Transition / Writing

Requiem for a Laptop

Yesterday I came home to a surprise. On my writing desk, next to my Write Like a Motherfucker mug and 2002 White River High School Most Grammatically Eloquent statuette, my four-year-old Lenovo laptop had been replaced by a shimmery new HP Windows 8 one. No more sticky “Z” key or fuzzy cat hair-covered screen. No more freakout fights with Flash player or never being able to take it along with me to a coffee shop or library because the battery won’t hold a charge for longer than ten seconds. Just in time to jet-set up to AWP, I had a machine that was healthy enough for travel.

“I spent all day transferring the files over,” my husband Matt said, humming with great-early-Valentine’s-day-gift pride.

“So what should I do with this one?” I asked, pointing to the Lenovo now dead on my bed, its last shards of soul already copied over to my WD Passport.

Matt shrugged, and not knowing what else to do, I tucked it into the office closet underneath a pile of bubble wrap I obstinately keep for “when we move back home.” As I spent the rest of the night setting up a user profile and trying to get used to Windows 8’s app-happy interface, my mind kept wandering back to the unceremoniously dumped corpse in my closet.

“You named the computer The Nonfictionator?” Matt had asked me four years ago, when he was configuring wi-fi onto my box-fresh new laptop. I had just been accepted into grad school, and would be spending ten days at writer camp residency. Not to mention all the countless hours at chic cafes and such, now that I was a “serious writer type.” I didn’t know what to expect from school, or myself, but I knew that our desktop PC wasn’t going to cut it. Sitting at a computer desk made me feel like I was at work, which gave me hives. I needed something flexible and portable, the luxuries of modern technology. When I was an undergrad, laptops were still a privileged item, heavy equipment that, if not stolen fast enough, inevitably broke down, usually taking some sort of irreplaceable final with it. The Nonfictionator was a grand gesture to myself, a serious purchase to prove that I had decided to take myself seriously. I can’t remember how I even afforded it, but it probably involved a tax return and a deferred car payment. I babied it as much as I could, back before the keys started to fall out like rotting teeth. I got a special desk with a built-in fan to keep it running cool, and a pink crocodile skin carrying case. It was my baby, and with it, I took my first baby steps as a Serious Writer Type.

I started my first blog on it, Eats of Eden, before I left for school. The Nonfictionator came with me to Forest Grove and sat in my dorm room, and came home with new notes and pictures and an owner transformed. It ordered my first round of books, when I discovered Jo Ann Beard and Nick Flynn and Mary Karr and Anne Lamott. It visited Duotrope and Poets & Writers and Goodreads for the first time with me. I plunked out my first MFA essay on its keys, and then another, until a string of them began spinning into a narrative, that two and a half years later solidified into a memoir manuscript. My first acceptance popped onto its screen. Seaside, Seattle, an empty bar in Portland and a new desk in Arizona. A second blog. A few more acceptances, let’s not waste time counting the pixels devoted to no’s. Four of the most transformative years of my life, chronicled and stored and created on this one machine.

But unlike its beautiful predecessors–the quill, the fountain pen, the Underwood typewriter–the Nonfictionator wasn’t built to last. She was built to function until the next set of innovations and upgrades rolled around, and then she began to slow and cough and fall apart. I can baby this, The Nonfictionator II, as long as I can. I’m being anal retentive about battery conservation, proper ventilation, errant dust on the keyboard and screen. But she too will slip into decline by the time the Winter Olympics in South Korea roll around (hopefully Bob Costa’s eye will have recuperated in time). Our modern writing tools aren’t things of beauty like they used to be, fixtures in a home that lasted for decades and entire careers. Cormac McCarthy used the same typewriter for 50 years. Ray Bradbury wrote 30 books and 600 short stories on the same Royal KMM over his lifetime. They’re still sold, collected, coveted, and work all these years later. I can’t imagine that anyone will want old, buggy, dilapidated laptops when we’re gone.

The idea of downgrading to the elemental, magnificent typewriter feels right in the notion’s theoretical sense. One would look so dignified and sophisticated on my desk: Serious Writer Type 2.0: Portlandia Hipster Transplant Edition. The clack of gritty keystrokes instead of the soft lull of a laptop’s pat-pat-click-pat, that fabulous “ding!” of line satisfaction, all old routines my heart aches to be familiar with. But I’d make a terrible mess with all of the paper, and even thinking about trying to do revisions by hand… well, my imagination doesn’t stretch far enough to encompass that reality. How the hell did people do it!? And then there’s that whole concept of being the cafe culture, traveling artist which, although in practice may not happen much, still lands high as an essential. I don’t think a Southwest Airlines snack tray would stand up too well to a vintage typewriter.

So the tool of the trade disappears with little notice, making way for the supernova of a new version to burn bright and fade away, and on and on for until I’m forced to type out stories on tablets or some such nonsense. In which case I may entrench myself in the sand, draw the line, and die a writer with antique technology that younger, savvier editors have to tolerate in order to work with me. But until then, I march on, upgraded and loaded. Thank you, Nonfictionator. Whatever comes next, you were always the first.

The Nonfictionator at First Residency, June 2010

The Nonfictionator at First Residency, June 2010

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