For the last few months my father has been sending me from time to time files written in Greek to translate them in English. He runs the family business with his siblings and has had to send offers and reports to foreign business partners and potential customers. And here I am writing reports about heat pumps, floor heating, and geothermal installations in English, when I don’t have the slightest idea how all these things work.
It is not an easy job and my uncles’ writing style has always made it even harder. Both of my father’s brothers write their reports paying absolutely no mind to proper grammar and syntax. Then they form a pdf file or a PowerPoint presentation and e-mail it to me to translate it. I wouldn’t mind that much, if I had any idea how these things work. As it turns out, though, I only know what a circulator and a three-way valve look like because I’ve been working for them for the last three summers.
To make matters worse, the only help I can ever hope to get is from my aunt, who has studied outdoor design. Not exactly the technical knowledge I’m looking for. Whenever one of us dares to ask a question from the three great experts on the field, we end up getting even more confused. Trying to have an actual conversation with uncle Kyriakos is usually torture. If you ask uncle Mpampis how to do something, you should have known better (it’s what you tell yourself every time afterwards). And my dad finds everything very easy. He can do anything in five minutes, even if this is his first try. What do you need done? This drawing that took me 95 hours to finish? Translating a 30-page file of gibberish from (maybe) Greek (I make no promises there) to English? Climbing mount Everest? Easy peasy. Just give him 20 minutes. He’s sorry for the delay but climbing down from the top takes him a bit more time, he hasn’t perfected his technique there…
Yeah, you might have realized that they’re not much help.
Anyway, the story begins this past Sunday, when my father called me to inform me that he had send me two files that he wanted me to translate immediately. So, I checked my e-mail account, found the files, downloaded them to my computer and started writing. The first one I had it finished within the first half hour. So, I sent it to aunt Eleni -our official editor- to work on any adjustments she might want to make, while I was working on the second file. After that, I opened said second file and… my brain turned into a big black hole. I could’t find one sentence in the whole file that made sense. I called my aunt, who, of course, didn’t pick up. Hoping beyond hope and being way too optimistic, I called my father to ask if he can translate the file from Gibberish (my uncle’s mother tongue) to Greek. When I ended the call I was on the verge of screaming. Unfortunately, that call hadn’t been very helpful. It’s torturous when your relatives always exceed your expectations.
Hours later, I received an e-mail from uncle Kyriakos, who had been charged with the editing of the nightmarish file. At this point, I have to admit that I was very proud of my uncle. He had very skillfully turned the red font back into black and deleted the rows of question marks. Why, this would help me immensely. It would be so much easier to translate gibberish without the red font and question marks. Why would anyone ever use them?
At about 5 a.m. on Monday morning, I had finally decided that I can’t do anything better and so I sent the translated file to my aunt. I tried to sleep, but my frustration had taken me over and I desperately needed to vent somehow. That’s when I started writing an e-mail to my father. Subject: How to write a technical report in 11 simple steps. It was a list of the eleven things one should have in mind when writing a technical report that’s going to be translated written in a satirically formal style.
It contained quotes like: “Make sure that what you’ve written, what you want to say, and what the reader understands are the same thing. This fact should apply to any text that does not start with the phrase ‘Dear diary’. Unfortunately, the prophetic abilities of translators died with Pythia.” Or maybe that one: “Know your translator’s name. If not, ask him. If the answer you get is not David Copperfield, Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore or something similar, then don’t expect him to do magic.”
We had been laughing all day with my sister, aunt, mom, people in general, when mom asked me to post it on her wall on Facebook. Until then I had not realized what a great article it was. But then people started liking and commenting and laughing and artists were telling me I was a very talented writer.
It was weird and totally unexpected. I had never thought that I was a writer, even though, all my life, whenever I would feel the need to express my thoughts, they always came out in text form, flowing through me straight from my heart. And still I would have never called myself a writer before Monday night.
That was when I started asking myself questions. Am I a writer? I have never written a novel, but I do write…a lot. Does that make me a writer? It’s true that I can spend hours over the keyboard or a piece of paper looking for that one word and discarding ten synonyms, just so that the sentence feels right when I read it. Is that enough? Written words have always been my forte. The ability of speech sometimes eludes me, but words have always come to me naturally when writing. Maybe not if I’m trying to write a novel. Novels are not really my thing. What I write is more like short essays and articles, where I express desires,feelings, thoughts, and opinions.
After all, what is it that makes someone a writer? Is it the number of books he’s published, the amount of money he makes from writing? Is it the book awards he’s won or the number of languages his books have been translated in? Is it any of those things? The answer is no. You’re not good at something only when you get rich or recognized because of it. Talented people don’t think of their gifts as a ways to make a profit. Of course, some of them do make a lot of money that way, but making money is not the reason behind their hard work.
It’s what separates the artists by the entrepreneurs. You all know what I’m talking about. It’s the difference between a song that fills you with awe and one that makes you beg for earplugs, between a painting that makes you cry and one that leaves you unmoved and indifferent, between a dancer that has you mesmerized and one that makes you wish tomato throwing did not sound so childish. It’s the difference between sharing pieces of your soul through your work and trying to make money.
So, yes, I guess I’m a writer. Because I write from my heart. Even in this blog, in my reviews, I talk about how books have made feel. If you’re a blogger, then you’re probably a writer too. Come on, you haven’t been spending hours -maybe even years- of your life writing blog posts, just because you like books or cooking or drawing or knitting or something. You do it because you need to write about it. Because it’s something you love doing and this is your way of sharing that love with the rest of the world.
Then again, maybe you’re not a writer. It doesn’t matter. You definitely have some other talent. Think about it. What it is that you do when you feel the need to say things, but cannot find the words to do it? How do you express your happiness, your fears, your sorrow? What do you find yourself doing when you need get rid of your anger, your stress, when you need to think and get away from your problems? Is it painting, singing, basket weaving, wood carving? Do you write poems, compose music, knit, make jewelry? Everyone has something, it’s up to you to identify it, cultivate it, and make something unique and beautiful out of it.
So, what is your talent? What do you feel passionate about? Please, don’t hesitate to share with me as I have shared with you.