Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Comfort Zone

Dressing up in leathers, as they are called, and being in an atmosphere of steel, figuratively and literally, I’m experiencing a new thing. I want to be incredibly girlie. I want to wear a diaphanous dress made of baby blue chiffon. I yearn to let my hair flow delicately behind me as I run barefoot through a field of wildflowers. In this image I include purple, yellow, and blue butterflies fluttering overhead.


I know, cheesy picture but too fun to pass up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Description Play

Fall is flirting with these early mornings—cool and crisp.

This early morning, a cool breeze fans the machine shop. Floating through the air, remnants of former sparks land on my jacket and chaps as lightly as snowflakes. When I catch one in my hand, it doesn’t melt into water, instead it smudges like charcoal.

Blue-flamed torches send a waterfall of yellow sparks pouring towards the concrete floor. Some sparkle and then turn to black dust before they hit the ground; others hit the cement and die out completely. The sparks are unpredictable. They have been known to wiggle inside a glove causing blistery burns.

The torches burn so intensely it’s like staring at the sun. Different shades of dark lenses, depending on eye color, are supposed to prevent blindness.

By nine am fall has retreated. The sun burns away any coolness, the wind blows warm and dry. The seasons start later now.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Idenity Twist

Luckily I wasn’t the one who had sprayed my hair until it could walk on its own. But my silk blend blouse gave the men in the shop a stroke. Sparks. All it would take was one wayward spark to make its sneaky way towards us and set us on fire. Who would have thought?

So to be one of the interpreters in this program, I must wear a formless leather jacket, a cap, safety glasses, leather gloves, clunky steel-toed work boots, and worst of all, leather chaps. None of these pieces of fashion are made for women. Women do not need chaps to have a baggy codpiece in the front. There is a bonus though: there is a double guarantee that sparks will not ignite around anyone.

Sure does take the fun out of a day.

Every morning I spend an hour getting ready for work—hair dryer, curling iron, eyeliner, mascara—that kind of thing. And when I arrive, I change into my get-up tucking my hair into my cap, and stuffing my feet into those silly boots. When my turn is up and I pass the baton to the next interpreter, my hair style is ruined, flattened against my scalp. I do have my priorities straight.

Fashion isn’t the issue. It’s really being in this predominately all alpha male world. The other day, I wondered why these alpha males were giving me such attitude when I was dressed to look like them. Apparently, I wasn’t playing the part well enough.

 My coworker told me my communication style is like I’m asking these alphas to join my kumbaya circle. She has cracked the alpha male code. She said if you speak to these alphas as a reporter, then their invading feather receptors will return to normal. I tried it. I clomped up to the alpha males, and reported the facts of the day.

I learned the proper response. Nodding. Not just any nodding, but one nod, no smile. In alpha male language that is being agreeable. Yawn. Makes me understand why men fall asleep so easily.

This is going to be a very long year.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy Birthday

I had one of those significant birthdays this month. My long time friend got an idea that I would love to spend it on the town drinking sweetened apple martinis and dancing in the strobe lights—colorful strobes, of course.

She’s known me for how long? I reminded her of this: wine, cheese, grapes, and then popcorn, fuzzy slippers, and a couple of rented movies. It’s all about HD nowadays; movies look great at home now. No way, she said. You are going to have fun. She sat in my dining room chair facing me, checking the clock—finally, it’s 8:30, let’s go.

I knew 8:30 was a little early to start this whole clubbing activity; but, the fewer the crowds, the better, kind of like arriving at the gate into Disneyland before it opens. I don’t know much about this whole clubbing thing nowadays. The last time I did the whole clubbing thing was, well, Prom, if that counts. And when I say Prom, I mean the time when boyfriends wore baby blue tuxes with white ruffled shirts.

Needless to say, I was going to disappoint my best friend forever as thoroughly as losing my son’s passport right before his trip to Mexico (luckily, two minutes before the last car transporting the kids down there took off, I found it in the trash where I accidentally tossed it with the banana peeling). This time, I figured I wouldn’t be able to redeem myself.

When we arrived to the row of bars—I mean clubs—they were empty. Too early. So we walked. She had on her sparkly, strappy high heels, but walked in them like they were Air Jordans. I wore my flat-thong sandals but fantasized about my fuzzy slippers.

