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I Don’t Have a Mind’s Eye: Discovering My Aphantasia

I didn’t see images when I closed my eyes. I didn’t see anything.

In the month of August, just weeks before starting tenth grade, I invited two of my friends over to watch a movie. We were assigned the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson as summer homework, and, since we had all finished our readings of it, we decided to gather together to view its filmic depiction.

We sat on the couch, munching on popcorn and muffins, joking about the portrayal of the main character, Melinda Sordino, by the actress Kristen Stewart. By that time, the Twilight franchise movies were starting to be released, and it was amusing to see the parallels between the way Stewart played Melinda and Bella Swan (the Twilight protagonist), despite those characters seeming very different in their book forms. We spent much of the run time of Speak in a giggly mess.

Then we got to one moment in the movie when the art teacher, Mr. Freeman, instructs Melinda to “close [her] eyes” and “picture a tree.” “Any tree,” he says. “There it is. It’s burned into your retinas. You got it. Do it.”

I laughed loud and hard. Obviously, this was an instance of the art teacher being crazy and expecting the impossible from Melinda. My friends were not laughing along with me, so I turned to them. “It’s not like someone can just see a picture of a tree in their head,” I explained.

My friends’ faces changed from confused by my laughter to incredulous at my words. “Yes, you can,” one friend insisted.

“Oh.” I leaned back against the cushion of the couch, no longer able to meet their eyes. I stayed silent for the remainder of the film.

I knew in that moment that something was very different about my way of thinking. I didn’t see images when I closed my eyes. I didn’t see anything.

That’s a nice, neat little story about discovering that my mind works differently than that of most other people, but it’s not the complete story. The truth is, my realization about my lack of visualizations came in fits and starts. I remember writing in a journal in seventh grade that I didn’t have visual memories the way that other people seemed to. Even before then, there were moments of people describing their thoughts that just never made sense to me.

The reason why this movie viewing party stands out so clearly in my head is that it was the final straw. I had some idea that other people were able to “see” their memories, but this was the first time that I fully recognized that people were able to conjure images in their minds whenever they wanted to. No wonder I was so bad at visual art. No wonder other people equated reading a book to watching a movie. No wonder I was just dying to get to the character development and advancements in the plot in the Harry Potter book series while other readers adored the vivid descriptions of the scenery.

Something was clearly wrong with me.

At the time, I didn’t have the words to articulate what was so different about my thought process. In fact, at the time of this event, 2010 (writing that makes me feel so old), the term for this phenomenon had not yet been coined.

For a few years afterward, whenever I tried to tell other people what I was experiencing, I tended to do so incorrectly. At one point, I told my mom that I’m face blind because that was the closest psychological term I could find. But I’m not face blind. In fact, I am rather good at recognizing faces. I just can’t pull up a picture of a face in my head.

By my sophomore year in college, I had gotten better at describing this experience, and the friends I told started to believe me. My then-boyfriend tested me with visualization exercises from his math classes, resulting in one particularly memorable incident of trying to help me visualize a tesseract, the four-dimensional version of a cube.

“Picture a point,” he said calmly and patiently.

It took all of my concentration and several minutes to do this, but eventually, I was able to.

“Now picture four points on a plane with line segments of equal length connecting them so that they form a square.”

Another bout of concentration, another several minutes, but I was also able to complete this feat.

“Now, we’re going to look at three-dimension space. Imagine another square of equal size above the first one with line segments of equal length connecting the corresponding vertices to form a cube.”

I tried and tried, but the original square was already so difficult to hold in my brain, and I wasn’t even sure if I had done that part right, considering that I had never successfully managed to visualize anything before, so I gave up.

“That’s not even the hard part!” his roommate insisted, the frustration clear in his voice.

But it was the hard part for me. In fact, trying to hold a single point in my non-existent visual consciousness was hard. I spent the rest of the day nursing a headache and feeling completely exhausted.

