Sarajevo: Writing and Translating a City in Wartime (October 11, 2019, UNC)

For anyone in the Durham – Chapel Hill area with lunchtime free on Friday —

I’ll be appearing with noted literary translator Ellen Elias-Bursac on a panel called Sarajevo: Writing and Translating a City in Wartime, co-sponsored by the Center for Slavic, Eurasian & East European Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, the Theatrical Translation as Creative Process Festival, and the UNC Department of Dramatic Art.

The event is open to the public, details at the above link. This is part of the Theatrical Translation as Creative Process Festival. A play by Bosnian author Almir Imširević, in Ellen’s translation, will be presented Thursday night.

Ellen and I discovered our “hook” when we were discussing the topic of the panel: She got into theater through translation and I got into translation through theater. I have been a fan and admirer of Ellen’s work for many years, and consider it a privilege to be sitting at the same table.

things I never noticed before #1 (2019-03-04)

These photos go with my post of March 28, 2019, Oops…

Oops, we forgot something…

So, it’s my self-declared last day in the building (the synagogue building that our congregation is selling). I’m alone in the building (that’s not unusual, by the way). I’ve stacked the last few items that need to go to storage by the front door, and I figure I’ll take one more look around. An idiot check, although it’s better when someone other than the idiot herself — someone with fresh eyes — is the one checking.

It’s quiet, calm. The building is at rest, seems to me. I think I’ve actually finished — got us all moved out, at least as much as we intend to move. We’re leaving most of the furnishings and equipment in the building and taking only sacred and ritual items, prayer books, historical property (many boxes of archival material and a few possessions we brought to this building from our previous home when we moved here in the early 1960s), a very small percentage of the books that made up our large library, and all the commemorative, donor and, most important in my opinion, Yahrzeit plaques. These last are name plates of deceased relatives of current members, deceased members, and deceased forebears of deceased members. (At last count there were 850 of these plaques, my grandparents and great aunt among them.)

From the inside, the building looks more abandoned than empty.

I’m really trying to think of what I might have forgotten. I take a bunch of pictures of things I never noticed before. I try to photograph the main sanctuary, but it’s too dark and I don’t feel like flipping the breakers. So I sit in a seat in the center aisle near the back and ponder the bimah, the stage. The walls are bare of sculptures, the wide-open ark is no longer holy because the Torahs have all been taken away. Perhaps most disconcerting is the absence of the pinpoint of light casting a glow above the ark — the eternal light has been taken down and packed carefully in a 54-gallon tub (still shining, of course — a miracle!).

In this quiet, I ask myself: Am I sad? One benefit of working on the move is that what for most congregants would be a sad day — the day we are all moved out of our building of 57 years — is for me a day of intense satisfaction and relief. I did indeed spend a lot of time in this building growing up (we’re almost the same age), but not so much as an adult. I was a teenager, then away at college and doing my own thing during the active and productive years of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. By the time I returned, economics and demographics had changed, and the building seemed to be growing larger and more unweildy as our congregation got smaller and older. So, no, I’m not sad. I’m relieved.

Sitting in the pews, I try to picture the 13-year-old me on the bimah chanting my Haftorah and giving my Bat Mitzvah speech. All I can conjure up is the view from my eyes, seeing only a blur of familiar faces beyond my prayer book on the stand. It’s much easier to call up the image of Rabbi Gewirtz, of blessed memory, wearing a permanent-press black button-down robe over his suit and a boxy, fez-like yarmuke, leading the congregation in responsive readings, davening not so silently during the silent prayers, actively listening and watching from his seat on the bimah. Presiding.

And then I wonder how I’d feel if I ever stopped by after the building is brought back to use by the Baptist congregation buying it. I imagine Pastor Lavina on the stage, music, a full house of worshipers. And I have a vision of how to turn the formerly holy ark, now basically an empty closet center stage, into a beautiful backdrop, with a translucent or stained glass panel across the opening, lit from within. And with that, in my mind, at least, the transformation of “the shul” to “our old building” is complete.

