Category Archives: Synesthesia

HARELIP

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Another kid tells me a joke about the (fill in the blank) and the harelip. No idea what a hair lip is, but apparently it’s somebody who talks funny. Every joke I hear after that about this hair lip character involves the comedian of the moment talking in a particular whiney voice while on his way to a punch-line based on a pun created by the hair lip’s odd pronunciation of a word. I carry on as the only person in the world, it seems, unacquainted with the hair lips. I estimate that hair grows inward and does something to a guy’s lip that messes with his speech.

One day at work I’m in the office when a secretary’s mom stops by. The mom speaks, and I hear it. I hear that voice. I’m figuring Mom’s a comedienne. I’m waiting for little miss to grin or snicker. Oh Mom. Stop it. You’ll embarrass me. Waiting for Mom’s punch-line. But she keeps it up, keeps talking like one of those hair lips. Daughter says nothing, looks nothing. Not at all embarrassed. Anyway, Mom vanishes after a bit, and I’m sorting all of this out when a guy I work with asks the girl why her mom was talking like that. If I can shrink into a dust bunny…but I can’t. I know I turn red. Obviously a defective trait at work with Mom, so why isn’t he getting that? I wait for the girl to get defensive and jump the guy for bringing it up. Instead, What are you talking about? Like he’s an idiot, which he is at this moment, but for reasons other than any she has a handle on. And here’s an easy out that she’s handing him if he’s quick, but he’s not. Tell her you don’t know what you were talking about and change the subject. Nope. He takes another shot at it. Clarifies the question. The girl sits still with a dumbfoundedness that’s all sincere all over her face. Insists now she has no idea what he means. Finally, he figures it out. Late, but he gets it. To Daughter, Mom speaks plenty normal. In fact, Mom speaks just as she always has—since Daughter was born.

I learn a profound lesson here. I think about it a lot afterward. This girl’s smart, good at her job, and fun to be around. Someone you can have conversations with about the think-harder things in life. But she can’t hear her mother like the rest of the world hears her. In time, I begin noticing similar ignorance with people as it pertains to their loved ones. I remember asking a friend about the odd behavior of a family member and the friend doesn’t understand what I’m alluding to. If my own mother speaks in a weird pattern, how am I going to know? Is it that way for everyone whose parent speaks differently? Or do some children hear it?

I would forever after keep my antennae up in that area, and I would learn things. Children often do not hear the accents of their parents, if, say, that parent comes from another country and the child has grown up speaking English in the United States. Sometimes the child, though, will adopt a certain level of her parents’ accent but not know it. And you—outside of the family circle—will notice their shared vocal patterns and communicative quirks. If Mom pronounces a hard th word (though) with a soft th (thatch), then you can bet so do the kids. Yet sometimes you’ll meet a guy or girl who speaks perfect, accent-free English, and then you meet her or his parents who are straight from the old country, and your friend may be unaware of Mom and Dad’s accents—or fully aware.

This all gets even deeper, though. Okay, this is different, but it’s related. It all ties in. What about ourselves are we not getting that everybody else is? What are we getting that no one else is? People notice inside-the-head attributes about themselves, quirks, that they never hear mentioned by other people. Women, from my observations, will be more likely than men to keep it hushed for fear of being exposed as weird. Someone had to be first to give a name to déjà vu—probably a guy. When guys notice things about themselves–strange experiences of the mind–they’ve never heard discussed or described by others, they will usually just assume others experience it too or they don’t waste time dwelling on it. There are always exceptions, some of which would include psychopaths, murderers, pedophiles, cannibals, pursuers of bizarre fetishes and these stuffs, but that’s beyond the scope of what I’m dealing with here. A woman on the other hand will spend a lot of time worrying that she is different and will sometimes be haunted by feelings or experiences that are in reality far more common than she suspects. I know. I’ve been the one to pass on the good news before and more than once or twice. For example, I’ve noticed that when the season changes to autumn, with that first hint of cold air, I get this overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. I always have, and I’ve always thought it was interesting and pleasant, though I’d not heard it brought up in conversation by anyone else. Neither did I care. I decided to give that trait to the protagonist in my present novel. I was sure someone would recognize what I was describing. Recently a woman confided in me how the change of season to autumn at the time was making her think of old times for some reason, making her miss those days and certain people. Kinda weird, huh? Something about the smell in the air, she said. I asked her if maybe just maybe it happened every year. She said it did, and then asked how I knew.

