At the close of one of the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – forgive me for not knowing exactly which one; the DVDs are boxed away – we see Buffy trudging down a dark street, leaving Sunnydale behind. Everything she valued is lost to her in that moment: friends, love, family. In the commentary, creator – and mad genius – Joss Whedon states that he wanted to see how his creation would react with everything taken from her; he felt that complete loss would define her character.
My iPhone suffered a similar loss of resources yesterday. During its first backup onto my computer, it had what can best be described as a massive brain injury. My phone has complete amnesia; apps, e-mails, notes, calendar items, phone numbers -- everything was obliterated with the unwitting click of my mouse. In the moments surrounding the concurrent thoughts of ‘huh, that’s funny; the wallpaper changed’ and ‘oh my God, where did everything go?’I realized how unreasonably dependent I have become on technology – not only for data storage, but more insidiously for a form of validation. My contact lists, my e-mails, my Twitter feeds, my Facebook updates, even the silly Words With Friends app: all of these link me to others, give me a perception (sometimes valid, more often false) of being loved, of being that holy grail of my introverted youth – popular.
While much of my phone’s neurological trauma is annoying and certainly inconvenient, catastrophe is unlikely to ensue. My husband reminds me that everything important that was put onto the phone can be re-entered. Still, I find myself unnerved and, in a strange sense, grieving. As I scrolled through the now-empty contacts list, I realized that what I had lost was not data, it was the adult version of a security blanket. Like a child toting a blanket or stuffie from room to room, I carry my phone everywhere, and check it incessantly. Yes, it even sleeps by my bed at night. I tell myself that I need my phone to check for e-mails or other “important” messages. What I am really checking is myself. Mike is right; the contacts that I need, I can find through the network of friends and family, old e-mails, etc. But, there is a category that probably won’t make it back onto my phone, the group of numbers and e-mail addresses that gave me the greatest feeling of “belonging.” From conducting numerous interviews over the past year, I had amassed a collection of author phone numbers and e-mails. These contacts were for the sole purpose of the interview, and I wouldn’t have dreamed of imposing upon any of these people again, but the numbers stayed in my list. They were my membership card, the secret password allowing me entry into the clubhouse of writers. What I have known all along, but pushed aside, is that the password changes, the membership was a guest card, and that speaking to authors does not make me one of them. My writing career, successes and failures, has to stand on its own. No security blanket will change it, or me.
Whedon wanted to see what Buffy was made of. Of course, it turns out, she was made of pretty good stuff. In properly edited fashion, and with the intervention of a few monsters, she was able to pick up the pieces of her life one by one and return, wiser for the experience to her place in Sunnydale. Even as I spent an hour with Apple tech support yesterday, my brain began formulating plans for reconstructing the life of my phone. This is what we do when faced with loss. Even as our brains process and grieve, some deeper portion of us rises to the surface and begins outlining steps for reconstruction. As I made mental notes to Facebook message friends for their information, to download my apps, my mind saw boxes.
Recently, our family has been forced to cope with the real loss of much that we know. Our home is in foreclosure; one day soon we will leave our version of Sunnydale behind for good. Yet, even as we read the nearly incomprehensible legalese on the letter taped to our door (yes, they really do that), plans began to form. The checklist started: find rental house, get boxes, donate large/unused toys, sell trailer, sell Nordic Track, move horse. As we box up our lives, we are reconstructing them. The towers of cardboard forming along the walls of the dining room, entryway and living room are the pillars that will support our new lives. As I am not defined by the contents of my iPhone, my family is not defined by our address. The boxes hold more than books, china, and DVDs; they contain our past and the proof of our resilience as we move into the future.