07 June 2011

Keepsakes or junk? Is there a difference?

Take a look at my studio and tell me if you can believe that I'm on a mission to de-clutter my living spaces!

And that's only one side of the room. Here's the other side.

Am I a hoarder? I never used to think I was. And I do live in a relatively small house, so most rooms probably contain more than would be necessary if we had four bedrooms and heaps of closets. But let's see what kinds of things I hold on to in this room only – things that aren't strictly necessary for the editing of books (my former trade) or the kind of writing I now do on this blog and for other purposes.

In the top row picture, at left:
  1. Two Laotian sticky-rice baskets (only two of a dozen I have in different sizes).
  2. About 20 years of tax records under the desk! (You never know.)
  3. On a shelf above (just out of view), about 35 travel books featuring places I've visited, places I intended to visit but didn't, and places I just like reading about.
  4. Behind one rice basket, a glass paperweight given to me as a Christmas present by........I can't remember who, but it was important at the time.  
  5. Four CD cases containing 10 years of backup files.
In the top row picture, at right:
  1. Yet another sticky-rice basket - this one home to a small electric jug so visitors (and I) can make a cup of tea in the afternoon. And a fridge-top tray of smoked cane from the Philippines.
  2. Never mind what's in the bar fridge. (You can never have too much home-grown citrus or homemade jam.)
  3. On the wall, handwoven silk shawl from Laos. On the bed, handwoven cotton bedspread from the Philippines.
  4. Pillowcases featuring embroidered Lao cloth (black), printed canvas made from a former Philippine shower curtain (white) and heavy African cloth (red).
  5. A set of prints on the wall, the early work of a dear printmaking friend with whom I've lost touch.
  6. In another friend's old black sea chest that doubles as a bedside table, all the Christmas decorations, my first marriage wedding veil, the outfit I made to take home my newborn (now 39-year-old) daughter from hospital plus the bloodstained nightie I wore to deliver her, several of her most important first dolls, and an old chenille bedspread from Tasmanian days.
In the second row picture, at left:
  1. Bottom two shelves contain copies of many of the publications produced by Qld Dept of Education while I was in charge of the publishing unit there (1987-98). I need to donate these to an education library somewhere.
  2. Third shelf from bottom has two silk-covered boxes containing a seal with my name in Chinese characters and a small porcelain container of sealing wax. A gift while in the Philippines.
  3. Fourth shelf up has name card holders bought in Vietnam and a clock which was a gift, and which has Thai numbers on its face. (Why do I have two of these clocks!)
  4. Fifth shelf up has mementos of my mother: little cloth-covered birdcage she made years ago as an ornament, and a metal box with some of her old Singer sewing machine bits and pieces. I also have the old brush she used to sweep thread dust off the machine's working bits. It's great on my keyboard.
  5. Top two shelves have my collection of classic feminist books plus other writings and journals by women – waiting to find a good home (any takers?)
  6. Third shelf down has publishing and editing references I no longer use.
  7. Fourth shelf down has education and development books I'd also like to give away.
In the second row picture, at right:
  1. The old Tasmanian table (pine top, blackwood legs) came from a neighbour's greenhouse 30+ years ago, after I told him we were looking for a patio table. (He tossed it over the fence to us, as I recall, and then we refinished it! His wife was not happy once she saw it done up.)
  2. Hanging above the table: a Hmong baby carrier I bought from a woman who made it on an old Singer treadle machine. It's thickly embroidered in heavy cotton on a modern fluorescent fabric that Hmong mothers prefer instead of their traditional navy blue handwoven cotton fabric. (I have an embroidered Hmong skirt in that fabric.)
  3. See the horseshoe on the notice board? It's on a piece of wood carved with '1991' – the year our predecessors at this place built the cedar-walled garage that I transformed into this studio. It used to hang above the door.
  4. Also on the notice board, a little framed photograph of tiny Hotel Esmeralda, Paris – given to me by a dear friend who stayed there on my recommendation during her first of many trips to Paris.
  5. White wire baskets hold my collection of Lao shawls and other Lao handwoven cloth.
  6. Little Huon pine pots on the table date back to Tassie days.
  7. And standing at the back of the table, a piece of calligraphy by my late Great Uncle, a Canadian priest who was also organist at the cathedral in Montreal. When I visited there long after he died, the archivist presented me with a box of my uncle's possessions, such as family photos, examples of my uncle's artwork and musical compositions and his old paintbox.
  8. In back of the printer/fax and only the top edge visible here: one of the little slates distributed to Lao schoolchildren along with chalk, on which they learned to write in the absence of paper and pencils (this in the 1990s).
  9. Standing at the end of the table and not quite visible, my old croquet mallet in its cover. I may use it again quite soon.
  10. A wooden sign saying 'Massachusetts' which I bought while visiting my folks there many years ago.
  11. And above the window, a pair of carved temple-guarding creatures from Laos.

