Bienvenidos and welcome to the blog of Manda Newlin, professional writer/copyeditor, amateur pop-culture quipper and perennial observer. I’m nuts about words, grammar, bookstores, foreign accents, DVR and iTunes. I enjoy one-on-one conversations, eavesdropping in coffee shops, learning other peoples’ life stories and discovering universal truths. Here’s what I know ….

Friday, August 31, 2007

I may not be invisible after all ...

There’s a great line in “The Princess Diaries” where the main character, in all her bad-hair, bespectacled blandness, laments to her friend, “Somebody sat on me again.” (It happens early on, before she gets a makeover and turns into beautiful Anne Hathaway.)

While I’ve never been sat upon by a stranger, I have had enough similar experiences to make me feel invisible at best, not worth remembering at worst.

Two recent examples:

  1. A woman at the YMCA, with whom I shared a 40-minute conversation, looked at me with ZERO recognition the very next week — and even stuck out her hand to introduce herself to me. I could recall her name (first and last), her kids’ names and ages and how she met her husband, but she didn’t remember speaking to me face to face for 40 minutes!

  2. The chick in a small-group meeting, who, after sitting across from me every week for 18 consecutive months, asked if I was joining the group for the first time.

Is it me? If I were more dynamic in conversation or more striking, or spoke with a cool accent, I’d register enough impact so people would at least remember my name, even incorrectly. Right?!

But now there’s some relief for me — and you, if you’re a fellow invisible — in the form of an actual medical condition called prosopagnosia. People who don’t like words with more than two syllables call it “face blindness.”

Essentially, the condition impairs a person’s ability to recognize faces. Prosopag…, er, face blindness can render the afflicted unable to identify even people they’ve known for years. According to a study published by The American Journal of Medical Genetics, as many as one in 50 people have some degree of face blindness. (And it so happens many of them are clustered in my township.)

Sadly, there’s no medical treatment. Those who have it rely on cues like hairstyle, voice or context to recognize family, friends and neighbors (or perhaps fellow YMCA or small-group members).

So the next time an acquaintance flashes you that offensively blank look of non-recognition, you can chalk it up to prosopag …, uh, face blindness.


Amy said...

I actually WAS sat on once...I was 6 years old, sitting on the end seat of a movie theater aisle getting ready to watch E.T. It was a really large man, or at the least it was a large person with a large derriere.

I can't stand the "invisible" curse either, as it happens to me all the time as well. I try not to think of them as thoughtless, rude, or self-involved, but rather that people like us actually have an extraordinary ability to recall. Like we have superpowers in that way! It kinda helps me not to feel so small and insignificant by the blank stare.

Can you tell this post struck a nerve??
: )


Sarita Leone said...

Learned a new word, Manda. Thanks!

It's so hard for me to imagine anyone not recalling you instantly. Temporary insanity, I'll bet, on both their parts!


Bella Rossa said...

Dude, something like this happened to me recently.


It is a bit unnerving. I chalk it up to other people's cognitive deficits rather than a lack of charisma on my part. It makes me feel better.

Erik Deckers said...

But face blindness is on the part of the viewer. And I don't think you're necessarily invisible, you just need to make yourself memorable.

The next time you meet someone, in the middle of a sentence, wave your arms in the air and shout "booga booga booga!" I guarantee they'll remember you for the rest of their life.

Do that often enough, and pretty soon, EVERYONE will remember you.