Copyright © 1997 Henrietta W. Hay
A Bad Day
June 27, 1997
A crisis is a crisis is a crisis. Details have changed through the years, but the crisis is just as traumatic.
In my early youth, my dad would occasionally come home from the lumber yard tearing out what was left of his hair. Either one of the team horses had pulled up lame or one of the lumber wagons had lost a wheel. Some guy building a house in Englewood was screaming because a load of 2 x 4's didn't get delivered when promised. When trucks came into the picture a bit later, the crises happened more frequently. Those early trucks broke down oftener than horses.
Today his daughter knows that same feeling of frustration, but something quite different is breaking down. It is not a horse or a truck, but a computer which is beyond anything my dad could have imagined and which would probably have left him completely bald.
One day last week I finished my morning coffee and sat down in front of my friendly Mac expecting to see words and icons and a cheerful greeting. Instead I got a black monitor screen that just sat there and sneered at me. Now for a writer, that is cause for panic. On the trauma scale in the modern world it comes just below personal danger to oneself or a loved one.
When a computer system goes down in a big company, I am sure that everyone panics, but there is always a computer guru right there to make soothing noises and murmur, "aha," or "mmmmm," or in the worst case scenario, "oh, no."
But for those of us who work at home on a single computer it is a personal affront. How can I continue to exist without my computer? No word processor, and with a deadline coming up. No start-up game of solitaire. No way to check my bank balance to see whether I can afford a new monitor. And no e-mail. Horrors, no e-mail to start my day. My first reaction was a plaintive telephone message, "Help, Ken."
I had visions of pencils and pens and pads of paper and aging typewriters. But I think Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope while he was on the train headed for the battlefield, so I should be able to crank out one column.
I'm back in business, though, thanks to my friends at the Sentinel. I now have a borrowed monitor while mine is awaiting treatment at St. Monitors Hospital, prognosis still uncertain. But for two days I felt lost, as though I were running around the house naked. Some bright soul recently wrote -- on e-mail, of course -- The Top 20 Ways You Know You're an E-mail Junkie. Some of them are: #20. You wake up at 3:00 am to go to the bathroom and stop to check your e-mail on the way back to bed. #19. You get a tattoo that reads, "This body best viewed with Netscape Navigator 3.0 or higher." #12. You find yourself typing "com" after every period when using a word processor.com
It may seem pretty silly for a grown woman to get hooked on a piece of metal and plastic with electrons floating around in it. What I truly understand about how my computer works you could engrave on the head of a pin, but I know how to make it work for me -- well, most of the time. It is great way to exercise both sides of my aging brain at the same time, the left or logical side and the right or creative side.
Michael Green, in his book "Zen and the art of the Macintosh," defines this relationship. "A computer can interact so delicately and precisely with the intellect that it really does become an integral part of the cognitive process -- something that no mere mechanical contrivance could ever do before. It communicates for you, to you and with you." I'll bet Will Shakespeare would have loved it.
I suspect that my Dad would have loved it too. As for me, I really don't have time for another crisis, so I hope my monitor is curable.