Friday 5: Esprit

Close up of berries on a juniper bush.
Photo by Steve Richey on Unsplash

What’s your spirit animal?

I’m going to back away from that specific terminology because I’m not even remotely Native American (no, not even 1/64th Cherokee Princess). But as for an animal I relate to, black bears spring to mind. I just want to nose around the forest and eat fruit and berries all day (and as I get older, my “fur coat” only seems to get thicker and darker, sigh…). But I’m not nearly as dangerous as an actual black bear when provoked.

It was my birthday yesterday, which makes me a Cancer in the Western zodiac. According to the stereotype, Cancers have a hard, tough shell to protect their squishy and vulnerable insides. That sounds about right.

What’s your spirit tree?

I can’t relate to any tree specifically, but my mortal enemy tree is pine trees. I have a pine (and fir) allergy, which means I’m allergic to Christmas and pesto sauce. Are there other trees that hate pine trees?

Given my stature, I’m not even really tree-like at all. I’m much more of a shrub. I’ll go with juniper, I guess. We had a bunch of juniper bushes lining our driveway for years. My dad was actually planting them when my mom went into labor with me.  (Mom: “My water just broke, we’re having this baby.” Dad: “Make some sandwiches while I finish getting this one in the ground and then we’ll go to the hospital.”) Those plants are no longer with us, but there are still a couple juniper shrubs (bushes?)  elsewhere on their property, and they remind me of home.

What’s your spirit food or beverage?

“Bullsky,” or equal parts Red Bull and whisky (the cheapest bottom shelf stuff you can find). This is not an actual cocktail you can (or should) order anywhere, or any kind of actual “thing” except with a couple members of my trivia team in the US. But it’s an oddball, low-class combination with a distinct flavor that’s not for everyone. Just like me!

 

What’s your spirit weather phenomenon?

Clear skies, bright sun, 28 *C temperatures, a touch of humidity. I’m a wilting tropical orchid.

What’s your spirit passenger vehicle?

I am absolutely an off-brand knock off Mini Cooper.

On Swimming in Language

I will confess to having a fondness for astrology. Stars, Greek mythology, and the leftover trappings of the New Age movement captured my imagination at a young age, so that’s hardly surprising. I know enough about the topic to know not only my Sun sign, but all the rest of them. And perhaps—because my horoscope contains a good deal of Pisces, the dual fishes swimming in opposite directions, and I’ve consequently steeped myself in fishy lore—that’s why I think about editing and translating as swimming. Or maybe more like deep-sea diving.

(Not teaching, as much. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that the interactive and interpersonal nature of teaching means that I don’t have to imagine myself into someone else’s thoughts quite as often. They’re right there to interact with me, in the full spectrum of in-person communication.)

One of the psychology rockstars of the last forty years or so is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his “flow” model. If “flow” is a new concept for you in this context, you might better know it as “being in the zone.” Unsurprisingly, since I enjoy my work and am competent at it, I find myself “in the zone” quite regularly. It would be easy enough to simply describe this “swimming” state of being as flow, as being in the zone. It wouldn’t be entirely accurate, though. Swimming in language isn’t like getting lost in my own writing, or working on a new piece of jewelry. Swimming in language is something above and beyond “the zone.”

In any writing-related work that I do, there comes a point where I reach out to original writer, or speaker, or whoever generated the text I’m working on, and connect with them in my own head. I’m sure everyone in the field has their own personal metaphor for that connection; the arbitrary one that my consciousness and my physiology has lit upon is swimming. It’s like diving into an ocean with various currents that can carry you different places.

One current is the author: what did they mean? what tone are they trying to convey here? is there a better word to express what they’re getting at?

Another current is the reader: is this construction clear enough? will they get the author’s intention here? will this word disrupt their reading in any negative way?

Translating has a few more currents: the source language and all of its history and metaphors and idioms, as well as the target language. The tension between the two is yet another third stream that can catch me and send me circling for hours without going anywhere.

And beneath all of them is always my own curiosity, a nefarious undertow. A quick check on a given word’s etymology can, if I’m not careful, lead to a half-hour trip down the Google black hole: if these two are related, how about this third term? is there a Swedish equivalent of this idiom? what’s the name for this kind of grammatical construction?

(By now, anyone else familiar with Pisces as a metaphor for the dissolved ego and the collective unconscious can read a deeper meaning into all of this. But without the woo, the metaphor still holds.)

Conversely, if I can’t dive into the language and swim in the words, then work gets much, much harder. Not that editing or translating is all about inspiration and muses, of course, but when I’m properly swimming, the right word or phrase, the right comma or recasting, comes almost effortlessly. When I have to sit and consciously chop things up or look up word after word in the dictionary, the result is always noticeably worse (in my opinion). Most of the time, that belabored solution just gets replaced by something that comes to me, out of nowhere, hours later.

Like deep sea diving, some adjustment is needed to avoid getting the bends. “The bends,” in this case, being unable to communicate and express myself. Trying to think about something other than words, and trying to articulate what I’m thinking and what I want, is a little challenging after a long stretch of language work. It gets even weirder when I’ve been translating; that’s when I switch to an incomprehensible pidgin full of “non-standard” (that is, awful) pronunciation and rookie false friend mistakes I would never make in my professional work. I have to remember who I am, remember how to be myself.

Editors, translators, and other language professionals, I’m curious: what does your work feel like to you?

Friday 5: Break of Day

A pair of broken windows in a white wall.
Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

When did you last break something made of glass?

Years ago. I had a whiskey glass from the tour I took of the Jameson distillery when I visited during spring break in 2008. It survived decorating my college dorm, but when I came home it slipped out of my hand and didn’t survive its meeting with the concrete garage floor.

The friend I had visited in Dublin gifted me his later to make up for it. Friendship goals!

When did you last break something ceramic?

I don’t know that I ever have, actually.

When did you last break something electronic?

After really good luck with smartphones for years, I finally dropped and cracked the screen on my smartphone last year.

When did you last break a non-traffic-related law?

I’ve definitely had more than my allotted amount of liquids on a flight.

When did you last break a promise?

I promised one of my students I would bring Dixit around for our next lesson and then didn’t. I’m not usually that forgetful…!

Rien où poser sa tête (Nowhere to Lay One’s Head)

If you’re not subscribed to Asymptote‘s newsletter or following their blog, you’re missing out. Their staff are like magical book sprites who leave little gifts of international literature in your RSS feed or email inbox. Rien où poser sa tête was one of those little gifts.

 

The Folio edition of Rien où poser sa tête
Image courtesy Gallimard

Of course, Nowhere to Lay One’s Head turned up in Asymptote  thanks to Brigitte Manion’s review of the English translation. But since I have a passing familiarity with French, and really should practice a little now and then to keep it up, I opted to read the French original rather than the English or Swedish translations.

Author: Françoise Frenkel

My GoodReads rating: 5 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.94

Language scaling: N/A (I read it in French)

Summary: Frenkel’s memoirs of Vichy France, and her flight from Berlin to France to Switzerland

Recommended audience: Literally everyone

Content warning: It’s Nazi Germany; there is witnessed and described brutality throughout. (If you, like me, are easily stressed and need to know certain things from the outset: Frenkel, a Polish Jew, managed to escape Nazi clutches and find asylum in Switzerland, despite a few close brushes with the authorities. It all works out okay.)

In-depth thoughts: As a student, I had a hard time connecting with the books we read about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Fortunately I’m not a psychopath and so I can understand, on an intellectual level, why these books are important. I could then, too. I just resented them for not being better, considering the topic matter. Now that we’re apparently willing to give Nazis the benefit of the doubt, I’ve been wondering lately: what do I think students should read instead of what I read in school?

I’d argue that Rien où poser sa tête is a good candidate. Trying to convey the horror of what happened through the concentration camps can be a bit much to take in. (Not that it should be forgotten, either.) It’s so horrible as to be unreal, unfathomable. But because Frenkel handles the slow agony of daily life under the Nazi regime, with rations and visa applications and constant upheaval, it becomes easier to understand how these things were able to come to pass, and how they could easily come to pass again.

The Editor’s Social Network

One of the best aspects of freelancing, and freelance editing in particular, is meeting other word nerds (freelance and otherwise), and the Internet makes that easy to the point of banality.

Photo by Kevin Curtis on Unsplas

Every job I’ve worked on, I’ve of course enjoyed for its own sake. I’m glad to be helping women in their academic fields put forward their best, most polished work; I’m honored that people have trusted me with their life stories; I’ve edited manuscripts that changed how I think about things like art and aesthetics. In a vacuum, these things would be enough to make my heart sing.

But with all of this work comes an added bonus: a reason and an excuse to socialize. Some issues are so thorny or weird or obscure (or imaginary!) that it’s just easier to ask a person than consult a style guide. (This makes a style guide no less indispensable!) And there’s no satisfaction quite like watching your vocabulary or grammar inquiry in a Facebook group explode into a thread with over a hundred comments, as people engage in serious discussions on usage as well as toss jokes and animated GIFs back and forth. Or like using a query about a particular Arabic translation or Roman history terminology as an excuse to make conversation with old friends who are polyglots or classics scholars.

