The screen was black. I moved the mouse around. Nothing. I tried to restart. It wouldn’t let me. Finally, I cut the power. Then utilizing my extraordinary capacity for denial, I decided that everything would be fine in the morning. I didn’t sleep much. This wasn’t like the coffee maker not working. This was my laptop. This was scary. The next morning, I took a deep breath and turned it on. It made a sound like a tennis shoe banging around inside a dryer. I called my tech guy who rushed to the scene. After about five minutes with the patient, he looked up at me with the saddest eyes I've ever seen. “Please tell me you had everything backed-up on discs or something.” I slowly shook my head. I had been working on naïve faith. Nothing was backed up.
I rushed the damaged drive across town to official Geek Squad headquarters in Santa Monica where they too offered a grim prognosis. To be totally certain, they would ship it to their super, secret lab in Wisconsin to see if anything could be salvaged. I knew my manager had the most recent drafts of all my scripts stored on his computer, but what about the rest of the files? The hundreds and hundreds of files. To soothe my nerves, I did what I do best - I went out and spent money. By the end of the day, I was the proud owner of a new laptop, but the ghost of my old computer continued to haunt me. That night as I lay in bed, I thought about all that I had lost.
From the time I first starting writing, I was always jotting down all of my story “nuggets.” And much like my packrat father, I kept them all. Truthfully, every time I opened my “idea” folder, looking for inspiration, I mostly felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of unsold pitches, half-finished specs and raggedy-assed treatments I had accumulated over the years. My complete inability to hit the "delete" button had left me with a storehouse full of mummified concepts I was never going to act on. It was like visiting the pound and being stared at by a thousand three-legged dogs, all wanting you to save them from death. But holding onto that slag pile of unsold ideas had also given me a perverse sense of security. It was proof that I was an experienced professional writer; a veteran of the wars. Now, seated at my new computer, staring at my virtually empty documents folder, I felt like a lonely amateur. A beginner working without a net.
Within a few days, the Geek Squad called with news of a miracle. It now appeared their lab in the Midwest might be able to retrieve as many as 450 files. All I had to do was say the word (and pay approximately $1,947.00). It should have felt like good news, but it didn’t. I'd been scared for the last few days, but I had soldiered on; working daily on a new TV pitch and researching a couple of feature ideas. Despite all the anxiety, it had been a remarkably good week. For the first time in years, the work felt lighter. Part of me was starting to like having no past; no recorded history. Another part of me wanted it all back. I hesitated. And I remembered a similar moment years ago.
Just before I abandoned New York for Los Angeles, I called up my old shrink’s office to schedule a few “tune-up” sessions. Oddly, her receptionist transferred me to another therapist who then informed me that my former shrink had passed away unexpectedly. A small universe exploded inside my head. I felt awful that she was gone, but I also couldn’t help wondering what had happened to all those secrets I had told her. Did she take them with her? Or, when she ceased to exist, did they just scatter out into the ether; all my embarrassing psychic laundry floating down on the heads of unsuspecting New Yorkers. She had been the safe depository of all my dreams and desires for so many years. And now she was gone. The whole reason I had wanted to see her was so she could reassure me that going forward was the right decision. Even in death, she proved to be a terrific therapist. Working from the grave, no less, she had managed to clarify what had seemed so confusing just moments before: There is only forward. There is never any going back.
The following day, I called the Geek Squad and told them I’d decided not to retrieve the old files from the hard drive. I wouldn’t be needing them. Loss is hard, but it’s not always bad. Last weekend I was reading an article in some oddball magazine and it contained a fantastic quote by literary and cinematic legend Jean Cocteau. Supposedly, a reporter once asked him, if his house was on fire (and he could only rescue one thing) what would it be? Cocteau gave a great answer. He said “I’d take the fire.“ I understood that to mean he would choose life (“the fire”); and with it, all the miraculous and disastrous forces that shape and propel us. Yes, sometimes the fire robs us of certain possessions, but it can also reward us with a vision of who we might yet become. I think that guy was a genius. Rent “Beauty and the Beast” sometime (and I don’t mean the Disney version).
Well, I’m no Cocteau, clearly. But I am a working artist. Somewhat unknown, I grant you, but not without a couple of fans out there. I’m not young. I’m not old. And I’m not dead (yet). I still wake up some mornings excited about what might happen. I’m lucky. This is my life. And this is my blog. Thanks for reading it.
Copyright 2008 David Dean Bottrell