Working West Light: You Help Me, I Help Myself (1988)

from Westlight Stock Production Briefings, Vol. 1, No. 6, March 1988

I wrote this for a company newsletter. I present it here in two versions, as I originally wrote it and as I rewrote it after the boss looked at it (and no, he wasn't angry). Both versions, however, are entirely my words, as I was the editor. I offer it as an example of how sometimes making something better means being willing to take out your favorite parts.

Note: The company later changed its name to Westlight, but the two-word spelling was in effect at the time.

Original version

Published version

[Paragraphs spanning both columns were unchanged.]

[Underlined portions and paragraphs that appear only in this column were deleted.]

[Underlined portions and paragraphs that appear only in this column were added.]

This glaring exposé of the sordid wheelings and dealings that go on at West Light would have been brought before the public much sooner, except that nothing sordid ever goes on at West Light. As always, your suggestions are welcome.

You visual types may think it's pretty cushy being publications editor for the only photo agency listed in the West L.A. Yellow Pages. In truth, it's dark and dirty work—especially when the laser printer has a new toner cartridge in it.

West Light is every writer's nightmare come true. I mean, how is any self-respecting wordsmith supposed to live up to the commonly accepted standards of creative journalism, when everything there is to say about West Light is so—good?

Every morning at 9:13 sharp, I report to the mainstay of the West Light canon, Craig Aurness. Craig's writing output is the main reason for our having to move to a larger building; recently it was reported that a complete set of Rabelais manuscripts had been unearthed in Jacqueline Susann's living room, having been buried for eight years under a pile of West Light newsletters.

This month, West Light will quadruple the size of its office space. If Craig Aurness's writing output expands proportionately, then I as editor can look forward to a long career—unless I can keep up with him. Craig understands the importance of volume in beating out his formidable competition. For example, recently it was reported that a complete set of Rabelais manuscripts had been unearthed in Jacqueline Susann's living room; no one knew about it, as it had been buried for eight years under a pile of West Light newsletters.

This month's newsletter conference with Craig was epitomic. "Richard, my goal is eventually to get our output up to one newsletter an hour. We have to keep ourselves in the front of our photographers' minds. The best way to keep them informed on how to scout for great images is to have them look at as many gray pages of solid type as possible."

This month's newsletter conference with Craig was epitomic. "Richard, my goal is eventually to get our output up to one newsletter an hour. If our photographers have enough ideas loaded into their trunks, it may tip them back far enough so they'll be moving uphill."

My response matched his enthusiasm. "I'm experimenting this month with a new way of displaying our copyright symbol; the circle is inside the 'c'. I think you'll like it." As editor, I am always aware of my responsibility to forge bold, new trails.

"We definitely need to have something on the front page about our new location. See if you can write something short and friendly, like, 'Bigger is better,' or whatever. You know what to do. I have to go take care of some business in Rome, Jakarta, and Panther Burn, Mississippi; I'll be gone about an hour. Remember: be creative!"

Now, when I grow up I want to be a superbusinessperson like Craig, so I got right to work. It wasn't going to be easy; there were still six pages' worth of copy to write. I had some notes lurking in my wallet from yesterday, but was determined to use those only as a last resort.

Now, when I grow up I want to be a superbusinessperson like Craig, so I got right to work. It wasn't going to be easy; there were still seven and a half pages' worth of copy to write.

I thought Bill Ross might have something to contribute, but when I went to his office, he wasn't there; the janitor was holding a press conference. I would have to seek elsewhere for inspiration.

I thought Bill Ross might have something to contribute, but when I went to his office, he wasn't there; Sunset had called him in to help them with their move into Dodger Stadium. (It's a good thing they're our friends.) I would have to seek elsewhere for inspiration.

After looking through the dictionary for twenty seconds, I had managed to dig up only one new word: conation, which means the faculty of directing mental or physical effort. It seemed apt. I thought I was on to something. With Bill's input, it might be possible to round this out. I wasn't allowed to go into his office, though; something about nuclear testing, they said. There must be an idea concealed around this place somewhere, I thought, once more fighting the temptation to reach for my wallet notes.

