If all synesthesia is idiosyncratic, then why doesn’t anyone like 9?

Since I was very little, each letter has had such a distinct personality and relationship between its nearest letters. As soon as I knew letters, I knew who they were, just as if I’d met someone.

There’s handsome G, stuck between sweet, gentle F who he pines for, and on the other side: H who he’s committed to. Will they break off the engagement?? H treats G horribly! And always snickers behind his back in her bitchy clique with I and J. KL are such snobs anyway, they don’t even seem to notice. They’re older and really can’t be bothered with all that nonsense…. etc!

I don’t think I understood the complexities when I was that little. But the story became embellished as I learned more and got older. My understanding deepened but the situation was the same.

I’ve asked others if they had dramatic stories behind the arrangement of letters in the alphabet. When I kept on getting weird reactions, I stopped asking. I assumed I’d taught myself this little tale to remember the order of the letters.  26 letters. And a tale I’ve never forgotten.

Now I see that I wasn’t alone in assuming I’d “learned” it.

“I figured that numbers must have been taught that way to me at a time when I was so young that I could no longer remember the teaching of it.” – Do you have Synesthesia?

I didn’t recall meeting anyone who had a similar experience. Until today, my friend MizzAdamz said that letters and numbers had personalities, complex back stories.

She’s a synesthete, and she said one of the rarest with Ordinal Linguistic Personification Synesthesia.

Apparently, the reason I have no trouble remembering this convoluted 26 character story because I can perceive the relationships.

I am also a synesthete.

Synesthesia comes in various forms

It turns out if you’ve got one kind of synesthesia, you may have another kind.

I was sitting here researching and I’ve just yelped out loud. “NO WAY. WHAT?! Doesn’t EVERYONE feel a touch on their body when they see someone else being touched?”

Turns out not everyone does feel it. This is Mirror-Touch Synesthesia! “I can feel other people’s pain.” I can feel if someone across a room touches their cheek gently. I feel if someone gets punched in a movie.

Turns out I also have other types of synesthesia, and I may have others.

  • Colour to sound synesthesia 
    • I hear pure tones from colours. Moving and flashing images are very “loud.” Sounds are apparent when they “switch” – it’s like hitting a tuning fork. It fades.
    • For example, I use an app that darkens my screen as the night goes on. And the screen changes “tone.” If I ALT+tab to another app where f.lux is disabled, the screen goes brighter and bluer. And the pitch goes higher.
  • Spatial sequence synesthesia
    • I “see” time and numbers. This is also how I see temperatures and conversions.
    • Times and dates advance to my right, and recede to my left. Past is left. “Now” is centre, where I am. Years, months, days, hours, all ticking along bands around this drum. The furthest right and left are darkened, in shadow, because I can’t see around the disk. The calendar and numbers work this way. And temperature works this way. EVERYTHING lines up at new years!! It’s so cool.

I wonder if other people with spatial sequence synesthesia also get this sensation of everything “clicking” when it lines up together. It sounds unlikely.

Turns out these idiosyncratic traits mean no two synesthetes see the same colours.

That question intrigues me. For me, F is a shy and kind girl. She’d never stick up for herself. And then I came across an article on synesthesia which said “F is shy, hesitant, some would say spineless.”

Are there patterns?

Why is 9 such a jerk?

MizzAdams told me about the number characters which go into the hundreds and even thousands. As soon as you say a number, she intuitively knows it. She said “9” for example was a total bitch.

I came home and started reading about it. I saw a video which said “For Gayle, 9 is an elitist girl.” (TedEd video below) There seems to be a pattern of negative associations with 9. Emily, a 13 year old, wrote Me and My Synesthesia. 9 is an annoying boy.  Another blogger write “Nine looks down on everyone. He thinks they’re a pack of idiots, and treats them all with barely disguised contempt.” in Do you have synesthesia?

They must just be coincidences?

