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Angie looked at the hardcopy of the article she has been struggling with for the last two hours and then moved her eyes to her computer screen to look at the same corrected article where she has been dealing with commas, dots, quotation marks, and footnotes. There was something weird with the footnotes: the article she was dealing with was in Houdous (the language used in Heaven) but some notes, especially footnotes were in Boudous (the language used in Between,  which is a large area between Heaven and Hell). And for some crazy reason, and although the language used was Houdous, almost all her foontotes were in Boudous. Boudous is written from right to left, but Houdous from left to right. And the numbers, especially those stupid numbers in footnotes, kept appearing in Boudous instead of Houdous, and no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t change them. When she finally managed to make some changes, the footnotes that were supposed to be continuous, started to skip numbers. Deep down, she knew that once the article reaches the printing house, it will be almost completely formatted, but Angie couldn’t help it. She couldn’t make herself stop working on this article.

“So Angie, what did you do today?”

She did not dare to answer. She didn’t find any reason to answer this question. I mean she could have told anybody interested that she was at work from 8 till 5, working… But she couldn’t find suitable convincing words, to convince herself first and anybody else, that what she was doing was useful and important to the world. She remembered when she was about to pick up her bag and to lock her office, two passages she had recently read in the book “Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell:

“He never even bothered to count his drinks. At irregular intervals they presented him with a dirty slip of paper which they said was the bill, but he had the impression that they always undercharged him. It would have made no difference if it had been the other way about. He had always plenty of money nowadays. He even had a job, a sinecure, more highly-paid than his old job had been.”

“When he woke, seldom before eleven hundred, with gummed-up eyelids and fiery mouth and a back that seemed to be broken, it would have been impossible even to rise from the horizontal if it had not been for the bottle and teacup placed beside the bed overnight. Through the midday hours he sat with glazed face, the bottle handy, listening to the telescreen. From fifteen to closing-time he was a fixture in the Chestnut Tree [a cafe]. No one cared what he did any longer, no whistle woke him, no telescreen admonished him. Occasionally, perhaps twice a week, he went to a dusty, forgotten-looking office in the Ministry of Truth and did a little work, or what was called work. He had been appointed to a sub-committee of a sub-committee which had sprouted from one of the innumerable committees dealing with minor difficulties that arose in the compilation of the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak Dictionary. They were engaged in producing something called an Interim Report, but what it was that they were reporting on he had never definitely found out. It was something to do with the question of whether commas should be placed inside brackets, or outside. There were four others on the committee, all of them persons similar to himself. There were days when they assembled and then promptly dispersed again, frankly admitting to one another that there was not really anything to be done. But there were other days when they settled down to their work almost eagerly, making a tremendous show of entering up their minutes and drafting long memoranda which were never finished—when the argument as to what they were supposedly arguing about grew extraordinarily involved and abstruse, with subtle haggling over definitions, enormous digressions, quarrels—threats, even, to appeal to higher authority. And then suddenly the life would go out of them and they would sit round the table looking at one another with extinct eyes, like ghosts fading at cock-crow.” 

 “It was something to do with the question of whether commas should be placed inside brackets, or outside.” This particular sentence stroke Angie. Isn’t she practically doing the same thing? Dealing with dots, commas, brakets, footnotes, spacings…? Doesn’t she call this work “editing”? Is her job “sinecure”? Is her life useless? Does it have any meaning beyond her mere existence? Isn’t she another speck of dust? When so many things in the world need to be done from fighting corruption, to educating people, to finding jobs, to changing a system, having better laws, protecting the powerless, feeding the poor and the hungry… does she feel herself making any change anywhere? Does she need to listen to the reason, and keep doing her work because the change starts from within a human being and if a person does his/her own job, he/she  can contribute to the universe?

Thank you for reading. The passages in italics are by George Orwell, the rest is by Zeina Gabriel.

Special thanks to Liliane Assaf for drawing my attention to the book “Nineteen Eighty Four” by George Orwell.