I leave the sanctuary through the side door, the one leading through a back hallway, rarely used, continuing my idiot check. I scan the walls for errant plaques (I’ve found them in the most unexpected places, after I was sure that we had removed them all.) And finally, I glance out the side doors, thinking Here’s something else I never noticed before. Metal fire stairs leading down to an area between the sanctuary wing and the school wing, a kind of no-man’s land of overgrown vines and rhododendrons and concrete blocks…

Wait, what? Concrete blocks? What’s that?

In Hebrew, “Adas Kodesch” (the name of our congregation before a 1957 merger) with letters below, possibly a Hebrew date.


To be continued.

I Was Away

Not in the sense of a VACAtion, but in the sense of an AVOCAtion, in other words, I was still here, but my attention was focused elsewhere.

Specifically, on this place:

In October 2017, the congregation I belong to voted to put our synagogue building up for sale and, against my better judgment, I got involved.

Now, in March 2019, the congregation has moved out (our stuff is in storage and we are operating in a temporary/transitional home while we search for a smaller, more suitable, location), the sale is pending, and I have recovered enough to try to make sense of the past 18 months.

I still don’t know quite where to begin, but at least, with this post, I’ve gotten started.

It’s not that I’m not thinking of you in this holiday season…

I’ve always been a bit out of step. With the calendar. Growing up in a Jewish family, January was never imprinted as the beginning of the annual cycle. Between the Jewish New Year in September (usually), school beginning in September, and my birthday in September, September is the time of new beginnings for me. (I still get a thrill out of pencil boxes and pocket folders.)

For me, December, January, and February are working months—finally a block of time to hunker down without the temptations of long days, nice weather, easy travel, and family visits. Everyone else seems to be occupied with holiday preparations and celebrations and their long Christmas-into-New Year’s vacation, and I can usually count on being left alone.

Which is a funny thing for a freelancer to say. Common sense would indicate that when everyone takes off, the freelancer is at loose ends. But that’s not the case. If deadlines are postponed because of the holidays, they are only postponed to December 26 or January 2—that means someone needs to be working on December 25 and January 1 (or working overtime on December 24 and December 31). That would be me.

And if I have no client deadlines over the holidays, there are self-initiated projects to work on and nascent ideas to explore and develop. Not to mention catching up on business and personal paperwork (or, if you will, administrative matters).

Right around this time of year I start to think about holiday cards. I know! Too late! That’s what I mean about being out of step.

One year I sent “welcome spring” cards. I suppose that if I were a more diligent, entreprenurial, freelancer, I’d be sending my existing and targeted clients some kind of greeting-style, remember-me-I’m-thinking-of-you communication every few months. In that case, sending Christmas-slash-holiday cards would just be part of the routine.

So this could be read as a round-about way of suggesting that freelancers who have trouble timing their holiday mailings get into a routine of quarterly (for instance) client communications.

Or it could be read as—yeah, you’re not the only freelancer who feels a little out of step. With the calendar.

Hanukah menorah in windowsill with five candles and Shamas lit.

Happy holidays! Happy work days!

A gusty post, in every sense of the word

March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb. Do any of us really remember at the end of March what the weather was like 30 days before? Same with April showers bring May flowers. Even the groundhog not seeing its shadow in February seems to be based more on wishful thinking — it might be dreary today, but because of today’s lack of sun, winter will end sooner — than on year-over-year observation.

Why do I bring this up? Nor’easter! In contrast to the last few days of February, which were calm and mild, with temperatures getting into the mid to high 50s (F, of course) — today it’s 35 degrees and snowing and the wind is gusting in every direction. I had to put the trashcan and recycling bin in the garage — I heard the crash of the can being blown over and came out to see the 30-gallon plastic recycling bin was on its way down the driveway. My pink plastic Adirondack chair blew across the yard and is now resting upside down among the Joe Pye weed stubs.


My backyard



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Watching the swirling snow, I thought of a day much like this one 15 years ago, when I sat down to write my column for that year’s spring issue of SlavFile, the newsletter of the Slavic Languages Division of the American Translators Association:

2013-spring_Jezik u toku 02

Excerpt of “Jezik u toku,” column in SlavFile vol. 13, no. 2 (Spring 2003), reproduced with permission.

At that time, I was still pretty new to translation and even newer to gardening — like, I’d never done it before. (I didn’t break ground for my first vegetable garden until spring of 2004.)

* * *

Oh, so many thoughts about what to say next! So many analogies, so little time!

* * *

Meanwhile, another big gust of wind, and the chair is now over by the compost bins.

* * *

Where will I find myself after the next big gust?

Note: This is the first time I’m posting the same thing on this blog and my garden blog.

Doing is better than stewing

This is the danger of getting enough sleep — so many thoughts, so little time!

What shall I do today? (Assuming I don’t shelve everything and watch baseball with my mom — Phillies currently losing to the Yankees in spring training.)

I listened to Radiolab while eating breakfast (I’ll admit it, breakfast at 1 pm, because the premise of this post is that I got a good night’s sleep). The first act of today’s episode, Life’s Limit, was about programmed cell death. The interview subject, Leonard Hayflick, in describing how freezing cells stops the multiplication process and unfreezing them resumes the process but does not prolong the life of the cell — that is, the multiplication “counter” does not reset but resumes from where it left off — said, “[That] tells you that cells remember, they have a memory.” Which immediately brought to mind a book by Harry Willson, Cells and Souls Remember (Amador Publishers). And then I had to look up the book and find the audio file of the interview to isolate and record the quote and read a bit more about Leonard Hayflick’s work and get all this down on paper. And that required learning how to do a few things in Total Recorder, a sound editing program.

Now what?

I could continue promoting recent publications on social media. I’ve been putting that off because of work. I need to change my mindset for self-promotion — I need to be relaxed and patient and ready for conversation. I need to allow my curiosity free rein, and this is not conducive to meeting work deadlines. So I have not even updated my LinkedIn profile with my latest publications:

I could continue translating the piece I hope to read at the American Literary Translators Association conference this fall. It’s the opening monolog of Kasandra. Klišeji. [Cassandra. Clichés.], a play by Ljubomir Đurković.

I could work on memorizing and translating the piece I hope to recite at Declamación, the open mic-type event at the ALTA conference (no reading allowed!). Sure, the conference is eight months away, but translating and memorizing (original and translation) is no small task when you’re starting from scratch.

I could open up any number of translations in progress, contact one or more of “my” authors to see what they’re up to and if they have anything new I should read…

Maybe pick up, open, start reading (imagine!) one of the many books I brought home from my trip abroad two summers ago… (or maybe I could actually write a blog post about that trip, as I promised in this short post written on my return).

What about catching up on posts in the ATA Business Practices forum or the Editorial Freelancers Association discussion list? Or starting a conversation about reviewing plays in one of the Facebook literary translators groups I follow? All these are interesting, enjoyable, educational, relationship-building, and time-consuming activities that are important to my professional development.

Volunteer obligations? I hesitate to list them for fear that my colleagues will be emboldened to remind me about what I said I would do and by when. (No links, move along, nothing to see here.)

Catch up on news? I just subscribed to the New York Times — but did I set aside time to read it? (And doesn’t this article from 2008 sound so quaint?)

And I dare not begin to list the business (admin, operation), household (from dishes to deck repair), and personal tasks waiting to be done on my to-do list (or piling up on my desk).

Well, if I can’t prioritize any of the above, I guess I could write something for my blog — that shouldn’t take much time (she says five hours later and yet to hit “publish”)…


Credit goes to Zelda Leah Gatuskin for coining the title phrase. You can see she’s not kidding by taking a gander at what-all she’s up to at Studio Z.

Looking back, thinking ahead

Happy New Year [plus or minus 18 days]! I’ve been thinking of you and meaning to write for [insert as appropriate: days, weeks, months, years]! I’m so sorry I haven’t responded to your [insert as appropriate: birthday card, Christmas card, New Years’ greetings, LinkedIn request] [insert if appropriate: from last year], but I’ve been tied up with [insert as appropriate and documentable: crazy work deadlines, family responsibilities, household renovations, a sick pet, other [explain]].

