I’m probably the only person who has kept track, but I wish to announce - with a good measure of relief - that I have survived my first year on staff at America. I’m reminded of the promo line from the old Superman television show, describing our eponymous hero as "faster than a speeding bullet." I don’t mean that the year has literally flown, by any means. Rather, it seems as if I’ve been swept along on a supersonic jet that never stops for refueling! The pace of a weekly schedule, consistent deadlines, is a world away from the process of getting books published. But one adjusts.
What has been a real challenge is the return to life as a mass-transit commuter. It took me the better part of the first two months - after trial and error, watching how others "do" it, taking a wrong train home on day one, trying one of these and one of those (MetroCards, that is, in endless "variety") before finding which worked at the best price. Finally, I "arrived"; I’m a veteran commuter once again, a bus and subway rider like hundreds of thousands in the New York metropolitan area.
It’s funny, but no matter how many years one has been away, time (and people) seem to stand still. After I got back into the system, it was suddenly the same: the sights, the fights; the shoving, the crowding; the working, the drowsing; the CD’s, the cell phoneswell, maybe not the latter as much. Then there’s the entertainment. Musicians and singers still perform on many subway platforms. In recent weeks, though, commuters on my train have been soothed by the strains of Stravinsky (courtesy of a blind violinist). No one can call New Yorkers dull.
The occasional underground entertainment notwithstanding, being part of America’s editorial team, and having such an intellectually stimulating group with whom to work, is the best reason for returning to mass transit. Apart from the expected proofreading (which, though sometimes demanding, can also turn into an "Eye Spy" contest in house), editing assignments and weekly editorial meetings, there is the matter of booksboth those for review in the magazine and titles selected for the Catholic Book Club, which this office oversees in concert with the editors.
I think having spent a full year now at America qualifies me to give you the real scoop about working here. If not, please at least indulge me on my first anniversary. Presuming there is some interest among our readers for "lists"the best and worst - I offer below a sampling of each. I’ve deliberately not numbered the lists, because their ranking changes from day to day. Anyway, here goes:
not being given enough magazine space for book reviews
old, very old building
cold, very cold building
not enough time to eat
the All Soul’s Day FLOOD (but that’s another column)
being reminded I have a New York accent
not being given enough space for book reviews (again)
the wit and wisdom of some wonderful Jesuits (I do know where my bread is buttered)
getting free copies of Dillard, Updike, Hampl, Wills, Hansen, Woodward, Szulc, Martyand that’s not even for starters
learning something new each day (my lifelong hobby)
advising young Jesuit book authors (just guess)
being able to laugh and be me
seeing erstwhile curmudgeons doing the same
receiving generous support
having fish in the lobby to talk to on a bad day
outstanding, overstocked reading/resource rooms
the wit and wisdom of those Jesuits (yes, again)
Now that I step back, I can see clearly how the scale is tipping. I’d say overall it’s been a good yeara very good year indeed.