Sunday, 30 March 2008

Sooo, How Are You? With Those Things That You Do And That Life That You Live And Stuff?

There are few things as likely to throw me completely off balance as someone walking towards me smiling, waving and saying my name.
I hate running into people when I'm not expecting them.
Drives me nuts.

Don't get me wrong, I love my friends and family and assorted associates but I suffer from what I like to call Context Recognition Dyslexia.

If I only ever knew you from Uni I'd better damn well only see you in Uni.
If I know you from work and you suddenly come towards me in a CD store waving, things will not go well.
If we hang out in Melbourne, God forbid you should try to attract my attention in Bendigo.
Not because I am going to be rabidly angry with you for trying to escape your category in my brain but because outside of the scope of that category I will honestly sometimes have no idea who you are for a good five minutes without prompting.
You'll look vaguely familiar, I will know that I know you but I will be entirely unable to remember how or why.

At this point I will usually attempt to probe you for information using detail-lite, generic questions. If one of these questions throws up a nugget of data that my brain can immediately attribute to you, you will suddenly come into focus like a Magic Eye puzzle and I will recognise you. At this point I will get infinitely more chatty.

Case Study
A couple of years ago I was working a coffee job near Flinders Street station in Melbourne, I had just got off my shift and was gleefully on my way to hit the local secondhand book store, when I heard someone calling my name. I looked around and some short-haired girl walking with a bespectacled woman and a gangly boy was madly waving and grinning at me. I tentatively waved back but it wasn't until she got close enough for me to hear her voice that I recognised her. It was my best friend, her mother and her brother. I had known these people for EIGHT YEARS! I could recite her entire life history, sketch a basic life cycle of her many many haircut experiments and tell you stories of such surpassing embarrassment about her that you would probably cringe. I know her and her family only marginally less intimately than my own family and I didn't recognise her because I never see her in the city, at least not without arranging ahead.
Which links in nicely to the time I almost didn't recognise my own cousin standing next to me on the train platform because I never see him at train stations...

I expect it's some form or other of Prosopagnosia, 'the inability to recognise faces', though nothing that severe.
I recognise faces, emotions, remember people - but only for about two years without repeated re-exposure before they are purged from the memory banks, with a few exceptions - but step outside of my context for you, get a haircut, change your weight or even your clothes and you may find me blinking at you in polite bewilderment.

Strangely enough I might have entirely forgotten your face after not having seen you for three years but I will remember every story I ever heard from or about you after very little prompting.
This has lead to conversations such as...
"Who was that?"
"Sarah, you know Sarah,"
*sigh* "She was going out with that fire-breathing guy...
"Oh right, the one who sold ecstasy on the side and burnt off his eyebrows that time... And her sister was pregnant last time we spoke and we were wondering if she was going to name this one something as awful as Moonshine Illuria or whether she'd overcompensate and name it John or Jane. And she always had that gross dribbly nose because she wouldn't admit that she was allergic to cats and kept like twelve of them until the RSPCA came round and had a word..."

It's not all bad though, on occasion people I haven't recognised easily have been dissuaded from reestablishing regular contact and I have later recalled who they were and made sure to thank any passing deities for their timely intervention.
It saves me the trouble of having to tell them to bugger off the old fashioned way.