This month Sam Grafton’s family will mark his 30th birthday. Three years have passed since he left us.
Three years. That’s such a strange thing to wrap my head around. In some ways it was just yesterday when the call came, and in other ways it’s been an eternity since his family’s world was shattered into billions of bright, sharp points of heartbreak.
In some ways it was just last week that he was a baby rocked in the arms of a friend at the edge of the river.
It was just yesterday that he sat on his mom’s lap and turned his face from me when I was trying to practice doing an evaluation on a toddler.
It was just a few minutes ago when my husband took him in a raft down the Wenatchee River. It was just an hour ago that he and I talked about the test for his driver’s license.
How does life go by so fast? Everyone tells you to treasure the time you have, but we of course don’t. We get caught up in day-to-day work and chores and responsibilities. We get impatient and frustrated and irritable…and then the time is gone. And then the person is gone.
It takes conscious effort to slow down and remember to value those around us. And in the meantime, the whirlwind of time flies by.
Compared to life on this planet, that’s not even a miniscule particle.
Compared to being without someone, it’s an eternity.
1,095 days without Sam in our lives. 26,280 hours since all those tiny candle flames lit up the bridge over the river so his spirit could find his way home in the mountain dark.
I wish I could shape time for those I love, those he left behind. Speed it up or slow it down, or simply ease its passage. But like the river that took Sam, time keeps just flowing around us and we are powerless in its current.
For his mother, who swims those currents, I hope that river holds you in its flow and that you find beauty in its depths and healing in its passage.
Wherever you are, Sam, it’s the time we mark your birth, your arrival into our lives. No matter how much time passes, we are grateful for the years the universe granted us, and I’m sorry we took that time for granted.
I wanted to hug you, Sam, that last day I saw you, but I was afraid of embarrassing you in front of your friends. I will always regret that decision, no matter how much time passes.
A family from another country moved to a city where I work and the husband asked if he could bring us a traditional meal. He said it was common in his country when you moved to bring food to your neighbors as a way to become part of the new community and new culture.
When I was a kid way back in the 1960s it was the opposite. When someone new moved into your neighborhood, you took food to the new family as a way to welcome them. It was a common thing to make a casserole or bake a pie and go to the stranger’s house and introduce your family.
Does that still happen? I’m trying to remember when wanting to welcome someone new turned into fear of going to a stranger’s door.
Maybe in the 1970s when razor blades started appearing in Halloween candy. That was around the time kids stopped running freely and unchaperoned through their neighborhoods knocking on a stranger’s door.
Maybe when children started disappearing more frequently. That was around the time kids couldn’t stay out playing on their own until the streetlights came on to remind you to run home for dinner.
I’m sure there are a lot of places where people still take a pie to a new neighbor but I’m willing to bet that happens in rural areas. I could be wrong. Does it happen in cities when a new tenant moves into an apartment building? I like to think it does; that there are people still out there not afraid.
Yet at the same time, there are reasons to be, maybe not afraid, but certainly cautious.
When my son was little everyone in our small community knew where the kids belonged and where they were supposed to be. He could run wild with his friends because it was safe and luckily local kids can still do that. Would I have let him run around in the city? No. Though I admit it’s because I don’t know cities. Maybe there are neighborhoods where kids are safe to stay out until moths begin circling street lights.
Is it more common now to peer out behind curtains when a new person moves into the neighborhood? I hope not.
It makes me wonder how many people know the names of their neighbors. In the little community where I live I know the names of all my neighbors. I’m pretty familiar with their schedules. I wander across the street to share books or seedlings or invitations to dinner.
Yet when someone new moves in it never crosses my mind to take them food. We’ll meet eventually in our comings and goings.
I’m looking forward to trying traditional food from this new family’s country. And I think I need to return the gesture, not necessarily to resurrect a tradition but to return, briefly, to a time when we weren’t afraid of the stranger behind the door.
Before COVID-19 changed all our lives, I facilitated a writer’s group and one of the members was Riley Pettyjohn. Besides writing, she was also taking an editing course and I’m pleased to introduce everyone to our newest certified editor.
