I have been having such a terrible problem, one so dicey that I haven’t wanted to bother you with it, you lovely person out there in cyberspace living your happy life.

For weeks now, I would be writing my novel…and my computer would just SHUT DOWN. No warning, no blue screen, no apologies. It would simply go black.

We writers are over-sensitive people, and somehow it always felt like a rebuke when it happened. As though the computer was saying, “DON’T write that! For God’s sake, you don’t think THAT’S interesting, do you? I’m sorry–I’m going to bed. Use paper and pen for all I care.”

I called the people you’re supposed to call at a time like this, tech support, otherwise known as The People In India Who Knows Things. The person I talked to was named Dharma (swear to God), and he knew immediately what I must do: pack up the computer and mail it back. Hard disk failure.

“No, please no,” I said. I’ve done that before. Your computer comes back with everything gone from its mind. It’s horrible. Like a lobotomy. You can never find your email addresses again. 

Instead, I called my son who knows many things. He said it might be the hard drive, but it also might be the cord was shorting out something inside the computer. I should replace the cord for $28 instead.

The guy at the power cord place said over the phone that he’d heard of this kind of problem before, and what was really wrong had to be that the motherboard had a crack in it. Bad, bad things were in store for me, he said mournfully. We shook our heads over the sad state of the whole computer industry. The motherboard would eventually have to be replaced, and in the meantime I would probably end up shorting out everything and losing my entire novel, all my music and pictures, and possibly my sanity. 

And then…in the midst of my sorrow, and with my computer going dark on me approximately every 30 minutes or so, I went to the fabulous internets, and there I came across the answer.

DUST. And possible golden retriever hair.

Yes, simple dust apparently gets into the teeny tiny vents of our laptops and collects on drives and fans and wires and who-knows-what-all-is-in-there, and it coats these components like a mohair sweater, and makes the fan wheeze and cough until the computer has to decide whether to burst into flames or shut itself down. That’s what the internets said. People even remarked, “Why is it that no one ever tells you this is a possibility? Why is it always ‘send your computer back for a lobotomy’?”

So last night I hauled out the vacuum cleaner and held the hose to all the computer vents for 30 seconds each…and then I turned the computer back on and…well, voila!!!

Ever since, the computer has run like a champ. It purrs. It hums. It no longer runs so loudly that it drowns out ordinary conversation. Just to make sure, I have also started typing with my laptop placed on the wire rack that I used to use for cooling cakes, back when it was cool enough to make cakes. This gives it even more air flowing through those bottom vents.

Who knew that a vacuum cleaner could work in such an amazing way? I may have to see what it could do with our rugs and floors!