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    Sobriquet 56.7

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009
    I spent today working on some of the more practical aspects of the dissertation: I repaired my laminated particle board desk, bought and assembled an office chair, and re-reformatted my entire Disgrace chapter to date. Although there is an element of satisfaction one can take in fixing and/or building a physical object, there's considerably less pleasure to be found in meticulously going through sixty-odd pages of writing, ensuring that the footnotes are properly placed and trying to figure out why the "new" version of the paper is a page or so shorter than the previous incarnation. The only thing I can come up with, since all the text is apparently intact, is that the line spacing or font size has been oh-so slightly altered in all the format migration.

    I also finished reading my notes.

    For tomorrow: Try to get some writing done. Otherwise, read.

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    Friday, July 3, 2009
    Well, I have my computer back, with a brand-new hard drive installed. This means, of course, that I lost virtually everything I'd had on my previous hard drive, which sucks. A lot. Still, having somehow managed to salvage the single file containing my Disgrace chapter, I'm really not in especially bad shape.

    Here's the weird thing: Apple keeps old, defective hard drives they replace. Sleek, cult-like, the Apple store almost seems like it's attempting to silence its nonconformist hardware. I envision hip, tattooed techies sitting at some sterile stainless steel table in California, staring at my former hard drive, asking it pointed questions:

    Apple Techie #1 (hunched over): So, what do you have to say for yourself?
    Hard Drive: Sssssssssssss.
    Apple Techie #2: (forcefully): He asked you what you have to say for yourself.
    Hard Drive: Sssssssssssss.
    Apple Techie #2 (to Techie #1): He won't talk.
    Apple Techie #1 (brandishing a phillips head screwdriver): Oh, he'll talk.
    Hard Drive: Sssssssssssss.
    Fade to black. The familiar "bing!" of a Macintosh being turned on.

    When I got my computer home, I realized I was treating it in much the same way as one might treat a friend recently returned home from the psychiatric ward of a hospital. That is to say, I treated it quite gingerly, wary of making any sudden movements, fearing that I might somehow jostle the brain right out of order again.

    Within a few days, though, I should have all the word processing software installed and should, with a bit of luck, get back to the Disgrace chapter shortly.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    Monday, June 29, 2009
    I'm going to try to keep today's entry about as brief as I can for reasons that, I hope, will become clear soon enough. The anxiety with which I woke yesterday returned this morning with something of a vengeance. Initially, I'd hoped to sit down and get some more writing done, edging ever closer to the conclusion of the seemingly interminable Disgrace chapter on which I have been working for more than a year. When I sat down to work on the chapter, however, a whole new wave of anxiety swept over my mind. I didn't feel comfortable writing on a different computer from that which I feel is "home," and, in a moment of prolonged frustration, I began exploring the possibility of buying a new, cheap laptop so that I could soothe my jangled nerves with a fully-functioning computer I could call my own. At one point, I even started contemplating buying a cheap laptop on credit.

    Then it hit me with the force of Nolan Ryan fastball: I was responding to a miniature crisis in the most extreme of ways. The logical solution, of course, would be to wait a few days for my Mac to emerge from the shop all polished, ready for a mulligan. Instead, I was letting my self-imposed deadlines to get in the way of some very reasonable thinking. I felt as if I needed to finish my chapter immediately and ship it off to my supervisor, even though no such deadline exists. And, since I will finish it soon, regardless of whether or not my hard drive can be scavenged for lost files, there is really no reason I should push myself so hard to write anything in the handful of days between now and when I learn the ultimate fate of my computer. Duh.

    So, I got to thinking, wondering how, exactly, I let myself get so worked up over what is, ultimately, a very minor inconvenience. I concluded that, like many people, I have grown just a bit too reliant upon computers. And, rather than sit around aching like an addict going through withdrawal, I have decided to take a brief vacation from technology. In other words, I am leaving computers and the internet behind; I am signing off for a little while and deliberately placing myself in a situation in which the white noise of the digital age will be blunted, though I will make some key exceptions for safety and transportation reasons. I will have my cellular phone with me and I will, in all likelihood, post occasional mobile updates to Facebook to keep my loved ones informed of my whereabouts. Likewise, I will use my automobile and I may even bring my iPod...but fuck computers. A dissertation is nerve-wracking enough as it is; screw worrying about technology for a few days.

