Valentine’s Day has long been one of my favorite celebrations. I adore its pink and red color scheme (even though I see the word “valentine” in green) and I’m quite fond of its emphasis on love and friendship. When I was a child, my sisters and I would sit at the kitchen table on the evening of February 13th signing cards for our classmates. Our parents helped us spell difficult names and made certain we completed a card for each of our peers. The next day, we’d deliver our valentines at parties in classrooms adorned with lace doilies and crepe streamers, a paper sack hanging from each kid’s desk to collect goodies. These bags, decorated with hearts and flowers and occasionally an oddly zoomorphic rendition of Cupid, were the receptacles for cards, candy, and possibly (fingers crossed!) cryptic notes from secret admirers. We children would mill around the room, dropping our offerings at each other’s desks, maybe slipping in a lollypop or red foil wrapped Hershey’s kisses, or best of all, conversation hearts.
Later that afternoon, when I had returned home and had a moment of quiet, I’d open my cards one by one, giggling at their punny messages. A card with a puppy motif, “You’re doggone nice!” written in curling script. An image of a fawn, looking much like Disney’s Bambi, proclaiming “You’re Dear, Valentine!”. Two kids decked out in astronaut helmets, their message suitable for children of the space-age: “Valentine, you’re way out!”. I’d keep my cards at least for a month or so, taped to my bookcase, until the edges began to curl and fray in the humidity that came with California’s spring rains. By the time Easter arrived, my valentines were tossed into the trash, or perhaps on a bed of embers if March was chilly enough for a fire at the hearth.
Somewhere along my way through middle school these festive gatherings vanished, along with their droll little cards. And now, with my school days so long behind me, it seems Valentine’s Day in its grown-up incarnation is solely a lover’s holiday, with cards and other tokens of affection shared only between sweethearts. Gone are the winsome, heartfelt, and funny greetings exchanged between friends.
This year, I’m reclaiming the Valentine’s Day of my childhood by celebrating the online friendships and acquaintances I’ve cultivated in the international synesthesia community. There is a lovely kindred (and perhaps genetic?) affinity between the synesthetes I’ve met via the Internet. Additionally, I’ve connected with several neuroscientists who study synesthesia. They have been incredibly gracious with their knowledge and insight; I’m celebrating them as well.
Sean A Day: Scientist and synesthete Dr. Sean A Day manages the Synesthesia List which brings international synesthetes and researchers together in a lively online forum. I’ve learned more about my own synesthesias from following Dr. Day’s list, where I’ve also had the pleasure of engaging with an eclectic international community. The Synesthesia List is the heart and soul of the online synesthesia community, and I am ever so grateful for Dr. Day’s commitment to this project.
Maureen Seaberg: A sparkly unicorn who writes about other sparkly unicorns, Maureen Seaberg is a fascinating creature. Synesthete, genetic tetrachromat, author, southpaw, advocate, beauty….there is no end to the words I can use to describe this fascinating lady. Maureen’s star is really rising this year….if you aren’t familiar with her now, you will be soon!
Joanne Harris: I follow a number of authors on Twitter, and none of them are as generous with writer’s advice as Joanne Harris. Best known for her charming novel Chocolat, Joanne is a fierce advocate for her fellow authors. She’s also a synesthete, ridiculously smart, and can annihilate Internet trolls with impressive rapidity.
Richard Cytowic: I know I’ll cross paths with Richard Cytowic, MD at some point in the future. He’s my first “synesthesia hero”, a physician, scientist, and author whose book “Wednesday is Indigo Blue” (co-authored with Dr. David Eagleman) brought me home to my synesthete self. Richard also holds an MFA in Writing; his essays are just lovely.
Joel Salinas: Erika Hayasaki wrote a brilliant article about mirror-touch synesthesia for Pacific Standard. Although she interviewed me for the article, I knew that she was profiling another synesthete whose experience with mirror-touch was quite profound. That person is Dr. Joel Salinas, a brilliant young physician and researcher. Joel has been so kind and gracious in our conversations. I’m excited to see what the future holds for this remarkable man.
Leigh Erceg: I’m captivated by Leigh’s story; she acquired synesthesia, along with mad skills in mathematics, the visual arts and poetry, after a traumatic brain injury. I’ve enjoyed interacting with Leigh via social media, and I’m excited to see her story brought to life by the talented writer Maureen Seaberg.
Rodger Hoefel: Like Leigh Erceg, Rodger suffered a head injury in a motor vehicle accident that left him with lingering trauma…and gifts. He has become a champion for neurodiversity, revealing deeply human stories via his creative endeavor Like-Minded Magazine.
Bahar Gholipour: Neuroscientist and editor of braindecoder.com, Bahar Gholipour is an advocate for the beautiful and exquisite strangeness that is the human brain. Bookmark braindecoder.com and you’ll be continually delighted by its scintillating revelation of neuroscience and its impact on our lives and cultures.
Elinor Cleghorn: I met Elinor Cleghorn of the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University via the Synesthesia List, where her search for mirror-touch synesthetes lead to several long dialogues via email about synesthesia, the senses, and the visual arts. I’m looking forward to Elinor’s launch of Qualia, a literary journal that sits at the intersection of art and science.
Daria Martin: The only person on this list I’ve actually met in person, Daria is an academic, photographer, and filmmaker who is also affiliated with the Ruskin School of Art. Her films At the Threshold and Sensorium Tests are informed by her research on mirror-touch synesthesia.