I wasn't even going to mention any of the things inside desk drawers or filing cabinet draweres, but then I came across this little box of paperclips from the Philippines, handmade from pieces of bamboo and string. These are definitely too precious not to be featured here – and not to be kept!

So you tell me. Am I a hoarder? And if so, how can I break the habit?

06 June 2011

My time at Time: Learning the ropes

This is the third in a series of articles about my first job in publishing – in the editorial offices of Time Magazine at Rockefeller Center, New York City. It was 1965 and I had just moved to New York. The first article in this series was My time at Time: Getting a job as proofreader and the second article, My time at Time: A short, hectic working week.

To my horror in my first week, on-the-job training as a proofreader at Time meant starting work immediately as one-half of a two-person team. I found out later that only a few proofreaders were entrusted with the job of working with us rookies. Many of the 20-odd characters (I could say ‘20 odd characters’) working in that section in shifts had too many idiosyncrasies to be any use in the initiation of a newcomer.

All proofreading was done by teams, each of which included two proofreaders. Many of these partners had worked at Time for ten or more years. A proofreader friend from those days who has just retired after 39 years at Time eventually moved ‘up’ to copyediting. But in the 1960s such a progression was unthinkable. The various job categories were very much stratified. (1)
I have never known a more interesting collection of unusual people in one small group of fellow workers than those Time proofreaders. Almost all of them shared this attitude to the job: it was interesting, pleasant and well-paid work that allowed them to pursue more serious interests out of work. Most proofreaders worked a three-day week, so there was plenty of time for other interests. Long working days of 12 or more hours left little time for anything but work on Thursday to Saturday. But for the other four days of the week, proofreaders were freer than people with standard five-day jobs.

Some proofreaders even commuted from country locations beyond the famous satellite towns in the adjacent states of Connecticut and New Jersey that were home to conventional commuters. These longer-range commuters would spend two nights in hotels where they perhaps got special deals, or paid board somewhere for a two-night weekly stay. Most of them had professional or personal involvement in areas such as scholarship, writing, farming, philosophy or art. Their proofreading jobs fit in comfortably with those other pastimes. Some were kindly, some quirky, but almost all were fascinating to me, a young New England girl with little experience of such ‘characters’.
Each proofreader usually also had an area of expertise on which he or she (the group was split about 50–50, male and female) would be consulted by the others, and occasionally by writers and editors. However, there existed a kind of unspoken warfare (more or less serious, depending on the individuals involved) between the 25th-floor writers and editors and the 24th-floor production staff, especially proofreaders.

As each proofreading job was finished, the team was supposed to take the very next story on the top of the pile. The man who had administered my proofreading test, and who was responsible for progressing copy through the typesetting and proofreading process, would arrange the articles according to the priority which best suited the ‘make-up’ of the magazine’s layout pages.
The proofreading task consisted of correcting long galleys of each magazine article which had been keyed by typesetters operating noisy machines in a large adjacent area. (Experiments introducing computers into the publishing process were just then beginning, but the technology was not yet used for galley production.) The typesetters' job was to precisely reproduce the contents of the final typewritten copy which had resulted after writing and editing were finished. 

