I’m on holiday in the States visiting family by the time you’re reading this post, but as I did my best to set up my blog so that there would be continuity and so that you would all enjoy it, hopefully, I came across this post, which even so long after the fact still gives me a cold chill. If anything even more so now that such huge chunks of our existence are lived out on social media and in cyberspace, in a virtual world that exists only in pixels and soundbites. In fact, the memory of the experience causes me to ask once more just who I am if I lose those virtual connections into which I’ve poured the last twelve years of my life?
Behold, a cautionary tale! Read and be Afraid!
That day almost two years ago, my life flashed before my eyes. It was the first time it had ever happened, and I hope like hell it’s the last. The first thing that struck me was that it was nothing like I’d thought it would be. There were no memories of my childhood, no memories of getting married or moving off on my own to Croatia gone. There were no memories of falling in love or of my favorite trips, nor the major milestones in my life vanished. Everything in my head was still as intact as it ever is. But the experience still gives me cold chills thinking about it. It was intimations of my worst nightmare. I never thought it would be like it was. Though now, looking back, I can’t imagine how I would have expected it to be otherwise.
Due to complications installing a new operating system on my computer, which I won’t go into, I ended up having every file in my Dropbox deleted. Now, before you tell me not to worry, there are ways to get it all back, let me just say that I know that. I knew that even as it was happening. BUT all of those ways of recovering data are only theories until you put them to the test, and then you have to be in a calm logical state of mind in order to be able to do that. I was neither calm nor logical as I prepared to continue with my WIP and opened a completely empty Dropbox. I back up everything – EVERYTHING in the whole universe, I back up! I’m fanatical about back ups. And where do I back it all up? On the f*cking Dropbox!!! AND NOWHERE ELSE!!!!! You see where I’m going with this? Panic sets in when the 135,000 word manuscript you’ve just completed disappears along with every picture you’ve ever taken, every word you’ve ever written of any sort. ANY sort, for the past ten years.
To give you a bit of perspective, I wrote The Initiation of Ms Holly in 2010. Since then I’ve written literally millions of words – some of them novels, some of them blog posts that I’m rather fond of, some of them short stories, poems, novellas, even the odd navel gaze. There are stories and story ideas that have never lived anywhere outside cyberspace, but I hope they will someday. There are pictures of holidays, of veg gardens we’ve planted, of long walks we’d taken on the Downs in every season at every time of day. Words! There are literally millions of words that I’ve written, and suddenly they were all gone!
Recovery happened, as the tiny part of me that wasn’t vacillating somewhere between total panic and growing despair, knew that it would and, at the end of the day, all was well. I’d lost nothing. I was even able to recover the efforts of that morning. The point is that the fear that I might have lost all my words was an eye-opening experience for me. It was a huge insight into how I define myself and how I judge the value of my life.
For good or for ill, I define myself by the words and the pictures in my Dropbox. That’s what it boils down to; that’s me stripped to the bare bones. And for a terrifying few minutes I was no one.
No one …
When I think about it now with all my words back safely where they belong, I can’t quite get my head around what I felt. There are words in the Bible meant to describe Christ. Most of you know that I came from a conservative Christian background about a hundred years ago, but these two passages transcend my faith or lack thereof and speak to the heart of the writer on a much deeper level than they might to anyone else.
For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.
And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
Words are more than just a collections of sounds that allow us to communicate. Words
have power, like a sword, like a scalpel, to discern thoughts and intents. And words, in the hands of a writer become flesh and dwell among us. For a writer – certainly for me, they become my flesh, and they become the flesh of the characters with which I people my stories. They dwell in me as surely as if they were alive, and they do often discern the thoughts and intents of my heart, without me even realizing that’s what they’re doing. Words are my companions, my guides, my friends; words are the mirror through which I view myself. For my whole life it’s always felt like the more words I write, the more clear the reflection of self in that mirror becomes. Navel gazing much???
Even as I write this, I’m well aware of just how neurotic it sounds to define myself by my words, and a part of what happened in that short time without my words was an internal battle for points of reference, for other ways to define myself, which at that moment, I
couldn’t even imagine existed. The point is the value of words – my words – to me can’t be overstated. I live with them close and personal every day of my life, and most days I bring home a few more to live with me. Losing my words, even for just that short amount of time before logic could kick in, before I could regain enough equilibrium to know that wasn’t going to happen, was like losing myself. How can I define myself without my Dropbox full of words? Who am I without those points of reference? Of course it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, had I lost all my words, but I promise you as sure as I’m sitting here, it would have felt like it.