Don’t get me wrong, I dig technology. The ability of tiny digital chips to hold massive amounts of data is boggling. Every nugget of information in the known universe is at one’s fingertips. It is an exciting and fun time to be alive and fucking lazy. And yet while a person can take comfort in technology’s seeming omnipotence, it can also offer a false sense of security in the event that a computer freezes up and drops dead like an inept mountain climber whose beginner’s hubris has trapped him on the stormy side of a Himalayan peak.
So it went the other day, as I was typing away on my computer, that in the wink of an eye all my folders got locked up in a tiny tomb of a dead hard drive and zapped out of existence. I immediately fought the urge to kill myself right along with it! Inhale. Exhale. Take it easy.
Until that point I had considered the machine indestructible. I had trusted its massive memory capacity to store over one hundred blog essays, three and a half books, a patchwork of go-nowhere short stories, not to mention extensive drafts of my Nobel acceptance speech in the event that I was finally recognized by the committee fifty years from now. I stared at the inert computer for some time, at the nothingness of the blank screen that had, moments before, been brightly reflecting my prose back at me. I could see nothing now but a vague, dark silhouette of myself in the coal-black sheen of the monitor. It seemed fitting. In fact, the line that Robert Oppenheimer lifted from the Bhagavad-Gita blazed through my incredulous mind. “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”
I tend to relish my hyper-dramatic flair. No problem, I thought. I can fix this. I will simply turn the computer back on, and the machine will fix itself, and maybe even be better than it was before. Except it didn’t come back on, and no amount of digital CPR was going to fix the corpse. I thought back to the last thing I had seen on the computer screen. Then I remembered the spinning rainbow wheel.
I had learned, over the years, to accept the spinning rainbow wheel with equanimity. It reminded me to be patient. Let’s not be too hasty, it seemed to suggest. Let’s let everything catch up. Let’s enjoy this small moment of downtime to reflect on how lucky we are, how beautiful life is. Little did I know it was also a silent little whirling death rattle. My ancestors used to describe a white light at the end of a tunnel when recounting a near death experience. The new generation will insist that they see a technicolor vertigo beckoning.
With Plan A, ritual suicide and Plan B, machine fixing itself all off the table I tried Plan C. I popped on over to my nearest computer store and was visited by a friendly technician named Billy. He ran some preliminary tests then sat me down, and with all the measured compassion of a funeral director, suggested I be ready to say goodbye to my beloved machine.
“Let me try one more thing,” he said, proceeding to work out some intricate voodoo on the keypad. I offered to run down to the food court for some chicken bones and maybe the blood of an infant to help with the ritual. Billy ignored me. A few more diagnostic runs and he murmured, more to himself than to me, “It’s fucked.”
“Yes of course,” I nodded, understanding the word as some kind of high-tech acronym. F.U.C.K.E.D. File, Upload, Capture, Keep, Export, Deliver.
Billy shook his head. Not this time. He asked if I had everything backed up in the cloud? I looked at my feet and shuffled a bit. It was my understanding, I told him, that my computer was the one who took care of all that stuff. It was all part of the deal. I was the creative impulse. The computer was the logistics manager. I couldn’t even remember a phone number anymore, much less a system of fool-proof redundancy to mitigate unforeseen disasters exactly like the one I was currently embroiled in. Billy laughed, said he understood. He began searching on my behalf for any evidence of my years of artistic struggle. As I looked over his shoulder, as useless as a eunuch in a brothel, I suggested that the spinning rainbow wheel be replaced by a tiny icon of an old man coughing, wheezing and gagging, bent over, one hand on his knee, the other hand raised up with his index finger extended, hacking violently in a tussive symphony of phlegm and stridor. Billy applauded my idea. He promised me he’d speak to some of the higher ups.
I went home.
The writer Friedrich Nietzsche had it rough, by any standard. He had violent headaches that would lay him up for twelve hour stretches, allowing only for an hour or two of writing a day. The medicine he took for the headaches caused debilitating cramps in his stomach, followed by intense vomiting. He allegedly caught syphilis from his one and only sexual encounter, with a prostitute. Then he finally went mad as Edgar Poe after watching a horse get whipped in Turin, Italy. Even so, he produced some of the most influential writings of the last hundred and fifty years. Thank you Freddie for putting my small amount of misfortune into perspective. Little by little it all came back, a sprinkle from the cloud, an indefatigable thumb drive, a piece here and a piece there. My stuff was alive. There was some kind of benevolence afforded me. Nobody prefers adversity, yet it is easily the most powerful creator of appreciation. Consider me grateful.
More Alembics to come.