Thoughts on Being Weird

I have been called weird nearly my entire life. It’s never really bothered me, and perhaps that also contributes to my “weirdness.” I suffer from a startingly rare disease, called a photographic memory. It doesn’t work like the movies.

I can’t flip pages in a book and read them later. Simply because the part of my brain that stores the images doesn’t include OCR. I can, however, remember how thick the book was to the front and back, and which paragraph the words were on. It came in handy for book reports, since I just had to flip to the appropriate thickness and scan a few words, then go forward/back a page or two.

I’ve studied a lot of how I remember things. Names are exceptionally hard to remember, in the most annoying way. I cannot remember a name unless I call them their name. Then, it sticks. I cannot remember things I hear very well. I ask my wife to text me or email me so I’ll remember them.

When I write software, I don’t “read” the code. I see a structure in my mind’s eye that I manipulate. Bugs stick out like a sore thumb in the structure. Like it might topple over. Navigating the structure looks very much like a hypercube, where things fold out of nothing, but also similar to a fractal, where there’s infinite detail.

Writing code is fun, because it’s like being in a different universe that I used to read about in all the Robert Heinlein books I read growing up. As an introvert, I’d intentionally not do my homework to get silent lunch / recess detention in elementary school. I could peacefully read without being interrupted (and still not do my homework). My teachers figured this out pretty quickly and stopped punishing me for not doing my homework. So, growing up, I never did homework. People thought this was weird.

They weren’t reading about AI leading an insurrection though, so I don’t blame them. In an extraverted world that we live in, people always expect you to talk with them. They’re not content to be with them. Other introverts will know what I’m talking about, most extraverts will not even grasp the difference, but if you are an extravert, please take the time to try.

Although I’m an introvert, I’ve always been able to switch gears and be an extravert for a period of time. This especially works in large settings like corporate events. I can vanish for a period of time to recharge and everyone just thinks I’m off talking to someone else or in the bathroom. If someone goes looking for me, it’ll be weird trying to explain where I was. Unfortunately, this happens more often than I’d like. My answer when they say they checked the bathrooms? Other bathroom, over there. There’s probably not a bathroom over there, but they get the hint … or they don’t, and make it weird by calling me out.

I choose words very carefully. I hate it when I use the wrong words. I try to be very specific, even when I’m intentionally being vague, which is often. I’m terrified by how deep or shallow my knowledge is. I often choose to be vague to prevent myself from coming across as “too smart,” “over qualified,” or a “nerd.” Especially around people that I get the sense that it’s not appreciated. Even then, I’m wrong sometimes. Things change, and the things I once knew may no longer apply. That’s ok too. I know, I’m weird.

Some people relish in the fact that they come across smart, or at least embrace it. However, I hang out with “normal” people who do “normal” things. I don’t like people who come across as smart, as I always find myself debating the intricate details of a system, instead of the abstract, so that others in the group can follow. I like hanging out with friends, having a beer or two, and talking about “life.” This is also weird and normal. Depending on your perspective.

Growing up, I had this sense that I was different because my weirdness was public and unhidable. The reality is that everyone is weird. It took me a long time to learn that. When you discover someone’s weird secret, they expect to be judged. They expect to be called weird, but they’re not. They’re just like me and I’m just like them.

We’re all a little weird.