Synesthesia. This is when one sensory, cognitive avenue within a person trips another one automatically. Letters and numbers, and even sounds, have a specific color. J is purple. 3 is red. A humming engine is orange. Days of the week or months of the year have personalities. Or colors. Or sounds. Or flavors. Mirror synesthesia is when an individual watches another person being touched and feels that touch himself, similar to the identical twin phenomenon.  More than five-dozen types of synesthesia have been discovered. Many synesthetes grow up believing that everybody has their same associative predispositions—that you and I see 8 as yellow, green as mean, or November as blueberry-flavored. They won’t know any of this is uncommon until some right-time, right-place conversation tips them off.

Have you ever been eye-squinting, face-crinkling confused at what your friend thinks of as being physically attractive? Whereupon the letters W-T-F have all kinds of color?

A type of dream befalls us where we realize that we’ve had this dream before, or more accurately, been here in this same place in our dreams in the past–only we’ve forgotten about it after waking each and every time. You’ll feel a sensation of: “I remember now! How could I have forgot?” I’ve never seen this written or heard it discussed in terms of dreaming, but I’m certain enough I’m not the only one to experience it that I’ll bring it up in a public forum. From reading the journals of those individuals who watched people die while following Napoleon’s army out of Russia, I know that before giving up their ghosts many would say “I remember now!” while staring into the ether and smiling. And I have read the same thing from people watching someone die in a hospital in modern times.

I’m still left to wonder if anyone else has noticed this characteristic in people—the characteristic of being oblivious of their parents’ speech patterns or even of the off-kilter behavior of a family member. How many of us are silently bothered by anomalies within ourselves that we think are as peculiar to us as fingerprints? If you search deep enough in surviving texts from Ancient Greece, you’ll see that the classic writers covered about every such subject. Near-death and out-of-body experiences, déjà vu, lucid dreams, bilocation and what have you, but they didn’t have a particular name for lots of these phenomena. The recent (by human standards) foray into the study of the mind with all of its specific fields has given us names for the hitherto unnamed. It has also fleshed out defects like dyslexia in ways that have led to treatments and cures. It is better, then, that we can recognize and create taxonomies for mental experiences so we might benefit society as a whole.

I made notes of many of these anomalous sensations and weirdnesses of mine and split them between two main characters as I wrote my story. They did not have the term “déjà vu” (already seen) in 1812, so, lacking a good way to describe it, the female character keeps it to herself. As she looks out a window to see the city burning, she thinks in the common Moscow French of the time: “J’ai déjà vu cela.” (I have already seen this.) In some other time, in some other world. She also sees spoken words in her head and mentally arranges them in pyramids as people speak them.

Hello.

How are

you doing today?

This is one I got second-hand. She has been assigned this trait of not discerning her father’s brogue, too.

I use all this stuff in creating characters, and I use it in figuring out the world. Eventually I learned that one out of 700 ( or a thousand) babies is born with a cleft in its lip that the French called “With a lip that has a split like that of a hare.” The English pared it down to a more manageable “harelip.” Now known as “cleft lip,” the defect is also akin to the cleft palate and affects the speech. Modern medical technology has rendered this defect correctable, fortunately. So from whence derive the jokes? They would have to come from someone old enough to understand puns, but young enough to be so stupid as to turn something like that into a joke. And this gets into the psychopathic, sociopathic, narcissistic, cannibalistic pedophilic, put-me-in-diapers-and-spank-me categories of psychological oddities that exceed the bounds of this little disquisition. Maybe some other day.