Posted by: Kate | February 5, 2008

Wanted: Neurons

I think there are certain parts of my brain that simply don’t exist.

Like, the cells that allow you to think of the lyrics of one song while another plays in the background. I don’t have those neurons. Or the ones that allow mid-range motor control with the left hand; mine must be present but atrophied, because I can do fine-motor skills (knitting, typing) and gross-motor skills (driving, beating lifting my kids) but I can’t do mid-range things like use a paintbrush or catch a ball. (Shut up, Willem, I can so catch a ball with my right hand. Sometimes.)

There’s another ability, which seems pretty common, that I just don’t have: I can’t consistently and competently translate a photograph to a live person. If I’ve seen your photograph online – and not just in a dirty/disturbing sense, and you know who I’m talking to – I could walk right past you in person without a pause. Your photo could be plastered all over the post office walls, and I could stand next to you in line at the post office and not recognize you.

It’s not something that comes up often, because I don’t live in a celebrity-intensive area of the country and whenever I’ve gotten together with someone I met online there has been enough planning that I’m usually able to make appropriate eye contact and figure out why this stranger is speaking to me before calling the police. But I was thinking about it last night, because I was watching a show on eyewitness testimony and the various ways that people can identify and describe a criminal, and I thought, “One more reason to hope I’m not directly involved in any crimes, because I would fail miserably at that.”

The other direction of the same skill isn’t as blunted. Once we’ve met a few times, I can recognize you in a photograph. So if we are already acquainted and then you rob me at gunpoint, I’ll do a better job of picking you out of a lineup. Just so’s you know.

Which neurons are you missing?  What seemingly mundane things can you just not do?  I cannot be the only one.  I refuse.  I wasn’t even memed for “more weird stuff about you,” so help me out, here.



  1. I can’t whistle. And I can wink with my left eye, but not my right.

  2. Rats. There goes my plan to relieve you of lots of yarn that you haven’t yet knitted at needle-point. After we meet in person, that is.

  3. I have a facial recognition problem too. If I see you in the street, even once or twice, for the next twenty or more years I will truly believe I know you, and I just haven’t yet worked out where it is we used to be best friends. I’ve been known to spend more than a decently polite period of time trying to work out how it is that I know you, what it was in the past that brought us together. It doesn’t help that my usual victims have a similar affliction, because I’ve never confronted anyone that hasn’t also felt a similar link to me. It’s sad.

  4. I have the same problem as both you & Lisa. Not a great trait in my line of work… I’m a great bluffer though so that makes up for it!!

    Darce, on the other hand, is great at that – he’s forever telling me, “Look over there – that’s ____________”.

    Just one of the many ways we complement one another!!

  5. I cannot understand poetry. I need to apply several Langston Hughes poems to the Harlem Renaissance but I CAN’T!(6 page paper with MLA citing…..)

    Algebra. Takes me, oh 3-4 tries to almost get it. GRRRRRR.

    I can grasp metaphor, allegory, rhythm, voice, etc in prose but it completely eludes me in poetry.

    I feel like dropping out of school and maxing out my credit cards in Jamaica…………….

  6. Sometimes (ok, fairly often!) I will recognize someone… but, not remember where from. It’s embarassing. They will usually remember me (which is a whole other issue), and when they come up to me, or look at me, I will be running thru time and places in my head… wondering, “ok.. who is this? how do I know them? what is their name??? does it start with a J? Oh crap, help me out here… where did we meet? love interest? past job? mutual friend? shooting pool? from 20 years ago or last night? do I even LIKE this person? shoud I be saying “hi”, or spitting on them???”….

    Usually, I opt for saying “hi”…. but I’m pretty sure there was at least once or twice it should have been the latter option.

    Once I DO remember, or my memory is jogged, I have a VERY vivid memory though and will recall exact conversations and all. This annoys my husband something fierce.

    Let’s see – what else can’t I do…

    Oh… be on time…. for anything… something seriously happens to me EVERY day… for the last 35 years or so…
    I make up for it by staying late and always going the extra mile in whatver I do once I get my ( | ) there, though. =)


    ps – I now see you tagged me on the book thing… I’ll do that next! =)

  7. A photograph is 2 dimentional and the real person 3 dimentional – so it is a reality issue for the brain. Also the brain remembers trauma and shock so probably you might recall the face of a robber in a photo…
    On of my most embarrassing moments was recognising Imelda Staunton in Waitrose and thinking she was a parent at my daughter’s school. When she explained kindly that I might think I knew her because she was an actress, and covered in confusion I apologized, she laughed and said at least she was doing her job alright!

  8. I can’t whistle or wink and almost every single time I go to type or write the word ‘proud’ i have to make a conscieous effort not to put an ‘n’ between the ‘u’ and the ‘d’. pround. maybe because of ‘pound’? I have no idea. I also have no natural ability for chemistry. It’s embarrassing and it’s kind of a blanket effect, to the extent that If I took english in my chemistry classroom I would probably forget how to read.

  9. Mary, I have the same ailment with Electrical Science in college. Cannot get it. Can’t.

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