Sources of Joy – Days 96 and 97

Perhaps I have been unduly influenced by a curious blend, inter alia, of pop psychology, New Age thinking and French literary trends c. 1920–1960.

Today’s events on my little planet revolved around the theme of choice, something I expounded upon at length for about a decade straddling the dawn of the new millennium∗∗, and then fell silent about cause and effect and roads less travelled, possibly much to the relief of those who privately find flogging a horse even when alive abhorrent.

In brief, then: Life is a series of choices. Our smaller choices inform our bigger choices and vice versa. Our present moment is the sum of all the choices we have ever made. This does not mean that we determine absolutely our own destiny. What is does mean is that even if a mega-load of mango∗∗∗ hits the fan (for which we accept neither responsibility nor a causal relationship), we still have the freedom to make a seemingly infinite set of choices.

The other bit of the puzzle: We rarely make a choice once, and hey presto! it becomes manifest. Choices are sequential in nature; they gain substance over time. They are like balloons, which fill with water at a measured pace, then all of a sudden, quite by surprise, they burst – and shower you with their refreshing coolness on the hottest of days. Some people call these phenomena – if, indeed, they are noticed at all – blessings. They may well be, but we have to remember that other people are also busy making an infinite series of choices in their own lives, so we can never be sure about who is actually accountable. We can, however, choose to think about these pleasant surprises in whichever way we like.

So, why do we make choices? Primarily, I think, to avoid confusion, as so charmingly illustrated by Doug Savage:


I am sure I haven’t had to use this particular expression in a translation for at least a month, so I thought I would throw one in for good measure.
∗∗I thought I would resuscitate a cliché for no good reason.
∗∗∗ A euphemism.

My sources of joy yesterday and today are in many ways the culmination of specific choices over recent months which I have made regarding my work, the balance between the desirable and the necessary, the tug-of-war between what I want and what others need or want me for.

My sources of joy came in the form of making a choice about whether to accept offers of work.

The first was a consequence of participating at the last minute in a kind of speed test which involved providing a summary in English of an entire text (just short of 1,000 words) and then translating as much of it as possible within the allotted time. It was paid work; an agency had selected eight translators, I think, to participate in a tender to secure work from a sizeable client. One translator dropped out at the last minute due to a mango flood ostensibly beyond his control. I became Number 8.

Although the agency did not expressly link their e-mail today to the rapid-fire event of two months ago, I have. The agency wanted to know whether I would like to be on the distribution list to receive notifications of these urgent jobs (the parameters of which are not unreasonable) between 07h00 and 08h00, on any given workday. The first translator on the distribution list to say yes to the job gets the job. The payoff? A 30% premium applied to the base rate the agency normally pays me. Is this akin to slavery and servitude? I think not.

Here’s why:

  • I have been struggling for months to stick to regular waking hours with the same start time every day. Mostly, I have been unsuccessful.
  • I blame my lack of success on my own poor planning. As freelancers, we often have to make exceptions to planned activities in order to accommodate clients, but there is a certain amount of basic planning (also known as time management) which makes our lives more manageable, and more productive.
  • I have not been able to improve my daily productivity on a sustainable basis despite focused effort over the course of the last year. I could make the excuse that caring for my disabled partner makes this harder, but that is a cop-out, pure and simple. Everyone has challenges in their personal lives. Everyone. And, glass ceilings are meant to be broken.
  • Concurrently with efforts to improve productivity, I have been making a consistent effort to secure better rates. The equation is simple enough: Higher productivity at higher rates means improved earnings – and the option to choose how many or how few hours you wish to work.

The e-mail I received today provides a practical incentive to make concrete progress on the above four aspects – with the added advantage of reinforcing through experience one of my specialist fields. This is one of those balloons bursting. My response to the agency was that I wished to be included on this distribution list. I now have a wonderful office in order. The message is clear: Get ready!

I have been specifically honest in listing what I have been struggling with, this year, especially.

