This book tells the story of how I accidentally became a translator — and soon thereafter an interpreter — 30 years ago. It also testifies to how winding anybody’s professional route is and it drives home an idea best summarized in this quote by John Lennon:
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”
The book was given to me by a friend during a coffee break in Rio, where we were both pursuing a graduate education in high-performance fitness training. The year was 1986, and I was fresh out of college with a Physical Education degree.
It was a book on a novel sport that had me hooked almost immediately: Triathlon. I had given it a try a year or so before, and ranked high enough in the competition to at least keep training. As soon as I was back in Brasilia, with the book in my bag, I took it upon myself to translate it into Portuguese.
To do so I had to first find a publisher bold enough to risk releasing a book on a sport few people knew anything about. More: I had to find someone crazy enough to believe that over-tanned, skinny-looking P.E. teacher with zero track record as a translator could eventually do the job. My English credentials were a bit shaky at the time. Unlike most translators, I learned the language in Brazil, through a series of unfinished courses, battered VHS tapes (ask your father what that is) and thanks to the gracious support of family and friends.
I knocked on at least a hundred doors and got a matching number of rejections. My excitement was fading with each passing day and eventually became apparent to one of the great people I gathered around a pool daily for some coaching in swimming. Flavio Saraiva, a college professor who doubled as chief adviser to the university president, heard my story and offered to deliver a letter to the man if I so wished.
Three days later he emerged from the cloakroom with a smirk on his face and an envelope in his hands. Inside it were instructions from his boss, Cristovam Buarque (who would later become a senator, a governor and presidential hopeful). The note said, simply: “I think your idea is opportune. Please look for Prof. Such and Such at the University Press.”
About eight months later, I had in my hands the very first copy of the book in Portuguese, hot off the printing press. And plastered across the first page was my name as a translator. Folded inside, a note from the editor — and longtime friend since — Regina Marques:
“An accomplishment worthy only of great spirits. Congratulations!”
I eventually misplaced the book. But I kept the note, out of gratitude. I pull it out and look at it from time to time, whenever life wears me down or a dream is taking longer than usual to materialize. Doing so reminds me of a truism I have confirmed time and again:
Pursuing my dreams and trusting the universe never failed me and never will.
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Are you also an accidental linguist?
Are you pursuing your dreams?