Back in college, I wrote a one-act play for a class. It was my first completed effort of anything lengthy. I was newly 18 and still incredibly shy of showing people what I had created, so the reading performance that was the culmination of the semester's efforts terrified me. My script was, to my mind, a little dark and a whole lot ridiculous -- and I had no idea how it was going to go over with the room.
I spent most of that reading, my characters given voice by some actors a friend of mine had used for her play, hiding behind a couch in the lounge. My skin was crawling with the mortification of being seen. I don't just mean people looking at me though I do also mean people looking at me. (I both loved and feared gatherings, which isn't too dissimilar from how I feel now!)
But then something awesome happened: everyone laughed. And they laughed at a line I had written with the hope that it would be funny. And then everyone kept laughing because my script really was an absurd little thing. It didn't have nearly the creep factor I had been going for but the comedy succeeded beyond my wildest (still pretty modest) expectations.
The end of the semester was a whirlwind after that but I held on to my script -- all my paper copies were gone but I had it saved on a 3.5" floppy disc. That way, I reckoned, I could never lose it.
I'm sure you see where this story is going. Because like six months after that the 3.5" floppy was obsolete and while I carried the disc around for years, I had no way to access it. Eventually it was lost, maybe thrown out during one of my many apartment moves. And my one-act play was gone forever.
Now, I have considered that this might be for the best. I mean, fond memories aside, I have no objective measure of the quality of that old script and it's probable that it wasn't very good. If nothing else, I am spared the embarrassment of reading my own awkward dialogue -- and I can hope I have gotten better since then.
But that's a bittersweet kindness -- and one founded in coping with the hard-learned awareness that even words, even text meant to be stored so it will last, can be lost. Everything is ephemeral.
That's what I reminded myself about last week when my hard drive stopped doing its job. My laptop, a MacBook I bought with book advance money 5 or 6 years ago, was stuck on the install screen and kept telling me my hard drive was damaged. I took it to the Genius Bar with hope in my heart but pessimism in my head; I have never been one of those folks who takes a piece of technology anywhere only to hear that the fix is cheap and easy.
By the time of my appointment, I had worked myself into such a state of panic that I came out on the other side of zen. It was an entirely new emotional state for me. Best case was that they could do something magical and inexplicable and my laptop would just work. Middle of the road case was that my drive was hosed but they could get my information off of it and onto a new machine.
My worst case scenario was, in fact, the one that turned out to be true. The drive was toast and the odds of anything being pulled off of it were extremely low -- it wasn't even really showing up for the Apple diagnostic thing.
I thought I had prepared myself. But when the very sympathetic Apple guy told me the bad news, my heart sort of fell into my stomach. Complete with that burning acid reflux sensation.
When Rebecca wrote about being helpless without her phone, I understood. I've long been a proponent of integrating technology into our everyday lives and, I think, once you get used to the power of easy information and communication, it's hard to go back. People can go on Internet cleanses all they like, but there's a certain luxury to choosing to reject what has become such a powerful force in our culture.
Plus, I'm a writer.
It's not like I haven't backed things up. I watched an ex-boyfriend rage against the dying of the light when his external hard drive full of music he had spent decades collecting in other formats before digitizing and cleaning house failed. That sort of catastrophic loss is more than I could handle.
But there are always things, small things, that slip through the gaps. And while I am still calculating what this hard drive failure has lost me, there are ghosts already whispering to me.
A story about a pregnant werewolf and her therapist. Some fanfic that was never going to see the light of day anyway. The beginnings of an alternate first chapter for a blood magic Florida panhandle novel. My resume.
Y'all, I am NOT excited about having to rebuild my resume. I have to scour my email to find an old copy to use as a base.
I've also lost some music and a bunch of photos. Flickr and Dropbox have kept this from being a total loss but I'm just not emotionally prepared to figure out how to rebuild my David Bowie and Tom Waits discographies.
This is the drawback to digital files -- and maybe it's why so many folks are so excited about the Cloud, that elusive storage in the metaphorical sky from whence we can access our data at any time. My iPad and my iPhone both backed up to my laptop, but I'm moving toward the iCloud backup for those I wasn't so into before the great data disaster of 2014. (Is it tempting fate to call it that already?)
The Cloud has dangers of its own, especially when you start looking at data security. And depending on any single backup can be risky anyway. So I am also considering a giant hard drive to serve as dedicated backup at the house.
Everything is ephemeral but I'm feeling a little more practical these days -- I don't HAVE to cope via being philosophical. I've got a new laptop now (the MacBook is dead; long live the MacBook) -- a sweet MacBook Air that I appreciate even as I am still in shock -- and it feels a little like starting from scratch. No better time to start with complete backups.
Because I don't want to lose whatever comes next, no matter how bad that one-act play really was.
Have you ever suffered a catastrophic data loss? What did you do? And does everyone else regularly backup their entire life?