The Yawning Gulf

My old uni-hued friend...

My old uni-hued friend…

 

On days like today, when I can’t get my shit together and string together a reasonable sentence on single thing that I’m working on, I realize how much computer screens these days are engulfed in white. After staring at that ocean of a blank slate for a short while (one hour? six?), my eyes hurt. I blink and walk away and the ghost of the white screen follows me into the living room where I cuddle with the dog or the kitchen where I cuddle with a bag of cookies.

The first computer I had was a generic PC clone. My parents bought it for me so I could transcribe my first novel onto a floppy disc for easier transport and use in any Frisbee-related emergencies.

I say “novel” but it was too short for that. A 26, 000 word coming-of-age piece that fairly burst with all the accrued wisdom you could expect from a fifteen year-old virgin with braces and headgear that slung around his face like a broken spoke from a grocery cart and the delightful grace-note of a sweat-stained neck strap.

I wrote that first draft on a manual typewriter I still own and on the only paper in the house that was even remotely appropriate–blank but with three-holes punched out. Thinking back on it, I must have had a mortal fear of margins because I crowded letters on the entire page, from the top left corner to the bottom right, even deftly squeezing an adjective or two on the left-hand side of the holes.

The summer of 1986, I spent my vacation transferring those pages onto disc and scanning the radio dial for the Michael MacDonald’s “Sweet Freedom” from my favourite movie of the year Running Scared (the older I get, the more I look to my historically shitty taste in music and wince). Kids, you won’t understand the fun of hunting the airwaves for a song in your instant-gratification YouTube era, but back then you could spend days without hearing your wanted song but when you did, Jesus, it was like winning the lottery. But with an unavoidably catchy melody.

Other than the comforting, dulcet tones of a certain ex-Doobie Brother, I remember the screen on that computer’s monitor. The amber text hovered on a black screen, somehow keeping straight lines in what should have looked like (in my mind at least) the alphabet in zero gravity.

Even though I was transcribing existing text, there were enough times that I spent staring at a blank screen (likely pondering what the next John Hughes movie was going to be like and if I had enough money to see Running Scared again).

I experienced enjoyment at those moments, a strange warmth that the white screens of today do not provide. At least in those days, even after I had finished tapping out my novel and started an ill-advised tango with poetry, I could sit in front of the screen and not know what was going to happen, like falling at night and not being able to see the ground flying up to flatten me.

And if you’re going to say “Go thee and find a monochrome monitor emulator”, I’m going to say that not only are you stiff-necked jerk, you’ve missed the point.

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