Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lost and Found

Rich Robinson--"Lost and Found" (mp3)

I am sitting in my basement with my Ipod on shuffle, listening to a mix of 431 Christmas songs, a full 24 hours of Christmas tunes, if I so desired. The problem is that it isn't my current Ipod, or even the one I owned before that. It's a cast-off Ipod that one of my daughters bequeathed me when she opened a perfectly-packaged new Ipod three or four years ago.

The other problem is that the Ipod in question's screen is a Rorschach blot in the shape of an oak leaf. No words will ever appear on this screen again, as all of the ink, or whatever it is, has pooled into the above shape in the lower right corner.

The only way to use the Ipod is to connect it to a computer and run it off that computer's Itunes. The other other problem is that the computer in question is a cast-off computer from my daughter's last 6 years at private school. It doesn't work without a power cord; I have no idea where the battery is. And, for some reason, it defrags itself every other night or so, wiping out anything that I have attempted to store on it.

Currently, I sit trapped between the power cord on my left and the adaptor plugged into the headphone jack and running to the Bose sound system on my right. It's quite a set-up.

Most of the Christmas songs I have ever owned are on this Ipod and can only be played this way. It is nice to have them, but I know full well that their time on this Earth is completely dependent on a portable machine whose ticker could go at any second. I only found the Ipod recently, as it was stacked in the pile of lost (but is there still a chance they might work someday?) Ipods in some dark corner of our house renovation last spring and summer. So I have the songs, but I don't. Most of their parent CDs are nowhere that I know of; most of the individual files I picked up here and there exist nowhere else.

Yesterday, the hard drive on my school computer crashed. All of the music files that were on the computer are gone. Much of the email. In addition to that, all of my Word documents are gone. By my estimation, I have lost some 15 years of words.

It's an interesting prospect to ponder. The first thing you realize is that you have no idea what you have lost because you had no idea what you had. You just kept saving it.

Then you start to focus on the "highlights," those pieces that you do know that you wanted that were stored on that computer. I know that I was supposed to back all of it up, but I didn't. Over the past three or four years, my problems with the computer centered on it getting too full, so my focus has always been on the quick fixes that would get things off of it. My maintenance of my computer involved looking for things to delete so that it could operate at a decent speed. So, yeah, I am stupid.

Anyway, the highlights, for me, were a cookbook I wrote for my 50th birthday, a variety of stories and poems in various states of disrepair, a play that was still waiting for its final act. I had hundreds of college recommendations that I had written and that were no longer of particular use, and probably thousands of handouts, essay prompts, quizzes, worksheets, exam topics, tests and the other daily papers of decades of teaching English classes.

You probably think that I am morose. For whatever reason, I am not. Early in the renovation process of our house, I dragged a file cabinet outside and went through four drawers of paper that represented my earliest years of teaching before the computer was so central to creation and storage. I threw at least 95% of that stuff away, and didn't give it a second thought. I had no nostalgia for it--I am now teaching different books and I am now a different teacher.

I remember when my friend Steve retired a few years ago and basically gave everything away or threw everything else out. Though I was kind of shocked at the time, I feel pretty much the same way now. My old schoolwork probably does not merit a saving for posterity. Whatever good ideas there were have probably been passed on orally, the same way others' good ideas have been passed on to me. The other stuff, whether missteps or unrecognized genius at the time, can disappear safely into posterity. Someone else will either figure the same thing out or will figure out something better.

What I do miss from today's word holocaust are the things that I had written. The loss of those, like the taking of a photograph for some natives, feels like I have lost a bit of my soul that cannot be regained. Unlike the other teaching selves that I freely abandon, I am always interested in my previous writing selves, just in case there was something there that I didn't notice at the time.

Oh, this digital world is a strange world, one in which we don't own anything, even though we think that we do, even though we think that our "possessions" are as safe as those we keep in drawers and cabinets. It is a world where what we do own, we do not always own on terms that are easy for us. The music, for example, may be ours to listen to, but not ours to share. In the very next few years, all of this will change even more. My daughter declared today that if I had Spotify, I would not need anything else. But that is not true. Not yet. What I need is the ability to hold onto what is important to me and to cast off what no longer matters. I feel that power slipping away.


Hunchbakk said...

a very poignant post.

i'm forever living dangerously thinking that i may back up some files and never do so, waiting for an inevitable crash.

it is freeing to lose what you forget that you have, but still a sense of loss prevails.

Daisy said...

Oh, Bob! I am so sorry for your loss!