Breaking Work Habits & Trying Something New

First my computer started making a grinding noise, then it wouldn’t boot up. I didn’t panic, though. There are computer at both Montessori and the college where I teach. Surely, I thought, dripping with fear-sweat, I’ll be able to use those computers to get posts prepared and to finish up other writing assignments.

Alas, my Computer Access Problem got worse and worse. Not catastrophic like the time my PC exploded in the middle of helping my brother write his medical school application essay or the time that the school-issued laptop went Blue Screen of Death and chewed up 150 pages of a novel-in-progress or when my iMac told me there was something seriously wrong, gasped, and died… No, the Access Problem wasn’t nearly dramatic as these past incidents.

But it was bad enough.

My wife’s laptop has a track pad and the screen is so, so small. Besides, she uses her computer to do her own work. The school computers are shared computers and they don’t have the same programs. (I hope you read that sentence with the intended measure of whininess.) The screens, the keyboards, the backgrounds, the text size… the locations, the passwords, the alignment of the stars in the sky… they were all different.

I missed my PC. My wonderful PC. My comfortable, familiar, hard-working PC.

Sure, I could write stuff out longhand, but then I’d just have to type it up later. Besides, the scant few minutes on the borrowed computers needed to be spent checking e-mail and, you know, stuff like that.

The days passed. I anxiously awaited the repairman’s diagnosis. I got further and further behind in my writing. More days passed. I got less done in terms of writing but more done in terms of sleeping and reading and spending time with my wife and daughter. I love sleeping and reading and spending time with my family.

I checked a laptop out from the college’s IT department. The something or other wasn’t configured correctly. The domain? Easily fixed. But the thing spent a couple days beside my office chair in the padded carrying case, unused. Another track pad. Yeesh!

I got word from the repairman. The conversation wasn’t as awkward for him as it was for me. He’d seen this before. Seems he opened up my PC, took a look around, dusted out the innards. There wasn’t anything wrong with it. No grinding noise. Booted up just fine. Could maybe use a better fan or a better power source, but those were luxuries not necessities.

Nothing was wrong with it?

He shrugged and said it happens. Just like when you take the car in to see a mechanic and it purrs like a kitten gettin’ its ears scratched. That’s how he put it.

I took my PC home, plugged in all the wires, checked my e-mail, Facebook, couple (legal) music download sites. I patted my PC, ” We’ve got a lot of work to do, Old Friend, but we’re in this together.”

The time apart did us good. We got some space. Grew as individuals and as friends. Maybe we healed, too. I don’t know. Something to think about.

Maybe I imagined the grinding sound. Maybe my PC wouldn’t boot up because it needed a break, a little rest, time alone.

Saturday. My PC and I were just hanging out, listening to some music, watching a few shows on iTunes. The college’s laptop was still beside my office chair. My wife’s laptop was charging in the living room.

Sunday. More of the same, except that we had a sitter coming over to our house to play with our daughter so my wife and I could catch up on our work. She and her laptop went to her office. Me and the college’s laptop headed to the bookstore.

I had a pile of work to do. Was way, way behind. Needed all the help I could get. The college’s computer, track pad and all, was going to help me out. We were a team.

Why then did I enter the bookstore with nothing but a pen? Why did I get a cup of coffee and a stack of napkins? Why did I leave that laptop in the car? I’m not sure. But I did get a lot of work done in the bookstore using nothing but a disposable pen and napkins.

Sure, the ink bled a little and the napkins tore every now and then. But I left that coffee shop hours later with an inch-thick stack of ink-soaked napkins, a cramped hand, and (to invoke Bob Dylan) a head full of ideas that kept me up all night in the throws of creative frenzy. There was so much I wanted to do, to make, to write, to read, to say…

A simple change of tools. A habit broken by circumstance and, eventually, by choice.

So, first my computer made a grinding noise, then it wouldn’t boot up. I freaked out a little, I can admit that. After all, my habits and rituals were being intruded upon. There was change. There was disruption. There was discomfort.

Ultimately, there was an afternoon alone with a pen and some napkins and a whole lot of creative flow and productivity.

Give it a try. Identify your writing rituals, habits, and fetishes. Then mess with them a little. Take a break from them. Imagine your computer is making funny sounds or that your favorite pen is out of ink or that someone replaced your coffee with green tea or that your computer ate your Writing Playlist. Try something different. Do it in a different way. Then write to us here at BookLifeNow and let us know how it went.

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