08 February 2012

Computer Crash

It's a tale as old as the computer age: hard disk failure, no backup. In this case, the "crash" was literal, and traumatic. Osnat, navigating the narrow space between window, desk, chair and bed after closing the curtains, tripped on the tangled computer cords at her feet, and sent my sleek black plastic Vaio careening onto the floor, cracking the corner of the screen and more seriously, impacting the lower corner, the area encasing the hard drive.

At first it seemed okay, screen still displaying as usual. I didn't try any further testing as we were just headed out the door to dinner. Conversation with our neighbor there touched on the near-catastrophe and moved on to world tensions - "What if the whole Internet went down in an instant with a cyberattack on the magnetic shield?" - as well as our addictive tendencies these days with computer and Internet and related technologies. I felt chastised by the tenor of our collective judgement yet smug to have dodged that bullet for now.

Back at the room I discovered that programs wouldn't load; I tried a reboot. A telltale clicking sound advertised trouble in the vicinity of the hard drive, and the opening screen stalled with the wishful statement, "Starting Windows..." For good measure I gave the plastic housing a few more whacks with my hand, hoping to rattle back into place whatever had come loose, but now the result was far worse: simple white letters on a dark screen, like what you would get on the first time-sharing terminals I cut my computer teeth on back in 1968. The simple script announced, "Cannot find operating system."

I grieved. Hung my head, retreated into a cocoon, stared off into space. Tried to keep from blaming Osnat; blamed myself, the karma of vulnerability. Computer just four months old, I had spent a month in September installing programs and organizing data; spent irreplaceable weeks revising a novel; maintained all the accounts for my editing business. I had already felt antsy over the required idleness of this January Ayurvedic treatment regime we’d embarked on, in the quiet green hills of Kerala. Had looked forward, at least, in some consolation, to working our way through the dozens of videos transferred from Fabian in Tiru, and downloading more to watch - even some select TV shows! Maybe that was the fatal attraction... Or was it a karmic virus inherited from Fabian, who himself had lost the bulk of his inventory on a zapped hard drive, just the day before offering us our remaining selection from his secondary drives?

Whatever. Now I was up the creek in Kerala. Would I simply sit idle and useless in the rice fields - here and in Bali - until returning to my backup computer in summer?
Osnat tried the consolation-of-philosophy angle, to relieve my “suffering” and probably too her own guilt in the matter. She made the obvious diagnosis: I was too attached and self-identified, anyway, and this should serve as a fruitful karmic lesson.

True enough, I had to acknowledge, since only minutes before the mishap, Dr. Ravi had sat on this very floor observing that I looked out of balance, which I was, since all day I had fumed about my lack of productivity, creativity and efficiency here at the ashram, scratching patches of minutes together over the space of an afternoon, to manage a little over an hour of billed editing time - between lunch, fruit snack, conversations, research for places to stay on our way to Trivandrum, gathering information for our visa application in Singapore, checking email and Facebook postings, and on and on. In truth, I was both too attached and too undisciplined at the same time – the last, a condition not only of poor time management, but also reflected in the loss of hardware and data itself: too careless with the tangled cords in the corner, too neglectful of the need to back up essential data.

In the sleepless night following this “lower-self” trauma I realized how many attachments of self I have already released in the past nine months before this strange still-birthing of a dead computer into karmic manifestation. Coffee, marijuana, all my favorite foods, friends and family, music bands and students, my homes in Victoria and Maui, half my summer in BC, my swims in the ocean, my long walks in nature, baseball, my perfect car, my good music speakers, my drums, daily news research and postings, editing of music jams and videos ... all abandoned for life on the move, for a healthier body and diet, for a loving relationship, for openness and discovery itself, in that spiritual hothouse of southeast India, Tiruvannamalai. If the trickster mountain Arunachala had taught me anything, it was to keep letting go of any expectations and identities ... and to keep letting go.

