Summer of the little red pen, Part 1
by little red pen
The story of my summer could be told by rendering the tables I worked at. I had a proofreading job, a biography dense with carefully harvested details, a picking up of the surface of a man’s life, fragment after fragment after fragment, to slowly reveal the soul beneath. I was irritated a lot of the time, sometimes amused, glancingly charmed. There was a quote at the end so lovely and apt I cried and forgave all.
A man! A competent man! was the subject’s frequent cry. Find a man and he can sort everything out, untangle, organise, catalogue, guide. The irony bit deep — look around the publishing team and you’ll see mostly women cranking this thing into shape, chipping, shaping, squaring and burnishing until the light refracts in lean, arrowed lines. I snarked, moved on.
I started in Wellington, in a small apartment at the top of a villa on the edge of a terrace. Every day we climbed up and down the hillside, dropping into town for outings and supplies, goat-tripping back up when it was time to go home.
We kept the windows open, and the boys made a hut in the living room every morning. We battled over the tv and ate gelati and found our way to the water.
It was almost Greek, but not — too grey, humid, careworn. The wind was always there, ruffling, blustering, making me grumpy. Clearly I still have feelings to work through where Wellington is concerned. I had a revelation about this last weekend, as it turns out. The water is the wrong colour, too much rock, not enough mud. Does it need to be said that all this is just my shit and I fully tautoko all you Wellington lovers?
Anyway… Ian worked early every morning — in the studio at 5, on the air at 7 — and every second evening. I worked when he came home, sitting at a desk on the landing, a tall window to my left, or at the kitchen table, with the buildings and the harbour and the hills to my right.
The Cat remastered the transport system and the Rabbit went a little wild. We ate Japanese, and I got my hair cut. The fruit was dire. I missed the light, the gentle, still warmth, the dark stone of home. Near the end, I softened a little; the bush and the absolutely positivity won me round. We saw old friends, heard each other’s stories. Our hearts were open, and full.
We had a couple of nights at home, then a long day’s travel to Adelaide. It was an extended family thing, Ian’s side, three generations in two houses near the beach, children scattering and knotting in small, shifting clusters. I spent long days in a dark room at the back of the house, a makeshift table, a lamp on the paper. I drifted in and out of the kitchen, grazed on fruit, cuddled my boys in brief, distracted moments. In the evenings we ate together, drank wine. We slept well on firm single beds, the boys peaceful in the quiet and the dark.
There was something of the monastic about it all, and on the last day the tumbling joy of the sea. The Cat and I took boogie boards out together, launched ourselves into waves, grinned and egged each other on, sun hot on our skin. When I got into the shower, my body was covered with leaves and seaweed. I washed it away, but the happiness stayed.
We came home, and our house felt like an old friend. The Rabbit went back to day care, and the Cat did a soccer holiday programme. I worked in every gap, through a sleepover and a birthday and too much of too many nights. I used every table in the house — in my office, the bedroom, commandeering in the end half the kitchen table. Ian parented around me, keeping the wheels turning as I wrestled this bastard job to the ground. I got lost in my head, tunnelled deep among the words and the people and the referencing intricacies of the book. I’m not sure how I did; it feels too close. I liked it though, the brain work, the focus.
I couldn’t work like that all the time, not without more childcare, but it was a good summer and I’m drawn to it, this editing gig. If I have a vocation, it’s here.