Faces and being important


“Obviously it’s not important to you, else you’d have remembered it”…Uh yeah that’s not how it works.

And I had thoughts that were longer than my normal length tumblr posts, so I thought I’d return to bloggy-land. I like tumblr for obtaining content, but not as much for creating it.


So, in undergrad, we did this weeklong service trip. We got to go do some manual labor, clean up some houses, play in the mountains. It was a group of maybe 20 people. We met a couple times, several weeks apart. Before every meeting, I would study their faces on facebook to try and match them. I’m almost positive I spent more time trying to learn their faces than anyone else in the group. I’ve learned, generally, that most people don’t study faces. I also did give my general face disclaimer–bad with faces, I don’t recognize my boyfriend when he shaves, etc.

Like seriously, the mountains were beautiful. And there were lots of trains, so I was pretty happy. Since I’m a fan of trains.

At the end of the week, people went around and said best and worst things about the weekend. One of the girls said the worst thing was that I didn’t care enough about them to learn their names. Other people seconded that. I’m pretty sure I spent more time trying to learn names than anyone else on the trip. But my brain does not like to learn faces.

Sometimes I forget my mother’s face. Often I forget my husband’s face. I know this is a regular problem that I face.

My grad school friends don’t really mind. When I met them for the first time, I mentioned it. I started grad school with my brand new (secret) autism semi-diagnosis and general weird-brain-awareness (although I have always known that I can’t recognize faces) and I would mention when I met them that I was extremely bad at recognizing faces. My grad school friends–science nerds–after 4 years of knowing them I can’t begin to tell you how much of nerds they are–would just excitedly ask “oh is that the face recognizing thing?” and then talk excitedly about prosopognasia. One person even asked me if I had brain scans (and what they looked like). Because brains are cool and differences in them are useful (in learning how they work). I like scientists.

*Darn. I was hoping it would embed visually. But it doesn’t seem to be doing that.



Cuddles and snuggles and hugs OH MY!!!

I like physical contact with people.

Wait–let me revise that. I like some kinds of physical contact with a select group of people. And then lots of snuggles and cuddles with animals.
I don’t like sudden touches. I don’t like when people sneak up behind me and put a hand on my back. Or on my shoulder. I would prefer to initiate the contact, or know it is coming.

It is grounding for me. I like to interact with other things that are alive. My plants are lovely, but they just aren’t very cuddly. I do like holding hands. Especially holding hands and swinging arms. I do this when I walk with my cousins. I like wedging myself into a warm pile of cousins to watch tv or a movie or talk.

I need regular physical contact with warm, living things to stay grounded and to keep me from flying away.
Physical contact helps keep me present.

When I got back to my apartment after a long day of traveling and delays (not too bad, luckily I managed to pick the only flight that day that was delayed for one hour (all the other ones between the city my parents live in and where I go to school were at least 4 hours late, and the flights the day before were often cancelled. And today is just horrible weather.) I was tired and a bit stressed. But I muddled through things and went to the store because I had no groceries. Then boyfriend came over and because I know I am safe when he is here, I stopped having to try to hold things together again.

So we cuddled and talked and I felt like I was flying away in a bad way. When that happens I flap and shake my hands and legs to try and keep me here and to feel like I am still here. Boyfriend knows my unhappy/stressed/flying away flaps. And he knows how to calm me down and hold me super tight so I stay here and don’t fly away.

When I’m feeling disconnected, physical contact, the right kind of physical contact, warm and lots of pressure can help me stay. It is important. If I’m alone, I’ll go under my heavy blankets and try to get some of it, but its not the same as a person.

I also love holding hands. I hold hands with boyfriend when we walk places. I will hold hands with most other people, too, if they will let me. (Most people don’t.) But my cousins and I often hold hands when we walk places together or are just hanging out together. I like knowing where the other person is and the warmth of their hands and the weight of their hands and swinging our arms together.

What more people will do with me is link arms and walk. A lot of my college friends would do this as we walked. It was quite nice (although a traffic impediment). I’m not sure why people seem more willing to do that than hold hands, but I don’t really understand people all that much anyway.

But I am not all that fond of hugging strangers. And to me, with my prosopagnosia and strangely large extended family, there are a lot of people that are “strangers” to me that I still have to hug.* But I was thoroughly trained into this when I was younger. So I can usually handle hugging strangers even if I do not like it. Especially when they are actually little old ladies who are related to me.

