Tonight is my sister’s birthday. My family, and her boyfriend, Zach, as well as probably a few of her friends, are at dinner. Laughing. Telling stories. Catching up. I am at work, it’s now 10PM, and the gift I got her, something I went out on a limb for, but something I believe she will like, sits wrapped and ribboned at the base of my chair.
When young kids come up to me and say they want to work in magazines, they want to write for magazines, I always start out by telling them the same thing. You have to want it. Badly. There is no romance to this life, seeing your words in print brings a temporary, but dulled, pride. Temporary because their shelf life is one month, and when was the last time you read an article in a magazine that you remember? I can name the one’s I have in the past year on one hand, and I do this for a living. I read countless articles, and probably only 5 or 7 have stuck with me. The dulled part is generally because what you originally wrote, your intent, is always muted some through the editing process.
We are closing an issue right now. A huge issue. September always is for any magazine. Just look at Vogue’s 700 pound tome when it collapses stands in mid-August, and you will see what I mean. Does anyone else think the whole September ad sales phenomenon has moved somewhere passed ridiculous and into the absurd? To me, it’s like the man with the biggest dick always strutting around with it dangling from his fly. For a second, you’d probably think, “Holy shit,” and just as quickly wonder what the point was, find the whole thing tacky and inappropriate. It’s useless, in a way, but I guess if I had a million dollars I’d probably be driving around in a Ferrari with a vanity plate that read, “F-ing Loaded!,” but probably not.
Everything about September closings are difficult. By the way, when you are putting an issue to bed, it’s called a closing. Once the shoots are organized, and the interviews done, you rely on the good will of writers to get you their stories when they say they will, which is as close to never as anything else. Most of the pieces I submit for other publications are a day late. Its standard, like not calling a girl the night you get her number. When the pieces are in, the editing begins. They go through rounds: galley, 1st pass, 2nd, 3rd, and final. In each of these you go over the piece with a fine-toothed comb. You get the writer’s input, talk to other editors, throw ideas off each other—“Do you think it works if I say this?” Or, “What if we were to drop this paragraph, and put in the one we were talking about?”—it sounds meaningless, unless you somehow care for your subject matter, pop culture, art, or language. Then it can be utterly fascinating. The first two times you’ve read it. By the 3rd and 4th, you are generally crosseyed with blurred vision. Nothing repeated in quadruplicate over a 2 or 3 day span is intriguing.
And, of course, you are relying on the help of other people. Fact checkers have to get everything right, make every change. I fact check as well (we are a small staff, people here wear many hats), and it’s about as intricate to the life of a magazine as anything else. People sue. Your changes are usually put in by a type setter, and some of the time they completely neglect well marked out area. How this happens is beyond me, but it happens with startling regularity. We all miss things, that’s why having so many people look over one thing so many times is to your benefit. And then, of course, there is the copy chief. (Hello, Gillian Webster!) Generally, the relationship between editors and writers (of which I am both) and copy chiefs is tense to say the least. They will come into your office with a questions similar to this, usually after you've sussed out every angle in the piece you could think of:
“Where you have the word ‘were’ in the third graph, I think you meant to put ‘was’ because the tense shift two sentences before altered the tone.”
“Does the person have more than one brother? Because if they do, the apostrophe should go after the ‘s’ at the end.”
You sit there thinking, “Really? Die. Just die. Are you kidding? How about that rod up your ass gets loosened a little bit.” The worst part is, the copy chief is always right. Their grasp of language and grammar is uncanny, and annoying. In the end you love them, and hate their blood hounding.
September’s are mother fuckers, especially when you are behind schedule. I’m thinking that right now as my family eats dinner with my sister, who is 27 today. When she was in college, I would stare at her at times thinking, “My God, but how is this person going to survive in the world?” 5 years later, she’s lapping around the pool; has a great job, earns great money, lives with a man who loves her. She’s truly a unique and amazing person. I am proud. So proud. Watching her grow up has been one of the joys of my life, and missing her birthday is sheer misery.
Anyway, I’m heading out. It’s now 10:30, and there’s not much more I can do tonight. Gonna see if I can’t catch some part of this event. She knows I love her. She knows I wouldn’t miss her dinner unless I was drowning. But still, sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a better way to do this.