Tuesday, March 3, 2015

More than a few good men

          It's a chilly, icy day here in Toledo, Ohio.  A plethora of schools have closed and it's a good time to stay inside with a warm cup of something and a wooly sweater at the ready.  As for me I'm more than ready for warmer weather, but aren't we all?  Still, this time of year reminds me that there's still a lot of work afoot beneath the surface of the soil and I need to wait out the last month of winter before new growth in my garden - and otherwise - is ready to rise in the spring.
          Last week I was just hitting my stride in writing The Lace Makers, having reached the eighty-page mark on Thursday after a long day in my office.  It always takes me quite a while before the locomotor of my writing train gets up enough steam to leave the station and move out onto the open rails.  This time around, it's taken more than a month for me to feel as if I'm on the right path to telling a story that's been percolating in my creative consciousness since last summer. 
          On Thursday I realized a necessary change needed to be made as no female prisoners were present at the liberation of Buchenwald.  They had been shipped or marched to other concentration camps in the weeks before the liberation, so it was back to the research to find another destination in which to place one of my main characters.  Luckily I had read and recorded much about Bergen Belsen.   The HBO special "Night Will  Fall" was at my fingertips, so once again I watched the harrowing footage of the camp's liberation in April, 1945.  It's always been important to me to be historically correct, so upon hearing what the British announced on the way into the camp, I scribbled their words on a sticky note and tacked it to my computer's monitor: 

Be calm...be calm.  Stay where you are.  Help is on the way.

          That night I went to bed well after midnight, having written for the better part of ten hours, but energized by the story that was now flowing through my imagination onto the computer screen.  The next morning I woke up ready to write and while still in my pajamas, went into the office and turned on the computer...only to be met with a monitor which read:  "No signal...no signal...no signal."
          The tower would power up initially, then immediately stop.  The fans whirled, but the hard drive would not initiate the start up menu. Again and again and again I was met with a blank screen.  No matter how many times I tried to reboot, hit "control, alt., delete" or "escape," I could not escape the fact that my computer might have crashed.
          I spent several unnerving hours sweating out phone calls, Google searches on my NOOK, and time wasted in waiting for help from a customer service rep that always ended with, "We're experiencing higher than usual call volumes.  You may need to wait for up to thirty minutes for assistance." 
          A friend stopped by and stayed for a short visit.  After I explained my computer dilemma, Kim said, "My husband works with I.T.  Maybe he could help you." 
          "I already emailed my friend, Ramsey," I replied.  "He knows computers, too, and says he can stop by tomorrow morning."
          She nodded.  "I'll tell John what's going on and see if he has any suggestions.  If it's a quick fix, maybe you can do it yourself."
          "That would be great!" I said, thankful for the help. 
          I had already spent the better part of the morning fretting about the cost of repairs, or worse yet, the cost of a new tower.  Luckily, I had backed up all of my novels, including The Lace Makers.  Everything I needed to eventually upload or edit was stored on a thumbdrive or sent to friends who are helping me catch typos and the like.  I had even translated the manuscript from a web doc into a Word doc for my friend, Joyce, who - like me - prefers to read drafts as they would appear in print. 
           But...I hadn't backed up the pile of pictures or videos that were tucked into folders on the motherboard.  Years of photos of Satish and Danta and their family would be lost as would Aditi's entire kittenhood and all of my garden photos from 2011 until the present.  It was heartbreaking to think that in less than twelve hours I had gone from hitting my stride to being derailed at the most inopportune moment. 