On that note, I am also rather annoyed by the fact that shaking hands seems to be coming less and less popular and common. I was at a work party for boyfriend, and as we were leaving and saying goodbye, several people insisted on goodbye hugs. At a formal work event (for a formal accounting company, too) and to me, too, who they had literally met at the beginning of the party. Admittedly, alcohol was involved, but I just don’t understand why shaking hands isn’t a thing in those circumstances. I can tolerate hugging the strangers that are actually family, because you do weird things for family. But why on earth would you want to hug one of your coworkers girlfriend who you met two hours ago? Anyway, people are strange.

I am autistic and I love physical contact.

I am just specific on the people and kinds.

Also related:
What hugs mean to one autistic person and Hugs from E. at the Third Glance


*Also, in college at Mass, everyone would hug during the sign of peace. That was a mixed bag. Because I didn’t like hugging strangers, but usually also people would hug me who weren’t strangers but that I would never ask for a hug and during my lonely time** freshman year it was sometimes the only time I got physical  contact the whole week so that was also important. But this sort of distracts from the organization. So I’m putting it down here.
**Although I did start dating boyfriend extremely early in college, I was really really shy and also a bit confused about what to do with a boyfriend, so it took a while before I really got even to the holding hands stage with him. Like several months. Eventually I figured out that boyfriends are good for hugs.

NOT home for the holidays

Note: Talking about food and eating and not eating

This year for Thanksgiving I did not go home (I haven’t for several years, because Thanksgiving weekend is short and I live several thousand miles away from home.) But usually I would meet up with some family that had been scattered around the area or eat with friends or something.

This year, I did not. (People moved around again, and I suppose I did too, now that I am in graduate school and in a different city and other people live in different places and different countries and such.)

But don’t worry I will definitely be home for Christmas, and for a good long time, too.

This year, I went to boyfriend’s family’s Thanksgiving.

Different families have different traditions.
Family traditions are really confusing if you don’t understand them.
Even things less formalized than traditions. Just family habits.

Like shoes.

We wore our shoes the whole time. In the house. All day. I carefully watched people, so I could tell if it was ok for me to take my shoes off. Usually I do that first thing when coming inside. My whole family does. We have shoe piles by all our doors and have to wander around to the various doors when leaving to try and find where our shoes are.

Boyfriend’s family wears shoes inside. (Later I discussed this, and was informed it would be ok for me to take me shoes off. So now I know that for the future.)

And food.

I have come to the conclusion that my family is overly attached to food. We have very specific dishes. And large numbers of them. Each family makes a few of the different ones to spread out the work. When you have a 30 person Thanksgiving*, you can have more dishes than a 13 person one. And then there are the desserts, which is a whole new meal that you wait several hours for so that you have enough room for it. And the rules about who does which clean-up chores. It is very carefully regimented.

This is the dessert table from the Thanksgiving that my family had that I did not go to. It was much smaller than normal because a lot of people are still in college or are off in various other parts of not-home doing things, like me. Usually there are more cheesecakes. And ice cream. And normal cakes. And whipped cream. And just about everything. But also usually there are 30-50 people, which there wasn’t this year. Also, it was rather cruel to send me this picture. 

These rules do not apply in other families.

Also, they have different food and apparently they make the mashed potatoes taste like water and the sweet potatoes not taste like delicious orange things that are my favorite food ever. (And so then I had a lot of food on my plate that there was no way I was going to eat because it lied about what it was. But it is against the rules not to finish your food when you are a guest. But I couldn’t eat it. So I got stuck there a while until boyfriend noticed and ate the various potatoes for me and then saved me and then I could go eat more turkey and stuffing [which was also wrong, but at least it was yummy, so it was ok].)

And that (mostly the food) makes me sad because it is probably an event I will be going to for years and it is not a potluck thing, so I guess I will have to just deal with it by making my own later after the event** because I do not know if there would be a way for me to offer to make the food without offending people. I will confer with boyfriend on this. But he probably doesn’t know because the food just appears. And also everyone else seems to like it. So I will pretend to like it and remember which ones I don’t like and serve carefully of the things I like so that I have enough food and no one questions me and finds out I don’t actually like most of the food.

And then there are other secret codes and languages. Hidden jokes and words and ideas. “I’ll explain later”s. Songs and dances. What is the order for getting the food? Is there rules to who can sit where?

Boyfriend is good and reviewed things with me before. Where we were going. What would happen. Who would be there. How loud it would be and when and where. But there are things you don’t think of explaining because that’s how you have always done it, so why does it need to be explained. But different families do things differently.

And most families don’t have quiet rooms that you can go to and take a break in and have it be perfectly ok and normal and expected. (And I don’t know them well enough to start exploring the house.)

