I'm writing a series of short, snappy essays about art. Each has to be 200 words or less. I'm working in Microsoft Word 2010, on my shiny-new MacBook Pro. I added a "Word Count" button to my toolbar, to make my calculations quicker.
But something's wrong. It must be the same poltergeist or djinn that's been messing with my closet, turning size 2s into size 8s and vice versa.
I'm good at math. I can add up columns of figures in my head and for years I knew the formula to square of any two-digit number in my head, too— until I realized that it was useless for anything except impressing nerds. I made it through linear algebra in college — that's the course that comes after calculus, where you learn to solve quadratic equations in matrices, or multiples of, like, three at a time.
So I should be able to count to about 200. You'd think.
But I've counted the same few paragraphs four different times over a couple of days and gotten four wildly different numbers. Here's one of my comments on a word count for one essay — which I was not editing:
155 words. Was 218, then 175 words, and was briefly auto-counted at 193 words, then switched back up to 218 words, then back down to 155 words, at 10:33 pm on 6/25...I am freaked out, in a mild way. I know how to use the Word Count button and I add the numbers both on a calculator and in my head. And I get the same result. It's just a different result every time. And we're talking about just a few paragraphs of simple text. Counts were routinely shooting up and down by 25 or 35 words all night. I have no good explanation for this, and I don't find this issue listed on Microsoft problem-reporting sites. Spooky.
Like all paranormal experiences (ringworm was an alien invasion, in my opinion. ) it seems unreal to me at first but then I get used to the bizarreness of it. Because it's something weird, it's not me. Yes, it's very hot and we have no air conditioning. And I'm sleep-deprived because of the cats and late nights at the computer. Sure, I'm a little stressed because I have my annual mammogram screening tomorrow. (I had a scare once, so I'm not blasé about these anymore.) But I'm — honestly — not so messed up that I cannot count to 200!
I've put my document to bed, having added up all the essays again — there are about 45 of them, a number that does not fluctuate. I will revisit them tomorrow and see if all the word counts are incorrect. Again. And if so, I'd better go light some candles at St. Clement's and look up some Wiccan room-cleansing spells while I'm at it.