Archive for the 'jobs' Category


Endings and beginnings

I have decided not to finish my dissertation. I enrolled in the doctoral program in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign immediately after college. I did all my coursework, taught undergraduates about kinship terminology and the postmodern moment, wrote my M.A. thesis, passed my preliminary exams, got a swanky grant, and spent a year in Oregon doing my doctoral fieldwork.

For many reasons, the writing of the dissertation didn’t work out for me. And so, with half of my chapters written, about a year ago I definitively called it quits and haven’t looked back since.

Well, I did have one backward glance over my shoulder: early last month, when I got together with some friends from grad school when they were in town for the 2009 American Anthropological Association meetings. I hadn’t seen most of them in the decade since I moved away from school. It was great to see them, and doing so brought back memories of how fun and exciting it was to live in an intellectually stimulating community (though I have to admit that I don’t miss reading Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak* and discussing structuralism). I miss the camaraderie, but I no longer feel that academia is my home.**

So now that I’ve completely divested myself of graduate student-ness, I need to plot a new course for myself. I have a long history in publishing (my in-house and freelance careers in editing were launched during my second year of grad school) but have not had much luck lately in finding work. (For example, the area where I live is rife with medical and pharmaceutical publishers, but I have no experience in those fields. The few jobs that come up are quickly nabbed by people who’ve been doing that sort of work for a very long time.) Publishing is no longer the place for me, and now I’m struggling to find a new answer to the question “What do I want to do when I grow up?”

I’m exploring a few ideas; maybe I’ll write about them here some time. I’ve never been interested in making New Year’s resolutions and don’t intend to start now. But my mind has already cast 2010 as The Year of Possibilities.***

This is it! Moving onward!

* The Wik entry on her points out “Spivak’s writing has been described by some as opaque.” That’s putting it politely.

** Especially when you consider that job prospects in my area of specialization are nonexistent. This is compounded by increasing academic nomadism and my unwillingness to relocate to any place to find a job.

*** I was going to call it The Year I Figure My Shit Out, but that lacks panache.


This is what I do

When people ask me that sum-up-your-life-in-one-response question, “What do you do?” I respond with, “I’m an editor.” Most people have no clue what this means. They smile, their eyes glaze over, and they nod and say, “Mmm-hmm” and then change the subject. A few people crack jokes about how they “have to be careful about letting you read anything I write now”–they must think I’m a red-pen wielding goon squad of one, hunting down their grammatical errors and misused commas and giving them the thrashing they deserve.

I don’t do that. It’s true that being a professional editor has very much altered the nature of reading for me: I have a heightened appreciation for well-crafted prose, and poor writing or errors in a text can distract me from the author’s point. Professional writers ought to know better. (Professional publishers, too. Whenever I read J. K. Rowling’s work I have to restrain myself from showing up at her publisher’s office and yelling at them: “Hello? Did you temporarily lose command of the English language when you edited this?”)

Of course I cut nonprofessional writers some slack. When I read friends’ writing, for example, typos and whatnot still jump out at me, but I don’t point them out. If my friends have hired me to edit their work, though–or have specifically asked me to put on my editorial hat while reading it–then I will tell them what I think. But I’ll be nice about it. After all, they are my friends.

And they are writers, too. It’s hard for any writer to let someone else review his or her work. Only a truly egoless person can do this without any insecurity. When I started grad school, participating in a writers’ support group was a new, unpleasant experience for me–having people rip through my own error-infested writing. It’s hard, I think, because writing is such a deeply personal process. The words you put down on paper are the children of your mind, and you want to protect them. But when you are too close to your own words, it’s helpful to get distance from them–through another pair of eyes. I can read my own text repeatedly and still miss things. But when I read someone else’s work, I often zoom in on spelling errors, unsupported arguments, awkward phrasings, and the like right away because the text is new to me and because I’m not attached to it (and therefore more able to see its faults–and strengths, too).

Every once in a while, an article about why editors are important and why publishers who want to produce good material should let editors go over it appears on the Internet, and word nerds worldwide rejoice. A new article in this vein appeared a couple of days ago in Salon: “Let us now praise editors,” by Gary Kamiya. I’ve been mulling over my own thoughts on the subject for quite some time now, and it’s interesting to see that he raises some of the same points I have, particularly when he discusses writers’ very personal defensiveness of their work in the face of editing.

When people ask me, “So…what do editors do?” I used to respond with “I fix other people’s bad writing.” I think that’s a decent, albeit shorthand, description of it. But perhaps a more fitting response is “I’m the reader’s advocate in the publication process. It’s my job to make sure that the writer’s ideas and words are comprehensible to the reader.” I wonder how many people would get that. Maybe I’ll try it and find out.