I also feel as if my intelligence is withering away. Yesterday I got an email from a friend that I completely misread, and when I say misread, I mean I read it as an aggressive, grouchy letter when it was a soothing, companionable letter. How does a supposedly sane, literate person even do that? Maybe I should blame the cold; but the more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to chalk up my reaction to the bibliography I've been copyediting.
I spent hours on that bib yesterday. It's a long one, filled with arcane citations to archives, films, interviews, and opera scores. In addition, it's riddled with errors: too much info, too little info, and hundreds of punctuation mistakes. Now, editing a bibliography is not like editing text. In text, the meaning comes first. While the copyeditor does impose punctuation and capitalization consistency, the first emphasis is clarity of intent. A bibliography is different. Here accuracy depends on an organization that is not syntactical but the exterior imposition of a particular style: Associated Press style, for instance, or Modern Language Association style or American Psychological Association style or Harvard's legal style or the University of Chicago's academic style and so on and so on. A copyeditor has to be prepared to switch from one preference to the other, and the only way to do this is to study up on the particular organizing/abbreviating/punctuating pattern du jour and then attempt to impose it on the irregularities of the manuscript. There is a great deal of variation even within a chosen style. Page numbers for a professional journal are treated differently from the page numbers of books or the page numbers of newspapers. Edited volumes are treated differently from single-author volumes. Unpublished works from archived collections are treated differently from FBI memos, which are treated differently from YouTube videos, etcetera, etcetera.
Given that I spent last night dreaming in Chicago Manual of Style format, I suppose it's no wonder that I couldn't comprehend the basic English of my friend's email. But at least there's an end in sight; I'm up to the letter S in the bib, and then I can move on to editing poetry proofs. Let's hope my brain reconfigures itself and I don't end up Chicago-izing this unfortunate woman's poems.