The Screen

The Screen

I don’t usually mind dealing with technical quirks. If something basically works, even if it requires fiddling here and there, I’m good.


Other times, though, technology turns on you. Maliciously. I’ve had home printers over the years grow increasingly hostile and sarcastic towards me as they refuse to print, inexplicably change orientation, or outright insist they’re not connected, have never been connected, and wouldn’t know what to do with a connection if they found one but-whatever-because-they-can’t-so-why-are-you-bothering-me, human?

I’ll unplug and restart, FAQ and Troubleshoot, update drivers and Google myself into emotional exhaustion, all to save $2.40 and a 20-minute trip to Staples – where I often end up going anyway.

Days later, having moved on with my life and hopefully grown a bit in the process, I sit down to work on something new. As my computer comes to life, so does the printer – stirring and spinning and warming up, mocking me as it builds suspense towards the inevitable…

And here come 18 copies of the thing I gave up on a few days before. Multiple pages each. Which is why I’m always out of ink, despite rarely actually printing something on command at home. 

Sure, you can fight it – hit STOP and DELETE and unplug things and throw them out the apartment window to the parking lot below like people do. A few days later, it’s off to Best Buy to purchase any-brand-but-THAT-one, hook it up to your wife’s computer (just in case it was something with your laptop, which you refuse to openly blame because why anger it along with the others?) and in mere minutes it’s asking to print a test page…  

Here come 19 copies of that thing from last week – this time in whichever color you’re lowest on. The stuff you ended up destroying the previous machine over. Page after page spitting onto the floor for the rest of the evening. Clearly they’re all in this together. 

My kids were testing today, and I had a rare opportunity to get ahead on planning next week. I was moving around some tables in Word, trying to decide whether they’d help my darlings better organize important themes or merely crush all hope out of their souls, when my cursor momentarily stuck. 

It happens. I’m blessed with technology in my room, but I’ve learned that it’s the mixed variety. I inherited the largest classroom in the building through no merit of my own – it’s what the teacher before me had when she moved up. There’s a Smart Board of some sort, a laptop that actually runs things, and a wireless monitor, mouse, and keyboard. There are other important-looking items connected as well, but I’m not sure what all of them do. I’ve learned not to experiment. 

My first month here – about this time last year – I tried rotating my desk to a better position. But there are cords. Cables. Wires and zip ties. Velcro, and tightly bound… things entering the wall in some places while different things emerge from others. Many of them go into the important-looking enigmas on and around my desk; others are wrapped and hang sadly alone behind the trash can. It all appears intentional, but not in a ‘Building Tomorrow’s Classroom Today’ sorta way; it’s more of a “I think we can get the Enterprise to leave orbit but we’ll only get once chance and might blow up” vibe. 

But it all works. Well, you know… mostly. 

Between you and me, I’d prefer to lose the wireless stuff. I’d rather just work off the laptop, smaller screen and all. Wireless stuff gets quirky, and it takes up desk space. But still – I’m genuinely thankful. Many educators would love to have it so good.  

There are three screens – the laptop, the monitor, and the big screen up front. If I’m using PowerPoint, I need to Extend Screen One to Screen Three. After class, when I want to work on a presentation without turning on the big screen again, I have to Extend Screen One to Screen Two – except that’s not always an option in the dropdown menu. (I haven’t yet figured out why it’s there sometimes and other times not.) So we… Duplicate Display on One and Two? Ah, that does it, although there are actually two completely different things showing now. But who cares, right? It works. 

The next day, the district wants us to show a video about bullying, which means I need to Duplicate Screen One to Screen Three. We're tight on time, so that option has inexplicably vanished today. I can either, let’s see… Extend Display to Screen One? No, never – or what’s this? Duplicate  on All Screens? That’s new. Sounds like something that should work – except that my screen is suddenly large and fuzzy, which is weird. The sound is playing, but the image up front is frozen, until I open Settings again at which point the laptop is tired of my incompetence and goes completely black. Also, an ad has just popped up for incontinence. Or maybe against it. I’m too distracted to catch the details. 

You get the idea. And that’s without anyone touching or brushing too close to the screen at the front of the room. Touch it – even accidentally – and all bets are off what the computer and its various displays will do. The big screen itself flashes and sputters like a wounded animal in the ugly convulsions of digital death, and I have no choice but to restart before all is lost. 

But as I said, it all works well enough once you get used to it. I’m grateful. And flexible. I’ve learned to be flexible. 

Until I broke everything today, forever. 

My cursor was stuck. Word has a mind of its own when it comes to moving tables around, so I wasn’t overly concerned – just confused. Then it happened – I did a kind of 5-finger tappity-tap-them-all on the keyboard. Not angry, not hard, just a quick finger-drumming, two runs in quick succession. Human code for “HELLO?! ARE YOU FEELING ME IN THERE?”

My display promptly flipped upside down. 


That wasn’t the plan. 

No idea how I caused that, but obviously it was something in my type-itty-type fest. OK. This was fixable. There’s a setting, right? There’s always a setting. 

The laptop display wasn’t affected. It’s anchored a bit far back on my desk, so I had to lean in to see what I was doing, but there, under Settings, was something about screen rotation. Here we go – rotate 180 degrees! That was ea—

Now my laptop display was upside down. Oh, but my monitor was back to normal.

Huh, again.  

Like a bad sitcom, I repeated the process several times. Stuff kept changing, but never back to where I wanted it. In fact, I think it gradually got worse. 

My kids are still testing and I’m trying to play this cool so no one notices. Besides, prepping for next week is overrated, amiright?

Let’s try extending Display One to Display Three. There we—WHAT THE HELL?!

The monitor display is upright, but it’s blobby-blurry. That won’t work. Duplicated Display Two on Display—

Where’d it go? The laptop is blank now. I can tell Settings is open, but I can’t get an image on the laptop and the monitor is blobby-blurry. Where did—

Ah. The big screen. I’ll just have to subtly turn it on and hope they’re so engaged in testing that they don’t notice. Here we go, it’s warming up…

Settings were open on the big screen – sort of. They were open at a 90 degree angle, filling half the screen, which distorts things more than you'd think. And I couldn’t get the cursor to move into that section. 

I kept at it, though. I may not be smart, but I have grit enough to send Carol Dweck into trembling pedagogical ecstasies. It was like chasing wet soap in a straightjacket – each effort rotated images, altered resolutions, or sometimes just made things go away, but over time it was all clearly getting worse, and I began to fear I’d have to ask for help. For THIS.  

I had to use my cell phone to email tech support. All this tech, and I had to Swype with my fat old fingers on that tiny little phone screen to try to explain, without sounding either enraged (I really wasn’t – just defeated) or irredeemably idiotic. I then did the smartest thing one can do in such a situation – I shut it all down, and calmly walked to another workspace in the room where I began refreshing myself on next week’s content while my kids finished their writing. 

A half hour later, I quietly booted it all up again. I right-clicked and looked more closely, and there it all was – the option, in the menu, one screen at a time, back to 0 degrees and crisp resolutions, and all is again right in the universe. Maybe I panicked too quickly, or maybe I too easily perceive malice when none exists. Heck, there’s probably a kind of metaphor in it all – a lesson about education or life which would make a nice blog post...

I rushed home and began to type. Most posts take multiple drafts, but this one—

I coulda swore I’d unplugged that printer, but for some reason it’s whirring and making the most ominous clanking sounds. I wonder what dark effort from my past it will be ejecting the rest of the evening... With what new oddities will it taunt me?

I don’t care, machine – Bring. It. On. I’m ready.

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