On the September morning that heavy rains and flooding hit Colorado, I was scheduled to fly home from a two-day meeting in Boulder. Fortunately we made it out with few problems, aside from the obligatory one-hour delay that all frequent fliers seem to tolerate these days. Once I’m up in the air and cruising to my “Stay Calm” playlist of Billie and Ella, my flight anxiety decreases slightly, but the Colorado winds are especially cruel to my irrational fear of flying. Looking back, it was perhaps my overenthusiastic Lamaze breathing during the bumpy ascension that got me such strange looks from the Ohio State football fans sitting next to me. I began to distract myself with thoughts of the past two days that I spent cooped up in a windowless conference room, all of us unaware of the biblical rain clouds gathering above.
In this data-friendly and unfriendly world, where we’re bombarded by the baby pictures posted by old friends we haven’t seen in 15 years, it’s no surprise that I was summoned to Boulder to discuss the future of metadata in the book publishing industry. Once an upbeat copy editor armed with my faithful box of red pens, I have evolved swiftly into some version of a data manager for my publisher clients. Instead of making sure letters combine to form words and words combine to form sentences, these days I spend my workweek validating data to ensure any company that begins with the letter “A” doesn’t reject it. Although I can’t exactly recall when that shift in my job description was discussed and then implemented, there I was at a conference table in Boulder, cracking jokes about things I didn’t understand to a group of people who couldn’t admit they didn’t understand either.
What I did learn and thought about a great deal as I soared above the storms of Colorado was one of the company’s many number-one goals. In this unstable economy, having a single number-one goal only reveals a lack in motivation and poses immense threat to one’s job security, but there is one e-task that reigns supreme: to get our publishers’ websites and books to appear as the first result in any Google keyword search. The blood, sweat, and programming involved in pulling off such a feat is over my editorial head, which is probably why I have had such trouble finding a new job (although I point the finger at Bush and Cheney for my perpetual feeling of “stuck” more than I blame my own lack of computer savvy, but there you have it!).
If such manipulation of data is possible, and these days it should surprise no one that it is, I’m left with a few questions – why was Greta Garbo’s Camille (1936) not the first result in certain databases when I plugged in its title? Who can I talk to about moving that result above someone from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills? Where’s the metadata team in charge of Greta Garbo, and are they hiring? I know, I know, my inner cranky old man reveals himself more and more as I actually, you know, become one . . . but seriously with this, Internet people? Reality shows over Garbo? Now that’s a data management upgrade project that piques my interest. C’mon, IMDb, let me at that metadata and then get out – we want to be alone!
From screen to stage, The Lady of the Camellias by Alexander Dumas, fils, has been adapted into every version of performance a writer could possibly drag poor Marguerite Gautier. A self-made, rags-to-riches woman who becomes a member of Parisian high society through the generosity of men, eventually Marguerite experiences the misfortune of falling in love with Armand Duval, played by the dapper Robert Taylor. Tossing an extra bundle of problems at our heroine is her ongoing battle with tuberculosis, but it never slows her down from delivering quips as sassy as, “Cows and chickens make better friends than I’ve ever met in Paris.” Find me a Real Housewife who can top that! My generation may believe Camille to be a 1982 metamovie created specifically for Annie to attend with Daddy Warbucks and Miss Farrell. Actually it’s pretty riveting scene for me; to imagine children being exposed to Greta Garbo at such a young age and enjoying it so much . . . let’s all go to the movies! As I got older and realized the black-and-white movie within the funky 80s color movie was superior (well okay, except for the electrifying Carol Burnett, another Oscar snub), eventually I tracked down Camille on old VHS tapes of my uncle’s or cable networks, but I couldn’t understand a word of it. While visiting the family in Southern California, I let an old VHS tape copy overnight on to a DVD so I could take it back home for my overflowing personal collection. Like creating a mix tape, one has to be precise about the timing of pressing “Play” or “Record” or both at the same time, thereby eliminating any risk of disrespectful imperfection.
Quality may not have been the film industry’s top priority back when this cranky old man was a cranky young man, and that bootleg DVD held out for as long as it could, but eventually I knew I had to find the great Greta Garbo’s Marguerite Gautier appearing flawlessly on DVD. I’m hardly a stickler for perfection when it comes to my old movies, but I’ll admit that once I had a version of enhanced quality . . . well, why shouldn’t one have fancies? The technology changes on us every week, either improving or complicating our lives, but as long as we continue to reach for metadata stars, we’ll find a way to make Garbo appear at the top of every list.