Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Working Title, part 2

[previous chapter]

It’s early days yet. I know that. And if I didn’t know it, I’d certainly have to suspect it, because everybody around here keeps telling me that. “Just wait,” they say knowingly. “You’ll be busy soon enough. Then you’ll wish you had less to do.”

Very inspiring. These are the people I work with. My new colleagues. The people who are going to teach me all the basics about my chosen profession. And every single one of them has this barely-disguised malicious glee in their voices whenever they give me what I charitably call “advice.”

God, it’s not like I have nothing to do. I think what they mean is, “Pretty soon, you’ll be so swamped or worn down or apathetic that you won’t go asking questions, pointing out inconsistencies, or appearing to have something of a pleasant day.”

But seriously, there something not right here. Yeah, some people are seriously overworked. Take the scant junior-level staff. We young and wide-eyed few seem to be cranking on stuff much of the day. Karen may be in there sighing and sipping tea, but she’s getting stuff done almost every minute she’s here. And the couple of people working production never seem all that idle. They’re quietly working on repetitive-stress injuries and burning their retinas with impressions of their Mac screens.

But the editors? Half the freaking day on the phone! And not just to agents and authors, as they would have you believe. Not unless they’re throwing a lot of business toward people on their alma maters’ alumni committees. Or the to their significant others. Or to their doctors, friends, or credit card companies. Yeah, I realize I’m new to publishing, but I’m not new to this world.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Monday, March 20, 2006

p.s.p. (public service pancakes)

Again, I feel I must do something for those who seem to be stumbling around all the wrong places looking for something they suppose I can provide. Honestly, at this rate, I think I might take a shortcut to blog greatness by specializing in the myth, lore, and love of panfried bread. That's what people love, worldwide.

Fine, folks. There are your pancakes. A picture of pancakes. A photograph of perfectly cooked, overly buttered, and utterly inviting pancakes. I am the Batter Ambassador, bringing the world closer to itself through heavy breakfast carbs. Get an eyeful!

And you're welcome.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

mondrian mbta

(Piccadilly Square, Newton Centre, MA)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Working Title, part 1

I have a degree, I have a cubicle, and I have a very slow PC.

This is what I’ve worked toward for nearly a decade and a half. You can almost hear the angels singing on high, can’t you?

Karen has the cubicle next to me. I can hear her sigh at least every eight minutes or so. I think that may be how she punctuates the end of most of her tasks. Type up a letter. Sigh. Take a phone call. Sigh. Review a chapter of edited copy. Sigh. Process a payment request on a new book. Sigh. It seems to be how she measures out most of her day.

She also goes to make cups of tea about half a dozen times during the day. I don’t know if she sighs then, because what passes for a lunchroom around here is down the hallway, well out of hearing. But I hear her get up and tread down the hall away from me, and then I hear her tread back about five minutes later, her spoon tink-tink-tinking against the side of her mug as she stirs a dollop of honey into the herbal mixture. She sits. The earthenware mug clunks on top of her maple-veneer desk. Then she half-sighs, although during teatime it sounds almost like satisfaction rather than frustration. But only during teatime.

Not counting her internship, Karen has been in publishing for two years. I’m pretty sure, though I’m still learning, that she didn’t bring the sigh with her. I think she got that here. I’m scared that’s what’s in store for me.

More on all that later. There are four stacks of unsolicited manuscripts in the empty cubicle in the corner. Someone—I don’t know who—tacked up a strip of paper on the outside of the cubicle. Printed in 128-point type—what is it, Copperplate Gothic Bold?—are the words The Doldrums.

Oh, how right they are. Those four stacks are each about a Billy Barty high. And God knows how long they’ve been piling up. Now it’s my job to sort through them, log them, and respond to them. And that’s just one of my back-burner tasks. I have about a hundred and fifty other chores that take precedence. Meanwhile, the Billys just keep getting taller day by day.

