Wednesday, October 28, 2009

computer brain death

I've been struggling to get my computer back up to speed for awhile now. Though successfully using a Linux drive to get online, I haven't been able to get my own system to work decently without a lot of annoying pop ups, messages and warnings. I've gone the usual route with this--taking it in to be repaired, finding that the repair didn't really solve anything, and so trying to decide what to do next. Lately, though, I haven't even been able to get in to anything. So last night, I just went for broke and reinstalled the hard drive.

This meant that a lot was lost.

I retrieved and backed up a lot of my documents,and since most of it was backed up anyway, I'll probably have some version of most of it somewhere. I'm a little sad to realize that most of my downloaded email is gone, but the fact is, all this has happened before.

So the relation to this blog is? Well, I'm kind of struck by the difference between how we, or at least many of us, save paper documents, and the way we save electronic ones. I suppose it will reveal me as very old school to say that I don't ever really throw away letters, but I have witnessed two wholesale clearances of computer memory with sadness, yes, but basically with a shrug. Yet I still have all those old faded letters.

It's interesting to me how we have consigned some of our essential recordkeeping, which is in essence a memory sort of job, to an unstable constantly self-revising electronic system. There is already much that I saved, ie, remembered, to technology that no longer works on my system. It doesn't mean I can never get at it--it's just that I can't do that easily.

I'm on the brink of doing a month long writing challenge through The founder of this venture, Chris Baty, just had his hard drive inexplicably die mere days before the big event, leading him to remind participants to back up their data and not rely on luck or chance to do so.

I'll close with two observations. One is that electronic "memory" tends to be very black and white. It either works or it doesn't. You can't "remember" lost data by trying harder to remember it. Basically, you only have the option of trying the equivalent of expensive brain surgery to retrieve it. And like brain surgery, the result isn't guaranteed.

The second is more related to memory--our memory--itself. I'd love if anyone cared to comment on a different take on this, but for me, when it comes to informational data, nostalgia is overrated. I hold on to a lot of this stuff, don't get around to deleting a whole lot of email, except for the obvious junk. But if the fates decide to take it away from me, after a bit of regret, I find I don't miss it all that much. From this I conclude that online data is different because it is just digital. Souvenirs of the past may need to be just a bit more material to be missed much.

Or so say I.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

October 17th, 1989

(In memory of Shawn McCormick and Robin Ortiz)

Every once in awhile, this blog is not about the lapse of memory, but memory, straight up. Today marked the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which some people may remember because of the World Series being played at that moment, and others may remember for images of people crushed and trapped on the collapsed Bay Bridge. However, the epicenter happened right here in Santa Cruz County, in the Forest of Nicene Marks, at a spot I have actually hiked to, though even that was a long time ago now.

Most people probably won't remember this earthquake at all, or maybe only vaguely, which perhaps ties in to my usual theme more than I thought. But this earthquake destroyed our downtown, forcing businesses into tents for a couple of years, and was one of those decisive moments in a community's history that marks all who were present forever. I don't mean that everyone was traumatized. I mean that our town changed forever from the kind of town that it had been only the day before. Many people lost property or suffered property damage. Many people left, changed their focus or direction. Some people, luckily only a few, lost their lives that day. However two of those people, very young people just starting their adult lives, died just on the other side of a wall from me. The wall fell the other way. They were in a little attic office, going over the days receipts of the coffee roasting enterprise that they were working in, and the top of the wall collapsed on them and buried them. The report later was that mercifully they had died instantly. But for days, many people stood around that pile of rubble, pleading with authorities to work faster, hoping against hope.

