It’s finals week!
Now start the days when I get all the questions that students probably should have asked long before now!
For some reason this is also the time of year that I hear from former students. I hear about their successes and fears and big transitions.
This week I got a knock on my door and opened it to a bright and talented interpreter who was one of the first to complete my program start to finish, from ASL 1010 all the way through Applied Interpreting: Legal, and then on to graduation and certification.
Now she is mentoring a few of the newest potential interpreters as they prepare for certification.
She came to talk to me about one of these potentially great interpreters in particular (there is always one in particular) who is exhibiting a habit near and dear to the two of us. This potential interpreter will push on with an interpretation long after she realizes it is an error and try to avoid embarrassment by smoothly finding a way to get back on track or worse just persists in the error if no smooth fix presents itself, rather than admit to herself and her client that she made an error.
Now, this was not a frequent occurrence because she had good training and a strong base of skills. But it has happened more than one time while my former student has been mentoring, so it needed to be addressed.
The reason I said this issue was near and dear to the two of us is, back in the day, this particular former student was the MASTER at, “if it looks like it makes sense, even though I know it’s not accurate, that is just as good… right?” We had finally cured it and so she wanted some guidance on how to approach the issue.
She laughed that my curse on her had come to pass (someday you will work with a team or a student who does this, and when you are sitting in my seat you tell me if it’s ok).
We both laughed actually. Hard.
Then she said, “I know what I need, I need a ‘shirt,’ but I need my own ‘shirt’ not yours.”
I agreed. We set to work finding her ‘shirt.’
If you’re lost don’t worry, I’ll explain.
The Parable of Uncle Dale’s Shirt.
Aunt SuperTam and I met back in high school. From the day I met her I have been impressed with her ability to sew (her current job is as the supervising costume designer at a beautiful theater).
I say I was impressed, but not as impressed as a should have been. You see, my mother sews, expertly, and I have seen her do it and, to my shame, taken it for granted my entire life.
So in high-school when I asked AuntSuperTam to go with me to an event that night and she made a dress to wear that day, I was impressed, but only “ish.”
Until my freshman year of college.
At that time I was a theatre major. In in my first term I had to take a costume design class. On the first day of class the professor announced the final. Each of us would have to sew a shirt with a collar and a pocket. He gave us the pattern, and told us we could make some specific modifications if we desired but it would have to match the general specifications laid out in the syllabus. Oh and we could do it any time we wanted as long as we turned it in by three o’clock on the day the final was scheduled.
Of the 15 students in the class all nine of the women and two of the men had completed the final project by midterm.
The rest of us waited until the week of finals. Well. The day before it was due.
I was not worried. I had seen my mother and my girlfriend whip something like this out in a matter of hours.
To her credit AuntSuperTam sat with me the full 22 hours it took to complete the shirt.
She was mostly quiet, even when one of the other arrogant, procrastinating students threatened another with a seam ripper for changing the thread on a machine while he was in the bathroom.
She guided me, mostly with side-eye, through laying out the pattern and cutting out the components. But as the hours dragged on I started to get more and more frustrated.
Finally, she could stand it no more and she said, “Dale?”
“I need you to stop and look at your shirt.”
I AM LOOKING A MY SHIRT! I’VE BEEN LOOKING AT IT FOR HOURS!
“Ok, but stop right now and really look at it.”
So I did. I looked.
She continued, “what do you need that to look like when you finish?”
I grabbed the envelope which had held the pattern, it had a drawing of a smiling man wearing a short sleeved shirt with a collar and a pocket.
LIKE THIS! IT HAS TO LOOK LIKE THIS!
In a calm voice she asked, “if you keep doing what you are doing right now will it look like that?”
I blinked back tired tears and said, no.
“No,” she said while handing me a seam ripper, “if you know it won’t look like what need it to look like in the end, no matter how far into it you are, you have to stop, go back to the last place you know you were doing it right, and start again.”
It did not take very long for this bright young interpreter and I to find her “shirt” (we all have one).
We all have a moment where we realize that if we keep going the direction we are going we are not going to get to where we want to be. A moment where we realize that no matter how inconvenient, or embarrassing, or frustrating or exhausting-if we want our interpretation, or career or life to look like we need it to look-it’s time to stop. It’s time to unpick the seems or walk it back to that point where you were on track, and then start again.
Sometimes that can be as simple as taking a breath and fixing an interpretation. Sometimes it means going back and saying no to something you knew you should not have said yes to in the first place. Sometimes it means putting down the project or decision or job or life you have in front of you right now and doing something completely different. Maybe for a while. Maybe forever.
Whatever IT is, ask yourself, “if I keep doing what I am doing right now will it look like what I need it to look like when I get to the end. If the answer is no? Then stop and start again.
By the way, I got a B+. I blame the pocket. The pocket I blame on being left handed (AuntSuperTam let me wade through that small detail myself because it was not fatal to the whole). The fabric I blame on the fact it was 1989.
Oh! And from that day forward I have given the proper respect to AuntSuperTam’s mad skills! No “ish” about it.