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The Color of Lot 49

As a result of a comment I made earlier today, I found myself describing the experience of being synesthetic. But instead of posting a very long reply (something Manton and Jean keep threatening will eventually become impossible to do), I thought I’d turn it into a blog post instead. This is the shortest possible summary of synesthesia. I really could go on and on.

I have synesthesia, which means, among other things, that numbers have colors. While some people with synesthesia apparently have a sort of double-vision when looking at print on the page, for me it’s mostly in my mind’s eye, the way seeing someone’s name on the page, or hearing their voice, might summon their face to you.

Each synesthete’s color association is different. My A is yellow, for example, but I know someone else who’s synesthetic, and her A is red. With two-digit numbers, sometimes the number will have its own color, like my 63, which is yellow, despite my 6 being reddish and my 3 being light green. But sometimes one numeral will overpower the other, like 24, which is mostly yellow because of the 2, with almost no burgundy, which is 4’s color.

Take 49, the number that got this conversation started. My 4 is, as I said, burgundy. My 9 is deep brown. And 49 is a lovely dark brown flecked with rich green, like an old shade tree. No burgundy anywhere.

50, on the other hand, is a pale blue like the sky near the horizon, with wisps of high cirrus clouds. And although 51 is the same, it’s solid like paint: a blue wall with white trim.

This is partly why decades often have their own color. The 40s are a sort of greenish tan or khaki, even though my 4 is burgundy, and even though specific numbers in the 40s all have their own colors, few of which are tan.

Words work the same way as numbers. Individual letters each have a color but, often, words will have a color of their own, or might be a blend of some of their strongest colors…

This also means that “fifty” is different from “50.” The letters have their own colors, and a spoken word is different from a printed numeral.

Sounds also have colors and shapes for me, so music is a visual as well as auditory experience — which is why the idea of photographing “sound” is not actually much of a challenge for me.

Because my associations are so intensely personal, however, no one would understand that a particular image was in fact a visual representation of a sound or a word or a number.

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