On Synesthesia + Writing

I have a few hours the next 3 days to turn my mind from poetry to fiction, and then I might not have long blocks of writing, except for what I steal, until preschool starts in October. I’m not looking forward to it for many reasons, but it’s part of necessary life changes, even if it’s not ideal. But I also rely on ample writing time to organize my mind, which is a labyrinthine combination of hyperphantasia, abstraction, flow charts, all that trauma, daydreaming, and various kinds of synesthesia.

There are synesthetic experiences I can’t easily translate into stories without writing them over and over again. There are internal visuals I get that come with texture and flavor, like the snarling black scribble I see, a visual emotion that crowds my head. I don’t know how to name it in words, but it’s haunted me since childhood and feels like a sponge in my mouth and tastes like forest. It could only be soothed as a kid by imagining rolling sand dunes and creamy shades. Normal shit. Definitely didn’t realize other people don’t eat metaphoric sponges or have mirror-touch/pain and mirror-kinetic responses to other people.

Now I try to let the snarl be itself, rather than physically cringing from it. Hard to get away from your own mind, but we all try anyway, only I don’t want to anymore. I’ll take the whole thing as is and keep figuring out how to make it 2-D for writing.

A lot of my thoughts are abstract concepts. Trying to attach words to them sometimes takes me a while. I used to need written scripts for everything in life because verbal wording was a strange language I didn’t know much about unless I was regurgitating facts or mimicking styles of speech like David Attenborough’s to…relay facts. This is how my friends came to nickname me things like “Dictionary” and “Computer” as a kid. Lol, so cozy, not at all clinical and aloof sounding (2 ways people also described me).

Until the scripts became second nature, I had regular panic attacks about having to speak to anyone. I’d often disappear from activities because verbal languaging could be terrifying if I didn’t know a script yet for dealing with an experience but I also was undiagnosed everything and therefore received no support. Perhaps a blessing and a curse as I didn’t get treatment that pathologized and shamed me, nor did I get help making sense of it all until later in my teens when we just called it anxiety. That too.

I got very lost in my head this year (past few meh). There were no scripts. There was only the all-encompassing narrative of fresh trauma’s impact on the bodymind, the old habituated networks of survival I’ve known all my life; the abstraction of internal worlds built far too thoroughly. As much as possible, I’ll try to organize writing around the goblin twins the next few months, and figure out how to maintain writing as the tether that keeps reality closer at hand, but unlike this past winter and spring, it won’t be the only tool I use for that.

How synesthesia works for me made me self-conscious as I started to recognize that other writers’ minds did not perceive in the same ways. The combo of neuro traits makes some aspects of writing flow easily and makes others feel impossible. Last year, critiques on my writing would often note how abstract a section was, and I couldn’t comprehend the confusion for a long time, so I took a bunch of workshops trying to figure out how other people see writing to try and catch the place where my words can land more clearly. It was boggy. The ground built itself beneath my feet and I didn’t like the feeling. In the past, unless I was doing technical and academic writing, I hid away most of my writing in journals where no one but me had to understand anything. Poetry was the only medium I sometimes shared because it functioned more like my mind.

The neuro trait combo also impacts my writing process, making me sometimes reticent to discuss my process since it dwells in a shifting, intuitive landscape I don’t always have language for. I get nervous talking to other writers because I’m scared they’ll figure out I have no fucking clue what I’m talking about except for blobs in my head that feel like things that I circle dozens of times until I’ve sanded the image down into a line I like. It’s all very wibbly-wobbly.

But it’s also not perfectionism, as I don’t have that claustrophobic, desperate feeling that comes with trying to avoid mistakes at all costs. Instead, it’s musical composition and choreography. It’s the opposite of self-consciousness. It’s allowing things to be as they are. It’s letting abstractions simmer for as long as they need until I can identify language. But it’s time-consuming in a way I don’t mind except for when I don’t have time, which at present, there’s going to be a tasty little dearth of.

When I can’t write much, my brain is a boat without an oar drifting through existential soup. I’ve connected with more ND writers lately, which, phew, helps. Where neurotypical writers maybe get to focus more on craft and publishing questions, we ND writers are trying to peer behind every curtain because we need certain foundational cues before we can even worry about the standard problems.

And what are those cues? They’re as varied as we are. It’s a process that takes longer, but we have our places on the internet where we gather and try to guide each other through the labyrinths we each reside in. And like, it’s cool sometimes, too, but we also usually feel like we’ve missed crucial orientations at every turn of humaning and spend a lot of our time stressing about the thing beneath the thing, which is a technical definition of being Neurodivergent.

There is no conclusion. There is only a lot of open question marks and kaleidoscopic imagery made of amorphous concepts I try to spin into language, and a hope that time will return when it’s ready to make it all easier.