Still I latched on to the promise of stretches of time coming up in the spring, time to focus on writing and editing again, in Bali while Osnat goes to classes. Having given up all these lesser identities, preoccupations, pastimes, addictions, childish and egoic pursuits, I still harbored this ever-unfulfilled ambition to write, to focus, to retreat, to hole up in my hideway in the ricefields, just me and my manuscripts, nothing left but what I have my whole life considered "the real work." Nothing left, in other words, but the seat of the ego, the sacred head.

Now with one swift stroke the goddess Kali has come with her terrible sword to cut it off.


A nightmarish night past, the day unfolded with positive movement in many directions to restore order, hope and functionality. I first determined that the computer warranty does not cover accidental damage. Fair enough – I moved on, following Dr. Ravi’s advice to look in Cochin for expert repair help. With the help of Osnat’s still-functional MacBook Air, I searched online and found a Sony repair shop that could at least take a look and try to repair the hard drive or recover data during the three days of our transition from here to Trivandrum for the departure from India. Now it became clear why we had delayed booking our intended stay at Allepey in the backwaters; instead we booked a hotel in Cochin, from where we could still venture out on a short backwater trip while the hard drive was repaired or replaced.

I had been careful only to back up a few necessary documents on my Android phone, and at first these failed to transfer to the Mac via Bluetooth, but the USB option proved successful. The most important document, containing passwords to online accounts, still needed MS Word, however, to solve its password protection. Would I have to buy and download a replacement to install on the Mac? Open Office, a free Word clone, came to the rescue.

All of this progress on the practical plane, to restore the functionality of my computerized life, if not the hardware itself. There are usually, it seems, workarounds. Google came through big-time with its synchronization of my Chrome bookmarks, so that my virtual life online remains intact via Chrome, on the Mac. The question remains, in the hoary words of Dylan/Hendrix, how much is any of it worth? Yes, I will have to work more hours to cover the needless expenses of repair; to restore programs and settings; to recreate spreadsheets and novel revisions from scratch. But I won’t be spending all those hours watching those lost videos and TV shows. And either way, what is the value of time, itself, except in the living? On the inside.


Reduced to my core identity as a writer/editor, and even that threatened by the loss of familiar material capability (hardware, software, data, access), I had to experience that dark one-night of the soul, with Osnat rubbing in the spiritual salt. While aware of the higher justice of her perspective, I remained stuck in my emotional loops of feeling lost and disoriented, an addict without fix. Does “back in the saddle” now resolve this deeper metaphysical condition, of self-reliance on particular identity, role, activity, success? On my sacred trinity of Productive, Creative, Efficient? On my fundamental marriage to countable, fillable, executable Time?

Here I am, on the morning of my virtual renaissance, Mac-reborn, spending my precious free hour before breakfast while Osnat is in treatment, scoping out the options on OpenOffice, and clacking away at the old keys.

So I continue, now as ever, with this identity, this version of “real work” intact: the roving word, the rogue journalist, wearing the self-proclaimed hat of the writer, ever resilient... like my mother a smart-aleck to the end, with the TV on; or my father with figurative drink in hand. This is my chosen or given self, the way I accept for my true meditation, what I can offer to myself and the world, for what greater purpose I cannot know or care too much, but to give, to sacrifice, to offer again; to breathe while doing so, to let the thoughts pass by and let them go; to watch and witness and hold and shape and let pass by; to savor in gratitude and to share for whatever use they may have for others, or whatever beauty and grace they may convey; for that is our gift in this paradoxical paradise we have co-created, to dance in beauty and grace, before and after the challenges and obstacles thrown up as exercises in digestion and transformation; to dance in beauty and grace.

Where is this motion, but in the running fingers of time passing, letter by letter? Where is the notion that all is well or doomed, when the sweet middle steers a sure course effortless, flaming inward in open splendor?

Only to offer, to be available, to invite the sudden flurry of birdwings by the face with eyes closed, then open to the swaying flowers, the silent sun.

Followup post: Doing and Not-Doing

No comments: