Hello! It’s Uncle Dale again.
The next Rule needs some background because it’s the best interpreting advice I ever got. The person who gave it to me is not an interpreter, she doesn’t even sign (that, to be honest is my fault, and a story for another time). It came from my wife, Aunt Tammis (not one of my famous typos, that is her name. Pretty huh?). On-line she prefers SuperTam. It fits.
I have thought about posting this for a while and it’s about time I got to it.
I grew up as an interpreter in the Early 1990’s. For those of you born in the 90’s you need to understand that late 80’s and the early 90’s are kinda like the Deaf Community’s 60’s, with fewer drugs (or maybe I just didn’t get invited to those kind of parties). DPN opened a time of promise, political awakening, rebellion and empowerment. In short, it was awesome. This time was the birth of ideas like Bi-lingual Bi-cultural communication as a model for Deaf education, viewing Deaf education from (gasp) a Deaf persepective, the ADA was new and no one really knew what it meant or what it would do, and somewhere out there was the rumor of the videophone (but no one really believe it). The practical upshot of this was Deaf Community began to expect more. More from education. More from themselves. More from interpreters.
Where in the 70’s they were generally happy (wellll accepting?) if a warm body, with at least one community ed ASL class in toolbox, two hands and most of their fingers showed up, that compromise left with Spillman. Think of it this way, the Deaf Community had just taken back its world by literally shouting down audists on live television and instilling its own President at Gally. The power of the Deaf Community, backed by quality interpreters, was on full display. After that there no way people who are Deaf would accept having their feelings, opinions and intellect judged improperly by reason of mediocre interpretation.
Now, as fantastic a time as it was for the Deaf Community, it was heart-attack inducing for a new and still growing interpreter (I did my best to cover up my insecurity with irritating arrogance-but panic attacks were a pretty regular occurrence).
And so it happened, the Deaf Center (where is was working at the time) was asked to donate to the cause of a big Bi-Lingual Bi-Cultural event.
They donated me.
There were big names presenting, people I had only seen on ASL Storytime or Deaf Mosaic. The event was going to be videotaped so this historic moment could be preserved… FOREVER. Then there were the interpreters to consider. Interpreters I had fooled into thinking I knew what I was doing. They would finally know the truth! I WAS GOING TO BE EXPOSED! (See Rule 10)
In the days to come I smiled, a lot. I sweated, a lot. And the night before the conference I lay awake listening to my world coming to an end while I envisioned my next career, maybe something in sales.
At 3 am I started having trouble breathing. My mouth was dry and I focused on getting to the sink for water. I made it as far as the livingroom and collapsed into the fetal position and sobbed (it is kind of killing me to write this, but it’s true. I was that scared).
Aunt SuperTam heard my collapse and dragged her pregnant self to the livingroom to find me. She thought I was having a heart attack. Seriously.
She tried to roll me on my back and open my airway. She just kept saying “are you ok? Can you tell me what’s happening? Are you ok?”
I finally blubbered out, “I’m… I… can’t… I’m scared… tomorrow… I will screw it all up.”
Maybe it was the pregnancy or the hour or maybe she was just done, but I think she was inspired. She rose up up on her knees and put hands on her hips and said “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? IS THIS ABOUT INTERPRETING?”
I managed a shaky “yeah…”
Aunt SuperTam pursed her lips and said, “I can’t do this every time you have a scary appointment or like ANY APPOINTMENT!” She dropped back on her heels and heaved a sigh and said, “be an interpreter or don’t. I’m going to bed.”
And she did.
Be an interpreter or don’t.
That is when I decided to be an interpreter. Every interpreter has a moment like that. That was mine.