I’ve been accused on more than one occasion of being rather exclusionary when it comes to what I do for a living. I don’t know if I am, any more than I know if exclusionary is really a word or if I just made it up. What I do know is that I have a hard time finding anyone that can really “get” what it is I do unless they are interpreters themselves or have Deaf/HOH people in their family or close circle of friends. I don’t say that because I’m proud of it or ashamed of it, it’s just how it is. Sometimes it works in my favor…many people who don’t get what I do just leave me alone to do it. Sometimes it makes my life hard, when people either expect me to do things that I can’t or worse, become angry with me for refusing to do things that ethically I just can’t do.
I was driving home from a ROUGH assignment today when Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day came on the cd player. I love the song but today it just seemed to have extra meaning for me when thinking about my job.
I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone
I have been signing and somewhat interpreting since I was a kid. I had a friend growing up that was deaf and I used to “help” interpret for her at summer camp when we were kids. When I was a counselor at the same camp, I got any deaf kids that came to camp and interpreted for them. I feel like sign language has been a part of my life for my whole life, even though I’m one of those weird interpreters that doesn’t have any deaf people in my family. This verse struck me because I have always been more comfortable on the outside looking in, like interpreters do, than being directly involved in a situation. It’s a catch 22…I want to be involved on some levels, but am infinitely more comfortable when I’m not.
My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
‘Til then I walk alone
When you’re the interpreter in a situation, you have to be neutral. Kind of like the bit in the Bible, “in the world but not of the world…?” I’m in the situation because I’m there, but I’m not a direct participant. Sometimes I want to be a part of the situation. I feel the same emotions the participants do. I say that the best compliment someone can give me during an interpreting situation is “Oh, I forgot you were here,” but that’s not always true. Take for example an emotional situation where I have to interpret bad news. Everyone grabs everyone else and hugs, cries, supports…and I stand there.
Terry Goodkind has quickly become one of my favorite authors, and he describes in his Sword of Truth series a character who serves as a judge of sorts…she is called a Confessor, and he talks about her wearing her Confessor’s face. I do that. I wear my Interpreter’s Face. Impartial. Objective. A mask. The line “sometimes I wish someone out there would find me” rang out to me, causing me to recall those times that I stood outside the huddle of support, wishing for someone to hand me a tissue or take my hand in comfort…but remaining quietly in the background, Interpreter’s Face on.
But it’s not all bad. My boss and I have talked about an interpreter’s ability to compartmentalize emotions…it’s how we stay sane. He introduced that concept to me after I went to him for advice upon interpreting the birth of a child for the first time. I was very concerned because I felt nothing. NOTHING. I came away from that incredible and miraculous event as though I had just interpreted traffic court. Again, Green Day spoke to that part of me with this line:
I’m walking down the line
That divides me somewhere in my mind
On the border line
Of the edge and where I walk alone
It’s a juggling act. How am I able to be, at the same time, the me that is someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, someone’s friend…and the me that is the interpreter, seemingly cold and aloof and professional? I come away from a lot of assignments wanting my turn to cry, my turn to laugh and be joyful. When do I get to be Nancy as opposed to the interpreter?
The answer, at least for me, is that I don’t. I can’t separate that out. That is the part that I think is most difficult for people in my life that aren’t “in the business” to understand. Some people have the luxury of going to work and leaving their professional lives at the office when they come home. My job is not like that. My dad and my sister and her husband do not have jobs like that…they are preachers 24-7/365. I can’t say for sure that my mother was like that because while I was living at home she gave up teaching to be a stay-at-home mom…but that was who she was, not just something she did.
I cherish time with the Deaf community and with other interpreters. RID’s bi-annual conference this year in San Antonio was wonderful because it’s a week spent with people who think like I do and live lives like mine. People who “get” me. That doesn’t mean I love any of the other people in my life any less…when I tried to explain that to one non-terp friend I was accused of being elitist. All it means is that it’s comfortable, and it’s a nice break from having to explain myself.
I’m sure that most of you that read this will finish the entry and still be thinking “Hmmm, I’m not sure I quite get that.” It’s okay. I just needed to get that off my chest…and say that I think I’ve found my new favorite song.