What my obsession with bookkeeping did for my brain in tumultuous times

click to enlarge What my obsession with bookkeeping did for my brain in tumultuous times
Spreadsheets — a key to logging your life.

I have a spreadsheet or app for almost everything that occurs in my daily life that is trackable. This includes what books I read, what music I listen to and my migraine headaches, to name a few examples.

During the lockdown of March 2020, I decided to start writing down every book I read during my time inside. That quickly evolved into creating a spreadsheet with even more information. I kept track of the title, the author, the genre, where I purchased books and how much they cost, the number of pages in the book and, of course, my rating on a five-star scale.

The tracking was something uniquely my own, something I could control when I had no control of the world around me. I was scared of the state of things, I didn't want to get sick. Tracking took my mind off of things.

The tracking progressed past books and into the realm of music.

I have a vast collection of vinyl records and CDs that are my pride and joy. From the Star Wars soundtrack to Elliott Smith, I've got it all. But that got me thinking: Which artists/albums do I listen to the most? What are my most played songs? Does the data accurately portray my love for BTS? If not, I've gotta fix that.

I started using an app called Last.fm to compile my music listening habits into easy-to-digest reports and graphs. (Spoiler alert: The data does accurately portray my love of BTS. They have about 10,000 lifetime plays and a spot as my No. 1 artist of all time compared to my No. 2 most-played artist, Phoebe Bridgers, who only has 1,500 lifetime plays.)

At the beginning of 2022, I was still afraid, but life had to go on at some point. I was back at in-person classes and work was back to pre-pandemic normalcy. I looked at my various spreadsheets and apps at the start of the new year. The information I'd so carefully collected was, digitally, collecting dust. I hadn't touched my spreadsheets in months.

When I scrolled through the list of books I read in 2020, a collection of T.S. Eliot poems stood out to me. I remember reading the Eliot poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" after logging off of my first college class via Zoom ever.

"Let us go then, you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table; / Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets..."

But I couldn't go anywhere because my mind wouldn't let go of the horror I felt at that moment. I couldn't walk through the "half-deserted streets" of my hometown and see the carnage that a pandemic had done to the lively downtown area.

When I look at my 2022 reading log, I don't see many entries. Only 18 this year so far. I'm reminded of how much life has changed. I'm too busy to read 52 books in a year now.

Those spreadsheets serve as time capsules that remind me of when life was hardly life at all. They show me that perseverance is key and that I can reach goals even in the most difficult of times. (And that getting vaccinated and being able to go to bookstores again really did a number on my wallet.)

Though my tracking is unconventional, it's been cathartic. I'm grateful to the habit for keeping me level-headed even when the world seemed to be crumbling down around me.

To quote Charles Dickens: "I have been bent and broken, but — I hope — into a better shape." ♦

Emily Somoskey: Surfacing @ EWU Gallery of Art

Mondays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Nov. 3
  • or

About The Author

Madison Pearson

Madison Pearson is the Inlander's Listings Editor, managing the calendar of events and regularly contributing to the Arts & Culture section of the paper. She joined the staff in 2022 after graduating from Eastern Washington University.