This year’s resolution: Don’t waste time

This year I resolve not to waste time: not to waste time doing things I don’t have to do, not to waste time wondering what people think about me, not to waste time feeling guilty about my errors, not to waste time making excuses not to do what I want to do. This from a man who agonizes over every little decision, from a man who spent an hour just yesterday agonizing over which liquid should go into which of the six travel bottles he bought (two sets of shampoo and conditioner, a conditioning shampoo, and a body wash in two pink, two blue, and two clear bottles), who spent a half-hour in the men’s section of Target yesterday agonizing over how to spend $35 worth of gift cards. Should I get these compression pants? Should I get these shorts to wear over these compression pants? Is it wrong for a man to wear compression pants without shorts on top? (A Google search taught me the term MAMILtoe.) If I get these shorts, what color shorts should I get to go over these compression pants of medium blue and black? Black? Medium blue? Or this contrasting maroon? This from a man who spent weeks over the summer hand-coding an XML database containing a listing of 115 interpreters to get the formatting out of tables within tables within tables and into a more moble-friendly format. Or does this look better? Or did that look better? Should all their degrees be abbreviated with or without periods? Or… Or… Or… until he spent his whole winter vacation not using a computer (nor using social media, thank-you-very-much) yet hurting in his shoulder from all the editing and re-editing over the summer. This from a man who just this morning spent 15 of his first minutes of the new year Googling whether it were true that Vera Ellen’s costumes in White Christmas all had high necklines to cover up a neck ravaged by anorexia (apparently not). This from a man who will spend too long writing this post and still publish it with errors, or at the very least feel a fool for publishing what was far less than his best work.

I will fail at my resolution. I will fail again and again. But I am more resolved than ever to try. God help me make progress! Or if there be no God, may my highest self pull my agonizing self, slave to its own tyranny, out of its misery. I have so much to give. I have so much time, really– time that I waste doing things I don’t have to do. I have a feeling I have a higher purpose than to waste minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years of my life on things of no importance. I have things to do this year that will require that I make the best of my time, and I will do it. I have the will to do it. I will myself to do it.

Granted, the judgment of whether time is spent or wasted is a matter of perspective, and all is relative. Certainly there are worse things I could do with my time than decide how to use travel bottles or edit a database or choose an outfit. How long “should” it take to make a decision? How long “should” one take to get something right? How long is too long to lie in the grass watching the clouds drift by? I don’t know the answer, but I do know it shouldn’t take me as long as it does to do things other than relax. I need help. From without and within, I need help managing my time. It isn’t that I don’t get done what I need to get done; it’s that I do too many things I don’t have to do. It isn’t that I don’t meet deadlines; it’s that life has a deadline, and I deserve to enjoy what time I have left either creating or recreating, not demolishing myself with indecision.

Another of my resolutions is to have a buddy, a mate, a best friend– a “bromance,” if you will (I’m using “How to Start a Bromance” as a guide). Having a friendship in addition to a marriage will take time; that’s where the time for recreation comes in. It is already a challenge to limit the time I spend on work so I have enough time for family. It is going to be an additional challenge to limit the time I spend on work — and mindless minutiae — so I have time for friendship. I was taught when I was young that in order to have something you want you have to create a space for it. When I met my husband, I had done the internal work I needed to do to be ready. I had created space in my head, my heart, and my schedule for him before I met him, and when I met him, I was ready. Now I’m 50 — and oh, I am in the throes of a midlife crisis! — and I don’t even have a friend. Yes, I have colleagues, Friends, as Facebook calls them, and couples my husband and I occasionally have dinner with, but I do not have a friend. I do not have a person, as Merideth Grey would say. I do not have a mate, as the British would say. I need a friend, not just a husband. The idea that one’s spouse is one’s best friend is no longer real to me. I believe I need at least two significant others– a spouse and a friend. And for these and other priorities I am resolved to spend my time wisely.

Mise-en-place your life– I know I need to!

Mise–en–place (French pronunciation: [miz ã ‘plas])

Mise en Place for Scallops with Shallots, Pasilla and Chard
Mise en Place for Scallops with Shallots, Pasilla and Chard by Don LaVange, on Flickr

Yesterday morning, I listened to a story on NPR called “For a More Orderly Life, Organize Like a Chef,” which talked about applying the French culinary concept of mise–en–place (literally, “put in place”) in everyday life. One chef told how he uses mise–en–place for his daily “list.” He said:

What I used to do is, let’s say I had 23 items of mise-en-place I had to do every day. So I’d take a pad and I’d write them all down on the way home. And then I would crumple the list up and throw it out.…On my way to work I’d write the list again. And you become one with your list. You and the list are the same, because the list is scorched into your head.

–Wylie Dufresne, chef and owner of New York restaurants wd~50 and Alder, as quoted by Dan Charnas, NPR.

I’m all over the place

This got me to thinking about my schedule. As a freelance interpreter, I work for several different agencies and drive to many venues to interpret for classes, consultations, and conferences. In a hectic week, I often can’t remember where I’m going from one job to the next without looking at my calendar. I use GPS to get places; I look at my phone once I’ve arrived at an address to see what suite I need to get to, and even what the name of the venue is; I look at my phone again when I get to a venue before I can tell the front desk the client’s name.

Putting myself en place

I’d rather be like a chef who knows where everything is and how he’s going to get from one thing to another than a rock star who can’t remember what city he’s playing. I need to mise-en-place my schedule. Case in point: I recently had a morning job that I knew was medical and far away. I left in time to get there early. Fine. However, I did not remember the name of the patient, the medical office, or even what kind of specialty it was. I also didn’t realize I was scheduled to come back the next morning. I had taken the jobs separately and not seen the connection. When I showed up, another interpreter was there because the office accidentally booked two interpreters for the job. I just figured I would let her do it because she got there first. What I failed to consider was that I was scheduled for the follow-up as well, and it would have been better for me to stay so I could provide continuity to the clients.