Yes, I am an experienced translator. Yes, client feedback indicates that I produce quality work most of the time. Yes, I approach my work with professionalism and discipline and dedication. All laudable, I am sure.

Although somewhat of a perfectionist, I will not pretend, however, that I am perfect. Although I am confident in my abilities, I will not claim that I am beyond learning new skills or re-learning skills I once mastered with ease, but with which I now seem to have some difficulty. Dedication is grand, but it should be known that there are days when the only thing I manage to do to satisfaction is the translation I am currently working on – to the detriment of attending to almost all other aspects generally considered essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

I am confessing this publicly so that other translators know that the measurement of success is as variable as the length of the proverbial piece of string. Turning our weaknesses into strengths is a job that is never complete; fresh weaknesses crop up all the time. Constant effort – and occasional rest – seem to me to be the most sensible way of navigating the muddy stretches on the journey to achieving your (hopefully well-formulated) goals. Constant effort constitutes a choice to make many choices throughout the day and/or night; resting also demands choices from you. You choose. You choose your choices. Another bit of the puzzle: Not all choices are as clear as black typeface on a white page. Think smudges. Smudges on a wall – or, if you like, of the pain of deciphering mostly illegible text on a print-out of a badly scanned PDF.

The second conscious choice I made was the upshot of a choice made to attend the Proz International Conference in Porto in 2013. My choice to attend the conference could be traced back to any number of choices I made years and years ago, but for the purpose of this blog, was based on an interest in many of the presentations made and, more importantly, on a desire to meet other translators in person.

I loved the conference. I came away with the conviction that one of the amazing sources of inspiration that we as translators have is interaction with other translators. I have yet to meet a translators (young or old) who does not have something of value to impart to his or her fellows.

This year, despite my being in a general state of exhaustion, and my personal life being in a considerable state of upheaval, I was glad of the opportunity to attend a second (regional) conference in Porto, this time dominated by Portuguese translators. The excellent programme of events organised notwithstanding, my chief motivation was to meet and converse with translators in Portugal, something which I did not get to do enough of at last year’s conference. I wanted to “network”,  mainly to discover what our shared experiences are, what makes other translators in Portugal tick; to continue conversations with people I had met the year before, and meet other translators whose profile pictures and forum contributions do not give me too many clues as to the kind of people they are. I needed to hear their voices; to see them in the flesh. I was not seeking additional work – and this reminds me that I have not followed up (two months later!) on the single instance where I did say that I would send my CV to someone who does have an agency. Poor planning on my part rears is grotesque head once again.

What a wonderfully animated, talented, open and interesting bunch of professional freelance translators Portugal has! I loved every conversation with every single person, and feel privileged to have made some friends. I so enjoy the interactions via a Portuguese translators’ group on Facebook, and the private interactions via e-mail and Skype occasionally. All these connections only serve to enhance my work as a translator.  Even though my main language pair continues to be German to English, the support we receive from each other by sharing parts of ourselves is most gratifying.  For me, it has become an essential part of my day to participate to whatever extent my schedule allows in the topics and opinions posted to this group.

Much to my surprise, and delight, several fellow translators have passed on Portuguese-English work to me. The amazing bottom line here is that because I chose to get to know translators in Portugal better on a personal level, I am benefiting on a professional level too. The trust between us established in a conference or workshop setting provides a background of mutual understanding which makes negotiating jobs so much more natural – more pleasurable, even. It is motivating.  Not all jobs are ideal; rates are not always optimum and deadlines are sometimes tight. These factors have to be weighed against a commonality of purpose – to get the job done as well as possible. That is why I am glad to say that today, out of the blue, I have booked up my calendar until the end of the month all because someone’s cigarette lighter did not work during a workshop coffee break – and I chose to offer mine.

By deciding to accept this work, I am choosing to trust my choices, which are in turn based on older, seemingly insignificant and fleeting choices made instinctively. Could this be intuition at play?

(Tweeting now, having performed minor revisions some 10 hours after publishing.)

“Publish, and be damned!”
(Who said that?)

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