Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Please give my your Divided Attention

I spent a weekend in an intensive workshop for court interpreters.  My work flow has been such lately that I have been looking forward to Brain Down Time on the weekends:  slouched in a chair flipping channels between a great old Katherine Hepburn film, a quick look at the Weather Channel to convince me that my three-mile power walk has to wait until the threat of rain subsides, and back to CNN to see if they are still hashing over the same terror threat.

So it took sincere Dedication to my profession to get dressed and drive into the city to commune with fellow interpreters. 

Happily, the weekend provided more than a couple of real highlights, beyond the instruction (which was excellent).

I’ve been thinking that, as I am getting older, I am not as polite and deferential as I used to be.  Impatience seems to be taking over some of my kinder impulses at times.  Maybe that is the result of being better at foreseeing outcomes.  Such as:  Taxes are due.  My computer will have a major crash once every two years.  All materials in the universe get dirty, need cleaning and eventually deteriorate.  Seasons change and come back again.  Those realizations have led me to planting more perennials in the yard than annuals, buying better paint, and upgrading my technical support options.
But where I really notice a change in me over the years is in conversation.  Even when engaged in casual banter with a friend or a relative, I find I am possessed by some inner demon who, while trying to listen to the person in front of me, is wildly tapping his foot, arms crossed tightly in front of his chest, and who wants to shout “get to the point already!”

In addition to that, if my gentle interlocutor has launched into a topic that does not rivet my attention, I’m suddenly thinking of when I have to do my bookkeeping… maybe I’ll make some saumon en croute for dinner, but damn… I didn’t defrost any puff pastry…  what time is the next train? … and (slipping back into the conversation at hand) when did I hear this same conversation before?
Something is obviously wrong with me.  Despite my impulses to connect with the person who is speaking to me, an inherent rudeness is taking over.

My problem could very possibly be a cultural overlap issue.  I’m thinking of the old Bible on French-American cultural differences, written by Raymonde Carroll[1]  that confirmed to me what I had learned about French conversation styles.

“… it is the ‘continual interruptions’ in French conversation that baffle Americans… what an American takes for an interruption is not really an interruption but plays a completely different role in French conversation.  Seen from the exterior, French people engaged in conversation do indeed seem to spend their time interrupting one another.”

However, hanging out with other simultaneous interpreters, I discovered that we all seem to share some similar habits.  Finishing someone else’s sentences, for instance.  Talking over each other.  Occupational hazards.

Something else I reproach in my conversations is a quality that scarily reminds me of Attention Deficit.  While capable of concentration when it is called for, my brain, when unleashed, can go off on various tangents, pulling my interest with it.  One remedy is to remain comically active in the act of conversation.  Pulling a juicy play on words out of the air.  Throwing in an infrequently used adjective.  Making a joke (if appropriate, of course).  But then, to do that, I almost invariably have to interrupt the speaker.

The one entertainer I admired above all other for his flow of speech was Robin Williams.  His brain was a light-speed pinball machine, with genius ricocheting off of any available word.  
He might have made a really great simultaneous interpreter.

Maybe I’m going to be too kind to myself here, but I’m going to congratulate myself that I have a talent for Divided Attention.  It is the curious split in thinking that allows a simultaneous interpreter to hear someone speaking and interpret that person at the very same time.   It is the ability to process an audio message while producing another one in another language.  Not just “listening and speaking” at the same time, but processing two messages simultaneously:  one that is incoming and one that is being created to be sent out in the next second.

I went home from the workshop on the train with another interpreter.  The only language we share is English.  Our conversation was not a ping-pong match of “my turn, your turn”.  It was a spiral of speech, where the ideas floated between us and we snatched half sentences out of the air to chart the course of our conversation.  Anyone listening to us would have thought us the rudest women on the planet.

But then, we did have moments of complete harmony…. when we laughed.