As well as the conventional galley printout, typesetters simultaneously produced a per­forated paper-tape version of the story – an early form of ‘memory databank’. It was this paper tape which, after corrections, would be used to ‘wire’ a final version of the story to the Chicago printing plant over dedicated phone lines. Older, experienced typesetters could even 'read' the perforated tape with their fingers and hastily patch in last-minute corrections by hand, instead of producing a whole new roll for each article. After typesetting, corrected galley proofs were used to make up precise layouts that would be airfreighted to the Chicago printing plant to show how typeset text and photos were to be laid out on each page.
The proofreading team received one copy of the uncorrected galley and the final typed draft which the typesetter had used as his original text. Remember: this was before word-processing and visual display units. The final edited draft of a story would have been typed up as an original with several carbon copies produced on sheets of various colours (pink, green, blue etc.) One of those carbon copies (the green, I think it was) would have gone to the relevant section's researcher (always a woman) whose final job it was to check and tick every fact, every unusual spelling, and every proper noun and name in the article, showing that she had checked each of these and affirmed each was correct. These 'check copies', signed off by the researcher, were kept upstairs in a central section of the editorial office and could be consulted by anyone who suspected an error of any sort after that article's researcher and writer had gone home. No one was supposed to alter anything so checked, without first consulting the researcher personally.

The final draft was sacrosanct. Not a 1etter or other character could be changed without the approval of the relevant editor, writer, copyreader (or subeditor) and/or researcher. Indeed, everyone who worked on a story at some point added his or her initials to the final draft and/or galley in the appropriate place. There was no anonymity at any stage of the production process – though it was not until the introduction of the Time essay in later years that individual writers received any by-lines in the actual pages of the magazine.
Incidentally, every time an error was discovered in the printed magazine, all of the initialled drafts and galleys were reviewed the following week so that blame could be properly apportioned. I think this was done as a point system and I remember everyone dreading the accumulation of errors for this reason. I acquired some distinction (albeit unwanted) for a notoriously amusing error I once made while working in a later position at Time. Then, one of my last jobs each week was to wire to the Chicago printing plant a list of ‘picture credits’ (photographers’ names) for the photos used in the final layouts. These names would then appear in small-size type alongside the appropriate photo. By some quirk I managed to credit a picture of an astronaut taking one of the first spacewalks to a certain New York photographer who often worked for Time, instead of correctly crediting NASA. (The photographer sent me a dozen roses to thank me for broadening his portfolio!)

(1) For example, all writers and editors were men, most of whom had ‘outside’ offices containing a window. All researchers were women and they worked in windowless ‘inside’ offices

In the next article in this series, I'll describe the tightly regimented process that proofreading teams were expected to follow for each article they read. In more than 40 years' involvement in publishing, I have never known a proofreading process of equivalent comprehensiveness.

03 June 2011

My time at Time: A short, hectic working week

This is the second in a series of articles about my first job in publishing – in the editorial offices of Time Magazine at Rockefeller Center, New York City. It was 1965 and I had just moved to New York. The first article in this series was My time at Time: Getting a job as proofreader.

The editorial week at Time began, officially, on Tuesday and ended on Saturday. However, many of the employees on the 24th and 25th floors – the editorial floors – worked a four-day week (Wednesday to Saturday). Even so, we all managed to accumulate a lot of overtime. Even staff such as layout artists, who worked only three days (Thursday to Saturday), often worked many hours of over­time, and this was very generously paid. In fact, Time's generosity to its employees at that time was legendary.

Catering events on both of the 'late' nights (Friday and Saturday) were an institution. Friday nights featured a 'cocktail hour', with a bar set up in the large 25th-floor 'lounge' equipped for just such events. And on Saturday night, when most of the editorial staff were expected to work as long as it took to 'close' the magazine, the company laid on a three-course meal, complete with silver service and white-coated chefs. Staff lined up with meal trays, selected from two or three main courses, and then took the dome-covered meal down to their desk to be consumed as work permitted. Later they would return for second helpings, and then a range of desserts plus assorted cheeses. I think there were little bottles of wine too, but maybe I'm wrong. Leftover pieces of cutlery and china were among the detritus to be cleared away at the beginning of the following week, as anyone scheduled to work extra late would have stashed away plates of cheese and biscuits and other titbits to see them through the night. At that time, there were very few fast-food outlets near Rockefeller Center that were considered safe destinations after midnight. Apart from this company-supplied food, the only other options were a few nearby restaurants that would deliver orders of Chinese and Italian meals. I suppose some of us also brought in food from home, but I don't recall that many people did.

