Colorful Characters

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature

When Dressgate went viral back in February, it ignited a discussion about perception across the Internet. People were realizing that the world as they see it does not always match the way others see it. I learned this lesson several years ago when I discovered that most people do not perceive something very basic the way I do. I have grapheme → color synesthesia, which is a fancy way of saying that I see letters and numbers in color.

Colorful Characters 1

A B C, it’s easy as…red, blue, green. My synesthetic alphabet.

Grapheme → color synesthesia is the most common form of synesthesia (“union of the senses”), which means that some of you reading this post likely have it. If so, you probably also thought it was normal and not worth mentioning to anyone for much of your life. When I finally started talking to people about it in my 20s, nobody I spoke to had ever heard of such a thing, but in January of 2002 I happened to catch a segment on 60 Minutes II called A Sixth Sense and everything fell into place. Finally, I had a name for this condition and realized that others were having a similar experience. While I see letters and numbers in color, some synesthetes taste words or feel music as a physical touch on their skin.

Colorful Characters 2

This box of crayons is “Patient Zero” in the development of my condition.

I’ve read repeatedly that synesthesia runs in families, but nobody in my extended family seems to have it. Although many of the colors I see can be traced to a large box of Crayola crayons that my sister and I shared as children, she did not acquire the condition. This was about the time I was learning to read and write, so I’m certain that the association between letters, numbers, and colors was formed during this crucial phase of development.

People are often confused when I say that I see letters and numbers in color, and I find myself at something of a loss to explain. I can see the actual color of these gray letters against a white background as I type, but the individual colors are there too. It’s a mental overlay, and yet that is too simplistic an explanation. More than just seeing with the eyes or with the mind, it’s a knowing. I somehow know that 8 is red and S is dark blue. It’s strange to contemplate that other synesthetes see these numbers and letters differently. How could 5 be anything but purple?

Colorful Characters 3

These numbers are colorful characters in both senses. Each has a personality.

Aside from making the world a more colorful and interesting place, the primary benefit of having synesthesia for me has been in the area of memory. I find it easy to remember names, phone numbers, and dates, because of the color impressions they create. As a result, I have unintentionally memorized more than a few Social Security and credit card numbers over the years. I also love to look at license plates and street numbers as I drive or go for walks, because it’s fun to see all of the different color patterns.

Colorful Characters 4In the years since I first heard the term, synesthesia has become popularized through the TED Talk and New York Times Bestselling book Born on a Blue Day by autistic savant Daniel Tammet, who has several types of synesthesia. I encounter more and more people who are familiar with it, including one young woman who, as a child, physically saw letters and numbers in color before the experience became more of a mental perception as she grew older. Only recently, I discovered that other experiences I have always taken for granted are also forms of synesthesia: chromesthesia (seeing colors when musical notes and/or keys are being played), spatial sequence synesthesia (perceiving months and dates in space), and ordinal linguistic personification (associating numbers, days, months, and letters with personalities).

But I’m not going to get into the science of synesthesia here or expound on every little detail of my experience with it. I’d rather you take a moment to consider your own perception of everyday matters. You may find that your world has a richness beyond the norm and that you have something important to contribute to our understanding of the brain and consciousness so that we can all lead more colorful lives.

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Synesthesia

 

Find out more about Daniel Tammet on his website. Born on a Blue Day can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

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A Legend, in Her Own Time

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Nostalgia

Tasha Tudor 1Today would have been the 100th birthday of beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. During her long and fruitful career, she illustrated close to one hundred books and produced thousands of original paintings, many of which have been turned into cards and prints. Her work is highly sought after by collectors, but—despite having received numerous awards for her books and critical praise for her art—Tasha’s personal life began to eclipse her artistic life when she became equally, if not more, famous for her 19th-century lifestyle.

Tasha Tudor 2Unlike many children who grew up in the second half of the 20th century, I was not raised on Tasha Tudor’s books. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that I was first introduced to her through the pages of Victoria magazine, which has done a number of features on Tasha’s life and work over the years. I became captivated by this artist and author who, with her talent and resources, could have enjoyed every modern convenience, but chose to live her life as a woman of the 1800s.

