Before the Kid was born, I wrote a poem about him on the only computer I had at the time, an Apple Powerbook 145b. I recently mentioned the poem to him, and he wanted to see it; so I pulled the Powerbook out of storage, plugged it in, pressed the power button, and heard that old-school Apple sigh. But the 9.1 inch 1-bit 640×400 passive matrix screen stayed white – so I pulled the battery and power, put them both in again, waited a minute this time, and tried again.
This time the Powerbook fired up, I saw the Happy Mac, and within a minute the cluttered desktop appeared exactly as I had left it 10 years ago. It was a veritable treasure trove of forgotten memories. Letters to people I haven’t thought of in years and some seriously bad fiction writing. Some of the letters were written during my first trip to Africa; I wrote and edited each letter on the computer before transcribing it by hand to paper and mailing it. After all, this was 1994 and I was here, isolated and cut off from the rest of the world aside from shortwave radio and letters carried out of the park by the occasional tourist or park official.
The letters were packed with detail and lengthy – as letters once were before they were replaced by email, and the Kid several of them thoroughly. "Wow, you and mom sure did a lot before I was born," he said afterward. Indeed we had.
The experience struck me on several levels. First, we are so caught up in the present that we often forget the big picture about what we have done and where we are going. We might think we have an understading, but the abstract "I’ve lived in the African bush," means little until you read and remember that you counted 40 species of ants in your research camp, or noted two species of galago that took separate shifts "serenading" you nightly with their banshee-like screams through the night.
Secondly, the ancient Powerbook was like opening a door to the room that had been shut for over 10 years. There was an old resume without mention of anything computer related. There were a few whining notes that seemed humorous now (“fussy baby” – Jeez, that’s music compare to “fussy pre-teen” I occasionally get today. A Word doc that listed all the items were trying to sell in a “sayonara sale” before we left Japan (4000 yen for a VCR? We sold it).
Being a technophile I couldn’t help but notice how much things had changed tech-wise. The copy of Word I used, Word 5.0 actually fit on a floppy. The one I have loaded on my laptop purchased this year is split amongst several files and folders but probably weighs in closer to 200 meg.
Since I’ve pulled it out, I’m struck by the need to back it up, to save it like an antique – after backing up the data. It’s a beautiful machine in more ways than meets the eye.
It’s the machine that I carried with me in my backpack, leaping from the Mwongozo onto a heaving wooden boat a mile from the shore on Lake Tanganyika at 3am in July 1994 – scared out of my wits and bone tired. It’s the machine I wrote and completed my first novel on, “The Healing Place.” It’s the machine I tapped away on on the train from Kuzuha to Sanjo station.
It’s more than a piece of obsolete electronics, so very much more. I think I’ll pull it out and put it on display like the true, priceless antique that it is.
The Wife is going to just love that…