How best to take advantage of expert help

Photo of desk setup with laptop, giant monitor, window in background. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt's desk in Davis, California

The new working environment in Davis


Yesterday was a very productive day.

I have acquired a local Mac guru, and he came and spent three hours with me, sitting at my computer to get me past the July crash.

My intention had been to spend the day before getting ready for him by clearing out the working space I’ve set up, and finally unpacking several boxes full of the things I keep within reach when I write.

The best laid plans of mice and women

Of course, things never go exactly as planned.

Just as I had finished futzing with all the trivia online for the day, the spouse decided to come in and take a nap before dinner.

My ‘office’ is in the Master Bedroom (ie, the only one), and I was faced with the dilemma of starting my planned tidying-up with a sleeping man a few feet away. And the chair squeaks enough already. The other alternative, wasting up to two hours sitting in the living room, was not what I wanted to do.

And I was conscious that I had wasted all the morning, and the guru was coming the next morning at ten.

So I proceeded

as quietly as possible, to continue the plan to end up with a clean desk, the three boxes around the desk area unpacked, and me prepared with my questions for my new and untried helper (the last one wasn’t much help).

That was the plan.

The next hour or so would have made a good Laurel and Hardy movie.

I am pig-headed, Part umptyfrat

I had everything from my file cabinets on my side of the bed, right behind the desk. Piles ready and able to fall over, catch in the covers, get completely mixed up.

But this meant that I could rearrange the rug I’m using under where the chair sits so it would stop catching and tripping me, and in a more permanent way, protect the carpet from the desk chair.

So I decided that once I had loaded up the file cabinets again, I would have lost this opportunity to use them to pin down the edges of the rug and keep it (one hopes) from sliding out of place a little more every time I moved the chair.

Which then meant that I had to move the stiff rug and two short file cabinets into position while making no noise, and all by myself.

That brief description should have daunted me, and kept me from even trying until I had an awake helper, but (proof that I needed another nap), it did not.

I wish I could have saved a video recording of the process for your entertainment. I am quite flexible, though I can’t walk much at all, so I was down on the floor, in an extremely confined space, trying at the beginning to do this all without removing any of the things on top of the desk.

Then by removing the monitor and the laptop.

And finally, with no room at all to store the pieces meanwhile, by removing everything from my desktop slab – the computer stuff up onto the window ledge, the other bits and pieces to the tiny spaces around the desk location – and standing the silly top against the wall so that it would not come crashing down (silence, remember?).

But at each step I thought I could do it

and that it would only take a little bit more to be able to slide the rug under the two file cabinets, line everything up, and resume the real part of the task, unpacking.

The secondary problem, which I didn’t realize when I started, but should have known, was that, when they reconstructed the king-size platform bed in this room, the likelihood of it being completely square to the walls (I assume the building is squared) was nil.

So picture me, literally, on my hands and knees, trying to position a rug I’m sitting on, by making a little hill in one end, placing my weight on it, and trying to propagate that hill to the other end of the rug (like a caterpillar moving), so it would end up a half-an-inch from the platform bed (because otherwise the chair wheels catch).

As a lovely side effect, I had turned the AC control up (so the AC wouldn’t come on so frequently), couldn’t get out of the room easily (and noiselessly), and I worked myself into exhaustion – and a serious overheating condition before I realized what was going on.

To be followed – as soon as I realized what was happening – by serious cooling in the form of AC and cold water, and wondering if I was going to be able to get control of all the pieces before our dinner engagement with another couple we’d be meeting for the first time in a very short time.

Don’t worry too much – I made it

Once everything was cleared off the top, and me cooled (husband is still sleeping!), I was able to slide everything into position. I quickly filled the file cabinets with the original (unprocessed) files – as weights to hold down the edges of the rug.

We have enough storage space – drawers under the bed and holding printer and scanner and lightbridge – so I just shoved things in to get them out of the way. The next day I was able to present a clear desk with just my computer equipment (taking everything off made that easier.

Will watch for overheating and dehydration (had a lot of water after) sooner next time. Because there always is a next time.

When the guru came the next morning

I was ready with a short list of the things I needed first, which included Mail (ultimately put on hold), Calendar with the dates for Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD in their places (still have to recover the rest of the calendar data), and me waiting for the software serial number from Write Brothers which I got with a phone call later that afternoon. The folks there gave me a free upgrade and I was back into my Dramatica files immediately.

It was a real learning experience. Sai will update my file structure later, and help recover whatever is still available. I’ll be surprised if it isn’t practically everything I had before (I do have Dropbox and Time Machine backups), even if it takes a bit of work, and he’ll leave me far more organized than I’ve been.

I managed not to seem too out of it, and he knew everything I asked (kudos, White Wave Digital), and was very careful not to do anything irreversible as he went. He told me to disconnect the old external hard drive (all the Time Machine backups before the crash) until we’ve mined it.

But it was good to be able to work with him, and connect Mac-wise. I haven’t had one or needed one before, but I was definitely out of my depth on this recovery (thanks, Apple, for the smart saving of pieces), and delighted to find someone who already knows this community and the people who live here – I didn’t even have to tell him where I was or get the front desk to let him in!

Easy peasy, and I definitely didn’t make things worse.

