The Ink-Stained Wretch: “My Ordeal”

July 2, 1999
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A monthly column of wit, insight, irreverance and inspiration

by a published author and veteran of the publishing trenches.

The Ink-Stained Wretch

Don Whittington

June, 1999

"My Ordeal"


It began like so many things do, with me waking up. I yawned, and went back to sleep, of course, but that's of little matter here.  What's important is that eventually I woke again and when I stumbled to my desk I learned the tragic truth:  my monitor had gasped its last.

Yes, citizens,  I was screenless.  I played with it a bit, being something of a techie type, but when repeated kicks, curses,  and hammerings came to nought, I faced the facts.  I had no tube, no page, no tool.

I packed that sucker up and took it to the shop where I learned the price and delay in repair were both beyond my reach.  I would need to buy a new one.  But, here's the kicker.  I could not afford a new one just then.  End of school years bring all sorts of new and horrible expenses:  choir camp, graduation gifts, book replacement, bail.  I had to wait.

Okay, I thought.  I can wait a few weeks.  I'll just use something else.  After all, Mark Twain never had a computer.  Eudora Welty never had a computer.  I smirked and grabbed a spiral notebook and a ballpoint pen and went to work.  My hand hovered over the page.  Just work those muscles, I thought.  It's like riding a bike.


Okay, doodle, then.  Just let something flow.  I drew a crippled horse under which appeared words!  Real words!  I was writing again!  (I would like to point out I have  used more exclamation points in this one article than I have used heretofore in my entire career as a writer.  Don't try this at home.)  Who needs modern technology?  This is what I wrote.

       "I wonder what I'm missing in email?"

(As it happens, among the things I was missing:  frantic msgs from Doris asking, "Where's your column, you skunk?"  Goddamn you, Eudora.)

Then I made a little list.  When in doubt make a list, they always say.  It looked like this:

         Things on my computer I cannot get now because I don't have a goddamned monitor:

       1- Twelve novels I'm pretty sure I backed up because I hid the back-ups with a neighbor in case of fire.

         a)Note to self: That neighbor moved last year.

       2- Two novels I meant to back-up.

       3-  Five promising starts I'm pretty sure I have not backed up.

       4- Countless articles, notes, poems, etc.  that exist IN NO OTHER PLACE THAN MY HARD DRIVE!

I began to tremble.  Intellectually, I knew it was all still there, safe in that squatty little box, but what if it wasn't?  Maybe the monitor blew out because the squatty little box had a short or something.  If my writings weren't safe in there I was ruined.  Bereft. A decade of work gone.  Think what it would mean to my career?  To my eventual biographer?

Maybe a different list.  Okay.  I started again.

        Things I can write without my computer. 1- This list 2- Nothing else

And it was true.  I couldn't write without it.  I was spoiled, lazy.  I had changed.  As a young man I could write anywhere, using anything.  No more.  Now I was automatized by our nasty, fin de siecle culture in which some ninety percent of people can read a word like "automatized" and think it's perfectly okay as a word.  I had become a hopeless techno-geek.  My writing was now confined to a given posture, shoulders hunched over keyboard, hands taloned over keys, eyes glazed and dead, mouth slack, face bathed in the glow of a CRT.  Twain?  To hell with him.  Twain can kiss my ass; give me my Mac!

What could I do?  There were no typewriters anywhere.  Pen and paper was a boy's foolish dream.  I was enslaved by the computer.  I ran, screaming from my house like a tapeworm fleeing the intestine of a Supermodel.  I needed nourishment.  And I needed it right away.

There were then a few sordid public incidents followed by some quiet time…

All is hunky-dory now.  I've got a new monitor the size of Nebraska looming over me.  Twenty-one gorgeous Mitsubishi Diamond Scan inches.  You haven't seen a porn site until you've…well, no sense in sharing everything.  Anyhow, I can write again.  Not well, mind you.  Just again.

And once I verified that all my stuff was indeed where I left it, I backed it up like a good boy.  Then I made myself a little to-do list.  It only has one item on it:

1-  Buy a typewriter.


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