Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Surveying the Wreckage

Can you spare a few seconds to minimize my problems?
--Bruce Eric Kaplan

I heard from two of my favorite long-distance friends this week, Walter in Austin, and Elle in NYC, both of whom asked me what I'd been up to this summer -- and the only real answer I could give was Computer Crashes. It's extremely boring to write about, and to hear about, but starting in April, there's been nothing but one tech system collapse after another.

Since April, my entire life has been largely given over to an endless series of hardware, software, and web disasters -- some of it routine aging, and some of it old-school viruses. It's consumed more or less every minute of every day -- when I haven't been actively engaged in trying to find someone to fix it (an experience I liken to climbing a stairway that's falling out from under you as you grasp for the next step  -- I think that's an actual scene in The Money Pit) -- I've just been barely keeping the lid on a chronic low-grade fury. On the rare occasions I haven't been actively engaged in obsessive and failed problem-solving, I've still had this nagging pain at the back of my mind -- the feeling you get when you're sure you left a burner on, or lost your keys. I feel like that every minute of every day, and I have since April.

Somewhere in between all that, I moved, and I went to my day job everyday, and I got my parents to all their doctors' appointments, took in some stray dogs and kept them fed, had a couple mini-relationships, ate wonderful meals with my friends, and the usual routine daily stuff.

I read about a dozen books -- mostly in denial about the one I had planned to spend the summer writing  -- there's a line in one of them (I think it's All Over the Map), where the author reminds herself that she shouldn't be confusing consuming art (movies, books, etc) with making art.

I didn't need a reminder. Writing is the one creative thing I do, and the impulse to do it just dried up without a reliable means to preserve it. And nothing feels reliable. What I hate most in the world is A. being beholden to someone, and B. being forced to count on somebody else to fix something I can't. The physical realities of moving (no, I can't, in fact carry a sofa) was already enough to send my rainman into a spin, and the tech collapse just happened to coincide with it.

Every time I sit down at a keyboard, I become more or less reliant on the kindness of strangers. I know nothing about computers outside of the on/off button. When they die, they're dead until I can find someone to revive them. The same is true of websites. I can't code. I'm not a designer. I can barely take a picture and load it. I miss the days of IT departments and IT-guys at the other end of the line, 24/7. I am always at someone else's mercy. I am a dinosaur. The kids just a few years behind me grew up living online -- they can code and design and lay out in their sleep -- I grew up writing actual letters. On paper. Like an animal.

Today, I finally managed to cobble together what few resurrected files there are from the last ten years, and inventory them, to see where I stand. These are just the file names. Sometimes they correspond to that week's headline, sometimes they're just what I wrote to be able to find them later.

Here's what's left:
2002 May 2 In Style
2002 May 23 Adult Swim
2002 June6 Hot Property
2002 June 20 Waterloo
2002 July 18 My New Boyfriend
2002 Aug1.GoToTheMattresses
2002 Aug8. Pret a Porter
2002 Aug22 Guerilla Gardening
2002 Sep 12 Everything Must Go 
2002 Oct 17 An Awkward Age
2002 Holidays. The Gift of Porn.

2003 thru 2006 are blanks. Unrecoverable. I did write during those four years, but there's not much evidence of it.

The electronic trail picks back up slightly in 2007.
2007 Aug 8 Blackberry Adam
2007 Nov8 Travis Dies

That's it for 2007.

There's a slightly better record of 2008:
2008 March 20 craigslist
2008 Oct 30 RingToss
2008 Nov 13 Strangers with Candy
2008 Nov WuTang
2008 Dec 11 Sorority BreakIn
2008 Dec 18 Mom's Santas

2009 Feb 12 FosterRob
2009 March 26 The Bubble
2009 Apr 9 Colonoscopy
2009 Aug20 Funnelcake

2010 Feb 11 The Ghost of 94
2010 March 4 Mr. Edwards
2010 March 11 My First Car.

That's it.
That's all there is.
26 columns. In ten years. For 2009 and 2010 at least there's a blog version of a lot of what I've written, but those are not what I'd commit to print -- which comes an endless series of revisions later. The best line I remember from a college English class was Dr. Lucas quoting (I think) Hemingway, "It flows from no one's head in perfect form." Something like that. In the facebook/twitter/blog era, everyone "fancies themselves" a Writer, but hardly anybody fancies themselves an Editor. That's my day job though. I spend far more of my life editing than I do writing, and most of the blogs barely constitute a rough draft.