          It had happened once before back in 2007 when I edged toward the finish line while writing A Tapestry of Truth.  Fifteen years of work was nearly completed when the laptop I had been using at the time decided it had had enough and refused to start.  The warranty had just expired (naturally) and I was at my wit's end while on the phone with a Dell rep who told me the motherboard was probably shot. 
          "Bring it to the store tomorrow and we'll take a look," he said.  "But if it's what I think it is, you're going to lose all of your memory.  You backed up, right?"
          "What?"
          "You backed up your hard drive, right?"
          "I saved my work on a disc."
          "What about your other files?"
          "No."
          The silence between us let me know that I was about to learn the very hard lesson that Carrie Brawshaw experienced in the Sex and the City episode, "My Motherboard, Myself."  I didn't have a "sad Mac" like she did, but I sure had a sad night lying in bed wondering how I was ever going to afford a new computer.
          The next morning on my way to the Dell store, I stopped by a friend's house.  Sandy asked, "What's wrong with your computer?"
          "I'll show you," I replied, pulling the laptop from my briefcase. 
          As I pushed the button, a look of amazement crossed my face, for there on the screen was the initial prompt that let me know the hard drive was indeed working and the start up menu would soon appear.
          "How did that happen?" I asked Sandy.
          She shrugged. 
          "Must be gremlins in the circuitry," I replied.
          And ever since, when I fire up the old Dell to use while teaching workshops, she starts right up, albeit a lot slower than my desktop, but with enough stamina to just keep going.   

          Alas, I didn't have the same luck with my HP.  All day Friday I fretted and fussed over the computer until I talked to Kim's husband later in the afternoon.  John suggested I clean out the tower as it was in need of some serious dusting.  After carefully swiping all of the circuits with a paintbrush, I tried to start it again, but to no avail.
          I drove to Home Depot after dark in search of canned air to blow any stray dust bunnies from the wires and bought the very last one, thanks to a truly nice man who understood my plight.  But that didn't work either.
          Later that night, I called John again and he very patiently taught me how to locate the battery and replace it.  "You can find one at Walgreens...no problem," John explained.
          Our local Walgreens is open twenty-four hour and as I wasn't getting much sleep anyway, I got up at 4:30 on Saturday morning and drove in the bitter cold to buy a new lithium battery.  After installing it properly, the computer burst to life, then immediately died again. 
          By the time Ramsey arrived like a knight in shining sneakers after my Saturday morning yoga class, I was resigned to the fact that whatever would be would be.  I couldn't change what was happening, but I could change my response to it.
          All through the day before and that morning of hopeful anticipation, I kept reading the little sticky note on my monitor:

Be calm...be calm.  Stay where you are.  Help is on the way.

          And sure enough, it was. 
          In no time Ramsey discovered a cord that didn't need to be connected to the tower.  "Let's try to start it up without this one."
          Like magic, the screen filled with color, the tower emitted the whirls and clicks I've come to hear as music to my ears.
          I burst into laughter.  "How did you do that?"
          Ramsey shrugged.  "You saw what I did...and most of the time I don't really know what I'm doing."
          "That's what I keep saying to my yoga students...," I smiled.  "...to just follow their bodies' messages and if they don't know what they're doing, then it's all the better in the long run."
          I practice what I preach, for I had no clue what I was going to do if my computer totally died.  I didn't know how to recover files or how I was going to pay for a new tower.  I was frustrated that, for the second time in my writing life, the most vital tool I needed was taken from me right when I needed it the most.
          And then I thought of the prisoners in the concentration camps who had everything stripped from them upon arrival.  Their belongings, their papers, their clothing, even their hair.  They lost their loved ones, their homes, and their identities.  And yet many of them survived all of these losses to start a new life on the other side of their suffering.
          My suffering could not begin to compare to theirs, but I found peace in repeating the words they heard on the day of their liberation.  I tried to remain calm.  I made myself stay in a place of uncertainly and wait.  I trusted that help was on the way.
          More than a few good men arrived at the gates of Bergen Belsen in mid-April, 1945.  And more than a few good men arrived in my life last week to teach me that to ask for help is not a weakness, but a strength.  To trust in the wisdom and experience of another allows me to know that I'm not alone in my experience.  How blessed am I to have people in my life who love and support me, no matter how frazzled or frightened I might be.
          Even in the middle of a dark night or in the middle of a difficult experience, the unseen work of what's happening behind the scenes...or beneath the ground...or in another person's hands...reminds me that new growth is always imminent.  So on a day when the world outside my window looks frozen and immobile, I am back to work, writing and reading and researching.  My fear has melted into the faith that no matter where this writing journey might take me, I am never alone.
          I can keep calm.
          I can find peace wherever I am.
          And if I need it, help will always be on the way.