Reed D. James http://www.reeddjames.com 3m 829
The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
A long, rainy night of translating. I had been assigned a 25,000 word translation at a good rate by a translation agency in Spain. I am a Spanish translator. I was given ten days to do it in-2,500 words per day. Since my daily output is much higher than this, I decided to take it easy the first few days. I went grocery shopping, did some housework, went to Starbucks for coffee while I read “Los detectives salvajes” by Roberto Bolaño. Santiago Chile, my home for the past twenty years, was in a festive mood as the Christmas holidays were approaching. The sun was shining bright and people were either talking about Christmas shopping or doing the shopping itself. Then I started to get a little more serious about the translation job. I was five days into the project and was about halfway through. It was a packet of Spanish financial statements, five or six scanned PDFs with plenty of chicken scratches and hard-to-read tables. I reminded myself to convert the Spanish number separators to U.S. ones. A novice mistake is to neglect to change 12.000 (twelve thousand) to 12,000.
Then, out of nowhere, my wife sprained her ankle on the way home from work. I rushed to a spot we agreed to meet at and spirited her away in a taxi to the clinic near where we live. Even though it was a good clinic, it was a busy evening at the emergency room and we had to wait over two hours before a doctor was available. I felt guilty thinking about my translation at a time like this and tried not to let on. It is hard to have your head in two different places, but it is part of being a freelancer. It was ten p.m. by the time we left the clinic, and after a quick meal and setting my wife up for rest, I rushed to the computer and typed away furiously at the keyboard until about 2 a.m.
The next morning, I awoke at 6:30 a.m., tired but satisfied because the growing breach between the number of words I should have translated and the number of words I had actually translated up to that moment had narrowed. After dropping the kids off at school and serving my wife breakfast, I worked at a slightly more relaxed pace. This went on for two or three days. On December 19, the day before the deadline, I had about 4,000 words to go. I was calm and confident about meeting the deadline, and even had time to take my wife to the doctor for a follow-up on her sprain. The day had begun with low, dark, ominous clouds in the air, but I didn’t pay much attention to them. It never rains in December in Santiago, at least the entire time that I had lived here. But there is always a first, I guess. It rained and poured, and there was thunder and lightning. Traffic came to a standstill, and if that wasn’t enough, the power went out!
Now, usually I am fairly stoic about power outages. I know that when it rains excessively with wind, trees can fall on power lines and I might be without electricity for an hour or two. But the rain and wind kept going and going. I took my daughter to a friend’s house, again worrying about my work while away from the computer. It took us forty minutes to drive twenty blocks, and I was extra careful-not only because of the our own safety, but also because if I got into an accident, it would severely set back my work and I would have a lot of explaining to do. I was hoping that the power would be restored by the time I got back. How wrong I was! As the afternoon turned into evening, I started to lose hope of being able to finish the job on time. I fired away an e-mail to the agency PM, who had already gone home for the day, so that she would be alerted of my predicament.
After hours of waiting, I finally gave up and went to bed. I slept fitfully, waking up every half an hour in hopes of seeing the lights back on. After what seemed a few minutes-what were really a few hours, the overhead lamp was blazing and my wife said “Volvió la luz. Son las cuatro y media.” Good grief! Four thirty a.m. (eight thirty a.m. in Spain and the job was due at nine). I rushed to the computer, plugged it back in (I had unplugged it to prevent power surges) and opened my e-mail. It read:
I’m sorry to hear about the power outage. Please turn in the job by the end of the day (6:00 p.m.).
Some translators publish phrases like: “I have never missed a deadline.” I find that to be unrealistic. Especially when it rains.