I am a Cow

     It’s not funny, usually, when your computer crashes and eats months of work.
     However …
     Two weeks ago, at the end of my vacation, I wrote a column about autumn in Vermont.
     I thought it was a masterpiece. I polished it up twice a day until it was perfect, then stashed it to publish it right here, a week ago.
     Well, on Monday, first day back at work, my computer crashed. I hauled out the emergency laptop, and it wasn’t until 4 a.m. Friday, a week ago, that I realized the column was gone.
     I posted this news page, then sadly knocked out a woefully inferior column about autumn in Vermont.
     As I knocked off for the day, our tech guy called, and in the next hour he brought my dead computer to life.
     Hooray! I thought. I can post my masterpiece.
     I called it up and read it.
     It was the worst dreck I’ve ever read in my life.
     Soppy, sentimental, overwritten crap is what it was.
     Now I realize that I am a cow.
     I know this statement does not have the resonance of John Donne’s “No Man Is An Island,” or, taking a giant step down, Paul Simon’s “I Am a Rock.” Or even George Washington’s, “Yeah, OK, I did it.”
     Nonetheless …
     Why am I a cow?
     I am a cow because in the 8 hours a day I am not editing this page, or sleeping, you will find me chewing my cud and gazing absently into the middle distance.
     For 8 hours a day I am a news editor. I slam through stories about class-action lawsuits, corporate bribery, war crimes, constitutional abuses, rape, and worse.
     To do this properly, day after day, in my spare time, I must read about – and this is worse than rape – U.S. politics.
     I do this with a grateful heart. For once, long ago, I earned a living by manual labor.
     So I ain’t complaining.
     But among the many bad decisions I’ve made in my life, one was to write a book about Shakespeare. I made this decision about 3 years ago, and since then I have been living in the Elizabethan era: around 1599.
     I prefer it to living today.
     I find the people more interesting.
     And – here’s the thing – I prefer 1599 because it’s really not important to me, what happened back then.
     What’s happening now is important: this vile presidential election, the corruption of the Supreme Court, the rape of the Constitution, and so forth.
     But when my work day is over, I don’t want to think about that anymore.
     The State of the Union today is not only disgraceful – it’s annoying.
     So I read about Shakespeare. I have a deep, abiding interest in what was wrong with the Earl of Essex. In what Walter Ralegh was thinking on the way back from Guyana. In what killed poor old Thomas Kyd.
     Time was, people who worry about such things thought Shakespeare knocked his stuff out like Mozart – perfect the first time. But now the experts – including the wonderfully cantankerous Eric Sams (“The Real Shakespeare,” Yale University Press, 1995) – think the Bard wrote and rewrote his stuff, for years. That some of the so-called “bad quartos” may have been by William himself, before he got good.
     That’s consolation to a cow like me, as I chew my cud, and write a column, and rewrite it, then flush it into eternity.
     Then I go sit on the porch with a book, and my dog, and I look at the trees, and think about “Cardenio,” and the other lost plays of Shakespeare.
     Maybe Shakespeare wanted them to get lost. Can’t we assume, 400 years later, that Shakespeare knew best?

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