I woke up around 3AM on Tuesday morning and, for some reason, started watching a show I’d never watched before called “You’re the Worst”. I instantly liked the characters, laughed at the jokes, and even enjoyed the mostly B-story plot. So, I did what any good American would do: I binge watched both seasons in 2 days. What would any good American do next? They would go to work and tell a captive audience (co-workers) all about the awesome show they just binge watched. This was my plan but as I drove to work, mentally preparing to pounce on the conversationally slow and weak I had a revelation.
There are at least 7 primary characters in this show and another 4 or 5 ancillary characters that are introduced when needed to further the plot. Out of this dozen+ characters, I couldn’t name any of them. I’d just spent 8.5 hours watching them talk to each other and call each other by name over and over and none of the names had stuck in my mind.
I’ve always had this problem. If you introduce yourself to me I will not remember your name. I will call you buddy, guy, pal, partner, chief, scout, trooper, champ, killer, kimo sabi, dude, bro, tiger, partner, sir, ma'am, friend, or anything else required to NOT have to ask you your name again because I know it will upset you to realize I couldn’t be bothered to learn it. I will, literally, do this for years. I have known entire families for 30+ years and still don’t know which name goes with which person. It simply does not register with me. Even if I have worked closely with you and called you by your name repeatedly, it was simply a series of sounds from a pool of noises I now associate with you. I was sorting though similar sounds in my head every time I talked to you and, basically, picked your name out of a hat. Names mean nothing to me.
Let me take that a step further. I refuse to name animals. They don’t name us. I was mortified when I went to the vet’s office with a puppy and they wanted to know her name. I had to pick something and when I got the bill, the f^%king dog had my last name. She’s not related to my grandfather and she didn’t marry into the family. Why the f^%k does she have my last name? I raise snakes and when I took a few of them to the vet for tests they had names like “var-king-f-03-02” denoting that she was the second female variable kingsnake born in 2003. A name that means something! Naming animals is for the commie hippies who animated bambi and 7 year old girls who think their stuffed animals can talk to them (I may have gone too far there for some of you but it leads into my next point.)
Animals know us by our perceptible physical identities. They recognize the way we move, our size, our smell, and our sounds. In fact, if you’ve ever been a serious hunter, then you probably know that animals require multiple sensory inputs to “know” things. They can react to a single sense like a noise but they rarely act until they have another sense to verify what they think they know. So, a sweet little deer is grazing on honey suckle at the edge of a clearing in the woods when it hears the snap of a twig. It could be a hunter! The deer might bolt instantly but 9 out of 10 times it freezes. This is the natural reaction. Stop and verify. It needs something else to cause instinctual action. It raises its head and looks around. Is there motion through the trees, is there a strange scent in the air? If yes, it runs. If no, it waits for a second input. These are simple machines designed to survive in a world that wants to eat them. This is how Identity works in nature. In the case of the deer example the identity is “danger”. In the case of your domestic pets, identity is movement, behavior, and scent. I remember cutting off my long hair and shaving my full beard and then looking over to see my dog staring at me as if to say “who the f^%k are you?” She hesitated to let me pet her. My voice, movement and scent confirmed that although she wasn't familiar with what she was seeing I could be trusted and she accepted me once again, but it took a minute. This is how I see people also. You are the sounds, movement and stink that surround you (in this sentence "stink" is mostly hyperbole; I don’t have a very good sense of smell). Not to put too fine a point on it but unless a person has unique facial features I often confuse them with other people. I see basically a dozen or so combinations of noses, eyes, cheek bones, etc. Seriously, the phrase “they all look the same to me” applies to almost all the people I know. I am one of those people who still can't tell that Padme is Queen Amidala when I re-watch Phantom Menace.
Finally there’s the problem of focus. I am a terrible guy to play pool with. I’m sorry. I meant to say “With which to play pool.” There’s no excuse for bad grammar. Oh! Focus, Norris you are talking about focus. I have terrible focus and I always have. I work very hard to stay focused when I work on important tasks. Things that require coordination and correct form like my previous example of playing pool are incredibly hard for me. I am terribly inconsistent and I have terrible focus. It's why I can watch 8 ½ hours of TV and not remember any of the characters names. I simply don’t see the names in my head unless I stop and force myself to create a mental picture. It's part of my problem with touch-typing, I do not see letters in my head when I think of words, so rather than picking the letters from the keyboard I have this delay before I see them on the screen. How did I get on typing? Oh yeah. My focus issues.
Speaking of names, I’ve been called a lot of names in my life, most of them because of the fact that I'm not usually on the same page as everyone else. This makes it hard to relate and often makes it seem like I'm not paying attention. Like not knowing your name after spending all weekend at a conference with you. I know this is a problem and I have yet to be able to correct it despite trying. I drove to work the other day with a story in my mind, characters and plot arcs firmly anchored but I had no idea that the characters had personal identity outside the actions that made them individuals. It’s possible that you need a certain degree of focus to associate sounds with actions. Maybe you need a conscious way to process these noises into short term memory and let the brain file things away later. I don't know. Whatever it is, I have trouble with it and it's only gotten marginally better as I've matured. I'll keep working on it.
I feel like I started off strong and ended up weak. Oh well. There’s always next post. In the mean time, please enjoy this Mark Ronson video.