On Accounting and Accountability

October 5th, 2020

Here's a shot of what my desk looks like on Sunday evenings, more or less.

accounting

Sometimes there's also a baby duck, or a shot of vodka-cum-creme-de-casis, and of course there's two, sometimes three other monitors for other systems churning god knows what trials and tribulations tied to the time, but all that aside: for an hour or so, this is the meat and potatoes ((I don't think the duck would appreciate this joke....)). But what is it? It's a stack of lists, basically, getting re-listed as other lists. Which is boring as fuck, it's true, but inasmuch as this is weekly household accounting, and given I've been doing this shit week in, week out for over a decade, it's also a font of information with high potential. For...?

Say I want to track gas usage car-over-car, or country-over-country, or year-over-year? What's milk price inflation like recently (trick question, nobody's fucking with the price of milk, look at fringe convenience shit like canned vegetables to see it)? What's more expensive, beef or bison, and how much does it matter whether you're in Argentina? I can tell you how many eggs my household ate in June of 2015. Or whether a general effort to consume more produce over time actually came to pass, and how.

Combined with a few other key trackers, such as the calorie count, weight, and total price of canonical dishes typically made in the house, and daily-weekly schedules that plan and mark progress for any number of work projects and personal endeavors, this pile of data lets me put a real statement behind the kind of feeling-statements that do not much more than gnaw at people and cause arguments. I'm not doing as well as I'd like to with Egyptian Arabic probably because in the past three months I've only spent 14 hours with it, despite having apparently wanted to reach something more like 40. Meanwhile I feel great about the gym and it's likely a result of planning for 3, 2-hour sessions a week lately and managing on average 3.5.

There's nothing novel about household accounting, naturally, nor is what's contemplated here anywhere near as tight, expressive, or demanding as the an0 standard. Aside from the obvious benefits of answering the kinds of questions thrown about above, all this helps address a few common problem areas. For one thing, contrary to what you'd be tempted to think, it helps me be a little less anal. Yes, I want my grocery receipts, and I'ma be miffed for a few minutes if one gets thrown out, but because I know I can fall back on this moderate hillock of data if any interesting problems crop up or I'm being taken to task over whatever, I can let go of a lot of stupid shit I'd probably be carrying around otherwise. Worry has this bizarre relationship with assholerly wherein chronic worriers (who pretty much universally would never characterize themselves as being assholes and on the contrary would be shocked and hurt to be given such an assessment) end up choking on a kind of bolus of inferences, suspicions, and undesired potentialities, which in turn spurns them into periods of extremely anal behavior, as though to atone for the previous period of inattentive worrying.

Discipline is also fairly well built out of making and following the commitment to keeping track of things thusly. And no, my record isn't perfect; there've certainly been low periods where I've thought I knew better than to stick to this, or where I thought feeling bad meant it was a good idea to slack --and of course keeping track gets a lot more complicated, and becomes more of a pain in the ass, when traveling, which is a fairly common challenge for me. But more often than not, I've kept good track, I've been consistent, and even though it's ultimately just lists, it's nevertheless something, it's a record, it's a concrete and lasting effort, size and meaning notwithstanding. Knowing it's possible helps plan and motivate other things, larger, or more meaningful, that require long-term focus.

I also credit the regularity and familiarity of this weekly ritual with a better, hygiene, I guess, concerning arithmetic. It's a fine opportunity for a digestible portion of adding in the head, a practice far too often neglected, which is likely responsible for giving most people I meet hives when asked to perform basic operations like this. Like its parent task, this is a small thing that yields happily over long periods of time; I don't use a calculator for this like I don't use an "app" to figure out how to drive somewhere, and just as I'll probably be one of the only folks able to get anywhere if landsat croaks, I don't shake and try to change the subject when I need to do some arithmetic on the fly ((Anymore, yes yes. Like most things, I only know how to describe the problem because I've had it.)).

And that's it, now I've got a cash discrepancy this week to go and chase, and meanwhile I was scheduled to write something on nature today, which this most certainly ain't, and besides that berry vodka line talked me into it, I'm two in and I've got all manner of nonquantitative thoughts to nurse.

2 Responses to “On Accounting and Accountability”

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