Saturday, December 6, 2008

Synesthesia, Metaphors and Digital Cameras

The auction to raise money for Jo Leigh is still going on. (FYI for anyone interested: The historical partial manuscript critique by GH finalists is up only until Monday, and the contemporary critique is up until Wednesday...) Because I've been thinking about her, I've been popping over to her website and reading several of her blog posts this past week. The topic of one of them, from September 19, 2008, continues to fascinate me.

Jo was talking about her research on the brain, particularly in relation to creativity and, more specifically, to the use of metaphor. In her post she writes:

"People think in all different ways, and it turns out that a great many artists are synesthetes, where the brain blends two or more senses. For example, someone hears the word cat and simultaneously sees the color blue.

There are various grades of synesthesia, some profound and some subtle. Some people are simply visual thinkers, or perhaps that should be visual rememberers. When they see a cat, they don’t see blue, but their memories pluck out things that somehow, someway resonate with cat and bring them to the fore. As in: cat-soft quilt from childhood-scratch of sandpaper on fingertip-squish of Jello-distant thunder-etc. All in a split second of course, but the remembrance of somewhat similar, vaguely suggestive memories are available for use. Sometimes they’re just thoughts, but sometimes they become a book by Barbara Samual or an image that lingers from Stephen King.

Some people simply think metaphorically, and when you read their words, they are filled with color and light and images that surprise and delight, that give the reader the gift of their special sight.

And some people do not think metaphorically. Like me. Instead of images and sensations, what happens to me is that odd bits of other conversations come to me. Real or imagined, I don’t know, but my associations are predominantly heard, not seen."

I not only loved her insight here, but I appreciated it for personal reasons. It added a critical piece to an unsolved puzzle of mine. (Or, to expand the visual reference, it was like one of those X-shaped puzzle pieces that you just don't believe is really going to match the others around it, but when you slip it in, it DOES and it illuminates the whole section.) Jo goes on to talk about how she's a dialogue writer. How she's had to struggle with the use of metaphor in her own writing. That her strength turned out to be auditory in nature as opposed to "word-pictures," but that doesn't mean her process isn't a good one, too.

I nodded as I read this. Part of my unsolved mystery has to do with modalities--and the fact that I've never been able to pinpoint my primary one. I seem to slide around, depending on the art form, from visual to auditory to kinesthetic--and it disturbs me that I'm so inconsistent. More than that, it makes me wonder why I can't seem to tap into my more visual side when I write--at least not in that first draft, where the only visual things my characters do are smile too much and shrug too often. I'm very dialogue heavy in fiction, and I find myself forgetting to describe...stuff.

I kept thinking about Jo's interesting post tonight as I was buying my first digital camera. Finally. And laughing at myself and my mysterious, long-standing resistance to getting one. It was behavior so completely polar to the reaction I had when getting my beloved iPod, it almost made me think, "Ah-ha! I'm one of those auditory learners after all! Mystery solved. Case closed."

But then I found out that little camera could take movies (I know, I know, everyone else already knew this) and the world was suddenly orange and gold--a Florentine cupola blinding passersby with its relentless glinting--and I wanted to be visual again. To try to capture it.


Caryn Caldwell said...

I'm the same way, writing all the dialogue and then having to go back and layer in the description and actions later. I find, though, that my favorite scenes are the ones that come to me whole, the ones where I have the dialogue and the internal monologue and the description all together, as one piece, and all of them come pouring out together. I wish it always happened that way for me, though I think it happens more than it used to, so perhaps it takes some practice?

Brett said...

Isn't it great when we feel like we're just a little bit closer to understanding our own thought processes, or tapping into the reasons we think a certain way or interpret life in our own particular way?

That's exciting that you finally got a digital camera. You'll LOVE it! My favorite thing about digital cameras is that you get that instant gratification of seeing the photo immediately...and deleting it & re-taking if necessary!! :)

Robin said...

Great post, Marilyn. Lots to think about. I don't think I can pinpoint my exact modality either. My blender is a mish-mash, but discovering each ingredient is a lot of fun!

Enjoy your digital camera!

Marilyn Brant said...

Caryn~You're so right about the magic of scenes like that! I wish they'd happen for me more often, too. I'm about 150 pgs. into the new book and I haven't encountered a wholly envisioned scene in it. Yet. I'm living in hope :).

Brett~That's exactly what I felt reading Jo's post--just a teeny bit closer to understanding something so intangible to me. I don't know why I keep thinking if I finally "get" the modality thing nailed down, I'll have a definitive answer on anything, but like the Myers-Briggs test, I'm forever in search of a true pattern...

Robin~LOL about the blender!! See--now you're speakin' my language! We've got Modality Smoothies--auditory, visual and kinesthetic...with a dash of cinnamon and a swirl of whipped cream :).

lainey bancroft said...

Mmm. Cinnamon and whipped cream. I want a Modality Smoothie too! :)

Sorry. :(

Great post, Marilyn. Very thought provoking.

(and I soooo love the name of your blog)

Marilyn Brant said...

Thanks, Lainey! I'm so glad you stopped by!! And of course you can have a smoothie, too :). I'll go dig up some other fun toppings. I know I've got chocolate sprinkles around here somewhere...

L.A. Mitchell said...

In Jo's words, I found myself. I should probably be languishing over on literary shelves because almost everything that comes out the first draft is highly sensory and introspective on the character's part. I struggle with dialogue and basic black and white economy needed to balance out the other.

Because of your fascination with music, I'd have guessed you're an auditory thinker. I'm guessing also, that it's helpful to edit by reading aloud, am I right?

Marilyn Brant said...

L.A.~Yes. I always edit aloud :). It's not merely helpful, it's necessary. I like it best if I can read the scene in a normal conversational voice, but if I'm working out in public, or if I'm home but everyone else is asleep, I still whisper the words aloud. Even now. Even typing this comment...

Pamala Knight said...

You're just so smart, it isn't even funny. That's an awesome bit of self-examination there, Marilyn dear.
I missed you desperately at Monday night's meeting and did something suitably rash, lol. See what happens when you abandon me?


Marilyn Brant said...

Ohhhh, Pamala...what did you DO??! (*off to email you privately* :-)