A week spent with data, inside Excel: VLOOKUPS, pivot tables, four rewrites of a simple proposal drawn up for review by one guy, a 15 minute meeting. A five page deck with about 10 pages in the appendix. The appendix, which just arrived one day as a great idea in corporate presentations, like “Don’t worry we DID think of everything, we’re just not going to bug you with it unless you need to go there. We don’t want to waste your time.”
And I rework it with a few minutes of feedback and wait for more feedback, how my boss thinks her boss will react to it as a kind of filter for her boss, for the big moment.
I have to draw it out on paper first, how the presentation will look. I get into PowerPoint and my creativity puckers up as soon as I start hitting commands. They switch the versions so often and move things around, I can’t keep up. It’s all chicanery in PowerPoint, drawing boxes and lines — not too much detail, not too little, not too many words, easy on the bullets, keep the font size the same, stick to the style guide.
I don’t know how to do VLOOKUPS and I don’t want to learn. I go to the Internet and watch videos. I call a guy who can do it and he comes over and asks, do I just want him to do it or do I want to learn and I lie and say, oh show me, to honor him, to respect his time. But I don’t have time to learn and don’t want this knowledge, this data handling.
I think about all the data these days and all the businesses designed to help people use it, and it leaves me cold. I look out at the trees now as the sky is falling and think, would I walk up to that tree and consider its data?
I was asked to rework the data many times. It’s a list of about 652 records but I’m only interested in about a hundred of them, and of that population I need to slice it about 10 different ways, but it’s all for estimating purposes, for a 15 minute conversation, and not a lot of money on the line — maybe as much spent in a few hours thinking about it as the event itself, but who’s counting?
In the mornings I tinker with a poem or two, from my walks to the lake this weekend, when I let myself open up to the world around me and forget about the data, the week. You can’t rush the poems either: they require some careful handling, some commands, some listening.
The poem is about a lending library on a dead end road that leads to the lake. I saw my reflection in the glass of the street-side box, mounted on a post, that has books inside you can just pick up and take home, leave another book in its place.
And I thought what small things, books, how you can fit so many inside such a little space, and how much of themselves the writers put in there, possibly all of themselves, and how worlds collapse inside one another, the real ones we delude ourselves with and the made-up ones we imagine, sometimes more real.
And I couldn’t write for a couple weeks now because of the brain damage at work, even started developing pimples and picking the skin around my cuticles, which is a sign I’m spilling out, biting myself like a dog.
I went to a show last night in the rain across town, had to take the highway, squinting and hesitating and realizing my nerves are slowing down. Went to the show alone because I needed some insular trip to disappear inside.
And the first band was Low, from Duluth. They’ve been around maybe 20 years and never made it. They set up their equipment and break everything down, themselves. And I watch the singer gyrate with his guitar, the jerky, snake-like motions he makes with his arms and neck, and it’s so real it gives me the chills. And a friend of mine argues, who would you rather be, REM or Low? And I say, it depends.