The company also provided taxi-fares to everyone who worked after a certain hour (I think it was 8 or 9pm). This could be claimed the next week as petty cash. And except for Saturday night, when dinner was provided, late-working staff were also entitled to claim set amounts for one or more meals, according to the amount of hours they had worked on any day. No receipts were required for any of these claims, just the record of hours worked. So each week's petty cash entitlements were usually sufficient to pay for the following week's commuting fees. Working even later – after midnight, I think – entitled you to a door-to-door limousine service to your home, even when 'home' was somewhere an hour or more distant. I remember often opting for the taxi money instead of the limousine, and then taking my usual subway home. You could do very well out of petty cash that way.

The final largesse was a very generous profit-sharing system –  more or less equivalent to a superannuation scheme, except that employees contributed nothing and were entitled to withdraw the proceeds on resignation, no matter how old (or young) they were. A certain copyboy, a member of the fledgling magazine's original staff, was said to have retired on what, in today's terms, was the equivalent of millions of dollars. (Unfortunately, he died not long after retirement.) At our resignation, my husband's and my profit-sharing proceeds were sufficient to pay our fares to Australia and set us up a flat in Sydney – not a bad return for a couple in their late 20s.
Time's concentrated work week resulted from the desire to publish news that was as current as possible at the time of going to press. Theoretically the magazine 'closed' early on Saturday evening. Exactly what this mythical Saturday deadline was varied from time to time as the managing editor attempted to implement budgetary cutbacks. Each edition's cover-story, special colour features and some 'back of the book' sections (Art, Books, Film etc.) had earlier closing times, as these sections did not usually depend on late-breaking news. This meant that pre-press activities and even some printing could begin before later news sections of the magazine had closed. (Remember: I'm describing production activities of more than 40 years ago, before typesetting and other publishing tasks were computerised.)

No matter what the official closing time was supposed to be, it was rarely achieved. The final 'closing' for the week meant the last corrections to the last story were sent from the New York office to the printing plant in Chicago. Time rented direct telephone lines for the transmission of typeset stories as data. This was achieved by inserting rolls of perforated paper tape, whose perforations contained code for all text, punctuation and line-breaks, into machines in New York. This data was then transmitted electronically over those phone lines to the Chicago plant. Exactly how the lines of text were to be placed on each page was shown on full-size layout sheets on which graphic artists pasted up galley-proofs of text and 'bromides', or reproductions, of photos in actual final sizes to exactly fill each column of each page. These layouts, along with 150 or so possible photos that might be used that week, were dispatched to the Chicago printing plant in a series of packages sent via commercial flights on successive days of the editorial week.
In a later position at Time it was my job to arrange those packages and flights, no mean feat when Chicago had some of the worst winter weather and highest snowfalls of all the major US airports. For winter days when O’Hare Airport closed down completely due to bad weather, I had access to a group of daredevil messengers whom we would employ to hand-deliver Time’s well-identified large red cardboard envelopes to the Chicago printing plant. The messengers would choose from various alternative routes, including charter flights to smaller airports in towns near Chicago where shorter runways could be ploughed clear of snow just prior to landing a small plane. Or I would send fearless teams of messengers by overnight train, with instructions to go as far as possible by rail and then hire a truck or car for the rest of the journey. Sometimes, messengers set out in their own all-weather vehicles, choosing to make the 700-mile trip by road, and usually getting there. Even in good weather, unaccompanied packages sent via the regular weekly flights would sometimes go astray, turning up days, even weeks, later. Once a phone call from a Pacific island alerted me to the fact one of my red Time packages had been sitting at the airport there for weeks!

