Letter from Bend, OR
I made resolutions for my writing residency. I would rise at dawn each day (not as hard as it sounds in Oregon in January; sunrise has yet to creep earlier than 7:30 a.m.) and follow a strict schedule. I would go on a digital diet, a Facebook fast, an Instagram abstinence, a Twitter temperance. I would meditate each morning, practice yoga midday, take a walk every evening. I would eat healthily and drink only socially and smoke not at all. I would engage my core while shoveling snow. If I were so fortunate as to receive this opportunity, I had written in my application, I would not waste it.
I made lists and did the things on them, and crossed them off, one by one. And I wrote like a motherfucker.
I did this, for three whole days. It was Heaven, being a writer all day, and all day the next day. No day job. No phone calls, no emails. Nothing to do but write, like it was my job. I always wanted this to be my job.
Then, on Day 4, while I was writing to an editor who had raised the ax over my labors, trying not to sound like I was begging for the life of my words, my computer died. It had not been dying slowly, or showing signs of decline. It was getting older, but its death was like an otherwise healthy sixty-year-old collapsing while out for his daily jog.
A Sex and the City episode had foretold this First World problem. I had left New York partly to avoid living its clichés. But one by one, they found me anyway.
I tried to stay calm. On my iPhone, I finished the email to the editor with trembling thumbs, said a prayer, hit Send, and rushed the dead computer an hour down icy roads to the nearest Mac store.
It looked like a Mac store, but it was third-party. The tables were an apple-green real Apple would never allow.
There were three twentysomething guys in there, and no customers. I laid the dead machine on the table. A guy with those earlobe-stretching plugs attached something to my computer, and it sprang to life, in an alternate universe. With no inflection, he explained, “I’m booting your computer from my own hard drive. Now I’m going to see if I can get your files.”
“The Documents first,” I said. “And the Desktop, if you can.”
“It looks like it’s dragging and dropping,” he said, “but it’s going very slowly.”
He got out an intake form. It was appropriately hosptial-esque.
“There’s a dent on the housing,” he pointed. “Do you remember when this happened?”
“No,” I said, though I had a good idea how. When I adventured, I hid the computer in a secret indentation in the car, where the tire iron went. Recently, I had found another indentation in which to put the tire iron, but the computer had traveled thousands of miles, just rattling around with the tire iron. Then there was all the time it spent in the main part of the car, into which I and others routinely flung our gear. Sometimes the gear was in backpacks, but other times, it hung from our harnesses and flew free, hunks of metal, some the size of fists and others the size of bullets, flying into the back of the car and landing on whatever. The sound of the metal settling was like a Pavlovian cue to the next set of sounds, the hiss and pop of the opening beers, the ripping of chip bags and the devouring of their salty contents, the happy groans of us prying off our approach shoes and wiggling our toes free in our flip-flops.
“I can’t really say for sure when that might have happened.”
“Well,” he said, “that’s where the hard drive is, so it’s probably been damaged for a while.”
“That makes sense,” I agreed, while my computer wheezed on its life support system.
I had been praying to the editor, Don’t cut me. C’mon, gimme a chance. Put me in, coach. I won’t let you down. Now I prayed to the computer. Don’t let me down.
It felt like an action movie, where the dying sidekick is trying to tell the hero where the information is hidden, who the murderer is. I leaned over the computer, as if listening for the whisper. I heard something more like a death rattle. GOOSE! I wanted to scream.
C’mon, little buddy, I prayed. Sorry I dented you with a tire iron or possibly a Camelot, a six-pack, a twelve-pack, or a cast-iron frying pan, and never protected you with anything more than a little computer scuba suit. That was irresponsible. I am sorry. But you can do it. Just one last thing before I lay you to rest. Find my files. Transfer them. You won’t make it out of here, but the files can. Think of the files. The files!
The files were all I had in the world, besides the Subaru, the rack, the cast-iron frying pan, some very high quality socks, and what always seemed like one too many throw pillows. There was a book somewhere in there, or somewhere in me, or so I was trying to make myself, and others, believe via email.
The computer made little croaking noises. I bent over it, whimpering. I thought, bizarrely, of medical dramas on which women married to brain-dead men fought with their families over their sperm.
You are really losing it, Weinstein.
I’m losing everything! thought the other half of my head. I might be losing the one real writing job I ever got, and everything I ever wrote, all in one day.
Breathe, I thought. All is not lost. You will rise from this. I was on the waiting list at the public library to read a book called Rising Strong, but as of now, I was still 26th in line.
Maybe this was a sign to stop writing. Maybe I should trade this computer in for an iPad, and just read the New York Times like everyone else, without aspiring to appear in its pages. Who did I think I was? A writer? Give it up already, and do something useful with your life.
Maybe I wouldn’t trade in the computer. Maybe I would take it out in the woods and shoot it up with a gun, as was my God-given right as an American.
Nope, said some saner, better part of me, this was a lesson, about impermanence, and the importance of not always clicking, “Later” when the Mac Time Machine backup feature made its polite inquiries. Even if it was all gone, I would write everything again, and it would be a better draft this time.
Attagirl, I smiled. Chin up. Eyes on the prize, nose to the stone, ears to the sky. Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose. Nothing is fucked. It ain’t over til it’s over. Ya gotta believe!
What if Mookie Wilson had given up in ’86 with two outs in the bottom of the tenth? What if he had seen that dribbler down the first-base line and just not bothered to run?
Run it out, they had said in Little League. Run it out, they said, years later, in climbing. It meant different things, but it meant the same thing. It meant, Go! Go, go, go, and keep going, like your life depended on it. Sometimes, it did.
What was it like, Mookie, thinking it was over, then finding out, after all, that it ain’t, til it is?
The Mac store guy’s name tag said Caleb. He had a nice bedside manner.
“I’m sure you can understand that this an emotional moment for me,” I said, choking back the real tears. Jesus! I was always losing it at the Mac store. I had also cried when I upgraded my last iPhone. What I really needed was to upgrade from a laptop and a smartphone to my own family of humans, but so far, no luck.
“It’s going really slowly,” said Caleb. “But it’s going.”
“Now,” he said, “I want to show you something.” He spun his own laptop around on the counter, so I could see it.
I thought he was going to show me a chart detailing my computer trade-in, repair, and replacement options, but that wasn’t what he had on the screen.
“Do you like IPA?” asked Caleb.
“Yes,” I whispered miserably. “I do like IPA.”
“This one,” said Caleb, “is really hoppy.”
“I like hoppy,” I said, in a small voice.
“Do you like cider?” asked Caleb.
“Yeah,” I said, “when it’s dry. It’s gluten-free. I don’t have the allergy, but I feel better when I have less gluten. So cider is nice to have sometimes.”
“This place makes cider, and it’s all organic.”
“Those pictures,” I allowed, “are pretty.”
“Now,” said Caleb. “This brewery is really nearby. So when we close in a few minutes, you can just go over there, and have an IPA, okay?”
“Okay,” I said. “I could use one.”
“Yeah,” Caleb agreed. “I think you could.”
Caleb handed me my key drive. “It’s done,” he said. “Googins can try to get the photos and music, but that should be your Documents and Desktop.”
I didn’t ask who Googins was. I never found out. Googins worked in secret parts of the third-party Mac store I never saw. But whoever he was, and wherever he worked, Googins got all the files, and that night, I got an IPA.