At home I was writing about other stuff. It’s hard to remember exactly what kind of stuff; a broken heart, probably. I was writing on an IBM XT, which had 128 KB of RAM and a monochrome monitor. When you turned it on, you were greeted by the flashing and vaguely unsettling C> prompt. To engage the text program you had to insert a floppy disk into the slot. I had amassed a hundred or so pages, which impressed me. I was impressed with myself because there was no one else around to be impressed for me. The only problem is that I didn’t know anything about computers, so when something went wrong with it I was stymied. But Frank knew things, so I began to use him as a resource. The guy who had a pond and a tiger was also the guy who shone a light on the dark and scary technological path on which I was so often lost. One day, something very bad happened. I couldn’t access my files. I called Frank and asked him what to do. He was cool, as usual. No problem, he said, all I needed to do was erase my “temporary files” (whatever those were), and he told me how simple it was to do it: at the C> prompt, after typing “erase,” simply type star dot star [*.*], he said. I did exactly what he told me to. Then I tried to find my writing. But there was nothing there. My computer was completely empty. “This is weird,” I said. “My stuff is gone. Everything.” “Oh,” he said, casually. “I meant to say star dot tmp [*.tmp]. You just erased all the data on your computer. Completely. But you have a backup, right?” Long pause on my end as I found the breath to speak. “Of course,” I said. But of course I didn’t. Three years a nonsmoker, I walked across the street and bought a pack of cigarettes and reacquainted myself with the joys
of tobacco. I thought of quitting altogether that day—not smoking, but writing. I was still young; I could do something else. Maybe this was a sign. Then again, Hemingway himself actually kept all his stories in a suitcase, which were once accidentally left in a train station in Paris and stolen, gone forever. He had to begin again, with nothing but a few well-sharpened pencils. That’s the real adventure, I
realized: bringing these unruly words together into sentences, and the sentences into stories. This is the dark and unexplored forest, the reef where ships sank, the wild animal secreted behind tall pines. So I went back to it. I got into the cage with the tiger. Daniel Wallace is the author of Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions and The Kings and Queens of Roam.
1/4/16 12:02 PM
The Happiness Issue: Jack Black reflects on his ongoing quest for authentic happiness; a guide for mapping out your ideal day from start to...