Somewhere in there is maybe a head start on a book, but there's definitely not a book. The last one was 14 chapters, comprised of 64 columns. In truth, it does NOT stand the test of time. And I had put a lot of work towards this one (originally due out in October 2010) being better -- or at least, better organized and less dated.

Most of that work is gone. Nobody's going to come in and push a few buttons and restore those archives or even the software that would read it, if it could be restored. What little could be saved has been saved. There are a few extra paper copies the Intern unearthed last Spring, but he barely made a dent. They're just ashes now, electronic rubble. Detritus.

Another book I read this summer is Meghan Daum's Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House. The title gives you the general gist (and I'll probably write more about it later). Miraculously, I still have a beat-up copy of her first novel, The Quality of Life Report -- and I say miraculously, not because it isn't good (it is) -- but because I probably read and reviewed a 100 books that year (2003), and of those, I kept maybe a half dozen. I've kept up with her work sporadically ever since, but started paying attention again when the new book came out, which is when I found  her site -- which mostly filled me with the white-hot rage of envy. Her work is neatly categorized -- there are her articles, her books, her blog. It's the site I'm angry I do not have. I don't know who I'm angry at, exactly, and that just makes me madder. Granted, she has the asset of having contributed to the meticulously-archived LA Times, but I worked for Village fucking Voice, so the truth is, I have no real excuse as to why my organizational and web skills never kept up with those of other writers working at roughly my age and volume. I had good mentors and trainers. Now I think, Life Would Be Perfect if I had that Site.

So I have spent a lot of this summer angry and frustrated. (That isn't new, by the way. I can see from those few 2002 columns it happened a lot more often then than now.) It's an endless game of whack-a-mole. One machine gets replaced, and then it's time for new software, which doesn't work with the old printer, which then has to be pitched because now they can't communicate on the new server anyway. Round and round.

Most of the time, this Spring notwithstanding, I'm a happy person -- occasionally undone, like everybody is, by too much work and not enough time to do it -- but generally content. I have a great life, populated by wonderful people, and even in a rare phase of misery like this one, I always know how lucky that makes me, and I always try to reserve a small corner of my shriveled, pissed-off little heart to be grateful for that. I am pretty sure this week's ulcer flare-up has more to do with barely-suppressed hate than it does with anything I ate. My BFF asked today if I'd noticed that my ankles are swelling -- I hadn't, but I imagine all those pools of rage had to go somewhere. I have noticed my face looks exactly like it did the summer I had to take steroids for an injury, only I'm not taking any. (It's so awful you get that sense that even good friends don't know what to say, because what they're thinking is, "I wonder if...she knows she looks like that...Should I maybe say something?" Or would the messenger just get killed.)  I know I haven't felt good, physically, since I moved, and I don't think it was the move that did it -- it was The Crash.

There will be a new book. Hopefully. It won't be this year though, and it'll probably be a lot different than the one I started out to write, and that may be a good or bad thing. By the time I finish it, it might be the sort of thing you buy on a microchip and plug into your left temple for all I know. We've established I'm not exactly at the tech vanguard.

I'll probably spend some time loading those 26 relics that do exist into a format people can see. I'll back them up a little more carefully, since they're all I have to show for the last ten years.

Over time -- with a new computer and some new software equal to the task -- I'll probably become more sanguine. My family home burned to the ground halfway through college, and while it was heartbreaking at the time, I don't really miss the access to all that overwrought adolescent poetry and would-be novels. 

This time out, I'm not rebuilding my house, or my life -- there's no real flood or fire -- I'm just missing the stories, the chronicles, the records. I'm sure they're around here somewhere.


  1. I'm really sorry technical difficulties have kept you from making the progress you'd hoped to make. One question I have: are you getting something in place to keep the next massive virus, crash, etc. from permanently deleting your stuff? If you're not getting advice as to how to proceed, drop me a line and I can make a few suggestions.

  2. When the book is completed I will be near the front of the line to get an autographed microchip coy to insert into the port in my left temple. I do so enjoy consuming your art.