We passed by a young girl wearing short-short cut offs with a white t-back tank top, and sports socks white, with a red stripe, pulled up to just below her knees. Her eyes were drooping, and she couldn’t stand up without help. We approached a couple who had spiked hair, spiked bracelets, chains, strategic holes ripped in their black clothing. The girlfriend said, “You can make it to the trash can this time.” And the boyfriend obliged. He threw up neatly.

I looked at my friend, “Isn’t this fun?” She said yes it was. Okay. I heard some pounding music, saw some strobes and pulled her into the bar. On the dance floor were three college boys doing some kind of shivering movements. On the edge of the floor were some gangsters and their girlfriends. One of the girls looked pregnant and I wondered about the drink she held in her hand. My bff insisted she was just fat. I glanced at this girl’s belly off and on while I sipped my sweetened upon sweetened apple martini and still, it never looked like fat to me. “Fun. Remember?” my friend said.

When the college boys bought rounds of beers and had their chug-a-lug contests, and more gangsters with girlfriends sauntered in, I finished my drink, and walked out. This time my friend followed me, past the Lolita drunken girl, past the full trash can, past the newly formed line in front of the bar that was starting 80’s night, into the car, and home.

My friend said I lasted a lot longer than she thought I would. She said by the next birthday, she knows she will succeed in getting me to have fun. This must be why we have been friends for most of our lives. Our definitions are different, but, we each know, one day, through diligence, we will convince the other the real way to have a blast on our next significant birthdays.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why I’m an Interpreter

Over the years, many have asked me if the reason I became an interpreter was because I had deaf family members. My grandmother was deaf in one ear, but I just had to make sure I talked into her hearing ear. So the answer is no, deafness in my family isn’t the reason.

In high school, I was in my own little world most of the time. I didn’t belong to any groups. I would sit in my calligraphy class and listen to the popular girls discuss their lives. I didn’t yearn for popularity. I thought, if that is how one must be to be popular, I’ll pass.

I needed one more class, an elective, to graduate. I had to quickly decide as registration was ending. I saw a class that said, “Sign Language.” Having no frame of reference for American Sign Language, I did, however, have a frame of reference for billboards. I thought it was a class on the special language of gigantic freeway signs, and we would be doing a lot of letter design and painting, an easy A.

When I walked into the classroom, deaf students were talking to each other with their hands, and checking out the new hearing class members. Oh. I liked the teacher right away. I felt at home for some reason and settled into my seat.

The community college down the road had a new interpreter training program. The working interpreters there wore smocks with front side pockets. I thought, that wasn’t too stylish, but I liked the idea of being identified as an interpreter (luckily smocks have gone far, far away into the land of make believe).

My idea was to learn how to interpret, get my AA degree, and then work as a way to continue on to the University to finish my degree in English with an emphasis in teaching special education. Being an interpreter, I had about two or three years in mind. Turns out, I’ve been one a lot longer than that.

They say burn-out in the field can be at five years. So now I would say, I’m a little bit on the crispy side. Truthfully, I still like to interpret when a class is an hour, or if longer, I have a team. But I have put in my time, and my direction has changed. Yet, I’m still in for awhile.

Life has a way of taking the best of plans and scribbling all over them. In high school, I was on somewhat of a utility road with my nibs and ink pots. High school wasn’t the place where I learned too much. But it helped steer me into a life I would have not known, and I am delighted with that concept. I have things to write about now.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grays & Yellows

Recently, the building complex owners decided to take down a tree. A couple years ago, they chopped down a tree that gave me shade in the summer and beautiful pink blossoms for a brief few weeks in the spring. The mess from falling blossoms didn’t bother me. I liked vacuuming up pink flowers from the carpet after trekking them inside.

The light is different now. The grays of shade are replaced by the white-yellows of glaring sunlight. The ground can no longer hide its gopher holes, and no longer do those spotted mushrooms grow. Right now it is as if the light is too bright for anything else to want to poke out and start to flourish.

The squirrels run down the trunk of another tree and run to the phantom trunk of the chopped down tree. The stump isn’t even there. The squirrels stop short. They look. They dart to the side; they quickly lick their paws; they turn around. They look at me with one eye as if to say, I knew there was a tree here, really there was.

They lost their storage places and maybe even a nest or two. They lost their rivals for territory, the squawking crows and blue jays. Maybe the squirrels don’t miss them so much, maybe they do. Their tails flicker and they dart off across the road.

