This is how it happens: We contort ourselves, like paper flowers. We wait, twisted in our beautiful shapes until the tears fall to melt us away. Damp, we wilt. Damp, we tear easily. We are not quickly mended.
This is how it happens when we love with our full hearts, when we turn down our brain chatter, the endless no, not this one. Not like this: We grow twisted into beholder-defined beauty. We wait, in our places. We wait to be plucked up in delicate fingers. We hold the pose until we tremble at the slightest breeze, until our bodies, wracked with pain at the unnatural turns we endure, seize and quiver and shake with relief at the softest whispered maybe. At the nod of a head or the upward curve of a lip. Of any sign we are good. We think, maybe today I am enough. Maybe today I have done this right. Maybe today you will look at me and see how hard I have worked to be the lovable one you need. Maybe maybe maybe.
These are the stories we tell ourselves: I can’t leave now. We are on the brink. There is a cliff. I am the tether, I am the stop to the fall. I am I am I am doing good work here. I am.
These are the stories we tell others: It’s been a tough day. A tough week. Lots going on. A tough patch. I’m so sorry. It’s not usually like this. We are working on it. We we we.
The truth? This is how we die: Slowly. In pain. We die waiting for signs of life deep down we knew would never break barriers except between us and Hell because we are not the reason, we are not the fix, we are not loved or in love or loving. Because we are not ourselves.
Do you know what synesthesia is? It’s when your experiences feed to the wrong senses, such as color to taste or smell to touch.
I’m a synesthete. I’ve been told that the positive ways I experience the world are similar to what people search for when they get high. I imagine the negative ways must resemble a bad trip.
Usually I don’t share this aspect of myself on the page, but since it affects my writing (and my everyday), I thought I’d try being open and see what happens. It’s not something I’m ashamed of, but I do get tired of people looking at me like I’m out of my mind when I slip up and express the world the way I see it. More of that in a second. First, here’s a little about what my world experience is like:
Music is often tactile and visual. I can “hold” it, and it occurs in moving colors and shapes, or often fireworks between my right ear and eye. Textures often create pain in areas of my body they aren’t touching, like newspaper and the joints of my right arm including knuckles. There is a class of sounds that makes my teeth feel explosive. Scents can cause me to lose my train of thought because they are visual, and shapes and letters are always the wrong color. I experience pain as humming or buzzing, often not processing it until I begin to gag because it’s too much. When I speak, I’m actually reading white, type-written words off a black space. When I backtrack, it’s because I missed a word and I need to retrieve it. If I get confused during conversation, it’s usually because your words and mine jumbled in the air and I can’t access mine correctly.
Those are just a sampling. If you could step inside my head and try to express what my brain throws at me, you would understand that it can be horribly frustrating to carry on a conversation when there is background chatter. If you have ADHD, you can probably grasp what I’m saying here. Instead of extra auditory noise, though, I “see” extra visual noise behind me. If I’m running on sensory overload, this is when I get the most irritated glances or snarky comments. Basically, I stumble and vocalize jumbled half-thoughts or simply go silent. I have also been known to make random statements such as, “But he is gray and his prickles are stab-like. I don’t trust him.” Those moments are the worst because I almost always blurt those statements out while interrupting someone else. *cringe* *facepalm*
I have trained myself to successfully translate my thoughts into acceptable conversation most of the time. This doesn’t mean I’m articulate, but it does mean I practice daily self-censorship. The result is that I have stopped even writing the way I think. Sometimes, I do drop the pretense. Especially when speaking to another synesthete. Here is a partially true-to-my-experience text to like-thinker:
“Long story short, I was bricked up and saw the red of myself like a big raging mouth waiting to vacuum me up. It made me sudden and flash orange on black like pulsing. But I did this thing where I went back into those moments where I was kicked or hurt or hated and remembered all the sad blues and pale yellows and came out with shapes and boxes and gem stones and a new life I chose each time until I could look at the big red mouth and see all the teeth and know it was me and that I wasn’t bad, just scared.”
