Like any other day. Little old lady, eighty-two years, hunched over my home office desk and laptop, messing around. Check email, get online messages from health insurance, look up passwords: the never-ending daily tedium. But better than trying to write stupid stuff of no interest to anyone. Better to perform my expanding daily duties while blaming others or the “system.” When a block of time opens, I obsessively gravitate to reading rather than writing.


But wait. Here’s something – an invitation to a reception honoring one of my professor colleagues from my previous university department. Sounds like something I would like to attend, so I hit print. Immediately, a flashing pop-up screams “paper jam.” This on a day I hope to try to un-jam my own writer’s block.

I stand, move left, and almost start talking to the machine sitting on a separate desk surrounded by messy stacks of paper. One more thing to deal with. But I can fix this. Repair don’t replace; lamps, electrical outlets, etc. Chief fixer: change batteries, install printer cartridges, mount curtain rods (in the old days), touch up paint chips and scars. I can do this, did it before with a fax machine paper jam.

Standing, hovering over the HP6100 printer, I begin, lift the cover on the paper tray, and spot the culprit; about one third of the jammed sheet lingers in the empty tray. Not much to grab. But I grab anyway and try to pull it toward me. Nothing moves. Knowing my hands and fingers are not strong, I grab with both hands and pull. Still nothing. This is harder than I thought.

I try something else: there’s a down arrow button to push remaining paper through on a given print job. When I press it, there’s movement, and a little of the jammed sheet goes through, but stops; now only about one-fourth of the sheet remains . Still I try to get a hold and pull it forward. Nothing, hands and fingers useless.

Next, I go to Google to find the HP Customer Support webpage or phone number. After one 800 call and describing my problem, the agent tells me I need technical support and gives me a different contact number. When a new agent answers, I immediately ask whether I will be charged for the assistance. I am not comforted by his response, “We will let you know if there’s a charge.” Nonetheless, I describe the problem.

It seems a sign of competence when he asks for the printer’s serial number, explaining that it appears on the back side. The desk space is too tight for me to turn the machine around, so I start tossing stacks of paper from the desk to the floor. Barely able to see the tiny label, I manage to decipher the serial number and give it to him. With the back in full view I notice a plastic horizontal cover across the bottom of the printer that looks to be removable. (More on this later.)

Once armed with the serial number, the young man on the phone declares authoritatively, “You have an obsolete printer.”

I reply, “The printer has been working fine. There must be some way to get the jammed paper out.”

“No,” he answers. “The rollers are no longer working. That is why you got the jam in the first place. You need to upgrade. We can offer you a new printer.” He fast-talks about the details of the new model.

I ask, “Can you send me the details in an email so I can see exactly what you are offering?”

He advises that he cannot email details, but the offer appears on the HP website store. “This printer is much like the one you have, only updated. It comes with a set of cartridges, and a discount on cartridges for the next two months. The regular price is $150, and you can have it for $99. That’s a very good deal; a set of cartridges will cost almost that price.”

“I don’t want a new printer. I just want to get mine back to working,” My suspicions keep me engaged on the phone with him. “What about that rectangular plastic strip on the bottom of the back of the printer? Doesn’t that come off to show where the paper is jammed?”

He quickly replies. “No, the rollers have stopped working. Your printer is obsolete.” I say I will look up the information on the website and then decide. I thank him for his help.

He’s probably right. This printer has got to be ten years old. And the price is good, though I could check with Office Depot to get their price. It’s not the money. It’s the principle.


Feeling defeated, I stare at the plastic strip cover on the back. It has slots for fingers to fit in, presumably to remove it. How hard can that be? I try different ways, fingers in, sliding up, out, or to the right. Nothing. I keep at it, although I always fear breaking electronic items. Finally it lifts off somewhat, but it takes more shifting, lifting, and pulling before it releases and the whole strip comes off.

Voilà. The rest of the ragged, nearly intact sheet with smudges of black ink embedded in wrinkles. I easily pull it out. But it’s a struggle to replace the cover on the back.

So much of my time doing this kind of stuff! No one to blame but yourself. And what if there’s some scrap of paper still in there? Will it even work once I turn the power back on? I should have just ordered the new one.


Now comes the real test, the whole trial-and-error process of coaxing this electronic partner to do my bidding. Once powered up, it grunts, groans, and spins over and over. Trying to please me, give me hope? I just keep clicking on all options: open printer settings, open printer queue, run trouble-shooter. I pull up the invitation again and click print. Nothing.

All that time – two hours at least. All that effort and for what? No wonder I don’t get back to writing. It’s my own damn fault. What are you trying to prove?

Still, I keep playing with the printer settings, repeating actions already tried. Suddenly a pop-up screen with a message: “Changes have been made to your printer.” Happily, I click OK and am bombarded by more grunts, groans, and spinning sounds. Then it magically starts printing – first the invitation and then two test pages. I quickly print a couple of short items, just to be sure it is not trying to trick me.

Of course, I feel vindicated: my obsolete printer still works. Maybe I beat the system. Two hours well spent? I wouldn’t go that far. But I’m still the trouper my adult daughter calls me.


Author's Comment

When this experience with my printer left me feeling triumphant, I realized – I can write about this. Grabbing a pad of paper, I madly scribbled some notes. I wanted to capture my ambivalence about a lifelong need to persevere in the fix-and-repair mode versus admitting the silliness of always needing to prove my expertise. The struggle remains, but more and more I am cutting myself some slack.


Jane DiVita Woody, a retired psychotherapist and professor of social work, is now devoted to creative writing. Besides three degrees in English and a MSW, she has completed writing workshops at Florida State University, the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival, Creighton University, and University of Nebraska-Omaha. She has published a memoir, Lucky Girl: Growing up Italian-American in Appalachia (Amazon, 2018) and short stories in The MacGuffin and in Kestrel. Her professional writing includes How Can We Talk About That? Overcoming Personal Hang-ups So We Can Teach Kids the Right Stuff about Sex and Morality (Jossey-Bass, 2002).

5 thoughts on “The System

  1. Great piece–better than tranquilizers for relieving my own stress whenever my computer and/or printer declares war on me. (Like– every day). And an MSW? And psychotherapy? And Appalachia? And
    writing/talking about sex? Since I gave up my sorry attempt at a blog, I hereby give Persimmon Tree to give you my email address–( or just find me on
    Facebook). I suspect we could form our own support group. Along with Pat Pomerleau, who shares my view of Word 10. I also imagine we (or you and my husband) may have crossed paths before.

  2. Jane! Thanks for making me laugh and upending my anger with “the system” of Word a la Microsoft 10 (missing dear old Microsoft 7!) Have decided I will set up my punching bag before I throw unhelpful “Cortana” who inhabits my computer, out the window or buy Windows 10 for Dummies or accept my Dummie-hood! THANKS!


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