Yes, I anticipate writing something along these lines to too many of my friends and colleagues come Valentine’s Day. My New Years’ resolution is to be a better correspondent and keep the conversation going. Maybe even on this blog!

I really have been thinking of you and meaning to write. For example, here’s a list of some the posts I had in mind to write over the past year:














(I’m into parentheticals these days.)

But something I did do is get a short story into Asymptote! It’s in the January 2018 issue’s microfiction feature. Read it here:

And make sure to check out the rest of the journal at

Talk to you soon!

Hey! The ACA enrollment deadline is Friday!

That’s this Friday, December 15, 2017.

In case anyone is still thinking we have until the end of December to enroll — we don’t! The deadline for enrolling in health insurance starting January 1, 2018 is this Friday, December 15.

The website is, and a good place to begin is — click on the “individuals & families, including self-employed” tab. The FAQ under this tab is a good place to start.

To peruse plans in your state and county and to compare prices and hypotheticals at different income levels, start here: This page also has links for local assistance submitting your application.

Some states have longer enrollment periods, and the deadline was extended for residents of Texas, Florida and some some counties in Georgia because of the hurricanes this fall. This is an older post on the subject, but some of the links might still be good: Probably best to visit your own state’s department of health or consumer affairs website for the most accurate information.

Another helpful website to consult when thinking about your estimated income for 2018 is This explains cost sharing reductions (CSRs) for the Silver tier of health plans (the only tier for which they are available). CSRs kick in for individuals and families earning between 138% and 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL).* The above-linked Kaiser Family Foundation article explains how these reductions work to increase the value of plans at lower income levels. Although you would have to pay back advance premium credits at the end of the year if you earn more than you estimate when applying, you do not have to pay the insurance company back for getting lower deductibles or copays. (Needless to say, you must attest to the accuracy of your application under penalty of perjury when you sign your application.)

*Note that the 2017 FPL is used for determining eligibility for 2018 plans (and Medicaid, for those states that have expanded Medicaid to the adult population under 65). The Medicaid eligibility range is 100%–138% of FPL or $12,060–$16,643. So if you estimate your income within that range, you probably will not be able to apply for a plan on no matter where you live. [[NOTE: I am not a health insurance navigator! Please consult a trained navigator if you need help applying.]] I’m providing these numbers because they can be hard to find. I have checked for consistency across a few different sites, so although you should not rely on uncited information found on blogs (and I disclaim all liability for decisions based on information provided here), I believe this information can be useful as a starting point for your own due diligence.

My own experience of updating my information at the last minute (last night) was not too bad. There was/is a glitch on the very first page of the application, where you have to check agreement to the privacy and data-sharing policies — I couldn’t get past it. If you get this glitch, don’t bother trying again and again, just call 1-800-318-2596 and speak to a representative. You’ll have to answer basic initial identifying questions, and then when you log in again (stay on the phone while you do it to make sure it “took”), you’ll be taken to the next step in the application process. My wait time last night was about 30 minutes.

My suggestion is not to wait until Friday to begin, because once you narrow down your plan selection, you might want to call the insurer(s) to clarify benefits or in-network providers, and that adds a day to the process.

So if today is Wednesday (or is it Thursday already?) and the deadline is Friday, what are you waiting for?

Feel free to share. Use hashtag #GetCovered.


P.S.: Some background here (but save it for AFTER you sign up).

Why I Will Vote Against ATA’s Bylaws Amendments

Briefly put, I believe that the changes will not achieve the intended results, and that they will actually work against the stated goals by eliminating existing pathways to voting membership. As well, I think that if the amendments are approved, they will change a fundamental feature of the association, namely, governance exclusively by members who are “professionally engaged in translating, interpreting, or clearly related work” (in other words, working translators, interpreters, T&I educators, terminologists, and lexicographers).

