I “edit” a lot. I am a pretty good copy editor and proofreader—and do better with other people’s work than I do with my own. This skill is a left-over from long years of teaching Senior English at the local high school. Sometimes I still help former students with college papers and I’ve nurtured my step-grandchildren through several university writing classes. Once I helped a friend by copy editing an unpublished novel she wrote. However, I am not a good general editor and do not like to work with content or overall organization. Of course, that dislike helps my copy editing, as I don’t like to change meaning or to suggest how to move things around. What I like to do is make sentences clear, concise, and elegant. Amusingly–or sadly, whichever–I am better at helping others write clear, concise sentences than I am at generating same on my own.
When my son turned his dissertation into a book, I proof-read my way through four drafts. Since the content of his book was way, way above my “abstract” language and concept level, my task was to find stray commas and those annoying “the the” cut/paste errors that our eyes tend to slide over when we proofread our own work–and which spell check never finds. It’s kind of telling, I guess, that I read his book twice as a dissertation and four times in draft form and still struggle to tell people what his book is about—which is the Tibetan knowledge of levels of reality and the Noble Beings who inhabit those levels, from our earth level to the high, high realms of heaven. Trust me—this book is not bounded by Christian thinking about “going to heaven” after we die. It annoys Jim no end when I joke that the book can be summarized as “all are saved!” However, Tsong kha pa states in the book that everyone who sets his/her foot on the path can climb the Stairway to Nirvana.
One aspect of editing that I truly enjoy is working with my daughter-in-law, who has a PhD in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. She also has a master’s degree in Japanese literature, so it’s fun to work with her, though her levels of literacy are far, far above mine. She worked her way through four drafts of her dissertation, writing in Japanese and then translating it into English. Japanese does not translate smoothly into English and my task was to show her how to smooth out her sentences into highly literate English and to help her select English words with the correct connotation. I help her by proofreading works that she publishes or presents in English, a task I truly enjoy because she writes about fascinating topics. For example, she presented a paper at a conference about the writings of a 5th century Chinese Buddhist teacher on fasting and and proper eating. Right now we are working on presentations about the history of Japanese Buddhism, another fascinating topic. My daughter-in-law is my hero; she overcame enormous obstacles in earning her Ph.D. and she continues to write and teach in the language of her adopted country, not her birth country. I have barely mastered literary English and I cannot read or write in any other language.
Last summer, I was asked to review a translation of a Chinese article on the contributions to the friendship between China and Japan enabled by the connections and sharing between Buddhist scholars. (That awkwardly worded sentence is a reflection of the article’s title.) This article was written by a Chinese scholar and translated into English by a Japanese scholar. One can readily see that a text going from Chinese to English through the mind of a Japanese scholar could have awkward constructions, incorrect pronouns, word connotation issues, wrong degrees of adjectives and adverbs, uneven syntax, incorrect verb tenses, plus other punctuation and grammar issues. When I first read the piece, I “understood” what was stated, but so many of the language aspects listed above were slightly “off.” I agreed to help smooth it out, which involved fine combing through the essay six times; I kept noticing more and more subtle errors as I smoothed out the sentences. The editing took several days of exhausting concentration. The paper then was sent back to Japan for a final edit by the translator. At Christmas, my daughter-in-law presented me with a copy of the essay, which is in an Asian journal. Okay—no names here because I am not sure how much of that tale I am allowed to tell. Mainly, I was flattered to be asked to help and enjoyed the task immensely.
Some things I have to do in order to keep my language skills “sharp” and to help edit and proofread correctly are to Google confusing language issues to see what the professors say, to refer to Write for College–part of the INK texts—for punctuation and grammar references, and to constantly consult my desk dictionary and thesaurus. The other thing I do is to read the New Yorker and other literary magazines, plus I read and re-read British novels so that the cadences of literate English ring in my mind. I find that cadence study necessary as otherwise the cadences of barely literate Washington County English tend to clutter up my mind. It’s easy to see why I rarely have time to watch TV—another place where poor language and weak literary habits abide.
A big—and rather comical problem—with my editing adventures is that I cannot spell well. I recognize misspelled words, but often don’t know how to spell them correctly. Goggle has solved many spelling problems for me: just type in the incorrect spelling and it inquires “Did you mean…..” So handy! Other than that, I find myself struggling with a dictionary, looking up possible spellings until I hit upon the correct one. So much for the look-see-with-no-phonics reading instruction of the early 1950’s. This deficiency led to many years of student hilarity about the teacher-who-could-not-spell. I used to write on the board with one hand and hold a dictionary or cue-card in the other. As as aside, that “hilarity” is one more reason why I do not miss classroom teaching.
Here’s hoping my mind and eyes hold out for several more decades. I love to edit.