Is there a corollary to this? That a good editor will have a broad network of contacts that represents a diverse, multifaceted cross-section of society? I hesitate to make any proclamations about what makes a good editor from my obscure and humble little corner. But years ago, someone pointed me in the direction of an editor’s group on Facebook, and I’ve found it immeasurably helpful and encouraging. If a baby editor were to ask my advice on the field, it would be this: hang out with other editors. Follow their blogs, drop in on the Twitter chats, join the Facebook groups. Their collective wisdom will improve your editing, and their collective nerdery will make you (finally?) feel at home.

Friday 5: How About a Knuckle Sandwich?

When did you last punch someone?  Alternate question: When did someone last punch you?

I suspect it was when I was drunk. Drunk Katherine used to get a little punchy sometimes. (Not seriously. Just friendly shoulder jabs.) I suspect the people I drink with weren’t inclined to return the sentiment because they weren’t into hitting women, which is an admirable sentiment.

How many of those frequent (whatever) stampcards/punchcards do you have, and which are you most likely to fill and redeem?

I have one to Details, a bra and lingerie store in Stockholm. I cheap out on everything else I wear, almost, but I will plunk down good money for a bra and you better believe that I’ll take any discount I can get on those purchases.

I also have one for SF Bokhandeln, but I rarely spend enough on one purchase to warrant a stamp, and the resulting discount isn’t really that much, so trying to fill it up would be a false economy. (Especially since any given card expires after a year.) The English Bookshop offers a slightly better deal (and I tend to buy more books there anyway) and the card never expires, so I actually fill it up now and then.

When have you had a really good fruit punch?

Does the smoothie I’m drinking right now count? Supercharged black tea (read as: I let it steep for hours, and then chill) plus mango plus bananas. When you need that caffeine hit but it’s too hot for warm drinks!

What are your thoughts on boxing?

At this point, it seems more humane (and like the participants are taking a more informed risk) than in other public and popularly sanctioned sports in the US.

When do you usually punch in and punch out?

Freelancers are never not working or thinking about work. Or maybe that’s just me.

Culture Bumps: An Empirical Approach to the Translation of Allusions

This was my second selection from the DipTrans recommended reading list. Leppihalme takes a look at allusions (within the context of English to Finnish translations) and different strategies for their translation.

The cover of "Culture Bumps" by Ritva Leppihalme

It’s maybe an obvious thing that I kind of already know, but one of the more important things I took away from this was just how much of the Swedish canon (so to speak) I have yet to read. Leppihalme included all kinds of examples of English allusions in all kinds of books in the corpus for her study and helpfully reproduces them within the text, along with quantitative data on how often Finnish readers were able to pick up on them.

English speakers forget, maybe, that despite the pervasive reach of English, there are lots of anglophone concepts that never pick up international traction. This always trips me up, because I’m never sure which Americanisms have taken root in Sweden and which haven’t. Going through the qualitative data, there were lots of “but surely that’s a pretty obvious one!” moments, which in turn invited reflection: what would the Swedish equivalent be? Would I recognize it if I read it in a novel? I thought about all of the Swedish I still haven’t read: a great deal of Strindberg (and none of it in the original Swedish), The Emigrants, Astrid Lindgren, Tove Jansson, the Prose and Poetic Eddas, most of the Beck movies and all of the novels, Snabba Cash. Or Swedish translations of cultural touchstones like the Bible, Shakespeare, and Aristotle.

Leppihalme examines different strategies regarding translating allusions in the target text from a descriptive rather than prescriptive framework (though always noting when a particular translation choice deviates from the original, whether through loss or addition of nuance). The book is in no way a manual or how-to text; it’s simply an examination of current practices and noting how often they’re used and where.

The downside is that this is a relatively old text that hasn’t been reissued in a new edition. It predates the broadband Internet almost-everywhere era. Would her quantitative results today be different than they were back in 1991 when she was polling students? In an era when almost the entire sum of human knowledge is at your fingertips, are translators given less leeway when it comes to correctly understanding cultural allusions? Is it easier for them to look up expressions and phrases they suspect might be allusions or references? All of this is material ripe for updating, but it is anyone working on it?

 

Nationaldagen 2018: Citizenship Ceremony!

Nationaldagen in Sweden is much more low-key than the American equivalent. It mostly just seems like an excuse to have a red day when the weather’s nice.

Except.

For immigrants it means that you get invited to Blå hallen at Stadshuset for speeches and music.

The music at the American version would be a bunch of old standards: some Sousa, maybe “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful” or something similar, and of course the national anthem. Sweden opts for a selection from a musical written by half of ABBA and a schlager hit from 1979’s Melodifestivalen (in addition, of course, to “Du gamla du fria”). This is a kind of patriotism I can get behind!