The “overall intent of the proposed amendments” stated within the document of proposed changes itself (in the first explanatory comment on page 1) is “to expand the franchise in the hopes of increasing participation in elections, and possibly, active participation in ATA overall by giving more members a sense of involvement.”

Unstated, but apparently as important, is a goal to decouple ATA Certification from ATA member voting rights. (Currently, passing ATA’s Certification exam advances Associate members to Active or Corresponding members, referred to collectively as Voting members — see ATA’s membership page for more information.) This decoupling would get us one step closer to carrying out the recommendations of the Hamm Report, which advised that the Certification credential would be stronger if eligibility to take the exam were not contingent upon ATA membership.[1] For many years now, ATA has been working toward the goal of opening up Certification to non-members.

For the record, I support the goals of increasing the number voting members, encouraging greater member participation, and opening Certification to non-members. But I don’t think that the proposed amendments are a good way to get there.

My opposition is both practical and on principle.

On a practical level, giving more members voting rights without an accompanying association-wide campaign to boost participation is not a complete plan of action. Current voting participation peaks at around 20%.[2] It seems to me that we should first try to increase the participation rate among current voting members. A first step would be to survey voting membership to try to find out why so many of them are not voting and ask what can be done to get their votes.

Regarding increasing the franchise, the current procedure for qualified Associate members to become voting members is quite simple: they just have to ask. (Criteria here: We have more than 5,800 Associate members, but only 378 used Active Membership Review to advance to voting member status in 2015 (the latest number I could find). Would someone who is not interested in ATA affairs enough to fill out a simple form to claim the right to vote be inclined to vote if that right were granted by default?

I wonder how effective we have been at communicating how simple it is to become a voting member, that it does not trigger a dues rate increase, and that the board and officers of the association actually care. We have not done enough to motivate our current voting and voting-eligible members, and it is premature to change the existing membership structure before we make more of an effort in that regard.

* * *

On the level of principle, the amendments appear to reduce the concept of “professionally engaged” — currently a prerequisite to becoming a voting member — to “dues-paying member of ATA for three consecutive years.” I reject that notion.

The current membership regime makes clear that ATA recognizes there is life before ATA; that many new members have been working professionally for many years, perhaps for an entire career. For example, some translators and interpreters have full-time jobs with job-related support services and don’t feel a need to join a professional association. But upon leaving full-time employment, they join ATA for the breadth of resources and networking opportunities offered.

Currently there are two paths to voting membership: Certification and Active Membership Review. Associate members can either demonstrate that they possess “professional translation skills” by passing the Certification Exam or they can assert that they are “professionally engaged in translating, interpreting, or closely related fields” through Active Membership Review. By inference, the explanation of the Active Membership Review process serves as a checklist for what ATA considers adequate and necessary for meeting the requirement of being “professionally engaged.” (The bylaws do not define the term.)

Both of these paths are available to any individual member of the association after four weeks of membership. So if I, as a translator with at least three years of professional translation experience, join ATA on January 1, 2018, I can take a Certification exam on February 1. If I pass the exam, then I am a voting member by the end of June (let’s say). Or if there is no exam sitting in February and I am impatient, or if I am an interpreter, I can fill out the Active Membership Review form on February 1, certify that I have the qualifying credentials or experience, without having to submit any documentation, and I am a voting member within a few days. After a little over a month as an ATA member.

The proposed bylaws amendments would change that. Under the proposed changes, if I join ATA on January 1, 2018, the soonest I can become a voting member is on January 1, 2021. With the elimination of Active Membership Review, there is no way for me to demonstrate my “professional engagement” aside from being a dues-paying member. With the elimination of Active Membership Review, the definition of “professionally engaged” itself will disappear from association literature. Certification will also no longer be a direct path to voting membership, but this path is anyway bound for eventual elimination (in another post I will outline my idea for decoupling Certification from voting membership while also acknowledging the credential as evidence of professional engagement).

