Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Yesterday I was late to lecture because I lost my passport, and I need it to cross into the states. Actually, I missed the lecture entirely, having spent almost an hour tearing apart the house, desperately trying to find my passport, which it turned out was wedged between the passenger side door and seat of my car. By this point, my heart was pounding and I was covered in sweat. I hate losing things: it makes me feel helpless and frustrated.

And yet, I go through a variation on this ritual at least four times a week; if it's not my passport, it's my keys, or my wallet, or the book I needed to bring to class. Last week, I forgot to bring the graded exams to my recitation and had to tell them to wait while I ran back up to the TA office to find them. They were next to the coffee maker. I am what you might call a scatterbrain.

But, it's actually worse than that. People who get to know me usually call me 'the absent-minded professor'- to give an example, last week I started walking to the convenience store and suddenly realized that I had no shoes on! These sorts of things happen all the time to me. What people eventually realize is that it's quasi-pathological with me. I lose nearly everything I have to hang on to, and can remember whatever it is I'm currently studying, but have no idea what bills I need to pay, or where I need to be tomorrow. I often forget how old I am.

This used to drive my parents crazy; they would say that I was 'in my own little world', and sometimes, in desperation, moan that I was just 'totally lost'. And it never improves greatly. The worst thing I ever did was to leave $800 at a bar- as you can guess, I never saw it again. But, even the casual confusion that I suffer is debilitating. I have to stop everything I'm doing and spend an hour looking for a check, for example. Or I get into debt because I forget to pick up my paychecks for two months. My license got cancelled a few months back because I forgot to get the insurance straightened out.

When I lose something, it feels like the world has conspired against me- I understand the concept of fate- cruel mechanisms that can't be controlled or stopped by mere humans once they've begun! I've spent entire days looking for a book, for example. Today, I am at the library, where I forgot to go yesterday.

(Sigh) I can live with this, but I hate the thought that Claire will be living with me like this for decades. It would be worth suffering the forgetfulness of Einstein if I ever had a brilliant idea like Einstein's. But, alas, I'm usually thinking about something banal or to do with the cat when I lose the rent check! Anyway, just wanted to get this off my chest. You know, before I forget to.


Hiromi said...

That tendency does seem endemic to your profession. Whether absentminded people gravitate towards academia, or academia creates absentmindedness, I don't know.

I used to get annoyed that many of my professors seemed proud of their tendencies, but I guess that it's not such a bad idea to embrace and celebrate your (ultimately harmless) "pathologies."

clairev said...

oh rufus, we both have our "things". and i have just learned that when it comes to important documents/bills/money, i will do the best i can to be the one who takes charge and not make things worse by freaking out on you. and you've gotten so much better, you don't even realize. as for your part, you are endlessly patient with me and my unfixable quirks. so we're even okay?


The Pagan Temple said...

Whoa, eight hundred dollars in a bar? Man oh man. I left two hundred dollars in the front st of my car once, while I went into MacDonalds, and left the door unlocked. But I realized it almost as soon as I sat down with my food, so run right out and got it.

Luckily it was in an envelope or I might not have been so lucky. I'm absent minded too, it's something I really have to watch out for, but I'm usually not that bad, especially with money.

I do, however, have this tendency-which is an outgrowth of my anxiety over it-to double and sometimes triple check to make sure doors are locked, lights turned off, coffe maker is unplugged, etc.

What's really crazy is sometimes I will know good and well I've done all those things, but I will just be nagged all night if I don't check again-just to make sure.

Rufus said...

Hiromi: I think there's just some weird mind frame that allows you to think about obscure questions 24 hours a day, while forgetting about other things. I think with absent minded professors who seem to be proud of it, it's more like you get to a point in which you have to laugh at the constant battle between yourself and reality. Yesterday, I laughed when I realized that I had an $800 check in my jacket that I had forgotten to deposit in the bank. But, it seems so absurd sometimes, that you have to laugh at it.

Claire: Yeah, I'm improving actually. It's just bizarre to be an adult male and infinitely proud that I've finally figured out how to keep track of my watch. But, your patience is a blessing.

Pagan: I'm lucky that I don't do that. But, it seems pretty common. And it is harmless, so that's good. Imagine if your 'quirk' was shooting heroin!

sock puppet said...

The repetitive behaviours... I have many... my doctor calls it OCD, but I simply self-identify as being eccentric :-)

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