As described in the video below, the first shock for synesthetes is to discover no one else who perceives your sensations. Then there’s a shock when you find someone else that does. The final shock is when you learn that they do not have the same exact associations.

So I’m curious: Do you have it? You can take this quiz to find out. 

A few of my favourite things

I’ve tried a few times to do photo 365. I can’t commit to a daily anything.

I decided to pick a photo theme not dependent on frequency. My theme is “My Favourite Things” and I will count up to 100. I mean to capture things as I come across them.

To start, my first few are absolutely intentional, starting with my absolute favourite things. These are things that if you really know me, you know these are my favourite things.

I want to use them for reflection. I love Thurzday Adamz’s Gratitude posts she puts on Instagram and FB. She writes

Today is a good day; I can greet the sunrise with a smile, I have a fireplace to keep my house warm, candles to light the dark evenings, oils to scent my space, and inspirational books to read. These are things to be grateful for. These things make life worth living.

Today is a good day… These are things to be grateful for. These things make life worth living.

I’ll start writing a little longer in the posts too. It’s only a little thing, but feels like a big deal to me.

One of my #favouritethings 1/100 #tinyhouse

A post shared by Heather McNamee (@nearlythere) on

2/100

3/100

4/100

Dotted fossil rocks. One of my favourite things. And I have quite a collection. #favouritethings 4/100

A post shared by Heather McNamee (@nearlythere) on

5/100

6/100

This guy. 6/100 #favouritethings #tinyhorse. Actually #flocked things could just be an entry on its own.

A post shared by Heather McNamee (@nearlythere) on

7/100

I decorate with sound

This post was inspired by listening to A Playful Day’s interview with Felicity Ford of Knitsonik. I recommend it highly! What a great adventure in sound, something I didn’t realize was so important. I am funny about sound, and I didn’t even know it.

I decorate with sound. I have certain bells on different doors in my home.  We’ve moved a lot. I’ve moved a lot. Since I lived in Taiwan I’ve had this little black bell. This to me is the sound of home. I hear the bell and I know I’m home.
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I have small “noisy” decorations on other doors too. These mark going through rooms. They announce if someone is coming. They remind you that you’re home.

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Sound is actually far more important to me than I thought. My husband’s voice is very important to me, and I am very sensitive to “ticking” and “drips” kinds of sounds others find innocuous. Anywho! After listening to the episode, I think I can’t “unhear it,” amazing.
So do listen to this episode of A Playful Day – an interview with Knitsonik. As the host rightly points out you may have to listen to it in two sittings, but it’s worth it! I will likely listen again, to be honest.
Felicity spoke about the soundscape around us. She prompted the listener to remember a sound, and explore sound memory. I paused the podcast and got the most amazing memories. They were mixed up with remembering smells. I can rarely remember smells. Try it!
She also spoke about the connection to knitting. The title “Knitsonik” describes her focus. The connection is about marking time in sound, and marking time in stitches. I really never understood the connection until then.
 Great stuff!

Why I turned off my IFTTT recipe for auto-posting Instagram to Twitter

Isn’t it annoying that Twitter will show “cards” including a summary and image in your twitter feed when you post most links, but it won’t show images from Instagram links? When you share via Instagram you do have the option to connect several networks and automatically post to them. However when you do, your image won’t be included on Twitter. I always found this annoying when I see others share these updates. I call it a #zombiegram. See? No picture.

zombie-gram

At one point, Twitter used to show Instagram images in the main flow of twitter stream, but they turned it off in 2012. Sure, why show media from a competing social network? (Instagram was bought by Facebook in 2012.) So for the last few years people have come up with some work arounds.

If this then that to the rescue?

An obvious solution is to re-post the same image manually on Twitter after you use Instagram (nicer filters of course!) But why does that extra few clicks seem like a giant pain?

