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Synaesthete – an Artistic Life

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imageSynaesthetes are almost destined for a career that demands creativity. It is surprising to notice that Synaesthesia and Perfect Pitch are likely the only two neurological traits that define or even predetermine the path for their bearers. It gives you a sense that fate cannot be twisted. You have to go along with the nature. If you try to deviate, you get dragged back sooner or later. Music, art, literacy and design are amongst the most popular career categories for synaesthetes. Even synaesthetes do not pursue this type of career as a profession, they tend to have immerse interests in these fields. One example was Richard Feynman who was recognised as one of the 10 greatest physicists of all time, and was often considered as the most colourful physicist in history, a lot to do with his synaesthesia. His musical talent was well known on the Manhattan project. While he was working as a professor in physics, he held an exhibition for his drawings.

Many people appreciate good art or music. The difference is that synaesthetes tend to have a strong need to get involved in the process of creation instead of purely being on the receiving side. No wonder statistics show that synaesthesia is seven to eight times more common in artists, musicians and novelists.

I grew up with a big passion in mathematics. However, I did not choose Maths as my major in university. A common view at the time was that for a Maths major to earn a decent living and achieve career height required years of study and a PhD degree. I did not have time and fund. The responsibility to make a living to support family was too real. I chose IT, an area I knew little about, instead. Just like the course brochure predicted, I was in demand. I received five job offers from a number of reputable corporations at the end of my second year of university, with two more years to go before completing my degree. I could not say that I had ever regretted my career choice as it has provided the financial security and lifestyle for people whom I love. However, deep down I always knew this was not enough.

Years later, I became an Enterprise Architect. Although it was not the same as a building architect, it was the most creative job I could do within my field of expertise. My job requires me to draw many diagrams and write up proposals just like a building architect. I have gradually developed a real passion in building architecture and literacy.

Three years ago, my childhood dream of becoming a mathematician was revived through my children who showed immerse interest in mathematics. Skye’s achievement in winning the state’s top prize in an international mathematics competition was an enormous boost for my hope of children becoming distinguished mathematicians or scientists. I said to myself my children no longer needed to worry about making a living early. Instead they could concentrate on their study and research, and make some real contribution to the mankind.

That dream was soon put in doubt once I realised my children’s extensive synaesthesia as I knew their interests and paths would divert, or at least would expand.

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Last two years, apart from his interest in music, Skye has exhibited his sudden surge of his giftedness in art. His school reports from his art teacher says,

“He (Skye) often takes time to settle into tasks, yet once working has shown he has great ideas to offer. … His ability to problem solve and find solutions to tasks via experimentation is impressive. Sometimes these solutions can appear unorthodox but he is able to articulate them perfectly. Skye has particularly enjoyed the recent three-dimensional unit. His responses during this time were both sensitive and quirky, and demonstrated a distinctive personal style. …

He is a confident and imaginative student who always listens carefully to instructions and works independently to create artworks of a consistently high standard across a range of media. His motivated approach is impressive as is his ability to plan each artwork and work methodically to realise his ideas. …”

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As a young child, Thomas showed no interest in art. His aptitude was displayed in engineering and trains. Skye, who sets his sight to become the King of Gahooulia, has assigned a big territory called Trainland (Tumlumdø in Gahooulian) to Thomas. Thomas was busy designing the transport system for Trainland until recently that the little boy announced that he no longer wanted to help Skye, nor wanted to live in Skye’s palace. He has decided to have his own country and live in his own palace.

That was a big blow to Skye who relied on his younger brother to build a traffic jam free country with a combination of submarines, trains and floating cars. Thomas’ rebellion went even further.

Skye has recently discovered that his birth date was one of the two most common birthdays amongst Nobel Prize laureates. He said excitedly that he would need to carry on the tradition by winning a Nobel Prize. Thomas immediately claimed that he would win a Nobel Prize before Skye, then he would stop Skye from getting it. Skye cried like a little baby. After a few days, Thomas had a change of heart. He did not openly admit, but we knew how deeply he admired his older brother. Now he is happily working for Skye on Trainland again.

Last Monday, I went to kiss Thomas good night. It was already quite late. The next day would be Thomas’ transition day at his new school.

“Mum, I am so stressed.” Thomas said with a serious look.

“Oh why? Are you nervous about tomorrow at the new school?” I sat down at his bed.

“No. I am stressed about building my palace. It may take a while.” He looked very serious. Thomas has been building his Trainland palace on his iPad game called Minecraft.

“Mum, all my friends have already finished building their houses. But my palace has 52 bedrooms, their houses only have one to two bedrooms. So it will take me much longer to finish.” Thomas has given me his grand plan.

“Why don’t you build a small one first like your friends?”

“That is so boring!”, declared Thomas, “I am going to be an engineering architect one day!”

On Thomas’ transition day, coincidentally, he met a new friend who also wanted to become an engineering architect. They became inseparable.

Yesterday, we had an early celebration for Thomas’ 10th birthday with many of Thomas’ school friends. From a child who could not think one name to invite for his 6th birthday during his first year at school, to one of the most popular boys in his grade, what a change Thomas has made!

There was more. Last week, Thomas brought home his school work at the end of the term. I was speechless looking at his artwork “Tessellation”.

Well, Thomas is a synaesthete after all :-)

(To mark Thomas’ 10th birthday later this month, we are sharing Thomas’ artwork “Tessellation” as well as a couple of my children’s photos in their early years.)




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