Amanda's View: Others’ eyes
By Amanda Knox
I may be the oldest of all my siblings and cousins, but it’s not super often that I get to whip out my big-sister powers. Deanna’s just way better at it. She knows how to do hair and makeup, likes to go shopping at the mall, is good at keeping secrets, and isn’t insufferably analytical about everything, especially when you just want to be heard. Me, well…I’m good at helping out with homework assignments.
Just this past week I helped my cousin Ryan clean up the rough draft of his college application essay. It’s an assignment I particularly love to help out with, because I learn a lot about my younger relatives through their writing, and because the act of editing feels loving to me. Like good listening, editing involves reading what’s actually written on the page, understanding what was intended, and proposing solutions for closing the gap. It’s so hard to do that work for your own writing, so easy to second guess yourself, and second guess your second guesses. And many people, myself included, start writing without actually knowing what we want to say! It’s a relief when you can rely on someone to read your work, and say, “Oh, your thesis is X, Y, and Z. How about you cut out that tangent there, clarify your wording here, and reorder your evidence so it presents the causal relationship you’re trying to suggest?” Or even, “Huh. I can’t really get a read on your tone. Were you trying to sound so critical?”
I know, because my own work really suffers without others’ eyes. Just take my last column, about visiting the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire. My intention was to convey my happy immersion in a place that was impressive for its craft, occasionally imperfect in its artifice, and inspiringly authentic in its spirit. I wanted to describe the curious, functional mashup of fantasy, history, and modernity. I wanted to celebrate the serious silliness it takes for grown-ups to play pretend together, no matter the cost, or the insane heat. I typed it up, sent it in, and didn’t look back.
At least, I didn’t look back until a friend of mine read the published column and asked me whether I had enjoyed the faire or not. “Of course I did!” I exclaimed, inwardly panicking. I brought up the column, read it through again, and cringed. I still saw what I had intended to convey, but I also saw how one could read what I had written as an indictment against the faire for being only, and these were my own words, “sort of renaissance-y.” A somewhat random anecdote about being called “hun” by the nice crepe-stand-girl and how it made me think about the curious malleability of the English language came across as kind of bitchy. And I certainly didn’t do the Cirque du Sewer justice for how heartwarming the show was precisely because the animals were too adorably hot and sleepy to perform.
Mea culpa, my friends. I admit I still need others’ eyes, my own big-sister-figures looking over my shoulder, and a little (or lot of) editing love to say what I mean. In the meantime, thanks for understanding.