    For tomorrow and Wednesday, at the very least: Shun the internet in favor of reading books.

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    I woke up this afternoon (yes, afternoon) feeling pretty miserable, the previous two days' worth of computer-related stress no doubt playing a large part in my mood's gradual development from morning (figuratively speaking) melancholy to afternoon anxiety. There's just something so utterly depressing about losing one's digital existence. I mean, while there is still technically some hope that the good folks at Apple will be able to salvage some of my files, I haven't much hope left on that front. Like many people in the digital age, I tend to feel somewhat incomplete without my computer and not knowing what's going on with it only exacerbates an already hefty dose of unease.

    As a result of this discomfort, I suspect, my normal level of restlessness ratcheted up a few notches and I found I simply could not sit at home. Not wanting to throw away a perfectly good day for dissertation-writing, I dug up the old laptop on which I wrote my Master's thesis, packed it in my car and set out on a drive to who knows where. In my mind, I envisioned myself checked into some inexpensive motel, hunched over the damaged display clacking away at the Disgrace chapter or else doing the same thing in a park somewhere. I mean, I just had to get away and I knew I couldn't succumb to the temptation to wallow in my own misery, either. So, off I went.

    Of course, I didn't get any writing done in my car or at the desk of some Spartan motel room, but I did spend a few hours driving around in the rain, weaving in and out of the towns and hamlets dotting central New York, enjoying the scenery and listening to Chelsea's Evacuate. When I finally got home, I felt a tiny bit better, but still had to push myself to write anything.

    After a suitable amount of hemming and hawing, I finally did get a bit of work done. Earlier in the day, as I prepared to drive around, I bought myself a new flash drive on which to back up my files so that, in the event another catastrophic disk failure befalls me, I would not have to deal with the stress of having to collect my key files from a variety of de-centralized storage places. For some reason, that little bit of plastic and metal inspired me and I set myself up with this old laptop, a bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper, and a box fan; climbed into bed, propped myself up on some pillows, and got out of my shoes; and listened to the patter of rain while my cat snuggled up next to me (an affectionate cat, I am learning, can do an awful lot of good). It turned out to be a productive evening.

    The main reason I wanted to write, though, was because I knew that the sooner I accepted the reality of my situation and acknowledged that I could and should proceed as if nothing happened, the sooner I would return to a more normal mode of dissertation-writing. I mean, it feels weird writing about Disgrace on this laptop and it did take me a few moments to realize that the slight difference in pagination between my Mac-formatted chapter and my Word-formatted version of the same text owes to the fact that Mac's default "Times Roman" font and Microsoft's "Times New Roman" font are just a tiny bit different. But, I figured, one must move on, even if it feels weird, even if the computer on which I felt at home is spread out in the sick bay of some distant computer workshop. If there's anything I have learned while writing this damn dissertation, it is that not everything goes as planned. Furthermore, my life experience has taught me that it is at the times one feels most discouraged that one must rally.

    What I have learned, I hope, is to be even more vigilant with backing things up. I mean, when floppy disks were the de facto method of storage, I used to save everything to a backup file regularly but, when CDs briefly became the go-to, I fell out of the habit somewhat, put off by the relative inconvenience of burning things to a disk. Now, though, flash drives are about as convenient as can be, so it's about time I return to that old habit. The other thing I have decided to do is switch back to Microsoft's Word as my default word processing program. When I switched to Macintosh last year, I opted for Mac's proprietary Pages program, which has some distinct advantages. But, since I now know just how few computers (including my friend's Mac!) cannot read .pages files, I will be opting for the more common .doc files. Certainly, Pages can open and save things as .doc, but the transfers are still a bit on the messy side and, given my recent experiences, I am not too keen on having to worry about compatibility issues. I just want to finish the fucking dissertation, pass Go, collect my $200, and settle on Marvin Gardens. Or, you know, the postgraduate equivalent.

    But, yeah. I'm still uncomfortable with things, still feeling unmoored by the lack of a digital home base for my dissertation, but I made some progress which is, given my mood today, a big deal.

    So I'm rewarding myself with movies. I just finished watching I Am Legend, a not altogether disappointing interpretation of Richard Matheson's novel. As is all-too-often the case, Hollywood has defanged an interesting text as it processes the story for mass consumption, but Will Smith delivers a solid enough performance to make a rather weak script more than bearable. Still, the novel, with its darker ending and philosophical overtones is a much more satisfying work.

