I have always found comfort in lists and charts. It may have started with a worry – “oh I better write this down so I don’t forget it.” Somewhere along the way it turned into needing a viable record of how I’ve spent my time. A quantification of hours.
I used to drive my college BFF crazy – “you’re just writing down stuff just to cross it off! Do you really need to remind yourself to take a shower?!?!” Well, no, but yes. I need that big black X on the page (now screen) as validation. See? I’m not a total oaf. If nothing else, I did that, see that right there?
- Study for finals
- Write really big paper
Booyah! Two out of four! The day is not lost.
I’m older now. My checklists and charts are now mostly electronic. But they are still there. It seems they may have even multiplied. Before I walk anywhere, I turn the pedometer on in one of my handy phone apps. Every weekend, I make a list of things to do, activities to complete, food to make and systematically check the items off on my iPad, keeping track of what was done, what still needs to be completed. I’ve tried time and time again to keep a food journal – that eventually fades out after a few days – but I know people who swear by programs like Lose It to keep them focused on their weight loss goals. Running almost never happens without my RunKeeper app coming along with me. (why’s that girl running with her phone? Oh non-quantifier, you wouldn’t understand.)
Some people find this all a bit much. Others take it even further than me. In a recent article for Salon, John Rico confessed his obsession for tracking not just activities, exercise and meals, but sleep time, productivity, moods even (!) on his iPhone, and being a better person for it.
Not because he was counting what some people may see as minutiae, but because it allowed him to assess pieces of his self-image that may or may not be accurate. i.e. I am so busy!! When your activity tracker tells you, um, not really. You kind of waste a lot of time Or, I've been depressed lately, when your mood tracker notes that you've been happier than not. According to Rico:
Your perceptions of yourself as you casually consider the topic of self are far different – indeed, dynamically different – from what actual data about yourself might show.
If you’ve ever followed the story of a blogger trying to conceive, you know there is a special sort of quantification inherent in those blogs. The TTC (trying to conceive) timeline.
In the land of infertility blogs, self-quantification through timelines or chronological lists are almost de rigeur. How many IUIs, how many years off birth control, how many surgeries, in some cases, sadly, how many losses, has it taken or is it taking to reach the end goal, a baby safe and healthy in one's arms. This is often charted and readily accessible as a sidebar or separate page. Just joining the party? Here’s your cheat sheet. Sometimes these histories are short and sweet. Other times they read like indecipherable texts from foreign lands, filled with acronyms, medical terminology and more detail than I would ever want my mom to stumble across.
So what does that set of data show? Does it alter our perceptions of ourselves or strengthen them? Does it validate what we already know (I've been trying a damn long time to get pregnant)? Does it give us perspective? Do we wear it like a badge (like I do my RunKeeper mileage) At the end of the day, is it any different than tracking miles or meals on the way to an ideal weight or race time?
I don’t keep a rolling timeline on my blog, but I do pull out some data points for special occasions, on my five year blogging anniversary, I posted this:
4 canceled cycles (2 due to donor eggs issues, 1 with eggs didn't make the thaw, and one when we realized my lining wasn't going to magically grow 4 more mm in a night)
2 fresh IVFs with donor eggs
2 FETs with donor eggs
almost 22 weeks of bliss
2 beautiful babies not here
100+ amazing people encountered, including over a dozen that have turned into real life friends.
4 offers of compassionate surrogacy
1 potential baby mama (gestational surrogate) in the works....
Because I needed to remind myself where I’ve been and where I hope to be going. I had to see that it hasn’t been five years of stagnation, of nothing. That a #$%^ lot happened in those years. Things that have shaped and continue to shape me. Some days this list depresses me. Other days it gives me strength. Why do I keep this list handy?
Luna from Life from Here: Musings from the Edge suggests: “I think we track numbers and dates because it's our natural tendency to want order and control for something that is often so beyond our control. Plans, facts and details are within our reach, when outcomes are not.”
"I kept a timeline on my blog to document my years of infertility and treatment before moving on to adoption,” says Luna, “I did it for myself, but the adoption timeline was also with others in mind, since I was asked so often about it."
Publicly accessible timelines not only jog our own memories, but they do offer a road map for our readers. While she doesn’t keep a timeline, Lori, from Write Mind Open Heart admits, “As a reader, I like the idea of a timeline to help me quickly get a sense of where the blogger is and what has brought her to the present time.”
One of the Two Hot Mamas completely agrees. “I love them [timelines] on other people's blogs, because it helps me connect with them over events, even if say, I was TTC, and they'd already had a child. I could know, oh, this is what they went or struggled through (quickly, without having to slog through posts. which I'd also do, but having more of a connection makes me more likely to stick it out and read, you know?)”
That same hot mama sides with Luna on the Why: “I think it's human nature to track and count things. We are so drawn to knowing and wanting to understand that it's only understandable that we want to control or track those things that we can.”
So, do you keep your quantifications private, or are there pieces of your data sets that you willingly share? Is it helpful to you see others track their progress in various areas, or do you, like many of the commenters to Mr. Rico’s article think we should pull our heads out of our computers and phones and stop counting? What is the object of your counting obsession?
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