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World falls apart as new reader pastes notes in wrong field

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." ~W.B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"


Scenario #1: Your internal notes are essentially the same as your edits

You’ve always prided yourself on basically being a good person, someone given to no more than occasional and forgivable lapses in conscience and judgement, and so you go out of your way to be kind even in the “internal notes” you leave for other editors. Being the upstanding, morally pristine human you are, you always try to imagine how you would feel if you read editors’ private comments on your work, and to base your own comments off of this golden standard.

That being said, the piece you just edited was pretty bad. Like, impressively bad. No, we shan’t succumb to euphemisms here: it was disastrously and unequivocally wretched. The author somehow managed to make all the deal-breaking mistakes in just two pages: the piece was vague, unpolished, vulgar, pretentious, didactic, contradictory, and grammatically unsound. A less compassionate editor could easily find good reason to lambaste this disagreeable jumble of words in their internal notes, without Billy lifting so much as a finger against them.

But still, you have morals to uphold. You’re sympathetic, yet candid, in your edits, and you place the last period feeling certain that this author will produce at least one more piece because of you, even if that’s fundamentally not a positive thing. In your internal notes, you strip off some of the sympathy, but you still aren’t nasty or patronizing toward the author. You just make it very clear why this piece should never find its way into the fabled pages of Polyphony Lit, and why the author should strongly reconsider any aspiration they have to pursue creative writing in the future.

Unfortunately, while you’re scrupulous in your editing and commentary, you’re less so with reading the headings above the boxes on the submissions page. You absentmindedly paste your notes and edits in and forward them on to Billy before you realize your misstep: you’ve pasted your internal notes and your edits into the wrong fields! Quelle horreur! You frenziedly look for some sort of undo button, for some way to alert the website admin of your error, but to no avail. It appears you may have just sent a budding writer’s career spinning down the toilet bowl, even though you meant to let them down gently.

You lay up at night fretting about it for some time, and you seriously contemplate hanging up the towel and waving Polyphony a tearful adios. But after reviewing your internal notes in your head ten times or so, you reason that they weren’t really so harsh; maybe the author will actually appreciate your honesty. With a shrug directed at no one in particular, you turn off your bedside lamp, put Polyphony and its traumatic associations out of your mind, and go to sleep.

Scenario #2: Your internal notes could have been far nicer than they actually are

You’re a new First Reader, probably a freshman, and you’ve never written general commentary for a piece, let alone internal notes. Once you receive your first piece, you print it out and start editing, scribbling all over it in scarlet ink. Your pen is your sword; your ink is the blood of your victim. Flipping back to your dog-eared, annotated Polyphony Handbook, you check the example they provide for internal notes: Twilight, anyone? is the example provided for a vampiric prose piece.

You smirk. That’s actually kind of funny. After you’re done with your specific and general commentary, you commit to writing internal notes that can provide your fellow editors with a sense of comic relief. As it turns out, your sense of humor is more Juvenalian than Horatian; your abrasive words tear into the author’s writing skills instead of the piece itself.

The other Readers are going to find your commentary brutally honest and hysterical; you’ll be the new Simon Cowell of Polyphony. You hit send with an immense sense of satisfaction, knowing your Comedy Central-worthy commentary will be cherished by all who read it…

...except the author. And as you scan over your sent commentary, you realize with horror that you accidentally pasted your hilarious internal notes into the wrong field, meaning it sent to everyone, not just Billy and the other editors.

Oh, God. You check your computer screen again. Maybe you were hallucinating. You grab a thermometer from your desk, checking for signs of fever. Nope, you’re a healthy 98.6 degrees. Maybe your computer screen’s broken. Or maybe it’s the website. You try every possible alternative, but, alas, it’s true. You sent your internal notes in the wrong field, and you can’t do anything to change it. There’s no undo button. You suck in a deep breath, and then let it hiss back out between your teeth, trying to provide yourself with a sense of control over the situation. Your internal notes weren’t that bad, were they? I mean, you could have been kinder, but that’s what editing is all about, right?

When you finally turn off your computer and go to sleep, you’re not worried. You snuggle deeper under the covers. The writer will probably laugh, too; you’re sure of it.

However, miles away, staring at their computer, is the writer herself, crying softly making a silent vow to track you down and make you pay for the pain you have caused her.

You forget about the cruelly humorous notes by the next morning; you have an average breakfast of Eggo waffles topped off with a mound of peanut butter. As you leave your house, whistling to yourself, you chuckle under your breath, remembering the words you expressed last night.

