Una took that with remarkable grace. I wish I could acknowledge my hypocrisies with as much easy acceptance. I don’t think Pakku would have done so well, were their positions reversed.
I continue to listen through the audio book of Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking” while I color and draw pages. A line that stood out to me as I worked today was:
“When you’re afraid of someone, you can’t connect with them. You’re too preoccupied with the task of impressing them.”
I think it jumped out because earlier I’d been preparing for a show coming up on the weekend, and while some of that was taken up with inventory and restocking and printing new signs, an equal amount of it was taken up with thoughts like these:
“What if an artist I’ve met at a previous show comes by to say hi, and I can’t remember their name? Will they think I’m stuck up? With they secretly loathe me for the rest of time? Will I burn that bridge due to my failure to properly recall them?”
“What if a fan I’ve met at a previous show comes by, and I can’t remember their name either? Or I don’t recognize them right away? Or what if they’re disappointed by the person they see? What if I let them down? What if they feel betrayed?”
Shows can be great, but the pieces that relate to names and faces is absolute torture for me. I have a very hard time with both. It usually takes a minimum of five times meeting someone before I can conjure the vague image of a face from my memory. (I still have trouble remembering what Cory looks like when he’s not right in front of me, AND WE ARE MARRIED. I see him every day!) And far, far more interactions than just five to pair a face with a name. Even then, successfully getting my mind to match those two pieces of information together is a challenge.
I often say I have a bad memory, but that isn’t exactly accurate. I have an amazing memory, but not for the things that society generally values. For example, when working on chapter two of Wavemen, I knew that there was a specific plant that people of the period associated with dilapidated houses, and I knew where to find that particular detail exactly. (The plant was sage-brush, and the info was in the footnotes of my particular translation of the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon.) And if you want me to tell you where I was when I drew a specific page, I’ll likely be able to name the location. It’s the same for the random little details about people…but people details are harder to link together.
It’s as if my mind stores everything in entirely different places. My memory of a person will actually be five or six different memories of them. Their name, their face, their voice, their Twitter handle, their Facebook photo, their stories…all stored in different places, as entirely separate individuals as far as my brain is concerned. All that brain power to store six different people, when it should be just one. Of the available bits, it’s stories I tend to remember the best. I almost wish we introduced and remembered each other by stories. Instead of “Hey, I’m [INSERT NAME YOU WILL BE UNABLE TO RETAIN HERE],” we’d start with some amusing anecdote about our lives, and from then on we’d greet each other by “Oh, it’s the Chicken Pinball man,” and “How’s it going, Atomic Snorkeler?”
I know this is a weakness of my mind, and as a result I fixate on it. I worry about it constantly. Nobody likes being forgotten. And I don’t know how to say “You’re not forgotten, you’re just not stored properly, and if you could give me a hook so my brain could function I’d probably remember all sorts of weird little details, but I just can’t seem to get it to work and I’M SORRY,” without it being a little presumptuous. And…sounding a little crazy. So instead every time someone approaches and waves and says hello like we’ve met before, I feel a stab of icy terror hit my gut.
I’ve failed to recognize cousins who visited my table. I’ve failed to put names to faces that I’ve spent days at shows with. Some people I could tell you all the shows they’ve come by, but I couldn’t tell you their names. And it scares me. It scares me because I don’t want people to think I don’t value them. And I don’t want them to lash out because I don’t remember them the way I’m supposed to.
But Amanda is right. I’m spending all my time fearfully trying to pull that complete and properly assembled memory out of the empty hat that is my head. I’m trying to impress them by saying, “HEY how are you, I recognize your face, and can call to you by name, and talk about that Twitter conversation we had last week, and ask you how your aunt is doing since she took that fall the last time we talked at that convention back in March. Did I pass the test? Are you still my friend now? Will you still be my friend later?”
“Will you please not hurt me if I failed to get the details absolutely right?”
I’m so busy trying to maintain that connection in the past that I’m missing the chance to make a true connection in the present. I want to connect. I want to exchange stories, and talk about the things that matter. About the tough questions in life and the epiphanies that answer them. The big thoughts. And the small thoughts too. That’s what I want.
Yet it’s easier to say “Don’t be afraid,” than it is to not actually BE afraid.
I’ve tried a million and one techniques to try and fix my memory, but none have been effective. I’m wondering if maybe it’s time to just accept my brain isn’t wired that way. Is there an alternative, to constantly fretting about these short-comings? Is there something else I can focus on? Some other way to cultivate that connection, free of fear? I feel like if I can focus on something that’s a personal strength and cultivate it, rather than hopelessly trying to shore up a bottomless weakness, it’s a better use of my time. It gets me closer to a Me-way of doing things. One that acknowledges and makes allowances for my Swiss-cheese freak brain.
How do you cultivate connection? Have you ever felt fear has held you back from connecting? (And do you also have a Swiss-cheese freak brain? Or is yours more of a Gouda?)