Recently, Brad Pitt came out publicly as prosopagnosic. Don't recognize the word? You're not alone. I would bet the great majority of people have never heard it, and if my experience holds true, a fairly-sizeable subset don't believe it's real anyway.
Prosopagnosia is face blindness. After the Esquire article came out, in which Mr. Pitt talks about experiencing this rare and misunderstood condition, at least 30 people sent me the link. You see, I had beat Brad to the punch when it comes to confessing that particular affliction.
My article "The Wrong Peter" is about me sitting through an hour-long meeting with a man who clearly knew me, and seemed to be waiting for me at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and happened to have the same name as the person I was supposed to be meeting there. It's pure comedy. Except it's not. This is what life is like when you're face blind.
The worst part of face blindness is not realizing there's anything wrong with you, and yet thinking there's something really wrong with you. I had no idea that I had a neurological condition until I was well into my 30s, so prior to that I just thought I must be the most self-absorbed person on the planet.
People came up to me all the time and talked as if they knew me, and they clearly did because they could remember really specific things I must have told them, and yet I had no idea who they were. What a jerk I must be!
I beat myself up over this constantly. I even took a Dale Carnegie course when I was 16 (16!) just to figure out why I never remembered anyone. The instructor told me I needed to learn how to focus more on other people. I guess that's a blessing, because it's made me someone who friends can really talk to, but given that self-loathing was the root of that trait, maybe we could have gotten there an easier way.
One of the greatest freedoms I have now is being able to look at someone who has just approached me and say, "I'm so sorry. I'm face blind, so you have to remind me who you are." That usually starts an interesting conversation about a condition most people are unfamiliar with. About 5 percent of the time someone in the vicinity's eyes go wide and I spot the telltale signs of a person figuring out what's been wrong with them their whole lives, and why they thought the torture guy and the SEAL Team 6 guy in Zero Dark Thirty were the same person.
This is why the Internet is one of the greatest gifts of our time. Without it, I would have never heard of prosopagnosia, and would have let it continue to ruin my life.
Does that sound overly dramatic? Let me share a cautionary tale of one girl, trying to make it in Hollywood and shooting her face blind self in the foot.
There was a brief period of time when I was the town's flavor-of-the-month screenwriter. I had the big spec script go out, was writing a movie for Joel Schumacher and adapting a play for Catherine Zeta-Jones, had just signed with the Creative Artists Agency (the biggest agency in town) and in November and December had more than 50 "generals" with everyone in the business -- from newly-minted creative executives to presidents of productions. Generals are meetings unaffiliated with any project that development executives take with writers, directors and actors to fill their days and justify their salaries. For a tyro scribe, they are the basis for most future employment.
The days were exhausting, but full and really fun, then the holidays came and went and on a lark, some friends and I decided to go to the Sundance Film Festival. In case you haven't been, imagine everyone you've ever wanted to work with in a three-mile square area where all of you are standing in lines for movies, riding shuttle buses, hanging out in free Wi-Fi lounges and going to parties. Oh, and everyone is wearing hats and parkas, thus all you see are their faces. And you don't recognize faces.
Now imagine that in the prior six weeks, you had met with almost all of these people, and now you don't seem to know any of them. Worse, you have no idea that you're even supposed to. Yep, it's as awesome as it sounds.
If I had known then about this glitch in my system, I could have been prepared. I could have been on the lookout for people who seemed to recognize me, probably even started fun conversations on that basis. Nope -- I just shrugged or waved back, mystified, or smiled across the shuttle bus, baffled, and went on to my next activity, not realizing I'd probably just totally offended the executive who was looking for the perfect female writer for that green-lit Sandra Bullock project that no one's been able to crack.
Granted, it's not the end of the world to blow all of your relationships in four short days in the snow, but in hindsight, it stings, which is one of the reasons I'm hoping to keep this whole face-blind conversation going. It was many, many years of self-doubt and innocent affront to others before I understood that my memory for faces was a standard deviation or two below the mean, and I'd like to spare anyone else those consequences.
Knowing I'm not a self-absorbed jackass has been a big boon to my happiness, and I hope to help all my prosospagnosic brothers and sisters come to the same realization. Say it with me. "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and doggone it, just because I have no idea who you are, it doesn't make me an egotistical boob."
I had one other face-blind moment in my fabulous screenwriting career that particularly stands out now. While sitting in the lobby of CAA with my manager one day, waiting for a meeting with my agent, a guy walked in and started pacing around near the reception desk. He was dressed in torn jeans and a T-shirt, had long, unwashed hair tucked under a dirty cap, a scruffy beard and generally looked uncomfortable being there. I turned to my manager and said, "That guy looks homeless." My manager shot me that unmistakable "Shut up!" look, so I stopped talking. It was Brad Pitt.
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