Computer Zombie by Genny Lynch
Agents, editors, publishers, and writing teachers; all say writers must have a web site.
Some writers take to technology with ease and delight. I am not one of those lucky writers.
So, I spent one hundred and fifty dollars I could ill afford for a weekend workshop at the Oregon Writer’s Colonyhouse in Rockaway Beach in the company of five other tech-challenged-writers and one expert computer-geek. Her brochure promised each of us our own fully functioning writer’s website by the time the weekend was over.
The potent combination of being able to cross the website hurdle off my to-do-list, in the company of convivial writers, with the added lure of walks on the beach and a stay in a historic house was too perfect to me to ignore.
This workshop will be the second time I have tried to set up a website.
The first time I was in a classroom with thirty people watching the teacher’s computer. I came home with copious scribbled notes and started on the teacher’s to-do-list.
I bought my luckily still available domain name, gennylynch.com. Online, I hired an internet tech—a sexy sounding Russian named Alexi—who coached me over the phone since I couldn’t figure out how to “chat” online. He connected my domain to the teacher’s recommended hosting site. Then I tried to make sense of the rest of my notes, but it was Greek, not geek, to me.
After many frustrating attempts trying to get past the login page to post content onto my site, which often ending with my cats fleeing my office at the sound of my furious cussing, a technically proficient friend took pity on me and offered to help. She ignored my class notes, her fingers flying over her keyboard so fast I couldn’t follow what she was doing, as she put up my photo and my blog title “Going Silver” and my first blog post. Then she set up a shortcut on my browser so I could easily get to my site. But the next time I tried to log on, the short cut went to my log-on page and I still couldn’t open it, no matter how many times over the next several months I reset the password. No one else could get my website to appear either.
If I googled gennylynch.com the browser listing would say “website coming soon.” Then even that disappeared into the ether.
Today, I’m full of hope as I pull into Colony House’s sandy parking lot and schlep my computer, suitcase, and groceries (mostly wine and a sampler pack of Karla’s Smokehouse famous smoked salmon which I discovered just blocks from Colonyhouse) up the steep garden stairs, releasing the scent of lavender and rosemary as I brush past the overgrown bushes to the historic architectural gem perched on the top of the coastal dune. The three-story, hand-hewn peeled-log cabin built by the Steiner brothers, who also built Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, overlooks the beach across the street and Lake Lytle to the rear. Inside I discover, to my delight, that the door handles, knobs and stair railings are naturally curved branches and burls. This weekend is going to be even better than I expected.
After introducing ourselves, we writers set up our laptops and Wi-Fi in the timbered great room full of comfy couches and wingchairs facing a two-story rustic stone fireplace and try to ignore the views of the ocean or lake out every window. Our tech-mentor explains that she will help each of us in turn with website setup while the rest of us work on her list of content our websites will need. When it’s my turn, I explain my website woes to her. She can’t find my website either, so she suggests I start over with a completely new website on a different web host.
I get a sinking feeling in my stomach thinking of all that time, money, and frustration I’ve wasted. But I put on a fake happy smile, and we start over.
First, she teaches me how to delete the old shortcut from the computer’s memory and set up a new supposedly easier to use hosting site. Then she connects with the tech staff at my old hosting site, and in what seems like a miracle to me, we manage to get into and cancel my old website. We transfer my domain name to the new site. It will take a while for the address to be reset so I write a first blog post and my About-Page bio while I wait and she helps the next writer. I even find in my thousands of kitten photos the perfect one of my misbehaving kittens: Mommy Olivine balancing on top of the leather recliner’s back spying on the neighbors, Bernice on the forbidden tea table top, and Angelo leaping off the recliner arm, fleeing from me and my camera.
I’m ready to publish my post, but the old website login still shows up when I search my browser. So, I leave for a long enjoyable stroll on the sunlit beach.
When I come back the other four writers have their websites up and running with catchy titles and gorgeous header photos. I’m jealous and anxious I’m falling behind. I google my domain name, and it still takes me to my old sites login at the old address even though everything behind the login window has been deleted.
The tech-mentor is surprised the address hasn’t reset yet.
Trying not to get frustrated, I traipse some more on the beach as storm clouds gather, returning in time for a gourmet potluck and lots of wine. The now worried tech-mentor and I check the site before bed, still not there.
I’m starting to fear I will never have a web site. Without a writer’s website to attract an agent or editor or sell my future books I will never have a successful career as a writer. It would be like trying to get a job without a resume. I will end up being the world’s oldest living housecleaner, since what I will collect from Social Security will not cover even basic living expenses. I imagine they’ll find my dead body slumped over a customer’s toilet, the toilet brush still gripped in my arthritic, liver-spotted fist.