[1] Cultural Misunderstandings:  The French-American experience;  translated by Carol Volk, 1988 University of Chicago Press.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fallen Pines

Poems and photography
Deborah Joyce

Fallen Pines
I found you
nose in the dirt
bleached bare
a rack of ribs
lifting your true-arrow spine
aspiring to crawl
to a place separate
from that of your birth.
My own feet
will doubtless do no better
than such a pedestrian end.
So let me acknowledge
the messages etched in your core,
subtle changes of wind or rain,
your singular identity
in the uniform forest,
those moments that played with your essence.
Eclipses and swelter,
chinook and blizzard,
they are all written there,
wooden memories.

My inner forest has tales of shade and sun
carving my soul
beneath my bark
coarse cry and cover.
The children of my dreams
have spines of paper
begotten bare on sheets of white.
I stare down at them,
listening for a voice,
and hearing none, cruel mother,
I crush them in my hands.
They do not have your permanence
to share our secrets
with the stars.


I assign them to their fate.
Silent, unbending, anonymous.
Thrust upright into the bubbling cauldron.
They stand a few minutes.
I watch their mute surrender
As they bow away under the steam.
Submerging the last unyielding bits,
I am the Kitchen Witch;
Doing nothing
And dreaming of power.


I am
a shell
where once
your heartbeat
I am
a forgotten lake
that rippled
with your passing
I am
that melted
to form your footprints

You are
only traces
I am



Bad Habits

Some elements of nature
Do not know their place;
Like untidy blades of grass
Growing in the cracks of sidewalk
And water seeking its own level,
Eroding mountains in its path.
I wish I could make rainbows
Without first making storms.
Not all people grow in rows
Like vegetables in a garden.
We tend to reach for sunlight
Following nature’s course.


Quelques racines de mes espoirs
gisent encore sous la terre de ton jardin,
et tes pénates connaissent
par cœur mes prières.
Ton plafond se teint de la fumée de mes rêves,
où je crayonne mon nom
sur l’écho de ta voix.
Un verre sur la table
porte la trace de ma soif,
et tes livres réclament
la caresse de mes yeux.
Le feu du foyer
projette au mur
mon ombre qui danse et qui hante ta demeure.
Et là-haut, dans ta chambre,
ton lit manque ma chaleur.

Je suis la fée folle du logis.
Mon âme sans Toi est sans abri.


Tel un tireur d’élite,
ta conscience te guette du toit.

Tu marches félin,
frôlant les murs
voulant faire comme un canin
pour inviter des câlins.
Mais tu crains
te faire descendre
te réduire en cendres
par une foudre du Ciel,
des comptes à rendre.

Tes poumons à peine
remplis de liberté
sous ta veste où pèsent
les secrets
de tes sommeils manqués,
tes chemins ratés,
tu rases les murs de briques
où sont projetés
les ombres de tes doutes
et tu n’adoptes ta démarche de Juste
que sur les voies ensoleillées.

Je t’attends dans l’ombre frais
du passé.
Chandelle fine
qui illumine
les piliers de pierre,
un exil rassurant
du grand vent.
Je te connais…

Et ton cœur
que mon amour
avait fenêtré.


Encore aujourd’hui
je suis partie
vivre ma métaphore
sous un gros anorak,
évitant le trottoir,
force de jambes
plutôt que de tête
visitée à tour de rôle
par les anges et les démons
par soleil et vent
marcheuse solitaire
creusant un chemin
que personne ne prend,
je souille de mes pieds
la neige vierge.
Je dessine mon parcours
en emportant avec chaque pas
un peu de cette vie
collée à mes bottes.

Sunset Walk on Snow

The land sips the sky
of its opaque luminosity
so that Earth
may become a Star
seen from afar
and cold becomes
across the void
to throw
its shining message.
I’m here,
if only a sound
and an impression
on the white reflection
of god.