Fika (one (1) kanelbulle and one (1) tiny cup of coffee or lingonberry juice) came after the speeches and the music, up in the “Golden Hall,” so called because every single inch of wall and ceiling space is covered in gold (gold-colored anyway) Medieval-style mosaics. I couldn’t get many good pictures, but this is the best one:

As in, the best picture I got and but also as in, features one of my favorite figures from Swedish history, Drottning Kristina. She was a bug-eyed weirdo super-smart lesbian (?) with wild hair who spoke eight languages, never married and after a couple years of ruling as queen regent, converted to Catholicism and peaced out to Vatican city, abdicating the throne to her cousin. A royal fit for pride month!

Here’s some from Wikipedia that are much better:

They had organ music for the post-ceremony fika. I didn’t pay too much attention to it until we were on our way out, when something about the tune struck me as familiar. It hit me and my boyfriend at the same moment and we looked at each other. He was the first to say it:

“Isn’t this…’I Will Survive’?”

Yes, the renowned Swedish diva Gloria Gaynor!

On the way out I got an envelope with free tickets to Skansen and a gift bag from the economics and law student union that had some brochures and a basil plant. There’s no way I’ll ever be a member of the economics and law student union, but the fresh basil was lovely in the salad I made for dinner later that week.

Part of me was anxious the whole time; it’s an election year here in Sweden and everyone’s real upset about immigration, so it would have been a whole room full of sitting ducks for some kind of giant terrorist THING to make some kind of point or other, and security was essentially non-existent. But a bunch of cops and metal detectors would have ruined the atmosphere. Dålig stämning. That would be very un-Swedish. I guess it’s very un-Swedish (and very American) of me to think that way. Sigh.

Some things take a little getting used to.

Friday 5: Who Put the Pomp in the Pomp Bah Pomp Bah Pomp?

A group of smiling, mostly white graduates adjusting their tassels at the close of the ceremony.
Image courtesy Caleb Woods from Unsplash.

What’s something you remember about your high school graduation?

That it happened, mainly.

If you were asked to speak at a commencement ceremony this year, what would be the theme of your message?

Live deliberately. Do the things you want to do; want to do the things you do.

 

What items in your possession are marked with the name or logo of your high school or college?

Well, my college diploma is in a drawer in the kitchen, and the school cane is boxed up and ready to ship from my parents’ house. (My alma mater is a bit odd in that, in addition to being presented with a diploma, you also get a wooden ornamental cane upon graduating. I have no idea why.) I don’t have any school spirit clothing or tchotchkes, otherwise.

What do you expect will be your next rite of passage?

Completing KPU at Stockholms universitet? Turning 40?

What’s a good movie with a graduation scene, or a good movie with a graduation theme?

I have no idea if it’s in the movie, but Enid and Becky’s attitude towards graduation in the original graphic novel version of Ghost World mirrored my own.

2023: A Trilogy

I’m planning on doing a buddy read of Ulysses this year, and much as I love and patronize libraries, some books are impossible to read unless you own them and have access to them at your leisure. (How many times did I try reading a library copy of The Second Sex, for example?) I spent the afternoon in town browsing The English Bookshop, and while I ended up having to special order Ulysses from their Uppsala store, the chance to browse the random selection led to me finding books I wouldn’t have otherwise. 2023: A Trilogy was one of them.

Cover of "2023: A Trilogy" by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu

Authors: The Justified Ancients of Mumu, aka The Kopyright Liberation Front, aka Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty

My GoodReads rating: 3 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.67

Language scaling: B2+

Summary: A “found footage” type of story. At the most basic level, the story is a satirical sci fi dystopia/utopia where five corporations benevolently rule the world and a programmer named Winnie Smith might just have solved the problem of immortality.

Recommended audience: Anyone who thought the original Illuminatus! trilogy was too much of a slog, leftover KLF fans, anyone who enjoys meta and self-referential texts, pop music nerds, anyone nostalgic for the 80s and 90s

In-depth thoughts: A boy I had a crush on in high school thought the Illuminatus! trilogy was one of the best books ever written and so I devoted a summer to trying to read it. I made it halfway through and never finished, but it was enough that even years later I can recognize the countercultural significance of things like 23, 17, and fnords.

This is important because Drummond and Cauty have packed 2023 full of Illuminatus!  references (mixed in with the literary and pop music references). If I hadn’t been able to call back to those particular references, I might well have been too lost to appreciate the book.

It’s a fun read if you’re either in the know or thirsty for meta, slightly experimental satirical science fiction. Whether or not this would be a good read for English students depends on how familiar they are with the cultural references in question, and how willing they are to track different narrative levels. The language itself isn’t too difficult, but the allusions and the metanarratives might be too frustrating for some readers.