Note from Uncle Dale: We Never Certify Alone or We Win Together but We Fail Alone.

I have a few simple rules in life.  Well, besides the 267 Rules you will find here… (um over 500 now…) yeah. Um.

I’m going to start this one again.

Hi everyone! I have more than a few rules in this life. One of them is called the Twelve-Year-Old Boy Rule.

The Twelve-Year-Old Boy Rule states that when you produce or create something, like… say, a warning sign at an amusement park…

(My 12-year-old, “wow, they really like roller-coasters!”)

(My 12-year-old, “another one? So if the ride lasts more than four hours do we call a doctor?)

(My 12-year-old, “I’m concerned more for the people that had the problem requiring a sign than the for the sign itself.”)

(My 12-year-old, “if only you read that sign earlier you would not have to hear me joke about being the result of you not reading that sign earlier.”)

Or a menu item

(My 12-year-old just laughed and pointed).

Or directions on installing a car seat in an SUV

(My 12-year-old, “it’s ether instructions on child safety seats or a PSA on why it’s important to wear condoms.”)

or perhaps a bouncey-house for children…


(My 12-year-old said nothing, he just pointed, took my phone, filmed this, handed me my phone, sighed, and walked away.)

Whatever you create, the Rule is you have run it past a twelve-year-old boy to check that it is not wildly suggestive of some dirty double entendre or other strange mixed message.  Spotting the double meaning is the legitimate superpower of every twelve-year-old boy! In other words that you are actually producing the message you wish to produce.

The reason errors like these happen is in our minds we can clearly see what we want our creation to be. We see what we want so obviously in our heads that we miss what any 12-year-old will see immediately with his eyes.  Thus my Rule, run it past a twelve-year-old boy, because if he snickers, y’all need to take another, highly critical, look at your product before it “goes to market.”

I teach my interpreting students to apply this Rule to their academic and practical interpreting goals, because preparing to take the Cerification Test requires two sets of eyes and honesty in two hearts.  Not cruelty.  Honesty.

(It would not be an Uncle Dale Note without a digressive parenthetical.  I always tell my students that my main goal in teaching any skill set is to make myself unnecessary. I don’t have the time in a semester to actually teach them how to produce spoken equivency from sign or interpret a text consecutively or simultaneously.  I don’t have time to scratch the surface of legal interpreting or medical or educational interpreting, at least not with any real nuance. So I spend my time teaching them the structure and how to self-evaluate their proficiency in order to grow and develop after the semester is over.  I teach them how to not need me to continue to learn. But just because they don’t need me doesn’t mean they don’t need anyone.)

There are two problems with trying to critique yourself:

1. You are too hard on yourself. I often give feed back to students telling them “the problem is you realized you were were doing it right.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means the problem started when you realized you felt like you were doing it right and at the same time your self-doubt screamed “that can’t be right! Because you are doing it!”

This common trait of being the pissy with ourselves stunts development.  We become afraid for others to see our work because our least objective and most savage critic, ourselves, has already spoken.

2. You are not critical enough of your own work.  I call it “bulletproof.” An interpreter who, at sometime in the past, was told by a random member of the Deaf Community that he “does great work” will too often give himself a pass on all feedback and analysis for the rest of his natural life. He holds that complement like it’s holy relic, fending off any critiques of his work like it’s a cross warding off vampires.

Bulletproof interpreters think people who offer feedback are “picking on them” because so-and-so told them their work was “fine.” Clients who request a different interpreter “hate hearing people.”  And certification testing is “bias” or “invalid” (and he never has to try it because so-and-so told him six years ago that he signed better than a certified interpreter).

The cure for both the issues is the same.

An interpreter must always be willing to look at their work objectively and more important must allow others to look at their work and accept feedback at face value.  We must do it during our first year of practice our fifth year of practice our twentieth year and, well, forever.

It’s hard.  It’s hard to look your work and not see an error as a failure. But we must.  I have had to speak to students on occasion about their self-critical aversion to risk. I have students who always have “equipment problems” or can never seem to find a partner for team evaluation exercises.  I had one that gave me excuses so often that I told her she had to take a technology class or leave the program. After the initial shock I told her that, from what I had seen she had some talent, but I could not help her fix issues she would not show me.

She started to talk about anxiety and I stopped her and said that if she had disabling anxiety that must be accommodated she needed go get evaluated through accessibility services. If she was just anxious she needed to be willing to subject herself to risk if she wanted to get any reward.

And so must we all.  We must be willing to risk failure to get anything worth having.

So, back the Rule. If you want to get better you must risk the evaluation of others. Find someone you trust and who produces work you respect and remember that there is a vast difference between judging you and evaluating your work.

When it comes right down to it, that is what certification is.  It’s being willing to subject your work to the analysis of your peers and allow them to examine it for errors as throughly and brutally as a collection of twelve-year-old boys.

Note from Uncle Dale: So, Today You Test!

Hi everyone!  Uncle Dale back again.

Ready? Here we go! What do these three questions have in common?

1. Vehicles from which country use the international registration letters WG?

2. Freddie Mercury died in which year?

3. To within ten thousand square miles, what is the area of Louisiana?

The common link? It is highly unlikely that you will need to know the answer to any of these questions in order to successfully pass any interpreter certification screening; state or national.

There will be no surprise algebra section.  There will be no surprise sections at all.

What you will need to pass is the skills you have practiced everyday from the day you started to learn ASL until the day of your test.

Think.  Suppose the presenter’s topic is “how a bill becomes a law,” that is a process, just like, “how to make fajitas,” is a process or “directions to the lake,” is a process or “how to get to my office from the San Diego airport,” or “how payroll works.” (I hope at least one of those is familiar? Grin)

All of these are the same thing-a process-the content within the steps of the process in each has been replaced by different content, “how a bill becomes a law” or, “what are the risks and benefits of your surgery,” or “Deaf Culture in the 1800’s.” These are each just the same things you have practiced over and over and over… these are each same process with different words, different content. Just do what you do in class or in the field everyday.

The same is true when you are working from ASL to Spoken English. Do what you trained to do. Look for the meaning don’t just substitute spoken words for the signs. Don’t chase the text. Let it come to you. It will come if you let it. It won’t get away, if, you look for meaning instead of substituting spoken words for signs.

When in doubt slow down! Slow down and think. Just repeat to yourself this mantra:

Pay attention.process, produce… pay attention, process, produce.

Just like you have always practiced.

Some screenings and state QAs even give you the topics ahead of time.  Google is your friend.  With google at your finger tips you not only have the process but might even have the terminology and content to stick in it before you even begin (feed your ELK).

Don’t evaluate your work for the screener. That is their job. Missing a word or a Sign is not an instant fail. If it happens don’t take on the aspect of failure for the rest of the test. If you feel you messed up, fix what you can and move on.  Don’t live in that moment. Don’t pitch a tent there. Don’t build a little cabin there. Don’t design a small research facility to examine the mistake.

Just move on.

Have you ever seen The French film La Femme Nikita? Not the TV series or that terrible terrible travesty of an American version with Bridget Fonda (nothing against Ms. Fonda… just dislike the remake!), the French version with Anne Parillaud. (Sadly the scene I found is dubbed… that doesn’t change my metaphor at all, dubbing just sucks in principle, wow I’m grouchy… deep breath, smile, and we move on).

Nikita was very naughty and was “executed” by lethal injection. However, she “wakes up” in a weird kind of finishing school.  They teach her how to dress and walk and use computers and fight and shoot. She is there for three years. On her 21st birthday her instructor takes her out of the school (for the first time) for dinner.  He gives her a birthday present, a big gun, tells her to shoot the diplomat behind her and escape though the window in the last stall in the men’s room. This is how it goes:

If it is not obvious, it’s a test. It’s what she was trained to do.  It does not go as she planned and she freaks out, twice.  Then she pulls it together and does what she trained to do.  The point is not that she freaked out.  The point is she does what she trained to do.

It’s just the NIC or the BEI or the state test or… whatever test is on the other side of that door.

It does not matter if something goes wrong if you do what you trained to do.  You can fall down. You can fall down a few times-so long as you always get back up one more time than you fall.

Do what you trained to do. You’ll be fine.

Before I send you off to test remember, oh remember, these three things:

1) this is a review of the the work you produce during a twenty to forty minute moment of your life, not a judgment on your worth as a person;

2) no matter what happens in that room no one will go to the morgue and no one will go to jail; and,

3) you enjoy interpreting. This is interpreting.  It’s ok to enjoy it. Feel the stress sure, but it’s ok to enjoy the process.

Good vibes to all of you!

(Psst.  I know I didn’t answer the 3 questions at the top.  That’s the point. If it bothers you, Google is your friend.)

Note from Uncle Dale: Non-Compete Clauses are Cute… Until They Are NOT

Uncle Dale back again!

Questions come in groups. This week everyone wants to about non-compete clauses/agreements. It even showed up on FB interpreters group.

Spring is here! “Big VRS” must be on a hiring binge, because that is when I get these questions. DO NOT TAKE ANY THING I SAY AS LEGAL ADVICE. Go talk to an attorney where you live. This is a blog called Uncle Dale’s Rules for heaven sake. Have you met your uncle? Remember your uncle last Thanksgiving? (If you have questions go talk to an attorney). This is just to get all y’all thinking.

So, what actually is a non-compete clause? It’s just like it says on the label, an agreement with your employer, it could be in writing or verbal or signed, not to compete with the employer after the employment relationship has been terminated.

The point of such an agreement is to make sure that, when you leave that job, you don’t set up shop across the road doing the same thing and using the customer list you took from your old job, or sell the knowledge or skills you acquired on this job to the competition. Makes sense right? You can’t learn the Colonel’s Secret Recipe of herbs and spices then quit and open your own chicken shack, or everyone would do just that and no one would give anyone a job because they would be training and setting up the competition.

The problem is such agreements lead to abuse. If I’m the boss, I want to hire talented people and I don’t want them taking that talent elsewhere-so I make my job offer contingent on an agreement not to work in the same industry or in the same geographic area for 2 years if you quit or are terminated. But the reason I hired you is this industry is what you do. If you can’t do it for two years if you quit then what can you do? You are kind of trapped in this company now, unless you can move outside the geographic boundaries of the agreement or live without a job for a couple of years. This gives license for an employer to mistreat employees because they CANNOT quit.

Because of the potential for abuse courts are suspicious of them generally and not every state allows this kind of agreement under statute. Oklahoma bans them out right. See 15 OK Stat § 15-219A (2014). California doesn’t like them. Its State law says they are not allowed, but in practice they may be allowed sometimes to protect Trade Secrets. Cal. Business & Professions Code sec. 16600. New York is contemplating banning them (more on that later) and Massachusetts is trying to prevent abuse by making it unattractive for an employer to enforce one.

I’m already hearing snoring out there so I will try to spice this up a bit!

Suppose you go to work for a VRS company, they are going to want you to sign all kinds of crap before you can sit in the chair and do your thing. They may want you to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement).(As the FCC covers the VRS interpreting part of this by strict legal requirements regarding privacy the NDA covers the workplace itself). You can’t tell anyone outside the company what the office looks like, or the equipment or way you log-in and out of the system… seriously. This stuff is protected. When in doubt just don’t talk about it!

Assignment Agreements… hummm… Proprietary Information and Invention Assignment Agreement, or PIIA for short. That is when you agree that anything you invent or think up while working for them belongs to them. These agreements are iffy, yes, but still may be enforceable. You know what? That is its own Note (I’ve seen these pop up lately in VRS employment agreements). Long story short these are hard for companies to enforce if you can show you created the workshop or did the research on your own time and without company funds or equipment.

Non-Compete Agreements. Ok they could be included in the middle of a whole lot of other clauses in a contract or a stand alone document. Ether way the first thing you need to know is a Non-Compete Agreement is a contract. Even if it’s in the middle of another contract, in some States it is still a separate contract.

What is a contract you ask?

A contract has three parts:

Offer;

Acceptance; and,

Consideration.

The first two are pretty well taken care of the minute you sit your butt in the chair. The third is more complex. Consideration is “the price of the agreement.” Each side is getting a benefit-the company gets your work and you get a paycheck but what are each of you paying for the non-compete? You are paying with giving your right to go work somewhere else and the company? Is giving you a paycheck? But that is for the work you are doing not the agreement not to compete. Remember, that is a separate contractual agreement. Some states say the company has to pay you something separate for that, others say continued employment is the consideration paid by the company. That always seemed like a threat more than a payment but the law is rarely pretty. Check with a lawyer in your own state!!!!

Here is the crux of it. Can a company just require you to sign away you ability to work as a VRS interpreter with anyone else as a condition of employment? No. (Maybe).

Non-Compete Clauses are there to protect from you walking out the door with trade secrets or goodwill (the client’s have not bonded with the company so much as with you and will follow you out the door) or with their extraordinary investment in training or education. These are the things a Non-Compete is supposed to cover.

So. Ask yourself VRS interpreter, what do you have when you leave that you did not have when you walked in?  I don’t mean to offend but VRS interpreters are like fast food workers, we are not getting and McDonald’s secrets that we are selling to Burger King. You come, you do your job, you go home. We really came in with the skills to do the job and have the same skills when we leave. (Don’t get too comfortable wait till we talk about Jimmy Johns!)

Do you have a customer list?

No.

Do you have any special knowledge about the algorithm or programming or mechanics of how VRS works, I mean technology wise, that you could sell to a competing VRS company?

No.

Are customers going to change VRS provides because you stopped working for one and started with another?

No (they don’t even know your name).

Did the VRS provider train you to interpret or did they hire you because you already knew how? Is there a unique or secret interpreting technique used by THIS VRS company that others are just DYING to get their hands on?

No.

Last but not least, did they invest a great deal of time and money in your training?

Maybe.

Did they pay for workshops? Did they pay for your certification testing? That is where it gets sticky. Courts will likely have to decide if the amount they invested makes the Non-Compete enforceable or not.

So, in places where Non-Compete agreements are allowed there are some general rules to how courts test if it is valid or not.

Courts want to know if the Non-Compete agreement is a product bad faith in the negotiations, in other words is the company using this for an illegitimate purpose (indentured servitude-you can’t leave so we don’t have to pay you well or treat you well);

Is the non-compete agreement necessary to protect legitimate business interest (is there really something you could walk out the door with that would hurt our position in the market or help our competitor);

Is the agreement reasonable in time, space, and scope; and,

What is the consideration of hardship (does it say you can’t work in this field anywhere in the whole country forever or just within 5 blocks for 2 years?)

The new sort of catch-all I am seeing in the case law is the simple question “would enforcing the non-compete agreement just be bad policy.”

For example in New York the court agreed that Jimmy Johns could enforce its Non-Compete agreement which stated that after an employee left they could not work for a competing sandwich maker, or any company that derived more than ten percent of its income from putting meat and cheese inside of bread, if that business is located within 3 miles of a Jimmy Johns, and for two years.

Think about that. What trade secret would a Jimmy Johns employee have? Jimmy Johns are so prevenient that the 3 mile rule covers most of the US. MacDonald’s-out, Burger King out. Any restaurant that serves subs or wraps-out. According to the New York court you could not work at an amusement park that sold food or bowling alley if the snack bar sold sandwiches if there was a Jimmy Johns within three miles. What if your company has cafateria? It would depend on if the cafateria constituted at least 10% of the businesses earnings.

I tell you all of this this because I have worked in VRS and other industries that have required Non-Compete agreement.

I signed them.

I signed them because the difficulty in enforcing them makes the chances the company will try minimal. Moreover if the company does try, in the current environment, the company will likely lose.

On two occasions I have actually received very stern cease and desist letters telling me I could not work at the place I was, or was going to, work.

I wrote the attorneys back on both occasions. I told them how adorable I though their cease and desist letters were, explained what a Non-Compete Clause was, wished them all the luck in the world in enforcing it and told them where they could stick it.

But I’m me. And it’s fun to be me.

Talk with an attorney before you sign one, but don’t lose a ton of sleep.

Last comments. After the New York court supported Jimmy Johns, the New York legislature started working on making such oppressive non-compete clauses illegal. Jimmy johns was sued in several other states and after having to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars (over 100,000 in Illinois alone) had dropped its non-compete agreement from its conditions for employment.

