Midnight Disaster

Late one night well before the turn of the century, I lost a book. It wasn’t just an ordinary book, one you can easily replace at the bookstore or find at the library. Instead, it was a book I had written. It was the only copy I had.

I recall a well-known tale. Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, lost a suitcase she was bringing him while he was on assignment for the Toronto Star in Switzerland. The suitcase was full of Hemingway’s writing that he wanted to show Lincoln Steffens.

She had also packed all the carbon copies. Apparently the suitcase was lost at the train station while Hadley left it unattended when she went to get a bottle of water. When she came back, the suitcase was gone.

The book I lost was a bit different, as it was written on a computer. As a faculty member of the college where Steve Jobs had attended for a few years, I was a beneficiary of one of the early Macintosh computers. At that time we were also using Apple’s word processor known as MacWrite.

I had not learned the fine art of backing up computer files, had not printed a single copy, and in a single idiotic mistake, the complete version of the book was gone. I couldn’t find it and became a bit frantic. The night wore on, the ravings became more frequent and I was growing desperate. And for the life of me, I had no idea what mistake I had made.

Off in a distant room, my wife eventually heard me. In her distinctive way of ambling about, she wandered in and probably asked me in her sweet and soft way, “What in heaven’s name is going on?”

I explained the situation as coherently as I could, all the while pounding my fists on the floor. She sat down at my desk, fiddled around a bit, the book reappeared on the screen, and she ambled back to bed without a single word.

That was the night I learned some of us have it and the rest of us don’t.

Apparently long before the birth of Steve Jobs, there have been others whose work has been lost, not necessarily by any dumb computer mistake, but by the nature of writing then and the stupidity of those entrusted with the disposition of the writer’s work.

It is said that roughly two-thirds of Aristotle’s work has never been recovered, while only a small fragment remains of Jane Austen’s novel, Sanditon. The man entrusted to publish Byron’s memoirs burned them and the same was true of a novel and many of the journals Sylvia Plath had written.

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like a disaster.