There was a seven month window in 2015 where I dedicated a bunch of my volunteer peer advocacy hours to helping out on the NAMI Albuquerque board. It was best of times, and it was the best of times. See how chipper and chock full o’ golden sunbeams I am?
Jim Ogle, the then president of our crew, was a tireless champion for behavioral health legislation designed to help peers and their families and friends. He’s the dude who brought me on to the NAMI Albuquerque board. Jim rocks.
Our first project together was the Community Engagement Team, which I will talk about at another time. Always with the “another time” rhetoric. Look, I’ve got a few decades of bipolar experiences tucked away inside of my Bag o’ Wisdom and the anecdotes aren’t going nowhere. Patience, Grasshopper. My Kung Fu is stronger than yours.
Tireless. Jim was tireless. He still is tireless. He’s a committee chair for legislation at NAMI New Mexico nowadays. Tireless. Without tires. Like the cliche redneck tireless truck on cinder blocks on the weedy front lawn where the ratio of weed to lawn definitely favors the weeds. Tireless. I hate myself for starting this article with a pun. Puns suck.
Apparently, I love to write. Steve’s Thoughtcrimes has been live again for about 12 minutes now and I’ve pumped out a good half dozen articles already, each rivaling the collected works of Charles Dickens in length and content, only people will enjoy reading my blog. Dickens also sucks because he relies heavily upon puns. “There’s more of gravy than the grave about you…” Idiot. Lazy writer and an idiot. Puns. Sucky sucky puns.
Back on target: During my tenure on the NAMI Albuquerque board, I submitted three or four articles for the recently-in-limbo NAMI Challenger, our affiliate’s physical newsletter that is in transition to becoming a reality again from what I’m told. The articles I submitted are good articles, with topics like the Community Engagement Team (mentioned earlier), Minds Interrupted (mentioned now), and NAMI’s Peer To Peer (also mentioned now).
I am proud my articles were chosen for publication. I am thrilled with how many folks still approach me at behavioral health shindigs to talk about what I wrote. It’s cool beans, the coolest of beans. However, here comes the “however.”
However, the editorial quality control was somewhere between indifferent to ineffective. Shall I explain? Let me do so through the magic of “The Letter to the Editor” I never got around to sending.
To be fair (because I am always the epitome of tolerance and justice), the editorial staff was in great flux during my tenure, and Felicia (our treasurer) was the only one on the board doing anything to keep all the balls in the air and all the plates spinning on sticks without any of it crashing to the ground. Sigh. Tired metaphors. The point is Felicia was doing tons of work and that there was no oversight of our Challenger editor is not her doing.
Okay, let’s get to my Letter to the NAMI Albuquerque Challenger Editor.
NAMI Albuquerque Challenger editor:
As an editor, you are tasked with handling words. That’s the distilled job description. Editors handle words.
I’ve been an editor many times through the years. Looking back, my first editorial position was stealing like/love letters from my 3rd grade classmates, spicing them up a bit (as a 3rd grader, “spicing it up” was akin to “and I want to kiss you on the mouth with our eyes closed”), and then giving them to the intended recipients. Granted, this was more “being a jerk” than “being an editor”, but how appropriate the unintended parallel between “jerk” and “editor” I made in third grade to how “adult editors” behave?
Let me give you an example from my own days as an editor of our college newsletter.
We had a dude named Chris Becker who was getting ready to defend his PhD dissertation, and he asked me if I could include his abstract in our school newsletter so he had something in print with the college’s name on it to send to his mom and dad. Sure thing! Chris and I played volleyball together, and he was a fellow geology student, so you bet, Chris, I’m thrilled to post your abstract to the newsletter.
As many editors are keenly aware, there are a finite number of words you can cram into the pages of a physical publication. Sometimes, snipping even a few letters here and there (not even whole words) can free up real estate on one page so words will fit on the next page. Handling words. I was handling words.
Part of Chris’ abstract dealt with iron oxidation and iron reduction in sedimentary lithologies, with localized iron reduction spots in rocks being the result of carbonaceous biotic material like plants and dinosaur poop.
There are two types of iron:
Fe+2 – Oxidizing iron – Ferric
Fe+3 – Reduction iron – Ferrous
Now, “iron is iron”, right? How can the type of iron make a difference, and more importantly, how can using “ferric” and “ferrous” make a difference? I mean, other than ferric iron carries oxygen to the myriad of cells in your body on its way from the heart (it’s red, and it’s ferric) and on the way back to the heart the blood is without oxygen and won’t counterproductively strip oxygen away from the cells during this return journey (it’s blue, and it’s ferrous), and that our ability to live is predicated on nature providing us ferric and ferrous iron, about the only real, important difference is “ferrous” is one letter longer than “ferric”. And since Chris’ abstract inefficiently uses “ferrous” four times, heck, total bonus. I can free up four letters for use elsewhere making the edit from “ferrous” to “ferric.”