I sleep fitfully in the log-lined bedroom, the moon tossing silver onto Lake Lytle through gaps in the storm clouds.
At four A.M. I awaken, depressed, with a bladder full of wine. Trying not to wake anyone, I pad softly out to the bathroom through the dark, two-story great room by the dim glow of a nightlight. On my way back, I discover the dim glow I had assumed was a nightlight is the tech-mentor’s computer screen. “It’s up,” she says, her hushed tone still managing to convey her excitement. My respect for her grows as I realize she is so concerned about my website she’s sitting alone in the dark at 4 A.M. checking to see if it has transferred. I thread my way past the wing chairs to peer over her shoulder at her computer screen, and there it is – gennylynch.com and the generic Hello World greeting on the new hosting site.
Happy and relieved, I whisper my thanks to her, and we both go back to bed.
Later, after a breakfast overlooking storm waves breaking on the sand, I log on to my computer, gung-ho to put up my background photo of misbehaving kittens. And my computer screen goes to the old site!
“I thought we killed this?” I say to the tech-mentor. My fear from yesterday returns and grows.
She looks with astonishment at my old site’s login page on my computer. She turns her laptop, so I can see my new site is up on her computer screen. The other writers also google my domain name, but they all go to my old login site just like I have. The teacher has no explanation for this, and I can tell from her flummoxed expression, she is as stymied as I am.
Now I’m even more worried; will I ever have a website?
She teaches me how to clear my cache which erases the stored pathways so my computer won’t keep trying to go to the old site. When that doesn’t work, as a stopgap she has me email to her computer my kitten header photo, my first blog post “Naming Cats” and my bio and author photo. She enters them into my WordPress dashboard and titles my new blog “Herding Kittens.” Unfortunately, I learn by doing, but she’s doing, and I’m watching. I check my computer again, googling gennylynch.com, and still go to the old “Going Silver” login page.
Since she needs to help the other writers with their individual problems I go for another long trek on the chilly beach, fighting the blustery wind while trying not to lose my temper.
When I return, chilled and depressed, the other writers stop what they are working on and switch their windows to my site. “Look, Genny, we got your new site on our computers.”
I am warmed by their concern.
I slide onto the bench at the long plank table we are all working at. Hopeful but wary this time, I try again to google my site and go to the same damn old site’s login page. I can feel the heat as my face flushes. I can’t speak without yelling, instead I turn my laptop so the mentor can see it.
Again, she has me clear the cache and google my new site—same damn result.
She pauses and thinks for a long time. “Try to log onto your old site since you have the login window,” she frowns at my laptop’s screen.
Everyone stops working. They gather to look over my shoulder.
I enter my old user name and password into the boxes and press enter. The login window informs me my site is no longer active. Furious with frustration, I ask, “So why won’t it disappear and let my new live website onto my computer? We killed it, but it’s not dead! I have a zombie website!”
Everyone laughs, and I feel a tiny bit better.
* * *
I am very depressed driving back home. I got lots of exercise on the beach but still no functioning website.
Later when a friend stops by my house, I log on to show her my zombie website, and there it is. She suggests I get her partner, who works as a tech troubleshooter, to look at it.
That weekend I take my laptop to their house and, when I log on in front of him, my computer goes straight to the new site’s login like I’ve never had a problem. My zombie website has vanished as if it never existed. I look like an idiot. I should be happy, but I feel humiliated and worried that as soon as I am alone the zombie will be back.
After I tell him in detail everything the tech-mentor and I have done he thinks about it for a few minutes. “It just took longer for your computer to get the reset,” he tells me. “Some people’s computer addresses are on the information super highway, like your tech-mentor, some on medium connector streets, like the other tech-weekend writers. Your computer lives on the internet version of a rural-route dirt road on the backside of a mountain.”
This is why I write humor.
* * *
Return of the Computer Zombie by Genny Lynch
Now that my zombie website is finally dead, and I have a new working website, I need to set up my blog page, so my website can go live on the internet, and I can start posting. I didn’t learn how to at Colony House since it took so long to kill the zombie. So, I sign up for Willamette Writer’s workshop with Lorelle Van Fossen, a well-known and respected WordPress guru. This time the promised results are a website and a blog. Since I already have a working website, getting the blog set up on the website’s first page should be a piece of cake.
