Synesthesia: Artist as Witness

Suzanne S. Rancourt photo

The following is a guest post by Suzanne S. Rancourt, whose poetry appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Being a witness, or artist, isn’t always a choice if one is gifted with what the western perspective calls “a perceptual phenomenon,” i.e., Synesthesia. I have always stated, as Artists we have a responsibility to take note and “report” via whatever art making modalities we have available to us; using our sensory tools to see, smell, hear, feel with our gut, (and flesh i.e., air displacement,) what is happening in our immediate environment.   

Some cultures and/or practices refer to the phenomenon of activated sensory systems as Zanshin, situational awareness, or hypervigilance. As a trauma survivor, and practitioner, I have heard and seen the negative connotations ascribed to a hypervigilant state. Transmuting these negative connotations, and in some cases the presentation of, to positive, productive skills, requires a supportive culture, environment, and practitioners to facilitate. I’m talking about practitioners competent in facilitating the neurologically calming, (cooling, quenching, tempering- the body, mind, and spirit,) artmaking modalities. Let our narrators tell the stories through whatever artmaking modality the story emerges from.  i.e., writing, singing, pottery, stacking wood, painting, dance, martial arts, hiking/nature.  For example:  I use Aikido, Iaido, and time in nature to facilitate this transmutation of trauma skill sets into tools for life and art making. I do my best to implement teachings from my Indigenous Ceremonies, childhood, rural upbringing- all of which emphasize inner stillness and practice. 

Synesthesia is a tool that an Artist can hone and employ, thus, better facilitating the reader, and audience’s, ability to experience, and relate to the art being presented. Synesthesia can be something we were born with or developed post- traumatic event. Transmutation takes time and guidance to better differentiate the after effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury, or the residual of “near death experiences.”  I had to return to memories of when I felt safe and whole. Through writing I began to remember the natural world. I got back into recovery because I needed to reconnect with natural abilities. I had the help of mentors, and friends. I kept writing without the critic- voice interfering. i.e., free writing, journaling. I continued singing and songwriting which worked my auditory responses from the inside out. I used my hands, hiked, swum miles upon miles, all this bringing my body, mind, and breath into a wholeness where I felt safe enough to engage with memories and all of my senses. I had lots of help along the way – both formally and informally. 

Artist as Witness: experience fully, record, and report through whichever art making modality our response to a given situation emerges from. Allow ourselves to meld our abilities as Artists and Witnesses with, and through, Synesthesia.

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Sundress Best of the Net Nominee, Suzanne S. Rancourt, is of Abenaki/Huron descent. Author of Billboard in the Clouds, Northwestern UP, received the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas First Book Award, and murmurs at the gate, Unsolicited Press, released in 2019. Old Stones, New Roads, Main Street Rag Publishing, is forthcoming Spring 2021. She is a USMC and Army Veteran who holds degrees in psychology, writing and expressive arts therapy. Suzanne is widely published.  Please visit her website for a complete publication list: www.expressive-arts.com. @FlameSuzy

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