    For tomorrow: Try to write a bit more. Failing that, prep or read.

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    Saturday, June 27, 2009
    I'm writing this entry from a borrowed computer, my hard drive having died yesterday. Fortunately, a good friend of mine helped me extract the current chapter of my dissertation from the burnt-out hunk of metal before it went completely kaput. I'd saved it as a PDF file, fortunately, so I was able to access it on an old PC I had lying around and, while the fonts and spacing did get a bit messed up in the transfer, I was able to do a relatively quick transfer and now have a presentable Word document with which to work from a living computer terminal. While it looks like the vast majority of my files will have been destroyed, I have been able to locate a pretty good percentage of my key documents in various backup arrangements, so I am not as miserable as I might otherwise be. True, I did lose some recent photographs and probably a handful of word processing documents, but having found ways to access all my Disgrace notes, a relatively recent copy of my bibliography (which I have since revised, updated, and reformatted), and the aforementioned chapter-in-progress has mitigated what could easily have been a really, really bad predicament. Furthermore, in my scouring of email, old disks, and even older computers, I have found most of my notes on Elizabeth Costello, too. Not to mention countless other memories in the form of photographs, scans, and the like.

    All I can say now is that I really want to finish this damn thing. I had intended to get some writing done this weekend and I would still like to do that, though the eight or more hours I spent fixing fonts and replacing footnotes and looking up bibliographic references has wiped me out for the rest of today, I reckon.

    For tomorrow: Read, write, prep...just do something to get closer to the end of this behemoth.

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    Thursday, March 27, 2008
    Although it is not even remotely late by my standards, and despite the fact that I am pretty psyched to be using the iMac I bought this morning, I am going to have to keep today's entry rather brief. You see, I still have loads of grading to do. Lots and lots of it...

    At any rate, I did reread another good chunk of Waiting for the Barbarians early this morning before setting out on my day-consuming journey into the Land of Mac. Having spent more time than I would care to admit sequestered in the windowless computer lab buried in the basement of Saint Olaf College typing English papers on Macs, I always thought of myself as a Mac person, even though I have been using PCs for the past eight years. I mean, the first computers I knew were Macs, I first surfed the Internet on Steve Jobs's brainchildren, and I most certainly recall being baffled by the second mouse button on PC mice. So it's nice to be back.

    Also, since this weekend is going to be packed, I may not post another entry for a few days, but I fully intend to continue doing what I have been doing these past few days. Also, if I get a chance to do so, I'd like to make a few comments on Don DeLillo's White Noise, which I finally finished this evening as I drove through a wintery mix of rain and snow on my way home from the Mac store.

    For tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow: Keep rereading and prewriting.

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    Monday, March 24, 2008
    Well, it's been an interesting day. I've been having quite a bit of computer trouble lately, which has limited my access to the internet and certain research avenues, but this morning the machine committed electronic suicide, quite literally offing itself and seemingly taking with it scads of documents and other precious data. Needless to say, I was not terribly pleased with the development but, having experienced similar "crises" in the past, I stoically took the thing in for an autopsy and had the computer coroner extract my files for me.

    And now I stand, sixpence cap clutched to my breast, humming Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" as the staid cemetery hands of this idiotically extended metaphor lower the corpse into the ground...

    Ah, but I did not weep. Nay. Rather I look to the future, knowing that the work started on one computer can easily be transferred to another like genes from parent to child.

    Deliberately sappy prose aside, it does suck to lose one's computer. I mean, obviously, for someone writing a dissertation, the word processing and research capabilities of the average PC are of tremendous value. Still, I am of a generation for whom memories of computer-less living rooms and dens are quite common. I didn't even own a computer until I had graduated from college and worked for several months, so working without the buzz of a CPU is not wholly foreign to me.

    Of course, I might have sung a different tune had I actually needed to use the computer today...

    I did continue working, as I had planned, and will work a bit more before bed. I am still enjoying Waiting for the Barbarians, though I do occasionally find the tone a tiny bit didactic. As a philosophical novel, however, I suppose such a tone is both inevitable and ultimately necessary.

    For tomorrow: Same old, same old.

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