Tell me a bit about the process you went through to become an editor.
At first, I wasn’t really sure how to go about getting into editing and publishing as a profession. While I was reading up on some other editors’ beginnings, I found the Editing Certificate course that the UW Professional & Continuing Education offers. So, I enrolled in November of 2019 and received my certificate early this December. The course was great—not only for editors, but writers, too! There are three consecutive classes you take in order to complete the program, each one focusing on a specific type of editing. The panel of instructors are all very knowledgeable and helpful in their editing specialties. One instructor, Ingrid Emerick, is a co-founder and CEO of a small self-publishing company in Seattle called Girl Friday Productions (GFP). She encouraged me to apply for their internship program. I was an Editorial Intern with GFP for about four months. Through the internship I got some real-world experience with the tasks of editors and was able to meet with several people from the various departments at GFP. It was the advice from my instructors in the editing course and the people of GFP that helped me to formulate my next steps as a new editor. I also just recently joined the Northwest Editors Guild and am a freelance editor there, but I’m still building my career.
How did COVID-19 impact you during this process?
I was extremely lucky that I had already opted for the online and self-paced version of the editing course back in 2019, so my schooling schedule was completely unaffected by COVID. But, sadly, my internship with GFP would have been in person had it not been for COVID. So, I missed out on that part of the experience. Luckily, I was able to use Zoom for meetings, and all my tasks were able to be done over the internet. I may have met even more people this way than I would have in person since some of the meetings I had were with people who worked out of state. So, there’s a silver lining to everything.
You are also a writer. How do you incorporate your editing skills into writing?
I think all this new knowledge of the editing process makes me look at writing differently than I did before; I have a more technical perspective. I think it’s helped make my writing more concise and easier to read when I look over it again. But my familiarity with The Chicago Manual of Style has sort of slowed my writing pace because I put more thought into the punctuation I’m using and the different rules I choose to follow as I write.
Do you find yourself editing as you write?
I do edit as I write. I try not to do it too much so that the thoughts can flow, then go back and clean it up. But I can get so caught up with trying to make everything perfect the first time around. I find myself reading over a line I just wrote a billion times, asking myself if it looks right. Meanwhile, my train of thought has been totally derailed. I even find myself editing my shopping lists. So, it’s a balance that I’m working on finding.
What do you think is the most important thing in a relationship between a writer and an editor, besides the obvious need for trust?
I think being flexible and open is really important on both sides, especially if an editor is working directly with an author. If both parties are willing to have an open discussion about the project they’re working on—to really listen and work together—everything will run pretty smoothly.
There are a lot of editors who set specific standards, such as only Christian, certain genres, non-fiction, no poetry, etc. Do you anticipate doing something similar, and why, or why not?
Because I’m so new at it, I don’t really have specific things I won’t do yet. I’d like to try my hand at a lot of things, to keep my range broad and stay challenged. That said, my favorite things to work on so far have been novels, particularly fiction. I just love to be a part of bringing a story to life. And on the opposite end, while I enjoy reading it, I don’t see myself editing a lot of poetry.
On a similar note, is there a specific genre or type of writing that you find harder to edit than others?
I do find poetry to be hard for me. There are just so many more artistic aspects that need to be considered, and I’m unfamiliar with the technical styles involved. I also find extremely technical or scientific academic papers and textbook materials to be more challenging.
When did you first realize you were a storyteller?
I began writing as soon as I learned how; I don’t even remember the first time. I used to spend hours at my parents’ computer or with a notebook, typing or scribbling fairy stories. I was a chronic daydreamer—still am. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always “A writer.”
How does being a writer impact the editor side of you?
I think my writer side ofttimes overpowers my editor side which allows me to be a little more empathetic to the writer as I read their work. But it can also be a struggle when I keep asking myself “Should I query this? What if it was an artistic choice? Who am I to question or change someone else’s writing?” And I have to remind myself that it’s just a suggestion and a writer may love or hate it, but it’s better to query than not when working as an editor.
If someone wants to hire you as an editor, where will they find you?