Note From Uncle Dale: Go Somewhere

I’m sitting in the Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris on my way to Malta for a week (look it up. Grin).

Being on a trip like this always gets me thinking about all I learn just being in “not America.”

How we got to Malta is a little bit of a story in and of itself, but, in a rare moment of self-editing I will not tell it here, because if I do I will never get to the reason I sat down to type this out with my thumbs in the first place.

Suffice it to say it had a lot to do with never having met anyone who had been to Malta. As my Note will hopefully emphasize, that is reason enough to go almost anywhere.

Now, the Note I sat down to write.

Years ago I hired a former student to be a Lecturer in my program.

I was thrilled she accepted the position (I firmly believe the strength of a program can be measured by how many former students you would love to bring back to teach).

She was an amazingly gifted student (and has gone on to become one of the finest Interpreters, and in all honesty, one of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to know).

As a student she had one quirk that caught me off guard. One day in class she told me that she would never work in VRS interpreting.

I agree! because my ADHD CANNOT abide a cubicle.

That was not her reason.

She did not want to work in a VRS setting because “ASL from East of the Mississippi scared her.” It scared her BAD.

I couldn’t let that lie now could I.

Quite literally I picked up my cellphone and called Anne Leahy in Washington D.C. I said, “Anne I’m sending you someone you need to teach how to walk on hot coals, she has all the skills but she doesn’t know how tough her feet are” (not the last time I’ve sent Anne someone with skills o’ plenty and let her take care of the confidence part).

Anne brought out the best in her and sent me back an amazingly well rounded interpreter.

She certified before she graduated and charged out into the world to get some real experience.

A few years later I got approval to hire a Lecturer for my program.

When my former student applied I was thrilled! She was as amazing a teacher as she was at everything else.

The next summer I was invited to CIT in Puerto Rico and I asked my former student, now colleague, if she would like to go as well.

She was nervous.

“I’ve never been out of the country,” she said.

“And you still won’t,” I replied, “Puerto Rico is part of the United States. They use the dollar and have Walmart’s and stuff. You don’t even need a passport” (which is good because she didn’t have one).

She felt better. Somewhat. I mean when you think about it Puerto Rico is waaaay east of the Mississippi.

So. Off we went.

When we landed I dropped her off at her hotel and checked into mine then I picked her up and we made plans for the first day of the conference in the lobby of my hotel. When we finished I suggested we get something to eat.

Now, I have a friend who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and I asked her what is “not to be missed” as far as local food.

“Mofongo,” she said.

So we walked over to the concierge and asked if there was a place near the hotel where we could get Mofongo.

“Yes!” she said, “there is a great place within walking distance.”

At that moment felt a hand in the middle of my chest and my former student, now university colleague, pushed me backwards, leaned into the the concierge and asked, “have you ever actually eaten Mofongo? I mean, what’s it like?”

The concierge looked at her kindly and said, “that is kind of like me asking if you’ve ever eaten a turkey dinner. Yes, it’s the national dish.”

I reached forward and gently took a hold of her ponytail and pulled her backward as her ear passed my mouth I whispered, “we need to talk.”

I got the address for the restaurant from the concierge and we started walking toward it.

“Where to begin?” I thought. I cleared my throat and said, “my father once told me if you haven’t had a parasite at least once in your life you have not eaten enough interesting things.”

She stopped and looked at me just as you are imagining she looked at me and said, “ok that’s crazy.”

“Maybe,” I replied, “but here is what is going to happen tonight. You have a per diem for meals from the university. We are going to this restaurant and ordering Mofongo and you are going to try it. If you legit don’t like it I will spend my own money to buy you a Subway sandwich. Deal?”

“Deal,” she sighed. And off we went.

For anyone who doesn’t know Mofongo, it is mashed plantains fried crispy and smothered in stewed meat. It. Is. Fantastic.

She loved it. She ordered it everywhere we went for the rest of our time in Puerto Rico.

While we were sitting at that very nice cafe in San Juan, eating delicious food, I asked her a question that had been elbowing its way to the front of my mind ever since I first asked her if she wanted to go to CIT.

“You don’t have a passport?”

“No,” she replied, “never needed one.”

“You should get one.”

“Why?” she asked, “I’m not planning on going anywhere.”

“You need a passport,” I explained, “for the same reason that I think golf would be a much more interesting game if they just added a penalty box. They don’t have to change the rules at all-just add a penalty box. The fact it is there will inspire its use.”

She looked at me puzzled. It was not the first time and has not been the last.

“Think,” I explained, “you’re not planning on going anywhere and maybe it’s because you don’t have a passport, but, if you had a passport you would be inspired to use it!”

“I don’t know…” but she was thinking about it.

“Look at you right now. You’re stretching your experiences. You are in your twenties, you have a job that gives you some disposable income, you will never be this mobile, this free in your life.” I made eye-contact. “Get a passport.”

And she did.

Since that meal of Mofongo in Puerto Rico she has been all over the world. She has been to Russia, Thailand, and more countries in Europe and South America than I could possibly remember. She is no longer a Lecturer at my program, she has gone on to do phenomenal work in every area to which she sets her hand. And she has used her passport (I actually called her to see if she could cover some classes for me for during this trip and she was in Lisbon).