I bet you can parse that, but most people don’t understand. So I might say something simpler:
“Long story short, I was really angry and it scared me until I did some regression therapy.”
I think of this as the “English” version, meaning I said/wrote it in plain English. I think of the other version as the “true” version since it more accurately reflects my inner world. Small confession: synesthesia is the reason I’m long-winded. I can’t “see” if you are understanding me so I keep making word circles until I used the right color and am sure I said what I was trying to say. You grok? (That’s honestly the best I explanation I can make.)
But back to English vs. true speech. Lately, I’ve been merging them in my work. Poetry, fiction and nonfiction all benefit from sensory immersion. My choice to use English to write robbed my work for years. When I stopped fighting my different senses is when my work began finding its place in publications. That led me to think about how the reason I teach Writing through Trauma is to help others on the road to accepting their full selves. The most truly beautiful writing I’ve been privy to are the pieces that stem from the true moments of fully honoring who we are in our experience regardless of grammar or punctuation.
Honestly, even though many aspects of synesthesia are uncomfortable for me (like all the colors of the eighties), I wouldn’t change the way I process. I love seeing the world the way I do. When I need a break from routine, I have an ongoing movie to watch in my own eyelids. Or I can ride classical music to the brightest yellow squiggle.
This isn’t as uncommon as it was once thought to be. There are many artists expressing their inner world in various mediums, like this painter. Are you a synesthete? Do you know one? Have you had a similar experience with social awkwardness or finding success with self-acceptance? It may not seem like it, but this is kind of sensitive for me, so don’t leave me alone here!
My aunt made this for me when I was visiting Lebanon in 2003. It was hot hot hot, even up on the mountain. I think she could see how much I wanted something more than the Tang-like powdered mango drink they kept feeding us. She got a whole bunch of oranges, lemons and a knife and set to work.
5 lb bag oranges
3 lb bag lemons
2 cups sugar
Wash and cut up lemons and oranges into small pieces–rinds on. Put them in a huge bowl with the sugar over the top. Stick your hands in there and squeeze all the fruit. Let it sit on the counter for an hour. Remove rinds, squeezing out any remaining juice. Fish out seeds or strain. Mix well. Refrigerate. Serve cold.
Tien Linton is a photographer for JealousyJane Couture in Bloomington, IN. Photographs from his “Late at Night” series have appeared alongside two pieces on this site: “Someday I Will Be Fearless”by Amy Gigi Alexander and My upcoming post, “My Synesthesia Experience: The World and the Page.” You can connect with Tien and find more of his work here.
I knew I’d read about it somewhere: a man who could return the Woman’s Bond. It was a few days after the connection came alive to me—and, oh, how alive I feel now!—that the memory resurfaced. Really, it sort of niggled. I couldn’t shake the certainty that what I was doing should still be impossible. That this awakening wasn’t meant for me. Could I be good enough for this?
After Jana shielded herself and retreated, the niggle became a nag. The nag became a shout. The shout was persistent. So I shielded myself. It turns out I can do anything Jana can do. I threw up a wall a mile thick and I dove into the Chronicles. They say I was there for nearly a week. I refused to open myself to them. They brought me food, which I ate. And drinks and a blanket, but how can I know if I slept when it seems to me that I was never awake?
It can’t be true, but what I remember is that I read all of it. Every Chronicle. Even the lost ones I’ve recovered and no other soul knows about. And somewhere in the pile of history and wisdom, I found what I was looking for. The Story went like this:
“When Sons knew their own hearts, they knew also the hearts of those paired to them. But through the Ages, Sons lost themselves. It happened gradually, but the Daughters noticed. Such is their nature. The Daughters lost themselves, too, but they were able to rebuild the internal world. They rebuilt it without Sons. Sons were too far gone. But there will come a Son who will see again the inside. He will see again when a Daughter who needs him reaches for him. And the Daughter who reaches him will be etched of Power and one removed from Glory.”
The words were written in the old style called Prophecy. It is said the knowledge is always there for us, if only we know how to look for it. It is also said that some things are hidden from us, and there is no use looking. I have always looked even though I know what I will find are more questions. The question now is, am I the Son who will wake? Further, have other Sons awoken? Am I one in a trend from a Prophecy that just hit its mark?