But boyfriend is important to me. And so is his family. And I want to learn their traditions and get involved in them and be part of their family, too, because that is part of the end goal and in the five-year plan that we have made. And also my family is too far away to go home to for Thanksgiving, so this seems like a good starting place.

But also his family is weird (although I like them very much) and also has issues which are not mine to discuss here and those can be upsetting and confusing to me. Because I mostly know how to deal/cope with/ignore my family issues (because we have our deep dark hidden secrets, too, but I know how we approach them), but I am confused with these issues when I know what they are but I do not have a lifetime of dealing with them to have developed coping mechanisms or to have learned the rules regarding them.

Luckily, there were small children and dogs present. Those are my strongest groups of social interactions. I made new friends, even with the shy ones. We put together puzzles. Both of those classes of living things have a tendency to like me because I don’t mind sitting on the ground and acting embarrassingly. I also discussed farming and coyotes with someone else, which is another one of my strong points.

And his family that I know was very very nice, and most of the people I didn’t know were also nice.

So it was good. And then I came home and lost all my words and boyfriend came over for a bit until the meltdown-shutdown-crying-panic-overload went away and I was happy again.

And then I slept for 13 hours.

(Which threw off my sleep schedule which is why I am still up past 2:00 now…)

* Or a 50 person Christmas
**Definitely made one-person sweet potato pie the day after to make up for the fail.

You look like a stick figure to me (when I think about you in my brain)

I’ve talked a lot about how absolutely horrible I am at facial recognition and people-recognition in general.

I was “meeting” someone today at work/in-class (AKA someone I have talked to before in class but didn’t really know). But after a conversation about 23 and me and genotyping ourselves and understanding risk alleles and genome information with two boys I hadn’t gotten around to recognizing, I realized I should probably figure out their names. (It also was week 7 of the not-particularly-large class we have together. So I asked for their names (and they thought I was named Georgia, so it was all good, because they didn’t know my name, other).

I gave them my general spiel about being horrible at faces, so that they wouldn’t get upset if I didn’t recognize their names. And then one of them made a joke about how that would be difficult, since they were both Asian.

To me, they looked very different, of course. One of them had glasses. One of them had flat hair and one of them had spiky hair. Both of them did have black hair, admittedly. So I pointed this out. And they were amused by me pointing out the difference. And I was amused by how they thought they looked similar because they clearly looked different to me.

See, they look nothing alike.

And then there was a brief discussion with other people about how annoying it is when people say people look the same just because they are Asian, which was one which I wasn’t really contributing to, because of stuff. And which also isn’t completely relevant anymore to what I am writing about. 
The relevant take-away from this conversation (besides I made some cool new friends), is that my conceptualization of faces and people is about as detailed as a stick figure can be. Which is exceptionally convenient for this post since that is about the same level as my drawing skills.
There are a few traits that I can pick up on and use to initially identify people.
Height, hair length, color and texture, if you wear glasses. As you can probably tell, most of this is based on your hair. Hair is very important to me. (Sometime I can pick up skin color, but to a much lesser extent than many people think seems reasonable.*)That is what I have to go on, unless you have some other striking physical characteristic, like a Harry Potter scar on your face. Sometimes, I can go with general body structure and build, but that is a lot more inconsistent and unreliable for me, so I tend not to worry about that too much.
And height is really only useful if you are on one end or the other of the spectrum. Otherwise, it isn’t something I really notice. And even then, I might not notice. I did ask one of my TAs if they were the tall one or the short one once (in my defense, it was very late at night and I was mostly asleep and sitting in this extremely comfortable chair.) but apparently there is a large height difference between 5’9 and 6’4 and I should be able to tell that when only one of the two people is there…
That is why I have so much trouble with boys. In general, boys have less variation in hair. Also, because their hair is often shorter than girls, it is a lot harder to tell the different textures from it. Colors also seem to be less distinct in shorter hair than in longer hair, so there seems to be less shades of color to choose from.  Also, depending on how frequently they cut their hair, the length can fluctuate a lot.
Although I suppose maybe I should say men, since some of these people are balding. Which is generally something that happens to adult men.