The point is she will tell you that each one of these trips has made her a better interpreter. Each has added to her knowledge base. Each one has expanded her cultural awareness and expanded her mind to the diversity of ideas. She has a better understanding that I do of what makes it easier and harder to navigate in a culture that is not your own using a language that is not your own.

She was already awesome and these experiences made her better.

It’s Awesome Gain.

So, here I am now I’m sitting in a cafe called Xemxija on the island of Malta. I took my own advice.

Why Malta? Do you know anyone who has been to Malta. Now you do.

What do you know about Malta?

Well now you know about this^^. This is the oldest know human manipulated edifice on earth. It is literally the first stone they know of on the planet that someone, or more likely, some group of people said, “we should pick this stone up from here and place it, in a very specific way, right there.”

It’s the pillar of the Skorba Temple. It’s older than Stonehenge and predates the pyramids by thousands of years.

This is the only painting Caravaggio ever signed. It’s here on Malta (there are actually two other Caravaggio paintings on Malta).

From what I can see the ADA has not made its way to Malta, but I’ll ask these folks about it tonight.

In Thornton Wilder’s famous play ‘Our Town’ Mrs. Gibbs pines for the experience of going to – ”a country where they don’t talk in English and don’t even want to” 

Every interpreter should pine for that same experience. It will make you a better interpreter and a more well rounded person.

Get a passport.No matter your age or place in life-get a passport and let it inspire you.

p.s. Before I published this I sent it to the interpreter it is about. She asked me to quote her:

“Meeting Dale Boam changed the trajectory of my life. He was the first person to see the light inside me and demand that I stop playing small. I never knew that life outside of the comfort zone would be so worth it.”

UD

Random Thoughts From Uncle Dale: Let Me Give You An In Class Example…

Dear ASL to Spoken-English Students:

Don’t be so easily impressed:

I’ve taught this principle for thirteen years; and,

I picked the video!

Rule 660

Make sure you turn off the “Send My Location” function on your cell phone when texting from a job site.

(Holy crap! That’s like a real RULE! How did that get in here?)

Note from Uncle Dale: Use of Space as an Analysis Tool Or Arts And Crafts For Understanding.

Hi. Uncle Dale here.

It’s been a while since I gave you a skill development tool. This one requires supplies, but it’s worth it.

Listen to the text below:

Scary?

My class thought so (apparently, I am “mean” even though I let them play with toys… wait for it, I’ll explain).

I will admit the point was to shake them up a little… but in a good way, a kind and loving boot to the brain, tap you lightly with a sledge-hammer kind of way.

Before you decide that you really just don’t like me, let me tell you a secret.

If you understand one term, just one single key word, in this text, you can use that as the anchor to simplify the whole meaning, by seeing how all the pieces attach to that key concept and fit together physically. If you start from that key term, then in your head you can work through the meaning of rest of the text.

In other words, by using space properly and according to its linguistic function in ASL you can, on the fly, connect things you don’t understand to things you do understand and voila! You understand it all.

If! And only if, you understand the key term.

For the text above the term is: “Fields.”

If you understand what the term “Fields” means in the context of this computer program then you can visualize everything that proceeds from the core concept of “Fields.” If you can visualize it, and then put it in its proper space, its meaning will become clear to you as you use the space in the linguistically appropraite manner for ASL.

Let me say that again.

If you use space in the correct way it will help you analyze the meaning of the information you are processing even if it sound too complex to comprehend.

In the case of the text above you just have to see in your head how software programs like this work, as if they existed in and occupied space in the real world. The easiest way to teach yourself to do that involves Arts and Crafts.

And it all starts with the key to understanding your starting place; “Fields.”

Got it?

“NO, WAIT,” you cry, “I ABSOLUTELY DON’T ‘GOT IT!'”

Ok, calm down. let me back up.

First, relax.  I know that showing up at an appointment where they say, “ok, were going to train you on the new accounting software today…” makes you want to yell, “I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ACCOUNTING OR ACCOUNTING PROGRAMS! I SMELL TOAST!” and collapse to the floor.

But before you abandon all hope let me give you some persective.

They did not say, “today we are going to discuss accounting programs,” They said, “today we’re training on the new program.”

That means there is an old program.

That means there is a strong possibility that your Client is already familiar with computerized accounting programs generally because they used the “old program.” At least more familiar than you are. Never underestimate the benefit of a client who knows more about the topic than you do. It covers a multitude of sins.

Second, you know what accounting means so you have the bare minimum of a schema, and that is all you need here.

So let’s get back to “Fields.”

In computer programs “Fields” are places where you put variable values of information in order to complete a sequence.

In other words they are the blank places you type stuff into in order to tell the computer to do something with the words or numbers you typed.

Think of a Google search.

The place on the Google search page you type the words “Does this look infected to you” before you push the “search” button? That is a “Field.”

