have been learning a lot about myself lately. The pursuit itself is intentional, but the side trips along the journey I am slightly more reluctant to explore. It’s like I’m backtracking on this very important street in my memory, and I can’t not notice the trash can that got left out on the sidewalk. Walking around it isn’t enough. I have to move it. To leave it there would be to start unfinished business, Reason No. 1 guiding my determination to pay people what I owe them ASAP: I don’t want to be stuck on Earth as a ghost when I finally up and die. Resolve it, so as not to live unsettled.
Every person ever has little idiosyncrasies about them. Quirky little habits. Funny lovable tics. Off-beat themes of fascination. It wasn’t until college, really, that I realized some of my quirky little habits were more than odd. Since then I’ve learned to curb some of them, but while I’m confident that I’m not obsessive compulsive to the point of a clinical disorder, there are a couple I can’t control. They are reflexes to observe as I try to identify my own triggers.
Here’s a sampling of where I go weird:
- Pancakes. I’ve mostly gotten over this since dating Bill, but should I ever end up in a diner by myself (It happened a month ago.), I go right back to it: I used to have to cut up my pancakes into a grid before eating them. I thought it was just a harmless funny thing I did, derivative of being hyperorganized, and I laughed with everyone else when we were drunk at Denny’s trying to absorb the alcohol in our stomachs before hangovers scheduled themselves for the morning after. First Bill remarked upon its strangeness. Then he told me how cutting your food before you eat it is rude. So I had to sit on my hands to curb it, and now I basically don’t. (except for when I’m by myself [like last month at Stacks])
- Numbers. Not being fluent in Chinese, I didn’t develop that superhuman ability to calculate numbers super fast. (Asian excellence in math can, in part, be attributed to the structure of Asian languages themselves.) I’m solely comfortable with English digits 0-9, but trip myself up with random groupings:
- 1, 4, and 7. I’m told it’s due to how I write these characters, but these three swap with each other all the time in my head. Sometimes 2, too.
- 3, 6, and 8. Oddly enough I’m not that tripped up by 6 and 9, which are for all intents and purposes rotations of each other, but 3, 6, and 8 seem so similar to me that I have to pause when I read them out loud. It could be that when they’re on a digital display, they illuminate nearly all the same lines, but that doesn’t explain why 9 doesn’t give me a hard time, too.
- Exotic animals. Consider my number issues above, and then apply that to animals that are known for being unique. These blend together for me:
- Flamingoes, penguins, and peacocks. Three strange birds. I will see one but say it’s the other. I misstated three in a row on my first trip to the zoo with Bill.
- Giraffes and zebras. Together they’re both only vaguely horse-like, but in the compartment in my mind, they both are African with textile-inspiring patterns on their coats.
- Air typing. Jules Renard once said, “Being bored is an insult to oneself,” and I take this to mean that you should be able to entertain yourself whenever stimuli go missing. I’m always entertained. I think in words, and I’m tactile. This combined makes me “air type.” Having grown up in a privileged school with a computer lab and AIM, I never really needed to practice typing, but I did. I do. When people say things that strike me, I “type” them in the air, and then I “type” them as if I’m on an old typewriter and have to hold the SHIFT down for THE ALL CAPS VERSION, and then I “type” the phrase in my own interpretation of the phonetic spelling. And then I “type” it one more time as poorly spelled as I can possibly imagine. I have a couple other typing styles that I do, but they’re too codified and difficult to explain. I do this all subtly. Against my thighs. In my pockets. When my arms are crossed. Most people are none the wiser when I air type on table tops, and think I’m just drumming to a fucked-up song with my fingers. If only they knew!
- Symmetrical air typing. My air typing frequently does not feel right or satisfied until I’ve typed a seemingly equal amount of key strokes on each hand’s mirroring finger. So then I make up new stuff to type. It keeps going until I have reached a balance.
- THE DISHWASHER. The point of contention in our house. Moving in with Bill is still one of the best decisions of my life, but the few almost-non-arguments we’ve had have often started with the dishwasher. When you have an obsessive personality, you are particularly addicted to Tetris or Bejeweled Blitz. Both of which I love. I love them and I live them. I live (and I do mean live) matching and tweaking and packing pixels like it’s my job, and I project those same standards to loading the dishwasher. When I open the dishwasher to find a bowl taking up an inefficient square of space instead of tucking tidily away into a more appropriate corner, you can hear a vein pop in my eye, and I have an unreasonable time curbing my rage. It’s completely unfair to Bill, who buys the groceries and feeds me. I’m working on it.
As for the sources of these habits, I’m working on finding them out. Some of them (not everything is listed here, because really, arranging your mobile phone’s apps according to the rainbow is ingenious, and should be adopted as a Best Practice in smartphoning and not labelled as OCD) I attribute to having a bipolar parent. Some of them I think are just weird. (I think my brain is organized in the same manner of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.) Some of them are just due to an active imagination. (Did you know I had an imaginary friend when I was kid? It was an alligator. I was a princess-y non-only child and I made up an alligator who lived in my pocket and then grew big enough to sit on my shoulder. I can smell your jealousy from here.)
The good news is that having a tendency toward obsessive/addictive traits makes you an excellent copyeditor, formatter, and overall last-person-to-approve things. It does not make you a forgiving person, to yourself or to others, when you or they do something stupid but largely excusable like transpose their/they’re/there. Oh, I’m quick to point out those typos on Twitter, but in the end I have to remind myself: A flamingo is not a peacock is not a penguin. Is not an ostrich. There are some hyper-organizational techniques worth diffusing in our minds.