Friday, October 05, 2007

My Own Obsessive-Compulsive Tendencies, or Welcome to the Freak Show

My brain does funny things. In fact, it has been doing one particular funny thing going on nineteen years now, which is hard to own up to when I think of the triviality it represents.

Let's first go back to when little Faithy was in third grade, for this is when it began. Imagine a thoughtful girl in pigtails learning to spell (and apparently beginning to work with the multiplication tables). She liked to discover patterns in words. Let's take the word "teacher," as it is one I, um, she recalls manipulating. She would take a word, spell it out in her head, determining how many letters it contained. "Teacher" contains seven. However, she was not content with the sum. Instead, she wanted to see how many times she would have to repeat it in order to reach a proper total (determined to be any double digit ending in 6). "Teacher" would need to be repeated eight times to make 56, so she would dutifully do so. Why -6? One must not too deeply examine the roots of something begun when she was but nine. One theory as likely as another is that there were 16 stairs in her home, and she always counted them (although the total never varied, she couldn't resist).

As Faithy grew older and her savviness increased tenfold, she would graduate to analyzing phrases, sentences, song lyrics, and beyond. Before long, she could recognize when acceptable phrases were spoken without consciously counting them out ("no parking any time" is a stock example, or "closed on weekends").

Here we must enter another rule. She learned that if a phrase ended in a three or in an eight (take "no passing zone" or "Saturday," respectively), one could reach success by doubling the entirety (13 becomes 26, 8 becomes 16). At first she would double just to reach satisfaction, but it came to pass that she was content with reaching any double-digit ending in a three, six, or eight. So her odds were pretty good, now, since 30% of examined phrases would be acceptable.

But what to do with those ornery ones that didn't muster up? This is where her shady ethics come into question. She would make the necessary changes to find satisfaction, even if that required an alteration of meaning, or even if it ended up as nonsense. Just now someone spoke, "He's out of town." Yikes, only 12. She might transform the phrase to "She's out of town" to work, or perhaps "He is out of town."

There doesn't seem to be any merit to this exhibition, but at times it comes in handy with Wheel-of-Fortune or crosswords. She kept it to herself until college because of its banality, but then disclosed it to her older sister and a couple friends in a memorable breakfast ("memorable breakfast" is 18, just for your edification).

So why continue, you might ask? ("So why continue" is 13.) Ay, there's the rub. For this is why it is termed her obsessive-compulsive tendency, as it cannot be turned off. It is exacerbated when her mind is disengaged and seems to decrease with added engagement ("added engagement" is only 15, so it could be changed to "adding engagement" to keep the peace).

Her husband and friends can tell stories of how eery it can be to have her calculate the final digit of any given phrase with seemingly instantaneous results, but honestly, when she's been doing it for nineteen years, it would be a shame if it took much time. Perhaps most frightening of all, she periodically refers to herself in the third person.


David said...

It is interesting how all that can be going on inside one's head and no one would ever know unless you told them.

Rachel said...

what time does Wapner come on, Faith? (kidding, kidding....) Actually I think that is a very interesting story and I thank you for sharing it with us. It almost reminds me of synethesia, but a slightly different stripe.
I always used to count the steps in my parents' house (12) and sometimes I will count the steps on the way out of the apartment, but I count even the steps I take on the landing on the 2nd floor so that doesn't really mean much.