Herman Mellville was Computer Illiterate

Herman Mellville was Computer Illiterate

A Story by Damian Alan Gray

Henry David Thoreau once said "Simplify, simplify!" Then again, he never had to contend with a broken computer.


Lately, I’ve been in a strange and awful world known as the Land of the Computer Challenged. Yes, I’ve been trying to live my life in a more basic way. A step backward in time, if you will. An attempt to readjust my mindset to a simpler way of life. A life that heralds a day when people lived normal, everyday lives - and managed to get along just fine, thank you very much - free from the electronic gizmos and gadgets that seem to be filled with promises of simplicity, but in reality only tend to complicate our lives.

In other words, my computer broke.

So for the past two weeks, I have been vacillating between kicking the dirt and crying out in utter misery. I’ve become too dependent upon having a computer at my disposal. How on earth did people write before the almighty word processor? Oh, sure, they had their typewriters and hand presses, but using these crude tools only brings about mediocre works such as Moby Dick and War and Peace. If you’ve ever read either of these books, you’d know that a) the author’s name really isn’t Ishmael, and b) you can’t read War and Peace in one ‘sitting.’ “Why don’t you just pick up a pen and paper?” my friends would say to me during the particularly bad days. Yeah. Right. Why don’t you just hand me a hammer and chisel, and I’ll carve buffalo on the walls? I’m not even sure that I remember HOW to write anything by hand.

The true irony of this is that I have yet to learn how to type like a normal person. I have my own typing system, some call it Hunt & Peck; I call it the Five Finger Fury. Hence, what may take the average typist five minutes to write, usually takes me an average of thirty minutes to an hour - depending on how much caffeine I’ve managed to ingest that day.

But they say anything is possible with enough coffee, so with all the fervor of a televangelist on speed, I attempted to hand-write a story. First came the daunting task of finding a stylus with which I would compose my masterpiece. This in itself was enough work to make the Russian gulags look like a day at Disneyland. You see, being a writer, I’m not in the habit of keeping working pens around the house. Oh, I have plenty of pens, mind you; a veritable plethora of quills, Bics, gels and nibs. But, of course, none of them have any actual ink in them. My theory is that, since I tell people I’m a writer, I keep these nonfunctional styluses about just in case anyone happens to come over to the house and I have to prove it. “Look,” I would casually say to my visitors, “see the way I hold the pen with such stylish panache? I’d let you read some of my writings, but, well, they’re all on disk.” Some artists keep their paintbrushes lying around as proof, I keep pens that don’t work. Which is all fine and dandy, until I really need to use one for anything other than signing my name to something. Then, by the time I’ve finally found one that has, oh, let’s say about two drops of ink left in it’s wasted cavity, I’ve forgotten what I wanted it for in the first place.

Of course, then came the overwhelming task of finding something upon which to write. A word of advice to all you would-be novelists out there: Bubble gum wrappers don’t work. See, the problem is that you have to chew far too much gum just to get out the first paragraph. By the time you’ve finished even one chapter, you’ve already sent the children of the gum company owners through grad school. So, bubble gum wrappers don’t work and neither does wax paper. You’d think that wax paper would be ideal for those of us who feel the need to just write and write and write; it’s seemingly never-ending supply would be ideal, right? Wrong. Turns out wax and ink don’t go well together. Who knew?

Finally, and at long last, I managed to find a bit of torn notebook paper. It was torn because there is a cosmic law of the universe, which states that all notebook paper should be torn in at least half of it’s original size. Otherwise, what would we use to make grocery lists? Anyway, so I found this bit of paper and, firmly gripping the pen in my fist, I went to sit at the – OH MY GOD! WHERE’S THE DAMNED DESK? That’s when I remembered that the computer had broken during the Great Desk Collapse of ‘08. NOW what am I supposed to do?

By then, already thoroughly exhausted from my previous scavenger hunt, I didn’t look forward to finding something flat upon which to write, so I simply stood at the kitchen counter and began what I had hoped would my greatest work ever. Thus, it began: It was a cold day in the land of

and then the ink ran out.

I’m not saying that we writers should be so dependent upon modern technology for our art, and I’m not saying that we should take the writing tools of old for granted. All I’m trying to say is, I think I need a nap.

© 2008 Damian Alan Gray

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All hail the sweet elixir of the gods, Caffeine! What a humorous story Damian. I chuckled the entire way through. I'll stand beside you on the "I have my own typing methods" thing, too. And did you purposely mean to ramble on? LOL I thought I was a rambler, but you clearly have me beat. :) Very entertaining indeed!

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Added on February 12, 2008
Last Updated on March 20, 2008


Damian Alan Gray
Damian Alan Gray

Spring Hill, FL

Damian Alan Gray is not an author, he is a writer. The difference being, of course, that an author's daily routine normally includes scheduling interviews with Oprah and book signings at Barnes and No.. more..