Notebook
Published: 1999-06-01

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Where to start?

It’s being suggested that if I am not going to publish Smith's Report each month that I remove from my masthead the line that reads. “America’s Only Monthly Revisionist Newsletter.” I may do that. But I don’t think so. It works best all the way around when we publish every month. I want to get it back on schedule—where we were for close to three years.

About two month’s ago I woke up in some way I can’t quite explain, and when I looked around I realized I was dissatisfied with everything I was doing. I was dissatisfied with Smith’s Report, dissatisfied with the Campus Project, dissatisfied with CODOHWeb, and dissatisfied with our media outreach. I was dissatisfied with how I was managing (not managing) the office, with how I was working (not working) on my book manuscripts and so on and on, and there was no end to it. There was only one thing to do. Fix it all, from beginning to end. Easier said than done.

If you are inclined to fix everything, it’s best to start at the heart of the matter. Many of you know there is a problem with The Office: I do not answer letters and seldom respond to telephone calls or e-mail messages. Oftentimes I do not acknowledge even very generous contributions—a particularly stupid and I am sure costly failing. I allow orders to fall through the cracks, fail to deposit checks, and seldom respond to requests for information. And of course, now I have gotten behind with the publishing schedule for SR. Why?

Part of it is that I’m simply not so well organized as I would like to be. That isn’t going to change. Part of it is that with the Internet, CODOHWeb, the increased readership of Smith’s Report, all the new opportunities for outreach, and the extra thought I have to put into binding, the Project has grown to a size where it is not possible for me to manage it properly the way I have been trying to manage it.

Additionally, I am one of those who suffer from a syndrome called “taking-on-more-work-than-you-can-possibly-handle-under-any-circumstances-whatever-and-being-an-utter-fool-about-it.” Occasionally I get this syndrome under control—I do try—but it isn’t long before I see something that needs to be done for revisionism that isn’t being done and I decide it’s up to me because if I don’t take a run at it who will? There is something (hopelessly) romantic about it, embracing most of the weaknesses of character that characterize hopeless romantics everywhere.

Even a hopeless romantic however can occasionally make a wise decision. I’m no exception to this rule of thumb, and recently I made one. I hired a local American ex-patriot to work for me. She started a week ago today. Her name is Audrey. She’s going to do all the office work that I am unable to do and keep it straight too. That alone will be a nice change. She’s savvy with computers so she can help with outreach, experienced with real office work, can handle Internet business, correspondence—everything. She’s going to change my life. That’s what I believe. That’s what guys like me like to believe.

Why didn’t I do it before? Before I made so many of you impatient with me for not taking good care of the business end of this business that is not really a business but needs to be run like one? One reason is that I work at home in a country I am familiar with but do not feel entirely a part of, and I suppose I was reluctant to introduce someone, a stranger, into the house with my family. How do you know? When Trotsky escaped from Stalin and landed in Mexico he thought he was safe. He was happy. There are photographs of him laughing with my wife's favorite Mexican artist (whose father was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant). Frieda Kahlo. Then there was the afternoon the happy Trotsky learned how it felt, for only a moment I suppose before he forgot, how it is when an ice axe drives through your skull into your brain.

And then there was—there is—the money issue. I don’t have the income to pay the $600 or $800 a month an office assistant requires. I’m going out on a small limb with this. My rational is that once the office is running the way an office should be run it will, of itself, produce enough additional support to take care of this one part-time employee. I don’t think that’s a romantic theory. I think it’s based on a sound business principle.

There are expenses of course, in addition to salary, in upgrading an office. I had to set up a second computer, for example. In the old days you had only to get a used typewriter, or a box of pencils, to take on an office assistant. Now you need a second computer. I just happened to have had one. It was the one I had blown the hard drive out of two winters ago. It was at the shop of my Mexican techie the last several months while I decided what to do with it. When I called to say that I‘d decided, he told me he didn’t have it. He’d thrown it out.

I learned that’s what my techie does with an old computer you leave at his shop. He keeps it maybe thirty days, then takes it to his mother’s garage. When the garage fills up with old computers he calls for a dumpster and cleans out the garage. I hadn’t thought it would work that way.

Formatting Smith's Report had become a monthly nightmare for me. Once in a while it went smoothly, but when I came up against a couple programming problems, everything went to hell. I could lose five, ten hours trying to work things out—per problem! It took Audrey about half an hour to install the program and a couple days to get most of the kinks out of it. Then one afternoon she said: “Okay. I’m ready for the newsletter. Start sending it over here.”

I wasn’t ready with the newsletter on my end of course so she said she'd start working on my e-mail address book. I have about 1,500 e-mail addresses, including all the outreach lists for newspaper editors, columnists, feature writers, communications faculty and so on. She hadn't expected that many addresses but only said it would take longer than she had expected. Once she’s through that mess I’m going to put her on to the orders that have problems, the unanswered correspondence that really must be answered, the piles of papers and documents shoved into boxes and onto shelves and waiting to be filed, and then we’ll turn at last to the organizational side of the many opportunities for outreach that I have been unable to handle on my own.

The office is still a wreck. Nevertheless. it’s getting better rather than worse, which is the first time I have been able to say that since moving to Mexico two yean ago.

In my imagination I see a light at the end of the tunnel. Out beyond the first light I can see an image of the perfect office, clean, orderly and productive. It makes me feel secure. The time is already come to turn my attention to Smith’s Report, the Campus Project, CODOHWeb, media outreach—the whole enchilada, one decision at a time.

Recently I read a review of an off-Broadway play in which Trotsky is a major character. The actor who plays Trotsky does his entire role from the opening curtain to the final scene with an ice axe sticking out of his head. That’s a pretty good comic idea, I suppose.


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Author(s): Bradley R. Smith
Title: Notebook
Sources: Smith's Report, no. 63, April-June 1999, pp. 2f.
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Published: 1999-06-01
First posted on CODOH: Nov. 20, 2015, 4:38 a.m.
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