Not Enough Swear Words

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to say that my hard drive burned itself out today like a disco queen on laced cocaine. The love of my life was kind enough to loan me his computer until I can get mine resurrected or reincarnated, so at least I can keep writing and playing games on the internet -- oh, Prolific, my life's blood -- but even though very little is lost it still feels crushing and catastrophic.

I remember the first time I lost a story. It was summer, and I was about fifteen or so, and I had this whole huge fantasy teen romance based on Cinderella that I was very excited about and very carefully inscribing in a notebook. Invading kingdoms, false identities, magic wands -- it was intricate, I tell you, and I can't remember the half of it. And because I couldn't bear to leave it alone even for the space of a week, I took it with me on our yearly eastern Washington camping trip.

As part of this trip, we went to a water park in the middle of a wide stretch of desert, which wasn't quite as hedonistic as the indoor skiing area in Dubai but was as close as teenaged me was likely to get. When we returned to the car, I peeked in and thought it was strange that the backseat was covered with ice when it was so hot out. And then Mom started fretting and I realized that no, it wasn't ice -- it was the glass from the window of the car. Some very unsubtle criminal had busted in the window and taken -- well, I don't remember the details of what they took except that it included my backpack, a very expensive-looking hiker's pack they must have thought was full of God knows what. What it actually contained was my story notebook, the Everyman's Library edition of Jane Eyre, and about fifty Always brand ultra-thin feminine hygiene products with Flexi-wings (TM) that I earnestly hope they enjoyed.

And there I stood, feeling sick to my stomach, and not just because I now had to publicly announce why we needed to stop by a grocery store on the way back to camp.

The second time I lost stories, it was because a computer was stolen. By this time I was out of college and living in what may be charitably called a dump of a house in Seattle's University District. One of my housemates asked to borrow my computer to check his email when I went to bed, and I acquiesced. In the morning, I noticed it was not on the couch where he usually left it after such incidents, but I was running late to work and thought nothing of it. When it failed to reappear after a thorough search when I came home, I gave my housemate a call.

"Have you checked under the couch cushions?" he asked. As though a lost computer were the equivalent of paperclips and fuzz-covered mixed nuts. I told him no, yelled for a little while, and then called the police who were very polite when they showed up six hours later.

This was rougher than the first time: the stolen computer had contained all my undergraduate academic work as well as the just-for-fun things I'd managed to jot down along the way. (Three words: "Jane Austen's Medea.") I couldn't seem to stop crying. To this day I entertain paranoid fantasies that the girl this housemate was hooking up with at the time -- and who left for a study-abroad quarter in Berlin the very next day -- had been the one to steal it.

The third time was two years ago, when a software update automatically installed itself, froze the computer, and blitzed the hard drive when I attempted in my ignorance to reboot. Something about the fresh-faced superiority of the Apple Genius Bar can really bring the shame home like nobody's business, believe you me.

Today's computer death marks the fourth time I've lost things half-finished and tentative, and strangely it has made me both angry and energized. If fate decrees a fresh start, then damn it I'm going to fresh-start it like you've never seen it fresh-started before. I might try and rewrite the whole thing without even looking at the now-very-altered second draft of the story that's been giving me trouble. You think that's crazy? Probably -- but watch me!

See that, technology, you fickle and frustrating beast? You can slow me down, and make me cry, and make me swear in chains of curse words like the DNA of some vast and complicated chimera, but ultimately you cannot win. And if I still fail, at least I'll fail on my own terms.