(This is being posted as a “page”, rather than a “post”, if I’ve got the hang of this thing, because it has no particular place in my chronology.)
Some time ago, I decided to compile a list of some of the weird stuff that goes on in my head when my brain is bored and I’m not paying attention. I’d noticed that I seem to have a few of these, and I guess I thought that some sort of a “confessional” moment would somehow be a sympathetic and endearing move. I think most people have at least one or two little obsessive-compulsive type habits, some more idiosyncratic than others, from avoiding cracks in the pavement to, I don’t know, repeatedly reciting Abbot & Costello comedy routines and refusing to fly with any airline other than Qantas. (Rain Man? Anybody? No?)
Well, since then I’ve also occasionally remembered a few more, so I now plan to keep this page here, as a comprehensive and up-to-date list of my peculiar preoccupations. This all sometimes makes me worry just how bored and/or unhinged my subconscious is, but the reaction when I first posted about it was overwhelmingly one of “…and?” So, maybe none of this is as interesting or creepy as it first seemed to me. But here it is anyway.
1. I’ve not felt this so much lately, but often when I see a number of three or four digits I need to know its prime factorisation. I guess I’m well suited to this one, not that it would probably occur to anyone who wasn’t proud of their mental arithmetic skills in the first place. I notice it especially when watching a video file in Windows Media Player; if an episode of some show is 42:13 long, I convert that into a number of seconds (2533), then factorise it using trial division because I can’t get my head around any more complicated algorithms (2533 = 17*149), then go back and watch the last few minutes of the show again because I wasn’t paying attention.
2. Scott Adams has talked about how, when he’s alone, he sometimes mentally enacts a conversation with a caveman that he imagines is with him, who is unfamiliar with much of the modern world, and to whom he narrates events in his life and explains certain aspects of what’s happening around him with which a cavemen might struggle. I have a similar thing, but with fictional characters from just about anything I’ve been watching or reading lately, often while I’m still watching or reading it. They’re still in their own world, though, and I exist to them as a kind of omniscient super-being, and can discuss what’s happening to them at the current stage of their story, or what’s in my own life at the moment (but I’m not supposed to give them spoilers for their own plot, obviously). I think this is related to my creative urge and sporadic writing habit: often I find myself explaining things to these characters, wishing they’d been more intelligently written so that I didn’t have to, and thinking about how much better I could have written this scene of the show/movie/book myself. (I know several of my friends would respond to this with little more than, “What, that’s it? You should see what the fictional characters in my head get up to.” But still.)
3. Here we start getting into things that I’ve never heard of from anybody else. I have some sort of need for symmetry with regard to the sense of touch. Some tactile experiences on one side of my body leave me with a feeling of wrongness unless replicated on the other side. Case in point: I just scratched an itch on my left arm, then scratched the same itch-free place on my right arm. If my shirt is ‘leaning’ slightly to the right, with most of the neck-space on the right side of my neck and the sleeve of the right arm falling further past my wrist than on the left, I need to fidget until I get things more or less level. If I scratch under my fingernail, either absent-mindedly or to scrape out some dirt, I need to achieve the same effect with the same finger on the other hand. You get the idea, though I’m still yet to determine any pattern as to when this does or doesn’t apply – I’ve no desire to go and thump my right knee to give it a similar bruise to the left, for instance, and I do plenty of other asymmetric things daily without having to compensate.
4. When I overhear one side of a phone conversation, I often wonder what’s being said by the person I can’t hear. This is hardly new, but it goes further. I imagine a scenario in which I’ve been challenged (by nobody in particular) to be the person on the other end of the phone, and say the exact right things that will ilicit the precise response from the person I can hear, and that I’m going to be stuck in a time loop repeating the day’s events over and over again, until I come up with the right lines to reproduce this exact half of the conversation that I’m hearing. It’s mildly bothersome to dwell on, until they hang up and I forget all about it. I think it’s one of those things which occurred to me one time, then keeps coming back and fixes itself in my mind precisely because I don’t want it there. Sort of like The Game. Which you just lost, by the way.
5. When I’m listening to a comedic solo routine or monologue of some sort – Jon Stewart, Eddie Izzard, whatever – I sometimes start imagining that I’m having to perform this exact same routine myself, simultaneously as I watch it, to an audience who are never really defined but must surely be very unimpressed and distinctly puzzled at my references to things like growing up in the 70’s, or working with film stars who in reality died when I was about seven, or my well-known Jewish faith. And the monologue I’m currently watching/hearing is my only cue, so I have to keep up and not forget what I’ve just heard, or I’ll fluff the joke and look even more foolish in front of this imaginary crowd. Maybe my brain’s just reminding me not to be a stand-up comic, in which case it can really shut up now, because I figured that one out on my own years ago. Also, listening to the news on the radio means that I’m also doing a live radio news broadcast, and have to mentally repeat everything I hear quickly enough that I can keep up and remember it all, and not choke while on air to millions of listeners. This is less persistent than some, but still fairly annoying when it’s there.
6. Slightly more mundanely, the books on my shelves really ought to be in descending height order from left to right. And some just aren’t supposed to go on a shelf with certain others, though I couldn’t possibly explain why not. Also, all my mp3s and downloaded video files need to be named and sorted according to the same strict set of guidelines. But then, that’s just good sense.
7. When I’m doing something that doesn’t involve much brain-power or background noise, I often start whistling and/or humming a tune without realising it, then only after five minutes or so think “What the heck is that?” Moreover, if there’s a tune in my head I’ve already been whistling for a while, sometimes I’ll just start improvising, and come up with a whole new tune based around the same melody or set of chord changes, alternating between whistling and “do-be-do-dah”s, sometimes riffing for upwards of half an hour on the same theme, only half-aware of what I’m doing. Possibly this is veering closer to normality now. Possibly.
8. When I see some not-quite-English words written in graffiti, often when I’m on the train, on the sides of bridges and such, I imagine that this strange not-quite-word has mystical properties, and that if I can find the correct pronunciation, I shall be the first person in history to have uttered this precise permutation of syllables and morphemes, and in so doing shall unleash some great magic never before seen.
9. When I’m editing something I’ve written, I imagine that there are a number of non-specific but somehow threatening (sometimes troll-like) entities watching what I’m typing, not monitoring the quality of my writing in any way, but merely the quantity. Whenever I delete a bit, they want it replaced with something at least as long, or they feel cheated. There’s no real pressure to actually live up to this every time, but whenever I hit backspace on a phrase and type something with a lower character count in its place, I feel like I’m going to have to make it up to them later.
I’m sure there are others, which I’ll add as I think of them. Feel free to comment with suggestions of your own. You freak.