Friday, January 24, 2020

Error Message Overlords

I am anxious about the state of the thesis; the truth is that I haven't had the presence of mind to craft it as a whole. Like me, the writing has been a kaleidoscopic undulation, a tumble of fractured pieces through darkness and light. The thesis requires a minimum of 80 pages, and as of today, I have a month to put any sort of finality into the final rough draft.

I haven't transcribed anything from the notebooks in over a year.

I have no idea what goes where.
Every time I think about writing more or assembling what I have, I feel like a Slinky tossed down the stairs.

The world spins away from me into that moment of indecision, a shutter-snap sliver of time when I can't decide if I'm going to have a panic attack or be buried by claustrophobia.

When the claustrophobia attacks first started to join the panic party back in August, I felt defeated, as though my schoolyard-brawl partner hired a street-thug to join the fight. But I've learned to make use of this indecision point; it's an escape hatch if I can reach through the fear. This usually looks like me standing up and walking, even if just a few steps. Frequently I end up removing a jacket or a sweatshirt in the process, though I never remember taking off my clothes. Today it looks like walking into the bathroom and dropping the stopper into the tub drain, turning on the taps. A pregnant dollop of lavender soap swan-dives into the steam. Bubbles sketch an arc toward the shallow end. 

I  wade through the emotional mess that keeps me from looking at the writing situation, scoping out the extent of how deeply in toxic waste I am, how far I am from where I need to be, measuring the spread of the disaster zone. I open the cloud drive on my phone and select the files, memoir pieces that have made it to digital to date.

I've turned into some sober, female, wifeless version of Trumbo, legs stretched out in the enameled cast iron as I let the jumble in my mind settle. Bubbles help. Confession: I have written most of my thesis on my phone. Being able to create, edit, send, and print files from my phone while in the tub is proof that God loves me and wants me to be happy.

 I select files to send to the printer and began breathing as the pages spit out in the other room, each one taking me a single step closer to the goal post. It matters less that you were first or eighty-first in this marathon; it matters that you crossed the finish line. The printer hums and I set the phone aside, laying my care and fear down with it, just for now. The water is my favorite temperature, almost too hot to bear.

I close my eyes and hope that I have at least 65 pages waiting for me.

The printer sends an error to my phone, annoying me from my reverie. I don't bother to read it. I pull the stopper from the drain and dry off, figuring that there is a jam in the feed, the bane of all printing jobs, an irritation so common in the twentieth-century office-life as to be cliche. I start the kettle as I dry off. My hair smells of lavender as I squeeze water from the damp ends into the towel.

The battery of green lights at the printer confuses me -- nothing indicates at first glance where the jam might be. I pick up my phone to read. "Reload Letter Paper." On autopilot, I walk tot he filing cabinet to comply with my commands from the Error Message Overlord, towel wrapped around me and feet still plumply damp on the hallway carpet. (Remember back when we used to tell computers what to do? That was a neat time.) The file cabinet drawer closes with a click-thump that will always sound satisfying and I carry the new paper toward the printer.

Then the meaning of the message hit me: the printer ran out of paper.

 I had a hundred sheets or more in the tray. The pages are double-sided.

I have at least 200 pages already written.

My smile spreads across my face and into my hands as I fill the printer tray. The last of the water drains from the tub, the gurgle in the pipes a frolic of bass notes to join my laughter in the empty apartment. My fears are ridiculous.

Everything's going to be fine.