The bylaws amendments hit Student members particularly hard. Currently, Student members may take the Certification exam without having to pay the full member rate (the four-week waiting period still applies). If they do not pass, they remain Student members at the reduced rate. If they pass, and if they agree to pay full dues, then they immediately become voting members. Under the proposed bylaws, the Student member category is still available, but it does not count toward the three-year membership period required to become a voting member. Student members would have to wait out the three-year period of full-price dues regardless of how long they had been Student members and regardless of Certification status.

My experience in the organization these past 15 years has been that new members are some of the most enthusiastic volunteers. I think we risk discouraging those most likely to get involved in and eventually serve the association by not allowing them to apply for voting rights in the first year or two of their membership.

* * *

In the September/October issue of The ATA Chronicle (issue 46, no. 5, p. 7), ATA’s executive director, Walter Bacak, says, “The Board approved presenting proposed bylaws changes to the membership for their approval. The changes are intended to expand voting rights to associate members who are professionally engaged in language services and have been members for three consecutive years.” These same two sentences appear in a sidebar on page 16. I think this is a mischaracterization of the changes, and that a more accurate characterization would be, The changes expand voting rights to associate members who have been members for three consecutive years.”

Following on this change from a voting body composed solely of working translators and interpreters, educators in the field of T&I, and terminologists and lexicographers to a voting body of anyone who has ever been a member of ATA for three consecutive years, we have to recognize that the sole criterion for serving on ATA’s board of directors or becoming an officer of the association is being an Active member of the association (that is, being a voting member and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident).

Current bylaws exclude agency owners, recruiters, sales reps, and software and app developers (among others) who are not themselves working as translators or interpreters or in a closely related field from becoming voting members of the association. The proposed amendments, however, would automatically convert these individual industry members to voting members. Therefore, unless I am misunderstanding something, under the proposed amendments, ATA will no longer be able to claim that its direction and mission are answerable solely to working translators and interpreters and other engaged practitioners.

I don’t know what the practical implications of this change would be, if any, but we already have a segment of members who think that ATA’s “mixed” membership of individual freelancers, industry representatives, and corporate members is detrimental to the ability of ATA to advocate unequivocally for the interests of freelance translators and interpreters when they come into conflict with the interests of corporate members. And even though I do not share their concerns, my reasoning is based on the current exclusion of industry representatives from ATA governance. At the very least, glossing over this particular consequence of the amendments shows a curious indifference to one of the most vocal — and active — segments of association membership.

* * *

I have other concerns about the amendments, such as a few technical inconsistencies caused by the edits, but the ones discussed here are the most substantive. The more closely I read the proposed amendments, the more unintended consequences I find.

So I will be voting against these proposed amendments.

On the other hand, I support the underlying goals of the changes, and I think these goals can be achieved without degrading the definition of “professionally engaged” and without working translators and interpreters having to relinquish governance of the association.

See you in D.C.!

[1] See, for instance, Stejskal, J., “International Certification Study: ATA’s Credential,” ATA Chronicle 32, no. 7 (July 2003), p. 14, available at

“Michael Hamm, former executive director of the National Organization for Competency Assurance and the principal of Michael Hamm & Associates, reviewed and evaluated ATA’s accreditation program and provided the association’s leadership and members at large with a number of valuable insights. The purpose of what came to be known as the “Hamm Report” was to point the way toward strengthening the program and improving the benefits of accreditation.

[. . . ]

“Michael Hamm observes that while most credentialing efforts are initially developed to meet the needs of the members, the most effective ones are not tied to any membership criteria for participation, since competence and quality have nothing to do with the payment of dues to an association. The credibility of the credentialing effort is enhanced if it is viewed as a service to the wider public rather than a service to members. The move from a membership-based to a freestanding credential is a significant one in the evolution of any voluntary certification program.”

See also Hamm, M.S., “An Executive Summary: Review of the ATA Certification Program,” available at

[2] In the ATA Board Meeting Summary, of November 7-8, 2015, one entry reads, “More than 500 votes were cast for candidates this year, which is one of the highest ever.” (Document at, ATA-member log-in required.) This was out of a voting membership of around 2,500 (I’m guessing based on various board meeting minutes — I cannot find a total for that precise period).