“Why Am I in the English Department?”

You recognize the allusion, of course. Hint: Mark Harris.

The question of the day, to be more specific, is why WAS I in the English Department? What on earth would possess any sane human being with a sliver of a normal sense of self-preservation to get a FREAKING Ph.D IN ENGLISH????????  What part of “you will never be able to get a decent job that will not leave you tearing your hair” can such a person fail to understand?

Today I engaged eleven years of advanced university education for EIGHT HOURS, trying to untangle the formatting mess left by yet another MS Wyrd crash and then doing things like searching “[any digit] + blank space + a” trying to find every reference to a time of day in 272 single-spaced pages so as to regularize format for each one, roughly according to Chicago style. With curlicues to make allowances for the author.

[Why would I do such a wacko thing? Because AU has written times of day as N a.m., N am, N AM, N:nn a.m., N:nn am, and NN AM. And so on. These all need to be regularized, made to follow the same style.]

So, here’s how this came down:

Last night around 11 p.m., I stumble away from the computer.

This morning around 8:30, I come back to the project. When I turn on the computer, I find a message: Word had to shut down.


This is a constant thing with MS Wyrd: for no good reason that anyone, human or silicon, can figure out, Word will crash. Out of the effing blue.

But this is something new, or so it seems: the program has gone down after I clicked Open-Apple > Sleep.

Fortunately, only three files were open at the time of the crash, one of them very short. Two are easy to restore.

Then we have 272 pages of client disquisition.

He is an articulate client who pays handsomely. And on time. An interesting man. The sort of client for whom one pines to do well.

The restored back-up file comes up and seems not to have lost much data (shouldn’t have: I saved before putting the computer to sleep).

No. It hasn’t lost data. Au contraire. It’s ADDED data.

Every. single. paragraph has been reformatted: “Not superscript/subscript,” proudly advertised in Word Track Changes.


Not a single footnote number was ever changed (on my part) from superscript to anything else. And nary a subscript character appears among a single word filling those 272 pages.

These changes are all intertwined with hundreds of edits — I’ve already read 100 pages, and every page has changes on it: at least a few and usually quite a few.

The only way to get rid of the phantom changes is to click “Accept.” If you reject the change, then it converts the copy to superscript!

There seems to be no way to search “superscript” or “superscript/subscript.” The list of edits doesn’t come up.

And — inconsistently, with no rhyme nor reason — in some paragraphs if I highlight the graf and click “accept all,” Wyrd keeps the tracked edits in place. But in some, it accepts all edits. That won’t do, because Client needs to see the changes I’ve made.

On average, each page has about ten of these “Not superscript/subscript” commands.

No joke: that means something like TWO THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED AND TWENTY spurious tracked changes to delete!

Some beach!

Shortly I figure out that I can go from the end of the file toward the last edited page and click “accept all” over batches of paragraphs. This isn’t very satisfactory, because I’ve done a number of global searches and replaces, and I really don’t want to lose those. So even though some of these “accept” commands work to get rid of the “not superscript/subscript” things, I have to watch carefully and Ctrl-Z to undo and manually fix each erroneously accepted “not superscript/subscript” command, ONE at a painstaking, mind-numbing, hair-tearing TIME.

This only partly lengthy procedure leaves about 100 fully edited pages to go through, ONE painstaking, mind-numbing, hair-tearing, goddamn infuriating command at a TIME.

Along about three in the afternoon, I find  myself revisiting the question of whether I should shut down the editorial business.

I mean, why am I doing this?

If I wanted to be a typist, I’d hire out as a virtual assistant. Oh, hell. If I hired out as a virtual assistant, I’d make a helluva lot more than I earn as a high-test editor, because there’s one helluva lot more demand for virtual assistants. Some woman at the last meeting of the West Valley Writers group I attended dasted to ask me if I’d type her manuscript.


If I charged enough by the page, I’d make almost as much as I make editing content.

I can’t charge the client for work created because my computer crashed. So today I’ve spent a good six hours working for free.

Do I hate reading freshman comp drivel more than this?

