Saturday, March 7, 2015

Fringe benefits





My annual trip to the tax preparer has all the anxiety of a trip to the dentist,and the solemnity of the confessional.  I’m not worried about paying huge tax amounts.  Rather, I have to sit through a thorough examination of my performance for another year, from a purely financial point of view.

Working as a freelancer is a brave and bold endeavor.  As an independent, unless I provide it myself, I have  no health insurance, no retirement, no paid vacations.  One must be an IT expert, an accountant, a self-marketer, not to mention the self-discipline required. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, the average mean income of a translator in the U.S. is $45,000 per year.  My tax guy compliments me on my bookkeeping, and talks about his trip to France, giving up on trying to copy my pronunciation of French towns and castles.  Yet I always come away with the feeling that he thinks my ability to work in a foreign language should make me wealthy.

So now that the returns are filed, I am going to take an uplifting moment to review some of the priceless moments that don’t have a line on the tax form, that don’t add to my bottom line, and that make me happy that I do what I do.  Without becoming a millionaire.

This year, I took an oath of office for court interpreters in Illinois.  This is a milestone, mostly because we never had an Illinois oath of office before.  There are now some ground rules.  Their purpose is to make legal proceedings accessible to Limited English Proficient persons, but an equally great benefit is a set of guidelines that the attorneys and courts can follow to help the beleaguered interpreters in their performance.  Progress.

I was invited to speak in a webinar for the Illinois State Bar Association.  The moderator emailed that the presentation went “very well… Particularly Deborah’s portion.  She has a very personable style.”

I have a flowery Email from a project manager who used the words “thoroughness”, “great sound bites”, and “tremendous value to the research.”  This one is going into my portfolio.  I keep a leather-bound linguist’s scrapbook, as proof (to myself? to others?) of what I can do.

I have a lovely Thank You note from a client who writes “je suppose d’après votre nom que vous êtes Américaine… ”   I translated a legal document into French for him and he was surprised to learn that I’m an American!

I had my usual annual calls from my retired French citizens in Chicago.  One woman whom I assist left her native country in her youth to work in the mines in France and now relies on receiving her pension wired into her American bank account.  She cannot read or write the forms sent to her from France, so I go and help her and she and her husband serve me wine and pastries in their suburban kitchen.  Another elderly gentleman who has to show up living and breathing at the French Consulate to obtain his certificat de vie proving he is still eligible to receive his pension, brings me a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates for making a few phone calls for him.

I helped a woman with the paperwork she needed to regain her French citizenship, a West African woman who needed a translation of her school transcripts quickly to apply for a job, an asylum candidate who just needed to talk to someone while nervously waiting out the interminable weeks and months for his hearing. I translated the documents required to transport someone's loved one back to France for burial in his hometown.

Language is a very human activity.  We have electrified it, mechanized it, computerized it.  But those artificial processes do not really enhance the miracle transmission of words from one human heart and mind to another.  I can’t seriously look my tax preparer in the eye and give him the George Bailey line that I’m “the richest man in town.”  But I’m warmed by a call this afternoon from Simone who tells me that her pension finally made its way into her checking account.  She will use the money to see her new grandson in Texas for the first time.  Life is good
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