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Small victories count the most

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule


In a time of sadness, small victories count the most
 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1991, The Syracuse Newspapers

I am used to being busy. But when I lost my dearest friend through an accident of fate a few weeks ago, I found myself unable to concentrate on anything except grief.

I realized, through a fog of sadness, that the daily ministrations of my multiple technologies—my super-fancy VCRs, my 6-foot-wide TV screen, my three computers, my telecommunications projects, my digital audio recordings—could do nothing to ease my loneliness.

The power company will not trust the meter the next time it sends me a bill. I have turned on only one light, the little desk lamp beside my word processing computer, and I have not watched my TV or listened to either of my two stereo systems for 16 days.

The words on the screen have replaced everything that had made my life busy in the times when I was happy. I type a few words and then press the key that eats them up, and then type a few words again. Gradually I see my thoughts in the etched phosphorescence of my monitor. They are jarring.

I don't want to be like this. There are things I have to do.

But I keep on writing. For decades, I had always written with music in the room—Haydn, or maybe the funk group called War, or early Beethoven, or the mystic and eventually crazed Russian, Scriabin. If I'd had to stay on terms with the neighbors, I had always switched off my loudspeakers and listened over my headphones.

The music had always washed over me and calmed me while I wrote. But every sound is annoying now. Music is noise. The sounds that I want to listen to are inside me. They are clanging, but I want to hear them.

I have to hear them.

They are unfriendly and urgent. They are asking me to join them in their frightful pealing. It is easy to let them take me in. These grieving bells have helped me cry.

The monotony of their tone is pushing me toward an inevitable release. It is a long time off.

But there are hopeful signs. This morning, unlike every other morning for these past 16 days, I turned off the word processor and began to write a computer program. I'm not very good at programming; my code is pretty loose, and I sometimes get lost in the middle of a difficult step.

But this time it was different. I sat, and I wrote, and I rewrote, and I fixed this part of the code and that part, like a demon racing a shadow. In three hours—a very fast time for a kludgy programmer like me—my little program took off like a swan. It sang, it soared, it climbed.

I was clever. I made it loop back on itself a dozen times, each time changing its identity slightly, each time doing something it hadn't done before. What would have been 5,000 bytes of code was only 600.

No one will see my little pearl. It's such a specialized program that no one else could ever have a use for it. I'll be using it every day in my telecommunications, and that's good enough for me.

I celebrated my new programming skill with a pint of gourmet ice cream. And then I went out and sat in the rare late-winter sun and felt something strange: I felt pleased with myself. I felt just a little bit good.

I came back inside and turned on the track lights in my living room. Sometimes, I reminded myself, the smallest victories are the ones that matter most.


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