In high school I spent a butt load of time at the local library, not because I was a nerd but because they had free computers. Prior to that, I was typing out most of my papers on an old-school word processor. The ones with that crazy loud printer that screamed like a banshee as it zigzagged from right to left with every brilliant line of my 16-year-old mind. It wasn't uncommon to find me outside a classroom tearing off the perforated edges before handing in a 10-pager.
My mom got the word processor for free after my AP English teacher told me to stop turning in assignments written in pencil and riddled with eraser burns. I sort of miss those days when pen to paper wasn't just an expression. When you couldn't get distracted by much more than that annoying callus on your ring finger. Anyway, eventually even the word processor wasn't enough. The printer was buggy, and that antique accordion paper was pretty hard to find in 1996.
It was my Spanish teacher, Senior Schaffer, who was smart enough to ask why I was handing in a cursive analysis of Don Quixote. I admitted that our printer was jammed and so instead of being late I just wrote the whole thing over by hand.
"Wait, you guys don't have a new computer at home?" he sounded shocked (I went to private school).
"Um, no," I answered equally surprised. Of course we didn't. I worked after school as a necessity, not for Gap jeans.
A week later I got called into the main office. There was a package for me, according to the principal's assistant, and I needed to sign for it before the next period. Despite never getting any package at school I wasn't suspicious when I walked in and right there on the counter was a brand new Gateway computer and printer.
"Who's that for?" I asked, still so not getting it.
"It's for you," all the little old ladies in the office said, smiling like they'd won something when it was me that was getting the prize. There was no note. I called my mom.
"I can't take the bus home today," I explained. "You've got to come pick me up after work."
"Why?" she sounded tired and skeptical, maybe her good kid had got into some trouble with the transportation police.
"Someone bought me a new computer and I can't carry it."
Needless to say, my mom was pretty stoked. She wouldn't have to scrimp on top of scrimping to send me off to college with something to get my genius on with. I banged out a couple of killer personal essays on that bad boy and watched the acceptance letters roll in -- sort of (screw you, Harvard).
She also never let me forget that an anonymous someone, who we would eventually figure out was my Spanish teacher, had bet on me and I better make good on it. This is how people who don't have much conceptualize something new and shiny. You got to live up to it.
You've also gotta ride that thing 'til the wheels fall off. I had my Gateway for YEARS. An antique behemoth of a computer that I wouldn't part with until Journalism school and only then because it was falling apart. Like literally there were buttons missing. And I haven't bought a new new computer since. I've bought throw-aways, cheap stuff I found on Craigslist. I figured all those fancy computer commercials were for someone else.
Whenever I'd watch my friends (i.e., Carrie Bradshaw) pull out the latest sleek electronic swag I'd think, "Wow they must really have made it," and remember how I felt when I had my first new computer in hand, like a woman who could type just about anything. But then again I wrote my first book on a glitchy Acer that weighed about a million pounds and my first screenplay on a tiny netbook I eventually dropped and cracked in half.
My last computer was crusted with food crumbs and riddled with porn pop-ups, when I got a call from a friend who worked for Dell. They wanted to gift me their new XPS 13 ultrabook and see what I'd do with it.
So far? Nothing. Unless you count crippling anxiety. The silky black keyboard's like buttah. The 13-inch screen is perfect for filling with awesome world-changing words, but my fingers aren't used to how fancy feels.
Don't get me wrong I'm loving this thing and according to the live-in love of my life who does "IT stuff" for a living the ultrabook is the wave of the future. Now all I have to do is figure out how I'm supposed to usher it in. I never thought having a new machine would come with so much responsibility and I guess for most people it doesn't. But remember you're talking to the girl who got her first real computer from her 11th-grade Spanish teacher.
My mom made me write Mr. Schaffer a thank you note before I left for college. I couldn't think of a thing. So I wrote something dumb like, "If it wasn't for you I wouldn't be able to write this thank-you note." Frances wasn't impressed. I haven't heard from Senor Schaffs (as we called him) in years.
Now with a paper trail that could sufficiently litter an entire 500 sq ft apartment, I'm almost certain I've made my old teacher proud. And I can do the same for myself with only my second new computer in more than 15 years as soon as I get over that new expectations smell. You'd think a Gen X/Yer like me would be so over it when it comes to shiny stuff, but I'm not. I'm like the kid who lived in an eleventh floor walk-up their entire lives and instead of being awed by an elevator she's dumbfounded. Now what?
First, I have to treat my laptop like a lover. I can't put Xena (yes, I named her) on an unattainable pedestal, I've got to pay attention to her, listen and let only my fingers do all the talking.
Next, comes the easy part. All I have to do is think of something amazing to move into my new XPS 13. I'm trying to hatch a book idea from scratch and the labor pains have been brutal, like really really bad gas. But I'll push through and keep you guys updated. So far I've got 10 pages of a decent proposal. Pun intended.
All my self-imposed anxiety reminds me of that letter I wrote Mr. Schaffer all those years ago. Without it, "I wouldn't be able to write this thank-you note." It's like the greasy first pancake you throwaway. But the rest of the batch you know is going to turn out pretty darn good.
Follow all the amazing stuff Helena plans to do with Xena her #XPS on Twitter.