Friday, January 18, 2008

4 is a girl: Synesthesia and me

Last night over dinner with my hubby and a friend, somehow we got onto the topic of my kooky way of thinking where I see numbers and letters as having genders and even personalities. Ever since I can remember the numbers 1, 4, 7, and 8 were distinctly female numbers, where 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, and 0 were, well, boys. There's really no reason for my assigning the genders this way--it was all based on a feeling I associated with each. Our friend asked, "What about double digit numbers, like 27?" Clearly, that's a couple. A male and female. They could be friends, team members, or life partners for all I know--but they are together. The gender thing really only applies to single digits so when using longer strings of digits it just becomes a group of individuals. Like 130 is a girl with two boys. I have a fondness for some numbers, usually the ones with more girls in them. I prefer 48 to 45. It's just nicer. My funny way of thinking also applies to letters. Each letter, to me, has not only a gender but a personality, too.

I always thought that this was just a quirk I have from being a painfully shy child with a wild imagination or maybe the elementary school educational system really brainwashed me into thinking that "The Letter People" exist outside of my workbooks. But to be honest, the personalities I think go with each letter are different from the cartoonish representations of The Letter People from first grade. Well, as it turns out, I am not alone. About 1 in 23 people have some form of synesthesia, which refers to a neurological phenomena where the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive path automatically triggers the sensory or cognitive experiences along another path. There are different types of synesthesias, like when someone sees colors for musical sounds. My form of synesthesia is called ordinal linguistic personification. Sometimes, I'll assign my clients letters associated with their personalities--it makes for the ultimate protection of privacy in my case notes. One particularly difficult case is definitely a P--unpredictable, dependent, lack of boundaries, dramatic, and essentially borderline (think Margot from Margot at the Wedding). Ps have always been tricky characters to me. They're pretty bright but very arrogant, annoying, and downright prickly. Sadly, I don't see the personalities of letters when reading or looking at words, just in individual letters. It's too bad because it would make my course reading and clinical cases so much more festive.

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