The night before the workshop, I do my homework, gathering from Lorelle’s list the photos and content I will need and put them all together in a file—a basic computer skill I have only now learned. I thought I knew how to move files but I only knew how to move stuff inside Word for Windows. And I didn’t know there was a difference. I wonder how many other differences there are that I’m unaware of. I fear I am starting to understand Donald Rumsfeld’s phrase “unknown unknowns”.
It’s the simple stuff all my computer teachers assume I know how to do, that usually trips me up. Like still not knowing about right click after having a computer for more than ten years or how to online chat or create a link. And why and where do my files and photos disappear to. My cats have started leaving the office when I turn the computer on. They hate it when I yell.
I also have to come up with a new blog title because I googled “Herding Kittens” and I wasn’t as clever as I thought. I will never get my blog to show up on a search engine ahead of the Super Bowl commercial featuring cowboys on horseback herding hundreds of kittens. The herding-kittens-ad is so popular with cat lovers that it always fills up the search engine listings for several pages. I also learn the phrase is a computer term for futility and chaos, so it seems a perfect metaphor for my computer experiences up to now. But not a good title if I want people to find my blog. Instead, I decide to call my blog “Why I Write Humor.” That way I can write about anything I think is funny, not just cats.
I hate being late for class and working with computers always seem to fluster me so I leave a half hour early—plenty of time to drive the hour to Salem, find the Salem Library and still have a few moments to set up my computer in my preferred spot—the front of the classroom—and be calm, cool and ready to learn. I’ve even brought a banana—a healthy snack to eat before class to keep my diseased gallbladder happy and quiet. If I get too hungry it emits uncontrollable belches so loud one once silenced ten thousand frogs.
All is well till I start circling the block the address is supposed to be on, and find no library. Instead the entire block is occupied by the downtown mall’s parking lot. Stressed, I’m starting to sweat, the irritating dampness trapped under my long hair against the back of my neck. All the streets are one way so I can’t turn around. After my third fruitless lap of the block while looking for the address number, I drive into the parking garage, open my car window and start asking people returning to their cars if they know where the library is. From this random sample all I learn is that these shoppers don’t read library books.
I pull over and try calling my friend Orit, who I know is also going to be at Lorelle’s class. Of course, she doesn’t answer. She’s probably turned off her cell phone ringer for the class. By now I’m officially late. I hate being late. I hope they don’t start class on time, I’m afraid that if I miss the beginning I won’t understand the rest of the class. I exit the mall’s parking garage and look at the street signs again. Then I start leaning out my car window at street corners asking pedestrians for directions. They are all tourists and as clueless as I am. The cherry trees in front of the Capital building are blooming on this rare sunny day, but I can’t stop to enjoy it. I’m now having a hot flash and getting frustrated. Finally, a security guard on a corner knows where the library is and why I am so lost. I’ve ignored the S.E at the end of the address. I’ve been circling the N.E. blocks. He can tell I’ve never lived in a platted town. I’m blocks away.
By the time I finally see the library sign, sweat is running off my face. I’m hungry and my gallbladder rumbles a warning, but now I have no time to eat the banana. I can’t see the library, just an ugly Brutalism style cement parking structure. All the parking spaces on the street are full. The only empty parking spaces left are at the top of the library’s massive parking structure maze, full of dark corners, the kind of place I’d usually park blocks away to avoid because it looks like a great place to get mugged.
I park, shove the banana into my computer bag, and lugging the heavy bag, run. My lone footsteps echoing against the parking structure’s cement walls; my breasts bouncing, threatening to pop out of my underwire bra—one of the reasons I hate running.
I am beginning to panic. I don’t know how to get out of here. There are several gaps in the cement that face cement walls or narrow cement alleys with no signage. I enter the closest one and on the dark alley’s turn, I meet a lone muscular man, dark tattoos covering his neck above his heavy metal T-shirt, who looks just like my imagined-mugger. Sweat trickles down the back of my neck as the fine hairs rise in alarm.
He ignores my computer bag and bouncing bosom and politely shows me where to exit. Feeling foolish, I dash across an expanse of garden to the library entrance. The interior of the library is also a maze, all angles and blind turns. I can’t find the circulation desk because it is a construction zone, staff isn’t wearing name badges, and the readers I ask are clueless. Finally I find a librarian who directs me through the maze. I run down a spiraling staircase. When I burst through the classroom door my gall bladder decides to let out a giant, weird, inward belch complete with bosom heaving.
All forty people and Lorelle turn to look at me. They look strangely repelled, then annoyed like I’m holding up the class.
