prosopagnosia noun Psychiatry: the inability to recognise the faces of familiar people, typically as a result of damage to the brain. ORIGIN 1950s: modern Latin, from Greek prosōpon ‘face’ + agnōsia ‘ignorance’.
I've told you before but I have to tell you again. I have prosopagnosia. It sounds like a spell that Hermione would utter in a Harry Potter escapade. It's not. It's also not a result of damage to the brain, at least, not in my case. I've always had it. MIne pre-dates its appearance and recognition. I can't seem to fix it. It keeps on being annoying and embarrassing, and often socially damning.
I will explain, and illustrate.
When we moved to Stratford we went to a bunch of parties "to meet the new administrator of the Festival Theatre", and for us to meet people. Those events, plus theatre parties, taught me quickly how to work a room, as they say. One of the first requirements, of course, is to introduce yourself and to shake hands and make small talk: no politics or religion, no play analysis, no sex gossip. I found one of the safest ploy was to ask what people liked to have for breakfast, especially interesting to travelling actors who had to make a home away form home so much and therefore to whom a comforting familiar breakfast was an important ritual.
So I approached a pleasant-looking woman a little older than I (I was at the time 37 years old), and said, "Hello, I'm Bettyjane Wylie" and she said, "That's the third time you've told me that this week." You see, I had no recollection of her face, which at that moment, was not pleasant.
It gets worse. I was selling a book to a new-to-me publisher and the publisher and his managing editor took me out to lunch when I concentrated on pitching my book and being as entertaining as possible. Later, I talked to the editor on the phone and then took some copy in to the offices. I meet this nice woman in the hall and explained that I had been talking to the editor and brought this material in and she said,"I am the editor." Oops .I never had a good relationship with her after that. It never stops and never gets better.
This week I went to a Women's Caucus meeting of the Playwrights Guild of Canada (PGC). I've been a member (founding member) of what was once Playwrights Canada, then the Playwrights Union, then maybe something else and now it's PGC. I'm a Grey Eminence now. I keep turning up. So I said to the young, attractive and, I must admit, vaguely familiar woman who poured me a glass of wine, "Are you Monique?" She was the last hostess I met at that Playwright-Designer meeting I told you about a few weeks ago. "No, she said, "I'm Robin", (the Executive Director of PGC). Of course she was.
And for good or ill, I had told her before about my prosopagnosia, and she remembered that and was very gracious. "I'll keep reminding you," she promised me.
Perhaps more people will do that now that I am so old and they can attribute my lapses to Alzheimers. I sill have my marbles but there's a black hole in my face map.