Seek the joy in your work

Since July of last year, I’ve lost approximately eighty pounds, and counting. I don’t say this to brag; that I mention it at all now suggests, I hope, a purer intent, something more worthwhile and less self-serving than narcissism. Iterative transformation over time obscures my ability to see the details, to note the smallest changes, and log them, beyond my actual weight, a number I’ve recorded every day for about ten months now. Looking at pictures taken from two years ago helps.

It all started with a health scare, a heart scare, but the weight loss had to eventually happen. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to have more energy to do more things, whatever those things might be—I wanted to be healthier. And I think you can appreciate the challenge, the complexity involved when it comes to self-improvement. I had to believe I was worthy of improvement, that I deserved to be in a better place today than where I was yesterday, before I could begin.

Would it be gauche to draw a parallel between weight loss and editing? I wish to make such a connection. I want to use this space, this tinyletter, to talk about my profession: literary editor—it’s a career I never considered, one I couldn’t possibly imagine, and often I am unappreciative. Editing literature has radically altered the direction of my life, and my focus, concentration, poured into said life approaches the spiritual.

I’d like to give this more time and energy for investigation. I seek the joy in my work. Everything we do should have a purpose; all our actions contain within intentions, good or bad, that should be understood. You could say losing eighty pounds has helped me create a brand new outlook for myself or, perhaps, led to adjustment and better understanding of older philosophies.

The boy and I experienced the New York International Auto Show yesterday at the Javits Center, site of Hillary’s climatic thump against the glass ceiling. I only mention this because I thought of Hillary when we entered the building, her Election Night HQ and venue for a would-be presidential celebration. Yesterday, the convention center was full of cars. I haven’t been to an auto show in over ten years, if not longer, when I tagged along with my father, that show in Philadelphia.

It’s overwhelming, but I recommend that you go, even if you’re not a car buff per se. An auto show is tactile. I glided my hand over the leather seats of a new Land Rover, and encouraged the boy to climb into the driver seat of a Mini. The 2017 BMW M6 Gran Coupe—black—is a dream car, and entirely unaffordable at this time, but I can’t stop thinking about its six hundred horsepower twin-turbo V8 engine and luxurious interior. It is a car, I think, Bruce Wayne would drive, or Tony Stark, or most definitely T’Challa, king of Wakanda, when visiting New York.

Editing is an iterative process in pursuit of novelty. I change a thing until it becomes something different. Granted, an essay is an essay—I edit nonfiction 99% of the time—but I approach the edit looking to make something new. The novelty is quite literally a mystery, a treasure not so much buried by the author as it is partially unveiled through the writing.

I come along with my archeologist’s brush to gently and slowly sweep the dirt away from priceless and fossilized bones. Most of the cars we saw at the auto show were iterations of earlier versions. There’s value in continuing to work on a thing, to unearth its beautiful and most refined form. This is what I try to do with each essay that comes across my desk. It is what I am trying to do with my body, my life.

Sometimes, a writer repeats herself in the same piece, or reiterates the same point over and again, similar to a grade-school student showing their work when solving math problems, where you can see her diligently working the problem, gradually approaching the right answer. We can’t see the answers right in front of us, sometimes. I don’t understand this blindness—that is, why it happens—but when it comes to text, I can see what writers miss, I can see what should be obvious to them if not for this blindness.

A writer repeating herself is like a drill whirling, seemingly doing nothing but spinning until one notices the burrowed hole, the progress. The editor jumps into the hole and directs the digging. I erect and wire and illuminate flood lights. I fire flares. I draw a map for the writer. I wish to get her to X.

Drawing maps…is not so simple when it comes to the body. The map in this case is more nuanced, as the physical terrain is obvious and known. What you’re mapping is a terrain specific to the internal. A map’s ability to translate spatial information relative to position appears useless when considering the metaphysical, the interiority of a person, but it’s not entirely hopeless. The brain is the internal map, the way we can move from one memory to the next, backward and forward in time, sussing out habits and patterns.

Eating to comfort my deeper pains; eating because I liked the taste of food, and the spreading warmth it ignited inside my widening abdomen; eating to sleep because as a kid I couldn’t understand my overactive brain, that I had an overactive brain, that I should tell someone about it, my parents perhaps, or a teacher; eating because that’s what fat kids do, and I was a fat kid with verbal proof confirming visions reflected by the mirror. I didn’t want to be fat any more.

A refined version of me exists beneath the fat and shame, the endless and burdensome guilt. I am thinking of my own writing now that the sun is up—I’ve been awake for hours. I place a lot of pressure on myself to write something newwhen, perhaps, I’m better served taking time to refine my work. To create or to refine; to write or to edit—I haven’t mastered balance, but this too is an iterative process. Progress is the only prerequisite. Forward, and onward, without delay and in full revolt.