If I had it to do again:

I should look at my schedule for the week and note that I was scheduled to interpret for the same patient at the same doctor’s office two mornings in a row– this would remind me of the patient’s needs and preferences and alert me to the repetition; I should look at the name of the venue and note the specialty– this will help me find the venue when I arrive at the building or complex and I can spot the name on the outside, and it should help me prepare myself mentally for interpreting in that specialized setting; I should note the suite number– this should help me locate the venue either from outside the building or inside. I should call the venue the day before or the morning of, the latest, to confirm the appointment– this would have either alerted me to the double-booking, saved the clients the change in interpreters, and saved one of us the drive.

Mise–en–place = Me at work

There’s another big reason to mise–en–place my schedule: so I can get more work! The way I get jobs is the agencies I work for send out mass emails with the dates, times, and locations of jobs they need to fill. I have to have my smartphone with me at all times to get the mass-emails the agencies send out, and I have to respond instantly or the jobs will be snatched up by those who respond faster. There have been many times I have responded in two minutes only to get the reply “covered, thanks” a minute later. I have spoken with many interpreters in the area who report the same experience, so there might be more to covering these jobs than speed-of-response; still, to speed up my response time, it would help if I had my schedule memorized. See, it takes me a minute or two just to switch to my calendar app and see whether I’m available before I can even reply. If put my schedule in my head, I might put myself in the job.

My “list”:

  1. Memorize my schedule, including:
    1. Day (so I know what I’m doing “next Tuesday”)
    2. Date
    3. Time
    4. Venue name
    5. Venue geographical area
    6. Venue suite or room
    7. Client names (have I worked with them before? how do I work best with them?)
    8. Specialized setting (environmental goals, tone, mood, protocol, barriers to communication)
    9. Topic (specialized vocabulary, sensitivity, overarching theme)
    10. Pattern (does this job repeat? how often? how many times? have I done this job in the past?)
    11. How to get there (routes, alternate routes, time to location, security or other hurdles to cross before getting to where I need to be on time)
  2. Confirm the job with both the agency and the requestor (call or email to make sure it’s still on, and let them know I will be there — this would save double-booked interpreter hassles and pointless drives)
  3. Check my phone and email before I leave for a job to see if I’ve received a cancellation (this could save a lot of pointless drives too)
  4. Keep intouchbysmartphone:
    1. Keep the ringer on whenever I can
    2. Listen for notifications
    3. Respond immediately
    4. Check my smartphone at every break
    5. Always check my email before anything else (like Facebook, which can be a distraction from getting jobs)
  5. Inform interpreting agencies of my schedule as often as possible
  6. Call or email interpreting agencies to see what I can do for them
  7. Let agencies know if there is to be a follow-up appointment and let them know I am available for it (if I am)

I could probably go on, but it would be a start if I could just memorize my schedule for each day, let alone each week. I think I might try what the chef did and see if I can write my schedule by hand without looking at my calendar. Even if I could just have the details of a single job memorized before I get to it, that would help.

I believe in sharing my failures and successes, problems and solutions, and I write about them so others might learn from my experience. I would love to learn from others’ experience, too. Please comment if you have any mise–en–place practices you find helpful in your daily life.

Encountering bigotry on interpreting jobs

I have encountered bigotry in the workplace as an ASL-English interpreter, but I must stress that it has come from both Hearing and Deaf clients, and has not always transpired between the clients I was interpreting for at the moment.

I usually gloss over the well-meaning paternalism of some Hearing people, especially if the interaction is brief and I sense that what is being communicated is more important than how it is being communicated. Many of the Deaf people I interpret for are familiar with this paternalism that sometimes borders on oppression, and they can handle it themselves. If they don’t handle it, it is usually because they don’t want to waste their time. One of the common errors I see among people who use interpreters is saying, “Ask/tell him/her.” This is a fairly innocent mistake. I will usually interpret it the first time, and see if the Deaf client corrects their hearing interlocutor or not. If they don’t, I usually just change the third person address to second person address in my interpretation.

However, I have experienced situations of bigotry that created a hostile work environment for me. Here are two that stand out:

  1. A boy in a high school class bullying another boy by calling him a “faggot” and carrying on in that vein deliberately and relentlessly during study time. The Deaf client was not paying attention.
  2. A Deaf client who used old, deprecated signs for Chinese and American Indian (pantomimes of mockery, pulling the eyelids to the sides with the forefingers while bowing up and down for Chinese, and raising one hand and patting the mouth with the other for Indian) and carried on about hating “faggots” in the waiting room at a doctor’s office

In both cases, my longterm solution was to no longer interpret for those people. My short term solutions to cases like these vary. The first situation I listed was the last straw after hearing occasional homophobia from this student over the previous few months. I chastised the bully, told the Deaf student what happened, and went to the vice-principal’s office. When neither the vice-principal nor the classroom teacher supported neither the bullied student nor me, I walked off the job with an hour to go because I was too upset to carry on. In the second situation I listed, I didn’t bother to say anything. In both cases, I let the interpreting agency who sent me know that I would no longer interpret for these people because I could not tolerate their bigotry.

In 24 years of interpreting, my encounters with insufferable bigotry have been extremely rare. More often, what I see is paternalism among hearing people toward deaf people, and I usually let it roll off my back. I just interpret and let the clients work it out themselves.

Yes, the people I interpret for display bigotry toward each other occasionally, but the worst bigotry I have encountered has had nothing to do with the cultures and languages I was mediating, and instead has been a kind of “environmental” bigotry I just could not stand.

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