Hi . . . Missye K. Clarke, Newly-Realized Synesthete

**The title is solely from the author’s imagination, and is not looking to do disservice to those with this neurological condition or for ones familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous.**

Live Streaming from The Saturday Show on WQXR’s app: John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Great song if you want an explosion of colors bouncing in your mind’s eye like blown dandelion puffs on a breeze like I have now.

Allow me to share a funny, true story. And thanks for the “Hi, Missye!” hellos for being part of this incredible platform, by the way.

My youngest son devours chocolate milk, especially if it’s a lovely blend of soft-serve and imported dark chocolate of Michelin Star grade. I found a great little seafood place in Lancaster PA called Mr. Bill’s (est. 1974), and took the last of their blueberry, strawberry, and orange cremes in stock after remembering the picture he’d showed me from online. One orange creme I snagged was his. Past tries of blueberry and strawberry milk left me gun-shy for another go; the sugar content may as well have been akin to rocket fuel-boosters for the Apollo 11 mission.

Our drinks deliciously cold hours later, I left my orange cremes be. He insisted I sip his strawberry and blueberry after saying, “It’s a liquid form of a great blueberry muffin–seriously.”

I looked at him dubiously.

“No, Mom, it’s not the sugar version of Thurgood Stubbs’ salt addiction. You’ll like it,” he pressed.

He made me laugh; I got the joke, took his container. Well . . . if Sam-I-Am liked green eggs and ham . . .

I dared a taste.

And delightfully found it to be exactly what pastel purple would taste like!

We sipped the milks again, but I barely contained my excitement.

My son: “Totally a liquid blueberry muffin. Yeah!”

Me: “I see that. But it’s what pastel purple taste like if more people could taste colors.”

He, looking at me like I’m bats (which is often): “Mom . . . are you saying you’re tasting a color?”

Me: “Well, I see musical notes in colors, too, so . . . yeah, I guess I am.”

And later that night, the orange creme, breathtakingly delicious, I tasted a lovely dream.

You’re A . . .Who?!?

A synesthete (pronounced sin-UHSS-theet, or sin-ESS-theet). It’s the medical term for one having sensory pathways crossed, which is synesthesia (from the Greek syn, meaning “together,” and thesia or thaesia for “sensation.”). According to dictionary.com, it’s an “involuntary neurological condition where the individual activates a second sensory pathway when the first is stimulated.” Apparently there’s more than 60 ways to either instigate or innately have synesthesia–one way to be part of this is to drop acid, but that’s not surprising (Sidenote: I’ve never in life dropped acid, nor will I, research or no. I’m taking zero chances of lasting side-effects, I’m scared I’ll become addicted to the substance, and/or what it’ll do to me during and after consumption. I know me–if I’d’ve had a positive, lovely trip, I’d want to do it again to get that back. If I’d’ve had a bad, negative trip, I’d be tormented for hours like I am in one of my asleep-dream nightmares. Best that door stays welded closed and moved on from altogether). There’s no real statistics in how many have this condition, because baseline science is only just putting the call out to those with such exceptions to how the senses are so crossed to be double-blind studied, or done so objectively.

In my mind’s eye since I was young, I’ve always seen musical notes in colors; the blueberry milk episode, obviously external, only recently. Until now, I thought everyone heard music this way. For others affected with this still-understudied condition, it manifests externally and has a strong run in families. Synesthetes can also become such from a stroke, blindness, or another health anomaly. In one extreme case, a British woman, according to a special about her documented on NatGeo in 2011, had to get rid of her television; any time food, cologne, or laundry advertisements aired, she could literally, just by hearing the ad described, “taste” the human and pet foods; laundry detergent, soap washes, and dish liquid; colognes and perfumes, too. But the times she found her synesthesia pleasant was during certain weather days. Sunny days, she’s reported, the sunshine tasted of lemons, pineapples, or bananas. On rainy days, she heard the raindrops in random musical notes the way wind chimes sounded on blustery days, and saw the raindrops on her patio table in sprays of colors. When she used the products she could “taste” by hearing them on ads, when actually using then, she didn’t have this sensation.

Weird, right?

I remember asking my mother could she taste the color blue when I was about four. Trying not to laugh, she said, no, honey, blue’s a color. I told her I could taste it. She asked–amusing me, probably–what did it taste like? Like ice. Or snow. Or ridonkulously really cold water, I said, and does today. As for my musical notes in colors–they range in dark blues and greens, with pops of distant bright white and silver for the A major chords. C majors are royal blues, shamrocks, bold reds, deep golds. F majors: red, bright yellows, bright whites . . . and pretty much so on.

Inspired by the NatGeo doc, my experiences and its scientific term, a character in MccGuinness/Pedregon Casebook #3 has this condition. Gregory Street is afflicted with synesthesia and a key component in helping the crew solve why former top five music competitors are homicide targets. Unfortunately, he’ll make the killer’s crosshairs in his main goal of murdering my narrator, but I wanted a way to fold in this condition with solving this crime. I just hope I do Street’s death justice not only in believability, but showing his condition with grace and dignity in the honest portrayal I’m offering. Moreover, it’s my biggest hope neurological science not only finds a way to explore, deep diagnose, and explain why this occurs, but shows its daily impact on affected individuals. Do they “taste” fire like they see the flames, hear them roar, feel its heat? Do they “hear” mud, or dirt as they feel, smell, or see it? Can they “see” petrichor–the way a geographical landscape looks and smells after a hard, fast, and intense rain? Can they “touch” sounds the way we can feel the differences in sandpaper, or petting an animal, or holding an ice cube?

Have you known someone, or maybe you yourself, have this sensory cross-stimulant? Have they shared their experiences with you? If you’re beset with tis condition, what’s your experiences been like? Do you find this condition strange in a good or bad way? I’d love to know your thoughts, so please share in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Hi . . . Missye K. Clarke, Newly-Realized Synesthete

  1. Hi Missye! I had not heard of this condition before. It’s interesting and makes you unique! I think seeing colors when you hear music would fun! I love music. It would be a whole new appreciation for instruments and songs, I’d think. And to see colors when a person tastes of smells… I could see where that would be overwhelming at times. Thank you for a fascinating post!


  2. Fascinating. And thanks for using the word “petrichor.” I don’t see it, but living in New Mexico, it’s my favorite rare and special smell.


    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Amber. Yeah, petrichor was a new one to me, too, until I heard someone describe the smell after a hard, sudden rain. Appreciate your liking this poat, too, thank you.


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