Translation: Just Stay Calm

Life is like a hand of poker – you shuffle the deck and deal it out… and everything that happens depends both on how those cards fall and the reactions of each player at the table. Some things are under your control while others are a matter of chance. However, if you remain calm, examine every aspect of the hand as it plays out, choose your moves wisely, and believe that everything will work out as it should, it will. Last week was a perfect example.

I awoke Monday morning to an email from an author who’s children’s book I translated from English to Spanish in rhyme. The author had gotten my copy proofread by a friend and she now wanted to call me the Spanish Interpreter and her friend the Spanish Translator. I was livid, but I knew better than to respond while in that state. I’m a Sagittarius – a fire sign. Calm is not an emotion I feel on a deeper level very often. However, I try not to play “on tilt” or while “steaming” on the felt or in life. There’s a reason those terms are used to describe players when they’re frustrated or angry and letting it affect their game: because experience has shown that it doesn’t work out well.

So, I whined to my parents about the dilemma, spent a few hours searching for sea glass on the beach and sorting my thoughts, then attempted to write a response. I still wanted to say, “How dare you make me share my title with her?! She’s just a proofreader!” Instead, having not yet seen the revised copy which could reveal that my translation was full of errors (despite the fact that I too had it proofread), I said, “I’m confused about why I’m being asked to relinquish my title to someone who seems to be playing the role of editor/proofreader…” and that I would really like to see the revised copy. Rather than bully the author with a response equivalent to a pot-sized bet, I checked and asked to see the next card.

Tuesday morning I received the pdf of the new Spanish version of the book. It seemed like all my worst fears had come true. It was full of errors for which “typo” seemed too kind a word… and the author had written her friend’s name right after mine and the words “Traducido por”. We appeared like a team even though I was the one who had altered the Spanish translation to keep rhythm and rhyme. I was so upset I couldn’t imagine how I was going to respond again without being rude. That time it took nearly 36 hours, a lot of whining to friends and family about my dilemma, and a few suggested responses from my sister before I could stop steaming and pick my next move.

I decided the best way to be kind (bet small) was to pretend that the majority of the mistakes were merely typos and to find a way to focus on something bigger. I decided to try not to say anything mean about the editor as I still had no firsthand knowledge of what she was like and I had noticed at least a few spots where I agreed with her corrections. I remembered that, while you might need to bully your fellow poker players to learn about their hand, in life people are often more than willing to answer your questions.

So, I began by trying to determine if they’d edited the book with items of concern to me in mind. Did the editor know the story was supposed to rhyme? Had the author requested the editor ensure my language wasn’t too formal and accidentally allowed slang terms in her book? I then gave examples of places where I felt the changes made were unnecessary and unfavorable because they took out rhymes. I offered to edit my copy one more time, but said we might need someone else to double check the final copy if we wanted to be 100% sure there were no grammar errors. I admitted I could see spots where good corrections had been made, but said there were so many mistakes in it now that I wouldn’t want my name on it at all… and that she did not have permission to use my new rhyming, non-literally translated lines without my name… and that I was not okay with the editor being listed as co-translator.

Thursday morning I got a (forwarded) email “from” the editor saying she would be happy to meet with me to go over the changes in person – an option I’d thrown in at the end of my email, but wasn’t too eager to pursue unless she proved to be more educated than she currently appeared. Her response said she was a certified translator and would be happy to show her resume, but I couldn’t forget the fact that the book was a mess. Furthermore, the author hadn’t responded to my concerns about my title. So, I prodded her. I said that I needed a response on “the co-translator vs. sole translator” concern before I did any more work on the project.

The hours ticked by slowly once I pressed send on that final email. I was worried I’d pushed too hard (bet too big), but also that I might have to take things further in order to stand up for myself. I began to cave in to the fear that I would have to investigate my legal rights to these new lines. I wanted to stay calm and behave as if I knew everything would work out, but I couldn’t stop worrying about what move I would need to make next. I didn’t want to take things to the next level, but I would if I had to.

That evening, the author called. She said she wanted to apologize and that everything was her fault. She had typed up the draft from the editor’s handwritten notes and failed to show her the pdf  before she sent it to me. All the things I’d decided to pretend were typos actually were.

Next, the author explained why she wanted to call me the Spanish Interpreter: because I had done far more for her than the average translator and she felt this work deserved a different title, a better one. She was very grateful for the special care I had taken with her work and wanted to be sure that was reflected in the credits just as much as I did. She also happily agreed to list her friend as the editor, not the translator, and said that the editor herself had never asked for published credit and had acknowledged long ago that our roles were quite different.

On Saturday, when I received the corrected draft, I was reminded of another good reason to play nice in life: so people will be kind back when you screw up. It turned out I had forgotten to translate an entire page, but the author kindly suggested the possibility that she might have overlooked it in the files when she informed me of this fact. Everything had worked out just as it should. What went around, came around. I’m not sure if I’ll worry less the next time I’m faced with a challenge of similar proportions, but for once I think I stand a chance. After all, the title of the children’s book I translated is “Everything Changes, Including Me” and I don’t think I’ll forget how beautifully this all worked out anytime soon.

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