Sunday, December 27, 2009


syn-es-the-sia n : A condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color. (Greek syn = together + aisthesis = to perceive)

In spite of the sound of its name, it's not a disease. It's not a disability. I like to think of it as a super-ability. I would never want to give up my vivid world of words and numbers with their colors as I perceive them.

I can't distinctly remember a particular time when I realized that not everyone experienced this, but I know that letters and numbers have always had colors to me. Apparently, this particular type of synesthesia--called lexical or grapheme-color synesthesia--is the most common, although any combination of senses can be affected. Some synesthetes see colors and shapes when they hear music; some taste foods when they hear a sound; some experience smells as touch. There seems to be little hard data out there as to how many synesthetes there actually are, in large part because many don't know there's a name for their perceptions. Current research says that the mixing of senses comes from extra neurological connections that everyone's born with but that most brains prune away very early in life. On occasion, they stay.

What brought this all to mind again was reading the novel A Mango-shaped Space, which tells the story of a fictional 13-year-old girl whose synesthetic experiences were much more intense than mine are. My colors don't impede my ability to do math or learn languages; in fact, they're one of the main reasons I can remember words in new languages so quickly. I may not be able to recall the word exactly, but I'll remember what color it is and be able to deduce the sounds and letters that must be in it. I can remember phone numbers and bike lock combinations by their sequence of colors. I like certain names and words better than others because of the colors in them. I love Denver because of all its different shades of green. Your name has a color to me, usually based on how I perceive its first letter and the other major consonant sounds. After finishing the book tonight, I was inspired to map out my letters and numbers because everyone's alphabet is different. Some of the letters needed multiple crayons to get closer to the right hue and are still not quite accurate, but here you have it:

I've never talked to anyone I knew shared this colored-letter-and-number world, although I'm sure I've met some without realizing it, and I'm curious to hear about other people's experiences. Any of you out there?

Sunday, December 20, 2009


It's well past midnight, and I've been lying in bed since 10:30 without sleeping for a second. I've drifted into almost-sleep, ventured just far enough into surreality to see, through closed eyes in the dark, beams of light streaming from my outstretched fingertips, creative energy straining to be free of the bogged-down-in-work-ness that has been the overarching theme of these past weeks and months. I did eat far too many Christmas cookies before going to bed, but it's more than simple chocolate caffeine bursting around in this brain of mine. It's all the music I want to play, the stories I want to tell, the languages I want to speak, the passion I want to teach, the miles I want to walk, the people I want to love. All of it, all of this light and color, is shooting through me, trying to find its way out, not letting me sleep, more inspired than tired, too impatient to wait for morning. The brilliance of lightning fades all too quickly in sunlight.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas comes early

It's Sunday night, and I'm practically itching for Monday morning to come around so I can get to school and play with my classroom's newest and far-and-away most remarkable toy: our Promethean board.

(Check out more at their website.) It was there waiting for me when I showed up last Wednesday morning; I danced around my classroom and have been mesmerized ever since. For everyone reading without a clue as to what a Promethean board is, which was the case for me a mere three months ago, it's an interactive white board that does everything a computer screen can do but is activated by electronic pens on the board itself, with special software for creating flipcharts (similar to PowerPoint slide shows but with many more interactive capabilities) and hundreds of other exciting tricks. I've had 12 hours of training so far and feel like I've barely scratched the surface of its potential. Ideas are galloping through my mind: class-directed Spanish movies, interactive cultural inquiries, instantaneous analysis of student responses, video conferences with sister schools in Latin America. Tranquila, maestra. Start small. Perhaps an interactive vocabulary lesson tomorrow. Ah, but the horizons are so inviting.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jello Chilies

I've been craving Peruvian food lately, so I decided to cook up a little ceviche and ají de gallina and guanabana ice cream tonight for some of the old Goshen crew that's here in Denver. It's been quite awhile since I've done any serious Peruvian cooking, but I tracked down some recipes and set off to do the house grocery shopping. Unsurprisingly, there was no ají amarillo (a Peruvian type of yellow chili pepper) to be found at Albertsons or Whole Foods, where we usually do our shopping. I headed for one of the Mexican supermarkets to try my luck, but had none, except for finding some frozen guanabana pulp. I finally ended up at the biggest Mexican supermarket I know, the fourth stop of my grocery shopping trip. After searching all the likely aisles in vain for my ají, and more than ready to be done with shopping, I finally asked the man taking inventory of the spices for help. Our conversation went something like this:

"Excuse me, do you know if you sell ají amarillo?"
"Ají un tipo de chile peruano que se usa para hacer ají de gallina..."
(look of skepticism and confusion) "Jello chilies?"
(look of surprise) "No, no, not jello. A pepper. Un chile amarillo."
"But amarillo is jello."
(half second of silence. epiphany.) "OOOOOhhh, yes yes yes, I'm sorry. Yellow chilies. Jellow chilies. ¿Se los vende?"
"A que no sé que this store is more Mexico, no South want that I talk to my friend from Peru? He will know."
"OK, that'd be great."

He proceded to whip out a cell phone and call up the Peruvian friend, who informed us that the store did indeed carry yellow chilies, and that they were located with the other South American products, although neither one of them could tell me where that might be. I gave a heartfelt thanks and returned to my search, meticulously re-scanning every aisle and feeling rather frustrated until I caught sight of a lone 2-liter of soda on a top shelf, a neon-yellow beacon of pure Perú. Inca Kola. I couldn't help but grin. Sure enough, I found the ají amarillo not two feet away, and bought the Inca Kola for good measure, stopping to find the jello-chili man and thank him again on my way to the checkout before heading home for an afternoon of shredding chicken, chopping chilies, soaking raw fish in lime, and sipping on the Golden Cola, which tasted just as terrible as I remembered but made my heart sing. Craving satisfied. Thank you, jello-chili man, for making it possible.