That’s me on the right, kicking my sister Elizabeth on Halloween, 1967.
Elizabeth jabbed me in the ribs with her elbow, just as Kirk and Spock went to blows with each other on the planet Vulcan.
“I didn’t do it!” I balked.
How could I have done something to disturb her? I was perfectly still, lying on my stomach next to my sister. We were rapt in our focus as we watched a re-run of Star Trek. Captain Kirk and Dr. Spock were in a fight to the death with a beastly two-headed weapon, the lirpa. One end was a heavy dull cudgel; the other a crescent-shaped blade. Spock swung out, slicing cleanly through Kirk’s jersey, as the captain stumbled backward.
“Don’t!” Beth kicked me, I reciprocated, and soon we were slugging each other, fighting as fiercely as the two men on the television. When our mother came into the den to break up it up, my sister pinned the conflict on me.
“Carol started it! She kicked me!
“Liar! You kicked me twice…”
“No I didn’t!” I cried. Our mother threatened to turn off the TV, a fearsome punishment for Gen-X children. Beth and I agreed to a reluctant peace, lying three feet from each other as we watched a defeated, lifeless Kirk get beamed aboard the Enterprise.
This scene of accusation and denial played out continuously through my childhood and into my adolescence, long before I learned the words synesthesia, proprioception and mirror neurons. In fact, I was well into adulthood when, in a casual conversation about our upbringing, Beth said to me “you know, you were a really twitchy kid.”
She was right. I was a twitchy kid. And I couldn’t help myself. I seemed to act out so much of what I saw on television or at the movies, particularly when the emotional stakes were high and I was very focused. I kicked and kipped on the living room carpet as Nadia Comeneci swung her way to a perfect score on the uneven parallel bars at the Montreal olympics. I ran terrified through the halls of the Peruvian temple with Indiana Jones in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, smacking my feet into the theater seat in front of me. And, I twisted and squirmed in my chair so much at my first Ice Capades show that my teenage chaperone marched me off to the restroom, despite my protests that I didn’t have to go.
I’ve just recently learned that mirror-touch synesthesia often includes mirrored proprioception, which is one of the strongest components of my own synesthetic experience; I feel myself moving when other people move. This rarely occurs with simple acts like watching someone walk down the street. However, more complicated, coordinated movements, such as dance, martial arts, or acrobatics will really get me twitching.
When I was in my 20’s and music videos were in their heyday, I was absolutely mad about the musician Black and his song “Wonderful Life”. It made me feel like I was flying, gave me the sensation of butterflies in my stomach. When I look at that video now, I recognize that the imagery and oblique camera angles combined with the minor key song likely evokes strong emotions and sensations for many people. But it exhausts me if I watch it repeatedly. I fly with those twisting gymnasts and feel my muscles fire so strongly, it seems like I’ve had a workout. Perhaps this is one of the blessings of my mirror-touch synesthesia; I can get a little exercise by simply watching other people move.
I’m a ballerina (and synethetic, as mentioned before), and I cannot watch ballet without my muscles twitching and almost kicking and moving involuntarily. It even happens when I listen to classical music and imagine choreography. I’ve learned not to listen to classical music in the car, because the seemingly involuntary movements occur.
Hi Abigail, it seems that you and I both have hyperactive mirror neurons! Mine have gotten me into trouble a bit, especially when I accidentally mimic someone’s movements. it happens so quickly…I really don’t mean to do it!