But, conveniently for me, sometimes there is also this convenient thing called facial hair**, which it is now possible for (some) of my peers to obtain. This can be both helpful and horrible in individual people determination. It definitely gives a lot more options for determining faces. BUT often, it quickly disappears (and sometimes, even quickly appears, now that people are getting older). And then you have a whole new face to learn, and that can be an issue.
I’ve always been better at identifying girls. [Although I will have to say there is one exception here. Girls with straight, extremely blond hair. I have never in my life been able to differentiate between them. They all look essentially identical to me, which has been problematic as I have encountered a lot of them who apparently do not all look the same and do like when you know who they are (especially when you are on a week-long school trip with two of them) and get upset when you get their names wrong.*** ] Generally, since girls have longer hair, there are more length variations. It is also possible to observe the different textures. There also seems to be more varieties of colors. (Also, I just find girls less threatening to talk to, although I am getting better at this one.)
Also, hairstyles are really tricky to differentiate on stick figures, but there are definitely more than I have shown here. It is also nice because it is a lot easier to tell curly from wavy from straight hair and such with long hair, and so that makes my life easier.
And then sometimes people dye their hair pink and blue, like my sister did once, and then it is extremely easy to recognize them.
As I get to know you over time, of course, I analyze you and your movement. I learn patterns and other ways to recognize you. The way you walk, the way your voice sounds. Common clothes that you wear. I may even be able to recognize you out of context, or figure you out if something about you changes. Not always, as I still will forget boyfriend or my mom or my sisters and things like that, but much less frequently.
But still, even when I picture boyfriend in my head, I have a stick figure’s worth of information about him. I know he has brown short hair and is tall. I have a lot of his movements and patterns and voices that go into my idea of people when I think of them. But when I think of people in my head, I do not think of their faces. 
It’s one of the reasons I love books so much. They name the characters. Sure, they give descriptions, but you can tag the characters as names with traits. You don’t need to remember the face, because they will give you the name. You can spend your time filling the character with ideas and thoughts and backstory and context instead. When I read, I see the story happening. But I don’t need to see the faces. I can just see the people and the landscape and the words, and it is beautiful.
* For me, skin color is a trait close to the usefulness of height. I will be able to pick up very broad sections, but nothing extremely specific. There are a few extremely broad categories that I can pick up on, but a lot of people are intermediate shades and so it is a lot less useful. It is also hard to find a good metaphor to describe it without slipping into possibly offensive wording, so I’ve hidden it down here in the footnotes. 
**Although I have personal aesthetic objections to a large portion of people who have facial hair, it really is none of my business what they look like and can be useful, so I really shouldn’t complain. And I probably wouldn’t if boyfriend didn’t occasionally attempt to also grow facial hair, which is an endeavor I am opposed to.
***Which I do understand. It is probably confusing when you spend a whole week with someone and they basically think two different people who haven’t really met before are the same person.

On official friends

Something I have trouble with is telling if I have successfully made friends. And the process of making friends. And generally things involving other people.

I have a list on my computer of how to hang out with people and initiate social activities.
I have a tendency of telling my friends, “I like you/I like hanging out with you” because I can’t tell if other people want to be my friend, so I figure its nice for them to know. (Apparently this isn’t normal behavior either.)
When I went to college, I knew I was going to have to make new friends and that would be difficult. And I was going to a co-ed school, after years of being at an all girls-school and only really having female cousins and stuff, so I was going to have to learn to talk to boys. My goal was to make some male casual acquaintances freshman year, maybe talk about school with them. And then maybe sophomore year I could make an actual friend (quantified by being able to initiate communication with them).

So early freshman year, I had made a group of potential friends. I went to some social activities with one of the boys and even a hockey game.  I couldn’t tell the difference between him and one of the other boys in the group, but it seemed to be pretty ok, since I am used to that and he generally recognized me (since you know, normal people seem to have this facial recognition thing going on). And after we hung out and went to a movie on campus and did a couple of other things that weekend. So I was pretty sure that I was on my way to making a friend (maybe two, but it was probably just the one). One night he walked me back to my dorm after we had been hanging out. He talked a bit about how much fun we had been having hanging out that weekend. And then he asked if I wanted to make it official.

I was pretty excited. My first official friend!
And a boy, too! I was ahead of schedule with that.

Later, I was informed by a facebook relationship request (and a high school friend interpretting the meaning) that I actually had obtained a boyfriend. Several years later I was informed that people don’t make official friends after kindergarten much.

Anyway, that is how I met boyfriend and started dating him.

And 4 years and a bit later, it is still pretty awesome–actually a lot more awesome–and we have much better communication skills now.

Oldest Sister

sister, sisters, siblings, children, oldest sister, youngest sister

I am the oldest sister.

I am the safety police. I will tell you when you aren’t wearing your seatbelt correctly. I will pull the car over and not drive until you fix it.

I am probably also the fun police.

I was considered old when I was 10. Old enough to help and have responsibilities and to be the bigger person. I believed in Santa Claus until I was 14. You (youngest sister) were still considered the baby at 10. Not expected to be in charge or responsible. But you also stopped believing in Santa Claus far before 10.

