Textual Interventions

Last week the Toronto Star announced it was going to sack about 100 in-house editors, and replace them with editors from somewhere else.

Today the Torontoist blog is running  an internal memo to Star staffers from the publisher. What’s interesting about it is that a Star editor took a none-too-kind red pen to the letter, showing all the big and little ways the memo falls short as a piece of writing.

Toronto Star publisher memoI love this bit of contested narrative, especially the beginning of paragraph three, where the text says “we are today launching a Voluntary Separation Program, to provide staff with additional choices.” The editor’s comment: “additional to what? haven’t named any others. please explain.”

On the very same day, a blog called she is too fond of books (yes, the hed is written downstyle) invited its readers to write a collaborative story: “I’ll start with a sentence, and everyone who comments will grow the story by adding a sentence of their own.”

The blogger started it like this:

“Ugh, Monday again!” I thought, as I rolled over and hit, literally hit, the snooze button on the clock-radio.

(Starting a story with a character waking up is a cliché, but whatever, no one is pinning their hopes on this group of monkeys writing a masterpiece.) It continues:

Why was I feeling so aggressive this morning? Then the gut-wrenching horrors of yesterday came flooding back.

Not even wishful thinking could make the sight of my husband in the arms of my best friend a dream. Losing both of my best friends in one fell swoop was simply not a good way to start a week.

But, hey, it’s not like I didn’t know it was coming; I’ve been fooling myself for quite some time.

What interesting creatures we humans are, able to see so much, or so little, depending on our psychological needs.

I’d convinced myself the perfume I smelt on his shirts was just the cheap kind counter girls attacked shoppers with, to be fair it probably was, Sandra had a cheap streak.

(We could quibble about so much interior monologue so early in the story, but no matter. Besides, infidelity and a cheap tart named Sandra? Things are looking up!)

Forget about the snooze button – I reached out again and turned off the alarm. The last thing I wanted to do was get out of bed, but it was pretty unlikely that I’d fall asleep again now…although that was the ONLY thing I wanted to do.

Well, not the only thing, but castration was frowned upon in my small town.

Hmm. Funny line, but a little troubling if you’re a man. I figured was time for me to play along. Besides, as a guy, I thought the story needed more action, and less tiresome ruminating about how lovely it was to stay in bed. So I added something along the lines of…

My husband tottered to a stop at the side of the bed, his ankles wobbling on high heel shoes, his chest hair billowing out of the bodice of a dress — Sandra’s dress.

A new character! AND a plot point! That, I figured, would propel the story in a really interesting direction.

I figured wrong.

And then it hit me, glue was what I needed — the horrible once-it-comes-in-contact-with-the-skin kind that’s impossible to remove without surgery. I closed my eyes and smiled.

OK, well, maybe glue was an interesting direction, especially if we got into huffing, or affixing wigs to the cross-dressing husband. But no, the glue was just non sequitur foreshadowing for this:

I listened as my husband turned on the shower in our newly renovated, completely decadent bath/spa/suite, a project which had gone well beyond our original budget by far, and which we had just started to enjoy last week. This room had become an all consuming project in the last year. The shower was amazing, with multiple-positioned shower heads and a marble bench, a japanese soaking tub (which was well worth the $8000 we had spent on it), heated floors, towel racks and a sauna. This room had a majestic view of the Malibu coastline, with floor to ceiling windows which had to be installed via an enormous construction crane. Our neighbors would probably not be speaking to us any time soon. Not that we cared.

WTF? It was supposed to be one sentence, not six, and more important, we’re adding digressive back-story about a “completely decadent bath/spa/suite” that includes an $8,000 Japanese soaking tub and a snarky bit about how the couple was so selfish they had alienated their neighbors?

Ever faithful to the plot, I bent the rules and added a second post, wherein the husband returns and admonishes the wife for wasting everyone’s time and good will on her embarrassing and long-winded home-porn back-story.

… and then it fell apart.

The blogger deleted my two comments, and added an update that said, “I reserve the right to edit anything that I wouldn’t write (anything I wouldn’t want my kids to read), and to delete attempts to shanghai the storyline for a personal agenda.”

That caveat wasn’t in the original instructions. (Though the shanghai the storyline for a personal agenda phrase is rich with irony, since we all got soaked by that motherfucking $8,000 Japanese tub.)

Plus, the castration comment made it in, so what was wrong with a cross-dressing husband who bickers with his wife for spending obscene amounts of money on soaking tubs, multiple-positioned shower heads and marble benches, and then blathering on about them ad nauseam?

I mean … cross-dressing? Come on. A UK psychotherapist and general practicioner wrote this in an article about it:

Men who cross-dress are not mentally ill. Indeed, psychologists in the USA have decided that cross-dressing comes within the normal range of male sexuality unless it becomes a compulsive obsession.

The husband is a benefit! He’s colorful! He’s out of bed and dressed before his deadbeat wife! He even speeds up the action in an otherwise sluggish story! In my humble opinion, he’s a much more compelling character than his irritating, bourgeois wife.

Plus, would you want to implicitly condone the behavior of a wife who is selfish and narcissistic, and probably a gold-digger to boot? No, I’d keep my kids miles away from that nasty piece of work, and her construction crane to boot.

Anyhow. Someone wrapped up the story with “I sat up and realized it had been a dream,” and then a little stage business, which the blogger cleaned up a bit for the end of the story.

It was all a dream. Another cliché. How fitting.

So the lesson to learn today, kids, is that you can be as grotesque as you want to your bathroom or your neighbors, but don’t ever ever ever cross-dress. Because in this family-friendly culture, that kind of shit just doesn’t fly.