A permanent reminder that less is more

For several years, I enjoyed a routine that involved receiving a book in the mail every month or two, doggedly chewing through it whether or not I loved it, and producing 700 words about it that I hoped would please my editor (someone I consider a good and wise friend). It was a satisfying amuse-bouche in a daily routine that involves lots of projects but not much creativity.

This is my first ink. I got it after work one evening in September, an early birthday present to myself. It has many great qualities. Among them, a certain timeless beauty and subtle humor. Also, it will make it easier for the authorities to identify the body.

This is my first ink. I got it after work one evening in September, an early birthday present to myself. It has many great qualities—among them, a certain timeless beauty and subtle humor. Also, it will make it a lot easier for the authorities to identify the body.

Last spring, however, my editor retired and the freelance work dried up.

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. My plate is full. But it’s, like, Thanksgiving-dinner full. Who wants Thanksgiving dinner year-round?

(Actually, don’t answer that.)

I’m not bored—just boring. Without a creative outlet, I feel like the average D.C. office drone, speed-walking down K Street in the regulation Banana Republic and battered dress flats and wolfing down lunch out of stained Tupperware between conference calls.

Washington, D.C., is the nerve center of U.S. government, but it is the Bermuda Triangle of individuality.

This town isn’t going to steal my soul, I decided.

So I got a tattoo.

I’ve long had an idea for a fairly elaborate tattoo that wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me. However, without even a single piercing, I thought a big statement might be a little too big.

Last summer, my workaday balancing act inspired an idea for a starter tattoo. Simple but elegant. Playful but meaningful. Small but mighty.

“Stet” is an editing term. In past generations, it was most frequently used on printed proofs to indicate that the typesetter should ignore a specific handwritten notation that the editor erroneously made. The word has Latin roots and translates roughly to “Let it stand.”

Copy editors are often viewed as rigid, linear thinkers. We don’t help our case when we say things like:

“Well, that doesn’t adhere to AP style.”

“‘Set his vision in motion’ is a bit of  a mixed metaphor, don’t you think?”

“The word ‘enablers’ could be viewed as pejorative. Please revise.”

“Stet” serves as evidence that we editors do, in fact, acknowledge gray areas. That sometimes we change our minds, or we don’t know the answer immediately, or what we saw wasn’t actually an error—or we misread it altogether.

When was the last time you used a four-letter word that carried so much weight?

(Actually, don’t answer that.)

On the surface, “stet” is no-nonsense, the brassy Brooklynite of the editing arsenal. “Leave it alone.” “Never mind.”

Dig deeper, though. “Stet” is about the ability to think twice and admit that we could be wrong. It’s about letting go of pettiness and arbitrary fiddling. It’s about minimalism and humility.

“Stet” is the embodiment of good editing. It’s also a pretty good way to live.

 

 

 

 

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