But after you close the door behind you, you turn around absentmindedly to find a teenage girl wielding the fury of Lord Voldemort and Sauron in her tiny hands, as well as a stack of Polyphony magazines. “Uh… hi?” you try.

In response, she whips the magazines at your head, colliding with your skull on the first try, and you fall to your knees.

The last thing you see before you pass out is the front cover of Polyphony, smeared in blood and a freshman girl’s tears.

Scenario #3: Your internal notes are an act of violence

You could be having a particularly bad day, or have forgotten that teenage authors are not your typical Nobel Laureates, or maybe a piece just offends you in the most visceral way possible. Either way, your internal notes end up so egregious, so blunt, so cold and merciless, that they could reasonably be classified as “cruel and unusual punishment.” You’ve written some harsh criticisms before, but these notes really pull no punches—they may even be too brutal for other editors’ eyes.

Your first sentence may begin like this: “The index of my calculus textbook offers more entertainment than this poem,” or perhaps “This country has survived numerous catastrophes up to now, but I fear this short story may be the last.” You then go on to state how this work of amateur literature has been the bane of your existence for the past hour you spent editing it, and has caused you undue anguish and dismay at having been forced to read it in the first place. To add some substance to it, you use some rather colorful language in describing how the author’s choice of words and organizational structure show a “marked disregard,” for “all forms of human expression,” and how you’d rather read “transcribed traffic noises than this unfixable awfulness.” The only words of praise you have for the work are for its brevity, since it spared you from having to read any more of this “unholy affront to the English language.”

With a smile of smug satisfaction, you copy and paste your notes from the Google Doc you were using and submit them, taking extra pleasure in selecting “rec. rej.” when you forward them on to Billy. But soon that devilish grin is wiped off your face. With a sensation of horror and mortification, you realize your mistake: you have just pasted your raging polemic into the edits column, and left a bunch of generic, disingenuously encouraging suggestions in your internal notes! This is a dire situation that calls for swift and decisive action.

You contemplate what to do all evening, sweating profusely and excusing yourself from dinner early to surf Quora looking for someone with a similar problem. But you have no such luck. It seems you must be the first person in history to verbally vanquish someone through a student-run literary magazine’s editing software.

Then the idea hits you: you can hack into the system and switch around your internal notes and edits! That way, only your fellow editors will know you’re a morally reprehensible human being, and the unsuspecting author will emerge unscathed. Conveniently, you remember you have a friend at MIT who does this kind of thing in their spare time. You hit them up with a DM, explaining your predicament and asking if there’s anything they can do. They excitedly text back and they’re on to it later that day, bashing Polyphony’s security with their Java savvy and attempting to DDoS the website.

A week later, your friend texts you with good news: they’ve solved your problem! You breathe a deep sigh of relief. Now you’ll never have to face the shame of knowing you ruined a budding writer’s career in 250 words. Just to make sure your friend means business, though, you log onto the website, your heart racing in anticipation of seeing your commentary now in its proper location.

But when you arrive on the site, you realize your friend has done a little more than was required of him. The site has been completely scrambled! Everything has been switched around, making it impossible to even find your way to the edits page.

Panicking, you frantically call your friend. It goes to voicemail seventy four times in a row. Finally, he responds with a text, saying he “can’t talk,” and mentioning something vague about “solving a Millennium problem.” Not knowing what else to do, you press the back arrow—only to realize that all the Google search results have been replaced by links to Billy’s YouTube channel! You close out of your browser and slam your laptop shut, fearing that your friend has infected your computer with some kind of deadly virus. But then you get a text from a different friend: “Hey, are you having the same Internet problems as I am? All my Google results now direct me to a video of this strange ‘Lombardo’ person.” You respond quickly, lying and telling him you have no idea what he’s talking about. Only it doesn’t end there. Within the next half hour, you get texts from over two dozen friends, all complaining of the same issue. At last, you work up the courage to open your laptop again, thinking maybe your MIT companion will have had enough of this disturbing prank that he played on you and your friends. No such luck. On your homescreen, you find only a cutout of Billy’s head bouncing around erratically, gaining speed every time it hits the edge of the screen.

Terrified, you shove your computer across the desk and head upstairs to bed, feeling anxious yet tentatively hopeful that your friend will undo this fiasco by the morning.

