This is not about making a Christmas list, although I should do that, I guess. It is about my need to check and monitor things constantly, as if I were the Chief of the Baguette Patrol for a supercollider. Not all things. I do not monitor the dust balls in the corners of my dining room, the balance in my checking account, or Sam’s grades. These things I consider on a need-to-know basis; if company is coming, I vacuum, if I get a menacing call from Comcast, I check the bank account, and if Sam claims he has no homework for the third day in a row, I check his grades using the magic of Power School. I know people who are very concerned about one or all of the above, which is why they have cleaner houses, better cash flow and more disciplined children than I do.
The things I am compelled to monitor include my e-mail, Facebook, my blog stats, and (when I am away from my computer) my Blackberry. I cannot walk by the computer without looking at my Inbox, deleting all irrelevant items, and (unless I am dragged away by a raging family member) answering the legitimate messages. My idea of “legitimate” is very expansive, and includes comments left on Facebook, requests from my boss, and newsy missives from my friends far away. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when my Inbox is “cleaned out;” and am genuinely tormented by items that cannot readily be deleted, answered or put into a folder (because if I put them into a folder I will forget about them and fail to do something important). I will sometimes “play Inbox” as one might play Brickbreaker; sitting at the computer answering e-mails, checking back to see what’s new and requires deletion, response or filing, and getting back to answering the next one on the list. When there is nothing left, I win.
I also check blog stats as often as I can get away with it, sometimes telling myself I won’t look until after I have folded all of the laundry, sometimes having to cut a deal with me in which I can hit “refresh” after every three pieces folded. (Socks do not count until they are actually matched and rolled). I get excited by big jumps, discouraged by static figures, and intrigued by where visitors are coming from and going to. Does a surge in views of a certain post mean that it’s fabulous, and people are passing it on? (Ecstasy). Or does it mean that I stole an image of the cast of “The Hills” that everyone wants, and I come up first in a Google Image search? (Agony). If someone clicks on “feedburner” does that mean they subscribed, or that they went to look for another blog they might like better? Am I being bookmarked because they want to read what I write, or because they want to be able to find that picture of “The Hills” again? Why do I get people searching for “old tv,” “cornucopia,” “woman crying” and “jamie oliver hair” (all real searches) instead of “bullying,” “popularity” or “parenting?!” (It occurs to me that if I stopped poaching images from other sources I wouldn’t have this problem, but it seems unlikely that I will reform. How else am I going to get a picture of a baguette falling into a supercollider?!).
I monitor Facebook to make sure that I never. miss. anything. (Admittedly bizarre behavior for a person who famously doesn’t answer her phone much of the time). I do not want to miss the rare sighting of an elusive college friend, a cute YouTube video with dancing babies, or an opportunity to be the first to make the witty comment. When I have to step away from the computer, I monitor the Blackberry. I have been known to settle down for a cozy nap with Rob, book-in-hand, with the Blackberry on “Quiet,” placed where I can watch it from the corner of my eye as I “read,” ready to pounce if the flash goes from green to red. It is usually just that person I forgot to block from Twitter advertising muscle-building protein powder, but it could be a blog comment from an editor at the “New Yorker” who received one of my posts from an observant friend, and wants to publish my entire output over the next few years.
It seems that, for those of us who are compulsive checkers, we check the things that most directly relate to our own unique pathologies. The people who become apoplectic at the sight of a ring left on a coffee table (in fact, in my opinion, anyone who even owns a set of coasters that were not a cheap-ass gift from a Secret Santa exchange) act from a deep-seated fear of mess and loss of control, literal or figurative. Frequent balance checkers are afraid of shame and poverty, and by making sure things are in order at the bank, they prevent themselves from receiving dunning calls or having a nasty surprise at the ATM. Grade-monitors fear that their children will not succeed (and may be projecting their own fears and regrets onto their offspring) and make themselves feel secure by discovering that Billy’s science grade has plummeted to a B+ and Doing Something About It. Clearly, these people are all crazy.
I, on the other hand, am motivated by a charming and possibly even raffish need for approval. I want to, need to have to please anyone who comes to my inbox, my blog, or my Facebook Newsfeed, and I believe they will all like me better (and be more likely to remember that they have a cousin who is an editor at the “New Yorker”) if I am on top of it all, every waking second. If I were this vigilant about cleaning, or financial planning, or making Sam do his homework, I would simply be happier safer a better person conventional and dull; as it is, I am quick to respond to a message or comment with the appropriate level of wit, gravity or compassion, and hope that I am a shining star in the firmament of all e-mailers, Facebookers and blog readers in my orbit.
Another time, we will address the possibility that there is something seriously the matter with me.
Ann Graham Nichols cooks and writes the Forest Street Kitchen blog in East Lansing, Michigan where she lives in a 1912 house with her husband, her son and an improbable number of animals.