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

The scientific term for a lack of visualization ability from birth is “congenital aphantasia” or just “aphantasia” for short. According to its Wikipedia entry, aphantasia means “a condition where one does not possess a functioning mind’s eye and cannot voluntarily visualize imagery.” Though the condition was first described in 1880 by Francis Galton, the study of it kicked off within the last decade, led by Professor Adam Zeman from the University of Exeter. Zeman was originally studying a subject who had lost his ability to visualize following a surgery. After the publication of his paper, life-long aphantasics began to reach out to him to say, “Hey, wait, I have never been able to do that.” Zeman created the word “aphantasia” to describe these experiences and has been on the forefront of research into the matter ever since.

I don’t remember when I first heard the term “aphantasia” to describe this lack of visual thoughts. During my fact finding for this post, I saw that the term wasn’t even coined until 2015, so if I had seen the word during my sophomore year of college, it would have been super freshly minted. (Get it, ’cause the word was “coined” that year? Never mind.) I know that this Facebook article written by software engineer and sometimes writer Blake Ross had a huge impact on my understanding of my own thoughts, but this wasn’t published until well into my junior year of college. Since I heard the term and found this post, though, I’ve never looked back. Finally, I had a word for what I experience every day. Finally, other people were beginning to write about their own experiences.

I used to feel bad about how long it took me to realize that my way of thinking falls so far outside the norm. I don’t feel that way any longer as more and more people, many of whom are much older than me, are beginning to discover that they possess this same weird brain-thing. Until recently, it wasn’t really talked about, and now that it is being shared, people are coming to realize that this term fits them, too.

Another reason why this lack of visuals is so difficult to recognize in oneself is because saying “picture _____” sounds metaphorical. You are not literally changing your surroundings. It’s all in your head. I just extended that metaphorical meaning further.

“Picture a tree”–metaphor. They must mean think about all the elements of a tree to help you draw it.

“Visualize yourself achieving your goal”–metaphor. They must mean make a list of what actions you must take to succeed and what emotions you might feel when you do.

“Count sheep”–metaphor. They must mean count until you fall asleep while you ruminate on the concept of sheep. Which is a weird thing to do. Like, really weird.

One might say that I don’t truly have aphantasia because I was able to conjure a square in my mind albeit by dint of much blood, sweat, and tears. I also know for a fact that I dream with visuals because I have memories of what those dreams looked like the same way that I have memories of what I look like or what my friends look like–it’s all descriptions of visual elements stored as words. Not all aphantasics possess the ability to do these things. The research on the topic of aphantasia shows that visualization abilities exist on a spectrum. Some people have vivid, realistic mental images. Others have more cartoon-esque, more faded, or more blurry pictures in their heads. Despite my prior examples, as a general rule, I have such a limited ability to see any visuals whatsoever that it would be laughable for me to pretend otherwise. If it takes me minutes to picture a dot and I come away from that experience with a headache, I cannot be expected to picture a face. When it comes to pulling up a mental map, even one of a familiar place, forget about it. These are the times when having a visual consciousness would be helpful. In the big picture, sometimes being able to visualize a single point is about as useless as never being able to visualize a single point.

Photo by Negative Space from Pexels

I don’t know how I feel about this lack of mental images because I don’t know what it would be like to exist in the world otherwise. I don’t think that I’ve ever had the ability to visualize, so I’ve never associated it with a feeling of loss. Some things would certainly be more convenient if I had pictures of things in my head, like wayfinding on semi-familiar streets or manipulating shapes in higher levels of mathematics, but I have workarounds and solutions to the problems that arise from this lack of visuals.

In fact, I credit aphantasia requiring me to find different ways to do things for part of my problem solving ability. It certainly provided me with lots of practice with thinking outside of the box. (Were you just picturing a box as you read those words? Do you picture a box whenever you hear that phrase? I don’t even know what that would be like.)

And, no, if you were wondering, having aphantasia does not seem to have a detrimental effect on my memory. I’ve read articles written by people with aphantasia who have terrible memories, and I’ve read articles written by people with aphantasia who have great memories. I’m lucky to fall into the latter category.

