Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I’m happy to offer a guest post today by pinklightsabre — otherwise known as William Pearse. If you’re not reading Pinklightsabre’s Blog regularly, you’re missing out on some of the best writing on (or off) WordPress. And if you were to run into Bill’s writing unattributed somewhere, you’d know it’s his immediately. He has a novel style. His mind works in unfettered ways. His prose is musical and rhythmic and soaring and sharp, and he takes you, in a single post, to so many places and times that you find yourself unstuck from your own, ready to follow him anywhere he leads you. Last year it was mainly Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, and many points in between, but it doesn’t matter where he is when he’s writing. He can be anywhere he likes, and he’ll take you along.
This piece is an account of Bill’s first job as a professional editor for Starbucks.
William Pearse lives in the Pacific Northwest and publishes memoir, creative non-fiction and poetry on his blog https://pinklightsabre.com. He just returned to the States from a nine-month sabbatical in Europe with his wife and two kids and is writing his first novel, The Truth About Alexander Sloane.
Leave the skin on
Interviewing for my first job as a professional editor they asked about my qualifications and I told them how much I loved to write, how much I loved the language, which should have been obvious by the way I was sitting there, and my soon-to-be colleague asked, Do you consider yourself more of a writer than an editor? It stumped me because I hadn’t thought of that before, I was young, but since I wanted the job badly I lied, and said editor.
I got to work on the content. The content was never-ending. We were opening two or three cafés a day across all of North America including Canada, and there was a lot of information to give to people, to the employees, to make sure everything was right. We were a team of three responsible for the weekly bulletins, the emails, the voicemails, the resource manuals, the marketing guides — everything that had to go out which was too much — and we were constantly cutting out the fluff, changing font sizes, hustling up d-lists, rewriting, right-justifying. We wrote to the Voice, the Voice we imagined fit the brand in some abstract way we conformed to like 1984 but without the torture and the mind control.
The Voice was all business. The Voice was like this is what you’ve got to do by when and why, and we’re sorry (but we’re not), you have to. The Voice was like you really need to do this, you do. The Voice was like do this, please. The Voice was always saying stuff needed to be done and trying to put it simply and sound nice saying it and not overly fluffy, but to try to sound human, a little. Now that I write it, it does sound like mind control but that’s not how we saw it: it was a job, and important even if most people didn’t read what we wrote. We knew they should, and that was saying something.
I did that for about five years, killing a lot of great ideas like ants with my hands and training ants of my own on the page, making it look like they were all going in the same direction and busy, making sense out of nonsense by taking things away, pretending there was more when there wasn’t, less when there was more.
We were that group you had to submit things to if you wanted to talk to the stores, and everybody wanted to talk to the stores but least of all, us. It wore us down over time, the inane requests, the bad language, the do-this, do-that bullshit we had to find a way to pretty up so as to not look like bullshit, to look at ourselves in the mirror after we’d done that, to start off caring and kind of lose it over time. The fact I read poetry at open mic nights a few years prior and called myself an artist and now this, sold out by the ease of weekends off. I got into management. I got promoted. I started writing process because I was an expert, we were running out of things to do. I got entangled in political imbroglios because people began to fear and envy me. It prompted me to move on to bigger and harder things, to make more, to make myself irreplaceable, immortal, a musk I started to wear in interviews for positions contriving mad reasons that I was the obvious choice, emitting pheromones like an animal in the forest in heat, narratives I practiced on long walks when I should have been at my desk but I was already somewhere else, somewhere they wanted me to be, going up.
I had to rewrite my résumé, it had been about 20 years. I hired a résumé editor and he hacked me with margins full of comments, the same story he has to tell people like me day-in, day-out: keep it to one page — that’s great you have all this experience but remember the value of white space — focus on key results and accomplishments — the fact you were there X number of years isn’t alone an accomplishment — tell us what you did but keep it brief.
I reread my summary which sounded good at first but then didn’t, it wasn’t my voice, it was some other Voice but wasn’t me. It was good from an SEO POV but didn’t feel like the way I would talk, in search results.
I hit the trail to imagine a blog post I’d write on the value of editing for a friend who asked and decided to start with the story of my first editing job, to try to establish some credibility, even though it had all started with a lie. I remembered something Ray Bradbury wrote, on the importance of keeping your writing fresh, to watch out for over-editing, leave it in the husk: what you write should feel like a living thing, not like it was sanitized or taken apart by medical students and reassembled.
And I remembered a voicemail script I wrote for an executive who was in Seattle from New York when 9/11 happened, and I had to help him write a speech he could send to his people, to share in their sorrow and reassure them as his leader. It was the first time I got to write something like that and no one edited it, we didn’t have to get it approved, it was his message. He took it aside and held his forehead in one hand and used a pen with his other to add some thoughts of his own, to make it his, to make it not sound pre-rehearsed, from the heart.
I had been there almost 20 years in a different department doing different things, and went back to my old team to see if they had any openings. My friend was now overseeing the group and was happy because they were changing up the Voice, making it sound more human, more real — something I wished I’d thought of myself in the ‘90s. I had a chance to meet her VP and she cut to the chase and said, So, tell me what you bring to the table: what do I need to know about you, Bill Pearse? And I just sat there beaming, saying how much I loved writing (I blog), but this time there were no offers.