Her two classroom assistants hustle over and get me set up in a seat at the back of the room where I always have trouble hearing and seeing, and take away my computer bag. While everyone else waits, stony-eyed, as I—embarrassed and out of breath—sweat and gasp; the two young ladies set the banana aside, plug in my computer, turn it on and go back to their posts in front of the class. Lorelle starts writing lists on the blackboard at the front of the room. I’m finally able to take a deep calming breath.
Something stabs my sternum. I look down and see that there’s an alarming ridged bulge protruding from the center of my navy and silver studded knit top, like an alien ready to burst from my bosom.
What the hell?
No wonder they all looked so strangely at me. Now I’m feeling lucky I am in the back of the classroom. Everyone is looking at Lorelle writing on the whiteboard up at the front.
I make sure no one has their head turned in my direction and put my hand down the front of my knit top and encounter the underwire that has worked its way partly out of my bra. I fish it out of my cleavage and hide it in my tote bag. I now have one perky breast and one sagging at half-mast.
Luckily no one turns around during this maneuver, and finally able to tune in to what the teacher is saying, I discover they’ve spent the half hour I’ve missed talking about what to blog about. I already know what I’m going to blog about. But now she says, “It’s time to actually start putting content into your websites.”
I’d better eat my banana before we begin. I don’t want to be belching during her demonstration. I peel it and start eating when, to my surprise, Lorelle marches to the back of the class where it turns out she has her computer set up to project on the screen in the back of the room. Everyone turns their chairs to face the back of the room. I’m now at the front of the room stuffing the half-eaten banana down my gullet as everyone watches.
She looks warily at me, but the protrusion on my chest is gone, and my gallbladder is quiet. I hide the banana peel in my empty computer bag. She tells us to log on to Wi-Fi. I do and proudly google gennylynch.com, thinking I will go to my website’s WordPress dashboard. Instead my old site’s title “Going Silver” looms onto my screen.
“Noooooooo! We killed this!” I blurt. “We killed the Zombie! We spent days killing this,” I moan. “Why is it back? The damn Zombie website is back!”
Everyone turns to look at me and my lopsided chest. The writer-friends I know avert their eyes when I look in their direction, pretending they don’t see or know me. I point at the screen when Lorelle runs around the table to peer at my innocuous looking login page. She no doubt wants to quiet this crazy woman, so she can get on with the class. She pats my back and waves to an assistant who approaches warily.
“Help her.” Lorelle orders the assistant, stabbing her index finger through the air at my computer screen.
The sweet-voiced assistant scurries to my side, but she is helpless against the zombie onslaught. She tries to delete the zombie website by clearing my cache, while I whisper despairing and long convoluted explanations all ending with, “it won’t die, it just won’t die.”
Lorelle returns to her giant computer screen, but keeps an eye on me as she leads the rest of the class. I and the assistant finally give up on the zombie website and watch Lorelle navigate the WordPress dashboard. Maybe someday I will get there…
* * *
Zombie Website III (Like all bad sequels I’m running out of clever titles)
Some months pass while I ignore the zombie website and busy myself with other problems; my gallbladder, too many cats, and trying to finish at least one of the four books I have started. One day, my friend Orit—who ignored me and my zombie-website-meltdown at Lorelle’s workshop, asks how my website and blog are coming along. I express my despair about the zombie website. She laughs and says she’ll help me get my blog set up. I thought she was just a writer but it turns out she’s also starting a tech advising business. I remind her, “first we have to get rid of the Zombie.”
She laughs again, “No problem.”
By this time, I fear anything I do on the computer will be a problem.
Instead of working in her distractingly busy home filled with her active and expressive children, we meet at a tiny nonprofit business-accelerator office: empty white walls, an overhead fluorescent light, one table, one chair, and one available electrical outlet. She has to round up another chair from a larger office. Then she and I set up our laptops side-by-side.
We go to WordPress where my domain name is now routed, and log in to my dashboard.
“See there’s the zombie – Going Silver the title of my old website. There’s nothing behind it. It’s all been deleted. It’s got no brain, but still it lives.”
She looks at me like I’m nuts, “I thought you were kidding about the zombie,”
She knows me from hearing my humor writing. What she doesn’t seem to understand is the weird occurrences are not things I make up; they actually happen to me. I just write them down.
“This is the third time it’s come back. It’s dead, but it’s not dead,” my voice rises in frustration.
She shakes her head as if to clear it of the thought that I am crazy, “Genny, no worries. We’ll clear your cache.”
“I know all about that. I’ve cleared it about a million times.” I take a deep breath to calm myself then show her how I do it. I fear I’m paying sixty dollars an hour for another frustrating dead end.