Instead you can use an IFTTT recipe. The “If this then that” recipes can be used to set up lots of automated services. It’s a rather cool tool! For example, Get an email if there will be rain in your area tomorrow or Tweet your Facebook status updates.

To deal with Twitter ignoring Instagram images, there are a few recipes that will automatically post your Instagram picture as a native Twitter image, and link to your full Instagram post.

There’s two annoying things about this.

  1. Often users have different instagram IDs from their Twitter IDs. Why this is so is completely beyond me! FYI – If you use the native Instagram share to Twitter it will correct the ID if the user has also connected their Twitter account.
  2. Unless you’re really careful how you write the first characters of your Instagram post, you’ll likely get cropped @mentions and #hashtags.

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Still a Zombiegram

My other main problem with this is it means your Instagram > Twitter post is still a zombiegram. I notice that when people I follow on Twitter use either IFTTT or the native Instagram sharing option, it’s like a ghost of a post. All the action is over on Instagram and the Twitter share is merely a residual image.

Unsurprisingly, most of the creative people I follow are heavily focused on Instagram. Being a visual social network, it lends itself to artists and craftspeople. So even though the native images are on Twitter, they still aren’t interacting on Twitter. I interact with the Twitter pics and then I realize the conversation is elsewhere anyway. You would still need to click through to the original Instagram post.

Control what you post

Another strange effect I noticed after I set up IFTTT is that I was limiting posting Instagram as much knowing it would go to Twitter. I’m usually pretty careful about what I post on Twitter or how frequently I post. I worry about “my mix”, because my Twitter feed is a weird combo of craft/marketing/technology. I don’t want to drown people in yarn on Twitter. When I was just sharing on Instagram, I didn’t seem to mind sharing frequently, where I know it’s going to be all craft/nature/travel. Over there, it’s more clear why people are following my posts. On the other hand, I rarely share political images on Instagram.

So here’s a solution! Instead of auto-posting everything you can choose what you post. There are two useful options:

  1. Be more selective. Use the Instagram to Twitter IFTTT recipe where you can use a hashtag to mark which Instagram posts to share on Twitter.
  2. Use Tumblr as an intermediary, so you can select to just share to Tumblr those things you want to post to Twitter. Here’s a tutorial.

The thing is, I don’t think I’m going to use it. I’ll go back to sharing selected images manually. I actually don’t use Instagram as much as I intend to. I don’t pay attention to what is happening on Instagram as much as Twitter, but I’d like to. I like that it’s less spammy, less newsy, and more easy to control what I see. I don’t mind that it is an escape from reality. I like that sometimes.

So for now, I’m turning off my auto-tweeting of my Instagram images, and I’m going to probably be sharing more on Instagram too @nearlythere

Affordable art: More accessible than ever

I would kindly request that people stop buying mass-produced prints from dead artists. Art, real art by living artists, has never been more accessible and affordable than it is now. As a BONUS,  you get more than just some decorative objects in your home. Houzz, a decorating site, argues that original art “brings richness and personality to the home — factory-made furniture and slickly printed posters simply cannot compete.” You might be thinking that original art is way out of your budget and only for rich snobs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Start your collection

In the day to day of life, it’s easy to forget The Big Stuff That Matters. Look around your walls. Are they filled with gigantic printed posters? Department store prints? Are your walls blank? That’s sad. Your walls or shelves can be windows into a vision of a world you want to live in; they can make you smile; start conversations with guests; remind you of what you value and hold dear.

Having that vision expressed by living artists who speak your local or cultural language-or use images from your region- will be more evocative and meaningful. Likewise if they are artists from other places in the world you love. This is why living with living art is wonderful.

Collecting art for profit is for a**holes with no taste. Collect art because it means something to you. Because an image or object expresses something that you can’t say in words. Because it reminds you of who you want to be.

