The Blind Mind

Think of an elephant.
Or an apple.
Or a happy honeybee.
Or a daffodil with a top hat on.
Or any one of a bazillion other physical objects, real or imaginary.
There is a very high chance that you can see the thing in your mind’s eye, right?

If you can, congratulations, your brain is functioning pretty much as expected.

If you can’t, well, you’re probably like me, then. You most likely have aphantasia to some degree or another. Basically, your mind’s eye is blind, or out of focus, or fuzzy.

I’ve never been able to find my way from A to B without getting lost.
I can’t draw accurate pictures for shit.
I am very face blind, and will not recognise you on a second, third… fifteenth meeting without a lot of context. (Sorry!)
I forget movies I’ve seen because I have no way of storing visual memory.
I don’t dream in pictures, just in emotion which can get very trippy.
I have zero sense of colour and fashion, so I stick to the most basic of clothing.
I don’t see the value in reading fiction; historical facts are far easier to recall and focus on, so I read a lot of biographies and fact-based literature.
I can’t visualise the faces of my loved ones when we’re apart, which makes being apart even more difficult.

I have absolutely no clue what my shawls will look like until I have them quite literally completed and off the blocking wires, and I had NO IDEA until quite recently that other designers could.

So, I guess, on its surface this weird wiring in my head could be classed as a low-key disability. I mean, yea, look at all that stuff up there (and I’m finding more and more to add to that list all the time), it’s all gonna add a level of difficulty that others don’t have to deal with, especially when we’re talking about my designwork.

And it does suck. No two ways about it.
But here’s the thing. It also gives me a perspective on the design process that most others don’t possess. Because I can’t see the finished design in my head in any form at all, I have nothing in particular to aim my focus towards.
I end up then, meandering off the path others may stay confidently on. Where others have a direct, efficient and logical highway from idea to completion, I barely have a dirt path. I’m flailing around in the dark!

It takes me longer to get wherever I am going, but the scenic route affords me more opportunities to experiment and invent.

For me, designing isn’t about the visuals anwyay; it’s about a certain lingering, attractive tension and flow, and a sense of “rightness” in the maths (even when it’s not exactly accurate) that I don’t think I really can adequately explain. This is something I have struggled to articulate for decades because I simply didn’t have the language to make sense of it, and it’s something I’m only now beginning to understand. “Where do you get your ideas?” was an interview question I lived in dread of because I hadn’t a clue, and much like a magic eye picture (which, for the record, I also cannot do to save my life), I was worried that focussing too hard on the question would ensure the answer would simply disappear.

“I don’t ‘get’ ideas” is the best answer I have come up with so far.
I don’t get them, they don’t get me, I basically start with a hook and some yarn and I doodle til something happens that I can hang an idea on. I’m the proverbial monkey with a typewriter, folks.

It’s an unpredictable, inconsistent and precarious method, and it feels extremely amateurish to me, but it’s also the only way I know how to do this, so… I guess until they invent mental spectacles for aphantasiatics, it’s the only way I can work.

About Aoibhe Ni

I'm a crochet shawl designer from Ireland. Feminist. Trekkie. Dog Lover.
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