published in Volume 5, Issue 4 on December 1st, 1998"Your first project is always a special one," one of my coworkers said knowingly, with the wait-and-see smile of one whose first project lies years behind them. I had just finished explaining, rather breathlessly, that I had just received the first chapter of my first real editorial project--the second volume of a US history book. In that first hour with those twelve pages, I sat at my big, bare desk, reading through them, trying to suppress the grin that kept surfacing to threaten the professional demeanor I assumed an editor should exhibit. Whenever someone would stop by my office, however, I couldn't help it. "My first chapter arrived!" I would exclaim, my grin always answered by that same wait-and-see smile. I didn't mind.
Two weeks later, my desk is overwhelmed by an uneven strata of reference books, encyclopedias on CD-ROM, and sheets of paper covered with pencil and yellow sticky notes; my eyes are red and dry, with the right eye developing a twitch; my brain is fogged with facts and a blur of stern faces staring at me from the pages of textbooks. When people stop by to say hello, I blink myopically at them and, disoriented to be emerging abruptly from the nineteenth century, greet them brilliantly with "Huh?" or, sometimes more eloquently, "What? What time is it?" I'm still grinning, though.
I grin because it's all still wonderfully unreal to me. When I was younger and in the Distressed Teenager stage of my life, I used to stare in the mirror and press my hand against that of my reflection, wishing to be pulled into that parallel universe of opposites where all my gauches would become graces. Now it feels as if, without knowing it, I accidentally stumbled over that threshold. Instead of shelving and reshelving unending cartloads of books, I am a part of the process that creates those books. Instead of paying the university to evaluate the quality of my research and writing, I am being paid to evaluate the research and writing of others. All of the diverse interests that plagued me with their seeming arbitrariness suddenly have become my greatest strengths. It's no wonder that I feel disoriented at times. But as I contemplate losing myself in those layers of papers and words at work tomorrow, I can't help but smile.