Monday, November 28, 2011

You might be a writer if...

It's  been a while since I've done one of these posts. Not that I haven't thought about what it means to be a writer every second of every minute of every day. It's an occupational hazard. However, this most recent revelation is just too defining to writerdom not to share.

You might be a writer still carry a security blanket.

Don't get me wrong. We're not that obvious about it. We're writers. We've given them much better names, such as Mac, Notebook Pro, Laptop, or the classic, best disguise, Computer.

As if, you sneer. It's my computer. That's all.

I see. Let's run a little checklist, shall we?

1) Is "your computer" one of the last things you look at before you go to bed? And one of the first when you get up?
2) Do you lovingly clean its parts?
3) Do you start to feel nervous when you haven't spent time with "your computer"?
4) So do you take it with you everywhere you go?
5) Take it out of the car when it's cold or hot, just like a child?
6) Is it your ONE carry on, regardless?
7) Does your heart skip a beat when, say, your husband/child/insert name of person who clearly does not get how IMPORTANT this "computer" is accidentally unplugs your "computer" and the battery runs down and it won't fire up right away?
8) Do you plot revenge? 
9) When there's a tornado, earthquake (we've had our share here in Oklahoma this fine fall) or other possible natural disaster, do you have an exit strategy that includes all essentials, such as your children, your husband, the pets, and your "computer"?
10) Most importantly, does it feel like an organic extension of you?

If you've answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may want to sit down. I have news. Your computer isn't just a computer. It's a security blanket.

That's not a bag thing. I mean, our livelihoods depend on these computers, don't they? We find creative expression - and, if we're really lucky, a paycheck - through its magical electrical circuits (Is that a good story idea?) It's no wonder we carry them with us wherever we go.

What was telling for me is that I didn't always feel this way about my computer. The joined-at-the-hip feeling started somewhere in the middle of my dissertation, i.e. my first official written creation. When I was six months pregnant with my first child (actual, human child), I was knee deep in the dissertation. I had six of eight chapters almost complete. I got up, went through my usual morning routine, then sat down at my computer. I opened the dissertation file, which I had backed up on two different external drives, and in individual chapters just to make sure I didn't lose anything. Stories of other grads who'd lost whole dissertations due to lazy back up methods were more than urban myths in grad schools. They were nightmares.

One that became real for me. None of the files would open.

Panic. Major, major panic. The kind that was so intense my daughter didn't move for six hours.

To make a long, painful story somewhat less painful for those of you who can imagine what it's like to lose 40,000 well-crafted words, complete with illustrations, I ended up at the computer lab at UVA. Many techs later, I was at the IT guru's desk, the last resort, the nuclear option of technical difficulties. He tried everything. Nothing worked. Then he made a call. A friend of a friend had an experimental version of the latest Word program. There were no promises but...

In that moment, I understood Faust only too well.

Fortunately, I didn't have to sell my soul...or promise my firstborn to the IT guru. And my computer was way too last month for him.

The new program worked. The files magically opened. My life was saved. I have never been so relieved in my life.

I've had a very close relationship with my computers ever since. One that has only deepened since I began writing fiction. I have all kinds of back up programs - disks, other computers, time machines, clouds, you name it. That computer is an electronic version of my imagination, an much much more organized one. I can't lose it. I can't even give up old versions of it. I may have a computer hoarding problem, I admit. But how do you get rid of a security blanket? Kevin Henkes has a few ideas on that. Owen is a braver soul than I am. My heart races just thinking about disassembling a computer. What if it hurts?

Feel the same way? You're not alone. You're a writer.

No comments: