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.

Note from Uncle Dale: HR 620 

Hello One and All!  It’s your Uncle Dale.  This morning I was on a Radio Show discussing my concerns with HR 620 (there is actually another Bill that could be just as bad, but it has no text currently-just a name HR 1493) and I realized that I should really take a minute and send out a warning to all of you.

As you may or may not know I have strong opinions about the weakness of the ADA when it comes to protecting the rights of people who are Deaf (I believe the term I used this morning was “barely functional”). This legislation would pretty much end the ADA’s thin layer of protection for the Deaf community.

The bill proposes to change Title III to say this:

(B) BARRIERS TO ACCESS TO EXISTING PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS.—A civil action under section 302 or 303 based on the failure to remove an architectural barrier to access into an existing public accommodation may not be commenced by a person aggrieved by such failure unless—

“(i) that person has provided to the owner or operator of the accommodation a written notice specific enough to allow such owner or operator to identify the barrier; and

“(ii)(I) during the period beginning on the date the notice is received and ending 60 days after that date, the owner or operator fails to provide to that person a written description outlining improvements that will be made to remove the barrier; or

“(II) if the owner or operator provides the written description under subclause (I), the owner or operator fails to remove the barrier or to make substantial progress in removing the barrier during the period beginning on the date the description is provided and ending 120 days after that date.

“(C) SPECIFICATION OF DETAILS OF ALLEGED VIOLATION.—The written notice required under subparagraph (B) must also specify in detail the circumstances under which an individual was actually denied access to a public accommodation, including the address of property, the specific sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act alleged to have been violated, whether a request for assistance in removing an architectural barrier to access was made, and whether the barrier to access was a permanent or temporary barrier.”.

Understand the problems this causes.  1) Right now, often the only reason a company takes any interest in whether or not it is ADA compliant is because if it does not, it can be sued at any minute.  It therefore behooves said company to be proactive in its compliance with the ADA.  But if this Bill becomes law, no business need worry about investing one moment of thought in its complaince becuase unless and until its get a letter, it has no risk of a suit. If it recieves a letter the business has another four months to address any actual possible changes if it writes a letter back after 60 days. This will effectively end any personal responsibility by companies for their own accessibility; 2) The responsibility on enforcing compliance has, more or less, always been with the persons protected by the ADA (people with disabilities) but now they are turned into unpaid federal inspectors. Not only are they faced with a barrier but they must be able state chapter and verse the specific sections of the law that were violated and verify that they already requested the business to comply (which, if you think about it makes the letter redundant because they have already made the request); and, 3) It is not enough under this Bill for a person with a disability just to have noticed non-compliance or a barrier to access, the persons who are supposed to be protected by the law now must be able to specify in detail how they were actually denied access (this is insidious wording as it goes beyond just the idea that the business was not compliant, a person with a disability must defend that the lack of compliance actually denied them access). Think about this. What other law do you know where in the law says “businesses must X” and you see a business that has not X, but the law is not effective until the business has caused you injury personally by not X.

Think of a business that has exposed wiring but you cannot complain about it unless you get shocked and then warn the business. Or is structurally unsound but is not required to fix it unless it collapses on you. Or has rats running around in the kitchen but you can’t file a complaint unless it made you personally sick. You see a business that is not ADA compliant you can’t file a complaint unless you can show that you needed to patronize that business and couldn’t. Their defense is, “you could have just ordered it online we did not have to serve you.” Even if I see a store that sells something I will need but do not need today, I must go to the store and actually be denied access prior to beginning the process to enforce compliance.  Or lets suppose that I want to go to a resort and I can see from the pictures is not compliant, I may not be able to begin the process of enforcing compliance until I go on my vacation because:

a) I have not actually been denied access until that moment; and,

b) I have only seen pictures and my not have a complete idea of the full extent of the violations.

It takes the ability to fix an issue prospectively and relegates it to retroactive. In one way it places other disability groups in the disfavored position that persons who are Deaf have faced since the ADA became a law.  They have never had a good avenue to fix an issue before injury under the ADA. But now…

Looking specifically at the Deaf community.  If a person who is Deaf has a doctors appointment and requests an interpreter and the doctor says no (we’ll just write back and forth… it’ll be fine I do it with all my hearing impaired patient’s) the Deaf person will currently lose if they sue, because the law does not give them any authority to choose their own auxiliary aid and does not afford a right to an interpreter, only effective communtation (I know you only communicate in ASL and writing has never been effective to you at any time… but who knows this time it just might work!) So the “Futile Gesture” doctorine is all but unavalible to persons who are Deaf (yes, the irony of something called the futile “gesture” doctorine being unavalible to people who are Deaf has not escaped me!)  So, the patient who is Deaf must actually go the appointment and have communication fail.  Once that is done the person who is Deaf must, of course, request an interpreter again. If the Doctor refuses… NOW the Deaf person can sue.

If the HR 620 becomes law, the Deaf patient can write a letter to tell the Doctor the exact section of the law the doctor violated and then wait four months to see if the Doctor will or will not provide the interpreter before they can sue.  That is just as good as taking the razor thin protection the ADA somewhat affords currently and trashing it.

Please write your representative in Congress to say NO to both the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, H.R. 620, and the ADA Lawsuit Clarification Act of 2017, H.R. 1493! Look here to download a template letter from NAD (make the changes necessary if you are an interpreter so it matches your role and you can find your Representativehere.

Do it today!

HOWARD: Hi! Some of you may have noticed the trending hashtag: #protectADA. You may wonder why the ADA needs protection. That’s right, right now, there is a threat to the ADA. Some of you may remember my AHA video last September about a House bill, the ADA Education and Reform Act, with a different bill number because it was submitted during the previous Congress term – and it failed, luckily. However, the bill has returned with the same language with a new bill number in this new Congress term. Another Representative submitted a second bill on the same issue. The ADA Education and Reform Act’s new bill number is H.R. 620. The other bill uses similar language and is known as the ADA Lawsuit Clarification Act, H.R. 1493. Both bills are similar to each other and to last year’s failed bill. These bills ask that a deaf person or a person with a disability who experiences lack of access to a business, restaurant, hospital, and other places cannot file a complaint or lawsuit right away. They must first send a letter about the lack of access to the business. The person must send the letter and wait for accommodations and changes to be made. Then if there are no accommodations or changes made the second time, the person has the right to file a complaint or sue. This does not make sense because the ADA was passed in 1990, 27 years ago, and everyone should already know how to follow the ADA after so many years. The bill failed last year yet people are trying this again. We must stop them by letting them know these two bills are not okay. Whether you send via letter, email, fax, or social media – use the template we provide and send that to your Representative. The new template is modified from last year for you to use for the two new proposed bills. Download the template, add your name and edit the text with your information, and send! We need your help to ensure these bills will fail. Congress must know why the ADA is important to us and to protect our rights. #protectADA. Thank you.

Video fades to a soft white background with several different font types showing “NAD” very quickly. Copyright video ends with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) logo centered. Blue text below the logo appears, “A production of the National Association of the Deaf (copyright) 2017 All Rights Reserved”.

Note from Uncle Dale: Four and the Bar

This is not my normal Note.  It’s a little more personal.  This is a true story. It was published on Facebook right after it happened and on my other blog (the blog which must not be named) a week or so ago. Someone stumbled on it there and asked me why I did not post it here.  I don’t know.  Even now I am a little nervous. Maybe because it feels so different from my other posts on this blog. On this site I try to talk about universal experiences and this one is, well, personal.

So, I had a moment today that that is worth talking about because it’s worth thinking about. I had an unexpected conversation. A heartbreaking conversation. A conversation that cost me four dollars, some change, a little of my time, oh, and an Atkins bar.

As I was pulling out of a gas station this morning a man in his early to mid-twenties, obviously homeless, stepped in front of my car. He didn’t look at me or act threatening, he just stood there blocking my way and reading a thick paperback book with the cover torn off.

I rolled down my window and asked, in as sunny a tone as I could muster (being that I was late now and inconvenienced by this… self absorbed stranger), “you gonna move buddy?”

He didn’t look up. He just said with a practiced tone, “it’s a toll… a toll way! It’s ten bucks.”

Oh no, you don’t get to do that when I’m late, I thought. In the same sunny voice as before I replied, “ooooor I could call the cops?”

He looked up now. More toward me than at me; he didn’t make eye contact, but there was a “challenged animal” look on his face. In a highly agitated way he stabbed his finger at the ground, about 30 inches from his foot opposite my car. “See the sidewalk? See! I’m not on it. I’m in the parking lot. I’m not obstructing traffic. This is private property [the Convenience Store] can trespass me, but not you! You can’t. You can’t.” He looked back at his book with purpose. His voice was still filled with stress but aiming for matter-of-fact he said, “and if you hit me with your car it’s vehicular assault. You have intent, a thought, a Mens, and an act, an Actus, together, both, both together.”

At that moment I looked and saw him again, now in a very different light. I asked, “where did you go to law school?”

That set him off. It was obviously a familiar question, but never before a sincere question. “I DID! I DID GO TO LAW SCHOOL ASSHOLE!”

The sunny voice was not working so I switched to an ‘as soothing as possible’ voice. “I know you did.”

He was not having it. He snorted. He paced around a little in a tight circle, never giving way enough space for me to pull around.

I tried again this time going for matter-of-fact. “I was not asking like that. I’m asking seriously. Where did go?”

So he told me the name of the school, then made it clear, “and I graduated!”

I said, “I got accepted there, but I ended up going law school at Northeastern.”

He collected himself by focusing back on his book, took a breath and asked me, “Did you like it?”

Remember, this whole conversation is happening through the open window of my car, with him pacing in front of the hood.

“Did I like law school?” I asked.

“Yeah, did you like it?”

I didn’t have to think hard for an answer. “Yes, I did.” And it’s the truth, I did. It was a time when everything at home and school had to run with organized precision, everyone pulled together and my full time job was thinking about the law.  I loved it.

There was something in his voice and face that told me that law school was a good memory for him as well. Maybe the last good memory.

“Did, did, doooo you like being a lawyer?”

“I do, very much.”

“I didn’t pass the Bar,” it was a statement both blunt and confessional. “I try, I tried, I wanted to.” The young man sniffed and his pacing slowed to more of a swaying shuffle. “I would have liked being a lawyer, but, you know I liked other things, I guess, I guess I liked other things… other things, more.” He turned his gaze and fixed it on his book.

The pain of that statement haunts me.  Of course I’m a human so the word DRUGS clicked on in big neon lettering in my head. Then I gave myself a heartbeat to think. The drugs were no doubt part of it, the signs were all there so that was obvious. But, I don’t think that he was talking about the drugs, at least not in the way I had instantly interpreted it.

I think the drugs were not the original demon.

The drugs, I think, were the demon he invited, the demon he chose-to fight the demon he already had. Maybe, the thing he “liked more” was escaping the terrors in his head by making the demon already living there do battle the demon of drugs, while he, unnoticed by them both, could slip off for a brief bit of oblivion.

I told him the truth. I really do like being a lawyer. I work with people who are Deaf, and it’s tough work for very little reward. My wife says I have an absolute lock on a community of people who can’t afford to pay me. I tend to win, but there is not much money in winning a case under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  More than that, unlike physical access which deals in permanent structural changes like ramps and widening doorways, the accommodations I fight for, interpreters and effective communication, are creatures of the moment.

An interpreter is not fixture. Unlike a widened doorway, or a ramp, the interpreter is not there anytime the person who is Deaf needs one. Even if a doctor or lawyer or other professional agrees to provide an interpreter this time, they may not next time. So I tend to fight the same battles, sometimes with the same doctors and lawyers and bankers, that I already fought three times before.

The Defendants I face can understand paying for a ramp, it’s a one time expense and helps more customers to access their business.  But it’s different with people who are Deaf. An interpreter is not a one time expense-but it is an expense for just this one person and, they are paying for this one person to have access to them. Not just the place or the business, the doctor or lawyer is paying so this person who is Deaf can have access to their very selves.

“I’m not paying so someone I don’t want to talk to can talk to me,” they think.  

Often I have to show them that they are wrong, and they will in fact be paying for just that.

But like a dog chasing after the porcupine that left quills in its nose, they always seem to think they will have a better defense the next time. But they always end up with a sore nose.

The wins, like I said, are regular but the gains are incremental-almost glacial. It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating. But it’s mostly frustrating because I fight for my Clients each day, in the context of a world that is structured around hearing and sound, and presumes that if you can’t access the world in that way that is your own problem.  Indifference and indignity toward people who are Deaf is just woven into the pattern of, well, everything.

Discrimination is there, always. It’s there in a thousand upon a thousand little roadblocks and unaviodable sharp edges that the hearing world never sees, and most hearing people would not care about (believe me I know for a fact) even if I could point each and every barb out to them.

I am not Deaf, so I can’t really understand the experience in the same was as a person who lives the experience.  If I worked every day for 100 years I would never even be able to identify all these embedded shibboleths scattered almost randomly about the world I share with my Clients, because I can’t truly see them. They don’t actually grab at me or cut at me. So, why do I care?

I just do.

My mother says I was born this way.

If there has to be a reason I do this then it’s my Clients…

My Clients get up every morning, and again and again navigate a world that is, was, and always will be, till the end of time-amen! fundamentally unfair to them.  

I will NEVER understand what that is like. I will never know for myself. So, in the end I cannot be the guy who fixes all this.

So. Why? If I’m never going to win the big fight then why fight the daily ones? If I can’t even understand it let alone fix it, why keep trying?  Because this is the thing that is needed from me.

I am not saying DEAF PEOPLE NEED ME; my Clients were fighting pervasive discrimination before I ever got here, they will fight it long after I’m gone.

It’s not about pity or a savior complex.

It what I do.

What I do is needed.  Right now.

And that’s it. What I can do is needed right now, so right now I do what is needed.

And it’s worth a 100 years of work if, when I’m done, there is one less blade to cut or stone for the Deaf community to stumble over in the weave of the fabric of this unfair world when I’m done.

If that is true, that one thing, whatever it is, is fixed, then I can die knowing that I did what I could as often as I could, and did what was needed to make the unfairness of this world a little less of a fundamental fact.

Big ideas for a Tuesday morning, and also-here was J.D.* to think about, standing there, blocking my way.  

On the surface J.D. is nothing like the Clients I serve. His fight is different, but he rasied all those big questions for me because he is so different, yet he also knows the fatigue, the bone tired of pushing daily though a world that is set against you and doesn’t care to change.

J.D. knows that in a way that I never will.

And so J.D. stood in front of my car, and looked at me, and saw me doing the thing he had worked for, the thing he wanted to do, but did not have any hope of actually doing, because the demons, both resident and guest, stole that all away.

While you are reading this, wherever he is, he is blinking against the glare of the abiding and fundamental unfairness of his world. Because he is not just pushing through the cutting slicing blades in the fabric around him. He is also fighting the ignobility that thrives inside of his own head.

Today J.D. pushed back. He pushed back by standing in front of cars and charging tolls to strangers. But as he pushed the deeper levels of all that is unfair pulled back at him, and clawed and scratched from behind his own eyes. His primary battle is on two fronts, the fabric of discrimination constructed by the indifference of people around him; and his own very personal serving of unfairness, the unfairness that lives in his head; all day everyday and all night every night.

Of course, I wanted to fix that too.

I couldn’t fix it.

I can’t fix it.

It’s not mine to fix.

But, I wanted to fix it… And now, I was late for something I could fix. I had to go. I was supposed to go fight for the thing I could fix ten minutes ago; seven minutes before I even met J.D. So I said, “Hey J.D. I’ve got to go, will you take four dollars for the toll? Because four dollars is what I got.”

He looked up from the book, eyes near me but not exactly at me. “Five dollars. I’ll take five dollars.”

“I’ve got four aaaand?” I scrambled around for a second, “an Atkins bar.”

He made a face. “Is that a protein bar? Like the chewy kind of protein bar?”

(I’m with him on that one, those are gross) “Yeah it’s a protein bar, but it’s not chewy, it’s actually pretty good.”

He smiled, but was looking at his book again so the smile was not because he liked the idea of a non-chewy protein bar. He smiled, and then he made a counter offer.

He didn’t beg. He countered.

J.D. was negotiating.

“Five dollars and the Bar…five aaaand the Bar. Last Best Offer.”

There he was. The J.D. who went to law school. Suddenly, he was telling me what he needed from me. What he needed, at that moment, was to not to beg but to negotiate like he learned in law school. Like a peer. He set out his terms and now J.D. was working toward a settlement.

So we negotiated. “Four dollars and forty, one, two… forty-four cents is my top end of my authority to bargain,” I used the language he learned from his professors, “Four dollars forty-four cents and the Bar is as high as I can go.”

For a moment I wondered what him “walking away from the table” would look like, because I think he was contemplating that move. So I pushed to save the negotiated agreement in front of us.

“Let me propose this, will you take four dollars and forty-four cents and the Bar, as full ‘accord and satisfaction’ for the toll, as a professional courtesy to me-J.D. to J.D.”

That caught him off guard and he had to think on it for a minute. I could see it cross his mind that I might be making fun of him, but he dismissed it, and he said, “I’m a J.D., professional courtesy J.D. to J.D., professional, p-professional courtesy (he said these words very slowly) because I’m a J.D. I am a J.D. Because, I am one too. Ok.”

He walked to my window and I gave him four dollars and the change in bills and coins, and the Atkins Bar.

He looked at his negotiated settlement and then, with a little anger in his voice snapped, “I don’t need your help!”

“Yep, I didn’t offer any.” I assured him.

He look at me and really made eye contact for the first time in all of our interaction. He said, “ok. Good. Now you know.”

I replied, “Now I know. Be carefully out there J.D.”

He slapped the palm of his hand softly on the roof of my car a few times and said, “yep, yep always am. Go. Go be a lawyer.” And waived me away, turned and walked toward the sidewalk saying, “go be a lawyer, go out there and be a lawyer.”

I don’t think he was talking to me there at the end.

My heart hurts.

Because of who I am, I cycle though this conversation over and over and think “should I have done more?” Then I remember what he told me, “I don’t need your help.” Unfortunately, I could not have made him take my help. I could not force him, I don’t have that power.

Luckily I guess, I don’t have that power.

Stay safe J.D.

* Juris Doctorate is the degree issued by Law Schools. J.D.

Note From Uncle Dale: SWAG

It’s here IT’S HERE IT’S HERE!!  The Swag Goddesses at Lucky Duck Label have brought forth the Uncle Dale’s Rules Shirts!  More on the Way!!  A perment link can be found in the sidebar under “Swag” but you can also just click here!

Rule 18 on

Or this! You could own this! Shirt. I mean you could own this shirt. (I don’t know though, Rachel might be looking…)  Just click here!
Rule One on

And more on the way!!!  Thank you Lucky Duck Label!

Check out their whole collection for all your Sunshine and Snark needs!

Note from Uncle Dale: Happiness

Hello. My name is Uncle Dale and I spend a great deal of time making myself laugh.

It’s… loud, in my head.  It’s loud all the time. It’s loud and sometimes confusing. I have ADHD in Las Vegas buffet size portions. As a result there are many people who find me… well, obnoxious. And they are right, because to them, I am. That used to bother me.  But it doesn’t anymore. Because I’m happy.

My wife finds me amusing. I find her smart and creative and… i’ll just say it, wow! is she hot! I just hope to keep amusing her so she won’t notice that she is way out of my league (and I would appreciate it if you don’t tell her because I have been dreading her figuring that out for 25 years!)

I am happy.  Generally.  No one is happy all the time. But I am getting better and better at being happy most of the time because of two important lessons I am always re-learning.

The first lesson I learned from reading David Foster Wallace:

 Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult  life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not  worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the  compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to  worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you…

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

From “This is Water”

I am happy because I choose to be. I consciously, daily and sometimes minute by minute choose to be.

Interpreting does not make me happy. Being a Professor with Tenure does not make me happy. Being a lawyer doesn’t make me happy. This blog does not make me happy (it does make me laugh, which is why I like it).

I enjoy every one of these things-a lot! But, I place upon none of these roles the responsibility to make me happy, because none of them are me. Not one of them are who I am; they are all what I do.

I do them because I love to do them. I do them because I enjoy doing them. But I’m happy all on my own without any of them.

Let me say that again, none of these things are who I am. These things are all what I do.

If you are thinking that right now I’m going to give you some secret of life and tell you who you are, sorry no. Because, how would I know? I am also not you. You are you. Figuring out the secret to your life is the work you do for yourself.

The second lesson I learned from a mentor of mine who was dying of a brain tumor (I know it sounds like a cliché or a the plot of a John Green novel. Steve, my mentor, would have loved that because he loved when life made you into a cliché).

Steve and I were sitting quietly on a random Tuesday near the end of his life when he told me:

Life is like a roller coaster, but not in the way you think I mean that. At any specific point in your life if you ask yourself, “Am I happy? Am I enjoying myself?” The answer is usually no.  You have work, and kids, and relationships, and a house to keep up and people who are depending on you.

Life, it’s like riding the roller coaster.  If you are standing in line and you ask yourself, “Am I happy?” The answer is no; because you are not on the roller coaster, you are waiting and a lot of life is about waiting.

When you finally get on and the roller coaster starts, if you ask yourself, “Am I happy?” The answer is no; because you are terrified. A lot of life is about being terrified.

When you get off the roller coaster if you ask yourself, “Am I happy?” The answer is no; because you are not on the roller coaster. A lot of life is thinking about experiences once they’re over.

But.  If instead of dwelling on a past you don’t have anymore, if instead you look at the whole experience, the whole thing-beginning to end, and you ask yourself “Am I happy?” The answer is yes! Because you rode the roller coaster.

Now, if I was to ask myself “Am I happy?” No, of course not, I’m dying.  I’m leaving my family, and my career, and my friends, and my home.  But if I step back and look at it all, what do I see?  I have a family I will miss, and a career I loved, and dear friends and a home. Even the bills I have had to pay show that I had opportunities and was surrounded by benefits some people in this world could only dream of.

So, when I get off this ride I want my last thoughts to be “wasn’t it great to ride the roller coaster,” and I can walk away knowing I am happy.

Dr. Steven Timothy

My oldest son was born a few days after Steve died.  His middle name is Timothy.

I teach a course called Professional Issues in Interpreting. It’s a skills class but the skill is how to live as an interpreter.  We cover topics like: resumes, setting up your own business, taxes, negotiation, contracts, invoices,  finding jobs with government agencies, state and federal contracts, pros and cons of referral agency vs. independent vs. consortium, panel discussions on an interpreter’s relationship with the Deaf community… and stress and vicarious trauma and perspective and happiness.

Happiness is important for this class.  As important as any other lesson in interpreting.  Because, as interpreters I think some of us, well, all of us at one time or another, do what we do to prove that we have worth.  We serve others as a way of helping ourselves, maybe even fixing ourselves.  I have said–in a gallows humor way–that interpreters tend to be trying to fix something that is broken, but are always looking in the wrong place for the break.

If you will forgive me a bit of an affront–this may be too egotistical even for me (and that my friends is saying something!) I would like to add to the words of David Foster Wallace:

Uncle Dale’s addition to Mr. Wallace…Worship your skills and abilities as an interpreter, if it becomes what you are, you will always be afraid of failing at the next appointment, you will always fear and resent the interpreter who is “better than you”, always be afraid of getting ‘caught’ and labeled a fraud.

p.s. There is ALWAYS an interpreter who is “better” at this than you.

I have never met an interpreting student or professional that needed to look for their worth anywhere outside of their own skins.  It comes factory installed.

The very best interpreters have stopped trying to attach their happiness to how skilled they are, and they interpret for the love of the work, and the beauty of the language and the thrill of the challenge.  They are passionate, they are driven, they are stressed, they are unsatisfied with the status quo and seeking ever seeking improvement, but only for the sake of being better at what they do; because who they are is… happy.

Note From Uncle Dale: Born With It!

Hello it’s Uncle Dale.

Hi.  I just guided a recently certified interpreter through a series of breathing exercises and made sure there were no sharp objects in the house.  She had just come face-to-face with one of the true boggarts of the interpreting world, and was having a hard time coping with the full reality of its exsistance.  I’ve been there.  Thus, I showed empathy and understanding, but most of all I think it helped that I confirmed that she was not out of her mind and that her frustrations were, in fact, valid.

She just had her first run in with an interpreter who is “Born With It.”

Ooooh think about it. You know at least one BWI, and on some level; gurrrrrrooohhhhwe hate them so!

Breathe CODAs, because I am not talking about CODAs (though many BWI’s are). I am talking about the interpreter that seems to come with that weird, “factory installed” blanket acceptance by the Deaf community.

Ok! The face that instantly popped into your head? Yeeeaaah, THAT ONE!

The BWI, is the interpreter for whom IT  DOES  NOT  MATTER  IN  THE  SLIGHTEST if they show up at an assignment 27 minutes late, naked, carrying a shotgun; not one Client will complain… or even blink an eye. NOT. ONE.

The BWI has some freakish magic shield that allows her to, with almost wild abandon, do stuff that would END your career or mine.

Case in point, years ago I teamed with a BWI who, I swear to you, when confronted with the word “bi-sexual” for the first time paused, kinda looked heavenward in an attitude of thoughtful contemplation, did not look at me to be fed-though I was ready to feed, and then signed with confidence,


I was… Stunned? Freaked? Ready to throw my body in front of him as a human shield?

BUT the row FULL of Deaf Activists just went:


Even now I close my eyes and imagine doing the same thing, and all I see is:

Ok! Full disclosure. I don’t know what I would have done if I was in BWI’s place. This was obviously a while ago (to say the least) and bi-sexuality had not been a common topic of public discussion at that point in the history of the profession; I know I had never had occasion to use it before.

While BWI was walking on stage I just happened to observe a discussion between attendees on the proper Sign for bi-sexual. So, truth be told, at the moment BWI might have needed it from me, I had that Sign in my toolbox for maybe 5-7 minutes; making me the expert on all Signs of the “Orientational variety.”

(What is the difference between a Professor and a student at a Community College? One chapter!)

BUT I HAD IT. I had the proper Sign, and he did… that! And… They were fine with it! WHY were they fine with it?

I didn’t want them to be fine with it!

But fine with it they were, because he was that lesser devil, a “Born With It!” (Ok. Not enough? Not convinced? So, one time I teamed with the same BWI and he showed up in a brown flannel shirt with head shaved, SHAVED! He did not do it on purpose, mind you-this was just a brown shirt “just shaved my head” period of his life- BUT, he stood on the stage just in time to interpret, “Welcome everyone to this celebration of the life of Martin Luther King JR…” in a brown shirt… with a shaved head… and no one, Deaf or hearing, winced or even seemed to notice; BWI).

Ok. I will admit, there may have been just the tensiest bit of professional jealousy (very professional, yes, but also quite a generous amount of jealousy in that mix) because… truth? He is a FANTASITC interpreter. To this day one of the best I’ve seen.  He is clear, fluid and comfortable to watch.  He has this cowboy charm, yeah, I know, weird right? Cowboy charm is not a discription you would normally associate with an interpreter-but, well… BWI!  Sigh. What I’m saying is BWI or not, you can’t help but love working with him.

Dang it.

