The first of my regular articles for RID Views was published today.
It’s called “The Last Word or Let’s Go Swimming.
Enjoy it here and join the conversation at #viewsthelastword
Several years ago (I’ll go with many years ago) I was interpreting at a university. A little after midterms I got a call from the interpreter coordinator.
It was a weird call.
The coordinator never called me at home unless there was some kind of change in the schedule. This time the coordinator just talked and talked and talked. Talked about respect. Talked about new opportunities. Talked about change.
I finally asked, “are you firing me?”
She replied in careful tones, “not exactly. But you need to know that you won’t be working for the university after this semester. We won’t be hiring you again.”
I couldn’t let that stand, “that is ‘kinda’ firing me. I don’t do ‘kinda fired.’ If I’m fired- I’m fired today. Right now.”
She backpedaled, “oh no I’m not saying that! We will let you finish out the semester…”
I quickly corrected her misconception, “you don’t get to fire me but still get the benefit of my skills; I’m in or I’m out right now.”
Then she uttered the words that set every interpreter’s teeth on edge, “So. You would just walk away from students?”
“No,” I explained, “you are taking me away from the students. I did not quit, you fired me. I am ready, willing and able to provide my services, but you are saying you do not wish me to.”
And then it hit me. The question my shock and anger had hidden from my brain until this moment.
“By the way, why are you firing me?”
There was a long pause. “Um… there have been complaints.”
This was just getting weirder and weirder. “What complaints? By whom?”
Again a pause, “I am not at liberty to say who complained but some examples are: showing up late, leaving in the middle of classes for long periods of time…” the list went on.
Funny thing was, I wasn’t doing any of those things.
My team was.
I liked my team. I did, I liked her and I didn’t want to make trouble for her. So, like the CPC says I had tried to talk to her privately about leaving me hanging, and when that didn’t work, I just picked up the slack whenever she walked out for a smoke in the middle of class.
I realized out loud. “No student made those complaints, [my team] did, and they are what she is doing.”
No pause this time, “I can’t confirm that! I couldn’t if I wanted to. But it doesn’t matter because this did not come from me, the Director of Accessibility Services told me to make this call, tonight!”
Now it was becoming clear. I had in fact caused a little grief earlier in the semester, that one was on me. What happened was the Assistant Director told me I would only be paid for the time I was actually interpreting and would not be paid for the 15 to 30 minutes breaks in-between classes. That was effectively cutting my paid by an hour each day.
I told him I would accept that deal only if he agreed to only accept pay for those times he was actually advising a student in his office (he told me “that’s not how this works,” and I replied, “you are exactly right! That is not how this works”) and in the end I kept my paid hour (Just rereading that… yeah… I’m a jerk sometimes).
Anyway. That did not win me friends in the front office.
“I need to meet with [the Director] tomorrow morning,” I said.
“I don’t think she will meet with you.” She replied.
“She can meet in the morning in her office or we can meet in the afternoon at the labor commission, I said, “I’ll leave that up to her.”
We met the next morning.
When I went into the Directors office she was braced for an argument, but I simply asked, “what is your opinion of me?”
She looked at me warily and said, “I’m not sure.”
“Oh no,” I corrected, “you have a definite opinion of me. You are sure enough in your opinion to fire me.”
She started to argue that I was not actually fired, but I told her we could save the discussion on semantics for another day.
“You are sure enough in your opinion of me to fire me on the word of [my team] without investigating if any of the allegations are true.”
She sat up and said that she could not tell me who had made the complaints and I should not assume.
I told her that I was in no way assuming. I was much more aware of my team’s reputation of questionable work ethics than she was and this was not the first time I had heard of her throwing a team under the bus. But it was definitely the worst.
Be that as it may, I knew she had not investigated because not only were the allegations not true, they were easily proven to not be true.
“How?” she asked.
“Simple,” I said. “At the end of the semester you ask all of the Deaf students to fill out an evaluation of their interpreters. Mostly it’s a formality, but do that evaluation today and I will accept whatever it says. Let’s see if my team is willing to do the same.”
