Here is a list of things I learned to do on a computer that I am proud of and the year I learned to do them: dragging a disk into the trash to remove it instead of just ripping it out of the drive (1989); taking a screenshot (2012); hotlinking (2014).
In 2016, I had the opportunity to learn how to resize a photo. I respectfully declined. It was a bridge too far. What I have come to understand is that it is better to feel slightly ashamed for never having tackled a project involving something you are bad at than to try it and fail. In these situations failing does not build character or somehow miraculously set the stage for future success. All it does is ruin you for the things you are good at.
My absolute worst clash with a computer happened in 2018 on a two and a half hour Amtrak trip between Oakland and Auburn, during which I tried to create a Squarespace website because two podcast hosts said it was easy. I was in tears by the time we pulled into Martinez. I drank the two cans of rosé I’d been planning to give T. as a gift and then had to pee in a parking lot then take a nap in my car until I was sober enough to drive. I cried more while driving. For me, being bad at computers is not just about being bad at computers. It’s about the terror of being cut off from a job, a career, a whole world, because access depends on a button marked “Click to Survive” that is visible to everyone but me.
I thought about having a newsletter for a long time, and I never did it because I didn’t know how to put together a good contacts list to reach out to people who might subscribe. Several people had told me that a good contacts list was absolutely crucial to having a newsletter. I was going to have T. do this contacts list, and he said he would, but then, he kept Not Doing It.
As the launch of this newsletter approached, the knowledge that I didn’t have a contacts list made me sicker and sicker to my stomach every day. It became apparent if I wanted T.’s help I would have to get it by force, and I didn’t have it in me. So, one day, quivering with resentment, I sat down to do it myself.
I googled “How to create a contacts list from your gmail.” My screen quickly populated itself with links to tutorials. The “teaser” for one of them informed me that “Having a contacts list can be a huge time saver if you want to send an email to a large group of people.” Wow, and all this time I thought a contacts list was used to reheat ham. In the display window for one of these tutorials was a screen shot (SHIFT+ COMMAND 4, BITCHES!) of a cursor hovering over something called “contacts.”
Indeed, clicking on my contacts was easy. The problem was that I only had 14 of them.
I was supposed to select from among these contacts—and for this reason it was important there be more than 14—the presumably special people who would potentially be interested in the existence of my newsletter. Half of the people who had somehow made it onto my “contacts” I didn’t recognize at all, the rest I knew only slightly, and one of them was the private corporation our town has hired to remove our garbage.
I watched more videos. Not one person said, “Some assholes only have 14 contacts, one of whom is literally ‘the garbage.’ What you really want to click on is—something else.”
I sat staring at my screen. I have done this so many times before and I didn’t feel anything special or different this time. I felt no less powerless, no less self-hating, no less interested in finding something nearby with which to stab myself. I don’t know why I figured it out, because truly, I never do. But for some reason, I scrolled to the very bottom of the list under contacts, where, lurking just above the trash icon, was the wallflower cousin of contacts: “OTHER CONTACTS.” This was the thing I wanted. Everyone was here: friends, enemies, and everyone in between. All the players. Other contacts. Probably would have been helpful for someone to mention other contacts.
I did eventually create my contacts list but it took me like two hours. If any one of these land turtles had mentioned OTHER CONTACTS, it would have taken me ten minutes. But it’s really not the task itself that upsets me. It’s the bafflement hangover.
People spent years telling me I needed a website and then finally one day I sat down with my friend Mike who actually enjoys marketing and we (he) made a website. It did fucking fuck all. The only people who ever look at my website are people who make websites and want me to pay them so more people who make websites can find my website. I know I sound like Andy Rooney’s vagina. It’s on purpose.
And you will be shocked to discover that I didn’t really need my contacts list either. Here’s who needs a good contacts list. People who pack lobster tails on dry ice to ship to twats. People who want to send all of their liberal relatives and college pals a video of Heather Cox Richardson talking about Marjorie Taylor Greene with the subject line: “This country is going to hell in a handbasket,” in the hopes that one of them will hit reply all to respond, “Hear, hear, Betsy!” That’s it. Those are the only people.
From now on if anyone wants to find me that’s their problem.