Forget Me Not
The art of the forgettable face
Tokyo is a hive of networking events. Every week is a flood of art exhibitions, start-up conferences, developer meetings, product launches, and career meet-ups. Recently, I’ve attended quite a few.
Sometimes, if I’m lucky, a person will recognize me and say hello. Little interactions like this make me feel warm inside. I feel like I’m making my way in the world.
“Oh, you’re that writer Trent told me about,” people say. “I love that story you wrote about escalators.”
“Yes, yes. Quite wonderful. Very thoughtful. And you also write about tea, is that right?”
“Of course, yes. Amazing places, tea houses. Such culture in this city. I love your work.”
But as much as I enjoy occasional recognition, more often than not I simply watch people and try not to look awkward. Sometimes people introduce me to their friends like a novelty pet — ‘he wrote a story about cats!’ — and we have short, forgettable conversations.
Coming to these events has made me realize that something about me is, ultimately, forgettable. People sometimes remember my work, but they very rarely remember who wrote it. Mostly I put this down to having the vanilla ice-cream of haircuts, but there are likely other factors at play, too.
When I go to an event, it’s not uncommon for me to approach someone I’ve met and have them say, “Hello, I don’t believe we’ve met. It’s nice to meet you… uh…?”
When this first happened, I simply reminded people where and when we’d met, and who we were with. But I had to do this all the time. I soon began to feel bad. Guilty, even. You see, reminding someone they’ve forgotten you exist is awkward and embarrassing. The people who have forgotten you tend to feel terrible, but your very reminder reinforces the fact you’re a nobody.
After all, if you weren’t, they would have remembered you.
I struggled with this for a time. I enjoyed being awkward at networking parties, but I didn’t like having to reintroduce myself multiple times.
So, I began introducing myself as a new person each time somebody forgot me.
In this way, I became Casey Brewster, freelance photographer and part-time cellist, and Bradley Ternminster, soundscape artist and web-designer. I was a film director and a surfing aficionado, and a DJ on a tourist visa espousing monk-like austerity. Occasionally, I also brewed craft beer and translated Japanese into Latin for the wealthy.
I was still routinely forgotten, but conversations were much more interesting.
Once, I was talking to a magazine editor named Stefan about growing grass on balconies when his friend joined us. She was beautiful. Shapely. Intriguing and charming. I saw our future reflected in her eyes.
She was, I decided, the perfect woman.
“Haruko, have you met Jorge John-Johnson?” Stefan asked. “He’s a marketer, but he also mountain bikes.”
“Jorge?” she said.
“John-Johnson,” I replied. “With a hyphen.”
“I just love unique, original names.”
It was as if she knew I was hiding another one.
Haruko, it turned out, was also in marketing, but she was not a mountain biker; she preferred ceramic pottery and kintsugi. She told me she’d read a story recently about cats. Very poetic. Intriguing imagery. Deft turns of phrase.
“My friend Trent put me onto it,” she said. “I hear there is also a story about escalators. Have you read it?”
“I haven’t,” I said, “but I might have read something like it, about trains.”
“One day I’d like to sit down with a person who does that. Someone who writes. Like, really writes. I just want to sit with them for an hour and pick their brains. That would be fascinating, don’t you think?”
“I’m… sure you would learn something new,” I said.
My twenty minutes with Haruko were wonderful and easy. She laughed at my jokes. She listened. She thought my strange thoughts about books were charming. She made me smile. She put me at ease.
Our meeting was a harmonious interweaving of personalities, made all the more impressive for the fact that one was essentially fiction.
She really was, I decided, the perfect woman.
“I’d really love to continue this conversation sometime next week,” Haruko said.
“As would I.”
“Do you have a business card?”
“I… unfortunately gave my last one out just earlier.”
I felt tears well in my eyes.
“Yes,” I said.
“Should I just search for Jorge…?”
“John-Johnson,” I said. “With a hyphen.”
“Okay, I’ll find you later. Let’s set something up.”
“I will… look forward to it.”
And as I watched Haruko disappear into a crowd of young Tokyoites, I shed a single tear. It was a tear for a feeling like true love, lost on the winds of karmic justice.