Original photos were always copied before being dispatched – sometimes from negatives, if we had them, but in the case of photos that had come in from wire services such as AAP, our lab would make a copy from the original photo before dispatching the original in one of the packages to Chicago. These back-up copies made from photos and not negatives were of reduced quality, and no one liked having to use them. But when packages containing original photos were lost or couldn't get through, and the photo was considered important, we might have no choice. If it was late in the week and there wasn't time to dispatch a replacement package, we might even have to resort to wiring this copy to Chicago via what was then a crude form of faxing. In such cases, difficult questions would be asked at the next week's post-mortem meetings. But I'll describe that process in a later article.
I remember one time when the mythical Saturday closing deadline actually was achieved. There was quite a celebration but in fact the success was probably the result of a boring news week. In any case, too early a closing would have wreaked havoc with the weekly poker game – another Time tradition – which moved from office to office, according to who was rostered as ‘late editor’ that week. Generally, however, no-one below the status of senior editor seemed to take the deadline very seriously. Last-minute news stories and additional facts and photos to go into existing stories were being added all the time. But eventually the week’s 'late man' – one of the production staff – would paste down the last line of type on the last page of layout and call the edition ‘closed’. This meant the last proofreading team, the last blue-pencil wielding writer and editor and the last copyboy could finally go home. Rarely did this happen before midnight. More often it was 2, 3, 5 or even 10am Sunday morning.
I remember occasionally working right through Saturday and Sunday and on to Monday morning – for example, on the weekend Robert Kennedy was assassinated, and again when Martin Luther King was shot. Events such as these resulted in all-new cover stories replacing whatever had been scheduled, no matter how late. On such occasions, the company would take a group of rooms in a nearby hotel and staff would go there in shifts to get some sleep (always on full pay, of course). Nor was it unusual to see a layout artist laid out on his work bench, sound asleep, his head on a stack of layouts. I remember at such times a certain prematurely bald, dapper little man who usually wore a crisp white shirt was the messenger who would sweep out of the elevator from the managing editor's office upstairs and sail down the hall into the complex of rooms on Floor 24 where production staff worked, calling out: 'Hold everything. New cover.' There would be groans and expletives all around, especially from persons who'd been foolish enough to make a date for midnight on what had seemed a quiet news week. I suspect the couches in editors' offices at Time saw more use – by sleepers, at least – than furniture in a lot of New York office suites.
I think an early proof of the magazine was delivered from Chicago to the managing editor's Connecticut home on Sunday. In any case, the first magazines were on New York newsstands on Monday morning and a copy on everyone’s desk in the Time offices on Tuesday. If that week's edition contained errors or faults of any kind, the storm would have had time to brew before production staff arrived at work on Wednesday, the beginning of our work week. Then the mood of gloom would be palpable even before you arrived at your desk. But if everything had gone well, those of us who began work on Wednesday would begin the job of cleaning up last week's mess. Long, lazy lunches were also a feature of these quiet Wednesdays – often paid for by the petty cash one collected from the downstairs business office on presentation of the previous week's timesheet.

In the next two articles in this series, I'll describe how proofreading was done at Time Magazine. I doubt any magazine today could afford to have as comprehensive (and expensive) a proofreading system as did the publications produced by Time-Life in those days.

02 June 2011

Another round of therapy ends

Tuesday dawned bright and sunny up here on the Sunshine Coast, and we could happily have sat out in the late autumn sunshine for the rest of the day.

But just minutes after taking this photo, we were off to Brisbane for the last of 12 sessions in a semester-long Aphasia Clinic at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Queensland. This is the third time that we've participated in this clinic – we did our first UQ clinic in 2009, not long after Allen's release from hospital, and we went again for one semester in 2010.
Each clinic group contains six or seven participants who have some form of aphasia – most of whom acquired the condition as a result of stroke. Almost all the participants come along with a family member (usually a spouse, but sometimes a son or daughter). Each week's session includes one hour of group therapy activities, and one hour of individual therapy. Here small groups of participants have to rearrange a series of pages, each of which contains text and a photo, into a logical sequence to make a story. This demonstrates clearly that aphasia therapy is about much more than just speech. The full spectrum of mental processes can be affected by the deterioration in areas of the brain that affects a person's ability to use language. Sequencing difficulties are just one of many other problems that people with aphasia may experience.