Well, most of the time I love working with him. Except when his BWI powers blast out and scorch the earth around me… and when, that one time, I missed something, looked at him and all I got was a sparkly smile and two thumbs up-‘you’re doin’ great’-NO I’M NOT. THAT IS WHY I LOOKED AT YOU! He is not perfect-which is an oddly comforting and a little petty!

Now, (I looked at my former student) it is irritating enough when the BWI is fully competent and freakishly charming, but it’s much worse when you feel the BWI is objectively just… not… either of those things.  Like when the BWI uses weird handshapes or odd placements or their movement or rhythm is … URGH! Or they randomly initialize or flip back and forth between ASL and English or shoehorn in SEE articles or mouth everything in a wildly exaggerated way or omit like unbelieveable amounts of information! or YOU  KNOW  FOR! A!  FACT!  THEY  JUST MADE  THAT  SIGN  UP! it is NOT a real sign! It’s not! And they say “oh it’s regional” BUT ITS NOT! or “oh, well, I got it from one of the Clients and it’s the Sign they are all expecting me to use… BULL!!! ITS NOT! EVERYTHING THEY DO LOOKS LIKE AN INTERPRETIVE DANCE ABOUT CUED SPEECH WHILE ON FIRE! (Pant, Pant, pant, in through the nose and out through the mouth).

But, the Clients. The Clients j-j-just nod and smile and then ignore you when the appointment is over, but line up to pile “thank yous” on BWI!

My Mentee asked me if I was ok.


“Ok” she said, “what do I do about it?”



Did you see any violations of the CPC? I don’t just mean odd Sign choices. I mean violating the Clients’ confidentiality or suppressing the Clients’ right to speak or think or act for themselves?


Were the Clients’ happy, or at least satisfied with the work produced?

“They seemed to be.”

Anyone go to the morgue? Anyone go to jail?

“No, but…”

Stop. There is no “but” to this. You are a visitor in this world my friend. You don’t get to choose who the Deaf community likes or doesn’t like or accepts or doesn’t accept-anymore that you get to “fix” cultural rules you don’t understand. It’s not your culture, you don’t get any say at all. And if you say “that’s not fair” because you must suffer the smallest taste of the bitterness of not getting to have a say, or feel the slightest sting of the discomfort of having your views discounted-an insult that is served to your Clients in heaping amounts each and every day, just remember that they still get up everyday and navigate a world that is fundamentally unfair! I’m not talking about discrimination (we fight that!) I’m talking about a world geared toward sound as a value so that disparate access is woven into the very fabric of day-to-day life. I mean one thousand and one institutionalized, culturally embedded daily indignities that never can, nor ever will, change; it is unfair. Was. Will be. Forever. Amen.

So, this BWI is more beloved than you, but you don’t think he deserves it?

Thou art not yet as Job! 

You don’t get to choose who or what the Deaf community accepts or supports or even praises.

The world is full of BWIs. But it has just as many “Not Get Away With Its” who eventually get caught and crash and burn, as it has “Born With It’s” who are mysteriously successful.

You ready for the hard truth?


You aren’t either of them, I’m not either of them. We are working stiffs without magic or malice.  So you and I have to work twice as hard as the BWI to get half the professional respect. That sucks. It does.  But it’s worth it.  Because you get to do this every day, seriously what could be wrong with that?

I may never be known as “a natural.”  I may have to fall back on my charm, wit and my almost uncanny resemblance to Rutherford B. Hayes (you think I’m joking? I get stopped in the street!) but I am willing to ‘out practice’ and ‘out work’ the most natural of naturals and the most magic of magicals if it means they’ll pay me to do this.

So, suck it up. If I can do this -even with my hectic schedule full of requests to appear at events and sign autographs as Rutherford B. Hayes- you can do this too!  Keep working and developing and… if you see a “Born With It,” don’t let it get to you. Just put hot sauce in her Diet Coke.*

*A Uncle Dale is a comedy and satire blog, well it’s funny sometimes, and is not actually advocating the lacing of any person’s drink with ANY chemical substance at any time. Don’t actually do it. Please. Thank you. The Legal Team /rbh/.