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Oliver Herford:
The Crash, for "The Bashful Earthquake" (1898)

"It's a wonder any story ever results."

The most challenging part of writing comes from the technology intended to make it easier. We're centuries removed from the quill pen, but the modern equivalent demands skills every bit as arcane as whittling goose feathers. My MacBook Air usually requires me to do little more than find the unmarked 'on' key, but it demands an array of skills for which I haven't even the tiniest aptitude. File management remains beyond me. I only recently learned how to save image files so they don't take up more than a hundred 'k,' whatever 'k' means. I have developed schemes after decades of practice that may or may not satisfy at least the spirit of the formal rules of use, though I suspect they're just rituals based upon mistaken impressions.

I, for instance, need to keep several apps open to accomplish any morning's writing.
I absolutely need my blog app open because that's where I perform my actual writing, though it's in no way what anybody would ever suggest a word processor. I don't really believe in word processing. I find word processors presumptuous and impossible to use. They might be for people who type with ten fingers. I also need two open browsers, each with ten or more open windows, so I can access all the places I usually need to access during any writing project. I also need my GraphicConverter open and sometimes my manuscript formatter, too. The Muse looks over my shoulder and wonders out loud as if speaking to a child if I really need to have all those windows and tabs open simultaneously. I respond that my ritual demands it because it does.

Though my machine has two terabytes of storage capacity and eight gigabytes of physical memory, it's virtually always under stress, with seven gigs in use and two swapping in and out to balance the load. I sometimes open up just one more app, and the whole arrangement collapses like a windblown castle of cards. I suddenly can't accomplish anything. My blog software crashes, and even my mail app fails. I restart the machine. This tends to realign everything, though sometimes not even restarting accomplishes anything. I phone my tech support. If he's free, and he's only occasionally available on immediate notice, he'll log in remotely and consolidate enough files that I can get running again. But I see where this is heading.

My writing practice depends upon the technology remaining invisible. When it comes into focus, it disrupts my practice. Like any professional, I perform better when entranced. Even the tiniest taste of consciousness undermines my purpose. Not that I write mindlessly, just unconsciously, and the underlying purpose of my technology might be to keep me entranced, not to demand too terribly much from me. I rely upon it to seamlessly satisfy my every desire, from finding suitable illustrations to posting the result on three separate platforms. Whenever I need to quit an application or close a window, it constitutes a disruption of the quality of the magnitude of when my forebears had to wrestle geese to acquire a fresh quill. No writing can occur until ….

I spent much of yesterday Crashing. It began just as I'd completed my draft run of publishing my daily story, which needed some editing, I discovered while proofreading that third time. Opening my blog software caused it to crash. Not even my mail app could find enough application memory to operate. My tech finally caught up to me late in the afternoon and turned off some new feature Google had introduced, which had left the contents of my GDrive replicated on my hard drive. I also found a cache of cookies, acquired in regular browsing, that had accumulated into hundreds of megabytes of storage. Podcasts I hadn't even thought of listening to in years were still collecting fresh episodes. Whole operating systems that were no longer capable of operating were also lurking there. We scheduled the equivalent of a surgical teeth cleaning over the weekend. I'll be without my writing machine for a whole day.

The stories I told myself when my primary means of communicating with my world was Crashing seemed predictable enough. I heard shreds of my mother's self-doubting chastising in my internal dialogue. I might have become a MAGA Republican, overflowing with regrets and grudges, for all the sense I made. My ignorance rules when my technology intrudes. Whatever was intended to ease my work eventually ended up complicating it, and I felt powerless to influence any outcome then. I never learned my catechism. I cannot visualize or distinguish a megabyte of application storage from available RAM. I attempt interventions that no more than invoke meaningless genuflection. I do not know what I am doing. I only know how to write but not how to manipulate or manage what now constitutes my quill. I'm faking that I know how to type. I'm incapable of faking that I understand my filing system or even the sparest functions of the simplest application. I run on rumor, superstition, and the generous good humor of a decent technician. It's a wonder any story ever results. An absolute wonder!

©2024 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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