11 March 2007

New life for an old kompyootr

Yesterday I set up a new computer in my apartment. It was paid for by my new employer, an online journal, for whom I'm the work-at-home managing editor. I've been on the job a couple months, and am just starting to feel like I know what I'm doing.

The new machine orphans the laptop that's been my main workspace for most of the millennium so far, and upon which I'm typing these words, through the soft rubber cover I put over the keyboard a long time back — a lesson learned from spilled coffee and flakes of paint falling from the old ceiling.

Naturally, I'll still use this battered re-conditioned pre-Intel Mac PowerBook for work, when I go on trips to conferences and weekends in New York City. But it's slow, one of its memory slots is hosed, and the screen's pretty cramped (though not as bad as the clamshell iBook, my first digital vademecum, fondly remembered as the ToiletSeat model or iCommode®).

Something occurred the other day that made me think of another way to use this ole thang. The details — "what really happened" — don't matter: it was just the most recent disillusionment, the kind that stops you dead in mid-stride, making traffic pile up behind you on the sidewalk. You know, when it dawns on you that things ain't what you thought they wuz?

You don't have to live very long upon this bank and shoal of time for this to happen more than once to you, though about the umpteenth iteration you have to start to wonder if you're *ever* gonna learn how to pay attention.

As with others at such moments, my first response was to wonder where I went wrong. That's what it feels like: being in the wrong, having fucked things up. And my natural reaction is to cast about for a way to fix that problem. But, as always, every solution is lame, or the cure's worse than the disease, or "all the river crossings/all the way to the sea//have been bombed" — as Galway Kinnell's exquisite new poem puts it — "and we must make our way by pure balance."

Easy for him to say. He's achieved apotheosis, he figured out years ago how to transmute his mistakes into Pure Poetry, to inspire and daunt the likes of scribblers like me.

The Buddhists are occasionally helpful in a circumstance like this, with their sad smile at mad humanity flailing about in the muck, sinking ever deeper into the morass of illusion. But it's hard to maintain that detached-though-compassionate attitude towards the human condition when a crushing deadline's bearing down on you, your feature writers are "having problems," and your server's gone down in Australia, where it's the middle of the night.

On the other hand, is it ever any different? That question encapsulates my insight du jour, and it's precisely no help, like saying, "Well, if you'd been watching where you were going, you wouldn't have stepped in front of that bus."

Not long ago, I awoke in the predawn dark, writhing to the jabber of my monkey brain haranguing and jeering at me, reciting the litany of all my failures and fuckups. I couldn't get awake enough to shake off this onslaught of self-denunciation, but I clearly wasn't going back to sleep any time soon, either. Then, into this turmoil, there dropped ten words from a quiet but commanding voice that shut up everything else: "Have a little respect, BBly. There's a soul stuggling here." In the ensuing silence, I heard the first cardinal of the morning give his wake-up call.

Hard to remember these moments of clarity — or rather, to reconstitute the immediate calm they produce. Dumping my possessions and cutting all ties with the world to go meditate in a cave in the mountains might enable me to persuade these epiphanies to come a little closer together, with less racing around and shrieking in between. Maybe not.

One thing is clear, however. I could use "a place apart" in my digital life where I can ponder such questions — including "Where did I go wrong?" — that isn't completely entangled in the wired world that sometimes appears to me to be like Ahab lashed to Moby-Dick, beckoning us all to follow him down.

Well, that's probably a bit operatic. Fact is, I love this little machine, not least because it's very comfortable to write upon, and I can set it up in front of my bedroom window, out of reach of the cable modem, and contemplate the here and now, even as it's passing away.

And because I'll be doing it for free, I can do it freely. Yeah. That can work.


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