New Horse, Same Writer

By Eli Ryder

 Image from  The child's own story book; or, Tales and dialogues for the nursery  (1849)

Image from The child's own story book; or, Tales and dialogues for the nursery (1849)

Here’s how I ruined a laptop and backed into a metaphor:

I sat down at quarter after five in the morning with a cup of coffee and two displays’ worth of collegiate Learning Management Systems open in front of me. I hit the desk lamp’s ON switch, sipped, and got busy. Cranked out half the grading work I was behind on in the first forty-five minutes, rode a second cup of coffee through the rest. Twitter break—new phone, new look, same ridiculous mud-flinging. Six forty-five now. Twitter break over. I reached with my right hand to set my phone in my customary phone spot—just to the left of my laptop—and plowed right through the space occupied by that yet-untouched third cup of coffee, which spread across and then between and under the magnificent stretch of backlit keys I’d been pounding at all morning, all month, all year, for the last three years. The brown bubble of Kirkland’s Colombian fun-housed the G and F, all fat and comic.

I betrayed my keyboard. What was once my magic wand now sulked in the dregs of my clumsiness.

We craftspeople have deeply personal relationships with the tools of our trades. I don’t know a writer who doesn’t care what software they use, what keyboard they type on, or what pencil they edit with. Mechanics, chefs, tattoo artists, painters and sculptors, artisan cobblers and watchmakers, same. Our tools are extensions of ourselves, and what we create feels as much a result of the tools we use as the ways in which we use them.

From a pragmatic standpoint, for writers at least, I call bullshit.

My daughter is two and frustrated and brilliant and sometimes a little fighter who won’t go to bed before play-falling off her rocking horse for half an hour every night. She’s gotten to where she won’t even rock on the horse. She sits down, taps the space behind her on the seat—I don’t fit at all there, but she can’t tell—and gets right into the “Whoah, whoah, whoah!” of it all and then we tumble to the carpet for a second. She laughs, gets back up. Back on the horse. Forever, if we’d let her. The fun isn’t all in being on the horse or rocking back and forth, though we do get an occasional “Yee-haw!” out of her before she tips the thing over. It’s in the falling, the laying there, the getting back up.

I wrote the first draft of this post on the nifty-but-tiny keyboard Samsung makes specifically for the tablet I use sometimes at work. Occasionally, my fingers reached a little past the number row up top and hit the tablet’s screen and I ended up carving new words into paragraphs that already existed. I’m spitting out this draft on a low-budget plastic HP laptop whose innards vibrate when I type, whose fan noise drowns out the birds chirping outside. This is a far, sad cry from my beautiful aluminum unibody partner in crime. But words keep spilling onto the screen, and you wouldn’t know the difference between my typing on this or any other keyboard. The words show up, we post them, and at that point it doesn’t matter how they moved from brain to screen. The point is they did.

A couple of nights ago, we took my daughter to her bedroom for the pre-sleep routine (she knows what’s coming, turns on the cute, then unleashes the demon when the cute doesn’t work), and her rocking horse wasn’t there. It’s not technically a horse, it’s actually a stuffed elephant sitting on a rigid plastic frame, more rigid than this rickety keyboard. Our nightly roughhousing with the poor thing has torn one of the elephant’s seams, and my mother-in-law had set it aside for repair.

My daughter spent five minutes walking around with a concerned look on her face, asking us where her “yee haw” was.

Yeah, I know. Adorable.

I’m really not happy about losing my Macbook Pro. But it’s just a tool. Just a mechanical component of routine. One of my MFA professors, the incomparable Stephen Graham Jones, sat on a panel about balancing writing with life during one of our residencies and said that writing routines end up being excuses to not write. Wrong time of day? Can’t write. Writing shoes dirty? Best skip until tomorrow. Not enough blueberries in your muffin? The universe is not sufficiently aligned. Better put it off. In that way, routine becomes the craft instead of writing. Creating and relying on those perfect conditions is as much, if not more, work as just slamming words down through whatever conduit you’ve got in front of you in whatever place you’ve got it.

After my daughter was done being upset about her yee haw being missing, she and her mother and I played with her stuffed animals until she couldn’t stop rubbing her eyes and shouting directions at us. Two minutes later, she was cozied up and whispering goodnight in the dark.

I’m about to go buy myself a Windows laptop I can’t afford, because I extra can’t afford another Macbook. I stress-ate my way through the last two days about the work I was going to lose if the Macbook didn’t power up again. It did, though, and is now partway through a fresh install of the operating system. The keyboard makes occasional popping noises, reminding me of a certain breakfast cereal’s signature sound. Time to retire that horse.

And time to retire that routine. My daughter loves falling off that damned elephant. Loves laughing about it, loves climbing back up — but figures out a way to have some fun without it.