Innocence Paint

length and breadth
a healthy January snow
white whipped cream contours
to fill the harsh angles
the more eloquent
the apology
the more opaque
the layers
like a cerement
something smothers within
waiting for forgetfulness
to follow forgiveness
for only then
would this burden
seem less

Death Wish in Paris

The river’s caramel depth
seems unromantically incapable
of drowning unrequited love;
a shallow excuse for oblivion,
her every movement scrupulously observed
by countless would-be poets
and the traffic of infatuated couples
hiding on her bridges,
jeweled tiaras.
No place to lose a lifeless body.
Perhaps the tower’s dramatic demise –
a lovesick leap
off the ultimate phallic symbol.
Yet the wishful step to eternal forgetfulness
ends in public embarrassment
of being scraped off a crowded sidewalk.

I have found the surest anonymity
insured by French custom.
            Walk the street at their pace.
                        Smile at no one.
                                    Pretend you are one of them.
                                                You will cease to exist.


Michigan Avenue

Step gently
over the trembling bodies
of the fallen birds,
wings shattered
on cool smooth
panes of artificial sky.
Men in their vanity
lined this canyon
with mirrored towers
forty stories high.
Crawling dust and paper winds
slither after the staccato heels
that flee the blemishing drops
while the skinny exiled outline
of trees in their concrete beds
wave bare arms
in mercy prayers.
Perhaps the sky will deliver them.
Only the fountains
are strangely still.
Heaven holds its breath
before a sob, before
the storm is sent
to teach humility.


Seven years I wandered
in a comet’s dream.
You flung me far
out where the echo of our past
energy resounds
and, rolling in its thunder,
the ellipse commands
the flame to its source.
I return to find you dancing
with some cold moon,
feeling hidden in the void.

I always knew my orbit
would come full circle in time
in which I can account
for all the moments
you thought I couldn’t
see you,
hear you,
watch you grow,
the common air of two birds turning
lost above the tundra.

So this is how ‘never’ feels:
like leaving the traffic
to drive alone through the woods
and ending up in a paved parking lot.
A full white moon in winter
or the secret of where birds go to die.
Cold candle wax
or a vow on the lips of a nun.
The foreign
notes of your name
leave my head
 in tuneless silence
while I iron white linen
of a man’s shirt
whose proportions
are not yours.


I would have liked to reproduce you
pantograph and pencil you
mix navies and cerulean
eureka your eyes

I could have drawn you within
high relief
dimensions of you
impressions of you
seeped into my cells
split your atoms
rebirth you

in fresher tones
newborn nudes

refashion you
through artistry
of female chemical idolatry

I could have been your temple
sheltering your image

pagan portrait
of a god
who never left his heaven

The Conquest of Balance

What rules apply
to keep me high
and elegant
astride the stallion of my dreams?
A bit of steel
certainty and heels
dug deep in gravity
are all that attach me
to flight from pedestrian safety
and wed me
to my lofty desire.
Unsettling doubts
would unseat me
surely in a loss of mastery
of my precarious choice
to fly not fall,
if mind chose to matter
over heart –
that clumsy and unbalanced organ
binds me to my disobedience
of natural earthbound law,
neither centered nor centaur born,
aspiring only to marry
the furious muscled ever-forward
motion of my life.


Tu finis souvent tes phrases
en points de suspension,
signe de tes omissions,
style mitraillette
sursis d’exécution
de tes promesses incomplètes.

Tu ponctuais ma vie d’espoirs,
de me persuader
qu’il y avait suite à donner.

Sans point final,
tes idées planent
comme autant de doutes
pour repeindre tes serments
en mensonges,
les bornes de ma fausse route.

Je ne retiens plus le souffle
en goûtant à ton art
abrégé et ramassé,
ton chemin plus court
pour aller quelque part.

Je saisis maintenant tout le sens
de tes raccourcis,
de tes silences et de tes non-dits.
Lorsque tu parles d’amour sans fin…

je t’aime