The Director agreed and had me sit in her office. A few hours later she return with a stack of papers in her hand and a pained expression.
“I owe you an apology,” she said, “I should have looked before I leapt.”
I told her not to worry about it, so long as I was no longer ‘fired.’
She assured me that I was not and would be welcome back next semester.
I told her that unfortunately I would not be returning the next semester because I had another offer from a different agency.”
Her jaw went slack, “if you’re not coming back anyway, then what was this all about?”
“My reputation,” I stated. “You see about two weeks ago in-between classes I told my team that I was not coming back next semester because I had another offer. It’s my guess that she thought she would make herself look better by making me look worse.” I thought for a second, “I think she figured that you would not talk to me about it until the end of the semester and by that time I would have told you that I was going anyway.”
The Director shook her head a little while she mulled this over and then said, “well, I appreciate you taking this so well and I have learned a lesson today. You understand it would be hard to lose [my team] in the middle of a semester but we will do some switching around so you don’t have to work with her anymore.”
This was obviously starting to give the Director a headache. “What do you mean why?”
“I mean, why,” I said. “I never complained to you about her. When she is actually doing the job she is a skilled interpreter. She knows the classes and the context and it would be totally disruptive to the students to switch her out now.” I continued, “I mean, do what you want because you’re the boss. But I never said I had a problem with her. If I did I would have come to you with it.”
Now you may be thinking ‘cool story. Thanks?’
I will admit it was a pretty long journey to get to a short point.
Always be the interpreter with the work ethic that allows you, if questioned, to comfortably respond, ask the Client to evaluate me and I will go with whatever they say.
Be that interpreter and you will sleep well at night for the rest of your days.
FYI to one and all!!! Call for Presenters for the April 13, 2018 Mini-Conference!
FYI to one and all. April 13, 2018!!!
I have now had three emails about a phrase I used in my Note called Born With It.
I reposted it the other day and it looks like people read it (because no one questioned the original post).
It is safe to say the topic of the e-mails is not the thing I expected to called out on, especially after I confessed my bizarre resemblance to Rutherford B Hayes. I do however realize how culturally insular the phrase I used is. It’s also wicked useful.
The phrase is:
Thou art not yet as Job.
One person wanted to know where to find it in the Bible and the other two basically wanted to know if I had forgotten to complete the sentence and what job I was talking about.
(HEY! Everyone who was ready to tune out when I wrote the word “Bible” bear with me. This is not a sermon or even overtly religious-beyond scripture as poetry-and as I said it’s actually quite a useful phrase, especially for Mentors, and come to think of it parents).
The phrase references the biblical poem of Job (pronounced Jobe).
If you are not up on your abrahamic allegory it goes like this:
So, God and the Devil are hanging out one day and God points to a guy named Job and says what a great human he is and how impressed the Devil should be with how faithful Job is.
The Devil says “sure he is faithful now. He has a great family and lots of land and money and his health (you’re nothing without your health), but take that all away and he will turn on you in a heartbeat.”
So they make a bet.
(I called this an allegory because historical religious literature is pretty clear about God and the Devil not being likely to chit-chat. If you need further proof just watch The Exorcist.
The point is if they don’t tend to shoot the breeze with each other, then wagering like this is way out of character.
I don’t see them getting together for supernatural game night.
So God let’s the Devil take it all away (kills Job’s family and bankrupts him and gives Job what reads as horrible hemorrhoids and acne; when is the last time you read it… tell me I’m wrong!)
It turns out that Job was a good bet because he keeps his faith and eventually gets his riches and a new family (that he seems to like better than the old one?).
That, my friends is Job.
This story appears in one form or another in all Abrahamic scripture. It’s in the Ketuvim, the Old Testament and the Quran so it has a lesson to teach. It is also a pretty read in all three.
Ok, so in the religion which I claim membership there is another book that we view as scripture (a couple actually) and in one of the books a prophet is… well, to put it bluntly, whining!
