If my readership will humour me a little, I would suggest a short promenade through that edifice whose bricks provide us with our bread and cheese. A brief parade across a vocabulary story where no one gets hurt.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
The tale begins in the late 1980s, when the then flourishing New Age movement began to feel the heat at Windham Hill. The members, it was reported, started to approach...well, old age I suppose, and the chilling prospect that you can chill too far began to gain momentum. "A Nirvana without the Cross" it was labelled. I couldn't say, but I did notice that the movement's narrative was devoid of lexicon aimed at defining the harsher seasons. Word processors came on the scene, and QUIT was their chosen tune when saying goodbye.
Fast-forward a little. Words became something you had. No, you brandished! You would be endowed with gear, toolboxes, interfaces, kits. Extensions to being. The still enormous computing machines were peremptory: Close Program, they would announce.
Thence forward, things went organic. But in a less aseptic way than your average vegetable. The first to appear, I think, was fiberoptics. Suddenly the constructive element was taken away from our lexical load, and enhancements to our perceptions just began to grow in some distant silent laboratory/farm. There followed plasma, touch, tooth, sensor. Companies had a DNA, and desktops informed us that You are closing the program.
And out the other side. Wi-Fi was the pioneer, to the best of my knowledge. Coined simply to sound as qualitative as Hi-Fi (have you noticed how the latter simply doesn't roll off the tongue any more, the lips just purse and you can't help it?), and though for a brief time it did, it was never really meant to mean Wireless-Fidelity, which is probably a good thing. It was a non-place. Such as the ecosystem we dwell in as we float in a realm of synchronized clouds and certainly upload more than we download. Our machines purr Would you like to close this program? and automagically enter cocooned slumbers where chirps and Zen pastures cannot disturb us.
As I read back, I note that I have not reached that pitch of enticement into conviction which would transform this article into a scientific treatise on the evolution of words. Also, it is not clinically proven that any of this is true.
So why am I bothered, and bothering you?
As a non-localized localization specialist, I should be happier than most now. And I certainly must confess that such configuration does keep the wolf from the door, as mentioned at the beginning. Also, my best friends seem to live on distant shores, though I would like to reassure the ones I spend my evenings with.
The thing is that as it all happened, I felt no nails penetrating, no damage done. It took place in a dream made of increasingly accelerating pleasure.
And now when pain does strike, I am lost for words. When I most need it, I cannot count on communication, as to spite my sorrow I too have acquiesced in the presence of atrophy.
The price I pay for being alive is being - at every turn - linked to a machine-like journey.
I present here a slightly edited version of an older post from heartbeat in the big city dating back to a time when this platform was used for a range of functions, and before being entirely devoted to poetry. Again, this blog seems to be its natural home now, and the time feels right not only in the wake of the inescapable debate on technology, but also in the light of what appears to be an obsession with looking at constituent parts.
Whilst I cannot condemn the many lists purporting to make the professional which the web is rife with, I express concern before a method which looks like it wishes to generate through a process of breaking down, rather than putting together.
How many tests? How many dictionaries? How many contacts? How many hits? Let's take a look inside. The Golden Goose will be none the worse, I hope.
After a long and opulent night out lasting most of the 1990s, bigcitymartin wrote:
...can I have your number...?
Please, I'll do anything!
Oh, of course you can...let me see...I need to check - I can never remember my own number :)
Look carefully for the signs of data fragmentation: initially, a sense of freedom and mystery surround the clubbers who cannot be reduced to a simple string of numbers. They are liquid, evaporating and reforming in the most distant corners of your mind's world. They transform into a mere username, forever mutating to suit moods and trends. Their strings are traded casually, and always smell of exotic horizons, shaped on faraway sandy shores. Control is unnecessary. I am my own core, nothing else will describe me.
"You can call me whatever you like..."
The totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century knew well that we are defined by the data whose combination cannot but result in our person: the sacred value of a name has been explored in the holiest of books, and has been the subject of our speculations here. A man was also made respectable by being Mr Jones of Mayfair, London, and the penalty of exile served to erase such dignity. Passports or the lack of them, places of birth and star signs all made a person into a recognisable value. Technology in the form of a telephone number increased - for a time - a sense of belonging: when people could remember yours, you were certainly worthy of some pre-eminence. Lovers' hearts would skip when dialling, and many readers must remember the digits of their early passion.
Data alienation reduces all this to expendable modules: it begins with the seductive abandonment of the stripper, whose cast-off clothing reveals boldness and a fierce, wild carelessness no woman normally uses towards her favourite garments.
When the balance is lost, the items originally meant to enhance, support, reveal and shroud become a costume - then a mask.
The spell is broken, and blood runs cold as the nakedness changes into the technicality of exfoliation. The juices stop flowing completely at the chemical peeling stage, which is followed by terror as the corner of a now frigid lover's eye catches a glimpse of the sterile knife of the surgeon in readiness for slicing.
Data loss follows. The numbers and figures a rigorous and attentive maintenance should have kept together to specify us have been gambled randomly, swapped and exchanged by a monkey on a programmer's keyboard, a drunken and profane reading of our own personal Torah.