Massachusetts has been trying to pass a law that says if a company tries to enforce a Non-Compete agreement it must pay 100% of the former employees highest pay rate for the duration of the time the employer is not to work in the industry (didn’t pass this time but keep trying Massachusetts!)

I know I make even the shortest story long but the point of all of this is Non Compete clauses are generally disfavored. But don’t treat them lightly.

http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/FACExhibitA.pdf

Note from Uncle Dale: Prosody

Hello everyone Uncle Dale back again this note is about prosody prosody is the way we make ourselves understood its not the words but the pauses in between the words the speed or the volume or the emphasis we place on some syllables and not on others prosody is the guideposts we place within our communication that takes the great big jumble of lexical data we spew out to our friends and neighbors and separates it into digestible chunks of discrete information it is as I said how we make ourselves understood and without it every interaction would become a word puzzle the like of which would cause Will Shortz head to spin and every attempt to communicate would represent a near futile and almost insurmountable struggle prosody can work against us as well prosody is one of the reasons we sometimes cant immediately process accented English the problem for our brains is that the words are familiar but the spoken prosody the dynamic punctuation is not think of an Indian accent the rhythm is off to our non Indian senses so even if the words are pronounced in a familiar and accessible way we are still thrown by the cadence placing pauses a structure our brain must work to follow this is true of ASL as well the number one issue I see time and again is interpreters don’t have a strong handle on recognizing prosody or discourse markers as Rule 236 states if you cannot recognize a prosody marker when you see one in ASL you are certainly not using them when you interpret in ASL the Rule puts ASL in quotes and that is very much on purpose so what is a prosody marker you may ask or should be asking at this point if you cant define it off the top of your head but you have heard it or you know it was discussed in your itp but you didnt get it then so there is no way you will pull it out now you are not alone it is one of the most misunderstood tools in ASL linguistics why well the first reason that many interpreters struggle with this discussion is that there is some overlap in the terms used to describe prosody the various terms are not fungible but I hear each being used interchangeably on an alarmingly regular basis you will sometimes hear prosody markers called discourse markers and discourse markers called transition markers and all of them are used in a fairly fast and loose manner to identify paralanguage resparation i actually have a workshop on this i think you can access it through zaboosh anyway research by Brenda Nicodemus RID Views July 2008 Vol. 25, Issue 7 has shown 21 prosodic markers and then categorized them under four articulator groups in ASL it is my personal opinion that there are many many more but and maybe someday i will get around to proving it but until then we have 21 identifed markers and these are organized into hands head and neck eyes nose mouth and body if you want an example of every single dang one of them here

Every possible prosody marker

dont look at the signs just look at her head then look at her eyes then look at her mouth then look at her shoulders learning how to see the markers is the firststep in using them now to a greater or lesser extent everybody uses some markers but most interpreters dont really identify them as such as one student who is a coda told me when i pointed them out i didnt know that was a thing i mean i have seen it my whole life and i knew it was a thing but i didnt know it was a thing thing take it from me it is a thing thing the next step is learn how to read the meaning of the markers so you can accurately say them out loud

But…

That is a Note for another time.

Note from Uncle Dale: It Has to Look Easy

Hi Everyone!  Uncle Dale back again!

Just before graduation a student asked me, “when does it get to be easy?”  I looked at her and, I confess, chuckled a little and said, if it ever does, you’re doing it wrong!

That was NOT the answer she wanted.

I said, you become more practiced, you become more proficent, you develop the process but the process never becomes easy.

She asked, “then how do interpreters like [Name, Name and Name] make it look so easy?”

What, I replied, is the operetive word in that sentence?

“How?”

Oh you wish!

“Look.”

BINGO! Look, they make it look easy.  That has no connection to it actually being easy.

I let that mill around in her head for a few moments before I said, but you understand it has to look easy. That’s imperative!  The hearing client cannot even suspect that there is effort involved with the interpreting process.

Now she was really not pleased, “WHAT? Why?”

Because hearing people. That’s why.

Oh, there is no need to ask “hearing people… what?”  You know what.

