Nope, I’d never heard of itÂ either, until I read this week’s Time Magazine and came across an article that made me sit upÂ in startled self-recognition.Â All my life, I’ve suffered from an inability to remember — or recognize — faces of people whom I should recognize.Â It’s such a problem for me that it’s turned into a family joke.Â My husband thinks it’s hilarious.Â “You’re so good atÂ everything else.Â Thank god you have at least this glaring flaw,” he says.Â Again and again I’ll meet people in our small town who greet me with a cheery and familiar “Hi!”.Â I’ll answer with an equally cheery hello, then turn to my husband and ask: “Who the heck was that?”Â
Or imagine this writer’s worst nightmare.Â You’re doing a signing in your local bookstore, and a woman comes up to your table to get her book autographed.Â She starts chatting as if she knows you.Â Â Okay, her face looks vaguely familiar, but you can’t remember when you might have met her.Â Then she starts talking about your kid, and is he still playing the fiddle, andÂ how are the roses in your garden, and pretty soon you realizeÂ you’re supposed to know this woman VERY well.
But you still have no idea who she is.
So then she slides her book in front of you and asks youÂ to personalize it.Â Â And you ask,Â your hands now sweating in panic, “To whomÂ shall I make it out to?”
“To me,” she says.
At this point you, as a writer, have two options.Â You can eitherÂ confessÂ that you have no idea who she is.Â In which case she’ll think that you areÂ a complete idiot (bad).Â Or that you’re so damned stuck-up that you can’t bother to remember the names of ordinary people (even worse).Â
Or you canÂ throw a writer’s Hail Mary and ask, “How do you spell your name again?”
And just pray she doesn’t answer: “P-A-T.”Â
Believe me, this has happened to me so many times that I now beg my husband to stand beside me during local booksignings, so he can toss outÂ helpful clues such as: “Well hello, Pat!Â It’s great to see you!”Â
According to Time, this is a far more common problem than has been previously recognized, and it’s genetic — probably caused by a defect in a single dominant gene. Â One out of fifty people has some form of it.Â For some people, it’s so severe that they can’t identify their own children’s faces.Â Thank god I’m not that bad.Â But I suffer from a disabling enough case of it that I find myself avoiding many social situations.Â Writers’ conferences scare meÂ – which is why you don’t see me at too many of them.Â I’m always terrified that I’ll inadvertently insult someone by not recognizing them.
That’s why I love nametags.Â I wish everyone went through life wearing nametags.Â And I love conference brochures that show attendee photos, like the one we hadÂ at Thrillerfest.Â (Betcha didn’t realize that ol’ Tess spentÂ her first night in Phoenix holed up in her hotel room, frantically studying thoseÂ photos.)Â
In two months, I’ll be starting my book tour for MEPHISTO CLUB.Â Already, I’m starting to get anxious about all theÂ fans and booksellers whom I’ve metÂ before …. and won’t recognize.Â It’s enough to make a writer want to hide away in her office forever.Â I just hope that people won’t be offended or insulted when I don’t remember their names.Â It has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with me.
But at least now my affliction has a name.