Thursday, October 18, 2012

The ghost in the machine

Harvey's computer has been sitting in my spare room for about 18 months now. I moved it upstairs soon after he died. I knew that in a sense it was his afterlife. I also knew I'd have to deal with it at some stage -  go through everything on it, decide what should be kept, save it in some form, remove everything else and dispose of the computer itself.
          He'd been so well organised that he'd published his last book of his own poetry in his last year. I knew there wouldn't be a lot there that he hadn't already used. But the one thing I knew I had to keep was the entries for his diary, some of which I hadn't yet read, because he had never printed them out. He'd stopped keeping it after he started his blog (and of course, after he was no longer able to go out or do anything much except write, read, think and talk).
           It took me quite a long time, but I finally realised I was never going to sort all this out sitting at his computer. It has a curved screen I don't like, and his keyboard doesn't suit me. It's in a room that's too light, so to use it you have to keep the blinds pulled. And soon after he died I did something wrong and the whole contents had to be rescued and the software reinstalled. I was immensely grateful to the friends who helped with all this, but since then it doesn't seem to run very smoothly. So I just ignored the problem.
           A while ago I met a student who was carrying round a box about the same size and shape as an old video recording. She said it was an external hard drive, it cost about $150, and she could keep a whole computerful of work on it. 
            This week I bought one of these boxes and got my lovely computer man to transfer all Harvey's documents, pictures and emails into it from his computer. It worked very well, and it took up only a tiny fraction of the two terabytes of storage available. (Lovely word, terabyte, it sounds like a large friendly animal of some kind, maybe a sort of combination of a dog and a small dinosaur...)
              In theory, we should then have been able to delete everything from Harvey's computer and erase his user name. The final curtain. But at the last minute I got cold feet. I was very grateful when my computer man suggested I could just leave it for a while, until I'd made sure (by looking on my own computer) that everything I wanted was safely stored away. Strange, isn't it, how dealing with machines can be so emotional. But for writers, especially, their machines now feel like a part of their soul.
               I can now deal with everything that was on his computer much more easily, and I certainly will...soon. The other thing I have to do soon is decant everything out of my computer into the box, where my words can sit companionably alongside Harvey's. I need to do this because I'll soon have to get a new computer for myself, partly so I can learn to do all the flash social media stuff to promote my ebook. It will be out in March, and I'm told that the next Listener will have an article on ebooks in which it figures - I was interviewed this week.. My first food memoir media appearance!


  1. I bought one of those boxes recently too, and it has been most helpful. For us, a cheaper way of freeing up some space on my relatively ancient computer than buying a new computer.

    I am looking forward to your book. Will it also be published as a paper book?

  2. Loved the Listener article - and the photos of you.