It’s superstitious, I know, but I take comfort in the saying “bad things* come in threes.” The final week of 2017 brought a trifecta of anxiety-filled events, so I’m hoping we’re done for now.
Ever since I was a child, people have asked me “Why the serious expression?” My take on these expressions of concern (or criticisms of my physiognomy) is that those who make them have no idea what it’s like to have the rug pulled out from under your feet — and this, after you’ve taken pains to fasten the floorcovering down with bulletproof double-sided tape.
The final week of my year began with a fraught email from a current client, prompting a Boxing Day-morning bout of angst-ridden research. Thankfully, that problem turned out to be no problem at all. But the wear and tear on my psyche was real.
The next morning brought a cascade of pre-dawn texts from a client of my husband’s. The job is a new house designed by the client, an architect, and built to rigorous structural, energy-efficiency, and aesthetic standards. The client had just moved in a couple of weeks before. Now, winter had descended in force, with lows in the single digits.
“*&%@#! My water is frozen!”
“S**t yeah it’s the water meter. It was open to the world. Dropped a 100 W light down and covered with a blanket…”
No cover on the water meter? Mark pulled up the last picture he’d taken of the house, a few days earlier. It showed the meter pit covered. He drove over to investigate. The meter pit had been covered, but the lid supplied by the city utilities department was barely large enough to cover the opening and had apparently fallen in. To be fair to the utilities department, they’d installed the meter before the final grading of the front slope had been done, and so had no accurate guide to the meter’s depth. Fortunately no pipes, people, pets, or furnishings were harmed in this drama (though goodness knows, they could have been). Responsive plumbers for the win, and kudos to the city for quickly coming back to make the pit deeper.
As concerning as those two mornings’ events were, the third took the cake. I’d submitted a piece to an online publication in good time to allow the editor a chance to look it over. After noticing that it hadn’t gone live when I’d expected, I asked the editor whether that was intentional. He replied that he’d forgotten to schedule the piece (this was in the middle of the holidays) and said I could make it live myself or have a fellow editor do so, as he was away from his computer.
I’ve learned that when dealing with organizations, it’s better to check with the next authority in line than go it alone in the belief that I’m saving others trouble. Unless your skull is made of steel, you only need to be hit over the head with a frying pan worthy of Snuffy Smith’s Loweezy once, as I have, to learn this kind of thing. So I contacted the other editor, who gave it a look, made a few tweaks, and hit “publish.”
A little later, between gluing drawers, I took a quick look through the published piece to make sure everything was in order — and found to my horror that the square-bracketed note I had embedded in the text, clearly addressed to the first editor, was still there, for all the world to see.
This was not the first time I’ve had this happen. I’ve written for enough different publications, in print and online, to have experienced a variety of the potential disasters out there (and these are just the potential disasters from a contributor’s point of view; those facing editors and publishers can be far more devastating). Missing (or duplicated) lines of text. Images unaccountably cropped. (“I’m so sorry. It didn’t look that way on the screen”.) The conclusion of an argument edited to fit a little more neatly on the printed page, with the result that it now contradicts the entire point of your essay.
Experience any of these delights and you develop an anxious awareness that they could well bedevil you again. So, if you care about the reputation of the publication (never mind your own), you do what you can to prevent them. That’s what I was doing in this case, which involved a word whose homophone** is often used, incorrectly, in its stead. Aware of the editor’s familiarity with another publisher among whose works I have seen the homophone misused, I inserted a note saying that despite its appearance there, my version was the correct one. And behold: This potentially insulting statement had been sent out across the interwebs. I immediately deleted the note. Fortunately the post had not been live for long.
“Lesson learned,” my husband lectured me during our debriefing session that evening. “Don’t embed editorial notes in the text.” But embedding such notes in the text was itself a hard-learned lesson. I’ve made similar points to other editors in cover emails and cover letters in the past, only to have them overlooked. For instance, it’s galling to correct the line breaks of one of your favorite poems in galley proofs, only to have the designer’s original version, which completely ignored those line breaks, end up in the printed book.
I get it: We’re all busy and pulled in multiple directions, so things fall through the cracks. Hence what I thought was my more efficacious tactic of putting the bracketed note directly in front of the editor’s eyes, where it could not be missed.
Or so I thought.
Here’s to less anxiety in the new year.
*good things being the alternate version
**a word that sounds like another but has a different meaning and spelling such as “their” and “there”