Ruminations

Playing Editor
Monday, March 19th, 2012

This week's column is dedicated to anyone who has had to endure the misfortune of taking a workshop-based writing class with me. Do not call it an apology, though; call it a much overdue explanation. You can choose to believe it, or you can (hypothetically) cut it out, gleefully feed it to your shredder, then throw it in the dustbin with the empty diet soda cans and questionable looking leftovers from last year. What I do not know, does not offend me.

Let me start by sharing the anecdote which inspired, in part, this week's piece. When a classmate wrote a horror story, I found myself writing that the plot is straight out of a B movie and recommending that she turn her narrative, which is peppered with all-too serious words like "tragic" and "frustration", into none other than a parody. To this day, I still think it would be a better option.

But for some reason, I think people are generally less inclined to listen to the girl who tells it like it is.  Which is why my partiality for "snappiness" goes largely under-appreciated by a significant portion of our esteemed society. A classmate recommended, in more eloquent terms, that I be nicer and a professor remarked that my comment was "maybe a little bit too harsh."

My tendency not to sugarcoat and to nitpick for every single typo and out-of-place comma, stems from a number of factors that seem to very nicely complement one another. I grew up in a very achievement-oriented school where the amount of appreciation a kid received, was to a great extent proportional to how many gold stars he/she raked in.

It was therefore crucial that everything I submit be meticulously proofread, even though I had no idea what proofreading meant. (I thought it was simply called revision).

Combine that with editorial aspirations, a somewhat tumultuous adolescence and the knowledge that The New Yorker does not bother to send rejection letters. (They do not even send the classic mechanical type that includes the words "I regret to inform you"). There is also the aversion to the color pink and well ... you get the picture. In an attempt to make peace with all that I found clarity aplenty in sarcasm.

It does not help that when I sit down to critique someone's work, I'm usually surrounded by items that help simulate an editor-friendly environment as much as possible; these include peppermint gum, coffee and a heavily color-coded book. The caffeine rushes to my cerebral matter, neurons start firing, I like what the little voice inside my head is telling me, I write it and before you know it I'm being told that I need to be "nicer". In all fairness, we were told to "read your classmates' stories with the same care and sensitivity that you would want" ... I just want them to be honest.

I do not adopt a personal approach to work, except maybe when I'm writing this column, because it is supposed to be personal. That is at least according to a book compiled by some brainy people over at Harvard.

While some may contend that those elements combined constitute a recipe for disaster, I respectfully disagree.

I wonder if that constitutes illusions of grandeur ... food for thought.

Well, we can always discuss that after we are done dealing with my "control issues", which I am guessing is going to be a time-taxing process. Besides, who;s got the time for that sort of thing, anyway?

So, to all people whose work I have critiqued; it is nothing against you but I just have a lot of fun playing editor.

I am not callous; I watch videos of small, furry animals sneezing and doing other things that are equally endearing and I tell stray cats how cute they are.

Bear that in mind as you critique my work, and do not send an angry mob wielding torches to my house when I critique yours.