There are books that I return to over and over again. They’re like literary sticky notes, reminding me every few years of things that I’m constantly at risk of forgetting. One of these books is Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, itself a repetition returning and returning and returning to Venice, viewing the city from a hundred different angles.

I returned to Invisible Cities while reading the last of the submissions to Paper Tape’s myth issue. I’m proud of everything we’ve published, but the work that was sent to us for this issue was truly exceptional, which meant that as the reading period ended, and I waded through what for us was an influx of stories and essays, I was especially wracked with guilt that Paper Tape isn’t a paying market or at least a print market that pays in copies.

Then the contracts from the writers whose work I accepted started to come back in, and each of the writers whose work I accepted thanked me, and even some of the writers whose work I didn’t accept thanked me.

Thank you for your feedback.
Thank you for your kind words.
Thank you for reading my work.

It got me wondering about what an editor really is. Are we rubber stamp machines, deciding who gets published and who doesn’t, who gets paid and who doesn’t get paid, gatekeepers, glorified bouncers? Or is there something more to what we do, something that matters more than the list of writers we’ve invited into our private clubs and how we entice them to dance with us?

While I was mulling over these questions, I stumbled on Amanda Palmer’s TED talk “The Art of Asking.” In the talk, she describes her first post-college job, posing as the Eight-Foot Bride, a living statue in Boston. While drivers flew past yelling, “Get a job,” she and her customers had their own exchange on the sidewalk, Amanda handing each one a flower to thank them for their patronage, her customers wordlessly thanking her for seeing them.

There is a perception that editing is about standing on a box giving out flowers, but really I think it’s the reverse. Editors are at our best not when we’re making pronouncements about what is and isn’t worth publishing but when we’re the people on the street who stop when someone offers us a flower and look up and praise.

Seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space. -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

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