Crossing the Disraeli

It wasn’t exactly the Rubicon, but crossing the Disraeli Bridge last winter on my first day back to work after a year and a half away seemed momentous. It was a very cold morning and everything was slow, the car crawling through exhaust and spumes of smoke spilling out of chimneys like foam, and there ahead of me, our small city’s small cluster of high-rise towers. One of those dark, tense mornings, the roads clogged and everyone cautious, and enough time to “feel” the progress of dawn, from deep blue to milky blue sky, trees thick with their bare branches against it.

I was exhilarated that morning in spite of the traffic — about being alive, and warm in the car, and thinking how much I love this city and listening to songs nominated for a playlist of 49 best Canadian songs to present to incoming president Barack Obama (K.D. Lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Alleluia,” for example, and Ian and Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds,” and a song by Blue Rodeo). And yes, going back to work after retiring once, now that I’d decided I’d do it. “It’s only a year,” a friend reminded me. 

Winnipeg sits on land as flat as a chopping block, but the Disraeli rises to cross the Red River, and marks the “hilly” spot for me where I can see downtown and remember my city-love. This year, it was also a kind of halfway marker from our house in North Kildonan to the offices of the MB Herald. 

Driving back at day’s end the bridge was a marker homeward, and had I been in some horse-drawn conveyance, I suppose that’s where the reins would drop and Black Beauty would know the way alone, and probably pick up the pace to boot. 

Now, re-retired, it’s a true crossing back. Then: editor; now: writer. And no matter what Madam Editor said in her last post about writers still being needed, on this side of the Disraeli, wariness over editors returns. Will they want it? Like it? Change it? 

We definitely need each other, editors and writers do, but the priorities are different and there may be a power struggle, or nervousness at least, until you know one another well. I’ve had mostly good experiences, but there was that story that came to me in its published form with its verb tenses changed, and that experience of re-reading something of mine in print and thinking, my lands, I must have been asleep, that doesn’t sound like me, only to discover it wasn’t me but the editor. On the basis of such few and flimsy episodes I’ve become one of those writers who drives editors crazy, insisting she has to see the revisions (please). Most good editors, if they do anything substantive, show them anyway. Then again, what’s the definition of substantive? (Naturally, you do want the errors and foolishness caught.)

But before I engage in too much writerly insecurity, I’m taking a rest — to read and catch up on housework (and blog of course). I was already complaining to some writer friends that the inspiration to work at my (interrupted) short stories appears to be absent. The same friend whose advice helped me above, had some for this side of the Disraeli. “Of course the inspiration isn’t there yet,” she said. “That comes AFTER the rest.” 

Another issue put to bed

It’s interesting how the vocabulary of living with children is borrowed for writing and publishing. A book or essay is said to be birthed. A magazine issue is said to be put to bed.

Which is what we did today — we tucked in our 36 pages for December — meaning it’s all set (electronically) and off to the printers, and except for the press proofs which we’ll give a final look-through tomorrow, it’s what it’s going to be.

One of the things I’ve liked best about this job is the rhythm of it, the ebb and flow of brainstorming ideas, finding and assigning authors, gathering stuff, making decisions about what’s in or out, the editing itself, layout, and proofreading that brings us round to this moment every month, another one done. I like the days of the cycle when the designer begins to set down the material we’ve worked on. But the last days of it are full and sometimes intense. There’s still decisions to make as we see the copy landing on the page,and we’ve got a deadline. I proofread with a ruler under every line and my lips move — I simply can’t trust my eye to read the word accurately unless I see it isolated on the line and say it.

We’ve made no pretense of being up-to-the moment in the small Mennonite world we inhabit — it’s impossible as a monthly — but at least until press time we try our best. We carried two news pieces in this issue referring to talks our MB seminary in Fresno, Cal. has been having with Fuller Theological Seminary, about being a distance education site. It provoked discussion at the conference’s recent annual general meeting. The executive board gave it “considerable deliberation” at their meetings following, according to their release. Then yesterday, in a news release from the seminary about the installation of their president, assistant editor K. spotted, in what was little more than a throwaway line, that the talks are off. Rats! I mean about the currency of the news pieces. We inserted a short note after one of them saying that Fuller had withdrawn, and that will have to do until we can get the longer (I was going to say “fuller”) story.

Typical putting to bed. I remember the evening-long procedures of baths and pyjamas, the string of last minute trips to the bathroom, the thirst requiring another drink, the begging for just one more chapter of the book, the sudden fears or recollections of what was supposed to be brought to school the next day. Busy, and often intense. Then, asleep — my goodness, in terms of children they were about as good as it gets.

Just like the issue we put to bed. It’s always my favourite. Not that it’s ever quite what we’d imagined, but it’s good enough. As I did at the bedsides of our sweet sleepers, I speak a prayer of release and blessing when I sign off on it. Tomorrow K. and I will meet to talk about the next — which I’m always sure will be the best one yet.

[some of my earlier favourites when put to bed]