Looking at our computer screens, she pauses to think for a bit, “The zombies still attached to your email address. The connection is out there floating around the internet and every time you link through to your new website with your email address it goes where it has gone before—to your old website.”
I’m confused by this explanation, no surprise considering my lack of computer savvy. “So how do we kill it?” I ask.
“You don’t know much about zombies, do you?” Orit laughs.
“I know almost nothing about zombies; I scare easily and avoid the horror genre. I don’t understand people who find pleasure deliberately seeking to be scared.”
She explains, “You can’t kill zombies, you just get them to go away. We’re going to send this zombie far away, so far it will get lost if it tries to return. We’re going to lock it up in a deep dungeon with a moat around it and only you will have the key.”
I look at her sideways like she’s nuts. “OooooKay…how do we doooo that?”
“We open you a new email account…”
Before she can finish her explanation, I interrupt, “Nooo! I can’t change my email address. No one will be able to find me. I’ve got cards and stationery printed.” I’m now whining like a toddler, “I don’t want to change my email.” I’d stamp my feet if they and my knees weren’t jammed under this tiny desk.
With the happy enthusiastic voice, she uses with her toddler she explains, “Don’t worry we aren’t closing your email. We’re going to open another account for you on another email site then we’re going to trick this zombie into going to live at the new address. We need to open it from your existing email account.” she adds.
Now I have to admit to her that I can’t remember my password for the email account I’ve already got. It wouldn’t let me into my email this morning, and I didn’t bring my password cheat sheet (actually five pages of passwords).”
Still smiling, she calmly tells me to go to my email and she knows how to get to a screen where my email server asks security questions. They expect me to give them the answer without telling me what the question is.
“The server knows I can’t remember what my latest password is. How can they expect me to know the answer to a question I picked twelve years ago and haven’t needed to use since?” I can see my nose glowing red as my face flushes with anger. I’m losing my cool and I really like my new friend. I don’t want to mess up our friendship but I feel like a small, stupid, whiny kid. I can’t seem to keep my frustration hidden. No one wants to be friends with a whiner.
Orit only knows me from our writing classes, but she guesses the question then answers it for me. It’s scary how predictable the security question and my answer are. We’re into my email. She types rapidly, setting me up an account on a rival email server. “You need a password,” she says.
“Another password,” I huff like an exasperated kid. “I’m so out of passwords. I have dozens of accounts that need passwords, some of which I have to change because they’ve been hacked or updated their software, or I forget and have to reset them.” I tug on my hair, “I can no longer remember which ones are the old ones, the new one, then the newer, and the newest one. I’m starting to have trouble recalling my phone number when asked.”
It’s late in the afternoon, I’ve worked hard all day, missed lunch and suddenly feel like a toddler about to burst into tears because it’s tired, hungry and feeling overwhelmed. I cover my teary eyes with cupped hands and try to calm down and think.
This is an email account I am never going to open again after the hateful zombie is trapped there. I pick a password so profane that I have never spoken those words aloud. And I don’t bother to write them down. I type the angry phrase twice in the required fields, luckily appearing as dot-dot-dot because I notice Orit looking over at my screen. I’m never going to open this dungeon door. I plan on releasing the flood gates to the newly constructed moat and flooding the sucker since he will be in the lowest level. I’ve bought into the horror tale. The zombie now has a rotting face in my mind and is rattling the iron bars of his granite cell.
Orit, types some inscrutable geek magic that transfers the zombie to the new email address. Then she high fives me, “We’ve quarantined the zombie!”
“Let me write down the password,” she says. “You can call me if you forget.”
Oh no! I can’t tell her those words. Besides, “No one needs to know that password,” I say.
She teases me, “What? Are you afraid I’ll let it out again?”
“Yes. I see that twinkle in your eye. You’re tempted. It’s evil. No one needs to know that password, not even you.”
I don’t trust that the zombie is gone forever, but I promptly forget the word order of the abominable password and the user name I gave the email site that will never get mail. The key is thrown away; the newly dug moat flooded.
We both google my site and my new site shows up. No zombie. I finally get to post my misbehaving-kittens-photo to the header then the new title to my blog “Why I Write Humor”.
* * *
Thank you to all my tech-mentors: Jan Bear, Lorelle Van Fossen, Orit Ofri, Larry Brooks, Marlene Howard, Rae Richen, Jean Yates, Watcherai Smitasin, Dorothy Brinkerhoff, Lill Ahrens, Ellen Saunders, Mark Bryant, Lorena Warnock, and the security guard at Linn Benton Community College who told me to, “Just step away from the computer, Ma’am.”