Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Housekeeper as My Editor


The editing process amazes you with its implications,  In a kind of amused and reductionist way, you sometimes regard editing as "what someone with a trained eye makes of your stuff."  This definition sends you right back to ponder implications, because you were on any number of payrolls with your job description having to do with editing, a history that must mean you have a trained eye.

You do have a trained eye, but part of the implications are that this trained eye tends to wander a bit when your own "stuff" is the center of focus.  Thus one implication is irony.  You can see things in the work of others that you cannot necessarily find in your own; you can know where a story starts or ends; you can tell when the author has begun to defend or describe rather than dramatize.  You can see things in another writer's story that the writer might not have consciously seen or known.  Editors can pin the same tails on your literary donkeys, seeing tails where you saw none.

Every Monday morning (unless some major holiday such as Christmas or Easter fall on a Monday) at about eight-thirty, Lupe arrives to edit your studio.  For the longest time, you'd assumed she was tending to such things as laundry, trash, cleaning, and reminding you of the present or forthcoming need for household supplies.  As time with Lupe progressed, you noticed that flowers were not always in the places you'd put them or, indeed, in the arrangements (or lack of arrangements) you'd set forth.  Things you more or less took for granted began emitting a sort of practicality or neatness, even order, you hadn't previously noticed.

You still have the memory of your father,suggesting in numerous ways how an orderly life does not necessitate an over-structured life.  "You get to the point where, when you're looking for something, ninety percent of the time, it will be in the place you intended it to be."  Of course you were curious about the missing ten percent, to which your father replied, "Wise guy, huh?"

Lupe has caused you to see that many of the things about the focal points of your living quarters have a life of their own since she began tilting and arranging, stacking, and folding.  There is a sense of continuity, a rhythm of sizes and shapes, in addition to the fact that these two rooms of ample size, a closet of scarcely enough room, and a bathroom where you are constantly reminded that you are over six feet in height, are more than mere locations for you to place your "things."

The main focus anyone would have upon entering your landscape is the presence of books everywhere.  Neither this nor any of the above intends to say outright or to imply that things are scattered.  They aren't.  But the thing Lupe's editing has made you aware of is the way your "things" define this place as well as defining what you are and what you are not.

From this vision of the things themselves and their places of repose (a clutch of Big Little Books, those small, square books printed on pulp paper for younger readers, perches on the ledge of a kitchen window that overlooks the sumptuous next door garden), a sense of varied interests and emotions, and attitudes vibrates forth.  You can see clear traces of your live-in companion Sally in the form of three different bed sites (which she occupies at various times during the day and night) as well as a portrait of her on the west wall and a large photo mural of her on the north wall.

You believe it is clear that the principal activity here (beyond sleep and eating) has to do with reading and writing, but that simple belief is the key to this excursion into editing.  Your belief and intent seem abundant to you.  They may well--and have--confused others, as in, "I didn't get that message."  You, as editor, on occasion don't get or get too much what a writer is trying to accomplish.

An implication of these observations is that there is a danger for a writer to be too self-absorbed, hesitant to accept or in any way entertain editorial suggestions.  You know one such writer, whose demeanor and work reflect a sense of self so internalized that he has achieved the recognition he has sought for his work in the ironic refraction of his personal life.  You fear another writer, Salman Rushdie, has sought to achieve this same kind of stature by his refusal to see his life and his things in a perspective you must call editorial.

Joan Didion has said we tell ourselves stories in order to live, an observation you think acute and accurate.  Now, you find yourself saying we require the editorial presence of a trained eye to make us aware of the undiscovered meanings resident in our own words.


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