Today I started about 8:30 ayem and worked straight through until 6:30 p.m. without a break—well, with one break long enough to bolt down a piece of cheese slapped on some dry bread—typing the last stage of an index.
My RA had compiled about half the book’s index; I took the rest. It was possible for us to do this because the book is a collection of essays. I was careful to give her essays whose subject matter would not much overlap the pieces I kept for myself to work on. Late last night, she e-mailed me her list of subject headings and subheadings (unformatted). I was just finishing the job of plowing through and marking up my half of the page proofs, so today had to go through the proofs and compile my list, which I entered in the file she’d sent me. Then I had to alphabetize the headings; format each entry with indented subheads; alphabetize the subheads; format the entire 28-page document properly; proofread.
The word-processing alone occupied ten hours. Ten of the most mind-numbing hours you can imagine.
Two things on this earthly plane, and only two things, are more boring than compiling an index: formatting it and proofreading it.
It’s not that writing an index is especially difficult. Really: in principle it’s pretty simple. But I do have to say that reading scholarly copy for a fourth time, after having gone through each article at least three times during the editing process, is less than a thrill a minute. One of these articles is 148 typeset pages long, and it requires the indexer to ponder a minute discussion of homage and castle-guard among provincial aristocrats in 13th-century France, brought to you in English, French, and Latin. Subject matter is arcane, language is demanding, and the indexer has to know what she’s doing and stay awake to do it.
When reading freshman comp papers begins to look good, you know you’re in trouble.
This is not the first time I’ve felt my job is excruciatingly boring. Far from it. Indeed, when I first noticed the thought that entered my mind as the car rolled onto the freeway, outward-bound, was “I can’t wait to get home,” it occurred to me to wonder why I found myself anxious to leave the office while I was still 22 miles away from the office. Didn’t take long to figure it out: bored.
I’ve been so bored, I could barely stand to drive out to that place. So bored I have seriously wondered if I could make a living stringing beads and selling the jewelry at craft fairs and on Etsy.com. So bored I’ve considered buying a run-down cold-water shack on the desert and becoming an anchorite.
Understand, the journal that publishes arcane studies of medieval and Renaissance history is the most interesting and best written of our client publications! Indeed, it’s a very fine journal, featuring top-flight scholarship by highly professional, often senior scholars. This is a claim we cannot make about all our client journals. The math journal is pretty good, except of course that none of us can understand a thing the mathematicians are saying. And any day, thank you, I’d rather read about medieval cartularies than contemplate the maunderings of radical feminists indulging in cultural studies, especially when they turn their criticism to the white male hegemony of the hard sciences, a subject of which few if any of them have the vaguest comprehension. On the other hand, one has to say the radical feminists do not bore: they annoy. Especially when they’re in prima donna mode, which, given the fact that professionalism is apparently part of the white male hegemony, most of them are, most of the time.
Along about 5:00 I was reduced to tears when, asked to do a replace-all on a selection, my computer reformatted the entire document…and then would not undo!
I’d made it to the Rs. The stuff before the Rs was more or less OK, although it would require close reading and some fixing. But everything after the Rs was scrambled eggs. The choices were to crash out of the file and revert to an older saved version, thereby throwing out about two hours’ worth of dreary, mind-numbing, ditzy, tedious, dry, eyeball-parching work, or to unscramble the eggs. I chose unscrambling.
Finally finished and shot the file back to my RA for her proofreading (lucky she!), just in time to race out the door to choir practice.
This is the last significant job that remains to me to do for the Great Desert University. My beloved employer owes me something in excess of 350 hours of accumulated vacation time, but it will pay for only 176 of those hours. So, the minute this journal goes to the printer—which it should do by Thanksgiving, with any luck at all—I am gone. Out. Exit stage left, never to return.
And never, ever to write another index again.