The UQ clinic program is conducted by Undergraduate Speech Pathology students working under the supervision of a Speech Pathologist from the teaching faculty. The moderate cost of $200 per clinic, or just over $8 per hour, is exceptional value for speech pathology sessions. And the group environment is particularly good for building confidence.

As well as developing and delivering Allen's individual therapy sessions, Dana and Caitlin, the two students assigned to us, administered standard speech pathology tests to Allen over the 12 weeks: the Boston Naming Test and two subtests of the Psycholinguistic Assessments of Language Processing in Aphasia (PALPA): subtests 47 (Spoken Word-Picture matching) and 48 (Written Word-Picture Matching).

Testing is worked into therapy sessions in a relaxed and friendly manner, so Allen's performance was not adversely affected by any anxiety about the process. Then at the final session, Dana and Caitlin presented us with a comprehensive 6-page report summarising Allen's test results, and comparing these to results from previous years. The report also documents his progress on therapy goals we had set for these sessions, and gives recommendations for future therapy.

Allen's poor score on naming simple objects (19/60) confirmed that he has severe word-finding difficulties. This result is down from 29/60 in 2009 and 39/60 in 2006, when he was first diagnosed (55 is considered an average score). However, when he doesn't have to name an object himself, but simply has to match a given word to a picture, or vice versa, he scores almost perfectly (37/40 and 39/40). This confirms that his comprehension of words is relatively intact – as we know from the fact that he is still an avid reader. (Currently he's re-reading Dickens and recently finished a couple of Bill Bryson's travel books.)

In past years, when we have presented a copy of the UQ report about Allen's progress to the gerontologist who treats him for aphasia, and who administers his own tests once a year, he has been very impressed with the quality of the UQ reports, and the depth of coverage. We, too, have been well pleased with all three of the UQ Aphasia Clinics we attended over three years. And I would certainly encourage anyone with aphasia to participate (the Speech Pathology Clinic webpage gives contact details – but remember to specify that you're interested in the Aphasia Clinic, which is not specifically listed on the website).

In spite of this, I think we may not be participating in further clinics. I tried to explain my reasons for this in an email to our student therapists, part of which read as follows:

I’m not sure how much Allen can profit from continued therapy that ‘challenges’ him. Whereas this used to have a good effect on him, when he was able to feel he could make progress, I’m afraid now he mainly gets frustrated by what he can’t do. His intelligence is not affected – so he knows how badly he’s performing on some therapy tasks. And sometimes this depresses him. I’m not saying this has happened too much this semester. But I have noticed a difference in his reaction to therapy.

I am inclined to think that it’s better for us to organise more social occasions – visits with friends, going out to see plays and such – than to take part in too much therapy. The truth is that Allen isn’t going to improve; he is only going to deteriorate – that’s the unfortunate nature of Primary Progressive Aphasia. But luckily, Allen is highly motivated and undertakes quite a lot of mental activity at home – he routinely works on his daily word-finding puzzle (seeing how many words he can make from a given set of 9 letters) and inevitably scoring very well) and on various other pen-and-pencil activities, plus he does lots of reading every day. So I think it’s best for him to continue that kind of activity – plus our two-times-monthly sessions with members of our own Sunshine Coast Aphasia Group – and perhaps undertake more physical activity, maybe even another round of physiotherapy.
I think a more relaxed lifestyle may be better for Allen than having to work on set tasks, or homework, that he tends to worry about finishing. And that’s why I’ve decided it’s best for us not to continue with clinics – especially since the distance we have to travel is quite a strain on both of us. It’s been a very good experience for both of us, but I think the time has come for us to be a bit more relaxed in how we deal with Allen’s aphasia.

God knows I’ve pushed Allen very hard for the past few years, and in many ways that has benefited him. But I think the time has come when we should go along at a more relaxed pace, and enjoy life without pressuring Allen too much to try and perform at a level that is difficult for him. Does that make sense to you? We’ve lived with this situation for quite a few years now, and I guess in some ways we are both rather tired of the hard work. So I guess I need a break as much as he does. Maybe by next year I’ll feel differently, but for now I think more time in the sun and less on the road is the way to go.

About me

My photo
I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.