In interpretation, and maybe in many things, the beginning of success, is understanding the degree to which we fail. A few weeks ago I inevitably found myself discussing my craft with an enthusiastic layperson for whom the proverbial lightbulb had gone off. Marveling, he said “but your job is so hard! When interpreting, you have to not only deal with the information, which can be very technical, but all the nuances as well, or a poorly organized speaker, and all in a split second. That’s impossible!”
“It is,” I confided. “It’s nothing short of constant failure.” These words seemed to be a bit too heavy for my ruddy friend, so I pulled back on the reins a bit. Relying on the sentiments of one of my trainers, I swung around, “Interpreting is very difficult, so that’s why the goal is not to be the speaker—we can’t, the speaker is the speaker—but to create our own speech. The speaker relinquishes the copyright to the speech the minute those words pour out of their mouth.” (Credit for this latter sentiment must be attributed to the training Legend: Hans Werner Muhle.)
As is typical of Conference Interpreting degrees, at Glendon College, one must pass oral exit exams in order to earn their credential. These exams have hung heavy over all of us since the day we said “yes” to this two-year crash course in vulnerability, falling short, and maintaining a sense of humor—a.k.a. conference interpreting.
Exam day knocked at my door earlier this week, on a Tuesday. I woke up, got myself dressed in my current favorite vintage blouse that I rescued from my mother’s closet, drank an espresso, read a Spanish medical article on allergies out loud, interpreted Emma Watson’s speech on feminism, hopped on my bike and pedaled towards fate.
Thirty minutes later I arrived at the Glendon College campus, inordinately early, where I began to speak in strings of vocabulary to no one in particular and then slowly walk in circles around the exam room, listening to my favorite Kevin Johansen instrumental that never fails to remind me that the world is much, MUCH vaster than we perceive on a daily basis.
I was less afraid of failing the exams than underperforming. If I performed to the best of my current abilities and failed, well then that is valuable information. But a mediocre turn in the booth due to nerves, being sick, being tired, or just having an off day, well, that genre of near tragedy at a microcosmic level would follow me around—a tiresome thorn in my side for some time to come.
I won’t know the results of my exams for a few weeks. Tuesday afternoon I thanked my excellent team of professors and walked out of the lab and climbed onto my bike. I was content: an adjective that I rarely identify with. I pedaled back to where I came from, the wind at my back.
Finally…FINALLY, I stand in that space where failure dovetails into success. Success on my terms, at least for the moment. This space, that feels so comforting, is the “this but also that”, it’s the “space in-between” that has always intrigued me. In fact, it’s what drew me to this impossible profession in the first place.