The Day My Computer Worked Up An Appetite…

April 28, 2009 at 2:30 am (Uncategorized)

Boy, it’s good to be back. It feels like a long time since the last post…and it’s been a very full week. I don’t think I’ve ever gone so long without posting or reading the posts of others while still being at home – it was all most irregular, and let’s hope it never happens again.

The draft of the conference report went over to the client this morning, so D and I are hoping all is well and they don’t (shudder) send it back with changes. It’s never happened before, but it’s a new client and a new task so you never can tell. I do know I’ve been working my arse off. Not that the week was without drama. Oh no. I think it was Thursday that my computer completely lost the plot. Maybe Wednesday. And please allow me to share this cautionary tale with you now.

I’d transcribed my book of notes (I’m serious. I have a book of notes from a one-day conference. No wonder I got RSI) and had drafted one of the session summaries. I was on page 19 when for some unknown reason, I did a manual save. This isn’t a habit of mine (I have a tendency to wait until the end of a writing session to back-up my work – bad girl, stupid girl) but it should be. You’ll see why in a moment. I kept writing. For a couple more hours. And then suddenly the cursor was running backwards at a brisk clip, erasing my document word by word, line by line, right before my very eyes.

“Oh fuck, shit, fuck fuck shit, fuck,” I said. “Stop, Jesus, stop!”

It kept chomping on my doc. It was really quite chilling.

“What the fuck is happening? What the fuck?”

You can see I’m at my eloquent best when disaster strikes. 

I tried to close the doc – naturally – to try to minimise the damage, but when I ran the cursor over the menu bar, I couldn’t get any purchase on the icons. It just slipped off as though on an oil slick. An oil slick at the top of a hill. So I pressed the power button, hoping to force the computer to shut down. That’s when my 7 month old computer let forth a wailing siren noise I have never heard from any computer ever before. I reeled back in horror. I wanted to cry. I forced a shutdown.

When I rebooted, the nightmare continued. There was no ‘automatically recovered document,’ for a start. Nope. And then it got worse. I clicked on the document on the desktop, and it opened. It was 3 pages long. 

“Where is it?” I demanded. “I manually saved this motherfucker at page 19, so where the fuck is it?”

There was stony silence from the screen.

At this point, I was really close to tears. I sent ranting ‘computer ate my homework’ texts to my co-writer, D, and several very colourful texts to Llew. Then I decided it had to be there somewhere. I’d saved it myself. Computers usually operate with some kind of logic even in the throes of a meltdown, so I pulled myself together and went to file and looked in recent documents. When I opened my document from there instead of from the desktop, there was the 19 page version (hallelujah). I still lost hours of work, but if it had munched away the entire transcript as well as the draft summary, I really would have been starting from scratch – not a very pleasant thought given I’d just spent the previous two days trying to decipher my scrawl and cryptic abbreviations from the conference Book of Handwritten Notes. Ugh. 

Next came my slump. I was so deflated by the crisis, so demoralised by the lost work, that I proceeded to waste valuable time like the true pro I am. I stared and stared at the screen, willing my words back. I think somewhere in my puny mind I thought if I just sat there long enough, the words would re-materialise in the same way they began to dematerialise as the nightmare unfolded. Come on, I thought. Give them back. But no. And then, after sighing heavily and staring into space some more, I realised that what I really wanted to do was lie on the couch with a magazine and a pile of sugary treats to make myself feel better. I needed recovery time, you see, in an appropriate recovery setting with appropriate recovery  items. So I hissed at my computer, shutting it down sans siren this time, and repaired to the lounge room for some  PPQ (that’s patient peace and quiet in the health spa of my mind).

As a result of my own stubborn refusal to get cracking again, I was reduced to working all day Sunday – a spectacular day here in Sydney – and putting in another 12 hours straight yesterday in order to get the damn thing done. Why do writers do this? Every freelancer I know is the same. We delay the inevitable. The closer we inch toward our deadline, the more determined we become to turn it into a race against time. Maybe it’s a game we play among ourselves to keep life interesting… either way, I can honestly say that this particular gig was MUCH more work than a regular story would be. I’ve earned my filthy lucre this time. And the good news is it’ll pay my accommodation for the next Darkling retreat in September (phew – was a bit concerned about how I was going to swing that) as well as for an MS assessment from a woman Charlotte Wood’s recommended. That’s if she accepts the job – she’s still overseas and judging from her website is super experienced so I may not be at her standard. Anyway, I’ll see what she says. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to my dear blogging friends who volunteered with such heartwarming kindness to read my MS. I may still take you up on it, so don’t think you’re off the hook, but I also think there’s value in my coughing up the dough to hear what this lady has to say. She doesn’t know me from a dog turd, so her eyes will be fresh as fresh as can be. 

