it, but I can well believe that it may be more common in artistically inclined people, a kind of well to draw from. It would seem that this would be a valuable and precious gift to anyone involved in one of the creative arts, and would probably quite heavily influence their individual style.

    The #fridayflash I wrote is just over 100 words, and is entitled “Colours”

    And if you would like to read it, you can find it here:-


    Best wishes with you studies into the subject. :)

  3. Pingback: The #FridayFlash Report – Vol 4 Number 21 | Friday Flash

    • Interesting, because it’s apparently the INTs that are the most synesthetic. I’m IN for sure, but am always about a 50/50 on the last two. So if there is any truth to the pattern, you would fit it more than your sister does/

  4. Steve – I loved your piece! It does seem very synesthetic so I can see why people mentioned that.

    And yes, I can say from experience that having this kind of synesthesia definitely informs my writing style, in a way that I think I would feel very lost without.

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