The sunlight is supposed to encourage growth, but it was in the shade, within the darkness of the leaves, where life was free to be. Adjusting to all this light illuminating the absence will take some time.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What does an interpreter do? She uses both cognitive and physical processes to transfer a spoken language into a visual language. While an interpreter simultaneously translates, she is using, according to research, over 300 processes in the brain. Wow. No wonder after an hour, her wrists and shoulders ache and she’s mentally fatigued in need of a break before the next hour.

An interpreter has a lot to do. She is not only working for the deaf person, she is also working for the hearing person. It is the hearing person who doesn’t have the visual language; yet, this gets lost somewhere.

At an assignment I introduce myself to both the deaf and the hearing speakers and receivers. In talking with each person, I quickly evaluate their language. The hearing person: Speaking pace, does he mumble, vocabulary choices, tone—is he sarcastic? Is he jolly? The deaf person:  Does he use many idioms, his sign style, his speed, his sentence structuring to name a few. It can be knee-knocking time when walking into a situation cold.

My experiences are many. In one assignment, after introductions, I began interpreting. The hearing person didn’t appreciate the distraction and asked me to sit in the back. The deaf person explained the reasoning why sitting in the back or even outside the room, as the hearing person would have preferred, wasn’t feasible. As the deaf person signed and I put their visual language into spoken language, the hearing person walked up to me and asked: “You talk? Why are you talking?” Working conditions can be exasperating.

American Sign Language is different from spoken language in specific ways. Spoken language is linear—one sound can be made or received at a time. Visual language shows a whole scene at one time. ASL is about handshape, palm orientation, location, movement, non-manual expressions, classifiers, inflection. It has a topic-comment syntax structure. A mistake in any of these can mean the difference between Japan and vagina. Imagine the deaf person wondering why the hearing person has asked him if has toured the vagina.
Can you also see why a deaf person would stand back some when an unfamiliar interpreter walks into his meeting with his tax auditor? It isn’t only the interpreter who wants this profession to matter; it is also the deaf person who has to negotiate this whacky profession.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

An Interpreter? Part 1

What is wrong with the interpreting for the deaf profession? Plenty. An interpreter—educated, experienced, ethical—has a fight for validation and integrity in her hands. The profession suffers from quality: quality interpreters and quality, life sustaining jobs.

I have been in the profession for decades—I have still to find that job which gives me a standard of living I can count on to sustain me, health benefits, vacation, sick time and retirement. I went through an accredited interpreter training program; I have attended workshops and conventions lead by the top researchers in the field. I study ASL. I have a BA in literature and an M.F.A. because a message cannot be rendered correctly without English and critical thinking skills. I have a plethora of experience. Yet where is the recognition?

There is a standardized Code of Professional Conduct I follow: Confidentiality, turning down an assignment above my skill level to name a few examples. Qualified interpreters know about this ethical document.

The issues are external and internal to the profession. Why is it an interpreter can work for three years in an office and no one knows her name? She is definitely not considered part of the team. Why do companies and agencies balk at paying an interpreter for their work?

The interpreting profession itself has shoddy requirements. There is a professional organization called R.I.D. which has a certification system in place. However, it is full of holes and some wonder if it’s all a scam. There are no minimum requirements. One can be a high school drop- out. I have seen many learn some signs, interview for an interpreter position and given the job. These people, the ones who hire in this slapdash manner, and the ones who get hired keep the profession in the —this is a joke—category.

To belong to R.I.D. without certification costs $90 a year. The dues gives the member a magazine: “Interpreting Views.” Anyone can join. The certification testing is expensive and out-of-pocket. The pass rate is about 50%, and then the interpreter must pay a fee to retake it. Once she is certified, her dues increases; she has to attend expensive workshops to keep earning credits to be able to keep certification.

But what does certification give an interpreter? An educational interpreter without certification can make $23 an hour whereas one with certification can make $25 an hour. Those hours are not guaranteed and benefits do not come with it more often than not.

My point is that an interpreter who has training, skill, education and ethics is lumped in with the ones who have no idea what being an interpreter really entails. She not only has to face being discounted among coworkers, but also has to bear responsibility for the messes unqualified interpreters who work among them always make.

Often the interpreter is seen as an annoyance, as a wasted expense, as peculiar, as someone who isn’t held in any esteem. The odds of getting respect are next to zero. So why am I an interpreter?