He is whining about how hard it is to be a prophet and how mean people were to the faithful worshipers. In truth, he couches it in a prayer for the benefit of faithful people, but when it comes right down to it he is frustrated for himself.
God sees though that and calls him on his whining by saying:
Thou art not yet as Job.
A phrase that I have always read as:
“Dude! If this is as bad as it gets, you’re fine.” (Just a thought, it COULD BE WORSE).
It’s a pretty well known phrase in my neck o’ woods, so I forget it’s not widely known.
But, like I said, it is handy.
It’s handy when you are working with a student in whom you see so much talent and potential, but so little motivation.
The student who thinks every exercise you give is too hard.
The students who whine that they don’t have time to practice the exercises you’ve assigned because they are “really busy,” but constantly lament that they feel stuck.
The students who are self-conscious and think you are mean for making them interpret in front of other people.
The students who’s potential is matched only by the number of excuses they give and volume of their whining.
When they whine about how hard their lot in life is, it is always good to be able to listen, show empathy and then say…
THOU ART NOT YET AS JOB.
A graduate of my program and I were talking a few days ago when she reminded me of a lesson I taught her in a class called “Professional Issues in Interpreting.” A lesson that she has used as a mentor.
(How I know that this happened is not important… ahem.)
On the first day of an undergraduate course in Gross Anatomy (for those who have never had the pleasure, is the class where pre-med, nursing and other medical field students study the human body using cadavers) the Professor, who looked exactly like you would imagine a professor of Gross Anatomy would look, divided the class into teams of four, assigned each team to a body and passed out a thick packet of papers to each team.
The Professor then told them to read the entire packet of instructions, then pick up a cutting blade and follow what the written instructions dictated to the letter!
The teams began to pour over the pages of instructions. While they were reading the Professor began to walk around the tables and stare at each team. She looked at each of the individual team members a little longer than was comfortable. She would frequently look at her watch.
She began to look at her watch more often and frown.
Some of the groups began to elect a person on the team to begin cutting (the first instruction). Others were still reading and the Professor began to tap her watch, frown and sigh.
Soon every group, while still reading, was through the process of electing a team member to begin cutting and every team was prepping their cadaver for the first incision.
Suddenly the Professor yelled “STOP!”
She looked around the room at the students who were reading the packets with blade in hand and poised to cut.
“How many of you have completed the reading?” She asked.
No one had.
“Why,” her voice as sharp as any of the cutting tools, “do ANY of you have a knife in your hand?”
Now remember, these are pre-med students. God complexes in training.
One of them stepped up to the challenge and said, “I don’t appreciate you setting us up like that!”
“Like what?” The Professor’s voice was a little too sweet.
The student charged ahead, “You told us to read the whole thing and then you stared at us and looked at your watch and frowned and sighed.”
“And so,” her voice was pure patience with a razors edge, “you were fully prepared to cut into a human body, without fully understanding why, nor with any actual plan in mind, because I looked at you?”
There was an uncomfortable shuffling of feet.
The Professor was now at the lectern. “Someday you hope to be doctors or nurses and someday you will have a sick child in front of you and you will have no idea what is causing it. But you will have that child’s parents staring, frowning, or worse crying and begging or screaming and demanding that you ‘DO SOMETHING.” The Professor paused. It was dead silent in the room (no pun intended). “At that moment I want you to think of how much regret you feel right now for your pride and arrogance making you pick up a blade and telling you that it was ok to blindly cut into a human-being’s body, with no real plan in mind, because I stared at you.” She paused again to the choking silence in the room.
“I believe you all need some time to think. We will try this again next time. Class dismissed.”
I think about this every time I am working with a young interpreter and their hands start to fly before the second syllable of Hel-lo has left the speakers mouth.
I ask, “why didn’t you wait for a full idea?”
The student usually humms and haws a little and the braver soul says, “I got nervous because you were watching me…”.
