The End of a Laptop 

A little over a year ago, I got a really nice laptop computer. Although Windows Vista was annoyingly fussy to work with compared to XP, it was still a great computer for doing my design homework, its original and intended purpose upon purchase. But, of course, it was also great for listening to the music and podcasts I downloaded from Itunes, for playing games like World of Warcraft, and for surfing through the many blogs that I read, some with an illustration or art theme, but most of them not.

And yet, during the Summer of 2008, I made a critical mistake that I am sure is not an infrequent one among fellow laptop users. During an afternoon computer surfing session, I found it necessary to attend to the natural biological result of having had a soda or two. I gently placed the nice laptop on the drafting table that I use for doing my art/design homework, and left the two cats sleeping on my bed unattended. I returned to the room just in time to see one of those cats, the particularly clumsy one, sniffing the laptop's monitor and nudging the computer towards the floor. My heart immediately leapt into my throat and I frantically threw myself at the drafting table to try and catch it as it fell, but the computer smacked the ground with a thud that broke my heart while the cat furiously scampered off the drafting table to hide under the bed.

Normally, my emotions, if not numbed to depression, are kept beneath the waves of myself as much as I can manage, my face normally the visage of stoicism. But this moment filled me with several strong emotions: anger at the cat for being merely a cat, rage at myself for being so careless as to leave the computer in such a perilous condition, panic at the thought that the computer may not work, and despair at the amount of money it cost to purchase and my inability to afford another. Plus, I also felt several undefined emotions that clashed against each other second to second giving me that light-chested feeling one feels in a crisis. Yet, I discovered soon enough that, while the hinge of the computer was indeed broken, the computer overall was still as operable as before. I thought I would be able to replace the hinge myself, but gave up trying when I found I could not get the speaker cover off to access it. The last thing I wanted was to damage the computer again in a misguided attempt to fix it.

For the next several months, I used the nice computer as before, except that I had to take special care to not exacerbate the broken hinge. I took an almost excessive and ritualistic care when I opened the laptop, making sure that I did not damage the hinge anymore. The only possible thing that I might have neglected during this broken hinge period was some magic incantation imploring the gods of electricity and pixels to have mercy on my computer and its mechanical injury. And everything went well until Spring Break when the monitor finally refused to light up. The darkness in the absence of the electric glow I expected seemed to seep out of the monitor and directly fill my chest with dark forebodings, some of those same panicked emotions that I felt that previous summer.

After extensive research checking on official repair service providers, one of which had recently gone out of business just a few months ago, my laptop ended up a Radio Shack, where an affable guy who seems to know how to replace parts but not diagnose problems attempted to fix the monitor as best he could. Unfortunately, even after a couple of hundred dollars, he was at a loss. My already tremendous distress was gradually building. The cost of the projected repairs was slowly closing in on the price of new laptop. Money is a constant source of worry to me as I never seem to have any. This was becoming one of those lose/lose dilemmas where a choice has to be made, but as each result is markedly unpleasant, one tries to put off said choice for as long as possible.

Things became even more stressful when school started up again and the computer lab was not open long enough for me to get my homework done. I utilized the available lab time as much as I possibly could, but only got about one-third of my current project done. Even when the lab monitor said that we had an extra hour beyond normal closing time to work, I still wasn't done.

And, just to make things absolutely terrifying, the instructor who assigned this particular project is very inflexible when it comes to due dates and seems to enjoy handing out 'F' grades under the mistaken view that somehow an 'F' will motivate students to perform better. Yet, for me, an 'F' is the torpedo of despair that can sink a student under a fresh sea of depression. (I could say much more about my feelings regarding this instructor and my view of his misguided teaching philosophies, but it might be wiser to let that go unsaid. My goal, when I think of this class, is to duck my head and get through it as best as I can. I don't want burden myself by dwelling on the unpleasant aspects of it for too long.)

Too soon, the last of the school's computer lab hours flew by, and I was still not finished with the project. Thankfully, my parents, whose generosity I constantly worry about stretching, came to my rescue by purchasing me a decent computer on the low end of the price scale so I could finish my school projects without having to cope with lab time shortages, the extra time and gasoline costs associated with commuting, and the few instructors impervious to the reality of students' various problems and their serious needs.

I am now working on the new laptop and am grateful for every minute I have with it. Should it be necessary to jump through a plate glass window to somehow protect it from falling off a table, I will do it and do it without thought or question. It is a rather sad fact of being poor to realize that your means of livelihood depends on just a few material things that can easily be damaged or lost somehow. I could cite a few examples that come to mind, but the ones that seem most insistent are the ones that pertain specifically to me. My school program unofficially requires expensive software and electronics: a DSLR camera, a computer, and a suite of software. This program is my last best chance for a lower-middle class life, my ultimate (and I hope realistic) goal. Without them or the assistance of my parents, my only safety net, I could easily be homeless, fighting for meager chances at an unskilled job, looking for work in a marketplace where the unemployment rate is at 10% or more. Not pleasant prospects at all.

It has been said by a few other people that I am rather resourceful in the face of problems; and, they have further said, considering my background, the limited successes I have thus far achieved are remarkable. This may very well be the case. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of energy to be resourceful and fight through a lot of these challenges. I am afraid that, at some point, I will run out of that energy and be left with nothing except the experiences of someone who has tried and failed.

04 April 2009
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