Behind every good writer is a great editor. That’s why I am thrilled that editor extraordinaire Cassandra Greenwald joined our flock a couple of months ago, focusing her efforts on working with our guest bloggers and reviewers, as well as our future columnists (stay tuned for their brilliance when OHH soon expands to an online magazine). Cassandra — a passionate animal rights advocate and vegan — has been wowing me lately, as she moves toward starting an editing business that will focus on vegan-themed and -inspired content. This shift is a dream come true for her. Even though she has a successful career as a professional editor, it is animal rights that calls to her, and this chance to blend her passion with her skill and expertise is the very thing she has worked so hard to manifest. Cassandra agreed to share her story with us today, of how she went from a bored 9-to-5-er to a woman with a mission: to change the world one word at a time.
You Don’t Have to Be a Veterinarian to Help Animals
by Cassandra Greenwald
Remember those “what do you want to be when you grow up?” talks with friends and family? Like any kid, my answers fluctuated. Sometimes I picked ice cream truck driver. Other times, archaeologist. I also threw in veterinarian for good measure. My mom always said I could do whatever I wanted, as long as it made me happy – even if that meant a career driving the ice cream truck. She’s pretty swell.
Veterinarian was definitely in the running for a while – I have a nerdy bent, and I love me some science. I can’t remember when I shed that daydream for a different uniform. Veterinarian fit with my “animal person” status (an identity I cemented early on), but at some point I realized that seeing animals in pain every day might get a little rough. I just don’t have the necessary boundaries. I can get weepy, you know?
So, maybe you’re wondering whether I turned to a life at the helm of an ice cream truck? Nah. I’m an editor by trade. This means I take the utmost delight in the nuances of language. I love to make words shine, and I love to shine them after I’ve put them under the microscope of my brain. Editors get a bad rap sometimes. We’re obsessed with making everything perfect, we harp on grammar rules, and we spend a lot of time pointing out the bad and ugly. Who wants to be seen as the Negative Nelly, buzzing in the ear to a writer who just wants to publish?
I’m also a vegan. For every good attribute in a happy vegan (showing compassion, being thoughtful, spreading hope), there are a thousand Negative Nelly stereotypes to counter it (fretting over tiny ingredients in food; standing on a soapbox when our younger cousins just want to go to the zoo; walking around being angry, jaded, disgruntled, divisive). Like editors, vegans frequently feel the need to point out the bad when everyone just wants to coast along and do their thing.
I’ve had two moments recently when my editor self and my vegan self collided, thanks to a class I was taking to develop my skills with The Chicago Manual of Style. The class was on a 10-minute break between discussions of en dashes and author-date citations, but a lot of us chose to spend our coffee time hanging around the room, thirsty for more insight about publishing. Instead of talking about the trials and tribulations of editing for academia, the instructor was casually ruminating on her long commute to the office, which had recently changed and suddenly involved her witnessing trailers full of cows peering through tiny slits to see daylight, on their way to slaughter. She said it had made her think seriously about being a vegetarian.
My vegan antennae shot up! I listened to her say that she was comfortable with her place on the food chain but felt guilty about seeing those cows in the trailers – you know, your standard whiplash of cognitive dissonance. I let her and others in the class talk about nutrition and protein and bacon (does it have to come up every, single time?), and then I did my best to respond as a positive, happy, open, nonjudgmental vegan. I was scared, honestly. Here was my instructor, someone who had quickly become a role model and mentor for me, talking about her resistance to letting her ethics win over her taste buds. Was she open at all to becoming a vegan? My mental gears were turning, searching for the point that would tip her to my side. Fortunately, I didn’t need to overheat my brain for too long, because soon enough the break was over, and it was time to get back to work.
I doubt I converted anyone in class that day, and it took a conscious effort to fight feelings of deflation. They’re familiar to me – I have friends who are so close to making the connection between animals and their ethics, and it’s hard to resist the urge to break out some vegan sledgehammer of justice, so I can knock some sense into them. But, violence won’t really get me too far, and I’m probably better off if I just think about the teaching moment within the teaching moment (very meta) and use it to develop those crucial talking points. Still, I cannot help but be proud of myself for saying something. If vegans don’t keep bringing these issues up, who will?
