If anyone reads the maundering rants in this journal except myself, I will first say that my name is Harold (“Harry”) Bradsen and I am a line editor at Wexler Publishing Group, Inc. In case you don’t know, Wexlers is one of the largest multi-faceted publishing houses on the east coast. I was really surprised to get this job, especially when the initial interview seemed to go so badly and the man who was feeling me out on the second session seemed a little preoccupied with something on his desk that I couldn’t quite see. Like I said, when I got the job I was pretty well floored, and excited, too, since the work being offered was right in keeping with my Bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Journalism. I mean, how many people are so lucky to find a job right out of college that is actually in their field?
I got right down to the nuts and bolts of my job the first day. I was a line editor, as I’ve said. Contrary to what you might think, a line editor, in Wexler’s terms, is a writer of full chapters of books – fiction and non-fiction- when the editor-in-chief of the fiction department deems a clarifying chapter necessary to the plot of a novel or the head of non-fiction wants to see more detail and references added to a biography or a work about the nuts and bolts operation of a widget factory. It’s sort of ghostwriting, but only on a strangely piecemeal basis.
As good a worker bee as I am, however, there have been a number of instances that I have had the need to seclude myself from my fellow team members, just to be left alone. Perhaps that is why I become so rattled when I begin mulling over the extent and structure of the hierarchy of this esteemed establishment – and it is esteemed, make no mistake about that. Wexler’s has been around for over a hundred and twenty years and is one of the most productive, prestigious, and profitable publishing houses you will ever find, east, west, north, or south. The fact that it is also a company with policies in place that would make the organization of Orwell’s nightmare government seems positively benign is just one piece of inexplicable surreality in this picture. The idea of having my work constantly criticized, as is the case here, my shoulder seeming to grow a second head – that of Gil Marston, my immediate superior – mouthing encouragement or constructively negative comments to make sure that I am correctly following the Prose Specifications Sheet and the Style Critique Manual. That Wexler expects its line editors to follow these guidelines as religiously as possible and as close to the letter as us word working paeans are able really irks me and goes against my writerly grain. It must be showing up in my work, that dissatisfaction, for, as of late, I have been given nothing but negative remarks and whining supplications for my pains. Only today Marston looked in on me, snatched the page that had just come off of my printer and, after a cursory reading, shook his head and went into a speech.
“C’mon, Bradsen, you’ve been here long enough. You can do better than this. Don’t be so free with your adjectives. This isn’t Special Projects, y’know. Check Critique number 37 on word counts for descriptions of human body parts. In this case here, its arms. Hmm, let’s see now” he said as he flipped through a few pages of the thick book of rules that I had on my desk. “Ah! Here it is. ‘Limbs of the human body – Arms,’ and I quote: ‘Word count for the description of the human arm (or arms) or any part thereof may not exceed five words maximum – however, overall description of that arm (or those arms) may run to five words maximum and descriptions of specific areas or characteristics inherent in the quality and/or substance of said arm (or arms), i.e., hair, hair color, skin pigment or tone, bone structure, muscularity or lack thereof, etc.) may run an additional five words per characteristic or aspect of said arm (or arms).’ There you go, Bradsen, all down in black and white so there’ll be no mistake about it. Read, can’t you? You’ve got a ten-word count for the arm alone. Get on the ball, man. We got a production quota to get out here. You’ve been doing fine so far. I don’t want to see you backsliding any now, understand?”
Of course, I understood but my backsliding wasn’t the question at all for me. I just wanted some time to myself, time when I could feel free. Sure, I have a vacation coming; nice thing to look forward to, as are the weekends and legal holidays and whatever days I may wish to take for myself as either sick days or floaters (officially labeled “personal” days) but there are another three weeks to go before our next legal holiday break – President’s Day – and my vacation is another three months after that. Add to that the six days’ worth of weekend free time over the next three weeks to sleep late, work around the apartment with my wife, see to the children’s wants and needs (play with them, mostly, though I have never truly enjoyed their rambunctious company all that much) the time goes all too quickly and then it is suddenly Monday again. Only three or maybe four short evenings at home for a long weekend and again on with the same pattern of responsibilities of the written word and its vagaries –as it always is at Wexlers.
I am a loner by nature – which is probably why I have been a writer for much of my life, at least since I was a sophomore in high school. I need to be alone for at least some portion of the day or week. As it stands, the only chance for a retreat that I receive is in sleep and vacation. The former is not enough and the latter is much too far off for any kind of rejoice as yet. My speed in completing my work gives me only momentary respite from my eight thousand word daily minimum, so sorely criticized at every phase. I need hours, days – not just cleverly pirated minutes.
In the beginning, when I first commenced to write this in the harried few minutes before sleep in my own bed by the light of the night lamp and in the din of my kids’ childish whinings and my wife’s weary sighs, I am afraid that I gave the wrong impression of myself to you, whoever reads this. It seems as I read back, that I have portrayed myself as a man set in his ways and work, meticulously pounding out his required wordage without complaint, taking care to follow the rules, the guidelines, the specifications and dictates set by the Corporate Board of Standards and Style (CBSS). Then, I seemed to have turned about on myself and changed the picture totally, showing the new farce of a loner: a man raving into a wind whose forces on his life he cannot control. I seem two-faced, projecting two contrary views of the one man and, of course, you are probably saying to yourself that this cannot be so.
And you would be right.
But, now let me tell you – take the latter, the loner, the raver into the wind, the dissatisfied one: that is me. I have always been of that bent though I seldom show it, save on paper, like this, that few shall see. And I say, too, that it shall not be seen if I have anything to say about it. I shall be dutiful on the outside; be the concerned enhancer of novelistic and biographical prose, rapping out my work with as few mistakes as possible, as always – but only on the outside. On the inside I shall laugh at the petty goings-on around the office and speak loudly and jocosely about my upcoming vacation-time, so far off but I shall wear a [figurative] mask to cover the darkness and brooding, the longing and wanting in myself and I shall go on that way, hiding my true self from the world around me. As long as the will holds and the mask refuses to crack and crumble away; for as long as the powers that hold the reins provide and continue to allow me my charade; for as long as Providence deems my pent-up angers and yearnings to be of little consequence, then so shall I consider them, too.
And I shall continue on, as always making sure only to use the requisite number of words to describe an arm, a leg, a penis, or the vulva of a willing partner in orgasmic joy. I shall do my job as it is nit-pickingly laid out for me (thirty pages worth!) in my personal copy of “The Employee’s Manual – Line Editor,” and only that.
I shall say no more here – but you never know what I will find later that I might consider fit fodder for this journal of rants and reactions. As I have found out long ago, the fun and the furiously fevered episodes of living this odd little life of mine never really end, but only find new and inventive ways to amuse and enthrall me.
Here’s to the morrow, then. Cheers!