So that’s been part of my experience with aphantasia! If you have any questions for me about this, I would love to answer them. If I get enough, I will do a separate post with all the Q’s and all my A’s.

And if you want to learn more about aphantasia or read about the way other people experience it, here are some resources:

Also, “I See” and “A Cream-Colored Mind” are my poetic attempts to describe my aphantasic writing experiences. You should check it out if you haven’t already.

Peace out!


For A.

How was I supposed to realize?

Even after all these years,
I still find myself thinking about you.

How was I supposed to realize
that the cool touch of your hand in mine
would sear itself into my memory
as if it were the scar
of a thousand icy fires?

Or that your lips that told
of hopes and dreams for a better future–
not just for yourself, but for the whole world–
would be so intoxicating and unforgettable
when pressed against mine?

I have made several mistakes
since that touch, that kiss,
one of which was
letting you go
without an explanation.

Now I am left with the memory
and an apology that seems
too thin, too late, and too quiet
to be of any real benefit
to you.

And I know that everything I said and did
gives you no reason to trust me,
to even listen to me,
but I do have just one question:

Do you still think about me, too?

Photo by Min An from Pexels

Galaxies, Or Regarding Poor Prufrock

Around us we hear the swift-moving cars,
racing to their destinations

Image by FelixMittermeier from Pixabay

When I saw that this week’s Penable poetry competition had the theme of “galaxy,” my first thought was of the poem “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot.

Update: I won! Thank you to everyone for your support! Thank you H. R. Phoenix for hosting the contest and thank you Saania for selecting my poem!

The original “Prufrock” begins with the lines “Let us go then, you and I,/When the evening is spread out against the sky/Like a patient etherized upon a table.” If you want to read that entire poem, you can find it here.

My poem isn’t meant to be a response to “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.” My poem is simply what I thought about while I reread that poem and reflected on galaxies.

Galaxies, Or Regarding Poor Prufrock

In a lush field upon our backs we lie
with our palms spread out flat against the sky,
like a perfect frame for the gleaming stars.

Around us we hear the swift-moving cars,
racing to their destinations, but ours
is simply here under the summer heat,

For we don’t want to roam the busy streets,
we desire to just wait in peace and meet
constellations, greeting them one by one.

Soon, though, even without illumination from the sun,
our gentle quietude becomes undone,
reminded of life’s chaos by the overwhelming vastness of space.

A disheartening question now we face:
Among the cosmos, what is our place?
It ravages, rages, consumes our brains

until it is the only thought that remains.
Though to the tranquil darkness, it does not pertain,
so we wonder if it needs answered at all.

The beaming starlight once more does call,
and though we may feel stuck and small,
held in by the pointillated dark sheet above,

we notice the heavens surround us with love.
That inquiry flies off like a dove
as we feel safe beneath the galaxies.

We will return to questions of mortality,
morality, reality, and unreality,
but for now, we focus on the view. How pretty!

For this moment,
we ignore memories of the city,
the hustle and bustle, the anxiety,
that simultaneous crowded, lonely curse.

Those thoughts are for another poet’s verse–
We do not dare disturb the universe.

I Love Fractured Fairy Tales

I love subverting fairy tales. Destroying them, even.

Image by Šárka Jonášová from Pixabay

I can probably count on my two hands the total number of Disney films I’ve seen in my lifetime, and most of those I watched as an adult. I didn’t have a childhood filled with carriages and ballgowns and evil stepmothers. I didn’t grow up singing about wishing for my prince to come. I wasn’t really exposed to fairy tales in that way.

That’s not to say that my childhood was devoid of magicality or fantasy (or films). In fact, my favorite childhood movie was The Wizard of Oz. And my love for that movie has carried on long past my adolescence, providing me with the inspiration for the title of this very blog.

