Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Things That Go Bump in the Existential Night

Early one morning, as you sat in arguably the most dramatic and satisfying office you'd had today with all your publishing jobs, you were one of the few persons there.  

You could smell coffee being made, probably by one of the ladies in the library.  The job itself had challenges  because the publisher was a different kind than any you'd worked for before.  

This was during a time when a good portion of the publisher's output was computer generated, but you did not yet have anything resembling a computer in your office.  Your primary instrument was an IBM Selectric typewriter from which you now yanked a sheet of stationery, balled it into a wad, then tossed the wad at your wastebasket.

Things were not going well.  There was a short story you were working on at home that was close to shouting at you now, in a sense wanting to know why you were busy writing a letter to one of the companies you used to print and bind the books your company published.  The letter was a brief description of the physical aspects of a book you wished to secure a manufacturing bid for.

You'd typed unnecessary information, not so much because it was early and you were tired, not as well because you had no interest in the construction and manufacture of books as well as their inner contents, but because you'd managed once again to move beyond the job status level where you had comfortable gaps of time to yourself and in to those upper echelons where much of what you did was delegate to others the work you enjoyed.

You'd just gone through your desk to clear out all your personal business cards wherein you were described as senior editor, replacing those with new ones that said of you that you were editor in chief.  Even though it did not matter much to you or the individual to whom you were typing the letter, you'd signed yourself senior editor instead of editor in chief.

Somewhere at home, in a desk your father had given you back in your teens, there was a stack of business cards showing you as having been editor in chief at other publishing ventures.  In your mind, the equation had formed whereby editor in chief was more than a status; that job level meant some fuse had been lit,  For one reason or another, there would be an explosion and you would be moving onward.  

The equation was not one of you disliking the responsibility and the sense of your fingerprint becoming an important part of a literary output, rather the reverse; you knew it required more of your administrative time, time spent in meetings, time spent working on speculations, plans, strategies rather than on more specific books and on which books which authors should be encouraged to write.

On the morning of which you write, you became aware as well that things were taking longer because you'd reached the point on the downward side of your fourth decade where you knew more than you did when you'd started.  A simple letter took longer to write because, as your hero, Mark Twain, said at one time, "I'd have written you a shorter letter but I did not have the time."

Things did not always take so much time.  When you look back on them, you wish they had.  Important as they are, the moments of conceptual birth and their implementations are not dramatic to observe.  Nor should they be; the drama is in their finished form.  

Even in the days before your IBM Selectric or the series of Royal and Underwood upright machines you had, even in the days when writers such as Twain and Dickens and Alcott and the Bronte Sisters wrote in pen, the words did not come in a single tumble.

The machine age made for some better results but the mere fact of there being a typewriter did not preclude wads of paper, wrested from the platen, squeezed in a ball for emphasis, then tossed at some thing.

You are more or less aware of the amount of time you require to do something, say a book review or an essay.  You know how long a story can take and when you think of books as you have been for some time now, you think a book a year, more or less.

Things take longer because you have more things to think about and figure ways of using or not, of trying to imply things and having that subtext become a radiant presence as opposed to having characters think them or say them, whereupon they become obvious Post-it notes from you instead of them.

You are glad things take longer.  As you go at things, you feel a tingle of pleasure at the sense of this thing taking longer than it used to,meaning you're still finding out things, meaning you might, if you live long enough, get things to the degree of rightness that were only abstractions when you began.

Not only are things taking longer, you are finding yourself concerned, sometimes to the point of impatience, because there are so many of them.

No way does it become easier, and so far as you are concerned, that is the most exhilarating aspect of the work.

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