Inspired by an NPR interview with Elliana Grace, the Human Cannonball in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Talk of the Nation, March 28, 2013).*
The interview caught my attention because I know Elliana. Well, we’ve met. She wouldn’t remember me, though. We met twenty years ago when she was an infant. I was doing a seasonal stint in Circus Flora as a production manager. Her mother, Jessica, took that picture of me riding Flora, the elephant. Her father, Mike, gave me my nickname, Plan B,** which eventually became my dba.
Along with the wave of nostalgia brought on by the interview, I was struck by an analogy. Elliana Grace described the human cannonball act this way:
“I go all the way down to the bottom of the barrel, and then I shoot about 100 feet across all three rings and land in an air bag.
“I line the air bag up in relation to the cannon. So wherever it ends up shooting down, then the air bag is moved.”
It made me think of the ATA Mentoring Program.
No, really. The Mentoring Committee had met just the night before to discuss our procedure for winding down the mentoring class of 2012 and ushering in the class of 2013 (the mentoring year runs April–March).
The program features a closed discussion group where mentors and mentees can post questions and share experiences. This being the end of the first year of the newly reconstituted program, we had to decide if we would we start a new group for each incoming class or reuse the same group year after year. We decided on the latter course, which meant that we would have to unenroll our 2012 mentees from the group.
Knowing that we would have to deactivate all but returning mentors, I had the sense of kicking our mentees out of the nest. Although our mentees were by no means rank newcomers to the translation and interpreting profession on arrival, there was an incubator-like quality to the discussion group. We gave them a safe place to explore new business strategies, question the status quo, and challenge themselves to meet their stated goals.
So like the cannon, we’re launching our mentees back into the world (you knew I’d get around to it eventually).
But it’s not a perfect analogy. For one, the human cannonball is a solo act. The beauty of the new Mentoring Program is that we have classes of about 30 mentees who all start and end their mentorships at the same time. Everyone departs accompanied by their fellow mentees, and we encourage them to stay in touch — with each other and with their mentors. Second, it would be a stretch to say that everyone can count on an airbag or safety net, or that we’ve rehearsed our mentees in the art of falling without hurting themselves.
But I like to think that the Mentoring Program has helped each mentee position the cannon and calculate an approximate trajectory.
Now to light the fuse!
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**I still recall the circumstances — the two of us in a field standing over a little red wagon full of PAR cans discussing our lighting options. Maybe I had miscalculated or maybe someone had mis-inventoried, but definitely something had changed between the inventory, the calculations, and the present moment. It didn’t matter why we were short, what mattered was how we were going solve the lack of lumens. Clearly we needed to rethink our plans, and apparently it wasn’t the first time I’d said something like “OK, time for Plan B.”