Sunflower Seeds.

Sunflower Seeds.

An editor modifies her practice

Eleanor was an editor, and a very good one too. She had to work at home during the pandemic, like everyone else. But she was constantly disturbed by a sound in her kitchen: a scuffling, a squeaking in one of the upper shelves. It was unnerving. How could mice have got in? Her flat was on the second floor. Could it be rats? Surely not. And she didn’t believe in poltergeists. She couldn’t decide what to do. Best to have a look.

She was not tall, so she had to drag out a little step-ladder. It wobbled rather as she opened the top cupboard. That was the one that contained the healthy foods which she felt she ought to eat, but seldom did: sunflower seeds (not as nice as the flowers), chia seeds, pumpkin seeds ripened from the harvest, milled oats, lentils. And that was the cupboard the noise came from.

She opened the door, and as it swung open, an avalanche of seeds poured out, clattering and shushing all over the floor. There on the top shelf was a very small woman, about 9” high. Her skin, her teeth, her hair, even her breasts were bright green.

Now Eleanor had heard of the Green Man: he was the harbinger of plenty. The Green Men she had seen had curling beards and luscious smiles. But this Green Woman was something else. Brushing the sunflower seeds from her hair, she clambered down onto the hitherto immaculate work-surface and confronted her, with her arms akimbo and her legs astride. She piped “Now see here, Eleanor! This has got to stop! You always said that the devil was in the detail. You brought your authors to heel nicely, that’s true, and made sure that the participles and the tenses matched. They even learned what a subjunctive was. After you had done with them, their references and punctuation were spot-on. But listen to me now. I am the Goddess of Misrule. I decree to you that you must let go, and allow free rein to the spirit of chaos.”

Eleanor did not like this at first, but then she thought how seductive the message was. Perhaps she might try to unravel things a little, and become a little relaxed and laisser-faire. Accordingly she did not reproach her authors for their lexicographical mistakes. She no longer demanded consistency. She no longer pounced on missing Oxford commas, or changed double into single quote-marks. Her authors did not see this as a sign that she was losing her grip; rather, they thought she was encouraging them to let rip. And the quality of the work she received began to change into something looser and freer, that almost vibrated on the page.

The circulation numbers of the journal went up dramatically, and it started getting even more adventurous submissions. Eleanor sat in her kitchen (she had now brought her laptop in there to work) and the Green Woman perched on a chair or on her lap, checking that enough slackness and fluidity was in evidence. And occasionally she’d give a nudge and say: “you see, doesn’t that feel nicer?” And Eleanor had to agree that it did.