Have you ever noticed how many numbers we use just to get through the day? I’m not a big fan of numbers, but when they’re used, as above, without requiring me to manipulate them in some way to prove a point, then I can deal. Those manipulation processes, which purport to figure out everything in the universe and then some, left me cold way back in elementary school.
Phone numbers, the remembrance of, especially when rattled off as though the person’s life depended on it, or, so the rattler can conclude that one is a person of little intellect when one can’t rattle them back, that’s another bete noir of mine.
Highway numbers. Oy vey. I’ve lived up here in the frozen north for over twenty years and still couldn’t tell you which state, New Hampshire or Vermont, has I-93, and which has I-91. I’ve driven them both many times, but I still have to say, ‘the one in New Hampshire’, or ‘the one in Vermont’, if I’m informing someone of my travel plans. In N.Y. we had the Grand Central Parkway and the Long Island Expressway. Names make so much more sense than numbers.
Yes, I concluded a long time ago that I had a real problem with numbers
So, last week I was asked to do a writing exercise. I had written a scene in 1st person. The exercise was to re-write it in 3rd person. I had to re-circuit that information to the language section of my brain and remember that 3rd person equaled he, she, it. Or maybe it doesn’t anymore, but that’s not my problem, my problem is with numbers, not genders. I find it hard to fathom that people can, with facility, transpose numbers and words at the drop of a hat. I had to immediately stop thinking 3rd person once I made the connection and only think of my character as a she, and not as an I. True, it wasn’t as hard as I’ve made it sound, I’ve learned to compensate for numerical deficiencies. I can ask to have the question repeated, I can cough, I can pretend I was thinking, in an attempt to gain the nano-second more time I need to process a spoken number and have the question re-routed.
Oliver Sacks, who passed away last week at the age of 82, was a neurologist, and a best-selling author. His research involved studying his patient’s disorders and learning how they coped with their conditions. Sacks wrote The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, an article which later appeared in a book of case histories with the same title. The man in question suffered from prosopagnosia, the inability to see facial features,a condition Sacks himself had.
Sacks’ condition didn’t stop him from writing, in fact it gave him the old grist for the mill. I see no reason to stop either, and any numbers I use in my stories will probably be the kind that appear at the bottoms of the pages.