I have a beef with Crayola

The concept of synesthesia was introduced to me in high school by my brilliant AP English teacher during our reading of The Great Gatsby. The example was “yellow cocktail music”, and I’ll never forget the revelatory moment of reading those words and understanding them completely. I could hear that music: full of dulcimer, zither, handbell, triangle, glockenspiel, piano glissando: all yellow. I think everyone is synesthetic in different ways and to different degrees, but in that moment I recognized something I’d known about myself for as long as I could remember, and now I had a word for it! A beautiful Greek word, no less, with a prefix meaning “together” and a root meaning “perception”. It felt like a piece to a puzzle I didn’t know was missing had fit itself snugly into place; a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding finally exhaled.

Beginning when I was a kid, it felt clear that the days of the week were color coded by virtue of their names in conjunction with where within the seven-day period they fell. Monday was green (the week was new), Tuesday yellow, Wednesday blue, Thursday violet (the twilight of the week), Friday red. Some of these associations were more pronounced than others; Tuesday was bright as a lemon in the sunshine, Thursday wore a saturated purple mantle, and Friday flew a flag of vibrant crimson, while Monday and Wednesday were only somewhat green and mildly blue. This certainty on my part didn’t manifest in any real way other than the fact that I could see and feel the colors as synonymous with the names of the days. Strangely, Saturday and Sunday were both a kind of cloudy white, perhaps because they felt like punctuation days to me, or negative space, or possibly because they were less predictable and couldn’t conform to any kind of pattern. In my mind, the days of the week are still clothed in these colored capes.

Sounds have colors, too, and flavors shape. Sweetness is round like a cherry, salt paints acute angles on the tongue, and heat (like cayenne or wasabi) draws an exclamation mark of flavor. These things seem obvious and unremarkable; just like we we see a banana and know what it tastes like, what texture it possesses; we smell a steak on a charcoal grill and can instantly conjure its image in our minds; we hear thunder and think: rain. It’s all a neurological associative process, an interconnectedness within our unconscious that acts on our consciousness to help us identify and process sensory existence. Why do our mouths water when we smell cookies in the oven or bolognese bubbling on the stovetop? Why do certain songs make us think of certain people or places or moments in life? How can the fragrance of a particular perfume, sniffed by surprise, bring tears of nostalgia to our eyes?

The answer is the same every time: because our brains are all hotbeds of chemical interactions that affect our perceptive abilities in incredible ways. Just as naturally as the word “pineapple” conjures an image of that bouffant fruit with prickly scabs of scaly skin, so, to me, Thursday is a velvet violet and resonates a solid C sharp.

The reason I mention all of this is because of Crayola. Specifically, the Crayola face coverings my kids wear to school every day. I bought each kid a set of the “Maskpacks”, which include five differently-colored masks for each day of the school week. Early on in this “school during pandemic” game, I let the kids each choose which color they wanted to wear each day, but after a few days realized that was an unsustainable system for me from an organizational perspective. I decided that they’d all need to wear the same color and that each day would be assigned a color. However. The colors are ALL WRONG. There is no green. There is no red. Instead there are persimmon-level orange and turquoise, of all things. To make matters worse, the blue is too dark and the yellow is really almost chartreuse–like an unripe Bartlett pear. Oh, calamity!

I thought about temporarily giving teal to Monday and orange to Friday, but that just didn’t feel right, so I let the kids decide which color mask they’d assign to which day. We ended up with a Monday through Friday rotation of purple, teal, chartreuse, orange, and, blue. Although this goes against the very grain of my sensibilities, I’ve learned to live with seeing these incongruously-colored banners strapped to my kids’ faces every day. It’s just another example of this strange era requiring us to adjust in ways that we never imagined. Whoever wrote the meme that says “if 2020 were a drink, it would be vodka in a water bottle” really nailed it. I don’t know when it will happen, but some day, when I can put these Maskpacks in a memory box and do things like hug my parents again, our days will be ready to resemble themselves again. And I know their proper colors will be waiting.

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