Sometimes I put things off for too long.
In December 2008, right after I defended my thesis, my friend Liesbeth e-mailed me to ask if I wanted to write about synesthesia on my blog. She had just been reading a book about it, called The Frog Who Croaked Blue, and was very excited about the topic, because she had had synesthesia herself since she was a kid. The numbers 1 through 5 were coloured, she told me, and some letters as well. “It’s useful for remembering passwords”, she added.
When I didn’t write the post right away, she asked about it again two weeks later. I really thought I would have time to read the book and write the post sometime soon. But I got distracted with other things. The holidays were coming up, I started a six-month contract job in January, I started looking for freelance and full-time work, travelled all summer, and a year later I still hadn’t written the post when I prepared to move to England.
I always had the topic in the back of my mind, but I just didn’t really know what to write about it. I’m not a synesthete myself, and didn’t know much about the neurology behind it either.
Meanwhile, Liesbeth wrote about it on her own blog in January of this year. It’s an arts/craft themed blog, showcasing all the projects she had been working on in her spare time, or old art school projects. One time she found a colouring book for adults in her favourite magazine, and seeing an image with mostly text, she decided to colour in the letters to match the colours they always looked like to her. At the time, she was also writing a thesis about synesthesia for her art academy teaching degree. In the same blog post, she wrote that until she read The Frog Who Croaked Blue a year earlier – the same book she recommended to me – she always thought that everyone saw letters as colours, and dates in space. When she gave a presentation at her art school, two other students came up to her after class and said that they, too, thought that everyone had that, and didn’t realize it was a unique thing until her presentation.
In the English summary of her synesthesia blog post, Liesbeth explained: “Each character corresponds with his own colour. Some characters are very clear, like the ‘m’ (red), ‘n’ (orange), ‘s’ (blue) and ‘u’ (pink), others not. But I have a strong feeling of colours then, for example the ‘g’ and ‘k’ are a combination of black and green. ”
The picture is a cute poem about tigers and tea (I don’t know the source) which unfortunately doesn’t contain all the letters of the alphabet, so I don’t know what the rest of the letters would look like to her.
And I can’t ask, because Liesbeth passed away very unexpectedly earlier this week.
In between shock and disbelief, I started feeling upset about all the abandoned conversations. I last saw her in person in December 2007. We met at art camp in 1996, and stayed in touch through letters, e-mail, and recently Facebook. The last thing we talked about was Farmville, of all things. I felt guilty for never writing the blog post I promised her!
This is not the post she had in mind. I think she was hoping I would write about the science of synesthesia, but I never got around to read, let alone review, the book she recommended, and I don’t have anything interesting and scientific to add to it. I know she would have liked me sharing the picture that she coloured in, and I had planned to show it as soon as I saw it. I just wish I hadn’t put it off for so long, so that she could have still seen it herself.