Friday, August 21, 2009

Tabula Rasa

When I got home Tuesday it’s like everything had died. My zucchini plants, so lush and overgrown when I left that morning, had simply deflated while I was gone—the stems chewed up by disease in a matter of hours.

Inside the house, my peace lily drooped like a willow. After months of blooming, its knees had buckled.

Maybe most catastrophically, my laptop refused to start. I pressed the On button, the engine revved, then the whole thing shut down. Over and over as I tried in vain the rest of the night.

And here’s the problem: I’ve never backed up a file. Ever. Yeah, yeah, of course I know better. But you want the truth? I don’t floss much either. I don’t strengthen my core muscles. I don’t take potassium or do my monthly breast exams. I don’t clean the cheese that drips to the bottom of the oven, and I don’t take the rain barrel in for the winter. I don’t use fancy moisturizer. To my father’s incessant protests, I haven’t tested my house for radon. I don’t organize my closets. I don’t limit my wine to one glass a night, and I don’t always tell my doctor the truth. These aren’t philosophical positions on my part. This isn’t some kind of libertarian stubbornness. It’s just that -- and I have to come to terms with this -- there are certain things I never get around to doing, even though I wish I were the kind of person who made them a priority. (Please don’t send comments about how important each of these activities may be, because I can promise you one thing: Unless you’re coming over to do them on my behalf, they’re probably not getting done).

So I guess I was supposed to be kicking myself over all that lost material. Every short story I ever wrote, every wedding I ever officiated, every resume sent and digital photo taken, and my entire dissertation. Letters to my husband, letters to the editor, my entire archive of block-group organizing . . . all of it up in smoke.

But the only thing I really missed was my list of restaurant meals from 2009 (something I’ve been religiously cataloguing since January 2007; I have printouts for all but this year).

In the ensuing days, a tech-savvy friend was able to recover all those lost files. I guess I felt some degree of relief. But no real gladness, no legible joy.

Am I really that indifferent a person? Do I have such a detachment to my ‘life’s work’ that I feel absolutely nothing when it’s gone? I remember getting so frustrated with John when he lost his bookstore all those years ago and he didn’t shed a tear or betray a moment of sadness. Maybe I’m that more like that than I realize.

Or maybe, when it comes right down to it, there’s a sense of liberation in losing all that content. Maybe I’m sort of curious what happens when you have to start from nothing, when you don’t have old texts and templates imposing themselves on the first word, the first paragraph. Maybe there’s relief in that capaciousness.

I won’t be able to test the theory since my files have been recovered. But I’m hopeful for one thing: When I see a clean slate on the laptop I buy as a replacement, I hope I’ll fill it judiciously. I hope I won’t transfer all those files just because they were there before. I hope I use a benchmark stronger than simple existence.


Rosemary said...

I love this post, you rebel, you.

There is a weird sense of mandatory responsibility that comes with technology that you hit on perfectly here. Not only should you have backed everything up in at least one, if not multiple locations, there's also the obligation to convert all data created old technology into the current "gold standard," which will undoubtedly change next week.

It's sort of like those mothers who feel compelled to scrapbook about every blessed family event. At a certain point, that compulsion to *document* overtakes the experience itself. So, you're right to reject that mandate!

BTW--you can officiate weddings?! Why did I not know this twelve years ago?! ;^)

tracy said...

Revel in capaciousness...because the words sound good coming out.

leslie said...

We recently saw a computer go with a job loss, and with it many photos and documents. Thankfully! Now I don't need to deal with them, or feel guilty for not dealing with them.