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The Woman Behind Struck By Genius

Water ripple by Jason Padgett [1]
Water ripple by Jason Padgett

Today we’re excited to welcome author Maureen Seaberg [2] to Writer Unboxed! Maureen’s book Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel, co-written by Jason Padgett, is the Spring’s lead title for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It also received a Kirkus Star and is one of Apple’s 20 Best Books for April.

Maureen is an expert synesthesia blogger for Psychology Today—and she herself has several forms of synesthesia. Maureen also recently tested DNA positive for another curious trait—she is a tetrachromat—someone, always a woman, with an extra cone for color perception. She has written for the New York TimesThe Daily BeastThe Huffington Post; O, The Oprah Magazine; and ESPN: The Magazine; and she has appeared on MSNBC, PBS, and The Lisa Oz Show on Oprah Radio.

[pullquote]I’m an optimist. I believe some of the greatest stories in our world may be the ones which have not yet been told. Even in our information-rich age, things can fall through the cracks in the deluge. Nothing is “too small” when casting about for stories.[/pullquote]

Maureen discovered Jason through a Google synesthesia alert, became his friend and collaborator, and got him the medical testing that confirmed his gifts. Here’s what Kirkus had to say about this remarkable book:

 When Padgett suffered a traumatic brain injury after a violent mugging, his sense of perception was profoundly altered. Overnight, his life as a fun-loving salesman changed into one dominated by unprompted geometric visualizations and the unexpected insights of newfound mathematical brilliance…In addition to seeing crystalline and fractal patterns as part of the properties of objects and spaces around him, he developed a paralyzing fear of being among people and germs…Padgett spent years in isolation, spending all his time investigating the concepts that suddenly held his mind hostage: math and science but also medical theories that might explain his neurological transformation. Based on his research, he suspected he had developed a form of synesthesia—a condition in which sensations are perceived in unusual ways, such as seeing letters or numbers as inseparable from specific colors—as a result of his injury. He was right.

…To put his remarkable story in writing, he partnered with Seaberg, a fellow synesthete who writes about synesthesia for Psychology Today. The result is a beautiful, inspiring and intimate account of Padgett’s struggles and breakthroughs.

An exquisite insider’s look into the mysteries of consciousness.”

You can connect with Maureen on her blog [3], on Facebook [4], and on Twitter [5]; to view a trailer for Struck by Genius, visit this site [6].

The Woman Behind Struck By Genius

Hi everyone! It’s really great to be among fellow writers. I hope you all have a fresh mug of something within reach and a comfy desk chair to sit a little while with me. Thank you, Writer Unboxed, for the chance to be here.

My new nonfiction book, Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel, co-authored with the incredible acquired savant Jason Padgett, debuted this month. It’s about Jason’s journey to embrace becoming a completely different person after suffering a brain injury in a mugging in Tacoma in 2002. Before the beating, he was a mullet-sporting party dude. Now he has more in common with Einstein. He understands complex math and physics he was never previously exposed to as a college dropout. Brain injuries often produce personality
changes, but Jason also acquired savant syndrome and synesthesia. His changes are some of the most profound ever documented. And consider this: he doesn’t have amnesia. He remembers his previous self, yet is a new person. I often reflect on how much grace that requires and wow, is he ever graceful about it.

[pullquote]This project has taught me so much. One of its chief lessons (which may be useful to all of you in terms of craft) is that it owes its genesis to the Internet, and to my belief that no stone is too small to be turned over in search of the next big idea.[/pullquote]

The book is also about how these latent genius potentials may reside in all of us, but are seldom unleashed except in cases of injury or disease. Top doctors like Dr. Darold Treffert, who treated the real “Rain Man,” Kim Peek, have advanced this theory and say Jason seems living proof of it. Don’t go wishing for that kick in the head just yet, though! Dr. Allan Snyder of Australia has developed a “Creativity Cap” which stimulates the brain to savant-like levels when worn and these abilities may be pain-free and in all our futures as a result.

This project has taught me so much. One of its chief lessons (which may be useful to all of you in terms of craft) is that it owes its genesis to the Internet, and to my belief that no stone is too small to be turned over in search of the next big idea. I had set up a Google alert on the topic of synesthesia some time ago as a writer on the topic. It’s really easy to do if you have a Gmail account (and I really hope you do because of the unlimited storage of messages that is so useful for people like uSTRUCKBYGENIUSCOVERs).

One day, a then-unknown Jason Padgett uploaded a videotape of himself drawing the complex geometric shapes he sees synesthetically onto YouTube. I was soon on the receiving end of a Google synesthesia alert linking to the video, and because I believe in the value of almost every shred of incoming information, I didn’t ignore it. I clicked. I was having a busy day, but I believed in the value of those little alerts. Not long after that, I found myself in email conversation with this fascinating man. We hit it off (owing in part to the fact that I have synesthesia myself) and decided to team up to tell his story.

It seems random, I suppose, on one level, but really it’s not. When casting about for stories, nothing is “too small” to consider. A link in an email from Google could, and did, lead to a major book deal. In 25 years as a journalist I have seen the smallest things turn out to be the largest things over and over again. It’s that business card you left with someone’s secretary on the way out the door, or the conversation you had with a colleague about your interests that makes him call you one day with a tip, or yes, that conference you signed up for when you were already swamped, that time and again pays off.

My advice is to cast about in oceans, yes, but also in rivers and even in tidal pools. Part of the joy of this business is in not knowing what you’ll hook and where it will ultimately take you.

What are some stories that have come out of ideas that at first may have appeared “too small” to consider? How do you open yourself up to unexpected story sources?