Delicate Flowers

I’ve been holding out on you guys. You thought I was a professional, thirty-mumble-year-old copyeditor and writer trying to get through her day. In fact, I am ten years old.

I’ve been working on an essay about Scary Things to Talk About since January. It has gone through many iterations, and most days it makes me want to curl up on my bed with the teddy bear dog.

You know how you’re told to write about the things you’re not supposed to talk about? You know how you’re supposed to write directly about your fears? I’ve nodded along with this advice for years. But it turns out this doesn’t mean I should write about spiders or my fear of heights. It means I have to write about things that scare me for reasons I don’t really understand. I have to figure out why they scare me, and write them down.

Today is the day I’m going to send that essay out into the world. I was looking for work clothes and then turned to DP, and said, “I’m not sure I can figure out what to wear to work AND submit the essay.” DP is a nice enough man that he didn’t call me out on being the fragilest flower in the world.

“I think I’m going to put on my favorite pjs, submit, and then get dressed for work.”

“Mm-hm,” he said.

And sitting here in my favorite star pajamas, I feel ten years old. I’m relying on a modicum of physical comfort to deal with something that is emotionally difficult. And it’s all so fucking petty, but it is my life.

There are days when I understand why toddlers have meltdowns over tiny shifts in their physical lives. I think we all have similar impulses, just a hell of a lot more self-control and experience to put it all in perspective.

C’mon, make me feel better about my current delicate flower status. What stupid childish things do you do?

No Argument

One of my friends texted me, “Someone [presumably at her job?] is trying to argue that the Chicago Manual of Style is the ‘best’.” Clearly she was looking at the wrong person for backup.

“It is!” I wrote back cheerfully.

“I like that it takes all the crap out of the actual text [she was talking about citations as footnotes]. But that’s it.”

I did concede that the citation style was possibly not as perfect as the rest of the book.

“But how can you hate the style that brought you such classics such as ‘Pipe down with the Gratuitous Capitalization over there’?”

And thus, Indy’s Quick and Dirty Guide to the Chicago Manual of Style was born.

1. Pipe down with the Gratuitous Capitalizations over there.

2. Why the fuck would you even consider not using a serial comma?

3. Hyphenate adjectives that are more than one word only when they appear before a noun. Were you raised in a red-brown barn??

4. One does not italicize for emphasis, one lets the mightiness of her vocabulary rain emphasis down on her enemies instead.

5. Close up words so as not to overburden and overtax your underrepresented word count.

5a. Yeah, that didn’t really make sense.

6. Delete each and every redundant word phrase redundancy.

6a. Can you imagine how much it hurt me to write the last sentence?

6b. The pain was unbearable.

6c. I wept into my empty coffee cup.

7. When I’m queen of the world, I will call myself Queen Indy the Great and demand that everyone use single spaces between sentences without fail. That includes the royal consort, DP.

What are some of your favorite rules?

Friends and the Freelance Copyeditor

I was a writing tutor in college, and one of the most useful things I learned in training (other than asking the student what they are trying to say and then shouting “Write that down!” when they explain), was that tutoring (editing) is a professional skill that we should be paid for, and that we should not let our friends take advantage of us. I was a soft-hearted college student (now I’m a hardened mean professional), so that was advice I needed.

I didn’t make my friends pay me, but for anything longer than a resume or cover letter, I demanded food, beer, return favors, or other items of barter. Some of you may remember the Fangs and Clause Official Unpaid Editorial Work Fee Matrix (and yes there is a typo in it, but no I’m not perfectionist enough to go back and change it).

I had an interesting conversation with my friend R, who is a quilter and a writer. A few weeks ago, she asked me to do a proofread of her chapbook. We started talking about barter, but she needed it done quickly, and so offered me money. We settled quickly on a relatively low but fair price, and after a little back and forth, we settled on a due date that worked for both of us. Although I have critiqued this friend’s work in the past, I did not do a critique. I set aside a workday, did a proofread, and after resolving a few questions, she paid me immediately. Everyone was happy.

However she was working with another friend who ran a press. She thought the press was going to publish her book, but the friend started complaining and said that it was expensive, and maybe R could sew her curtains. Now curtains was one of the things that R and I had discussed bartering before we settled on cold hard cash. But that was not part of the other deal, so it seemed manipulative.

I told her how freeing it was to not critique her work, because proofreading is about preventing the author and press from committing egregious typos and other sins of carelessness. It’s not about changing big-picture items, it’s not about reshaping the work, it’s about spit, polish, and out the door. R and I have certainly exchanged manuscripts for critique, and I do that for free because it is a return in kind. I’ll point out typos if I see them, but I don’t have to make sure “monkey’s pajamas” is set the same way each and every time it is written.

Sometimes money is cleaner than trade. I have done work for friends with a variety of results. I got blacklisted (I think) from a copyeditor job I did for someone I knew because I critiqued the fact that I had to do a 20-page editorial test for free. [Note: Editorial tests are standard in the industry, but 20 pages is far too long.]

“No one else complained,” my friend said.

“I thought I could mention it because you’re my friend and you won’t think I’m an asshole.”

Turned out I was wrong.

I have scored many a free dinner and/or beer on my friends’ resumes and cover letters, and I’m glad to do it.

When I copyedited DP’s entire manuscript, we ended up trading hours for money I contributed to the house account because it took away from my work time. Although the shorter stuff he writes I copyedit for free. Or sexual favors. Or dinner. Or all of the above.