If this Story is mine, then Jana is the Daughter who is “etched of Power and one removed from Glory.” What does that mean?
My children struggle to fall asleep. We have followed every lead when it comes to creating a relaxing bedtime routine. For weeks, this included my husband and I handing over our iPhones so our sons could listen to guided meditations. We would then creep back in their rooms to retrieve our handheld devices. This led to many jokes about iPhone fairies and even more stress because neither Nathan nor I can be categorized as stealthy. There was always the possibility we would wake the boys back up.
When I heard from Melissa Hasan about her book, Rabbit Dreams, I knew my family needed to give it a try. Rabbit Dreams is a read-aloud guided meditation for easing your children to sleep. I put it to use the evening it arrived. It didn’t take much work to slip into the rhythm of the story. Hasan’s writing is fluid. I found myself calming along with my kids. Frankly, the grown-ups being calm is half the battle.
I love this book and its illustrations. The images are absorbing, the story an adventure at the same time as all components evoke serenity. Rabbit Dreams has been passed from room to room among our three kiddos. Most frequently, it lands with my nine-year-old son who can read it to himself after it is read aloud to him. And because the pictures are just as calming as the text, my two-year-old can also enjoy this book on her own, although she tends to rip books, so we don’t let her.
I hope you enjoy this brief interview with Melissa about her process in creating this beautiful book. I hope you also order your own copy (links below). I think this is the perfect picture book to gift new parents. Honestly, this book is great for kids, but it’s also great for grown ups. No kids required.
Tell me about the process of writing this book. Aside from parenting, do you have any experiences that fed into the idea for a meditative bedtime picture book?
This was a story that I told my daughter to help her fall asleep. She had bad dreams or scary dreams starting around 18 months and they lasted until she was four. We tried many things, and many ways of doing bedtime reading and bedtime stories. This method I hit upon by accident during a long and stressful trip to Pakistan when she was just under two. The time change was very difficult (it’s about 12 hours different) and she was struggling with falling asleep in new places with new sounds and new people. One night, I told her to dream about all the fun things we saw that day, which included many goats. She asked me to tell her more about the goats, and I began to recap what we saw, repeating “just dream and dream about it.” And it worked. Over the next few days, I perfected the refrain and the tone and refined the story of goats. When that story got a little old, I tried rabbits. It was a huge hit, and Rabbit Dreams was born.
How did you find an illustrator?
I searched online and looked at hundreds of portfolios of artists in my area and around California. When I found a few artists whose style matched the image I had in my mind for the book, I emailed them. Hajra Meeks not only responded, but was excited about the idea. I sent her the text and my ideas for the images, and she loved it and wanted to work with me. It was really a lucky find, because we have a lot in common and our visions of the rabbit and backgrounds really meshed.
What’s next for the Dream & Dream & Dream series?
This summer, I will be working harder to promote Rabbit Dreams outside of my immediate geographic area. I’m finishing my Elementary teaching credential, so my book has had to take the back seat for a while. I’m hoping to get it into libraries in my area, and have a few more readings throughout the San Francisco Bay area during the summer. My reading at The Wooden Horse (an independent toy/book store) was so much fun, and several people bought copies.
I have written another in the series, called Tonight I Dream of Goats. It currently lives in a drawer in my office, waiting for its turn. Hajra and I worked so well together on Rabbit Dreams that I don’t plan to go looking for a new illustrator. It’s really a question of time – I certainly won’t be ready for a new book before 2016, and then I’ll have to see what her art schedule looks like, too.
Where can I get my copy?
Paperback copies are on Amazon, but you can now get the hardcover (which is much nicer, in my opinion) from several book/toy stores in the Bay Area – The Wooden Horse (Los Gatos), Tiny Tots (Campbell), and Reach and Teach (San Mateo). Both Tiny Tots and Reach and Teach have it available to buy on their websites.
Melissa Hasan is a writer and mother in the Bay Area.