Saturday, May 24, 2008

Order and Disorder, Context and Content

My personal files, both paper and digital, are in a state of disarray. I keep everything: old phone bills, pay slips from 1996, expired coupons for websites that no longer exist, shipment confirmation e-mails for things that have long since been received and broken, and so on. It would mitigate things a bit if I kept all this stuff in some semblance of order, but of course I don't. Most of the paper stuff is crammed into a single cheap filing cabinet. The bottom drawer bent itself out of shape the last time I opened it and doesn't close properly now. For that matter, it doesn't open properly anymore. If I want to file something, I cram it in the gap. This isn't much of a step down from my old filing method: that involved opening the drawer, looking for a folder that had room, stuffing the document in, and then shutting the drawer and walking away before I had time to question whether this was a particularly adult way of doing things.

The digital side is worse. Some files are on floppies. I haven't bought or built a computer with a floppy drive in about five years. For others, my back up solution was to e-mail the file to myself. This seems like a great idea, until you realize that I've had a half-dozen web based mail accounts, some of which I no longer have the password for, some of which simply don't exist anymore. I've settled down with gmail now, but my wild past still haunts me. The files in these accounts were just back ups, but the originals weren't treated well either. The hard drives containing them are either sitting in disused PCs that I haven't got around to stripping for parts, or were in PCs that I did strip for parts and the drives are now sitting in unlabeled anti-static bags...somewhere. A hard drive in an anti-static bag is about the size of a paperback book and slides easily —nay, pleasurably— into any available nook or cranny. In our house, once a nook or cranny gets filled other crap get piled in front of it. Then more crap gets piled on top of that. Then some of the piles fall into each other, generating new nooks and crannies. I think this is how planets get formed.

One especially galling example occurred in both the physical and digital worlds. Back in 2004 I wrote a few dozen pages as part of National Novel Writing Month. I'm sure the digital files are here somewhere, but I haven't found them yet. My efforts are being hampered by the fact that my external hard drive enclosure is on the fritz so I can't search the old unlabeled drives that way (even if I could find them all). If I got desperate enough I could install them directly into my PC, except that the IDE hard drive is going the way of the floppy drive, the ISA bus and the AGP slot, and I only have SATA ports left free, alas.

(If the preceding sentence was mostly gibberish to you, congratulations on being at least partially well-adjusted.)

Fortunately, I had the foresight to print out a copy of my fragment. All is not lost! If I wanted to, I could scan it in. Except...Vista doesn't have a driver for my scanner. Boo, hiss! Ancient flatbed scanners need love too. The five of us with still-working examples of this particular model are extremely disappointed and will tell all our friends. Luckily, I'm Captain Savvy of the good ship Plans Ahead and this PC also boots the Ubuntu flavor of Linux. Ubuntu does have a driver for my scanner and it works swimmingly, as this photo set attests. Hooray! Oh, but the Linux part of my system has been hosed since a recent update and I haven't gotten around to fixing it.

Well never mind, at least I've got a nice paper copy to read. Except there don't appear to be page numbers. And it appears to have been dropped. Several times. In fact, I've seen well shuffled decks of cards that were in better order than this manuscript. Also, the narrative is feverish to say the least, and it's been about three years since the last time I had a look at it, so I'm having a little trouble sorting it out using context clues. Does our hero getting tasered by the mayor come before or after he finds a pair of panties in the library's storage closet? Does the discussion with Baron Secretary come before or after the strange lunch with Hector (Who. Talks. Like. This. For. Some. Reason.)? Is the gangster Little Cliffy B menacing and then friendly, or friendly and then menacing? Was it strictly necessary to name check both Blake and Rockwell Kent in the scene where the hero is leading the bedazzled townspeople into the underground tunnel (and please tell me you weren't planning on serving up some of that "hero's journey" shit here)?

Whoops, that last one is less about context than it is about the embarrassing content flashing before my eyes. Anyway, all this is a roundabout way of saying that what I had hoped to post today was an extract from the archives, but the piece I wanted to work with is proving inaccessible at every turn. So sorry.

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