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Ken Sparling: The "X" Factor, part 2

About the Writers/Editors series: Our new 16-part series, "Writers/Editors," looks into the symbiotic relationship between writers and their editors. Twice a week for the next two months, we'll be running essays by editors and writers on the highs - and, sometimes, the lows - of this unique coexistence.

In today's entry, the editor that Jonathan Goldstein paid tribute to tells his side of the story.
The "X" Factor, part 2
By Ken Sparling

At the time that I edited Jonathan Goldstein's work many years ago, I was hunting for good sentences. Along the way, I crossed out everything that didn't seem to measure up to the honest intentions that were available in Jonathan's best sentences. I had no idea at the time that I might wind up having a good influence on Jonathan. When I look back at myself in those days - the way I often crossed out most of what a person had written leaving only a few sentences unmarked - I'm surprised that I had a good influence on anyone.

The person who had the biggest influence on my life was a guy named Alan Blum, a sociology professor I had when I was at university thirty years ago. In the first lecture I ever took with Alan, he talked about Socrates and about Plato's idea of The Good. When I met with Alan in his office a few weeks later, I asked him if there really was such a thing as The Good. He looked at me for a brief moment, and then said, simply, "Yes."

During the years that I studied with Alan Blum, I always believed that what I wanted more than anything else was to be able to do the things that Alan could do, to be able to speak and write the way Alan did. But I see now that what I actually wanted was to have some influence on someone, the way Alan had an influence on me.

I wanted to have an influence on Jonathan Goldstein when I edited his writing, because what I saw in the best of his writing spoke to me in a powerful way. What I heard behind the best of Jonathan Goldstein's words was a beautiful innocence, an earnestness that shone through Jonathan's intelligence, his well-developed sense of irony, and his cleverness. At his best, Jonathan was able to preserve this earnestness in the face of his own cleverness. At his best, he was able to rein in his cleverness and use it in the service of his earnestness.

I'm not sure exactly what Jonathan saw when he looked at those big "X"s I put through his writing, but they obviously stood for something more than the removal of most of his words. Maybe the "X"s represented something definite, something that said to Jonathan: There is such a thing as quality, the world isn't just chaos, there is something worth aspiring toward in your writing.

In the many years since I edited Jonathan, he has developed into a wonderfully honest and powerfully funny writer. I'm gratified to find out all these years later that I might have had even a fraction of the influence on him that Alan Blum had on me.

Ken Sparling's new book is called "Intention Implication Wind". He works at Toronto Public Library and lives in Richmond Hill with his wife and two sons.


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