I hate reading freshman comp drivel a lot.

Quite a lot.

But more than this?

Possibly not.

If I took on two extra adjunct courses from the Great Desert University, which pays a Ph.D. almost a grand more than the junior colleges do, I’d earn as much per year as the S-corp earns from my editorial efforts. Actually, all told I’d earn about $3,000 more than that.

It would be miserable, of course. I’d have to hold out for face-to-face sections, which I truly loathe. GDU has lifted all caps from online sections, meaning you can end up with 120 students or more in a writing-intensive course. How on earth would you ever handle any such thing? You couldn’t assess papers. You couldn’t even make the faintest pass at trying to teach. All you could do is rubber-stamp.

Ethically, there’s a limit.

But maybe there’s a limit to this other stuff, too.

Teaching, as miserably paid as it is, provides the only steady, predictable income I have other than Social Security, which is nowhere near enough to live on. The junior-college courses plus the Social Security just about cover most of my expenses, except for property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and car insurance. If I drew down only enough to cover those latter gouges, I’d be OK. One or two more courses, paid at university rates, could mean that I wouldn’t have to use retirement savings at all. Not as long as I could mount a course on a CMS.

So. Why am I doing this?

Why am I not in the English Department?

9 thoughts on ““Why Am I in the English Department?””

  1. Computer glitches drive me crazy. I have learned to save every time I pause while working, just in case.

    I’m an engineer and make a decent salary but I don’t love the work that I do. Hopefully, there are some parts of your job that you really enjoy.

    I think the extra time you have put into “learning your craft” really shows. Like I’ve said before, I enjoy reading your blog and think your talent as a writer shows.

    I like reading your blog for a couple reasons. 1) I’ve been interested in personal finance blogs for years although I think they tend to repeat a lot of the same material so I am reading less of them but I like to hear about how a person can make a living as a writer. 2) I hope to try and write a novel someday and I like to hear about industry. I’ve been thinking about taking a course to improve me skills (like I said, I’m an engineer so there is probably a lot of room for improvement), but I bet I could learn a lot by hiring a good editor also. I’m a long way away from that point right now but I like to think about it.

  2. You should try Carbonite for backing up files like these. I have it set to monitor specific folders and files and back-up at pre-set, or manual, intervals. I think I pay $60/year and it is completely non-intrusive…even on my old laptop…as long as you select small files. $60 is not too much for a year’s worth and you have no idea how much time it will save you in times like these.

    Like Virginia, I am also an engineer. Seems like a lot of us don’t enjoy doing what we do.

    Merry Christmas!

    • True. I really should sign up for Carbonite. Problem is, I’m just all tuckered out when it comes to yet another website to keep track of: to figure out how to use, to invent a username and password, to keep track of the password — f’rhevinsake I’ve already got EIGHT SINGLE-SPACED PAGES of passwords typed in an inscrutable code that even I have to hassle with to decipher.

      You know, you reach a point in life where you’ve had it with the nuisance learning curve. It’s one thing to spend time filling your mind with and mastering new things that have meaning — that have some sort of larger significance. But to clutter your mind and your time with MORE passwords and MORE websites? There’s a limit.

      Actually, if I would do this work on the iMac, it would back up automatically to Time Machine. But my spine has decided it doesn’t like sitting in a desk chair, and so in order to avoid truly excruciating pain, I pretty much have to work on the MacBook in a rocking chair. All this stuff is backing up to DropBox, though, which isn’t as perfectly rote as Carbonite, but which contains all the current projects.

      The hard drives on the two machines hold what one might call the archives — stuff I no longer work on currently. Both get backed up to flash drives that, when not actively engaged in back-up, are kept unplugged from either machine in hopes of protecting data from malware. And I also back up all of DropBox to another flash drive, which also is unplugged from the machine once the back-up is completed.

      So really when these Wyrd crashes occur, only a small amount of data is affected — in whatever file I happen to be working on. But it’s still annoying: the work I do is so tedious, I crabbily resent having to re-do any of it.

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