It’s also not like I didn’t ever hear about fairy tales. I was read versions of The Three Little Pigs, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and Cinderella. My brother and I even had a stuffed bear that would read a picture book version of Sleeping Beauty when we pressed its toes. (That bear, by the way, did the voices of all the characters, so there is one page where the bear proclaims in a raspy, witchy voice that the princess is going to “prick her finger on a spinning wheel AND DIE!!!” It’s a very scarring experience to have a cute, innocent-looking bear suddenly shout about the death of a beloved character.)

Image by Jo-B from Pixabay

I bring this up to say that, though I was familiar with fairy tales, I had very little attachment to them, especially compared to other people in my generation. They’re not my darlings. I don’t have to worry about protecting my love for them.

And I love subverting them. Destroying them, even.

I don’t remember how old I was when my teacher read The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, but I do remember that I instantly fell in love with it. I enjoyed hearing a familiar story from a different perspective, and I felt horribly bad for the wolf. For the first time, I was challenged to hold two different perspectives in my head at the same time and acknowledge that both the wolf and the pigs deserved empathy, which is a difficult but exhilarating task for a child. And it was all thanks to a fractured fairy tale.

Fast forward about a decade to my senior year of high school when I stumbled across the YouTube video “After Ever After – Disney Parody,” performed by Jon Cozart and posted to his channel, Paint. This video takes melodies from The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Pocahontas and tells the stories of the princesses after the endings of their films. The song examines real-world issues that are related to the settings of the movies (like how over-fishing and ocean oil spills would affect Ariel from The Little Mermaid), and, in the case of Pocahontas, it points out the ways that Disney glosses over and sugar coats the realities of cruelty and disease in the experiences of the real people who became characters in the film. It made me think about the princesses in the context of true problems that they might face. The parody video is well-written, well-sung, and thought-provoking.

It’s also rather dark. I showed it to several friends, and they were horrified. They, unlike I, did grow up watching and adoring the Disney versions of these fairy tales*. Through showing them this video, I had unintentionally murdered their darlings on their behalf and held the corpses of those now-dead films up to them with an expectant smile on my face. I understand why they were shocked and displeased. It’s easier to love a fractured fairy tale when you aren’t so attached to the original version.

That said, I think most people who have loved and watched and shared “After Ever After” were Disney fans. As I’m writing this post, that video has nearly 90 million views–a level of fame (or infamy) that I don’t think can be reached with an audience that is only mildly interested in the original fairy tales it parodies. Additionally, from anecdotal experience, most of my generation and the generation below me (both of whom are the target audience of this type of video) saw these movies repeatedly throughout their childhoods. Some people just like having their favorite fairy tales fractured, and others, like my friends from high school, just don’t.

And speaking of loving having your favorite childhood fantasies fractured, you didn’t think that I would possibly end this post without murdering my own darling, The Wizard of Oz, did you?

Okay, okay, to say that Wicked, my favorite musical of all time, murdered The Wizard of Oz is more than just a stretch; it is wrong. But hear me out. My favorite character in The Wizard of Oz is Glinda, the Good Witch of the South. I even dressed up as her for Halloween when I was in kindergarten, complete with a floofy pink dress, bejeweled sneakers, and a shiny wand. And Wicked does not treat Galinda** too kindly. Yes, she is endearing, and yes, she changes a lot throughout the musical, but for the majority of the run time, she is self-centered, unapologetically self-agrandizing, and (charmingly) annoying. Glinda, this character who I adored so much that I wanted to be her, was the butt of so many of the jokes in the musical.

And I loved it.

I loved the fact that Galinda was not the heroine of the story. I loved that Wicked gave the Wicked Witch of the West a name and a personality and a cause. I loved that I had to come to terms with the possibility that not every villain is actually evil or even bad and that not every good guy is flawless or even pleasant to be around.

Wicked gave me the chance to fall in love with a new character, Elphaba. I appreciated her story, I felt for her heartbreak, and I hoped for her to win in the end.

I loved the character of Elphaba so much that I even named my succulent plant after her.

