For besides the great length of the whaling voyage, the numerous articles peculiar to the prosecution of the fishery, and the impossibility of replacing them at the remote harbors usually frequented, it must be remembered, that of all ships, whaling vessels are the most exposed to accidents of all kinds, and especially to the destruction and loss of the very things upon which the success of the voyage most depends.
Sunday I discovered that Gmail had erased almost all of my sent mail from the last fifteen years and all of my research and writing notes. It took less than seconds for technology to take on, for me, the guise of a faceless ravening force, not unlike an angry spirit in a Miyazaki movie, intent on devouring everything I had. Every time I opened my mailbox I could see this force moving messages, thousands of messages, tens of thousands of messages, for its own evil purposes, into the trash and then, as far as I could tell, immediately deleting them.
I closed my mail app down, quickly, but I had to open it again to check on what was going on and try to stop the carnage. Every time I opened it I found the spirit there already, awake and active, shoveling everything off into oblivion. I searched the web for answers. I called technical support but it was after hours. I had trouble breathing. I started to sob.
My husband came in and sat beside me on the couch and looked on horrified at the destruction. We kept searching for what was lost and trying to locate and save whatever we could but we could only find things from the last few days. It was late, the children had taken themselves to bed, we had to get up in the morning, but I had the feeling that if I didn’t placate whatever unhappy animus was at work, I was going to wake up to find everything—all my mail, my documents, journals, stories, sketches, novels, photos—gone. When I finally turned off the light I couldn’t sleep—I lay on my stomach envisioning the malevolence in my computer as it destroyed everything on my hard drive and then extended itself out from my computer to my various back-ups and corrupted them, wiping out every piece of my writing life. I saw myself waking up in the morning with nothing I’d written left. What it would be like to have to live without these pieces of cyberpaper existing, except within the current version of myself? Everything that I hadn’t already absorbed into my body would be gone. People lose things, I thought. They lose keepsakes, records, and manuscripts in floods and fires. They lose their keys and phones to carelessness. I once thought I’d lost my favorite necklace, a long strand of green turquoise beads that had belonged to my maternal grandmother and that I could wrap three times around my neck, although as it turned out my mother, to whom the necklace really belonged, had taken it back from me without telling me. But then I had taken the necklace back from her and managed to get it stolen.
You have to go on, but you go on as a different person. The other day I was looking through photographs and I thought about the time before cameras, when most people only carried with them what they could remember. Maybe, I thought, it would be good for me to be reborn without things and to have to start all over again. Maybe it would clarify who I was and what I wanted to do. Pretty sensibly, I didn’t want that. At midnight I ran to the computer and checked to make sure my novel was still there. Finding it extant, I worked on it for an hour or so, making a number of improvements.
In the morning after some searching I found a link that Gmail provides for users to ask for help retrieving emails; as soon as I filled it out Gmail wrote me to say, “Hello, We received your request to recover deleted emails from your account. Unfortunately, the emails were permanently deleted, so we're not able to get them back for you.” The word “permanently” felt bad. So I spent the day, except for a lunch date, where I drank down a large, yellow glass of wine, on the phone with Apple technical support. Late in the afternoon, a tech friend sent me an email from a contact at Google with the link I’d used that morning and directions about how to effectively use it. After which I received a new email from Gmail that said, “Good news! We are currently restoring your missing Gmail messages.”
I opened my mail again and found that the machine, still a spirit but now almost excessively benevolent, had started giving me back my things. I watched as it downloaded hundreds, then a hundred thousand emails, pouring them into my inbox and all my other mailboxes. I was inundated by messages, virtually drowning in them. I went to bed. In the morning, happy to have my messages back but feeling an urge to get my inbox a bit more organized, I deleted a big chunk of them. This was a mistake akin to something a family friend of ours once did: just recovered from a terrible bout of food poisoning and once again hungry, he opened the refrigerator looking for something to eat, and found and ate the clams that made him sick the night before. The evil spirit stretched its arms and opened its mouth, and my messages started disappearing again, in bulk.
So I started the whole process once more from the beginning. Now the messages, are, once again, gushing back in. I could spend the rest of my life figuring out what to do with them all.