Sunday, March 9, 2008

Where I'm Working, 3

Sunday morning, blogging at Bob's Java Hut.

Work? Work? What is this "work"? Am I supposed to be working?

Well, remember that execrable ms I was vetting a while back that made me scream like Spock in pain?

It's come back to me for another round, and I'm shocked to see that it's much improved. The author took almost all the advice I'd written out in a long, long cover letter, which I thought he wouldn't be able or willing to do.

I'm proud of myself for writing the list anyway.
It was one of the hardest bits of editing I've ever done because not only was the book poorly done, but the author's offensive and ignorant Christian bias had sent me spiraling near to despair. I had even considered handing the ms back to the editor saying I just couldn't comment, it was so hopelessly bad.

Instead, I decided to try to help.

This is not the response to imperfection that I was treated to as a child, which was more like the robot Nomad's response: to "find and sterilize imperfection" (in the Star Trek episode "The Changeling"). That always seemed wrong to me. I've had to consciously seek out contrary examples and sometimes still have to remind myself not to go with my first search-and-destroy impulse.

One of my favorite stories about trying to help comes from Pema Chodron, an American teacher and author in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The story is from her book Start Where You Are:
Chodron once had a young student who was in recovery from drug addiction. He was doing very well with his Buddhist practice, when he relapsed. When she found out, she was dismayed and spoke harshly to him.

Then she met with her own Tibetan Buddhist teacher, who chided her. He told her she had not been skillful in her response to her student. The young man was suffering, he said, and what he needed was to be invited to dinner and given small gifts.

Small gifts.

This makes me weep.
Kindness may not be as efficient in the short run as poking someone with a sharp stick, but in the long run, it is more truly and deeply transformative.

I doubted that it would work in this case, given that this project was in the short-term category and had so far to go. Nonetheless kindness was the only thing that offered a glimmer of hope. So I praised everything I could find in the ms ("great use of the word 'the'!"), and then tried to be gentle as I pointed out that Shiva is male, many traditions do teach that animals have souls, and that ... oh, you get the idea. I also came up with a pile of positive examples to add.
(Some of these appear as "Teen Spirit" posts on this blog.)

In truth, it wasn't all kindness that motivated the author. The Big Cheese Editor declared that if the book couldn't be rewritten up to snuff, it was going to get canceled. That was the sharp stick part of the deal.

If you think in terms of endless lifetimes, you can be patient about the many paths to enlightenment. If you think in terms of printing schedules, not so much.

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