All these fractured fairy tales (and one fractured fantasy) gave me the opportunity to think about the characters in different and more interesting ways. They presented me with the shades of gray that exist in the world and helped me practice viewing other people as flawed yet valuable humans with their own set of complex needs and desires. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

My call to action is this: in the words of John Green who was himself inspired by other authors and philosophers and friends and strangers, “imagine others complexly” and consume media that challenges you to do so. For me, that concept of imagining people complexly was first introduced by a fractured fairy tale. For you, it may have come from a TV show or a movie or a million other sources. Whatever that thing is that inspires you toward complex thought and empathy, seek it out. Devour it. Just maybe don’t show it to your friends if it might ruin their childhoods.

*I know that Pocahontas is more historical fiction than fairy tale, but I’m going to lump it in here because, to be honest, Disney treats the story as if it were just another fairy tale. I think that’s wrong, but, as I’ve previously acknowledged, I have zero nostalgia attached to that movie, and I haven’t even seen it the whole way through, so take my criticism with a full dash of salt.

** not a typo

Other Amazing Fractured Fairy Tales:

Picture Books

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

Other Books

The Princess Bride by William Goldman


“Little Red Cap” by Carol Ann Duffy


Twisted a Team StarKid musical

What amazing fractured fairy tales/fantasies did I leave out? Let me know in a comment!


Six Word Stories

Up late.
Old date.
Clean slate.

Photo by Dids from Pexels

This is different from the poetry that I normally write, but I had some ideas for six word stories kicking around in my head, and I figured that I would share three of them with you!

Up late.
Old date.
Clean slate.

She was so gorgeous.  Stupid boy.

The wind howls. The wolf doesn’t.

And the World Becomes Still

I hear a voice gently whisper,

When all the world is upended around me,

When my thoughts ricochet around my mind with unstoppable speed,

When anxiety rattles me to my core,

I hear a voice gently whisper,


And the world becomes still.

When I am sad and scared and lonely,

When the loss seems too much to bear,

When tears stream down my face and my body is wracked with sobs,

I hear a voice gently whisper,


And the world becomes still.

When I am filled with anticipation,

When a look of exuberance covers my face,

When jubilation is the only thing on my mind,

I hear a voice gently whisper,


And the world becomes still.

When I am sitting in a quiet place,

When I am meditating on gratitude,

When my heartbeat is slow and steady,

I hear a voice gently whisper,


And the world becomes still.

Happy Easter if you celebrate it! Either way, I wish you a day filled with light, love, peace, and happiness!

Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels

Beauty in Mundanity

Found poetry, found objects, and found beauty

My favorite poem is “This Is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams. Even if you don’t recognize its title, there’s a good chance that you recognize its content. It begins like this:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

If you’re interested, you can read the entire poem here.

This is a rather divisive poem; in fact, it divided my family (I mean, not in a big way, but still). While I was running around the house quoting this poem from memory, my mom was bemoaning its simple nature, lack of many poetic devices, and unconventional subject matter.

The reason why I love this poem so dearly is the same reason why many people dislike it. The poem reads like a note between spouses, family members, or roommates. In fact, Williams probably did transform a note from his wife into a poem to create “This Is Just to Say,” making it a “found poem” (Matterson, 2015). (A response by the name of “Reply” was later published by William Carlos Williams’ wife, Florence Herman Williams.) This type of poetry shows that even something as simple as a scribbled note can be poetic. Beauty exists, even in mundanity.

In this way, Williams opens the door for a debate. What is poetry, really? If this note is poetry, then are the words that I jotted in the margins of my favorite book poetry? Is my receipt from my most recent trip to the grocery store poetry? Is this blog post poetry?

As it turns out, Williams was not the first person who sparked this type debate (and for all I know, the following example was not the first case, either).

Nearly two decades before “This Is Just to Say” was published, a sculpture by Marcel Duchamp shocked the art world. His piece, titled Fountain, is a “readymade” sculpture–an already existing object that was repurposed to become art. “What was that already existing object?” you might ask. Why, it was a urinal.

