Seeing funny in life is a coping mechanism

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This week we are featuring one of LEO’s Conference most beloved speakers Caitilin Walsch. Caitilin is an ATA-Certified translator who delights in producing publication-quality translations for the computer industry and food lovers alike. Former President of the American Translators Association, she brings her strong opinions on professionalism as an instructor of Ethics and Business Practices at the Translation and Interpreting Institute at Bellevue College. When not at her computer, she can be found pursuing creative endeavors, from orchestra to the kitchen.

Q: What was your first translation job?  

My husband and I were contracted to translate an invoice from English to German (he is a native German speaker). We received a single page – nothing really difficult, except for the item that was being invoiced: “25 chains.” Which doesn’t make sense in English – is it lengths of chain? Links of chain? We banged our heads against the wall for hours (this was pre-Internet), and then my brother, who was a long-haul trucker, showed up at dinnertime. He took one look at it, and said, “Oh, yeah, that Company X sells these cool new cable tire chains.” Lesson learned: every translation is about something

Q: What do you do to develop your professional skills?  

Read, read, and read. Then write. A lot. When I have an idea, even a small one, I write it. It may be a simple social media post, a sip of a notion, or it might become a full-fledged article or essay, or even a public presentation. 

And of course, keeping up with learning and research in my areas. That’s what all professionals do. 

Q: As an instructor on ethics and business practices, what is the most important thing you teach your students about?  

Defining whether boundaries are external (ethical) or internal (moral); rules are pretty cut and dried, but when you layer in personal values, which are influence from everything from religion to every life experience, that’s when most of us run into problems. If following a code makes you uncomfortable – for example, maintaining confidentiality when you encounter something that you think is wrong and you think the world should know about it – then you have to make a call: are you a professional or human being? 

I’m also a big believer in goal-setting, so a lot of my business “teaching” is really coaching students to understand what their strengths are and what they want, and how they need to progress to get there. 

Q: What would you like changed or improved in the industry?  

We need to stop drawing artificial distinctions: interpreters and translators do the same thing – language transfer – in their heads. The external trappings are different, but we have more in common. Same for all the different “flavors” of interpreting and translating, and even company owners and software developers. We’re all in it together, so speaking with a unified voice and seeking allies just make sense. 

Q: What are your favorite books or movies and why?  

As a past actor and director, I levitate to books and movies with zany, interesting, well-formed characters. Forget ingenues and eye candy and formulaic plots: I want to read about damaged people with foibles when they encounter all the weird things that life can throw at us. I adore the humor of absurdity and reading talented and polished writing. 

That said, I have been known to gobble up mindless murder mysteries. Even if I do usually figure out whodunnit before the end. I figure it’s better than mindless TV.   

Q: Since you are our most humorous presenter, we have to know: how do you stay positive during these challenging times?  

First, even though I have a solid sense of humor, I think it’s important to note that finding the funny in life is a coping mechanism. Without it, I could (and can) be quite cynical. Having suffered from severe depression when I was younger, understanding and naming stressors is an important tool, and making fun of those stressors is one of my coping mechanisms. 

This pandemic has not been easy for anybody, and we all have to work hard to see the positives it brought us: I didn’t get to go on a distant vacation, but I also didn’t have to go through an invasive TSA pat down. My nest wasn’t empty, but I got to enjoy my adult children for a little while longer.  

Q: Can you tell us more about your orchestra and kitchen hobbies? And what is your favorite dish to make? We seem to be constantly hungry while working from home. 

As I’ve aged, the writing on the “you are mortal” wall has been on my mind. When I turned 40, I decided it was time to learn some new things that I always wanted to learn! First up was knitting (followed shortly by spinning wool), and next was learning to play violin. I sang in choirs for decades, so had an ear and could read music, but the technical aspect (and the brain pathways they develop) appealed. I also love making music with others – I am not a soloist! – so I joined a local community orchestra. I’m still what you might call a utility player, sitting at the back of the section. We play classical music, and my playing improves with each concert. My goal is to be a solid enough player that someone will pick me up and drive me to rehearsal when I’m in my 80s.

And did I mention it’s really cool playing in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall?

I cook almost daily (we were four adults during the pandemic), and am an expert in baking and jam-making. I’m gluten-free myself, so I tap my engineering mind to adapt recipes – most people can’t tell the difference. To date, I’ve made three tiered wedding cakes (one allergen-free), for good friends and ohana. I also make jams that celebrate the seasonality of fruit: berries in summer, citrus in winter (I make my own pectin too!). I usually put up about 50 jars a year, and smart friends have learned that if you return the empty jar, you get another one. Needless to say, when I translate cookbooks and recipes, I tend to gain weight.

Q: Your panel’s topic at the LEO’s 4th conference is What the Future Holds. Can you give a us a glimpse of your answer to this question? 

We’re getting a feel for what the “endemic” stage of COVID-19 is going to be. Masks will remain a permanent fixture in our purses, pockets and glove boxes; annual boosters (and scheduling a day off for side effects) will become the norm. 

The good news is that with protective measures in place, we will be able to gather again, both socially and professionally. We will enjoy meals and music together. And we will also all keep Zoom and Teams installed on our devices. 

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