Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Face Blindness, Part Three

I had a “break-through” the other day. Not in a novel-writing way, but in a oh-wow-I-figured-out-how-my-mind works sort of way. I know, mid-forties is kind of late to be figuring such things out, but then again I didn’t realize that I was face blind until I was in my thirties.

I wrote a couple of posts on face-blindness several months ago. Here. And here. And lots of people wanted to know how I recognized people if it wasn’t by their faces. And I wasn’t completely sure. Recognizing people is just something you do, not something you think about.

Then, the other day, Cal and I went out for anniversary. We went to El Meson, a Mexican restaurant that boasts three important things: cheap prices, two for one margaritas, and entrees cooked from scratch (even the tortillas). We go there every four to six months. Anyway, as we sat there, a waitress walked from one corner of the restaurant to the other and we never saw her face. I said to Cal, “Oh, look, she bleached her hair.” Cal said, “Who is she?” I said, “One of their regular waitresses.” He couldn’t figure out how I knew who she was since we hadn’t seen her face (and she’s never been our waitress).

It hit me then. I had no idea what this woman’s face looked like, but I could identify and describe her gait, her leg/torso proportions, the slump of her shoulders, her weight, her height, etc., etc. Then, of course, we played the “game” of me trying to describe our friends’ faces (which I couldn’t do) and then their other physical characteristics, which I could. I was jazzed.

After dinner, Cal and I went to see Midnight in Paris (A cute Woody Allen movie that involved time travel, which every person who ever took an English modernism lit class should see.) About halfway through the movie, one of the female main characters was shown walking down the street (all her other scenes had been close-ups) in shadows—and I finally recognized her as the wife in Inception.

I think there should be a new rule in filmmaking, in every movie the director should be forced to show the characters walking down a street so those of us who are face-blind can recognize the actors and actresses. Plus, think of how many spouses of face-blind people will be benefitted. They won’t get nudged in the movie and asked, “Uh, is that the same person the main character was kissing earlier?” Actually, it probably won’t help much given that when there’s a new Hollywood actor/actress, I won’t know what they look like and I’m guessing it takes longer to form my “person memory” than it does for someone who can recognize faces. Oh, well.

N.B. Thanks to everyone for their comments on my novel cover—it’s joy to share this journey with you!


  1. Gee.. after reading that, it really makes you consider how you yourself analyze or recognize people in your lives.

    But out of complete curiosity, do I have any particular attributes that you spot to recognize me...? :D

  2. How interesting. At least you're aware of how your mind recognizes people now. You could probably put that into use in a future book.

  3. Probably the beard, Andrew. I wouldn't advise shaving.

  4. Nope, Luke, I didn't even realize Andrew had a beard. (Face blindness includes facial hair :)

    Andrew, here's how I recognize you. Curly hair, broad build, muscular, about 5'9".

  5. That is so strange but also kind of cool! So random question, are your characters' facial features important / something you have to put thought into when you're writing?

  6. That's amazing how your observation skills are so much more sharpened because of the face blindness. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  7. Krispy,

    No, my characters' facial features aren't important to me. In fact, I have to write them down or I can't remember their eye color, their hair color, etc. If for some reason, I need to describe particular features of a character's face, I usually choose a photo from a magazine.

  8. Hehehehe that's so interesting!

    I'm definitely a face person, but I am a body person like you too. The other day I could compare two completely different looking people because they shared mannerisms and the way they walked.

    Most people seem to be name people, though. And I'm definitely not.

  9. Interesting! This could be the basis for the development of a very fascinating character in your future books :-)