Friday, May 8, 2009

Synonymity, or: I Draw An Embarrassing Shape

Let me see if I can relate this story using only synonyms, for reasons which will become clear.

Yesterday I was at work, explaining an idea to two women. I tend to think visually, so I hopped up to the whiteboard, and drew a shape.

Now. At the same time I was (and still am) experiencing a niggling facial twitch along the side of my nose. Usually I get these micro-spasms in my eyelids, and while they tend to be completely invisible to other people, they feel like earthquakes, and I have an image of myself helplessly fluttering my eyelashes at strangers. The twitch on the side of my nose felt like I was snarling like an angry silverback: lip up, lip down. Lip up, expose teeth, lip down. Up. Down.

The shape I was trying to draw was intended to look like one petal of a flower, to which I could add others to further illustrate my idea, all radiating out from a central point, like a many-armed star. We've all drawn these, usually on the margins of calculus notes. Right? Who's with me?

I turned to the whiteboard, my lip snapping and snarling away (or so it felt), and carefully drew the first petal. It was a long, vaguely oval or cylindrical shape, about six inches long, sloping down and to the left.

The idea I was trying to express was that we could write short articles, or profiles, of various business executives.

"So here," I said, sketching the shape, "is our Wall Street guy."

Oh. God.

I had drawn something that half of the world has, and half of the world does not have. Right? Who's with me? I had drawn something that looked vaguely like a small cucumber. Down and to the left. Our Wall Street guy. My lip was twitching away in Extreme Ape Rage as I looked wildly for an eraser. No erasers! Anywhere! Of course!

The meeting had derailed, so I lunged for a kleenex on my desk -- and by this point I was so flustered that even a kleenex gave me the willies (get it? willies? who's with me?) and wiped it (the shape) off the board, wrinkling my simian snout and trying to recover good form.

All was lost. There is no recovery from something like that. Just another day at the office!