In the world of professional writing, the editing process is devoid of emotion. It’s just business – so they tell us. One of the first lessons I learned as a professional writer was to dissociate myself from my writing and my editing. I still cared about what I was doing, of course. But typically, I wasn’t emotionally attached to what I produced. So, when my DIY family Christmas present became an editing project involving my grandfather’s poetry, I was surprised by the emotional connection I found in my editing while I put together an anthology of his work.
My grandfather passed away in March of 2014. A member of the US Navy during WWII, he was the captain of an LSM 335 at the age of 22. He became captain because they asked him what position he wanted to have aboard the repurposed WWI landing ship and he told them captain – so that’s where they put him. This was one of his favorite stories to tell his grandchildren to motivate them to reach for their goals. My grandfather was a world traveler and an avid writer. The writing was something that we shared and talked a lot about. He had a great memory and loved to recite poetry he had memorized in his youth. He was a stamp dealer and appraiser. He was a politician. He prided himself on never having worked a normal 9-5 job. He had 6 children and 11 grandchildren.
In December of 2014, my family traveled to Washington D.C. to witness the interment of my grandfather’s ashes at Arlington National Cemetery. This was a very sad moment, but also a very proud one. My grandfather would be so pleased to know that he was honored with a place at Arlington.
My grandfather and I were very close. I feel lucky that he lived until I was in my 30s. I grew up enough over the years to become a more circumspect human. I got to ask him numerous questions about his life and more that I never would have as a younger person. In the last few years of his life, I tried so hard to commit his answers to memory because I didn’t want to forget them.
Even now, I am sometimes brought to tears thinking of him. Every month, we would have a dinner date. I was to take him to a new place each time. It was our little game. I saw him much more frequently than this, of course. But this was our special time together. We would sit in his office and chat about things. He lived very close to my parents, so I saw him all the time. He took me Christmas shopping every year starting when I was three years old to buy presents for my mom, sister and dad. It was something I always looked forward to. And so much more.
One of the things my grandfather always wanted was to be published. And while I can’t give him a spot on the shelf at a bookstore, I decided after he died that I would collect all of the poems that he had written and shared with me and put them in an anthology. Last year felt too soon, so I didn’t do this. But this year for Christmas, I will be giving all of my family and extended family copies of this anthology.
I’ve never edited an anthology before. But I sat down with the 30 something poems and sorted them by subject and then organized from there. I went through and edited them, getting rid of extra spaces and other typos, and, while I was familiar with all of these poems from having read them multiple times over the years, I was surprised at what else I found. Sure I found poems about being on ships and in the military and others about family and even his own mortality. But truly, rereading those poems again was surprisingly emotional. I could hear him reading them aloud as he was prone to do sometimes when he wanted to share a new work with me. I remembered conversations we had about writing and about his life too. I remembered so many things that I didn’t even realize that I had hidden away in my brain.
Though the emotions I felt when reading his writing were unexpected, I didn’t cry. More than anything, I felt more closely connected to him than I had since he passed away nearly three years ago.
Thinking more about it, editing for someone is a really intimate and special thing, particularly when you are very close to the author; I expect that we lose this in the business world because we are writing in the voice of our employer or brand and not as ourselves and we likely don’t know our coworkers in this way. When I edit for my friend and fellow author J.R. Boles, I see so much of her in her writing; and even though we’ve known each other for at least a decade, I learn more about her as a person too each time I read a new novel and get to experience the many places her imagination goes.
As I mention above, this anthology was simply supposed to be a Christmas gift for my family so that they would have something special of my grandfather’s to keep. But it wound up being a lot more than I had anticipated. I am grateful for the experience even though I feel quite raw, and I hope some day that my own writing will serve as a window back to me for someone who misses me when I’m gone because, quite honestly at this moment, I can’t imagine a better gift than that.