Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Editor as Schoolyard Bully, or I Have it on Good Authority

With one or two exceptions, you were never harassed by schoolyard bullies, nor were you a contribution to bullying. The one or two exceptions came when, as a recent graduation from Central Beach Elementary School in Miami Beach, FL, you were now low on the totem pole across the street at the Ida M. Fisher Junior High School, particularly at noon hours, when the eighth- and ninth-grade boys were looking for such new fish as you.

Also in Miami Beach, FL, where, on occasion, you did indeed see some Confederate flags, there was a playground acquaintance named Robert Lemon, whom census labeled a schmuck. When Lemon took you aside to question your position in the matter, you allowed that he had an uncanny ability in our afternoon baseball games to throw the ball to the most unlikely places, places where there was little or no possibility for causing a baserunner to be ruled out. He persisted in wanting to know if you thought that made him a schmuck and you allowed that it did.

This was at a time when you were indeed gathering things for later use, but you hadn't the slightest notion what that use would be, much less that you would wish to turn your most significant efforts toward writing. 

Pierra Vacca wanted you to go in business with him, reparing radios, which seemed sensible, even, as your father suggested, lucrative, except that your father also suggested that while you knew enough to listen to almost any radio you came in contact with, you had scant awareness of how radios worked.

"I'll show you," Pierre Vacca said. Some weeks later, when the circuitry at 1455 Michigan Avenue, Miami Beach, FL, suffered a gaping, sparking stroke, your father wondered aloud if the event had anything to do with you learning how radios worked

Here you are, years later, no longer certain you are not under attack, your bullies masquerading as editors, more specifically as interior editors. Back to the one or two exceptions meme, you are at the least tolerant of most editors, respectful to a greater degree, and in admiration of yet others. That said, when an internal editor asks of you, "You call that writing?" or the more invasive "You call that story?" then yes, you call that harassment by schoolyard bullies.

Effective editors would never ask that question, however dismayed they were made by something you had written or, at the other extreme, not written. Effective editors would suggest a change of word or verb tense or metaphor. Effective editors would question a specific use rather than make a global condemnation.

This is not to say that your interactions with editors leave you in your mildest mannered aspect or that you have not experienced some direct, immediate visceral response to the editor's suggestion or question, such as a reply you once made of "How could a reader not know that?"But over the time you have spent learning the editor's craft and way of thinking, you have learned at least not to be so visceral, in particular when an author you were once privileged to edit asked you, in high dudgeon, "How could a reader not know that?"  

True enough, the author had placed the emphasis on the that, whereas you'd chosen not as your emotional fulcrum. But the result was the same; you relied on a trick taught you by an actor friend; you envisioned a personified form ot patience to appear before you, then you embraced it as though greeting some person dear to you.

The trick--the actor's trick--is to recognize the overall value of these inner bullies, these editors who are also doubters, scary-cats, and, yes, even schmucks like Robert Lemon, whose worst crime you can recall is his inability to get the baseball to the right player, guarding the right base at the right time. These are a part of your cadre; they have contributed to who you are today and, it must be admitted, who you are not.

Many, if not all your interior editorial notes are delivered in a voice lacking that accusatory tone you are so aware of when you use it in dialogue, a tone you are much more likely to heed and even, when you tell someone else of your decision to do something, saying at the time that you have the decision on good authority, you are able to smile.

Post a Comment