After looking through the dictionary for twenty seconds, I had managed to dig up only one new word: conation, which means the faculty of directing mental or physical effort. It seemed apt. There must be an idea concealed in this word somewhere, I thought.

I entered my password into the computer and started browsing through the subject index to find possible gaps. This surely would enable me to write intelligently about our photo needs.

First, I tried typing in the word "antimacassar." Nothing appeared on the screen. (Zut! What would we tell our clients?) Next, I tried "Esperanto." Still nothing! Nobody around here knows anything, I thought. There must be something that we have on file. Finally, in desperation, I typed in "photographs."

The computer glared at me and printed out a message: "What is this 'photographs?' I don't know 'photographs.' Check color of tea you are drinking and try again."

Having thus set out to stump the computer, I typed in the word "antimacassars"—but the program was on to me:

See 'affluence,' 'Americana,' 'antiquity,' 'birthdays,' 'business,' 'castles,' 'Colonial life,' 'color'...shall I go on?

My computer wizardry was wizening. It was almost lunchtime, and the newsletter was beginning to take its place alongside all those mountains of slides all you turkeys—er, talented artists haven't submitted yet.

Bill wasn't around to help; Michael Davis, the juggler, had been brought in to rearrange the catalog pasteup. And my bulletin board, coated with layers of take-out pizza menus, somehow failed to ignite the creative spark.

Apparently I was no match for the power of West Light's cross-reference system (nor would I want to be; when would I ever be granted a conversation?). No, it looked like the writing for this issue would have to come out of my own head. You can well imagine my terror.

My usual resources were getting me nowhere. It was time to stop dealing with amateurs; I had to speak with somebody shorter than I was. I went to see my co-editor, the ambulatory Andrea Chomyn.

There was still hope, however; right here in this company was somebody to consult who was even shorter than I. I went to see my co-editor, the ambulatory Andrea Chomyn.

"I think this stuff Craig wrote about threatening to tile the restroom floors with the next Yellowstone submission is a bit harsh," I said. "How can we tone it down?"

"Oh, I was about to have lunch with the Arrowhead delivery man, Richard," she replied. "Do you think you could leave it on my desk with a sticky note?"

I thought that if we traded contact lenses it might enable her to see things from my perspective (perhaps I am a visual type after all), but time was running out. Still, I refused to go for my wallet notes. Only drastic measures would work now; I rushed back to my desk and called Ventura technical support.

"Thank you for calling Xerox Ventura Publishing support. If you're calling regarding the patch update disk, please call 1-800-555-1526. Your call may be monitored to insure we are providing you with continued quality support. Please continue to hold. Good day..."

At last, a transcription! My fingers raced across the keys, vigorously recording every word. What a terrific piece of copy this is going to make, I thought. Wait till everyone reads this; then they'll see how much time I spend on the phone listening to important people! After twenty minutes spent transcribing the beautiful music station, it was over. This would fit perfectly alongside the stories on "Nudist Colonies: Models or Property?" and "How to Incorporate Family and Friends into Bathysphere Incursions." The newsletter would see yet another month. I could rest easy, but now I was famished. Where would I go for lunch?

Then I realized it didn't matter where I went. I had left my wallet at home.

Knowing that the responsibility for meeting our deadline ultimately rested with me, I sought to cajole her into helping. "Oh, Andrea, you are so experienced and knowledgeable about bringing out the best in our photographers. Your writing is articulate and precise, and by your efforts we have all been inspired to learn the correct pronunciation of your name. Won't you help us now in our hour of need by providing some ideas or material for the next issue?"

"Er—Richard," she replied, "all of the copy for the newsletter is behind you, tucked into the back of your corduroys. You've been walking around like that all morning."

"Oh."

Well, as you can see, the newsletter pretty much came out all right. I'll have to become more self-sufficient, though, once we're in the new building; taking the shuttle bus back and forth between offices could get to be expensive.

 

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