My Tribe


I’m lucky to have the loveliest synaesthete tribe!

It’s Saint Patrick’s Day and I can’t help but think of my mother. She was fiercely proud of her heritage; all four of her grandparents emigrated from Munster to Boston, then made their way west to the city of Springfield. My mother was raised there, in the Connecticut River Valley, where a Yankee version of Irish culture thrived. She grew up eating New England Boiled Dinner, not only on March 17th, but frequently, and made the best clam chowder I’ve ever had. My mother attended events at the Ancient Order of Hibernians Hall, and bragged about sitting on the lap of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he campaigned in the Democratic stronghold of Western Massachusetts. And, she attended college at Providence Hospital School of Nursing, where her classmates were just like her: Catholic, Irish-American, and the children of recent immigrants.

But, when my mother moved to California in the mid-1960’s, she was saddened by the lack of community. Certainly there were families who could trace their roots back to the old sod, but there wasn’t much Irish culture in the Central Valley. She did her best to keep me and my sisters connected to her heritage, including teaching me to say póg mo thóin when other kids teased me for having red hair. But, ultimately, my mother felt isolated from her people; she pined for New England and the family and friends who were most like her in heart and spirit.

This same sentiment…creating community….is what I’ve loved most by outing myself as a polysynaesthete. I’ve met the loveliest people over the last few years as I’ve explored what it means to have synaesthesia. We “synnies”, as well as the researchers who study synaesthesia, seem to get each other immediately, and I need make no apologies for my mirror-touch squeamishness or my reticence for fonts and graphics out of sync with my internal color map. Although there are more than 80 forms of blended senses, and each synnie has their own unique experience with conflated sensation, simply having synesthesia is often enough for two synaesthetes to form a connection. Plus, when you get a group of us together, the conversations can be both illuminating and ridiculously funny.

I only know a few synaesthetes here in San Francisco, but it doesn’t seem to matter that my synnie friends are dispersed through out the world. Social media and email help me feel as close to them as neighbors, and our common experiences with blended senses unite us as a tribe. On this March 17th, when I am reminded of my mother’s hunger for her kin and clan, I’m grateful I’ve found my synnie family.