Once you have typed, “what’s a good place to eat on a second date” or “what is Uncle Dale smoking” into the “Field” and pushed “search” (or I’m Feeling Lucky if you’re a reckless adventurer) the information you typed into the “Field” tells Google to do something; go out to the web and fetch things with words that match this stuff I just typed in this box.

So, how does that possibly help you analyze for meaning?

Like this:

Although software programs are just ones and zeros, if you, the interpreter, can see the software’s functions in your mind as physical locations, occupying a three-dimensional landscape (think of the movie TRON if that helps), then you can organize all that seemingly complex jumble of data points into usable locations within your own interpreting space.

Once you’ve done that then it’s just a matter of referring to the objects that you have appropriately placed within your signing space to establish what Carol Patrie calls, “relationships” (logical, temporal, and physical).

Relationships show the order of, or connections between, the landmarks you established within the three-dimensional “computer program space” you created. You got this!

You will eventually want to do this in your head. But it is easier to start out by doing in real space.

Ok. So here is a little exercise help you take it out of your head, put it in real space, so you can put it back in your head.

In order to play along at home you will need the following:

A good sized long table;

Two wire framed office baskets;

Three different colors of string, yarn or tape:

A set of large post-notes;

A set of small post-it notes (at least three different colors); and,

Markers.

Here is how you play:

Before there was Direct or Private messaging there was text and before that e-mail and before that faxes and before that intra-office mail and before that pneumatic tubes.

Pneumatic tubes? Think of the drive-up window at a bank, or an old movie. You put the stuff in the tube and seal it (papers, money, pens… that kind of thing). Each tube in this case goes not only to a different room in the office, but to the desks of specific people. One set of tubes connects to every desk, another only to select persons.

We could use text or email for the visual but pneumatic tunes are easier to visualize and, let’s be honest, sort of steam punk and fun.

So, pneumatic tubes.

Imagine a room in an office building with the where the pneumatic tubes start.

At one end of the table in front of you place the wire “in/out” baskets, side by side. Using the 3×5 cards and a sharpie (marker) label both baskets “Payroll Fields” and label one Flat Rate and the other Calculated Rate.

At various places on the table place 3×5 with Employee 1, Employee 2, Employee 3… up-to at most Employee 6. It’s easiest if you tape them down.

Now take the different colors of string or tape. Using one color of tape or string for each in/out basket connect each in/out basket to All Employees and using different colors of tape or string connect each in/out basket to Some Employees.

These are the pneumatic tubes. Some things put in the in/out basket will be sent to all the employees and somethings will only be sent to select individual employees.

These baskets are “Fields.” Some of the things you put in the “Fields” will be attached to all employees and some of the things you put in the basket will connect to only some employees.

Using tape make a square on the table around both in/out baskets. Label that square “employee defaults window.”

Ok ready, replay the audio above (For some reason when I imbedded this the captions don’t work-hearing interpreters and CDI’s should do this exercise together until I can post a transcript) and see if what you have on the table helps you follow the narrative more clearly.

Now every detail you need is not here yet. But I have given you the start. For example:

You will eventually need two 3×5 card labeled “maintain employees and sales reps” at the place where all the “pneumatic tube” hook to the in/out baskets.

When you get to the payroll taxes you will need two 3×5 cards, one labeled State Tax and one labeled Federal Tax. Where do these formulae live? In the wire in/out basket market Calculated Rate.

Oh oh we have a problem. What if we subscribe to the Peachtree Tax Update Service? Where does that live? Take a 3×5 card and write Peachtree Tax Update Service and place it… somewhere else. It does not live in the software program-you get it from the Peachtree server. Set the 3×5 card somewhere and then, using your tape or string connect it to the Calculated Rate basket on the opposite side from the “pneumatic tubes” to remind yourself that this is coming in from the outside.

If you get really ambitious you can write Peach-tree Maintained on the tape or make a label for the string coming into the back of the Calculated Rate in/out basket.

Now the text above. Anything you put in the in/out baskets travels along the string or tape (pneumatic tubes) to impact the paychecks of the employees at the other end–some will impact all employees and some will only be sent out to select employees.

If this all seems confusing or too much, that is because you are reading this Note and not actually doing the arts and crafts project.

Do the project.

It will freak you out just a little how much more you understand if you see this all existing in actual physical space.

The use of physical space is a component of ASL grammar, but correctly applied it is also a functional analysis tool.

I make students draw pictures, play with dolls and Fisher-Price Little Town sets and a whole host of other physical exercises so they can visualize Physical, Temporal and Logical Relationships.

If you are just starting out or if you have 25 years under your belt, try coupling your practice with an arts and crafts project like this.

You will be amazed at how much it helps you understand if you are willing to take a minute on playing with dolls or just good old fashioned arts and crafts.

Rule 628

Every Freelance Interpreter has rolled the dice and accepted an appointment that they know is long and boring because at least half the time it cancels last minute so they still get paid.

Rule 624

Find your happy place.

Security: I can’t let you into the convention without a pass.

Interpreter: I’m the Sign Language Interpreter.

Security: Oh, they told me to tell you that your credentials are at the Information Booth in the Main Hall.

Interpreter: Ok thanks, I’ll go and get them.

Security: Sorry. I can’t let you in without a pass.