Social Myopia

It’s September. It’s been almost a year since I’ve written anything substantial for Call to Adventure. About a year ago now, I was heading to Tokyo for the first time in a long time. I had waited years to go back to Japan, but the wait between the September trip and the next one was even longer, though it registered on my calender as mere months. I could start by talking about the weather, how Los Angeles cools like thin plastic. Seasons here come pre-packaged, and roll out with the broad swiftness of an advertising campaign. But man, fuck the weather. You didn’t come here to listen to me talk about how high the clouds are, or how the dusty, burned out face of Griffith Park is starting to age, fading from the almost-green of the summer. You want a story.

Do I have a story? A single story? This last year has been an unraveling rope, repairing itself at one end, while constantly coming apart in front of me. I have too many stories to recount. Moreover, the problem with stories is that you can’t tell them to everyone at once. You have to keep telling them, and each time you speak, the texture wears down like old corduroy. Our anecdotes begin their lives as these fashionable disasters, and end up so threadbare that they're not worth the yarn.

Choosing a story out of all of these anecdotes won’t be a revelation. In fact, the stories I’m deciding not to tell says more about me than anything I’m about to write.

I went to Japan last December. I don't really want to tell that story again. I’d rather talk about something else. Problem is, writing around things is like begging for writer’s block. Yeah, I'm tired of telling the story of Tokyo, but to not include it in my first real entry at Call to Adventure since right before I went, well ... that's not just lazy. It smacks of cowardice.

At this point, is it even relevant, though? At the very least, I should figure out how that story goes before I go back to Tokyo in a few weeks. When I tell the story to friends, it’s full of answers and conclusions. There’s act breaks, and an epilogue. But when I tell it to myself, I lose all the punctuation. When I try and write it down, it comes out like syrup; slow, and too sweet. What happened in Tokyo?

Who knows.

In January, I couldn’t stop talking about the clothes I saw in Koenji. The kids there have taken American vintage fashion and ground it up, mashed the pieces together to make these sleek, knit-and-denim, post-Fruits pieces that are both fun and mature. Old colors in new combinations; green with light blue, pink, purple, orange. Cowboy boots and big, drooping throw-rug hats. Pillow covers, white glasses that slide too far down the nose. Soon after I returned from Koenji, from Ogikubo, from Tokyo, I went on a shopping spree that ended in a whole new wardrobe. But by July, I wasn’t wearing any of those clothes anymore.

It’s September. I’ve returned to blacks and reds, military inspiration and the crisp cut of dutch denim. The kids walking into the clubs on Hollywood Boulevard are all wearing what American Apparel tells them to wear. I’m wearing what I thought the future would look like.

My look has always been very successful at garnering attention. You know what? I like attention. Big surprise there. I’m an only child. I keep a blog, I’m a comedian. I wear pink argyle sweaters with brown-green ties that end in plastic army men. I might as well be wearing a sandwich board that declares “Desperate” in large bold Helvetica.

Now, philosophically, I could say I dress the way I do because I would feel lifeless wearing mall-purchased khakis with starched button-ups. (I would!) Those pre-made outfits, assembled by machines in factories that may or may not be entirely staffed by starving, gorgeous children -- well those clothes are no better than uniforms, and the last thing I want to express is that I'm the same as everyone else. We’re dying, after all. All of us, constantly dying. Such a short amount of time here. But no, let’s be honest: I dress for attention. It’s not what I’m thinking when I buy a shirt, but I’m certain that a lifetime of compliments has reinforced my semi-outlandish choices.

I dress the way I do for other reasons, too. But we’ll start with attention.

The real truth is, I only like attention when I can control it. I wear loud sweaters because it pre-scripts those first few moments of a conversation with a stranger. It corrals the wild possibilities of first introductions, drives them down an oiled corridor.

Here, take a look. There’s a guy at the bar, with a Bud.

"That's a great shirt," says Mr. Budweiser.

"Thanks, I got it at American Rag," I lie, for little reason at all. For the next five minutes, Mr. Budweiser and I talk about clothes, until someone interrupts or I come up with an excuse to walk away.

Clothing, you see, is my first line of defense. It’s control. Otherwise, it would go like this:

“Hello,” says Mr. Budweiser.

“Hi,” I respond.

And then, panic. My throat goes dry, my hands itch, I clutch at my neck and try to force myself make eye contact, unsuccessfully. I hate spoken sentences. What does this person want? What do I possibly have to tell them? I can’t just talk to talk. I need to talk for a reason, about something, for something. We’re all dying. Are they interested in me? What other reason is there to talk to someone? Am I already being presumptuous? Why is anyone talking to anyone? The noise of insecurity is metal teeth on chalkboard, tires popping in the heat of a fire, a screaming teakettle tucked back behind both ears.

