Who am I as editor? Reflections on my professional identity

(Originally published in Edition, Editors Canada, Toronto Branch newsletter, November 2007)

In my past life as an academic, answering the question “who am I as researcher?” and locating myself as researcher in the research process were essential to the creation of trustworthy research. Now, as a full-time editor, I ask myself a similar question “who am I as editor?” Reflecting on my professional identity enables me to be more aware of my biases and to locate myself within the editing process. This reflexivity allows me to be fully present in the editing process and to negotiate the borderlands between author and editor in a transparent and authentic manner.

Shortly after undertaking this exercise, I came across Christie Blatchford’s view of editors: “No one is more impatient with editors than I am…. But they are necessary, and they as often as not save me from myself, although there are times even the best editor can’t do that.”[1] Being necessary isn’t bad. I like feeling needed. I like being able to make a difference in the lives of others…but editor as saviour? I’m not sure. The professional writer’s view, in this case a talented newspaper reporter, leaves out what to me is number one on my list of identifiers as editor: Lover of language. Can one be an editor without loving language? I guess one could but I doubt they would enjoy it. But what is language?

“I am my languages” Gloria Anzaldua’s voice often resounds in my mind.[2] Erica Hasebe-Ludt further expounds, “We are all born into language; we know ourselves and others in language; we word our worlds; we weave our worlds as we weave our words.”[3]

I was eight years old when my family emigrated from Canada to Israel. There is a deep wound in me from being uprooted from all that was familiar, from what had been known to me as reality unquestioned, from the environment in which I knew how to communicate with others, in which I felt comfortable and at home. Reality never had the same absoluteness to it again. Language became associated with struggle, not a natural tool of communication, before becoming inseparable from who I am…

According to Chambers, “reality both commences and concludes in the house of language; it is there in our material, historical, cultural and psychic life that we ultimately reside, recognize and reconsider our selves.”[4] If we reside in the house of language then who are we as editors? Are we interior designers? Architects? Construction workers? All of the above? Adopting a Bakhtian perspective, however, we transcend language through dialogue: “The dialogical is created by language, although it eventually transcends language.”[5] Considering editing as a dialogic process among editor, writer, and a writer’s creation, editing is where a writer’s creation is transcended and transformed.

One of my favourite parts of being an editor is engaging with authors in clarifying and expanding upon what they have written and guiding them to a higher level of articulating their ideas. I feel as though I am solving a puzzle, identifying the missing pieces, envisioning a whole that transcends the creation as is. As a novice editor I was not sure of myself and worried that the authors I worked with would be hurt in some way by my comments and suggestions. As an academic writer and erstwhile poet, I know how painful and undermining critique of creative work can be.

I remember one incident clearly. As editor of a publication for the Centre for Arts-Informed Research at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (UofT), I received a contribution that included a brief introduction to a collections of poems on a particular topic. I wrote the author and suggested she transform her contribution into an essay, clustering her poems in categories and expanding on the context of each in narrative form. In our back-and-forth communications, I further encouraged her to expand upon and clarify her ideas. The resulting essay was, in my opinion, excellent. I was, however, unsure of how the author felt about the process. Had I been too aggressive? Did I overstep my boundaries as editor? And so forth.

Many months later, I met the author at an event. She introduced herself and enthusiastically told me that writing for the publication had been the best experience she had ever had as a writer. She had not previously envisioned her poems as part of an essay and was excited by the possibilities my suggestions opened up for her. She enjoyed writing the essay very much and planned to use the writing elsewhere as well. I felt validated, to say the least. And risking oversimplification, I believe that therein lies the reason I am an editor.

References

[1] Globe & Mail, Saturday October 13, 2007. p. A25

[2] Anzaldua, G. (1987). Borderlands/La frontera: The new mestiza. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books. p. 59

[3] Hasebe-Ludt, E. (1999). The whole world in one classroom: Teaching across traditions in a cosmopolitan environment. Interchange, 30(1). p. 39

[4] emphasis added. Chambers, L. (2001). Culture after humanism: History, culture, subjectivity. London, UK; New York: Routledge. p. 5.

[5] Sidorkin, A. M. (1999). Beyond discourse: Education, the self, and dialogue. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. p. 23.

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