Numb-ers, the antithesis of creativity

January 24th, 2014, 11am

It was -2.8°C with overcast. The breeze was gentle.

“The rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains… It shrank men’s hands into the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped.”

— Ray Bradbury, The Long Rain

Humans — most of us, at least — just aren’t built psychologically to live under a nonstop downpour of water. Ray Bradbury imagined that if we were unable to find shelter in time, we might go deaf; lose feeling in our face and hands; and finally, losing our minds, we would tilt our heads back and let the water run down our noses and mouths…and drown.

Numbers are the incessant rain in my work life, in my home life. Vendor accounts, check runs, tenant statements, wire transfers, payroll deductions, checkbooks, service agreements, rent rolls, late fees, mortgage payments, monthly, quarterly and annual tax returns…and spreadsheets, spreadsheets, spreadsheets. Endless columns of numbers falling down on your head, totaling up and running off into other columns, forming streams, rivers, and lakes of numbers.

Should any task cross my desk that involves words as opposed to numbers, I drop everything I’m doing. No word-centric task is too mundane. “I need this PDF converted into a Word document,” someone says — a grunt-job if there ever was one, but to me, oh! It is the nearest thing to being actually paid to create art. I am sometimes applauded for my flexibility in these cases, but it is plain selfishness. I’m supposed to be out mopping numbers in the rain, and I just want to get out of it for awhile. Even if I did nothing but tinker with hyphenation and line heights all day long, I would be playing in the sunshine, because words! If numbers are rain, words are sunlight fringing the clouds in a cool, clearing sky, or an orangered sunset falling on the white and yellow birch trees.

Numbers and Words are my yin and yang, my law and grace. Numbers are 孔夫子, Confucious, and Moses, crushing you under masses of regulation, weighing you and finding you wanting; words are Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus (who happens to go by λόγος, or Word) calling you by name and inviting you to tea. Numbers are cities, machines, the concrete jungle, deeply interlocked systems and patterns designed to prioritize safety over soul; words are a cabin in the mountains built near a faultline in the earth’s crust.

Cyril said thanks.

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Joel Dueck

Construction and remodeling. Accounting. IT guy for mid-size businesses. Too many careers for someone still in his mid-thirties. I go for walks when I can, and write when hallucinating or discontent. Blog at

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