Saturday, April 16, 2011

Red Line Fever

My training as an editor and proofreader coincided with a very angry period. No, not that kinda period—or, for that matter, the one that comes at the end of a sentence—though it truly was as if I were constantly riding the cotton pony...

I had just graduated from college and, after much naïve surprise that there weren’t any “philosopher wanted” ads in the job listings, I begged for my low-paying entry-level position as an administrative assistant (How’d I do that? I took care not to randomly talk about chocolate chip cookies, like I did at one of my previous interviews) with a specialty publishing company, putter-outers of such titles as Dolls, Miniature Collector and Teddy Bear Review. You should know that as a little girl I was the type to behead my Barbies in frustration that I looked nothing like them, but I was fascinated with this subculture of collectors and so ready to learn everything I could. It was answering the phone, greeting people at the desk and wearing heinous business attire (polyester floral shirts that weren’t vintage 70s Huk-a-poo; pantyhose, inadvertently control-top…) that pushed me over the edge.

So yeah, I was truly no teddy bear… more like a grizzly/Tasmanian devil in an ill-fitting mauve suit as I careened down Fifth Avenue, trying to trip women in fur coats (OK, I only did that once, and it wasn’t like she fell or anything). Lower Fifth Avenue wasn’t built up all consumer-y like it is now, so I’d soothe myself by wandering into B. Shackman and buying random items in miniature for the dollhouse I never had, like teeny-tiny strawberry-frosted cupcakes and a postage stamp-sized Beach Boys Endless Summer album. (Geesh, they had to make it the greatest hits and not, say, “The Little Girl I Once Knew” picture sleeve…) I don’t think I’d do as well today browsing in the Juicy Couture store, where they don’t have much for a L’eggs-wearing grizzly.

However, there was an incredible silver lining: 1.) I poured all my fierce, tornado energy into learning how to edit and write for magazines, and 2.) The ladies I worked with were brilliant editors and teachers who knew their $hit. I did get me some mad skillz, but not the wisdom that went along with the power. Oh yeah, editors have a certain kind of power for sure.

We had at least 3 editors reviewing each story, and then the piece would go back to its original editor for corrects. I was learning by seeing what the others did, so I was the last to add my edits. Sometimes stuff would come to me marked up all over the place in three different colors, and woe to the person (and writer) whose lap it’d finally get dumped in. This is wrong! That’s wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong… oh, and your suggested headline sucked so I pulled 4 out of my a$$ in 30 seconds that were 5 times better… there was something wicked about the whole thing, and I could almost hear the cackling as one of us would pull down our Words In Type and proceed to copy down the grammatical rule (along with page #!) that had just been broken. It’d been fine if we were all in-your-face testosteroni (great name for pasta!) about it, but it was this weird mix of anal adherence to rules and the passive-aggressive act of pointing out and writing down all the errors. Crossing them out even! All this, and what were we editing? Recipes for nice apple tarts you’d make for a picnic with your teddy bears, and reviews of the latest line of Precious Moments figurines.

Luckily, that phase lasted for just about 4 years or so. It was only when I grew up, calmed down and learned to have more compassion for myself (and by extension, others) that I became a real, true editor. These days, I approach it by looking for what’s right, not by what’s wrong, with what someone’s written. Editing is so intimate, it’s like I’m inside someone’s brain and heart as they think and then express those thoughts, and to do my job well I have to be true to the writer and true to myself. Lately I’ve been editing stuff written by two of the smartest people ever, and they both happen to think completely unlike me, so it’s so really enlightening. It’s kinda like being a record producer—think Phil Spector (a la Wall of Sound and even Let It Be, which, I can’t lie, is one of my top three Beatle albums, and not now when he’s gone nuts, has scary hair and been found guilty of taking someone’s life) if Phil Spector were an editor, taking words and making them flow and grow into a symphony. Or at least a top-ten single, ya know?

P.S. Yeah, I totally should have edited that second-to-last sentence. But what good are rules if you can’t break ‘em?

It annoys many people, but the title of the song below (plus "You see...) is sorta my M.O. I can't help it, it's like genetic or something. Added bonus: a giant dancing monkey:

Photo titled: "Venomus 18 wheeler"

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