Today I walked down to the observances of the day. I wasn't really sure why I was going, though I had actually skipped going to my high school reunion for that very reason. As I walked down, I was struck by the incredible, almost too incredible vibrancy of the town. It was the last weekend of Open Studios and everywhere were signs advertising where some artist who had opened his or her home to the public could be found. A banner at the high school welcomed bands from around the state to the annual high school band review, which must have happened this morning. I walked past the Civic auditorium, where some sort of conference of jiu jitsu was in progress, and outdoor booths and music were spreading its followers out on to the street. The Pacific Rim Film Festival was in full tilt. And all of these things were bringing people out of their homes and over the mountains to our town, and none of it had anything to do with remembrance of the day at all.

Except it did. It was the sign of the phoenix's rise from the ashes, the town continuing in a new way with its old quirky energy, and no one could be blamed if they didn't make their way to the post office and the town clock to remember what was really only a moment in time. And I myself didn't go to hear the speeches, which was just as well, because some of them couldn't be heard anyway, from the back of the crowd. And there was a crowd, an old timer crowd, you might even say a home town crowd, although for all my years' involvement with the place, it's never really felt like my hometown. It probably never could.

As the speeches ended, the clock tolled the number of the dead from that day in our county. A couple of silver balloons floated into the air. I saw a few people I knew, but no one felt like talking. I walked over afterwards to the chainlink fence that to this day surrounds the site of the store that I worked in and the coffee house that the dead worked in. My eyes teared up. I didn't care about the store, though many still lament it. The store rose again in another location, after all, as did the town. Bigger and better you could even say, unless you didn't quite feel that way about it. And a hole in the ground is just a hole in the ground.

But the dead stay dead. Robin Ortiz and Shawn McCormack have not been part of the rebirth. I was glad to see the signs on the fence, with sweet sentimental comments like "We still miss you, Shawn." "I haven't forgotten you, Robyn." People brought bouquets of flowers to stick in the fence. Silver balloons were tied to the fence and floated above it.

Twenty years is a long time to be gone. A whole lifetime for some. My friends' son was born in a hospital right here in town the day before. Twenty years is an awful lot of living. I can't help but think of all the last twenty years has given me, all I did and failed to do--all I was granted time to do and fail to do.

Earlier this week, in a coincidental recapitulation, a tree fell in my yard. It was exciting, dramatic, but it fell the other way--harmless. The other one, its twin, which was leaning over my house did not fall. The thing to realize, if we can, is that this is not extraordinary luck on my part. We are all, for the moment, living on the right side of that brick wall. We are all, for the moment, living in the shadow of the tree that did not fall. And the only thing to ask, really, is what are we going to do with the time that remains?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Uncanny--the return of the repressed

In an excellent article in September's The Believer by Sara Gran and Megan Abbott on the now somewhat eclipsed horror queen V.C. Andrews, an essay of Freud's on the uncanny comes up. Not being much of a student of Freud, I found this analysis quite interesting, especially from the point of view of this blog. According to the authors, Freud thought that our sense of the uncanny came not from the unfamiliar but the familiar--it's our sense of dread in facing what we've known, but no longer have direct access to."The uncanny draws a map to what has been repressed." Gran and Abbott think that horror stories that revolve around "dolls, imaginary friends or other relics of childhood" have an extra power to scare us, because they bring back fears, desires and other memories from our earliest years that have since become unacceptable to us.

I've long been interested in the phenomenon I've seen around Andrews, which is the fact that they seem always to have been read mainly by young teenage girls, who read them as a sort of rite of passage. I was at a barbecue right after reading this article and took an informal poll about who had read her. Several hands shot up, all female, including that of one person who read her older sister's copies on the sly, as she was too young for them. That seemed quite in keeping with the Andrews tradition, though.

I liked the article's hypothesis that Andrew's can be found in plentiful supply in thrift shops and yard sales because, once read, these aren't the kind of books that people feel comfortable hanging on to. I wonder--do they forget the experiences brought up by the reading, or does the repressed see the light of day again?

Although I like some horror, it's never been my first area of interest, so I haven't read Andrews. I suppose, too, that I always felt a little superior to them, but I'll now concede I may have missed something.

Here's another interesting blog I came across that where this Believer article inspired a post.