One of you is 2 years younger. One of you is 7 years younger. (Also, this is very confusing use of you, because mostly it is plural, but sometimes it is singular).

I am in charge of making sure we have everything. Of making sure everyone is here and gathered.* I will make sure we have all the tickets before we leave. I will make sure we have the maps. I will check for food and drinks, so that no one gets grumpy.

I will wake you up for school so we aren’t late. I will feed the animals in the morning so we aren’t late. I will drive to and from school while you fall asleep in the car and I listen to NPR.

I will spend hours and hours helping you with homework. Proofreading essays. Explaining algebra. Explaining calculus. Explaining organic chemistry. Because that is what I am expected to do.

Younger siblings are in charge of making the messes.

Of having the dance schedules and soccer schedules that rearrange our lives. I will drive to pick you up and do my homework in the car. I will wait after school for several hours because you have practice and people aren’t going to drive twice to pick me up then come and get you an hour later. But it is ok. I will do my homework at school and in the car.

I am in charge of cleaning them up.

I will stop doing my homework to help you with yours. I will arrange skype calls to help you at home to help when I am at college. I will make time in between my 3 jobs and classes and research to answer your questions. Because that is expected of me.

I am certainly not the fun sister. But I am reliable.

I will make sure you buy your flights home.

I will wake up early to check us in for our flights.

I will sit there when you yell at me for not ever understanding how hard it is to be the youngest. Because you don’t know how to be the oldest. (And if you hit me, I’ll hit you, too.)**

And even though we are all basically adults now, I will still keep an eye on you when we are out. I will make sure I always know where you are. Because that is general basic safety.

When I am home on vacation, I do your chores because you have homework and you’re busy.

I can’t tell you that anything is wrong with me. I can’t tell you about the depression*** or the autism (except actually the autism probably will get told eventually because it isn’t actually wrong), because my job is to fix problems. It isn’t to create them. But I can listen to you tell me about how you don’t have a boyfriend.

But it is ok, because you will go to the stores and buy me clothes so I don’t have to. Or have me sit in the dressing room and bring back sets of clothes for me to try on so I don’t have to go to the store. You will put my hair up in nice ways for school dances. You will introduce me to people.

You ordered for me at restaurants until I was in high school. You are the one in charge of asking for directions if we ever get lost (which admittedly, usually happens when I let you navigate.) You are the one who talks to strangers. You tell me who people are when I can’t recognize them.

You bring home new books. You go to strange places and bring home stories and magical cloth covered in sparklies and mirrors and bracelets and camels and birds.

And we played with our guys and our horses and our stories and shared books. And climbed trees and swam and fought dragons and dressed up our dogs in our parents clothes and made potions out of mud and plants and made forts.

And you are my younger sisters. So it is ok.

*Although one time I didn’t and I lost my youngest sister and we had to call the police and everything and that was problematic, although it wasn’t even all my fault and I handled it quite well, I thought. And also then I didn’t have to babysit for a while.
**Siblings hit each other sometimes. We probably should stop now that we are adults. But we don’t do it all that frequently, so it is probably all food.
***But really, that’s a really secret, secret thing mostly. I don’t tell most people. I only told my parents because I was on their insurance and I sort of needed medication and they would get a bill for it. (They were really helpful and understanding about it.) (Mostly, I just tell boyfriend.) (But this isn’t really the point of this.
Also sorry about the creepy face-blur thing. But I liked the picture, and some people can recognize faces and that sort of thing. And I also like being a secret.

Faceblindness and school

Biology graduate students make me happy.

We all share at least some of the same narrow interests!

We are the nerdy degree at a nerdy institution, somehow. Apparently. (Or so said one of the other students in the orientation when we were supposed to be in

Everyone knows what faceblindness is! (or prosoponagia except that is a large tricky complicated word so I don’t know if they actually knew the word, but they knew the idea!)

 I usually if I meet people that I will know regularly will tell them a couple quick things so they don’t feel bad when I don’t recognize them. (I don’t recognize boyfriend when he gets a haircut, as in every haircut he gets, as in the monthly haircuts he gets that reduce his overall hair-length by some fraction of an inch, once I saw Medium Sister at a dance and insisted it wasn’t her because I should know what my own sister looked like).

And one of them said, “that’s a thing.”

And they all seemed to agree and know about it.

And were pretty good about reintroducing themselves each day when they wore new clothes.

And also, they all look pretty different, which is a lovely thing about having a more diverse program than in undergrad. (Which admittedly, isn’t too difficult.) Because it makes it easier to identify them, already.

So hopefully that’s a good sign.