Oh, To Be Made Out of Glass

I pulled out my Fat Folder of Fervid Fun, otherwise known as my idea file, casting about for something I wanted to blog about. My pal Leslie Karst over at Chicks on the Case had recently blogged about Marilyn vos Savant, and look at the clipping right on top of my file!

I figured that was fate!

I clipped this article because I’m fascinated with the human mind and body.

Up until 1987, when I got pregnant, I never thought much about how my ‘ol meat skin worked. But then I had questions. So many questions. My doctor would listen patiently and then tell me, “If you were made out of glass, I could answer that.”

Then in 2017 I had a benign tumor plucked from inside my spinal column which fascinated and horrified me. Still does, in fact. It seems every day is a new adventure in figuring out the brain-body connection. (If you want to read more about that escapade, there are a couple of posts here and here. Nothing gross, though, unless you ask nicely.)

Again, until it mattered, I hadn’t thought too much about how my brain worked. The day after my surgery they hoisted me out of my bed and two therapists held on to this strappy contraption they trussed me up in. I was chatting and laughing, happy to be on my feet and not paralyzed. They pointed me across the room toward my husband and told me to walk, so I did. But then I saw him go pale and I looked down. I honest-to-goodness thought I was walking normally, but I hadn’t moved an inch. My mind told me I was marching across the room, but my legs didn’t get the message at all. It was like when you try to call Verizon.

Recovery from spinal surgery continues to be a hoot, although not that dramatic these days. Even though it’s been five years, my brain simply doesn’t talk to my nerves very well anymore. Example … I went to step on a spider in the basement the other day. If my floor was a clock, he was on the twelve. But when I aimed at him, my foot landed at about two-thirty. What the what? Tried again. Ten-forty-five. The poor spider didn’t know what was happening and skeedaddled to ten o’clock so, of course, my foot stomped at seven-fifteen. At this point I was laughing and just hoping if I stuck with it long enough, he’d run under my foot at some point and commit seppuku.

But back to Marilyn vos Savant’s description of auditory pareidolia.

I think this interests me so much because in addition to having my nerves scrambled, I’ve done a ton of research into synesthesia, another condition that people think is made up. Synesthesia is when senses are crossed. Like if you hear a certain musical chord, you also see the color green. Or if you’re angry, you taste peanut butter. There are a million different ways to be synesthetic, all fascinating.

I read a Smithsonian Magazine article about it and it completely captivated my imagination. This was back when I wrote for kids so I wrote a couple of manuscripts in a YA mystery series where the main character had synesthesia.

My research led me to talk to people about their experiences with it—long before the internet made it easy—and so many of them had a common story. Either they didn’t realize they saw the world differently than everyone else until they were well into adulthood, or they found out in kindergarten playing with those wooden blocks with the letters of the alphabet painted on them. They’d be annoyed because the blocks didn’t match the alphabet they saw in their heads. A was supposed to be red, B was yellow, C was green and so forth, and the blocks were painted all wrong. And when they pointed this out to the other kids or their teacher, they were met with blank stares because nobody knew what they were talking about.

So if they didn’t have an experience like this with the blocks, they typically didn’t find out they had synesthesia until they were much older. This made perfect sense to me because how often have you ever had a conversation with someone about how your emotions taste or the feel of music on your ankle?

But when I wrote about my high school marching band character just learning he has synesthesia, the members of my critique group at the time called me out on it. “No way!” … “You’d totally know you were different!” … “How could he not know?”

I had to convince them, just like this woman writing to Marilyn had to convince her husband about her auditory pareidolia, a condition she most likely was born with. She probably asked her husband, “What song is that?” and he gave her that blank look.

I still want to write about Dash, my synesthetic teenager, but in the original drafts I hadn’t quite been able to do him justice. Maybe some day.

I suspect every one of us has some unique physical or brainwave oddity, whether we’re aware of it or not. So what’s yours? Does your foot come down where you tell it to? Are you double-jointed? Can you roll your tongue or turn it upside down? Can you roll your Rs? (I can’t!) Do you have synesthesia or pareidolia? Did you lose your sense of smell or taste when you had Covid? Can you sense an earthquake before it happens? Can you contort your body so it fits into a suitcase? Do you have ESP? Does the ouija board always move for you? Did you ever Jumanji anything? If not, is there some oddity that fascinates you?

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