“Someday you will have a Deaf Client in front of you and they will be looking at you and wanting you to start interpreting before you have the complete meaning processed in your head.”
Maybe it’s the doctor telling them the test results.
Maybe the boss giving them their evaluation upon which their raise depends.
Maybe it’s a cop telling them he is sorry but there has been an accident.
“The most important job you have at that moment is to deliver the interpretation accurately and completely,” I explain.
I then look them in the eyes, “never be pressured to start moving your hands before YOU are ready, having processed the interpretation and prepared the interpretation. Never sacrifice the process because the Client is looking at you.”
I am sitting on a plane on the last leg of an 11 day family vacation. Nope not a typo. Eleven.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Actually it was. They call vacations like this “the trip of a lifetime,” mainly, I have learned, because you only want to do it once!
My older kids are in college and getting married and so this was the last chance we may have to get out of town with just our own little unit.
Travel has been very important to us as a family. When my oldest was 15 my lovely bride, Aunt SuperTam, started to see the short time we had together and said “we need to take more vacations as a family! We need to have those memories!” In a strange way that is what has driven much of my professional life since. We recall our family vacations with tag lines like “was that RID or NAD?” and “at which college were you guest lecturing when we…”.
This past 11 days was a rare pure vacation (ok one dinner meeting with a Computational Linguist. But that dinner was a pure joy. I have not seen Dan in far too many years and I realize I do not want that many years to pass again before I spend an evening in the presence of his brilliance. That is not hyperbole. And, to be honest I pre-taped an on-line workshop… but that was three hours out of the 11 days).
For 11 days I walked away. I had no email access by choice, no phone or text access for half the time because I was at sea. I walked away.
Everywhere I went I found myself doing the “Sign Scan.” My eyes constantly darted around the crowd, on the ship, in the theme parks, always seeking the marked handshape and intentional movement that sets off my ‘Deaf’dar.
I caught it only once while we were boarding a ride and group of family and friends who are Deaf were exiting. We had a hasty “Deaf? Nope hearing, interpreter. Whq eyebrows “you where you?” We exchanged States and the flow of the crowd carried them away. I saw them only once after that. The ride had a feature that allowed recently disembarking riders to spray current riders with water. They hung out to make sure to baptize our new and brief meeting. We flashed 🤟’s all around and they were gone. (Full disclosure, I also had one encounter with hearing hands as well. At one of the theme parks we visited two ASL students from a local college saw the “Rule One” shirt I was wearing-I stand by my swag!-and they asked me, in ASL with hands that could not yet think for themselves, if I “got it from the Uncle Dale’s Rules Blog.” I replied, “kinda.” They both looked at me with WHq eyebrows. I explained, “shirt? Uncle Dale himself give-me himself.” They smiled and both signed, “lucky!” and were gone. I agree. I am lucky).
After the brief at-a-distance meeting with the Deaf family my wife laughed and asked if I felt “better now.”
I miss ASL when I am away from it, even briefly.
On the first day of our cruise I presented myself to guest services and told them I am a certified ASL interpreter. I explained that I did not know if there were any persons who are Deaf aboard and was not expecting them to tell me, but I wanted them to know I was around if there was an emergency and to let them know that I would be willing and able if needed. I do that in situations where there are large crowds and the possibility of an emergency. It has nothing to do with Deafness or even ASL. It comes from the one and only time I have ever needed to use my CPR training. But that is a story for another time.
This story is about walking away from interpreting. Now I am well aware that Rule 73 states that it is not possible to walk away from interpreting; like the mafia once you’re in you have to die to get out (the fact that I interpret now is proof of that Rule’s truth).
However, at one time or another each of us stands at the threshold and says “never again.”
If you are aghast and saying to me, “Not me! Never! I would never walk away from interpreting or ASL!” Remember, if you are reading this your long life is not yet over. If you have walked away and you are reading this… you left, but you couldn’t leave it alone, could you. Grin.
