Proofreading & Infinite Patience

Several years ago, I was contacted by an old university acquaintance, panicked and asking for a favour … which she then followed up by asking for another.

You can read the full account here, then over here. But in case you don’t have time to read my anecdote in its entirety, the Coles Notes version is as follows:

Acquaintance asks me proof-read her university degree thesis days before submission, offering to pay. I pull nearly an all-nighter to do so.

Acquaintance pays me with money and dessert … then asks if I could proof-read this manuscript she just happened to write while working and finishing her second university degree — again, for pay.

I hem, haw, say yes … but don’t actually receive the manuscript for a year.

I read it (not that great) and finish proof-reading it three months later. I try emailing and calling her to make arrangements to return her manuscript to her.

What I get in return is radio silence. For 19 months.

Because Acquaintance never responds to my emails, her manuscript takes up room on my side-table, collecting dust.

A person with far less tolerance probably would’ve cut her losses and tossed that stack of paper in the recycling bin. But, for some reason, I have this (perhaps unreasonable) sense of responsibility for looking after another person’s intellectual property – no matter how lousy.

Here’s the rest of the story, which I never got around to posting:

Several days after writing a post (see link above) asking writer friends for advice on what to do with the manuscript, she finally emails me with a message that essentially begins, “Thanks for emailing me. You’re very persistent … ”

Which is (1) some bullshit, and (2) not getting me any closer to returning  her stack of crap.

Three days after that post – I’m resigning myself to the fact she’s ghosted and not coming back for her work – my dad has a massive heart attack (on Valentine’s Day, no less) and dies four days later.

Now that our family has a stressful four days to arrange my dad’s funeral, I send her one more email — conveying that I’m out of time to spend, I no longer care about the pay, and I’m moving in two months, so send a mailing address.

Hours later, I get an email.

We meet in person, she pays me for the work (and perhaps a bit extra? I don’t remember), we exchange words (apparently she was busy with work and settling the affairs of her own late father, who died about a year and a half before mine), and we part ways.

Later that evening, I log onto Facebook and defriend her.

I don’t share this story to generate pity (the fact that death finally ended this ridiculous episode was truly bizarre) but as an anecdote that’s served a dual purpose:

(1) It reminds me what NOT to do, should I ever end up writing my own manuscript, and decide to turn to my friends for their skills, sharp editing eyes and – most importantly – their precious, precious time: don’t treat it like crap.

(2) It’s actually lodged a possible idea for a short story in my brain … we’ll see if I can actually flesh out something remotely plausible.

It’s a lesson learned. It provided a silver lining.

But if I can help it, I’ll never deal with that woman again.


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