Friday, December 8, 2006

The Dao of Maxwell Perkins

Tonight I'm sitting late on campus trying to convince myself to write a paper about my editing philosophy.
This issue is this, how do I write philosophically or otherwise about editing?
Things I've come up with so far: I love love love and adore talking people through their ideas. My idea of a perfect relationship revolves around some sweatered someone calling me up at 2:14 in the afternoon and saying "Kjerstin, I noticed a tree that was leaning over the street as I was walking back from lunch and it started me thinking..." and, you know, we'd talk for a fiery fifteen minutes about how the angle of the branches is a symbol of the fall and related to whichever novel is lying dog-eared on the bedside table. I get this quirky fix off ideas. Love them. Editing is fabulous in that sense because you're paid to make sure someone's ideas fit. That means you have to talk through them and explore them and when it works, oh man, you hit this harmony and the overtones go wild and my heart starts singing in time.
Also, I think I have a pretty good idea of where the line between drawing someone out and baiting them is. I hate crossing that line. It feels like eating too much fudge or something and your breath is all musty with chocolate and you feel like ralphing. This is a concern, though, because as much as I love the flow of ideas and other people's ideas, I really like mine too.
Then I want to talk about the whole copyediting situation. I'm not a copyeditor. (Like, is copyeditor an open or closed compound? Should I hyphenate it? I'm not sure. I am fairly certain, however, that I don't care. Also that it's not worth it to look it up. Not a copyeditor.) (Spellcheck says copy editor.) But copyediting is super important: a) someone has to do it, you don't want to look like an idiot, b) having to read hundreds of pages straight out of the Chicago Manual of Style has really polished up my writing style, and c) how much confidence can an editor inspire if her answer to "should this be a semicolon?" is a bewildered shrug?
Other issues play into the writer's block. First, my teacher is an enigma. (He is a copyeditor, and as different from me as night from day.) I don't know how to write for this man and am sure that he'll be disappointed in my results. Second, it's 10:15 on a Friday night and I'm sitting alone on campus. Yeah, I feel nothing like an artistic genius capable of pumping out a couple of thousand words of shining prose. (On editing, for an assignment. My complaining about this paper while writing precisely what I mean to say is either really useful or completely asinine. I haven't decided which.) Third, more than being alone, I was hit about an hour ago by the melancholy that comes from watching the online/offline bubbles on Gmail blink like Christmas lights. "Oh Amanda's on!" and "Looks like Erin went out for the night." Who does this? I feel like a complete voyeur and it's really getting me down. Fourth, and I will complain about this regularly, I'm tired. It's the end of the semester and I've pushed myself really hard and maybe have forgotten (did I ever know?) how to apply myself and I'm tired. I don't want to write a paper. I don't want to make something up or think of a creative and brilliant angle to "Kjerstin's Philosophy of Editing." Tired.
Maybe the juices will flow. Maybe I'll head home and see if I can get my wireless to work there too. ke


Linda Adams is retiring this year. She's the heart of the editing program, and has given me every opportunity I've had. I'm worried how the student journals will survive without her, on-campus publishing is such a net of bureaucracy and rules of thumb. This is the thing that struck me, though. So she was a genius on Quark. Startlingly so. She caught me by surprise not once formatting away on some backroom Mac, this gray-haired, scratchy-voiced old woman. It's not a thing you see every day. But she never learned InDesign. My question is, when do you decide to stop like that? Like, "I'm done learning, the cost of acquiring a new skill can no longer be paid off by using it for the rest of my life"? I had a similar impression when my step-father (not yet 60) declared that he would never read the Russians. How can you just decide? Isn't that kind of like saying, "I've got the plague and only one day to live?"