Set a budget to get an idea of what is affordable for you. Perhaps you will budget that you can spend 1% for art each year. If your salary is 20,000 you might set your budget to 200. Or if your salary is 60,000 you might spend 600. You don’t necessarily need to spend it all in one place. If you have a grip on debt and reduce spending on dumb stuff you don’t need, you will find you do have money you can dedicate to collecting actual art. Most of the pieces I’ve bought have been between £20 to 200.

The Arts Council in England has a good guide to buying art which includes some terminology about art, media and formats if you’re unfamiliar. If you’re in the UK, there are also a number of schemes to help make art more affordable by providing interest-free loans to purchase. Own Art can turn an art purchase into a manageable £10 a month payment, and there are the same programs in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

Why buy art by living artists?

There’s something magical about having a piece by a living artist. You can own something they have touched and created out of nothing. You can own something that never existed before. And it’s wholly unique and yours only. That is special.

Artists choose a challenging life, often of incredible frugality because they are compelled to say something about the world we live in. You might think they are “living the dream” but it is an arduous path of self doubt, solitude, introspection, rejection; altogether more lonely than you think. They are providing a valuable service, though we make a terrible mistake when we compare them to essentials such as doctors. Artists are tastemakers who influence material culture and express something unique about life and our time. They continually slough off the previous generations’ vision and replace it with a new vision that better reflects our time.

You don’t owe anything to artists, but supporting them by purchasing their artwork has a massive positive effect on their lives. Once you start supporting artists, you may find you feel a warm connection to them and want to follow their progress and help promote them. You become a fan and supporter. I bought a painting from Amanda Blake and I love to follow her progress, and share images of her new work. This is a very different relationship than buying a printed poster by a dead artist, because I might actually be helping her gain an audience.

I was touched by Amanda Blake’s painting of a woman sitting with so much stuff, memory and nostalgia. I can certainly relate to that.

Amanda Blake

Discover in person

Keep an eye out for ‘studio open days’ where groups of artists in a local area will decide on one day to invite the public in so they can view work. Go with a friend, visit studios, meet artists in your area or maybe in a city or town you love to visit.

On the first Thursday night each month, Belfast has an art event, Late Night for Art which can make it easier for people to access galleries and see what is going on in person. Your local art community might have similar events. Keep an eye out for ‘small works’ exhibitions at galleries. These shows offer an opportunity for you to see smaller and usually more affordable pieces of art. In Sligo, Ireland, the Yeats Society has an annual small-works exhibition where you can snap up lovely sculptures and paintings.

Independent restaurants and cafés also often have artwork for sale by local artists. The Rabbit Rooms in Bangor have a great selection of work. For example, they have paintings by Andrew Hamilton of MyTarPit.com I purchased this one a few years ago. I love the way he transforms unloved prints and paintings into something fresh and fun. This creature has a sewn on sparkly laser zapping this cottage.

My Tar Pit

Art schools have their shows in the spring and summer. These degree shows are a good chance to see affordable art and support someone and have a positive impact on their lives. There’s so much great work, and very affordable.

Student shows are great! I was amazed recently at a student show at GMIT in Mayo. I was delighted to make my purchase and see the little red dot get placed next to this painting by Ciara McCormack. This meant the painting was sold and it would be coming home with me soon after the show finished. Ciara did a series of paintings from film images, she also staged scenes, filmed or photographed them and then painted them. I loved the narrative quality and movement in this isolated figure on a height.

by Ciara McCormack
Discover online

Pinterest and Instagram will help you discover and find artists. On Pinterest, start searching  something you’re familiar with and you know you’d like. Abstract or figurative (realistic)? Colourful or muted? Painting, Prints or Collage? You can even start by searching for specific artist names or genres if you’re familiar with some of those.

For example I was searching for a gift for a dear friend of mine. She loves French surrealist artist Odilon Redon, whose evocative images came from his from dreams. If I start there, and look on Pinterest I can see there are people who have boards dedicated to ‘Surrealist art’ or ‘Symbolist art.’ These folks might pin images from dead artists like Redon, but they also pin works by contemporary living artists. This is where you can find familiar topics and connections. Pinterest is a great resource to find similar work collected by casual curators.

