You Say Potato I say Podcast

The only sincere New Year’s Resolution I made this year was “say people’s names more often.”

As many of you no doubt know, and have even experienced for yourselves, I have mild face blindness. I don’t know if it’s neurological or the product of poor paying-attention skills or if it’s because I’ve been so blind my whole life and so I just don’t process visual information well generally (I have mentioned here many times how regularly I dream that I am blind even though I can see, it’s hard to explain but deeply disturbing), but I have a really hard time recognizing faces, even the faces of people I know pretty well and/or see regularly. Out of context faces in particular are hard for me; if I see the bartender I’m friends with at the dog park, I’m truly not sure who he is until he starts talking. It’s never a question of not remembering the actual human person; just of not finding their face familiar at first. It is really disconcerting. I have had so many experiences where people come up and talk to me for considerable amounts of time and I at no point have any idea who they are. Then we say goodbye and they walk off and my husband goes “who was that” and I am like I HAVE NO IDEA and my heart is pounding and I feel like throwing up.

Sometimes people who read my blog and know me in real life but don’t know me that well will say hi to me if they see me and they will take pains to be like “I’M JOHN, IT’S OK IF YOU DON’T RECOGNIZE ME” and I am like, thank god, my blog has truly served a purpose at last.

It is bad and socially dysfunctional and something I want to work harder on. So, for the new year, I set myself the task of saying a person’s name every time I see them. “Hi Joe!” etc. instead of just “Hi!” I think it is nice to have your name said. There’s just something nice about it. I decided nothing ventured nothing gained, and I would risk being wrong sometimes.

I have now been wrong twice.

First, I called a person named “Tina” “Mary” because both those people bartend at the bar we go to but Tina also works at the cafe we go to, and I saw her there and knew she was either Tina or Mary from the bar, so I risked it and got burned. She was very cool about it.

Second, I saw a colleague coming down the hall and I said “hey Eric” and he didn’t say anything, so I looked harder and as he came closer I saw he was not Eric but rather this other guy. This one was not due to face blindness, however, but just regular blindness–I sincerely couldn’t see him from that far away, and his body type matches Eric’s, so I just chanced it. So I don’t feel as bad about this one, as it’s just a physical problem. He said “I’m not Eric,” and I screamed “MY GLASSES!!!!!” which I hope conveyed to him what the situation was, which is that as usual I need new glasses. Also my glasses are FILTHY, which probably doesn’t help either.

While these missteps are unsettling, it feels really good to say someone’s name and be correct, and so ultimately I think I am doing the right thing in forging ahead with this plan.

I teach at 5:00 on mondays and every single monday I sit in my office for HOURS working and watching the clock and waiting for it to be 5:00 and then somehow I ALWAYS glance up and it’s 5:00 and I am taken completely by surprise and I’m not ready and my bag’s not packed and I haven’t printed out my lecture notes. This seems very weird to me.

Anyway I’m late again

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4 Responses to You Say Potato I say Podcast

  1. Allie says:

    oh my god YES on the “person you know in one context being unrecognizable in another context”. i have some kind of face blindness, as well, particularly with colleagues (many, many instances of glancing away from someone i’m not sure i recognize just as they are saying hi to me). but i recently saw a favorite bartender, as a patron at another bar, and was SO CONFUSED. i knew i recognized him, but FROM WHERE?! why, brain, why.

  2. ericka says:

    Do your students know about this? How do you handle it with them? SO CURIOUS

  3. freddy says:

    I am so face-blind. It causes me so much anxiety. I feel like I basically just look like a self-important asshole constantly.

  4. dv says:

    I think I have mentioned my theory before about “summoning” a person’s real self by saying their name. Otherwise you are just dealing with their automatic, placeholder self.

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