What you don’t know

“We can absolutely turn that around for you by tomorrow,” my then-boss told the client. “Right, Elaine?”

I had no choice but to agree. Our client, riled up by something in the news that day wanted an op-ed. I had to write it that night; I understood that. I also understood that when you deal with clients, you occasionally encounter unreasonable expectations, ditto deadlines.

What I didn’t understand was…well, anything at all about the subject. And in those prehistoric, pre-Google days that was a problem.

Now, I’ve written about many things I didn’t initially understand: like derivatives, back in the 1990s when even some of the people selling them didn’t quite know what they were. But at least then I had colleagues who could educate me. This…well, I didn’t fancy discussing it with the ladies in the office, and certainly not with the men.

My client wanted me to write about the evils of circumcision. Male circumcision. Just about the only person less well-suited for this assignment would be a nun. But there we were.

My boss knew she was throwing me into the deep end. I think she enjoyed the idea that her lesbian writer would be stuck in the office all night, thinking about penises. (She was that kind of person.)

Eventually I called my partner, who used to deal with them on a professional level (get your minds out of the gutter—she was a paramedic). She explained it, referencing various items of clothing, and I managed to bang out 600 or so words.

“Write what you know,” they say.

When you work for other people, sometimes you have to write what you don’t know, too. Do I need to add that the piece never got published?

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