If you recognize me.


This is a purely pragmatic post I’m trying to write here. I don’t mean any offense to the guy I talked to today. I know he didn’t mean anything bad and didn’t know any of this stuff. He was perfectly nice to me and had no way of knowing what was going on. Etc.

If you recognize me in public. And you don’t know me. (Knowing me online counts, as in interacting with me a fair bit on blogs and lists and stuff. That’s fine. That’s knowing me for these purposes.) There are some things you might want to know before you decide to strike up a conversation.

Today was one of two days this month I’ve been outdoors for anything other than a medical appointment. I was going to the bookstore and then I needed to take care of something at the bank. The reason I haven’t been able to go out much is the grass pollen, which is my most severe allergy, and I’m still not fully back to normal from the last asthma mess. (That’s why, if I’m outdoors, you’re likely to see a pollen mask on me, although I take it off indoors.) As in, I haven’t even crossed into the mild range of asthma yet, although I’m getting better.

I can only go out when there are staff with me. Staff come in shifts at certain hours. The morning shift ends at 12:30.

I was on my way out of the bookstore around 11:30 when someone saw me, said he’d seen me on TV, and struck up a conversation. I have a very hard time getting out of conversations. I wish my staff had been there. She wasn’t there that moment because she was going outside for something. I had no way of contacting her. When I’m concentrating on talking to someone I have a really hard time simultaneously figuring out how to stop talking to someone and why to stop talking to someone (or why to do anything for that matter). It took everything I had to get out of the conversation half an hour later.

Half an hour later it was too late for my staff to take me to the bank. It was also too late for her to wash my pollen mask, a task which had to be moved to the next shift, and depending on how long it takes to dry it might affect my ability to go out to a planned event tomorrow.

I am not trying to be unfriendly. I am not trying to imply that anyone who has done this to me has caused all these things on purpose. But please be aware that if I’m out lately, I’m out on a time schedule, that the amount I have to go out affects my health in various ways, etc. So I might make an exception if I already know the person (the same way most people would make some exceptions, even ones that change their plans or health, for unexpected friends, including online friends), but if I don’t know you already, then getting to know you right then isn’t going to be the best time. And that since I have a really hard time disentangling myself from conversations (because of the amount of attention the conversation itself takes), it’s probably better not to start one unless you’re going to introduce yourself as someone I already know or something, because staying in a conversation with you for half an hour doesn’t mean I want to, it just means I’m doing what I think I have to, which is come up with new things to say in response to whatever I can parse out of what you’re saying (and I am likely parsing far less of what you’re saying than it might sound like, I’m very good at sounding like I know what people are talking about when I don’t).

And (probably obviously) this doesn’t apply to social events or conferences where the point is partly to meet new people. And unfortunately probably most of the people likely to do this to me have not read this blog. But I thought it was worth mentioning in case anyone runs into me in a store or something (this sort of thing has now happened more than once, including while trying to visit and advocate for a friend in the emergency room, although in that case the friend was recognized too I think so that got interesting).

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

10 responses »

  1. Oh, I have “Tell Me Your Life Story” stamped across my forehead, and I’m not even famous. I should write a book, “Adventures in Grocery Shopping.” Many a day I have not made it to the bank or the store or made a call because someone was telling me all about it, and time ran out before the next appointment or I had to be home to get Joey off the bus- often on the only day I had a minute to do such chores for weeks. Annoying- but I’ve heard some interesting life stories that way.

  2. Sometimes (about twice a month or twice a day dependant on how thigs are going) I lose understanding of language. So not enough to be a real concern, but enough that I am now an expert on smiling and nodding and hoping someone hasn’t told me their beloved pet slug has died. I hate getting sucked into conversations as well, sometimes I do accidentally forget and just wander off, other times I try and keep going. And a lot of the time it’s fine, but sometimes I need time on my own. I take my youngest lad to a toddler group every Tuesday morning and with a load of under threes it gets a tad noisy. But it’s ok, I’ve got a nice little trick called daydreaming and though I can’t switch off completely as I have to keep an eye on my lad, I can switch off a lot which helps. But not when someone comes over and starts talking and whilst I like the person I wish I could politely say sometimes that I just need a bit of time to myself.
    If it’s any consolation on the unlikely chance I would meet you (me living in the UK, you in the USA) I would probably not recognise you and if I did I wouldn’t have the confidence to approach you.

  3. Maybe you could have a rote answer stored on your
    voice synthesizer for such times that you could just press that says something like, “I would
    like to talk more but I have an appt I need to get to..It was nice meeting you..” What the appt. is does not need to be explained…and you have acknowledged the person in a kind way….

  4. bullet: Deaf people do exactly as you describe all the time … in fact, someone has even apparently coined a phrase for it, called “social bluffing” — try googling it!

  5. I wouldn’t worry if a fan met David Beckham (presuming by now the US knows who he is) on the street they would not really expect to get a civil interaction.

    If you approach me because you have seen my picture on the web or on video and you don’t get a reaction, chances are you were speaking to my brother :)

    My brother and I are quite used to being accosted by people who can’t tell us apart.

  6. “I have a very hard time getting out of conversations….When I’m concentrating on talking to someone I have a really hard time simultaneously figuring out how to stop talking to someone and why to stop talking to someone (or why to do anything for that matter).”

    That sounds so much like my husband. I’ve often contemplated kicking him in the shin to get him out of a conversation that has gone on too long. I usually just settle for a poke in the ribs (which doesn’t always work). Our friends are often kind enough to point out to him that I’m trying to get his attention.

    We have a friend who is undiagnosed but clearly on the spectrum and he has difficulties with conversations as well. He can’t end a conversation even when you tell him that the conversation needs to end. When he and my husband got to talking neither of them would get anything accomplished. Now they communicate electronically which seems to help a lot.

  7. When Joel and I first met, we had at least 24 hours of conversation straight. We used a laptop with two keyboards and two monitors and stunned my staff when she came in in the morning and neither of us had slept.

  8. Urgh. While reading your post I had a flash of two people running on ‘this is what I’m supposed to do’ scripts, and stuck in a conversation neither wants to be in and neither can end/ think of ending.

    Getting out of conversations. I tend to get into a loop, saying the same thing over and over again. Or the same ‘filler’ in different words over and over again. But as best I can read, that seems to pass for continuing conversation.

  9. Thank you for the heads up. As you made clear, you realize that many people who are going to stop you in public do not read your blog and have little knowledge of how you communicate. You want to walk away, but you are not adept at conveying that feeling.

    So, you have done one useful thing. You told us a little more about yourself. In the event that one of your net-acquaintances sees you at a common place, they will know to give you an opportunity to say whether you have time to chat? Is that the objective? Or do you want people to just wave, say “Hi Amanda”, and walk away?

    On the other hand, I am not sure if you need to be reminded that your escort’s absence contributed to you missing the bank and missing your mask cleaning. Next time (and there will be a next time), know the value of your staff: don’t leave them!

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