Fine.  Let me put it this way:

To be Deaf is to live in constant risk of someone trying to take advantage of you (Flavia Fleischer got miffed at me one time for saying that until I explained) I did not say people taking advantage of you, I said risk of people trying to take advantage of you.  Not always on purpose, but always a risk.  Think of it this way:

There was a guy taking a tour of the Institute for Language Study. The guide took him passed several labs and showed him their research in Russian and Finish,  French and German. Suddenly they come to a large door which the guide indicates they should quietly tip toe past.  When they were clear of the hallway the guy asked the guide what the tip toeing was all about.  “It’s the Americans” she said, “we have not found a way to break it to them that they are not the only ones here.”*

My point is, that joke could just as easily work with hearing people.  Hearing people are highly “lingucentric.” Beyond expressing itself broadly in ethnocentrism, in signed interactions there is a tendency to subjugate Signed Language through a filter that they represent “visual representations” of the supposed dominant language. They feel that ASL is just a visual representation of English.  Because in their minds how could it be anything else?  It’s American Sign Language and in America we speak ENGLISH.  (See Rule 5 which says, “Nope.”)

This lingual-centric attitude instills in hearing people a sense that any person who struggles with English is less capable or intelligent.  Of course any interaction with a person lacking capability or intelligence becomes a burden, as in one must:

A) help; or,

B) put up with, this person.

The natural inclination is to take over, make decisions for that “child of a lesser god” and make sure you have taken care of them or at least speed this along so they are not your burden anymore (There are of course people who are open about their intent to take oppressive advantage of Language issues; as an attorney I’ve had to threaten more than one car dealer in my time. I have even heard of two times where someone objected to persons who are Deaf being granted Ph.Ds because they used interpreters for their defense and so they “obviously” did not have the language ability to really understand the subject to the acceptable level to call themselves Doctors-the arrogance of that makes me want to open a window to let the stuffy out).

With a heavy sigh the typical hearing person, regardless of his or her own capabilities or command of English, feels not just permission but an obligation to “do for” the “poor disabled person,” or “do to” if the opportunity presents itself.

This is the practical result of this elevation of English to a deified status. The person who is Deaf, no matter his or her natural brilliance, skill or ability always enters any communication at a disadvantage because they are using what is perceived as a lesser language.  How many times have you had a doctor or a judge ask you if that is “really what [they] said,” or controlled your eye-roll over the fact they are shocked at how much “easier it is to communicate with an interpreter.” That is because they approached the event, as is common, with the idea that ASL is just a broken form of English and the User a broken Hearing person so they will have to accept the full burden of shepherding the Parties through the interaction.

Any hint of difficulty in the process confirms this obnoxious belief.

Because of this common perception any difficulty in communication is assumed to be the fault of the Signed Language and by extension the User thereof; never a weakness in the hearing person’s own perfect language.  The User of the minority language, ASL, is subject to reflexive-audism at the first moment of struggle; pitied or preyed upon. Like I said it’s not always a matter of evil intent, often it’s just reflex built into the culture. But reflex is powerful.

So, in the end part of your “advocacy” as an interpreter is to make sure the process of communication feels smooth, unquestionable, easy.

But it will never actually be easy.

It will never be easy because as a general rule interpreters kinda suck at ASL.  We like to imagine we don’t but we don’t put half the time and effort into understanding the nuance of the language as we do into producing signs.  If you don’t understand the nuance of the language you don’t produce that nuance in your signed interpretations.

It takes a hell of a lot of work to make it look easy, but it must look easy.  In order make it look easy we must work (even after we get certified), to not just know the language enough to use it, but understand why we know-and be able to discuss it.

If it’s ever easy, you’re doing it wrong.  But it must look easy to do it right.

*Linguistics jokes! Ha. I think the audience for that was Robert Lee, Dan Parvaz and… that may actually be it.

Note from Uncle Dale: Horrible Things (please don’t let the title stop you.)

Hey everyone! Uncle Dale with a scary titled Note.  It will likely be a hard one to read for many people. Please do though.  It is one of the hardest lessons to teach and most important to learn in this odd work we do.

This Note came up because twice this week I got two questions that are really the same question from two different angles.  Thus, a Note is in order.

Question One: how should I deal with really emotional events as an interpreter?