Prints, editions and multiples

You may find that single original objects/images/sculpture are just beyond your price range. Some artists will create editions of their work. They might have a concept or idea they want to explore in several ways.

I was talking with an artist friend recently which made me think about affordable art. She doesn’t believe in making $5000 USD easel paintings. She actually wants to make art people can afford. There is a populist legacy in art that many contemporary artists are dedicated to. If they can’t sell their original paintings at low prices, they produce high-quality prints. Some also produce multiples of sculptures and objects.

For example, David Hochbaum is an artist who combines media (photography, drawing, painting, sculpture) to create magical images and dream objects. He does multiples of certain works, where there’s a slight variation between the objects in a series. This could be why he was able to make this a more affordable item.

I found something quite special in his collection that will be the perfect gift for my friend. Two little bird houses, standing in conversation. It refers to an in-joke we’ve had since highschool. I was nearly in tears when I saw it – it’s just so perfect! I knew this gift would tickle her brain, remind her of her dear friend who loves her when she passes by it in her house. I also know that because it’s by a living artist, that thrill will crackle when she thinks of how special it is. Here it is on her shelf at home 🙂

David Hochbaum - Affordable art

So don’t think that art is out of your reach.  Of course I’ve pointed out events and locations nearby me in Ireland, but it’s likely you have a cafe near you, or even an art school near you getting ready for their Christmas sale. Keep an eye out and give it a look. It will likely be more affordable than you expect. Art has never been more accessible, enjoy it!

If you have discovered some affordable art, I’d love to hear whose work you purchase, where you bought it and why you chose it.

What does creative identity mean to you? 

I think I’ve heard people ask “what is creativity?” But when I read A Playful Day and saw her question: What does Creative Identity mean to you? under a pretty still life of lace, yarn and buttons… a quick answer didn’t come up. I felt so detached from a world where such questions could even be posed.

The question rang in my head though and I felt a pang that I know I’ve lost my creative identity. I’ve swapped it out for some defeatist broken sob story of burnout. I’ve become afraid to make mistakes, afraid to take action. How did this become ME? I used to work with joy and excitement and creativity. Why am I so broken?

Identities and mythologies

I think each person seems to have some personal mythology and a story they tell themselves. The story can change of course. Shit happens. And keeps on happening.

I know a man at the centre of a large community who identifies with a Myers Briggs “Marshal” identity. He sees this great honour and duty before him, and I think he loves the role, especially the idea that it’s rare and unique. And the community loves him for it. They see him as a benevolent dictator and trust him implicitly. It’s a perfect match of self identity and situation. If he didn’t resonate with his surroundings, he would be a tyrant or frustrated and unfulfilled.

This is what we want, to have our self-identity resonate with our situation. 

I know a woman who pits herself against all odds. To hear people talk about her is to think it’s a constant battle in all her interactions. Her versus the world. And her shouting and microagressive actions play this story out. It’s the story she creates from a self-perception and its the story others tell about her.

In this way we could say a personal mythology is self-fulfilling. 

I want to reestablish my creative identity. I want it to resonate with my situation. And I want it to be self-fulfilling in a positive way.

I don’t believe creativity is the sole domain of artists and musicians. Creativity comes in many forms to produce solutions to all kinds of problems. Creativity thrives in structure, boundary and challenge.

Doing something creatively does imply beauty, delight and joy.

When I saw these little flowers today growing in this stone wall I knew immediately that was my vision for creativity.

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I need to start telling myself a different story.

