The Secret Lives of Editors

A year ago I was in New York for two days with a group of students to meet with agents and editors. The first day we met a high-powered agent downtown, a woman who looked like she was returning from a day at the beach except for the black hip-hugging dress and heels. I’ll call her XXbot. The next day we were uptown in a conference room with a high-powered editor. I’ll call him XYbot. We had been given explicit instructions from our program director not to mention either of them to the other. They were exes.

The second day, we assembled ourselves around a mammoth conference table with the editor, Central Park glowing, all amber and green, several blocks north and three hundred feet below, bestsellers and the movie posters of screen versions of bestsellers lining the walls. XYbot told us about how he spends a lot of time reading book proposals in order to discover new projects.

“The things that I really love, I always know it, in the first five pages,” he said.

It sounded so much like he was talking about a first date that I’d actually expected him to say minutes. “There’s this chemistry,” he added. “We spend a lot of time hoping to be excited. If you don’t see something you really like for a while, you begin to doubt yourself, try to convince yourself that something, you know, is better than it is.”

How familiar this sounded from my many years of dating. I wondered if he realized he was speaking in the language of romance. He continued, describing the moment of discovery. “When the proposal is out there, it just seems—” and he arced his open hand in the air above his head—“like anything is possible.”

Of course. The proposal. That sets the long, hard work of marriage in motion. The beginning, at which point the two of you could fly.

At one point, XYbot looked around the table at us and asked, “Who else have you seen here in New York?”

The only name I could think of was XXbot. The air in the room hung with our hesitation. “A-bot over at the Times Magazine,” someone said at last.

“B-bot from downstairs,” said someone else.

“C-bot at Foundry.”

“D-bot at The New  Yorker.

There was a silence. “XXbot! XXbot! XXbot!” I wanted to blurt, noting that there was not even the ghost of a tan line on the fourth finger of XYbot’s left hand, and wanting to know when and why and how. I imagined the New York style wedding gifts–crystal and crisp linens, perhaps–divided, wondering how the hurt and recriminations and weariness had been divided, wondering if he was an asshole and if she was a bitch, wondering who of two obviously passionate  workaholics was fatally inattentive,  who changed, who didn’t. Wondering if it was simply a case of optimistic youth taking a leap of faith and finding that gravity was just too strong.

I loved them both in that moment, more than I had reason to.

What have you loved unreasonably lately?

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