Quiet! There’s an Editor at Work …

by Karen Kemlo

Published at 2014-06-11

The Library
One of my first jobs was working in a library in downtown Toronto. Every morning after riding the packed subway then dodging pedestrians and honking cars, I slipped through the great doors and entered a world of peace … and quiet. Outside, the furious city roared on, while I found refuge in a soaring atrium that rose up seven floors. Carpet hugged the stairs from top to bottom, while silent elevators bobbed up and down like bubbles on a thermometer. People spoke in hushed tones amid the hanging plants and dusty books. It was like being under a huge bell jar.
In the hushed backroom cubicles where we toiled, my co-workers were often so quiet that I sometimes wondered if they were asleep. They weren’t. They were working diligently, hunched over their desks, and concentrating on the tasks at hand.
The Television Studio
A few years later everything changed when I got a job in television, at a large network where everyone worked in a huge, open concept space. Quiet? Sometimes it felt like I was sitting in the middle of the 401, at rush hour. The only people who had privacy were the executives who sealed themselves inside aquarium-like offices with glass walls. The “minions” or “cogs” were squeezed into tiny cubicles, arranged in neat rows. Or else we sat at tables that fit into circular “pods.”
The openness made for duelling conversations that sometimes rose to shouting volume by midday. “Too much information” was also the order of the day, every day. I tried moving desks, but then found myself trapped beside a woman who spent months planning her destination wedding. Every morning while I sipped my coffee and leaned into my computer, she verbally abused wedding planners, visa officials, and her fiancé.
At 10:00 the young moms arrived and spent the next hour comparing notes on their blossoming offspring, the first steps, the endless photos and — wait for it — the baby cams! I was “gobsmacked” the first time I saw them gathered around a smartphone to watch a baby in live, real working time! Forget privacy, what about productivity?
The only solution was noise-cancelling headphones. I looked like I was ready to bring in 747s to their perspective gates, but it worked. At least for a while, until my co-workers complained that I was being “stuck up.” At least I got some work done when I wore them.
The only thing that caused my co-workers to stop in mid-sentence — and in some cases flee the area — was whenever I did a phone interview for the crime show I worked on. I’d ask a homicide detective or a forensic expert to “tell me the difference between blood spatter and blood drops,” or “how many times was the victim stabbed again?” It worked like a charm every time. A hushed silence would descend over the workplace — for at least an hour.
The Editors’ Office
Now that I’m studying to be an editor and interning at The Editing Company, I’ve finally found a calm place to work again. It’s not a vast space like the library, but a small office. Yet there’s a deep hush here, too; one that invites deep concentration, focus, and attention to detail. It’s so quiet, that the editors can actually work.