What do you get paid for and what do you give away for free?

Traveling with a book

I spent the last few days traveling through the cities, rural areas, and towns of my home state. I spent the night at my sister’s house and drove through some of the world’s most beautiful scenery to see my friend and her progeny. It was warm enough to sit on the porch and look at the mountains.

My friend and I walked and walked as her baby slept against her and talked up a storm. J and I have been friends since we were seven, and even as our lives have changed, we still find everything to talk about. We once sat in a bar and talked about how we had the most similar family/social background of anyone we knew.

I sat in another friend’s living room and watched how we sat similarly. The last time I saw her, we realized by a convoluted discussion about funerals in Indianapolis that we were actually cousins by marriage. This is normal for people who grow up in the same region or who have huge families. But S and I grew up in different parts of the country, and were friends in grad school. For years I have joked that all Jews are related, and this just proves me right.

It turns out her great great uncle was my step grandfather. Her mother was close to my (step) grandfather and sent me a picture of his 90th birthday party. I didn’t even have to enlarge the photo from the thumbnail to recognize my young dark-haired mother in the back row next to my tall blond father. Predictably, my third sister was the one in the front of the huge family photo with a dog on her lap. Third Sister is always the one with the dog. Always.

I meant this to be a post about how I talk about my manuscript, but in fact this is a post about family. I saw two of my sisters, my niece who just turned eighteen, my brother-in-law, and one of my very closest friends, and my good friend/cousin. J in particular is family. When my mother was dying, I called her up and said, “Can I come stay on your couch tonight and for an unknown period of time?” She said yes, as I knew she would.

I do not have children, but I have friends with awesome children. I can read to them, help them figure out how to play dressup, and when deserved, I hold them up side down as they shriek. I’ve got this niece who is all grown up and asking me complicated questions about college. I’ve got a friend up here who calls me sister (only because she has brothers and doesn’t know how complicated sisters are).

The trip was much better than expected. Where have you been? Where are you from? Who is your family?

Why aren’t you writing?

Colleague: I need to write up these reports, but I don’t want to.

Indy Clause: Do you have anything for writing group next week?

Colleague: *guilty look*

Indy Clause: You have time! Why don’t you write something now?

Colleague: What are you going to turn in?

Indy (ignoring obvious dodge): That essay I was talking about the other day. (Putting on a tone of false brightness) What are you going to turn in? *Pointed look*

Colleague: But, these reports….

Indy: Do they really have to be finished tonight?

Colleague: No, but…

Indy: Wouldn’t you rather be writing?

Colleague: Yes, but…

Indy: I’m helping you out! I’m trying to help you find time to write.

Colleague: Yes, and I appreciate that, but my work life…?

Indy to Colleague who is sort of her supervisor: I don’t give a fuck about your work life.

Colleague: *laughs*

Indy: This is why they pay you the big bucks, and health insurance, and I am still a part-timer.

What are you doing this weekend?

Browsing Submissions

I just applied for a Big Fancy Grant that required that I publish at least five pieces of nonfiction in the past six years. And I just barely squeaked under that wire. And I don’t have very many pieces out so far this year. Time to recklessly throw out submissions to anyone I think I will take them.

Usually the process is an optimistic foray into the world of “About us” and “Submit here” buttons, followed by some crouching in the corner and shaking, and denouncing the whole fucking literary endeavor. As I’ve been a wee bit short on meds (thank you very much National Pharmacy Chain), I’ve been a shuddering heap of brain jelly by about 3:30 anyway. I’m hoping that a generous helping of ridicule will keep the brain in its appropriate shape so that I can go mold young minds this evening.

“Send us your earthquakes, your codes, your scientist hearts in the dark”; yes, please, don’t mind if I do. On the other hand, “We are looking for poems that match our aesthetic exactly”; not so much. And if it’s the first issue, how the fuck is the poor writer supposed to know what your aesthetic is?

And $10 per piece. This is generous, as most places pay nothing. Except when you break it down to think how little $10 compensates you for the essay that took you years to write. Then you might rather be paid nothing. Maybe a better way to look at it is that this journal would buy me a fancy Manhattan at my very favorite cocktail bar, the one that DP and I have stopped going to because everything is delicious and we spend way way too much money there. OK, thanks for the drink, [magazine redacted].

How are your submissions going?

Notes on Thaw

It’s been above freezing for a few days. Both the dog and I lingered on the porch yesterday; it was a sunny 37 degrees and we both thought it was warm.

I have stopped editing in bed, so I think that’s a good sign.

I’ve been going out of my mind with my own inability to get anywhere by foot. My neck of the woods has transformed from a nice, walkable town with a library, commercial district, and park all within easy distance to a startling place where cars appear out of snowdrifts, sidewalks have disappeared, and tongues of ice stretch across the edge of the road where I keep the snow-drift-colored dog close to me so neither of us get creamed by cars. It’s warm enough today that all the icy tongues are water, and I can see the top of my grill again. My dog could still walk over the fence without much effort, but fortunately he hasn’t realized that yet.

Meredith Hall’s Without a Map, which I finished last night, is a memoir that hopscotches through time. There are huge gaps in the narrative of her life that are not explained, but it’s okay because she is writing thematically. Her memoir spirals a little bit, and includes many disparate strands. This makes me hopeful that I can do the same with mine.

And as soon as I finish grading these FUCKING papers, I’m going to leave the house.


Indy Clause