So, to answer the question that I now imagine someone reading this might ask: No, I don’t really have time to be writing this kind of stuff on the side. But I really, really have to. I just have to carve out a little time for myself. Otherwise there’s a perpetual sigh out there waiting for me.

In the past I’ve always found this kind of outlet the best way to keep myself from, you know, jamming a fork into my eye at times. If I can just have a little creative outlet, I can probably deal with all the mind-numbing tasks they pile on me.

And, man, they’ve been piling them on. I thought I was the new guy! It’s been a month, and I’m already wondering how this little publishing company has limped along until now with all this stuff going undone. What kind of creaky, broken-down wagon have I hitched myself to?

All right. I really have to get to these response letters that Carrie wants me to write. She’s been dropping the query letters with her extensive Post-It Note comments in my inbox for the past couple of hours. I’m already learning to hate the sight of yellow squares of paper. They have yet to signify anything but drudgery for me.

Oh, and there goes Karen with the sighing again. Maybe I’ll join her this afternoon. Sighing in stereo. The editorial assistant anthem.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Detention Journal, part four

My new best friend with the beads in her hair is still back there. She started this new game a little while ago where she hums some song really, really softly and then slowly gets louder and louder. The farther away you are from her, the longer it takes until the volume increases to where you can hear her. As soon as the teacher reacts to the sound, she stops. Then she waits a while and then starts all over again.

This is the third time she’s done it, and I’m just starting to pick up a little tune that’s very similar to a very “empowering” Avril Lavigne song about how she didn’t give it up to whatever mean boy she’s just been dumped by. Or that she’s dumped. Whatever. It can’t be easy being an angry hot girl.

Anyway, my friend’s humming and she’s humming and she’s … ah! Just stopped. The teacher’s been staring at us for almost two minutes, trying to figure out who’s messing with her. My new best friend’s beads make not a sound. She’s awesome.

The other notable person in the room is this weird nerdy guy sitting right up front. I can’t tell what kind of identity he’s going for. He wants to be a punk, but he wants to be hip-hop too. In truth he’s neither. He has really scraggly long hair and huge glasses and the kind of extremely unfortunate acne that hits some kids superhard once their hormones start messing with them. I think he’s trying on different things to see where he fits. I’m sure he’s not done trying yet.

He tried to sit in the back of the room at first, but we all got rearranged as soon as the bell rang, and it was his dumb luck to get put in the very front. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s always the kind of luck he has, dumb and unfortunate.

I don’t mean that in a mean way. That’s just the impression he gives. Like the way his whole body has an uncomfortable, burdened look. His shoulders are hunched over like he has a huge weight across them. And he sits so awkwardly that it makes you think he’s never sat any way that wasn’t awkward. He’s all sprawled out, slouched way down in his seat to where his butt’s almost completely off the desk and he’s practically sitting on his back.

He’s wearing dirty, torn jeans and a cheap, oversized sports jacket, the kind of jacket a young b-boy might get if he asked his grandparents for it for Christmas. It has some brand name sprawled across it in hard-to-read lettering, and that’s because it’s supposed to look like a name you’ve heard of, but it really isn’t. There’s something very thin and vinyl and bargain-store about the jacket. Plus, it’s dirty enough that you can tell he wears it all the time.

I don’t think the guy’s done any homework the whole time we’ve been in here. He just sits there and draws pictures that look kind of like his best pen-and-ink renderings of acid trips. There’s so much ink on the pages of his notebook that the paper’s kind of crinkly and heavy. And he’s got these smears of blue ballpoint pen ink on the sides of his hands from where they’ve rubbed the pictures while he’s painstakingly coloring in all the blobs and explosions he’s drawing. But he hasn’t stopped drawing for even a second unless he’s been shaking down the ink in his pen or turning a page. He just draws and draws. Maybe that’s the way the world looks to him. Who am I to say he’s wrong?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Good Morning, Somerville!

(Toscanini & Sons, Beacon St. at Kirkland, Somerville, MA)