Tasha Tudor 3Beginning with The Private World of Tasha Tudor, a series of books about her lifestyle was released in the early 1990s with elegant photographs by Richard W. Brown showing Tasha going about the daily business of milking her goats, cooking on a woodstove, spinning wool into thread, and quilting in front of the fire. Blurring the line between life and art, she found beauty in the simplest tasks and once said, “I’ve never worked a day in my life!” Convinced that she’d lived before in the 1830s, Tasha said that everything from that period came easily to her. She seemed to excel at any craft she attempted, whether basket making, woodworking, knitting, or weaving, but her favorite pastime was gardening.

Tasha Tudor 4Tasha lived in rural Vermont in a house that was built by her son. Although constructed in the 1970s, her home was modeled on a 230-year-old house and erected using hand tools, so it looked—like Tasha herself—as if it belonged to another century. The magnificent garden she cultivated on her vast property was her pride and joy. It was celebrated in the book Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin and featured on an episode of the ABC news program Primetime Live in 1997. She called it “Paradise on earth!”

Tasha Tudor 5Although she was in her early 90s when she passed away in 2008, Tasha never lost her childlike spirit and sense of wonder. She had a lifelong love of marionettes and dolls, and the contents of her immense dollhouse were put on display at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in 1996. Christmas was her favorite holiday, for which she began preparing months in advance. She wrote and illustrated several Christmas books and created annual holiday-themed images to be made into Christmas cards and Advent calendars.

Tasha Tudor 6

Tasha also had an affinity for animals, but was especially fond of birds and Welsh Corgis. She produced a popular series of books about the fictional town of Corgiville and christened her home Corgi Cottage in honor of her beloved dogs. Animals appear frequently in Tasha’s art, which she drew from life. With inspiration all around her, images of Tasha’s home, garden, children, pets, and household items can be found in the works of art she created by a window in a small corner of her kitchen.

Tasha Tudor 7Tasha’s conversation was peppered with quotes from books she’d read or people of note. Her favorite came from a letter written by Fra Giovanni in 1513 and included the lines: “No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present moment. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take joy!” It is from this quote that the titles Take Joy! The Magical World of Tasha Tudor and Take Peace! A Corgi Cottage Christmas were appropriated for a pair of short documentaries about Tasha’s life.

Tasha Tudor 8While she enjoyed quoting others, Tasha was highly quotable herself. She once said, “I think I’ve done a good job of life,” which is more than evident to anyone who has read her books, seen her paintings, or had a glimpse into the idyllic world she created in the New England countryside. A believer in reincarnation and the fluidity of time, she declared, “When I die, I’m going right back to 1830.” For all we know, she’s there right now (or, rather, then), tending her garden and gathering wood for the stove.Tasha Tudor 9

Later today, I plan to enjoy afternoon tea—a daily ritual for Tasha—with a slice of cake from her “receipt” book to celebrate a woman for whom life itself was a work of art and whose indomitable spirit didn’t let a little thing like the 20th century interfere with her desire to live in the 1800s.

Happy 100th Birthday to Tasha Tudor: a legend, in her own time.

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Tasha Tudor

 

Books by and about Tasha Tudor can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For original art, prints, rare books, and other Tasha Tudor collectibles, visit Cellar Door Books. Explore the Tasha Tudor Museum to learn more about her life and art.

You 6E Thing

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature

You 6E Thing 1During the past year, I have been swooning over a pair of novels about a beautiful, young woman with a tragic past…who just happens to spend most of her time fantasizing about ways to kill people. The woman’s name is Deanna Madden—aka The Girl in 6E by A. R. Torre. The book was a Top Pick in RT Book Reviews and, since they rarely steer me wrong, I got a copy shortly after it was released last summer.

Deanna is the narrator of her story, and she brings the reader up to speed right from the outset. She has voluntarily sequestered herself in apartment 6E to protect society from her murderous urges. Her only physical interaction with the outside world is to speak through her door to the addict she pays in drugs to lock her in at night and the UPS guy who delivers the necessities of life that she orders online. To support her unusual lifestyle, she works as a sex cam girl, offering virtual thrills to everyone from the computer hacker she hires to shield her true identity to the therapists she consults off the clock about her deadly obsession. She has made the best of her situation for three years until events conspire to lure her out of her safe haven…

You 6E Thing 2When I read The Girl in 6E, I thought it was a standalone novel, but a sequel was released in April and received another Top Pick from RT. I found the first book thrilling, but Do Not Disturb had me on the edge of my seat—or, rather, the edge of my street. I listened to the audio version on my nightly walk and was so caught up in the story that I would often take another turn around the block so that I could keep “reading.”