I’m listening to a book called “The Accidental Creative“. In it, the author tells of challenging circumstances I can relate to and he gives specific strategies for how to maintain the creative rhythm. The modern corporate structures aim to make creativity predictable and consistent. He addresses how you can work within that system to improve your personal productivity and creative energy and avoid burnout. It makes me reflect on my recent weeks in my current job and wonder just where in the hell have I gone wrong? The book is certainly positive in that it’s giving practical strategies you can follow to work on yourself. What he doesn’t talk about is, how can we do things differently? I feel like there’s a bigger picture.

Anyway, I’m sick of my own sob story. I’m hesitant and halting.

At this point I need to reclaim my creative identity and change my story.

And be like these lovely flowers. And get back to working joyfully.

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Where is my Father?

For my Dad’s funeral my sister wrote a beautiful tribute to his life as a caregiver. I wrote the vision of the afterlife we all share. I wanted to post it here, one month after he passed away. We read at the graveside. 

Where is my father? 

No seriously. Have you seen him? 

I feel like we’re all suffering a bit from the missing limb syndrome. An amputee may consciously know they’ve lost a limb, but the mind is slow to realise. They reach to scratch a missing knee, they put their arm out to lean, and falter. 

We’ve all been doing that recently, faltering. We turn to ask my Dad a question, and he’s gone. He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone. 

And each of us is left wondering, where is my father? Where did he go?

My father knew loss. He was so young when he lost his dear brother Donny, who lies here today. In an accident that forever altered my father’s life journey, he and his family were devastated by losing Donny. No sense could be made of it. And there was no question, where was Donny? He was gone. His father Jesper died as well from a long illness, and it was sad to find my father still mourning and unresolved. There was no explanation. They were gone. 

More recently, Dad lost his brother Larry and his mother Marion is such a short space of time. We all had to wonder: Where did they go? This time, my father had an answer: They’ve sat down to dinner together. 

My father explained a vision, which we all began to share. Of Nana’s dining room. Her flower-patterned wallpaper, cloth covered dining room table, with plenty of room for everyone.  All laid out for the nicest dinner ever. Her blue and white china, the crystal stemware, the silver polished and ready. 

Even recently, as he was in hospice, we had the time to ask him what he thought would happen. He told us, “I picture I’ll be with my family in Nana’s dining room.” 

They are all waiting at the table for him. Everyone, healthy, in their prime, happy and joking – there were always lots of laughs at the James table. Nana played the straight man to her son’s shenanigans. 

Meals were served in beautiful serving dishes, never casual, never taken lightly but always enjoyed.  A meal together was a warming ritual, to bring the family together. Good food was always a central part of the James home. 

And of course there were candles lit. Always candles. After my father lost Larry and Nana, he lit a candle for his missing family when he would eat, and when we would eat together. At even the simplest of meals, no matter breakfast, lunch or dinner, my father lit a candle to invoke that vision of The Dinner. Perhaps it could connect these two worlds at that point- in lighting that candle we were together with them. Lighting the candles reminds us that they are gone, they are gone, they are gone. 

We all share this vision of The Dinner. 

When Uncle Arthur died suddenly recently, I was struck terribly. I was unable to return home for his memorial because I was also ill at the time. I was crushed by the loss of the person I called My Ankle (he called me his Knees). This was more than the missing limb syndrome.

I would wake from nightmares sobbing, and Ronan would hold me. I was having the same dream each night, leading Uncle Arthur carefully by the arm through Nana’s house. Coming into the dining room, I told Uncle Arthur, sit, here, this is a good place. There was a piano! I was surprised and he was delighted. But then I’d wake realizing Uncle Arthur was gone.

I think we’ve all internalised this vision of The Dinner. We all know where Dad is now. We know Dad is with Donny, Jesper, Larry, Marion and Arthur.

Our minds have been slow to realise in these last couple of weeks, we’re struck with his absence over and over. Groping a bit, the mind incredulous: but he was just here a minute ago! 

We like to think now that, when you turn to ask Dad a question, to talk with him, and realise he’s gone, you know where he is. He’s with his family, sitting at The Dinner, together, having the best meal ever.