I’m writing on an iPad. I’ve scrunched my long fingers together on this barely adequate keyboard because my laptop has been in AppleCare since last Thursday.
Thursday morning started like any other day here in the mountains – cup of coffee made in a single serve French press, belly rub for Emma, survey of the visitors in the yard – then when I lifted the lid of my laptop, another habit that feigns productivity, there was no amount of pressing the little power button that would produce results. And I tried many, many times.
I was the little screech monkey in the cage, endlessly pressing the lever without having the treat fall out of the chute. It just didn’t make sense that the action I’d taken so many times in the last three years of owning my computer wouldn’t do what I’d come to expect. Even while inside the dread Apple Store in Boulder, I still found myself pressing that stupid power key. “See? I said to the man in the red tee-shirt with the prominently subtle apple logo, “It doesn’t turn on!” After I demonstrated the problem, the Genius pressed the button, as though somehow his index finger might have a special roll, maybe a slight pressure shift to the right, maybe a industry secret vibration that I wasn’t aware of. “Huh,” he said. “It’s not turning on.”
It happened, I’m sure of it, because last Wednesday night I plugged my laptop into the wall so that it could take four hours to download a forty-five minute show (another example of a screech monkey locked in a cage) and, while it was chugging away, the lights blinked.
My oven beeped.
My refrigerator burped.
Wet snow had been falling all day, bending branches, loudly sliding from the roof, clumping together in the sky to rest heavily on our town’s power lines. I looked warily up at the living room ceiling light as it flickered. It looked naked and fragile, the glass shade having been broken by the tenants.
Then, I poured myself a glass of whiskey and settled deeper into the couch. I had my maglite, I had my candles, my wood stove was kicking out heat like a pregnant woman in her last trimester. I was all set for a power outage.
What I didn’t have was the sense to buy a surge protector for my laptop. The damn thing fried.
So, I’ve been in a funk since last Thursday morning. Luckily for me, I hadn’t written much of Book 3, just a seven page sex scene, and yes, I started with that. Judge me if you’d like, but the fact that I’ve been procrastinating has paid off for perhaps the first time in my life. Everything is gone.
I used to write term papers on college ruled paper and retype them, fully edited, into a word processor. I have stacks of journals, filled with desperate scrawls of ink. I’m not tied to modern technology – after all, didn’t I once call my graduate history professor persnickety, to his face, because he wouldn’t accept anything printed in dot matrix? I wouldn’t need a computer, I told myself. I could write a novel long-hand. Furthermore, I drove 1200 miles from San Francisco with a silver Tiffany pen in my purse, and this was my moment to pull it out and flick it about. I’m not above pretentious gestures.
I spent a long day on Friday developing a headache as I wrote in a half-empty journal I’d once abandoned. My paragraphs weren’t lengthening as I wrote, instead they were becoming denser as I crossed out, then over wrote, then squeezed script between lines and into the margins. My letters became smaller and smaller as the edits themselves were edited. Soon constellations formed in a confusion of asterisks. Where was the backspace key? What did people do before the backspace key? I couldn’t cope. It turns out there’s no joy in clutching a Tiffany twig if it won’t magically correct my spelling or indicate a grammar issue with a delicate green squiggle. It could be studded with diamonds, and it would still be an inadequate tool. I may be okay with living deep in the forest knitting socks and hauling firewood, but apparently I draw the line at using a pen. The modern world is a corrupting force.
However relieved I am that the information on my computer is not precious enough to kill myself over, its loss has still highlighted the difficulty I’ve had in starting my third novel. I’d imagined myself waking with the sun to pound out page after page, a cup of steaming coffee at my side, a plate of eggs forgotten and congealing as the plot unfolded. Instead, the hours stretch before me without urgency. In the city, there’s a sense that everyone is producing, everyone’s scrambling and that time is short and angel investors need product yesterday. Here, the phrase “on mountain time” hasn’t anything to do with the country’s zones. It’s what happens when the property manager tells you he’ll show up at 9 am and wanders by at a quarter to eleven, and you shrug, having expected him closer to noon.
I’ve had a headache for the last two nights. I’m fairly certain that my technology woes have nothing to do with feeling like pine needles are growing behind my right eye, but you never know. My mom says I need to drink more water. I probably haven’t finished growing an adequate number of red blood cells for this altitude. My brain pain has caused me to lose my ability to tap into the rational side of me, so I spread my tarot cards (an act of desperation) and ask them stupid questions: Should I finally learn what this cloud thing is and how to send things to it or should I just continue emailing myself files? [tarot cards reveal the five of swords; the pressure in my eye moves to include my nasal sinus]. Will I die of botulism if I eat this week-old steak I cooked rare? [tarot cards reveal the eight of cups; my hair follicles feel bruised]. Will any of my writing ever matter? [tarot cards reveal the hanged man; only if you keep working, I tell myself as I press back against my eye].
I bend down to tie my hiking shoes and the pain surges across my scalp. Was this how my computer felt on Wednesday night? Another stupid question. Time for a walk. Maybe I’ll rewrite that sex scene tonight.