For someone who doesn’t get out much, Deanna certainly leads an exciting life. The sequel picks up right where The Girl in 6E ends and it is a wild ride with several unexpected turns. Instead of Deanna heading toward danger, danger is now headed for her, and we get more insight into the other characters in her orbit. Despite the tense and sinister events of the novel, there is an amusing note at the end of Do Not Disturb, which makes it clear that readers owe a debt of gratitude to the author’s husband. It turns out that A. R. Torre’s imagination is, at times, even darker than her protagonist’s, and we have her husband to thank for pulling her back from the brink.

You 6E Thing 3Deanna Madden has been compared to a female Dexter Morgan, but this is not merely a rehash of that series from “broad” perspective. There are certain parallels between the two characters, but Deanna inhabits her own world, both within and without. I found the descriptions of the sex cam profession fascinating, and Deanna’s desire to lead a normal life, coupled with her take-no-prisoners (well, maybe one or two) attitude, had me rooting for her.

If You Dare, the third book in the series, is scheduled for release in November, and A. R. Torre announced last week on YouTube that The Girl in 6E will be made into a feature film, but before you dive into this series, take note: these books contain raw language, graphic sexual situations, and some instances of disturbing violence that are not for the faint of heart, so those with delicate sensibilities may want to steer clear (we promote figurative swooning only).

To help me endure the wait for the next chapter(s) in Deanna’s life, I think I’ll reread the series, so if you see me with a book in hand or my headphones on, please—do not disturb.

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The Girl in 6E
Do Not Disturb

 

The Girl in 6E and Do Not Disturb are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The audio versions can be downloaded from Audible.

 

11/22/15 update:

Click here for my review of If You Dare.

 

Have Cake and Tea with Your Demons

Author: Kirsti Kay, Books, Inspiration, Literature, Wellness

Have Your Cake 1Do you ever have those moments when you could use a little uplifting, but you don’t have time to read a self-help book? Or you try to meditate and all you can think about is all the other stuff you should be doing? If this sound like you, I have a great book to share that is perfect when your soul needs a quick attitude adjustment. It’s called Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa, and I wish I could have it permanently implanted in my brain for quick access at all times.

Have Your Cake 2The book is a collection of beautiful ink drawings with delightful ideas and suggestions for opening up your heart and finding peace and calm in a universe that is sometimes overwhelming and hard to navigate. You can easily read it in one sitting, which I did the first time. But now, when I need a little Zen, I flip through and just read a few pages. It always brings me back to center and reminds me how much there is to appreciate in this crazy world. It’s also a great book for people who would like a dreamy guide to inner peace without going full Chopra.

Have Your Cake 3With lessons such as “Have Cake and Tea with Your Demons,” Yumi deconstructs spirituality into bites we can easily digest.

Cake and tea, you say?
And by having this little party with my demon I can come to realize my demon just wanted love and compassion and time? And then we hug it out and dance? Count me in!

Each page is a sweet little present to your well-being or, as the book jacket says, “a hand-drawn path to inner peace.”

And don’t we deserve more presents?Have Your Cake 4

Yumi Sakugawa is an award-winning comic book artist and author. I’ve been following her on Facebook and love every new post. Her whimsical ink drawings (sometimes with color) are so full of life and warmth and continually display increased depth and complexity the more you look at them. Her drawings are usually accompanied by a poetic thought that makes you feel better instantly. Best of all, there are no complicated pop psychology terms to look up, no existential concepts that confuse you, and there isn’t a ton of reading to slog through to get to the point. With a lovely drawing and a happy thought, your spirit is uplifted and you are ready to move on to all the other stuff you should be doing.

Read Yumi. Feel better. Repeat. Becoming one with the universe has never been so easy or so fun.

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Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe

 

 

Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters, and a variety of online retailers.

 

Update 11/11/15:

Have Your Cake 5Yumi Sakugawa just released a new book called There Is No Right Way To Meditate And Other Lessons, and it’s as delightful and uplifting as Your Illustrated Guide To Becoming One With The Universe. Yumi has a gift for combining her sweet drawings with simple text to explain sometimes complicated concepts in a way that makes you instantly feel better. Meditation can be daunting, but Yumi makes it accessible and fun. I read this book aloud to my husband and we both giggled and smiled, which in itself was a meditation—Yumi style.

Find out more about There Is No Right Way To Meditate, including where to purchase the book, on Yumi Sakugawa’s website.