When you get up and come down for breakfast, you open up your laptop and find it working again. Great! Your friend must have ended his little joke and enabled your Internet. You proceed to scroll idly through the news on the New York Times website, glazing half-heartedly over tales of political intrigue and various flavors of bland economic reports. But when you arrive at the bottom of the page, you come upon a headline that freezes you mid-sentence, one that turns your blood to ice and makes you wish you had never discovered Polyphony all those years ago when you were desperately looking to do hours of thankless volunteer work.

With a start, and an overwhelming sense of dread, you force yourself to read the awful words: “MASSIVE INTERNET BLACKOUTS OCCUR AS DEVICES INFECTED WORLDWIDE BY BIZARRE VIRUS.”

Scenario #4: your internal notes profess a love that rivals Romeo & Juliet

You think you’ve found true love; the poem you’ve just edited was holier than the pope himself. Every word, every line, every verse… It’s as though it’s intricately carved to match the mountains and valleys of your soul. This poem is better than pizza, better than cake, better than ice cream! It feels like finding an oasis of cool water after traveling for days in the sweltering, merciless desert; the sensation of pouring every drop down your parched throat cannot begin to describe the ecstasy of this piece. It’s your first glimpse of the gorgeous sun after months of oppressive darkness.

You fall out of your chair with joy. After editing piece after piece of the typical autumn haikus and short stories required for English class, finally you have discovered your Sistine Chapel. Your Mona Lisa. Your Venus de Milo. You collapse onto the floor, weeping. Your tears are not nearly enough to express the fountain of emotions the poem evokes.

As your commentary is supposed to provide an equal balance of both criticism and admiration, you force yourself to suppress your adoration of the piece and try to write a respectful, rational set of commentary. However, once you reach your internal notes, your self-control slips, and you tumble down a hill of golden reverence and hero worship, you find yourself writing phrases like Magnus Opus, unparalleled beauty, and words spilled from the lips of a goddess. You kiss the screen of your computer. If you could marry this poem, you would. You profess your undying love and your life to the author of this poem, for it is magnificence in its purest form, and copy-paste wedding vows into your notes to further express your exaltation for the piece. When you finally send in your full commentary on the piece, it is quite a few times longer than the original piece, with a few paragraphs depicting what you loved about every single word.

It is only after you reread the poem that you realize that, in the haze of your obsession, you have pasted your internal notes in the wrong field, so the author of the piece can see every adoring word you’ve written about the piece. At first, you’re frozen in shock; what will happen now that the author knows the extent of your love for the piece?

However, knowing that your words only expressed positivity, your improperly posted internal notes could only bring joy into the author’s life. Perhaps the writer could use a bit of encouragement. You turn off your computer knowing that you’ve made a difference, even if it was originally a mistake. Looking back on your commentary, you’re a little embarrassed of the great lengths you went to express your devotion, but there’s nothing you can do about it now.

When you leave your house for school a few weeks later, you find a girl sleeping on your doorstep, clutching a large stack of papers to her chest. Confused, you poke her in the foot to wake her up, and she jumps up, her hair all pressed to one side of her head. “Are you the one who wrote these?” she asks, holding out the wrinkled papers to you.

You don’t know if she’s there to kill you or marry you, but nonetheless, you reply, “Um… Yes?”

Her eyes fill with tears. “This was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. Thank you!”

“Um…” you say again. Typing your words on your computer at home was one thing. This was another situation completely. “You’re welcome?”

She flings your arms around you. “Thank you, thank you! Your words inspired me to send my writing to a publisher, and they accepted it!”

You blink, startled. “Really?”

“Yes!” The girl stepped back and beamed at you. “I couldn’t have done it without you, honestly. Thank God you accidentally put those internal notes in the wrong field, right?”

“Right…” You gulp. Wow. One mistake, and you’ve changed this girl’s life around. She hugs you again. “You gave me the strength to see the beauty of my writing, and there’s no way I can ever repay you for that. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

If she says ‘thank you’ one more time, you think your head will explode. “No problem.”

Months later, when you’ve forgotten about the girl’s odd visit (yet still keep a copy of the poem laminated and framed above your bed), you find a package in the mail addressed to: THAT POLYPHONY KID. When you open it, tossing bubble wrap and packing peanuts aside, you find a thick book with the girl’s name emblazoned on it. It’s a book of her poems, autographed and… There’s something written on the inside cover in silver Sharpie. To that Polyphony kid, it reads, who granted me the confidence to publish this.

Years go by, and the girl becomes exponentially more famous; her name becomes the new metaphor for gorgeous writing in schools across the nation. She publishes book after book, each one more exceptional than the last. You buy them as they come, spending the money even when you don’t have it, for her words still evoke emotions inside of you that you never knew you possessed.


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