The Adjustment Assignment
During the final weeks of production for this issue, my children, like millions of others, took their first steps into a school for full-time, in-person instruction after an extended, exasperating absence. To say I rejoiced is an overstatement; I was just happy they no longer had to rely on their parents, or screens, for a social life. With the kids out in the world again, our dinner conversations got a welcome infusion of new topics, the first being their teachers. I’ve taken a special interest in how our kids respond to their new English and literary arts teachers, of course, and while some instructors have been more inspiring than others, I’m happy to know they are receiving a literary education, even as they step over and around the stacks of books in our house. My daughter’s first assignment for her eleventh-grade English class was to imagine her life in the pandemic as a book and write the jacket copy. Perfect, I thought, and I was pleased when she asked me, like a good writer to her editor, if I would read a draft. “With the world moving in new directions, Eleanor is finding it difficult to adjust,” she wrote, and then went on to sell the story of a girl turning sixteen under extraordinary circumstances. At the end she included imagined praise of her “book,” which she titled “Adjustment,” from the New York Times: “Just like Eleanor, you too may find yourself unsure of what’s going on.” LOL, as the youngsters like to say. Still, I offered constructive criticism, slashing some sentences and recasting others, as she has come to expect, and the next day, as I sat to write this note, she texted me an image of the final assignment. I was kind of proud that she used so few of my suggestions, which I took as evidence that she is adjusting just fine.
This made me think about revision (or lack thereof) and how much of the past year and a half I would revise if I could. Fortunately words on the page are much easier to amend. Ursula Pike, who is featured in 5 Over 50, reveled in the revising of her debut, An Indian Among los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir: “As a writer who is always trying to improve, I know that the process of revising made me a better writer.” Anthony Doerr, whose novel Cloud Cuckoo Land is a work of imaginative genius, tells Joshua Mohr, “As writers we have this amazing gift of revision, and for me, sleep and time are the key ingredients here.” Read “The World the Book Can Build” to learn more about that recipe. But in the end I can think of no better wish for you, dear reader, than exactly that: sleep and time. Be patient with yourself, with everyone around you. It’s been a difficult adjustment for us all.