God. Haven’t even told you about the – wait for it – Jerry Springer Opera we went to with some friends last week. I thought I was past shock. I’m pretty hard to shock anyway, and as you know I have a potty mouth, but I was shocked. They shocked me. The final verbal taboo boomed around Sydney’s packed Opera House Concert Hall as opera singers sang it loud and proud, and my jaw hit the floor. Did they really say what I think they just said? They did.


  1. litlove said,

    Ouch! I really feel for you with your computer disasters – these things are TRAUMA. Many zillions of years ago, when I had just returned to graduate study, I began my Mphil with a 4,000 word essay on psychoanalysis that i saved on a disc which, unbeknownst to me, was damaged. It had no end of file marker and so kept on and on loading, without knowing where to stop. I then innocently saved this version back onto my hard disc and found myself completely unable to retrieve the document. I think I would probably have given the course up if the father of a friend of mine hadn’t put the disc on his ancient BBC computer and managed to write a program to retrieve the information bite by bite. It returned in a slightly odd order, but I did get it back. The whole history of my life might have been very different without him! I’m immensely glad you got your work back in the end. 🙂

  2. doctordi said,

    Litlove, that sounds positively prehistoric!! Was his computer the size of a storage room?! Did it have its own aisles for NASA boffins to march down with their very important clipboards?! So funny! But sooo ghastly losing work – and those viral disks have caused me all manner of trouble in my time so I really do feel your long-ago pain. I must say (touching wood, touching wood), I’m enjoying USB keys much more. I spent my entire doctoral campaign convinced everything was on the verge of collapse – it’s quite anxiety inducing. Self-inflicted most of the time, but still.

  3. couchtrip said,

    Did anyone say computer glitch? As in Akismet still thinks I’m flipping spam? I know that’s very very mild compared to your computer trauma but it’s making me think seriously about ditching wordpress for blogspot (or something). Sorry your cursor ate all your notes. I was shuddering in sympathy as I read that. God, how awful. But glad to have you back.

  4. Pete said,

    See comment in your spam queue. Argh!

  5. Grad said,

    Okay, I’ve got to say this – although it sounds so perverse – I thought this was hilarious. (Now, Doctordi, don’t go blaming me for this reaction. Afterall, you are the one who wrote it!) I know it wasn’t funny to you at the time, but you tell it so well. I can just see you sparring with the machine. Maybe you have a ghost living in your computer? I know nothing about computers, but our bookkeeper introduced me to the thumb drive, which I am quite religious about. Hate to lose any of my brilliant thoughts (cough, cough). Welcome back to Blogsville.

  6. davidrochester said,

    I almost think that “Jerry Springer opera” is a redundant concept. I mean, look at the plots of operas. They’re already reality TV before reality TV existed, right down to the confused paternity issues ( Trovatore, anyone?).

    I shared your horror at the lost document. I’ve had similar moments, involving railing at Fate and trying to bargain with the spirit of the computer.

  7. Lilian Nattel said,

    Oh that is hilarious! I know it wasn’t funny–I have been there and done that with computer disaster. But you do write it so well! And the opera! Okay–now–have you had your computer checked so this cursor madness doesn’t happen again?

  8. doctordi said,

    Thanks, Grad – it’s nice to be back! And yes, laugh at my misfortune by all means, that’s certainly the reaction I was hoping for. As Lilian says, it wasn’t funny at the time, but like many others things it becomes riotously amusing after the fact. Even to me, who has a very clear and malignant memory of its actually happening.

    David, so true! Paternity issues, best friend betrayals, ladies of the night, bar brawls… it’s just like Carmen, really. And the computer does seem to have a spirit at times. A really malevolent one. Or maybe it’s not malevolent. Maybe it’s just mischievous. I saw Electric Dreams when I was a Luddite teen back in the 80s and maybe they were onto something even then.

  9. doctordi said,

    Also, Grad, what’s a thumb drive? Is that southern speak for a USB key?? I would also hate for you to lose your brilliant thoughts, but for myself, when I occasionally look through my many diaries of years gone by, I think there may be a good deal of merit in burning the lot.

    Oh, and yes, Lilian, I am taking my computer into the MAC shop tomorrow. They all think they’re so clever with their matching t-shirts and hair gel and air of tech-savvy insouciance, let them do something about it.

  10. Grad said,

    Well, I don’t really know what thumb drive is. It’s a little rectangle that our bookkeeper stuck into a small square hole (a port?) in the front of my computer tower. It’s about the size of a thumb (mine is red – the little rectangle, that is, not my thumb) hence, I guess, the name. She showed me how to plug it into the little rectangle port and then save my computer contents. I do it religiously because she told me to, and I always do what I’m told when someone knows what they are talking about and I know nothing.

  11. doctordi said,

    Yep, that is a USB key by another name… and it does smell as sweet to me, I love ’em.

    And I’m with you on the tech obedience. Absolutely.

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