It may be only digital - that is of course our choice - but it cannot not be still truly me.
No one is ever this shallow when it comes to other apparently small things: the colour of our lover's eyes, her scent on our fingers or a single hair from her head on our pillow.
Outside clamouring, inside Oz prays for Dorothy's speedy deliverance...
Finished in London in 2009
(Skin graffiti courtesy of S.S.)
There are few exceptions to the costumer-is-always-right adage. One is possibly to be found in the medical profession, though my ignorance in this field prevents me form carrying out a deeper analysis on the aesthetic surgery segment, where I would imagine demand rules, at least if my conference experiences are anything to go by.
What it really means is that even where the request is ridiculous, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Unless of course it can be proven beforehand that the result will in fact damage the client, in which case it is best to back off lest one gets sued. Okay, thus far it's been egg-sucking time, sorry.
The carry-on language baggage businesses we provide a service to travel with is rarely marked Duty Free. "Fragile" and "Heavy" spring to mind as more suitable labels, as little thought is given to the effect wear and tear have on language. Normally, the highest goal entrusted to a code of communication is "getting through". Speed is a virtue. Simplicity too. And of course unequivocable clarity.
Yet in our own native language of epic tales, love and poetry, they rarely are an asset. Being real, beautiful and evocative come more to the front. Not because we love the complex per se, but because it actually describes things better. Life can be shaded, faded, dazed and confused, and a binary on/off take-home-message choppy soundbite system of meaning transmission may well be an easy tool to use, but frequently turns out to be a blunt one. It is simpler in absolute terms to employ a fork for everything, but when assessed in real context (a soup) it turns out we've oversimplified a little. And anyway complex needn't mean complicated.
You can't blame companies for wanting this: a white and black univocal description increases product saleability and exotic quality, lends sexiness to anything sordid and some say it is even a good way to keep personal opinions and dissent under control. I'm overdoing it? Try getting a mobile phone contract: the first half-hour is really a vocabulary lesson, where you become the unwitting and inevitably weaker party. After that, it's your problem, and they know it.
We are paid to convey meaning. And all in all I feel relieved when a client indicates that all the technical terms (the ones I'm most struggling with, it turns out) can be left untranslated. Great! So I end up with a scattering of syntax loosely wishing together a load of acronyms and other foreignisms. I pocket my fee, I go home. I learn little, and WCS (Worst Case Scenario) after a few editions of the event if emerges that no one is really listening to me. Fast forward a few budget cuts, I never see the client again.
Was it my fault? Not in my view. Did the client appreciate my service? Probably.
Was he/she enjoying it? Probably not - since it sounded awful albeit right - but what sort of a question is that? It wasn't in the contract, and I performed exactly as the end user required.
My point exactly, way up at the beginning of this article.
What, business should not be evocative? I must have misread all those ads then...
And as you leave the booth for the last time and walk past the buffet table, you wonder why the expensive canapés guarded by the expensive-looking stewards who have exceeded expectations yet again - exactly because they did not listen to the customer who knows nothing about food anyway and tailored their choice on what their educated palate would have eaten - are still there and will be for some time to come.
You can't hold a conference without good food, I hear? Sure. Try holding one without good words...
Being an interpreter in London during the 2012 Olympic Games did not turn out to be the godsend I had expected. I did join in the odd fringe event professionally, but as most local fish-and-chip sellers will tell you, a lot of the business went to the Big Boys. And whilst my Country and our local neighbour Vatican City undergo great turmoil, general and presidential elections and queenly visits that never were, I still have more than enough time to compose my thoughts here.
Never mind. The thing is that there are two ways to write about great events. Or the little things of our lives.
One is the Mediterranean way. Monumental, but delayed: everyone is always too busy finishing up that last airport shuttle terminal they said would be okay on the night to worry about narrative. Which would be mostly untrue anyway.
In Northern Europe things are different. Much before anyone drank any, airlines quickly announced how many cups of tea they were expecting to serve up during the Games, measured in stadia - and I mean the modern oval circus erections, not the ancient Greek-god inspired unit. I know there is a connection, and no fear, there is none between tea and my previously vented ideas on liquid consumption immortalized here.
Back to the Games. There was more: how many meals, decibels, lost office hours; seconds until the beginning, escalator passengers per minute, pints of make up...
Okay, I think I know what you think is coming next. An event isn't just a collection of beads of saline drinks in an ocean of statistics, there's more, let's focus on what counts, get back to basics and so forth.
In fact, no. And in keeping with my promise to write nothing but the truth here in true Public Service Interpreter style, I must admit that I myself was not immune in my younger years from dabbling in a few hardcore statistics occasionally. But if you have just clicked that link, you will have experienced a completely different register for a moment. Now, I don't feel at home there any more. Please close that window and read on if you can.
What makes any experience including interpreting for a living special is what is not replicable deep deep down inside. The ten things to remember in your bag, the two best software packages, the five mugs of whatever herbal concoction you like are all reproducible, by anyone. It is all useful advice, no doubt, but because it can be copied, it cannot be considered the essence of the show, just a rosary of incidentals. And correct me if I'm wrong, if any reader of mine does a little teaching, don't you often encounter learners who are a walking summation of all these qualities, who "know all the right people and take all the right pills", as the Eagles once put it, and seem disgruntled because nothing's happening?