For those who can’t imagine the idea of walking away I give you this basic truth, you can only visit a land that is not your own for so long before you have to go home. (CODAs, you have dual citizenship. Having never been a CODA I cannot speak to your experience, I can only rely on my observations and I have seen many CODAs take long long walks in the hearing world pausing only occasionally to check-in with their Deaf family at “home.” But again I can only speak from my center not yours).
For the non-CODAs, sooner or later something gets to you. Vicarious trauma, crisis fatigue, or, as it was for me, the emotional distress caused by my consistent proximity to social injustice just wore me out and clouded my judgment.
For many years I worked as a staff interpreter for the State agency. I was sent to interpret in court, or at the jail or at prison. A lot. For a while not a day went by that I was not at one of those three venerable institutions. I was a witness to institutionalized audism that still makes me shudder.
I saw judges and lawyers make agreements before they consulted the Deaf client, before they ever called me in. My job was to interpret while they told the Deaf Client the fate they had decided without the Deaf Client’s input. I interpreted for judges ordering Deaf Clients to parenting classes that I knew would refuse to provide interpreters, or inaccessible drug programs or anger management treatment when the Deaf Client had every right to be angry! I interpreted while Deaf inmates were denied treatment programs because they were “not set up to deal with special needs.” I interpreted for inmates denied parole because of their “attitude” which meant they did not follow the CO’s commands-because they could not understand them. I found it harder and harder to hold onto even the myth of neutrality.
Then came the case.
I will spare you the gory details but at its core was a child for whom a day of just physical abuse was a vacation. When the first report of suspected abuse came through intake someone wrote DEAF in large black letters on the file. It was then passed from investigator to investigator, each of whom apparently thought “I don’t know where to begin, someone else would surely be better suited. So, the report sat, uninvestigated, for years. The damage to this child’s body and soul compounded daily until someone was finally ordered to follow up after an audit.
That case changed me. I was done saying “someone should do something” and decided someone was going to be me.
And that was it. I quit interpreting and went to law school. I walked away with no plan that I would never return.
Ready? I am about to confess a sin. Ready? There was at least one Deaf student (or more) in my law school class.
I kept my hands in my pockets. I hid.
I needed to be single minded on law school. I did not want to be sucked back in or distracted because I had never met a “PLEASE FOR ME” I could turn down. I walked away. For my first year of law school. I hid (except from my train posse… that is also another story).
Just as my second year was beginning I was walking across campus and I passed a Deaf friend from Utah… it took me a second to remember that we were in Boston. We looked at each other so out of context and both of us came to our senses at the same time. After hugs and catch-up (he didn’t know I was in law school. He was in a distance learning grad program and had to be on campus for three weeks each year) we decided to grab lunch. He had a quick stop he had to make, so we walked and talked and suddenly I found myself in the office of Accessibility Services for the University. I walked straight into a group of Interpreters who had seen me, often, but had no idea I was fluent. I was caught. A minute or so later the interpreter coordinator stepped out of her office and gave me a combination death-stare & come-here finger. That was it. I was back in. Before I left I had my schedule for the next semester.
You know what? It was different.
It was fun again.
I had balance. I could feel the joy of interpreting when I was dressed in the solid dark colored shirt and fight all of those social injustices when I put on my lawyer tie.
I am not saying that it has not been without its bumps and knocks. I have to jealously guard the wall between my roles; turning down appointments and referring legal clients to avoid conflicts. However, as I said, what I found was balance.
Wow. I did not start this Note with the intent of writing So You Don’t Want to be an Interpreter Anymore (nothing but love to Bob and Janice).
My intent was to say sometimes even jobs you love can burn you out. And sometimes you have to walk away. Sometimes for a little while and sometimes with the intent that it be forever. But remember, forever is a long long time. There are very few actual forevers in this life.
I love to interpret. It blessed my life every day I can do it. But I could not say that if I had not walked away and gotten my head and heart together.
Sometimes you have to walk away. There is no shame in it. Sometimes you come back and there is only joy in that.