By Man Ray – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, CC0,

The Society of Independent Artists (SIA), where the piece was first submitted, chose not to display Fountain with the rest of the submissions. Duchamp, disagreeing with the SIA’s decision, resigned from its board (Tate, 2020). Fountain defied the idea that works needed to follow classical ideals in order to be considered “art.” Duchamp wanted to make a statement about the definition of art, and chose an object as mundane (and, let’s face it, a little obscene) as a urinal to do so.

So is Fountain art? Is “This Is Just to Say” poetry?

I am not an art or literary critic, nor am I a profession artist or poet (yet!), so I don’t possess the knowledge or life experiences that would allow me to answer that question for you, but I can answer it for me.

When I read “This Is Just to Say,” I feel something. I feel warmth and the loveliness of a close relationship. It feels like the midway point in a much longer story about marriage or friendship or how small grievances can lead to larger rifts. I feel the same way about it that I feel about so many other poems.

And though I have never seen Fountain in person, I did see this piece, titled Still and created by Damien Hirst, at The Art Institute of Chicago. When I looked through the glass casing (that is itself part of the sculpture) at the medical and lab equipment it encloses, I felt something. I felt cold. I felt the sterility of medicine reflected in the metal tools that are used for that purpose. I recognized the juxtaposition between the frigidity of surgical tools and the warmth of the humans that utilize them. I felt another juxtaposition between the stillness of the tools and the bustling of a hospital that might use them. I felt about it the same way that I felt about so many other pieces of art that day.

Much like how the author John Green said in this tweet that “Books belong to their readers,” art belongs to the audience, however the audience wants to see it.

It seems that the gaze we use matters more than the creation we are viewing. The attitude surpasses the object.

But what does that mean for me as a lay person? Surely, this way of viewing the world should not solely belong to poets and artists. I, too, want to see the beauty in mundanity.

I decided to challenge myself to see the charm that constantly surrounds me. I succeeded in this challenge whenever I noticed splendor in the ordinary in my life, and I took a picture each time so that I could share those experiences with you. (A lot of these are cat-centric, so if you’re not a fan of cats, I apologize.)

One of my roommate’s cats, perched for some reason on top of our toilet.

A small collection of plants in our windowsill

That same cat from earlier, sleeping on the couch. He likes to sleep with his head as upside down as possible, for some reason.

Part of “Afterword: Jesuits in Space” from The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I loved these two lines in the middle!

Part of my closet. It’s not particularly neat and tidy, but it has been color coded for years, and I took a moment to appreciate how aesthetically pleasing that is.

Same cat in what we lovingly call his “turkey” position: head ready to dangle, front legs tucked to look like turkey wings and butt high up in the air.

And here’s the other cat, doing a weird dangle-thing with her front legs. She likes to do this nearly every time she lays in that basket.

I have taken
most of the pictures
that appear in
this blog post

and which
are probably
hard to
look at

Forgive me
I am an amateur
and the lighting in my apartment
is terrible

P.S. In my research, I found this Vox article about a Twitter trend a few years ago that used “This Is Just to Say.” The tweets are a few years old, but the still hold up (even as meme culture changes so quickly)!


Duchamp, M. (1917). Fountain.

Green, J. (2014, February 1). Retrieved from

Hirst, D. (1994). Still. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved from

Matterson, S. (2015, October 19). Stephen Matterson: On “This is Just to Say”. Retrieved from

Ray, M., & Duchamp, M. (1917). The blind man. New York City: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved from

Romano, A. (2017, December 1). This is why there are jokes about plums all over your Twitter feed. Retrieved from

Tate. (2020). ‘Fountain’, Marcel Duchamp, 1917, replica 1964. Retrieved from

Williams, F. H. (1982). “Reply”. Retrieved from

Williams, W. C. (1938). “This Is Just to Say”. Retrieved from