On the last day of class, my editor self and vegan self were nudged again, this time in a very different way. We were discussing the author/editor relationship – how to be gentle yet persuasive if you need to enforce a publisher’s style or rule, when to ask for permission to make a change versus when to ask for forgiveness. Good topics for effective diplomacy in any situation, actually. So, I got to thinking about how much time I am in this role of the advocate, the persuader. I spend forty hours a week editing documents that have nothing to do with veganism or animal rights. I love helping authors hone their words and perfect their message, but it dawned on me in class, with an odd, sharp clarity, that there is a huge disconnect between what I am passionate about (language, animals, the amazing world of vegan food) and what I edit every day (dry business documents). The idea that I could build relationships with authors who were writing material that I wanted to work with – it slapped me in the face (in a nonviolent way, of course).
It was right around this time that I became a monthly subscriber to Our Hen House. I had been listening to the podcasts for a while, and it seemed like there was a bit of room in the ol’ budget to become an official fan. Jasmin sent me an email saying thanks and mentioned that I would receive a copy of Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight. In a moment of insomnia, when my filters were down and all that wired mental energy was zinging, I hit reply and told Jasmin how excited I was to read the book, because I was an editor and had been thinking more about finding work from authors in animal rights, and I felt like this book was going to bring me one step closer.
I didn’t expect Jasmin to respond – it was just one of those acts of “putting myself out there.” But she wrote back! And we talked, and then she asked if I wanted to do editing for Our Hen House. Would I?!
And just like that – just by putting myself out there – my hazy vision of vegan-related work has started to become clearer. Sure, I’m still editing my dry business documents for my requisite forty hours a week, but I’m also editing for Our Hen House. Maybe my dream of vegan-related work is not so far-fetched after all? I’m now building a website, networking, and hustling to find authors and material in everything related to veganism and animal rights.
Here we are – back, in a way, to the question of what I want to be when I grow up. If I were impatient for a change, I would quit my regular job, hang up my shingle as a freelance editor, and bust my butt to scoop up any and all work that comes my way. But then I’d only be trading one situation for something very similar, yet still not rewarding. You know those folks who talk about vision boards and the “if you build it, they will come” laws of the universe? If you’ll indulge me, and let me put a little faith (just a tad) in the so-called New Age, I’ll tell you what I picture for the grown-up me. There’s my desk, and it has a laptop and a phone and a printer and all that technical stuff. But the important part comes with imagining everything else that’s strewn about: galleys of new vegan cookbooks for me to proof, a package from my project manager at a small press with an author’s handwritten responses to my queries on a book about undercover slaughterhouse work, and maybe a stack of business cards to help me line up the next projects (I hear people still use those now and again).
This is a big dream, and it’s scary. There’s always something in one of my news feeds about the tight economy. Practical people don’t give up an employer that provides health insurance and a steady paycheck, and they sure don’t take a leap because they’d rather edit vegan recipes than fair market value opinion letters. But why let those Negative Nelly thoughts overshadow my drive to help animals? Why should I keep trying to live this double life – one where I work very hard for forty hours in a field outside of animal rights and scramble to find the time and energy afterward to show up and be an advocate for veganism? I want to love what I do. Completely. I know it won’t happen overnight, but I’m intent on making it happen just the same.
For me, an editing class was the catalyst that made me decide to put my toe in uncertain waters and send that response to Jasmin, but inspiration is everywhere. Have you read Adrianne Prettyman’s post on Our Hen House about landing a dream job in animal rights? You should!
So, what’s our lesson here? If you want something, just email Jasmin. Kidding! If you’re sad that you don’t have an amazing job in the very specific field of animal rights, it’s OK. You know what you do have? An amazing set of skills and hopes and dreams – heck, we all do – and you can take them and shape them and keep moving forward, to create your own path to help animals. And you don’t have to be a veterinarian to do it.
Cassandra Greenwald graduated from The Evergreen State College and went on to study the theory and art of cooking in culinary school and restaurants. She works as an editor for healthcare consultants, and she also frequently tests and edits cookbook recipes. When Cassandra isn’t checking facts or querying authors, she likes to lace up some running sneaks and hit the pavement. Sometimes the dogs at PAWS Chicago, the no-kill shelter where she volunteers, come with her. After fighting the forces of her Jersey girl/West Coast duality, she finally settled down in Chicago, where she lives now with her partner Erin – and Heinz, Joe, and Bear, their three quirky cats. Cassandra has been attempting to join the technological age and obey Twitter character limits as @EditCassandra, and she also has a website.