An open apology to what’s your name

November 7, 2014

By Pat Detmer

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I know that you told me your name. I probably repeated it as we shook hands, and I likely nodded as if I was embedding it into my gray matter. But my gray matter is slippery. I forgot. It’s what I do.

I’ve read the memory-enhancing suggestions about associations based on visual cues, i.e. “Rose” with rosebud lips; or “Jane,” picturing that person singing in a ’50’s musical like lyric soprano Jane Powell. But in deference to the fact that I’ve always had a weight issue, I’ve never used the appearance association, because what word do you think people would use in trying to remember my name? Not “Skinny Minnie,” I’ll assure you. And were I to use that tool myself, I’d probably blurt out something like, “Nice to see you again, Unfortunate Acne Scar,” or “Hey, how are you doing, Strange Knot on Your Forehead?”

And if I used the second methodology, given the way that my brain works, I would think of Jane Powell and then idly wonder if anyone else alive in the world even knows who she is, and then I’d run a few clips from “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” through my head, and after that would move on to mourn the fact that my cultural references have become arcane. Eventually, the Jane I was greeting would note my thousand-yard stare and walk away, leaving me to my thoughts.

Here’s what I think my problem is: All of my life, I’ve been the New Kid in Town. Dad was promoted a lot, and so we moved a lot. Families weren’t as mobile then, so wherever we went everybody knew our names because we the only new students they’d had to add to their database in a decade. And as for us, why bother to learn names beyond best friends if you think you’ll be packing cartons and moving soon?

Then I went into sales, with five to 50 people working in each of my 30 accounts; then sales management, and multiply that by 11 sales reps and all of their accounts; then corporate sales and marketing management, with trips to Anchorage, Boise, Portland, Redding, in charge of events, speaking, in the field with sales reps, meeting their clients. Many faces. Many names. Many, many names.

Then I wrote a column on Whidbey Island, and people would stop me to chat and tell me their names, and I spoke in front of groups from as large as 1,000, and people would introduce themselves afterwards and tell me their names. Now I have this column, complete with picture. More chatting. More names.

So can you understand why I might go blank when I greet you? It’s not that I’m stuck up or rude or don’t like you. I like you just fine, Mary. Marcy. Uh. Marnie. Mary Jane. Jane Powell. Unfortunate Acne Scar.

I’m sorry.


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