Question Two: do you ever get nightmares or have mood swings or psychological fallout from really awful things you’ve had to interpret and how do you deal with that?  (Honest answer from Aunt SuperTam: Yes. You do. You know you do.)

As I said, at heart these are the same question.

The easy answer here is point to Rule 70, Rule 77 and Rule 112.

But there is a reason easy is not a virtue.  Because when you are the witness to someone’s world crumbling, easy is a million miles away.

There she is, devastated by what the doctor just said, you sat and talked with her at an ASL storytelling event just last week. She was getting ready to go back to school because her youngest was finally in first grade and she would have some time to study during the day. Now, time may be the one thing of which she has the least amount. She may not have much of it at all.

Or the VRS call, the one that did not go as the caller planned.  I mean, you don’t know him, but there he is on the screen looking devastated. His significant other is gone. You have interpreted as he called her work, her mother, her friends and no one knows (or at least no one is telling where she went or with whom) but the house was empty, her drawers and closets were empty when he came home.

Or, the hospital room is dimly lit and you are waiting for the doctor to come and explain to the family how all of this will work. Their son walked out the door with his skate board under his arm and the next time they saw him it was here. Like this.  You interpreted for his birth, and now you are waiting to interpret the process of turning off the machines and letting him go.

How do you do it. How do you interpret for an investigation of abuse or for sex offender therapy or violence or death without it changing you in some fundamental way?

The answer is you can’t.  Pain changes you.  Violence changes you.  Despair and misery change you.  If you are going to do this job you will eventually interpret for something… awful. You will have, as the Rule says, something in your head you wish you never knew was a thing.

Somewhere out there a reader is thinking, “That is why I only interpreter K-6…” I don’t like being the one to burst your bubble. The situation that drove me from interpreting for several years (and actually into law school) came out of  a K-6 setting.

I wish I had a magic wand or ancient book that I could send you too and say, “this! This is the answer.”  I don’t. I only have my own experience and what works for me.  I do my job.

I do my job and do it well, because in any situation where a person must stare grief or agony in the face the first question always seems to be,”what can I do.”  Any time that question pops up in my head the answer is the same. Do your job.

In all of these situations you are there because this Deaf Client, friend or stranger, needs to communicate.  Each Client in the middle of trauma has something to tell or something to hear.  Each must effectively get that message out or clearly process it in.

Right now it is not important that I am their friend.  It is important that they can ask that doctor or that police officer questions and get answers, or maybe just say their piece.

The doctor is there to address the medical needs, a social worker may show up to address the emotional needs. Family and friends are, or will, hold them while they cry.  My job is to make sure that they can rage or scream or question or accuse or beg or bargain or sob without worrying that there was something they missed or that something was left unsaid.

The most loving, caring and considerate act in which I can engage in this crisis is to do the thing I was brought in to do; facilitate open communication. I can’t control the outcome.  Any doctor will tell you that you “do your job and depend on others to do theirs.” You never forget a face you have lost. But if you did everything you could, the best that you could, when they come to you in the night it’s a visit not a haunting.

If I do that, I interpret, and do it well, I don’t need to worry that I did not do enough.

Never forget, Pain changes you. Violence changes you, and doing your job well not an inoculation against all forms of vicarious trauma.  You must accept that as a fact.  I am talking about a tool not a cure. Everyone deals with emotional things in personal ways; this is what works for me.

Now, back to the first question.  It did not specifically address horrible things. It addressed emotional things.  Births are emotional. Weddings are emotional. And they are wonderful, inspiring and, sometimes, just as dangerous.

It’s not your baby, it’s not your wedding. You are not family, you are not a Guest, you are the “help.” Getting invested in other people’s lives is fine, if you are a friend, or if you are family. But the minute you enter the picture from a “professional angle” it changes the relationship generally and also quite specifically for that event. You are forever connected with that moment. Ask a divorced person who is Deaf who was at their wedding they may not remember everyone but they can all name the interpreter.  Most can tell you who picked that interpreter.

Joy to Pain lingers in the mind much longer and clearer than pain in purity.

The advice is the same however.  Do your job and do it well.

Oh and try the cream puffs if you get a chance.  They are heavenly.