Three weeks ago, the internet company decided to upgrade me without my permission; the upgrade frightened my poor little modem to death and I was suddenly without internet. As a person who works, shops, and even socializes from home, this is probably my equivalent of suddenly lacking a car in a town without public transportation.
At first I raged, but they said they’d have a new powerful amazing modem delivered in two days so I decided I’d be fine. Not all editing requires internet access, so I did what I could, and it turns out that I am internet-reliant but not internet-dependent, jobwise. The hardest part was giving up the parts of internet access that are not strictly job-related: reading the news, catching up with friends, and “finding stuff out”.
So I muddled through the week with a dictionary and an encyclopedia during the day, and it was okay. In the evenings, instead of reading up on mysterious rashes, adaptations of “My Fair Lady” into foreign languages, and the number of calories you burn brushing your teeth, I worked on home projects. I re-organized the books. I put together a new CD shelf. I waxed the living room floor. I patched things. I made myself useful.
But I didn’t feel useful, because there’s a difference between what you can do and what you’re good at doing. I’m good at about two things: watching television and looking stuff up. Because watching television tends to turn me into a bit of a nutter, I restrict that, but I am in the habit of giving my research urges unrestricted access. And not being able to look stuff up nearly did me in, because I could go to my friend’s house up the street to download projects and upload completed work, but you don’t feel the same about spending time on somebody else’s computer searching for pictures of Franklin Pierce (which is something I did the day after I got access back: quite a handsome fellow).
After a week (which is Novera-speak for "two days"), I was back on line. And reflecting on this experience was… not good.
I have thought of myself as being a knowledgeable person. There’s knowledge you have and knowledge you know how to get, and I didn’t mind being poor in the first type because I believed I was richer than many others in the second type. It isn’t necessary to know how to spell well as long as you know that you can’t and you’re reconciled to the fact of looking words up often. This applies to nearly anything: if you’re able to find the answer, you don’t have to carry it around in your head. However, it’s quite a blow when your second brain is suddenly missing.
And last Monday, the telephone company started playing with the line, and I’ve been on and offline again all week. Last night I was sleeplessly cataloging the things that I am good at and not good at, and I’ve realized that all this being good at looking stuff up has made it possible for me to forget that being good at one thing does not necessarily mean that one is good at many things, and it certainly doesn’t mean that one is good. I rationalize that I can’t wax the floor because I am “busy” looking for recordings of Algonquin poets reading aloud (?don’t remember why). Without that excuse, I am forced to discover that waxing a floor does not require any particular degree of awesome, and that waxing the floor doesn’t make me personally more aesthetically pleasing. Making crappy craft knock-offs of more creative projects doesn’t make me artistic. The ability to alphabetize my CDs, no matter how efficiently and thoroughly I do so, doesn’t make me organized. And none of these things, neither the alphabetizing or the art projects or the floor waxing, or even the live poetry, actually me a better person, or even a more interesting person, and the fact that being good at looking stuff up has distracted me from this lack is merely a testament to the horror of it. What I am left with, when left alone, is the ability to realize how thoroughly hateful it is to be alone with me. It’s been rather a rough week.