I distinctly remember my confidence that day. It never once crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be successful. I’d done hundreds of back hip circles in gymnastics – why should it be any different on the metal monkey bars at school?? I was ten or eleven – I didn’t always believe in the people around me but I mostly believed in myself. I pulled my body up to the bar, surrounded by a few friends, and went for it. The next thing I knew, my nose was smashed into the hard sand beneath me and my head was starting to register an impact. I have no idea how it happened, what mistake I made, but I did understand very clearly that I was literally lying smack on my face, body in full lay out form. I’m probably pretty lucky all I got was a bloody nose. The strongest memory I have from that day is the surprise I felt at my failure.
Many people will know that my computer was stolen out of my car this past March. It was traumatic for all kinds of reasons – I felt angry and frustrated and a little freaked out that, along with my computer, my running shoes and undergarments were also lifted, though not my passport sitting in the CD holder. I went through a whole cycle of reactions, not the least of which was panic that my whole personal world (I write a LOT on my computer and the vast majority of it would qualify as personal!) was in someone else’s hands.
What I was not worried about was my work.
As I was going through the PhD years, I heard story after story of computer crashes, people losing their research in house fires, archives closing, files being corrupted, and yes, laptops being stolen. And I was careful. Very careful. I saved everything everywhere. I’m even old enough to say in the early days I used floppy disks. Then CDs. Then memory sticks. I emailed copies. I saved documents on various computers across Canada and the United States. I was careful. When I discovered Dropbox, it felt like I could exhale a little. Dropbox felt like the answer to these problems. Of course, if Dropbox failed, I’d always have my own computer copies.
So though I panicked about my personal writing, I felt certain my work was safely stored in Dropbox. I didn’t think twice about it. I just got right back into teaching, waiting for the end of term when I could return to the final edits of the first draft of my manuscript. Yes, the one I’d promised to send the publisher in June.
On June 11, I opened my computer to begin one last read-through of the manuscript before I sent it to some friendly readers. That specific Dropbox account was empty. I searched every where. I drove into school to see if I had downloaded anything on my desktop there, I scoured through every email account I have, I checked random old memory sticks, I begged for help from Dropbox – they helped me try to sync the files from the stolen laptop. Two days of frantic panic. Two days of not being able to speak without crying. Two days of replaying everything over and over. Two days until I could admit that my book was gone.
There I was again, my nose smashed into the hard sand beneath me and my head starting to register an impact. No idea what mistake I’d made or how it had happened.
That was four weeks ago. Truth is I’m not sure I’ve yet screwed the courage together to stand up from the ground. I’m guessing my eyes would still be smeared with tears and dirt and my nose would be bleeding if the metaphor could come to life. I haven’t decided yet what happens next – if I start again or if I release the dream. It could go either way.
I have started to believe, though, that it’s just a book. That my life is so rich and full and honest, that I don’t need any book to feel valued or worthy. As academics we can get caught up in the publish or perish cycle that we forget that we have a choice. My stolen laptop has handed that decision to me on a silver platter – what I do with this gift, I still don’t know. I’m just trying to hold onto the fact that failure, that a face plant in the hard sand of life, has reminded me that choice should never be taken for granted.