Fun and joy

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 26 February 2008

One of my jobs for the university is reformatting reading material for visually impaired students. Some people need their texts in a large sans-serif font, or in a Word document their screen-reading software can deal with, or in audio, or in Braille, and I turn the dog-eared, scribbled-on library textbooks into a format those students can use. It's good work. The pay's fair, nobody expects me to wear a uniform or a namebadge (after years on minimum wage as a care assistant turned waitress turned till monkey, I swore a solemn vow to myself that I'd never do another job that required tying my hair back, wearing a uniform or calling anybody 'Sir'), I can work whatever hours I like so long as I hand in a timesheet at the end of the month, and sometimes I get to stand by the massive, incomprehensible Braille printer and pretend I'm on the deck of the Enterprise.

Also, it means a lot of reading. I have a scanner and OCR software, which in theory means that I press a button and wait twenty minutes for the whole text to appear in flawless editable type on the computer screen, but in practice means anything from proofreading for minor errors to retyping page after page of a text that comes out like this (copy/pasted verbatim from a book I finished a couple of weeks ago):

They started off by praying Itiji* Mm », I nil I hrou^h Uuk I didn't know what to do with my h»*t»i|f. .mi) h»r»s 1 feel one Nltnuldn't expose an unbeliever to a HitiMthuM hlu Mutt, Ilt<*i<|eM, tliey didn't merely recite an Our j"nMut «u imi Avt-» Mitriu (thai would have been embarrassing iWHHijhj *Hlt Hiv l*n»h'Mnnl upbringing I liave had more than £ttftHfih »*f nil t«Uiil« «i( iii'ivnli* pmynOt no, it was some text or tfMm mm\mm\ |»ry II itik^l* vi«ry progranimatic "and we bemm^h *¥Um hi Hivt^ ti* Ilif pnwoi* In da m much justice to the llttillMiMmi M« In \Uv \mwvp**favtn mu\ no cm, and only then did Mi*v j»I'i«'WnI to I hit "Mulijrrl for lite Kvcning," on "Poverty hi tin* Muriely i»» wliioli wp livi'.M II wn« one of the most embar#-«««•«11114 ÿvi'iiiugw ill my lift*.

So, a lot of reading. Sometimes it's interesting (I get paid to read about Viking social history/development of the ballad form/early 20th-century British socialism? Sweet), and sometimes it's useful for waking up knowledge I'd left sleeping in some dusty cerebral archive for years (Krebs cycle, cell division, plant growth hormones), and sometimes it's less fascinating (statistics, management strategy) but, eh, they're still paying me.

However. However. Here, in order, with no omissions or additions, are the last texts I reformatted and proofread:

1. Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon. Semi-fictionalised account of the late-1930s Soviet purges, and/or a semi-autobiographical account of Koestler's own imprisonment by Franco's forces during the Spanish civil war; chilling, nightmareish account of prison, torture and execution, made all the worse by how often the horror is implied rather than shown the main There's a description of one prisoner being dragged to his death, told mostly in messages rapped out on pipes by prisoners down the row of cells as it's happening: "THEY ARE READING THE SENTENCE TO HIM. PASS IT ON." "HE IS SHOUTING FOR HELP." "THEY ARE BRINGING HIM. SCREAMING AND HITTING OUT. PASS IT ON." I got through three pages of that before needing to go out into the sunshine for a while.

2. Heinrich Böll, The Clown (in translation, thankfully). Germany immediately after the Second World War, and a generation that doesn't even particularly want to find its feet, having little left to stand on. It's Trümmerliteratur - 'rubble literature' - and while it's genius, it's not exactly cheerful genius.

3. Introduction to Psychopathology, textbook by somebody or other on the various ways in which the brain can go wrong and start making your life an ongoing hell. In detail. With case histories. How long can you spend reading about childhood schizophrenia before wanting to cry?

4. An article about suicidal behaviour. Oh, even better.

I like my boss, and I like my job, and I'm aware (especially after reading all of that) that I could have it so, so much worse, but enough, now. Enough. I'm seriously considering asking my boss if there's any other students I could be switched to - preferably ones taking classes on sunshine and kittens and fluffy little bunnies who sing happy songs about flowers, or, you know, something along those lines. Maybe fluffy little bunnies who work together with kittens to plant flowers in the sunshine? Snowflakes? Roses? Something? Anything?


  1. Laz Says:
  2. I've been told that your employer has a legal obligation to look after your emotional/psychological welfare as well as your physical. since you're likely half way to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as it is, you are perfectly entitled to ask for different working materials, ie something that doesn't involve prison, torture or mental illness. Unless it's comedy prison/torture/mental illness.

    "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquesition!"

  3. Laz Says:
  4. Oops, accidentally hit the BIG ORANGE post button instead of the itty bitty little blue preview button and now the world thinks I can't spell "inquisition"...