Sunday, October 10, 2010

The mortifications of a computer junkie

The power of the pen?  No thanks.                               
Give me the power of the keyboard. Please!


My computer just up and quit a couple of weeks ago. For a while I blamed the afternoon thunderstorm that had disrupted the power (yet again) because it was directly after that I found I couldn’t boot up in Windows. I could in safe mode, which meant only the bare basics of my computer system worked. No internet connection, no way to back up files, no way to access files, no way to get the latest versions of three novel length manuscripts off the hard drive …Aak!

In other words, it was a code red emergency.

Of course, I turned to my husband for help. He couldn’t. “Take it in for repair.”

I did. I took it in to the Geek Squad at Best Buy. I had to leave it there. They would, they promised, back up the three manuscripts I needed, including the final version of This Bird Flew Away, newly edited for the final time by my wonderful editor, Kathryn Lynn Davis and now ready for the publisher. (Thank God! I’d hate to have to redo all that work.) “Two to three days,” they said.

The first day was the hardest. Full-fledged withdrawal, complete with shakes, sweats and stomach cramps, I swear. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I almost cleaned my house; the emptiness, the lack of purpose and direction was so bad – almost.

A nightmare.

It was the first day in years I hadn’t sat in front of the screen, hands poised over the keys, waiting on inspiration and I couldn’t handle it. I pulled out my now powerless keyboard, the impotent cord dangling limply to the floor, going nowhere. My loyal companion of many a late night, slave to my writing obsession… sob!  I let my fingertips caress the keys, so well-used and worn most of the letters and some of the numbers had long rubbed away. If you weren’t an accomplished touch-typist, you’d be lost.

To distract myself I called a friend.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have taken your computer there,” she said. “You should have called me. I have a computer guy….”

I arranged lunch with another.

“Those stores overcharge, and those kids don’t know anything. What a shame! Now, I know a fella, a real IT guy, went out on his own when he lost his job …”

Everyone I know had someone I should have called and said I shouldn’t have called the ones I did. Their dire predictions didn’t help. I began to panic. My life stretched out before me as a barren, desolate, computerless wasteland. I couldn’t stand it.

I met Jim at the door that evening, teary eyed and frantic. “Give me your password so I can check my emails. Please!” I held up my trembling hands in supplication.

“No. I don’t want you using mine.” He tried to sound firm and manly, but his inherent good nature got the best of him. “Okay, don’t look at me like that. You can check your emails – but...” With a sigh of resignation, he walked away. “Just don’t mess with my settings.”

In his defense I should add we once had only one computer, a period we refer to as ‘the troubles’ in our personal history. I don’t share well. I take over. It’s my nature.

The sight of my inbox crammed with messages eased my pain, my growing discomfort now far more important than any possible threat to domestic peace. My breathing returned to normal; my heart rate slowed and I no longer fought the urge to scream, even if most of the mail was spam. But the relief didn’t last long. In fact, that little taste of what I craved only led to a need for more.

More – yes, more.

An hour later, an unhappy Jim dared to ask, “Any plans for dinner?”

A completely unreasonable rage rose up in my breast. “What’s the matter with your hands? They can’t cook something for once? Why is it always up to me to … “                    

He shook his head and backed out of the room.

I was vaguely aware of the front door closing as he went off in search of nourishment.

The next morning, shame and remorse kept me pretending to be asleep until Jim left for the office. I spent a long time examining the face of the strange woman I saw in the mirror. I had tamed my addiction to carbs, to fats, to sugars. I had quit smoking. But this? No, this dependence was one I could not manage.

I didn’t have the inner fortitude to do so. No! – nor even the desire to try.

Twenty-four hours without a computer was enough. I showered, dressed and jumped in my car. Ten minutes I later, I strode into Best Buy, resolute purpose in each step. I had capitulated completely, abdicated any semblance of personal restraint.

I needed to score!

“I’m sorry Ms. Martin, but we haven’t had the opportunity to look at your computer yet. We’re doing our best, our very best, but I doubt we’ll get to it today. I see you’ve asked for a file back-up -- sorry, not until --”

“Listen,” I said, motioning him closer. I spoke in low tones, a hand cupping my mouth. “If I buy another computer, right now” – I waved my credit card in his face – “would you transfer certain document files from the old hard drive to the new one – today?”

The Geek gave me a speculative look, sizing me up, instantly understanding that beneath my assumed position of credit-enabled strength he had found another junkie, servant to her compulsions, a slave to her uncontrollable cravings. He smiled as he picked up the phone. “Let me call a sales consultant.”

My new best friend approached, an oily unctuousness about his manner with his mouth curved up in a pleasant greeting but his eyes measuring his new quarry. “Ms. Martin, how can we help you?”

I grabbed the pusher’s arm. “I need …”

A lap-top seemed the best choice. After all, I already had a desk-top, and with this new computer, I could take it with me anywhere. I’d never again have to be without access to my files. Yes! Yes! Yes! “I’ll take it. And the new MsWord2010, too. How much for you to load everything for me? Good – I want to take it home and use it, not waste anytime setting up.” And here’s where I lost any semblance of dignity. Is there anything more pathetic than an almost sixty year old woman cajoling, begging, crying – yea, I admit it -- even seducing? “Can you do it right away? Can you? Please? I’ll pay extra …”

They could. But they needed two hours. Wouldn’t I like to go somewhere else while they readied my new system – please?

I gave them my credit card, praying the charge would go through. It did.

I called Jim at his office, wanting to break the news of my prolific spending spree while he still had the commute home to get used to the idea – money’s been tight lately – only to be surprised when he said, “Thank God.”

I was back at Best Buy the next day to buy a wireless mouse and keyboard, 'cause let’s face it; lap-tops have their limits for those of us who live on our systems. My pusher waved as I walked in and then hurriedly found someone else to help. That’s okay, I found everything I needed. The Geeks offered a fleeting smile and pointed to the long line of people waiting to be served. I didn’t need them, so I wasn’t offended.

I was a different person at that point anyway. Junkies are only dangerous while in withdrawal.

You’ll be glad to know This Bird Flew Away was electronically transferred to my publisher, on time and ready to go. Thanks, Kathryn, for everything.

My desk-top? Three days later they called me to say they couldn’t figure it out and had to send it to Lexington, Kentucky for repairs. (Which seemed a strange place to locate your computer experts for some reason.) Another week passed, and the folks in Kentucky called to tell me my computer required a new mother-board, and at the age of the system, it was not worth-while to repair. Considering I’d already paid a few hundred dollars, almost the price of a new computer anyway, I had to agree.

Yesterday, Jim and I went back to Best Buy and priced new desk-top systems.
The Geeks, who did their best to smile as I approached, have agreed to down load all my research files, my image libraries, my documents – all, for a reasonable sum. Soon, it will be as if this terrible catastrophe had never happened. Throughout the negotiations, Jim smiled and nodded in encouragement, much to my surprise.

He agrees with me now – money is not that important. Far more essential to ensure I never again find myself without a computer.

Sincerely Yours,


Thought for today: 
Writing is like prostitution. You start out doing it for yourself. Then for a few friends. Finally, you ask for money.”

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