Is sorting M&M’s by color before you eat them an endearing little quirk, a sign of artistic awareness, or just a teeny bit compulsive?
I don’t know. It’s just the way I eat my M&M’s. I never stopped to think about it until recently, when we were traveling and listened to the audio version of Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
The narrator of the story is 15-year-old Christopher Boone, who has what is presumably a form of autism. His favorite author is Sherlock Holmes, so when he finds the body of his neighbor’s murdered dog, he decides to investigate. His detective work uncovers much more about his own life than it does about the dog.
The book was a fascinating glimpse of life from the perspective of someone who thinks very differently from what most of us probably consider “normal.” One of the side effects of it, though, was to make me start wondering about some of my own behavior.
Like taking eggs out of the carton so as to leave a symmetrical pattern, rather than just grabbing a couple. I might start, for example, by taking the eggs out of the top left and bottom right corners. Then maybe I’ll take the next two from the right side of the second row and the left side of the next to the last row. This, by the way, is much easier to do with a carton of 18 than a carton of 12. I prefer to think of it as artistic rather than autistic. You may have your own opinion.
Or sorting M&M’s by color. Of course it’s silly. They all taste the same. But I don’t care for green, so I always eat the green ones first in order to get rid of them. Next to go is usually orange, followed in order by blue and brown. I save either yellow or red for last, depending on which color most appeals to me that day and also the assortment of colors in a particular handful. (Not every bag of M&M’s has the same number of each color. People who don’t sort their M&M’s by color may not know this.)
Then there is that thing I sometimes do when I’m walking on a sidewalk, counting steps and noticing the pattern of how often I step on a crack with my right foot and then my left. One might think of it as obsessive, I suppose. Or one might think of it as a way of exercising one’s brain as well as one’s body. Or maybe it’s merely marching to the beat of a different drummer.
I also keep the stuff in my purse in specific places—my cell phone is this pocket, my wallet in that section, my keys in that little pocket with the zipper. This, I maintain, is simple utility. It’s much easier to find my keys or my sunglasses when I know which pocket to reach for. And, in my defense, I have never lost a set of keys or my wallet. Though I do occasionally misplace my purse.
Worrying about whether your behaviors are compulsive is probably a bit, well, compulsive. Thinking about the different ways our brains work, on the other hand, is merely fascinating.
But I dare you to tell me that, the next time you get eggs out of the carton, you don’t at least think about the pattern you’ve just made. And the next time you have a handful of M&M’s, I bet you’ll pay more attention to the colors.