Right out of college I worked at a law firm in Minneapolis, entering the medical records of asbestos plaintiffs into a computer. It was a hell of a way to save up money for foreign adventures.* Back home from said foreign adventures a couple of years later, I worked for a small-town lawyer and also as an administrative assistant for a chemical engineering professor at MIT. Other secretarial jobs came and, even though they went, I continued to spend plenty of time as a teacher, an academic, and a writer doing that awkward sterile mating dance with photocopiers. Some were sleek. Others were balky as old chainsaws. That humans should mingle with photocopiers at all in the time of cut-and-paste and drag-and-drop is curious. But it gives teaching a special drama if your fingers are deep in the copier’s inscrutable trays ten minutes before class. And there’s nothing else like photocopying all 300 or so pages of one’s copyedited and factchecked manuscript before sending it back to the publisher, as I did today, to bring rushing back all the loathsome time I spent photocopying someone else’s stuff. Who cares that I’m photocopying? Nobody. Yet I’m copying my first book, and I knew that acutely. That gap was delicious. I don’t know that I ever wished for or even imagined such a moment, but I’m so very glad to be having it.
*For one thing my plans to go to Asia were almost derailed when I was recommended for a job in Alaska to work on Exxon Valdez cases for local plaintiffs. After fantasizing about the frigid north for a while, I didn’t get the job. I also sat in a cube across from the office from a tall, lean, blonde, beautiful woman lawyer who might done some law but more likely was a secret weapon employed to rain distraction against the opposition. Also distracting legal secretaries in the cubes.