Adaptability, Good Books, and Being Weird

Something I learned from moving to houses in different towns and school districts as a kid, and through the co-op program in college, where I alternated quarters of classes with quarters of full-time internships in different locations and among different people, was how to adapt. And quickly. Because soon it would be time to move on to the next thing.

I found that not only are the people different in each new place, the world they’ve created to live in is different, too. Even if it’s just ten minutes away from the place I was before. They see things in different ways—what is cool is one place is so not-cool somewhere else; what is encouraged behavior here is frowned upon there—and you cannot expect people living in their worlds to open their minds quickly to another. Especially if they’ve been there for years and years. So it was always up to me, the New Girl, to adapt to them. I don’t think I ever really fit in anywhere (I was voted “most individualistic” my senior year in my high-school yearbook, i.e., most weird, though I like to think that wasn’t an insult?), but I understood where I was and, in each place, I figured out what was expected of me.

So, here I am in this new world—in this case, a new day job—trying to get used to their ways of doing things, their new language, their new rules. What I might have done at my last company—take a hold of something, ask questions, openly discuss options—is not necessarily something I should do here. I might cause catastrophes, thinking I was doing good. I might think something is not a big deal when, in fact, here in this new world, it is a huge, enormous deal. Something I used to be praised for might get me in trouble here. There are words I don’t know. There are systems I don’t understand yet. There is still so much I have to get the hang of.

All this is going through my mind. Each day I learn more, but… let’s just say it was a tough week.

My saving grace is the books. Oh, the books. I look forward to coming in to the office to read the books. Sure, not everything I read gives such pleasure (one paperback series reminds me of others I worked on at my last company), but I’ve never been one to judge what I am called to work on. No one needs to know what I think. It is not my job to have an opinion. I like to think of myself—the copy editor, the proofreader—as the invisible, helpful person with the author’s best interests at heart. Without judgment, without entitlement, I read and do my job. So it’s come as a real surprise that I will be sitting there at work, at my wraparound desk that allows me to turn my back to the door, face the windows, and read, and I will realize I am enjoying myself. I like what I’m reading. I want to keep reading. It’s odd.

Every Wednesday we do a status report of our work, print it out, and turn it in. Wednesdays are when I find out if I’ve been assigned any new titles—they’ll show up magically on my report. I love these surprises. When I see a new title, I look it up to see what it’s about. Even though I know how busy it will make me, I keep hoping for more and more titles. I’ve never had this kind of excitement about work projects before. I should focus on that.

Yes, the books are good. One book was so odd, so colorful I was surprised all the way through. Another made me cry—actual tears—in my office while trying to proofread. The one I am reading now is so gripping, I actually wish I had it with me now over the weekend because I’m just curious to know what happens in the story. Monday—no matter how I mess up in other ways—I have that book waiting on my desk for me. I am going to spend all day working on it. This past week, I was closely proofing the pages, even while doing so the story seeping through, and I started feeling that familiar quickening beat in my chest. The story was inspiring me. As a writer. That never happened in my four years at my last company, not once.

So I hope I can adapt quickly. I want to call on my younger self, the one who became new people upon entering the halls of a new school. The one who felt at home in a new job after a week. She’s in there somewhere and she can learn all these new things. Next week, I hope she knows who to say what to, and how, and when. Also when not to say anything. Also the way to email certain things, how it should be worded, what to mark, exactly how to mark it, when to explain, when not to explain. She’ll just have to keep on asking questions…

Truth is, it won’t be easy. This company has more rules than any place I have ever worked for in my life.

And that’s another thing about me: I do have a hard time following rules. Maybe that’s why I got that vote in high school. Not because I maybe dressed funny, or doodled poems to myself in my notebook instead of doing trig, or walked around with this name, but because I was a real rebel.

Nah. I think I was just a bit weird.

9 Comments

  1. It sounds kind of stressful but also really fascinating and inspiring. Good luck with it all…! I wish I could follow you around your job for a day.

  2. I know what you are talking about here, about adaptability and quickly learning the new “rules”. I was a Navy brat and we moved about 10 times in as many years. Imagine how different the rules and people were when we moved from Rhode Island to Texas? Or from Florida to Pennsylvania? Books were also my and my sister’s saving grace. Your new job sounds like a keeper. Thanks for this post.

  3. I work in an industry vertical far away from writing, and it is something that helps me make my writing more precious (some writers might disagree, as I have at least one friend who ran screaming from my industry). I just see it as something that doesn’t overlap with my writing, and mostly that is terrific.

    But posts like yours make me see that there is something to working in a field close to writing! Like Susan, i also wish I could follow you around your job for a day.

  4. All those books, sigh!! It sounds so awesome. Soon enough you’ll be looking back on this entry, all adapted and stuff. 🙂 I hope this week is less tough on you.
    (“Most individualistic” = best ever! Rock on.)

  5. Jade: You know, it’s funny. I’ve always thought of this job as a way to keep my “real life” — my writing — safely separate. It’s a completely non-creative position. I moved to editorial (the creative side of publishing) some years ago and then left quickly because it was too much of an overlap and I didn’t like giving out my story ideas for work. In this job, no one cares about my story ideas; they just want me to find the typos. Also, it’s children’s books and my dream was never to be a children’s book writer (though, ironically, I’ve been writing books for teens and kids for cash, which started when I had a job like this and people found out I was a writer…). I had the chance to do the same job in adult books recently, but I decided it would be too difficult for me, too close to home. (Imagine copyediting that young superstar novelist’s first book, the one I wish I’d published years ago, yeah that’s healthy; I’m not mature enough to handle that without some kind of emotional response).

    BUT I wonder still if the overlap is too much. I have always thought that for an artist your day job should be totally separate, leaving your creativity solely for your art. I’ve been so very stubborn about this, which is why I am doing copyediting of all things, but it’s still books, it’s still words. I don’t really know…
    *
    As for following me around at the job for the day, you’d get bored quickly! Though, I am quite obsessive about keeping my red pencils sharp so there are frequent trips to the communal pencil sharpener in the hall. Lotsa fun!

  6. Fascinating, Nova! Well i am very envious to some extent of your proximity to the written word at it seems, nearly every hour of the day. I see that there would be jobs in the publishing industry that take you away from the creative side, though.

    But when I visited a mutual friend’s office at a publishing company and saw all the books piled high on her shelves and surrounded by the written word–WOW! I just stood there, wondering for a second, what it would feel like to sit there amidst the words and manuscripts.

    I work in high-tech, which I _love_, but which revolves around software code, “words” that I don’t understand…and books are nowhere near me. My job is far away from even software development (I’m in HR)…and so my book and stories feel very far away from me at work. For good and for bad.

    We must go to lunch someday. 🙂 This, I feel, is the beginning to what I see as so many fascinating conversations we could have!

  7. Oh and of course p.s. (I have been thinking this but neglected to write it): Again congratulations on the new job, and good luck in your transition!!!!

  8. What a difference it makes to work at publishing house whose books you admire! I’m so glad for you, and would love to hear more about it. (And if you ever meet Wendy Lee in adult editorial, say hello. She’s a gem.)

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