Yesterday, in the wee hours of Thursday morning, my hard drive crashed. The Death Rattle had begun Sunday night, when Tom and I came home to a horrific noise that sounded not unlike a supernova in its last millennia, I would imagine. We stared at the screen. It was frozen on an AOL news report on George W. Bush, and the little cursor was spinning around in a misleading rainbow circle, which signifies trouble to Mac OS X users. I restarted the computer and nothing happened except the noise got louder.
"Oh my God," I said, the way people in the twenty first century do when confronted with this problem. "I haven't backed up The Big Idea in days! Everything I love is on this computer! My life is on this computer! Everything I've ever written! My unpublished writings! All my emails, all your emails to me! The beginnings of our courtship! The iPhotos I've been taking of Amelia and Emmett and Reese; the photos of us kissing! The photos of the Adirondacks! My mixes!" I gasped. "My Ultimate Bob Dylan mix! I'll never be able to recreate it! Not to mention all my own new songs, which I will be able to recreate, but still. What a pain."
Tom rubbed my shoulders empathetically, and I spent a sleepless night thinking about what a fool I was and how now I'd need to buy a new computer and how it could be worse, and people in hurricanes had lost a lot more--it could have been my Martin guitar!-- and people in Iraq had lost even more than the people in hurricanes and I was a rich spoiled brat for even being sad about my lost works of ART!
OF ART! I am an artist and these works are like my children! I will never recover from this loss! Once, I wrote a funny story; I was in tenth grade and it was a spoof on the Odyssey, and my English teacher, Barbara Shapiro read it out loud and said I was a genius. I lost it two months later and forgot everything about it expect one line from a song Odysseus wrote at the end, to the Goddess Athena:
O, great goddess with gray eyes like the owl
Penelope has drenched me, please hand me a towel.
That's the worst thing I've ever lost. It's twenty-two years, and I'm still not done grieving that loss. How will I recover from the loss of everything on my hard drive? I won't.
Be quiet! No one cares about your stupid works of art! PEOPLE ARE STARVING ALL OVER THE WORLD! GET A REAL JOB!!!!!
That's about how it went in my head. Then I got up Monday and turned the computer on and lo! Familiar desktop, familiar everything. The Big Idea restored. All was well. I promptly emailed a copy of it to myself and to Paradise Copies to print out to give to my editor and went on my merry way. Did I back anything up? Why should I? No more death rattle!
Until Thursday morning. Tom shook me awake. "Sweetie, your computer's making that sound again."
I stumbled into my office and turned off the computer and slept soundly, knowing that Death Rattle does not mean actual death.
I was wrong. This time when I tried to boot it up, it flashed an icon of an empty folder and a Picasso like face, moronic in its mockery of me, the lazy non-backer-upper who didn't listen to Patty, Jeff, Sheila, Tom, Katryna, my parents, my high school history teacher and my psychic. I got out my glow in the dark plastic angel and wound it up. Nothing. I took the poor thing to some Mac people in town whom I trust and they kept it all day, performing feats of derring do to no avail.
"It's kaput," said Manuel the Mac Guy. "You can send the hard drive to California to this company that might be able to retrieve some of your data, but they'll charge you $800 whether or not they get anything back for you."
Fortunately, I had only lost two days of writing: Tuesday and Wednesday. Unfortunately, these were two primo days for The Big Idea: I'd written the scene when Rhodie hits bottom in Alaska after being chased by a red truck a la Deliverance. I'd written the scene where Rita quotes Shakespeare and shakes her head in disapproval over the increasing religiosity of her three children. I'd written the second to last chapter of the novel. And I'd written little tidbits throughout the 427 page ms. that were funny and irretrievable to my memory except that I remember they were funny. I spent yesterday and today mining my memory and rewriting, and I'm sure some of what I recovered the old fashioned way was better and some was worse and mostly it's all fine, and it’s true, this is much better than someone dying or getting sick or people getting divorced or your child being called names by the other kids in school.
What I really miss are the photos. Also the emails. Also the sense that all is well in the world. My friend Sheila wrote me that this had happened to her and that she was comforted by the thought that losing things helps us to recognize how little we actually need to be okay, and that sometimes those of us who spend our lives in front of the computer might do well to look up every now and then and recognize there is more to the world than what we have created in our own little worlds.
And I HAVE created a world in my computer. I have my comforting, changing screen saver of photos of family, loved ones, scenes from all over the country that make my heart sing and remind me where I've been. I listen to a constant stream of music from my iTunes. I keep in touch with friends, colleagues, writing students, my editors and agents, family through email. And even this, this blog, what is this if not an online, virtual way of performing? Even though it's been suggested that an acoustic guitar might be superior to a computer, I actually maintain that the advent of computers and emails and this virtual community you are a part of --simply because you're reading this-- has increased compassion, awareness and creativity in our world, not decreased it.
One more thing: as I was driving around western MA today, admiring the leaves, feeling the same sadness watching them fall as I feel about my lost darlings on the hard drive, I saw a bumper sticker that said, "Good planets are hard to find." And I got to thinking about environmentalists, and environmentalism. It seems obvious to me that humans can create toxic substances that could literally poison the planet. That is, at least, a possibility. One of the most common (conservative) arguments from those opposed to "the environmentalists" is derision: "You all are a bunch of Chicken Littles, running around saying, 'the sky is falling, the sky is falling.' You overreact. You are fearful. Calm down."
These same people tend to be the ones who are into Homeland Security, who think the world will be safer from terrorism if we maintain a position of Red Alert in respect to anyone who might seem like a terrorist, namely (these days) people who look like they might come from the Middle East. And to these people, I say, "You are a bunch of Chicken Littles. You are overreacting. Calm down."
So most of us have fear, but why is it that we have fear of different things? What makes one kid grow up to fear destruction of the planet at the hands of polluters and another grows up to fear destruction of the planet at the hands of terrorists? Why is it that when Katryna is afraid she procrastinates and wants to curl up and go to sleep, but when I am afraid I want to race around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to do as much as I can to control my situation, throwing money I don't have at computer technicians and thinking that going out for dinner to a really fancy expensive meal will solve all my problems?
I don't know. But I do know that I am going to take my digital camera out tomorrow and take pictures of me and Tom and Katryna and Amelia and Dave in the glorious fall foliage before it becomes, as our friend Bill says, “Stick Season.” I am going to make a new Ultimate Bob Dylan mix. I am going to finish a draft of The Big Idea. I am going to back everything up to CDs. And I’m going to try to trust that all these things we lose are replaced in some form or another; that we are meant to grieve our losses-even elections, even baseball games- so we can be compassionate towards others who have lost.