Lobsters and bit-maps

I’ve been without my computer this week. It kept booting up, turning itself off, booting itself up. Jerry couldn’t “fiss” it so he took it to Staples for repairs. While there, since I was using XP and that will no longer be supported by Microsoft, he had it upgraded to Microsoft 7. (We’ve been warned against 8 and 8.1.)

Bit of a high learning curve here. I’m almost back where I was in 1996. This is what I wrote then:

“Powerful,” my husband Rick called it. I had won enough money in a writing contest to buy a new computer and he thought it should be the latest Pentium, with Word Perfect 6.1 for Windows.

“I don’t need ‘powerful,'” I warned him. “No art, No games. Nothing complicated. Just something to write with. Like a pencil–with memory.”

“Your old computer is from the Stone Age,” he said. “You need Windows. You need 3-1/2 inch floppies. Trust me.”

I told him to go ahead and order it. He also bought me two books: WordPerfect for Dummies and Windows for Dummies. I bought 3-1/2 inch diskettes all by myself–and a screen saver with pictures of marine life.

The day after he set up my new machine, I went through the tutorial. I learned that icons have nothing to do with church. Other than that, it wasn’t much help.

The second day, I learned to open a file, close a file, and how not to save something I’d written that I wanted to work with again. . .

The third day, I learned to cut, paste, and print. But I was impatient. I don’t like learning; I like knowing. I had deadlines coming up and plots I wanted to develop. I felt handicapped. If this computer was so powerful, how come I couldn’t do even the simplest things I used to be able to do on my old one?

It was like wanting a cottage and being given a castle. I wanted something cozy, with a window box of colorful flowers over the kitchen sink. I wandered down hallways, an empty cup in my hand, saying wistfully, “I’d really like to find the kitchen and make myself a nice cup of tea.” Each door opened into great wings of new rooms. Many looked interesting but irrelevant–and there was no one to tell me a simple route to the kitchen. Worse, I think I inadvertently found myself in the kitchen several times and didn’t recognize it: instead of spatulas and dishcloths, there were forklifts and tarpaulins.

Doorknobs and light switches didn’t work the way I thought they should. Something else, which I touched by accident, worked instead. When I wanted bathrooms, I got pantries. When I wanted gardens, I got billiard rooms. When I wanted libraries, I got bathrooms and gardens. When I thought I knew a hall and where it led, a door would slam in my face: “Loading image” or “Warning–this is not a bit-map.” (Did I say it was? Did I even want it to be?) Or “Saved as read-me file only; may not edit.”

Questions leaped into my face like Halloween ghouls: “Current page only?” (I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.) “Convert file?” (Is it pagan?) “Exit Windows?” (Can’t I leave by the door?) When I thought I was home free, it wanted to know if I’d like to play Solitaire. I couldn’t concentrate on text for all the activity around it: arrows turning to hourglasses and crosses and cupped hands, blocks of writing turning black, tiny words and pictures appearing and disappearing: “italics,” “coach,” “font styles.”

I tried to delete a word, but where it used to be all my words rushed, word-wrapping upwards. They stretched and snapped like a rubber band, the letters and the spaces between them widening and narrowing, all hurtling into non-existence. I found my place again and sent the curser up to “save” what was left–triggering the screen saver, a full-screen vision of a lobster on alert. It was like fighting empty suits of armor and dodging spears that hurled at me through recessed windows which weren’t there a moment earlier.

Plus I still didn’t have my cup of tea.

Little by little, I relearned the basics. Keys, like trained dogs, waited eagerly to do my bidding. It was their very eagerness that had disconcerted me. Keys add, delete, cut, paste, and copy anything I want–and if I change my mind, they’ll undo it. They indent, underline, italicize, center, bold. They add headers, superscripts, and footnotes; they adjust margins, tabs, and spacing. They alphabetize. They check spelling and grammar. They show me how the page will look before I print it out–in any type style and type size I want.

I got rid of the fancy screen saver with its lobsters and bit-maps. I found out how to tell the machine to stop justifying right margins and the words stopped stretching and compressing. My computer doesn’t intimidate me anymore–although there are lots of rooms I haven’t fully explored yet.

Did you know that with this program you don’t have to retype names and addresses for envelopes? The computer remembers–and centers them for you besides. Did you know it not only keeps a running word count but line count, sentence count, paragraph count, and average number of words per sentence? It makes booklets. It does columns. It can print pages in reverse order so the title page ends up on top. You can find any word in the manuscript–instantly.

This is one powerful machine!


“Are you Sure You Need a Computer?” The Christian Communicator, January 1996.




About Jessica Renshaw

This entry was posted in amusing anecdotes, Humor, me, words, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Lobsters and bit-maps

  1. After Gloria’s death, my daughter and son-in-law gifted me with a new laptop (the old one was dying; laptops, I’ve found, are only good for about 2 years, then they die on you). He’s a major computer geek – he works for an American contractor on a military base in Germany, complete with security clearances, a BS in computer science, etc., etc. Anyway, he installed Windows 8 and doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with it. And I haven’t had any problems with it. FYI.

  2. Kateekat says:

    I’d switch to Apple. I’ve not missed Microsoft computers at all. Although i do have Word for Mac 2011.

  3. Julie says:

    Thank you for the laughter.

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