Interpreting and Flexibility

When you have General Anxiety Disorder like I do, you want everything to be thoroughly known, understood, and planned ahead. People like me prefer to plan, put things on the calendar, and if we feel confused and anxious, we study and research far beyond what is asked of us. On the one hand, people with GAD are reliable, knowledgeable, and great at organizing. On the other hand, I’m learning that interpreters need to be flexible! So, now what?

My experience demonstrates that I’m actually good at flexibility because I’ve planned out so many scenarios in my head that I’ve already imagined what an alternate situation looks like. I’m great in emergencies, whether it was that cheerleader who broke her leg at the camp I was working at, or the man who had a heart attack while driving and rolled his car in front of the coffee shop I was sitting in.

But when we say “flexibility,” we often follow it up with “we must roll with the punches.” That negative language (“punches”) perplexes me, but I never thought about it until this semester. The first week of the spring semester went as planned, but then my ASL professor’s child was sick. Then the professor was sick. Then the child was sick again. Then we had a huge snow storm that led to school closures, so she stayed home because her other children had Zoom school and her internet wouldn’t allow her and her children on Zoom all at the same time. Eventually, my class was permanently switched to online/asynchronous.

This past week students in my interpreting class were told the professor’s immediate family would gather to assist with end-of-life care for a family member in a couple of weeks. I marked the days she needed off on my school planner. But then late at night we got an email stating she needed to leave now and class would be cancelled for three days. The event was unplanned because it was unexpected.

To call these situations “punches” feels wrong to me, because it is not me who is faced with the hard choices. I simply have to be where I am needed when told and determine ways in which I can enrich my learning on my own time, making the most of my education. Thinking of my professors and their families emphasizes how very human we all are. We’re people, in it together. Because we are encouraged to see all college professors as prestigious authority figures, deserving of the utmost respect — perhaps even putting them on a pedestal? — it’s hard to view them as humans. And yet re-framing my own instructors as people has made me feel more collaborative in my own learning, more flexible in my thinking, and softer, more understanding in my heart.

How often do stop to think about an individual and truly acknowledge that they are a human in a deeper way beyond acknowledging a biological fact? Do you consider their home lives, cultural background, and how much we ask of them?

Published by Grab the Lapels

I'm a graduate of the MFA fiction writing program at the University of Notre Dame, which inspired me to follow along with trends in teaching, publishing, and reviewing. I also have an MA and BS from Central Michigan University. I used to teach composition, creative writing, and literature in higher education, then did a brief stint at a civic theater, followed by two years at a references desk at a public library. I'm now working toward my ASL Interpreter license.

5 thoughts on “Interpreting and Flexibility

  1. I think you could still call it a “punch” for you because it “punches” a hole in your plans or expectations? It might / should be an easier “punch” to deal with but I think it’s still a “punch”.

    I’d like to think I always think of others, and who they are when I’m with them, but how well I do that can often depend on how confident or comfortable or relaxed or even, just how well, I’m feeling. It’s much easier to be open to the individuality of others when all is ok with you?

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    1. Punching a hole in my plans sounds closer, but perhaps something like a “side step” or even imagining you are on a path and you’re must take one that is less clearly marked because the main path is out of order. I try to think about it like this: everything is a journey to something else, and I have my whole life to catch up or correct course or whatever, and I’m hoping that’s a flexible approach.

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      1. Well said, EXCEPT, is “to catch up or correct course” the best description? For me, “catch up” implies a race, and “correct” implies wrongness re where you are. I think “change direction” might be a better way of looking at it?

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        1. I suppose I think of catching up as going a bit faster, but not necessarily out of the realm of possibility. And correct course does imply something is wrong — you’re right there — but I often hear it used to mean changing, so here we were debating language and meaning, which is what I did for an hour in my interpreting class. How delightful! I do enjoy it.

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