On the Mehndi

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Books, Literature, Nostalgia, Synchronicity

Mehndi 1Mehndi is the ancient art of applying a paste made from henna powder to the skin in intricate patterns, which creates a reddish-brown stain that can last for one to three weeks. Even though this form of ornamentation has been practiced in India, North Africa, and the Middle East for thousands of years, it didn’t become popular in the United States until Madonna and other celebrities started sporting henna designs in the 1990s.

Mehndi 2At the time, I was working for a skin and hair care company. We sold a book featuring cosmetic practices of different cultures around the world, which included pictures of mehndi designs. A co-worker and I were fascinated and wanted to try it for ourselves, so we picked up some black henna hair powder (not to be confused with PPD “Black Henna”, which can be dangerous) at a health food store, mixed it with water, and applied the paste to our feet to test it out. Nothing happened. We’d figured that black henna would create a darker stain, but without the Internet as a resource, we had difficulty finding answers to our questions, so we gave up.

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photo credit: Christina Chico, model: Payal Patel, makeup: Shirley J. Arcia

In 1997, the movie Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love was released to much controversy over the erotic nature of the film. The trailers featured Indian women covered in mehndi, so I knew I had to see it. I sat alone in the theater with a bunch of pervy-looking men and, while they were salivating over the racy love scenes (which actually seem quaint by today’s standards), I was swooning over the henna designs on the women’s hands and feet.

Mehndi 4Earlier in the year, I’d read an article about mehndi in the January 1997 issue of Los Angeles magazine, which mentioned that henna artist Loretta Roome would be setting up The Mehndi Project at Galerie Lakaye in West Hollywood that month. When my friend Maggie was visiting from Seattle a short time later, I told her about it and she was interested, so I took her there to get a henna “tattoo”. I observed the process and took mental notes. It turns out that you must use red henna and you should mix the paste with lemon juice or a similar acidic substance to properly activate the lawsone dye in the plant, which produces the stain.Mehndi 5

When I got home, I searched out the tiny plastic bottles with their fine metal tips that I’d seen the artist use on Maggie, then bought some red henna from my local Indian market. I mixed it with water and lemon juice and applied a simple design on the palm of my hand. When I washed it off a few hours later, there was a pale orange stain, which developed into a dark reddish-brown over the next couple of days. I’d done it!

Mehndi 6I played around with mehndi off and on for a few years, reading some books on the topic and even making mehndi cookies at one point, but I’m no artist. I eventually became frustrated with my limitations and abandoned it, but I never stopped appreciating the beauty and artistry of the practice, so it was an act of serendipity that brought Prashanta from Divya Henna into my life.

Mehndi 7I met her three years ago and we discovered immediately that we had many interests in common, among them a love of mehndi. Unlike me, Prashanta is actually a talented artist who had been practicing mehndi informally for years, but wanted to do it professionally. She was just getting her career underway and was looking for a guinea pig on whom to practice new designs and techniques, so I volunteered. One of the things that Kirsti and I find the most swoon-worthy is synchronicity—that magical moment when things line up perfectly in ways you could never have planned or foreseen. After years of wanting to wear beautiful mehndi designs myself, I had a professional henna artist who couldn’t wait to paint me up one side and down the other!

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Mehndi by Divya Henna from an original design by Ravie Kattaura.

Whenever I am adorned in one of Prashanta’s designs, I get stopped in stores, restaurants, and even on the street by people who want to admire her artwork and ask questions. She loves and respects Indian culture and prefers traditional Indian mehndi designs over the types of henna tattoos you typically see offered at fairs and along boardwalks. Nowadays, she is in demand as a mehndi artist for Indian weddings, doing elaborate and exquisite designs on brides that cover the hands, arms, feet, and legs and can take hours to complete.Mehndi 9

She doesn’t have much free time anymore to practice on me, but I’m still fortunate to get mehndi from her on occasion and to enjoy her company in the process. I am also routinely stunned by the precision and creativity displayed in the pictures she posts online of designs she has completed, a few of which are featured here. If you don’t live close enough for Prashanta to paste mehndi on your skin, seeing her masterful handiwork will definitely paste a smile on your face.

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Divya Henna – Facebook
Divya Henna – Instagram

 

The book Mehndi: The Timeless Art of Henna Painting by Loretta Roome can be purchased at Amazon.

Visit Christina Chico Photography and makeup artist Shirley J. Arcia online.