More Than Seven Things

So, the guy who writes this stuff… what’s he like? Here’s some nonfiction by way of explanation.

In March of 2003 I was working for the second-strangest place I’ve ever worked. I was brought in through the back door by a board member to take a position that would eventually have me running the small IT department of a family-owned business that– I don’t want to tell that story. At least not tonight. That would work better as the first couple of seasons of a TV series that would make The Office look boring and prosaic. This is a much shorter story, and not as funny.

The IT staff worked in a large room on the second floor of a two-storey warehousish building a bit north of Metro Atlanta, triangulated about halfway between the Bentley dealership and the Ferrari dealership. The secret project was to turn an all-overhead department into an application and digital content delivery development team and start generating profit. In the meanwhile, it looked an awful lot like a helpdesk.

This was a bother. People thought they could just walk into the office and interrupt us with any old damn question.

My coworkers, who had been on board for sneaking me in to lead the team from the beginning, griped about the nonstop interruptions nonstop, so I told them I would put a stop to it.

There was a whiteboard on the door where people could leave messages or notes or pleas for help if we were out or had simply locked ourselves in and refused to respond. Ostensibly. No one bothered to use it but the IT team, and we wasted a number of dry erase pens proving our cleverness in geekly matters. I wiped all of that stuff away.

I found our finest-point black marker and started to write in the upper left corner. It was a story about a guy who knew a guy who was having some kind of esoteric existential crisis involving fire and withdrawal-level cravings and cigarettes, and the story was not complete until it covered the small board in about fifteen lines of cramped text, in my best serial killer handwriting, ending, story deliberately inadequately resolved, all the way down in the bottom left corner.

I’m leaving the text out on purpose. Because it’s a mind eraser. Let me explain.

The human brain has scads of storage for long-term memory — how your first puppy smelled, the thing your great aunt named her car that everyone in the family wished she hadn’t, etc., ad damn near infinitum. But the section of the brain we use to store the things we’re doing right now — the temporary, short-term registers we clutter up with working data we really don’t know whether we want to store or not — that holds somewhere from five to seven things. For me, five is sometimes a stretch, but I’m clever. I cope.

If someone comes to  you with a problem, it almost never has to do with that color that your mom painted the living room walls when you were eight that made your parents have that big fight. And if it’s a technical problem — and you don’t know enough about technology to be able to fix it yourself — guess where you store the details when you try to go get help. You put it in your short-term stack.

You put it in your short-term stack and you schlep up the stairs keeping it all balanced on top of your head. You come to the door. You open the door, and catch out of the corner of your eye something you hope to hell isn’t a serial killer’s hastily written manifesto. You look. You note the shapes of the letters. You sort out at least two sets of bizarre proper names you’ve never seen before. One guy is saying something about the other guy, something about cigarettes, something about having trouble lighting them, something about nicotine and tinnitus, but– no it’s spelled wrong. Is it something else? And…

That was more than seven things. Your short-term stack is filled with this rapidly fading nonsense and you no longer have and idea why you bothered to trudge up the damn stairs. Three sets of slightly hostile glares are pointed in your direction. You let go of the doorknob and go back down the stairs.

If you’re slow, you repeat this process three or four times. You don’t remember the story because you can’t. It was just that much nonsense, and hooks onto nothing else you already have in your brain. By the time you make it back to your own office, because you’re desperately trying to remember what your problem was, you’ve forgotten the mind eraser exists.

And since you’re tired of trudging up and down the stairs to no particular purpose, you decide maybe to send an email, while your complicated technical problem’s details are right in front of you, and that’s awesome, because we can get to it when we feel like it without having to interrupt our work.

So who am I and what am I like? I’m the guy who whipped the concept of a mind eraser out of my ass, composed and penned it over a quick lunch, and had no compunction about employing it to make my life marginally easier.

I’m that guy.


August 5, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  


2 Responses to “More Than Seven Things”

  1. el fro on December 17th, 2013 8:59 am


    That is an amazing feat, seriously.

  2. xalieri on December 17th, 2013 2:01 pm

    I blush with praise, sir. But I’m not entirely sure this is the sort of behavior one should encourage….

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