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.