I'm going to regret writing this, but I think it's selfish when watching a football match to focus on what makes the viewer the same as the players (usually the boots and the strip) rather than what keeps them worlds apart (blood, sweat, and a differently shaped abdomen). Is that why some players give up the job and continue to enjoy our unswerving admiration just to thank them for becoming more like us, as we really like to think we are becoming like them? Going back to the Greek gods, is that what made us worship them?
I was brought up by a spark, like so many other professionals I know. It can only be transmitted by osmosis. As a young interpreter, I wondered about the details which at the time were not available if not apocryphally, since there was no blogging or social networking. I had wanted to devise a little compendium myself, but now I see someone has beaten me to it, and I thank them.
So I choose to write about epiphanies, the ethereal nothing which is the only real spirit keeping us going despite the statistics and the knowledge that my perfect headphone still isn't doing it for me. So sorry if it's vague. But am I alone? Then why would so many follow such a route once it has been clinically proven that there is no room for new kids on this block? I understand it cannot be packaged, and therefore not taught, i.e. sold. But it is the one gift all are in need to receive.
The rest is like air, and breathing. Whilst one could not live without, they cannot be the object of our life, nor can we focus on simply staying alive as long as possible. So the dictionaries and the business cards, though essential, are but a symptom, and never a cause. A website reflects, and does not make, the man.
Expertise, experience, knowledge, know-how and luck all just crucially happen along the way, as we walk our path, which is quite another thing.
And usually, as my own, the road is clearly marked no deposit, no return.
I know. Just a thought. And yet...
For a blog with only a handful of albeit deeply appreciated comments, I have certainly had quite a few visitors over the last week or so. The Supreme Search Engine tells me I'm not at the top of the game page-wise yet, so somehow punters at some point have made a choice. Thank you. Some have commented on the Socials (thank you), and I'm trying to oblige: I have changed the background colour - no problem; I am trying to write shorter posts - bear with me; I will immediately quit musing over a cosmeticized representation of the world and get down to business, like fees, conditions of work, techniques and my ten favourite dictionaries - simply...no.
Forget it. I will of course respond to questions as per my Ouverture manifesto-post, but even then I will do it in my own little way. Why? Well, lack of alternatives for one, and really lack of any incentive to do it differently as the other reason. But that is not to say I won't tell you what I think. And I will do so through a real-life example.
Sometime in the middle of the last decade a big fuss was made in the United Kingdom about Christmas lights. Yes, the flashing ones in the street, and their appendages of verbal wishes and greetings. The common view the media fed us was that some unidentified cultures were feeling a little left out as we Christians enjoyed the yuletide spirit, and we really should not make them so sad. Response from all the official channels was immediate and unanimous. All parties, the Islamic groups in the lead, said they did not care a tinker's and we could go on with the fun unhindered.
Yes, said someone at the top, but it just isn't right. The winter festival is at the end of the day an adaptation of a preceding pagan ritual, so let's call them Winter Lights!
Soon afterwards the BBC got involved, asking their listeners and viewers what they thought. Among the responses they received was mine, posing as a disgusted Australian. I was hurt, I said, that no consideration had been give to the fact that in my Country it was in fact summer, and why not just call the damn things "Lights", so we could all be happy. Whether the BBC reacted to this I do not know, but had they chosen to, my next trick would have been to pretend I was blind and found the word "light" offensive - let's change it to a glottal stop such as "Ugh", I was going to say.
You see the point, of course. It's all about salience, as we do our job or challenge an organisation or move up in the pyramid of needs and belonging. Salience is the key to existing at peace, or the door into psychosis, a recent job of mine teaches me.
Life is not in fact a silent score or a white canvas - rather a wall of painted-over graffiti, an only apparently muted organ, a rock gig going strong where all the controls on the mixer have been turned down. But it's all there. The worries about money, the tiff we had this morning, the train being late, the future of our industry, the late night client request...it never goes away. We turn everything down, when we can, if we can. And who better than an spoken word translation specialist, riding that narrow edge existing between input and output signals, on the crest between disruption and meaning?
Sure, I'd be perfect if clients spoke slowly and clearly following their text and came through the fine-tuned insulation of my booth enabling my recently-awakened and breakfasted person to elegantly serve up their message. And please don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with wanting and even fighting for this. Yet it is a bit like prospecting for gold in a jewellery store - not entirely exclusive, nor always real, and not even that interesting. You need to play to win, and playing means walking a path. Getting there, including all the points in between.
They say a true gentleman is able to imagine and blend into the most sophisticated of environments whist not missing it or feeling out of place when this does not materialize (just pick your favourite spy movie). Again, please don't misunderstand me - I am as far as can be from this, or I wouldn't be writing about it.
In the metaphor above it is, quite simply, my chosen soundtrack. To know what you want from the beginning, but currently to be engaged in getting there. "Apologies for our appearance as we put up our...Lights". Yours are on already? Great!
It's just a background inspiration, my way of getting through the day.