Unpacking a box Magic Markered “IT and SF”, I found these books. Square, thick, solid as rocks with screenshots and code examples. I felt the weight of each, thought, stopped thinking. I threw them away.
Seven years ago I re-entered the echoing brick halls of school–community college this time. I was sick, working a part-time job copying tapes, unable to think straight or feel much but fear and guilt, or strange pains medicine thought were imaginary. School was a way forward, a way to admit there was no future in beating my head against the jobless wall. School was an act of doing.
Genius-level math is required for software, hardware, anything related to computers. I’d known this since elementary school when I first experimented with the TRS-80 Model III hidden back in the principal’s office, the single IBM-PC at my father’s work cordoned off in its own cube. When adults suggested with a grudging enthusiasm that I go into computers, I would correct them: my math isn’t good enough. I knew this was true even as I became the computer guy at various jobs, setting up the network and futzing with getting this or that to work. Futzing was one thing. Sitting in front of the machine and writing the code to command it was another, and beyond me.
My state in 2004 led me to reconsider, if in a half-examined way. IT jobs paid and were available, and my experience during the dot-com fantasy allowed me to question how much of a genius one really had to be. I started at Devry, got my money back after a week when the dean admitted their degree wouldn’t get me a job. Next, Seattle Central Community College. I could take classes in the morning and then finish the day at work. A certificate would cost about five thousand dollars. It was one instance where my cheapness was a saving grace of saving.
Books have alternatives now. Unlike my first time through college, I had half.com. The college bookstore–education’s version of the company store–has lost its grip, now relegated to a monopoly of logoed hoodies and coffee mugs. And these new books differed in their essential essence: practical, how-to, procedural. Progressing through them was an act of doing, not contemplation. Brain meets road. Even a foggy brain could do it.
My last class ended this month in 2004. The books I have kept, even consulted a few times in the first year or so. Since then they sat on a shelf, sagging it. Boxed up and unpacked for a move, and then again not quite a year ago, they were like LPs to an older generation: indispensable, always heavier. They sat in dark storage waiting out my bright Hawaii. Two friends wrestle their box in the UHaul, down the UHaul ramp and up the stairs, where they sat in big brown towers of square. Until this weekend when I finally opened their box and took them into the light.
I held each, their weight wrapped in glossy soft covers smacking like a wet bare foot when piled on the desk. They were good to me, but they have become old–not an asset for computer references. Their solidity undermines them in a field that is never still.
Why have I kept you, big paper bricks I never look at? Why did I let you make the shelf sag? I was proving something to myself: here, you have learned this. But I am always learning, always forgetting, climbing the next stair I am sure is too high.
If we are healthy, we are always letting go as we embrace ahead. We are virtualizing, dematerializing away from things, away from data, away from usefulness. The noise is so loud we are becoming quiet enough to hear the ancients and their truth: you don’t need all this stuff. You will feel so much lighter without it.