I’ll settle for that. People who know exactly what they’re doing are worth their weight in your currency of choice.

I know how lucky I am that we hit it off.

And I’m ready to write again.

Quick reminder: check out the sidebar for some of my favorite posts which you might not have seen.

My Patreon link is there, too, if you’re impatient for Book 2 – I am finally in a position to access all my files for the ‘backstage’ part of my writing process (assuming you’re not squeamish).

And hope to get finished efficiently from now on with NETHERWORLD so there will be more than one book link at the top. In the process of regaining my Calendar data, I remembered how much I like the end of this, the middle trilogy book. Can’t wait to get there – but much plot remains before I’ve earned it.

Feel free to share similar experiences; I’m feeling escamada, which is Spanish for sneaking past by the skin of your teeth, feeling you barely escaped – the hairs on the back of your neck stand up at the close call.

23 thoughts on “How best to take advantage of expert help

  1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    Wow! I’m delighted to hear that the computer is sorted enough that you can write. Yay!

    I’m currently doing the research and planning for a sequel to my Tally Master. I seem to have forgotten just how much research and prep I had to do for Tally, although Book 2 seems to be coming together more efficiently than did Book 1.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I’m glad your research is going well; I know how much you enjoyed writing the first book. Hope this one goes very well.

      I think I’m running into a bit of a problem with energy. I really haven’t had the crisper mind I usually depend on to write with. There have been so many little things every day – the list seems endless. And meeting new people almost every dinner takes more than I thought it did.

      I’m sure it’ll sort itself out, but I hope it’s sooner rather than later – I’m behind on Patreon.

      I’ve opened all the files I recovered, and read bits, and then not been able to continue because something else comes up – an address change to be made, someone stopping by, a phone call that must be answered, a call that must be made during business hours back East…

      I’m really happy we’re here, but we’re not ‘settled’ by any stretch of the mind muscles. It will come.


      1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

        It makes sense that being truly settled will take a while. You’ve arrived, which is wonderful, but you’re still figuring out what your routines will be in this new place, making friends, and recovering from the big push of the move itself.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I’m sure you’re right. And the older you are when you move, the longer it probably takes, on average. For these calculations, I don’t know whether I should still expect to react by chronological age, or whether the slow brain from disability might be modeled by adding 5 or 10 years. Not that it much matters: people here keep telling us it takes a while to get settled, and much longer than you think.

          We also have to decide how much civic involvement we want to make in our community and California. I don’t have much to work with, but husband does (after he finishes the postponed taxes).

          It’s still far better than being back in NJ, and today I actually had a working day: the brain kicked on after something I’m trying, and I got two hours of actual work on the WIP; I repeated the experiment, and got another hour and a half. I used the time well, and got a bunch of things read and organized back in my brain, and wrote a whole bunch of my ‘Production notes’ so that tomorrow will be closer to when I know enough about what goes where to possibly proceed to actual scenes; if not, I’m still far better than I’ve been since I got here. Pray. It really helps my attitude.

          Last little bit: my book has been catalogued by the facility’s library, and I lent a copy to our dinner partners from last night. Maybe this bottom won’t fall any lower – I have done NO marketing in ages, and it shows.


        2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

          …the brain kicked on after something I’m trying, and I got two hours of actual work on the WIP; I repeated the experiment, and got another hour and a half.

          That is wonderful! I’m sure you’ll feel more patient with the settling in once you’re writing regularly. I never feel quite right with myself and with life when an interval of not writing lengthens.

          Very cool that Purgatory is now in the facility’s library!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. joey

    Oh my goodness. We’re like that here, too. Why do it the long and hard way when you can do it the short, hard way instead?
    I tell ya, you’re a trooper!
    Go Mac! That’s an item I intend to spoil myself with once we don’t have to furnish anyone else’s electronics 😉


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I wasn’t willing to go into the backups by myself – kept finding a reason to postpone (moving, you know) – and I’m glad I waited. I have the feeling that, as I get older, I will like having a real guru to hand. I may not need him, but the knowledge that help is available and vetted is good.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Exactly the contrary. I wouldn’t go near a PC if you paid me. And Windows is a horror. Its constant updating and taking control of the computer drives my spouse crazy.

      Everything was/is there – all saved by a system that has my backups. I haven’t had a problem in my entire Mac life; this was a perfect storm.

      But everyone has their preferences and their methods – so do what works for you; me, I’m Apple through and through.

      Just as long as you HAVE backups. I have no patience with people who don’t – and then whine when they lose everything.


      1. Janna G. Noelle

        It’s definitely a matter of what one is used to. For me, the Mac operating system is hopelessly un-intuitive. I could surely learn to use it, but lack any real desire to do so. Same reason I haven’t learned to use Scrivener even though I’ve had it on my computer for years. I can think of countless better things I’ve rather be doing than learning new ways to do the same thing I’ve been doing well enough all along.

        But you’re absolutely right about backing up. I’ve got multiple backups. Not having them is a needless form of self-inflicted punishment, like overdue library fines, yet with far greater consequences.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Our intuitions are exactly reversed – but writers are idiosyncratic, and it doesn’t matter. I’m Mac and Scrivener and Dramatica, and you’re the opposite.

          And it matters not a leek.

          As long as you’re comfortable, why change?

          Liked by 1 person

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