I’m a brilliant editor! Four letters! Enough for a four letter word in another article! “Pump.” “Cats.” “Full.” “of.” “Lead.” All four letter words. Sorry, I took liberty with “of” which is not a four letter word. No matter. I’m editor!
The newsletter came out. I proudly delivered a copy to Chris myself. He read the article. He turned red (a ferric emotional reaction, perhaps?). Chris had many four letter words for me. So many. So so so many.
For scientific accuracy, the difference between “ferric” and “ferrous” is like the difference between “man parts” and “woman parts” when choosing a romantic partner. It matters. It’s not just an edit of a few letters here and there. It’s completely changing the purpose and credibility of the author’s intent.
Chris is my friend, and I felt so horrible. I had to take him out and get him drunk that night on my nickel so he would slur his words and I could no longer decipher which four letter words he was using any more.
Where did I go wrong? Let’s see. I changed the words of the author without asking, although as editor it was my job to handle words efficiently and this fell under my purview. More crucially, though, I didn’t check with Chris after I changed these words.
This is the perfect example of editing without self-oversight, and I learned two very important lessons about being a responsible editor from this experience:
Had I followed these two rules of being a responsible editor, I wouldn’t have made such a huge blunder. And, I wouldn’t have had to use a good 500 characters in the next newsletter printing a retraction.
This ends the analogy and exposition segment of my letter. Let’s move to the issue I have with how you edited my article. Let’s move on to the point I’m making.
As a behavioral health peer advocate, I choose my words with great care and deliberate forethought. When I submit an article for publication, even though I’m exceptionally “wordy” and love things like nested prepositional phrases, I will all the same choose very specific words for very specific purposes to convey a very specific point to share a very specific message.
There is a huge difference between:
Since you seem unaware of how important of an advocacy talking point this is to me, and that I NEVER use “journey to recovery” in articles, public presentations, and behavioral health events, I’d like to educate you on this vital difference so you will not make the same error again with another peer’s article.
A “Journey to Recovery” implies that recovery is a destination, and if I work hard enough on myself I can reach recovery and be cured. To me, this is a ludicrous idea that does not speak to the reality of having a chronic condition like bipolar.
Conversely, my using “Recovery Journey” speaks to my managing the symptoms of bipolar. I do this through a proper medication regimen, exercise, diet, sleep schedule, playing my ukulele, tormenting my rabbits by shaving them and then petting them with steel wool (joke… I’m getting bored with writing but don’t want to take a breather), regular socialization, peer support groups, peer advocacy, and just keeping track of how my mood is doing.
Every day of my life for the rest of my life I am on this journey. Every day I’m in recovery. This is an important message I share with peers in my advocacy efforts. It is central to my advocacy.
It’s not an argument of semantics or “being touchy.” I am known and respected by our peer communities, and I am loud and obnoxious in my advocacy (some say “slash and burn” advocacy, although I prefer “If you people would stop and listen to me and my friends I wouldn’t have to drive my point home over and over and over” advocacy), and because of this I must be exceptionally responsible and aware of the message I present to my peers.
I am in a privileged position of being able to help guide my friends in their recovery journey through sharing my experiences in my own recovery journey. I speak regularly on exactly why I don’t use “journey to recovery” and insist on stating I am on my RECOVERY JOURNEY. Honestly. I’m a total, complete, and utter pain in the neck about this.
Do you know how I came to learn of your editorial error? A friend called me and said, “Steve, you didn’t write ‘journey to recovery’ in your Challenger article, did you? That doesn’t sound like you.”
This sentiment was echoed by quite a few more friends over the following week. Recovery journey, not journey to recovery. It is important to my message, it is important to my advocacy, and it is important to me as a peer with bipolar.
I have bipolar. I will always have bipolar. I will always have to manage the symptoms of bipolar. This is my recovery journey.
I need to be absolutely clear about this:
Had you sent me your incorrectly edited version of my article prior to publication, this error on your part would have never made it to print.
I’m a solutions kind of guy and will be presenting a proposal on how to professionally and responsibly manage our affiliate’s Challenger newsletter at our next board meeting. I welcome your input by inviting you to the NAMI Albuquerque board meeting.
Chair, NAMI Albuquerque Peer Action Team
President, DBSA Albuquerque
Ed. note: I know this letter was kind of saucy and bordering on condescending (and I can’t fib and say it wasn’t therapeutic to an extent… even though my calmer head prevailed and I didn’t send this letter), although I ask for you to consider that the editor made this “revision” by request of another NAMI Albuquerque board member who knew it’d bug me.
Ah, to be adults and in love/hate.