No, I wear crazy skirts and mismatched knee-high socks so that I can deflect. Mr. Bud is staring at me from across the bar, and I know why: I’m in the clothes of a douchebag. While we’re at it, it’s why being in Tokyo always makes me immediately comfortable. See, in Japan, if people look at me, it’s because I’m white. I’m blonde. There it is, I can relax.

So here I am. I want attention, but I have a lot of trouble talking to people. Acquaintances see me having a chat with my close friends, and they assume I’m socially capable. I’m not. I flirt. Flirting keeps people at a distance. It doesn’t mean that every conversation is littered with intent, but then again, maybe it does. There’s the whole bisexual thing, you know; everyone’s an option. But at the trembling heart of it all, I’m sickeningly insecure.

But where does all the awkwardness come from?

Well, I have Prosopagnosia.

Wikipedia writes: Prosopagnosia (sometimes known as face blindness) is a disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while the ability to recognize other objects may be relatively intact. The term usually refers to a condition following acute brain damage, but recent evidence suggests that a congenital form of the disorder may exist. The specific brain area usually associated with prosopagnosia is the fusiform gyrus.[1]

Few successful therapies have so far been developed for affected people, although individuals often learn to use 'piecemeal' or 'feature by feature' recognition strategies. This may involve secondary clues such as clothing, hair color, body shape, and voice. Because the face seems to function as an important identifying feature in memory, it can also be difficult for people with this condition to keep track of information about people, and socialize normally with others.

You can read all about it there.

I didn’t know I had facial blindness until about three years ago. A friend of mine informed me about this (ridiculous-sounding, quite unbelievable) disorder, after she put it together that I don’t watch any live-action television and am often confused by movies. Yep, I’m an animation-only girl. (And that goes for pornography as well.)

Couple her low-level deduction with her quick experiment in pretending to be someone else, and she had nailed me. Since then, I’ve taken medical tests and been properly diagnosed. I have the most absurd sounding condition outside of cellular magnetism. Which I don’t even think exists.

Like any good daughter with a brand-new medical condition, I told my parents about it. My mom was not surprised. She relayed a story about me not recognizing her in college. “Where’s Mom?” I had asked my father. I can pick out my dad because he’s got this great Hemingway beard. My mom, to my guilty surprise, sometimes looks like other people. Or maybe everyone else looks like her.

Anyway, a comedy bar is both a cauldron for networking and the nightmare crucible for my condition. I have to hang out at IOWest after a show so that I can continue to do more shows, and to show my support for everyone’s work. But sitting in that bar also means keeping my head down in-between interactions. Often, I re-introduce myself to people … and they leave thinking I’m a flighty bitch. Which might be the case. Mostly, they’re experiencing the other side of a paralyzing social paranoia born of not knowing who the hell anyone is. Or if I’ve met them before. Like, five seconds ago.

My ex-boyfriend used to introduce me to the same person over and over. I’d turn around after that first interaction, and he’d wait a couple minutes before introducing me to the guy again. He thought it was hilarious. I thought it was embarrassing.

If it wasn’t for the diagnosis, I wouldn’t believe it, by the way. If it wasn’t for flash-cards with unrecognizable celebrities (removing their hair makes them anonymous; take them out of context, and they’re invisible) or screens full of faces repeating over and over until I say, “Wait … have I seen this one before?” then I wouldn’t believe it. I’ve always seen people as I see them. They don’t appear out of focus, nor do I have some way of knowing that faces are unfamiliar. I just assume that I haven’t met these people before, because I just can’t tell people apart. You know, my father used to yell at me to, “Pay attention!” I figured I just wasn’t following his advice enough.

Sometimes I’ll be halfway through a conversation, flirting with some guy or girl, when I realize who they are … and that it’s entirely inappropriate for me to be talking them up.

I try to wait for people to speak before I say hello. Which can be construed as unfriendliness, I’m sure. But, what can you do? I pay attention to haircuts. Some of my friends have specific smells. Jim, for example, often smells like beer. I really like glasses because I can identify people by them. I’m attracted to people who have a specific gait, or a vibrant style. A haircut. A prop.

If I close my eyes, though, I can not picture you. I can not see your face. I can draw the outlines of the table that used to stand on iron feet in my apartment in Chicago, but I can’t assemble the shape of your nose, or the cough of your eyebrows. I can recall the way you sounded, the shriek of your laugh, or the low confidence of your voice in an elevator. I can see everything about you in parts, perhaps. But I can not produce a replica you in my mind, before I sleep. Forgive me. But it’s why I forget so much.

A quick final: Did you know? People with Prosopagnosia often dress eccentrically. No joke. I wear a salad of styles so that I can tell which person I am in the mirror.