SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
March 19, 2016
A Conversation at Sea
45°52.7’S x 170°30.8’E
alongside Victoria Wharf, Dunedin
Beaufort force 2 northerly winds. Calm sea. 7/8 stratus clouds. 1012.2 mb. 19.5°C.
This blog entry is the first of a two-part series of profiles on persons aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans. Chief Engineer Tom Klodenski and sign language interpreter Drew Pidkameny, both hesitant to write about themselves on the SEA blog, were nevertheless encouraged to contribute by resident anthropologist and blog czar Jeff Wescott . Tom wrote a series of questions for Drew to answer, and vice-versa. The entries for March 19 and March 24 are the result.
TK: Sign language- what inspired you to interpret?
DP: I didn’t know much about sign language or the Deaf community until I was a young adult, but I think I’ve always been interested in the details of language. I first read The Elements of Style, for pleasure, as a teenager, and I took a summer course in English etymology around the same time. This made me kind of a grammar pedant for a while, but I like to think I’ve mellowed since then. I got my first real exposure to American Sign Language from two amazing teachers named Ruth Moore and Diane Nettles. I soon made some friends in the Deaf community in Western Massachusetts who later encouraged me to try being an interpreter. So I applied to Northeastern University’s interpreting program, and came out a few years later with a degree and the beginnings of an idea of how it’s done. Since then I’ve tried to keep learning as much as I can from my Deaf and hearing colleagues, and keep improving my practice. Someday I hope to be good at it.
TK: Where do you usually work?
DP: During the school year, about fifty percent of my work is in college classrooms around greater Boston. At other times it’s about fifty percent doctor’s appointments. I’m a freelancer, so sometimes in practice it’s fifty percent driving from one assignment to the next. I’ve interpreted a few stage plays, too, which is a whole different kind of interpreting. Every day is different. One of the neat things about being a professional language nerd is that even a routine business meeting can be a whole-brain workout.
TK: What do you think of sailing? Would you do it again, and if so, in what direction/department interests you?
DP: It’s clear the norms of interpreting practice were not developed by people who routinely found themselves working while rocking back and forth at a 20 degree pitch, or in near-complete darkness, or over the noise of 40-knot winds and 15-foot waves. That plus the barrage of maritime and oceanographic terminology has made this one of the most interesting and challenging assignments I’ll probably ever have as an interpreter. It’s been a godsend that the interpreting team—Rachel and Jonathan and I—has worked so well together every day to decide how to tackle those challenges. I couldn’t ask for a team that’s more affable, skilled, thoughtful, and flexible, but that kind of attitude has been the norm among all the students and staff on this trip as well.
Like everyone here, the interpreters on the RCS are a part of a community too, and sometimes that means jumping in to haul on a line or lend a hand during dawn cleanup. But the students on this trip have long since leapfrogged me in their knowledge of getting things done on a tall ship, and they’ve invested a lot of hard work and studying to get there. I don’t have the skill and muscle memory that they’ve earned, to be able to do those more complex tasks well myself. I contribute to the mission with the skills I have, but it’s better to leave the real sailing to the sailors.
If the opportunity came again to go on a tall ship (as an interpreter or otherwise) or to noodle around a harbor somewhere in a little sailboat, I would definitely go for it. But I’d make sure to have someone more experienced around to show me the ropes!
TK: I’m occasionally in your town, Allston, MA. What is your favorite place to eat in that area?
DP: There’s a little Thai restaurant called A@Time (pronounced ‘ay at time’), down the street from the car wash and the Rite-Aid. I think that’s on Cambridge Street. Not much elbow room inside but they do really good take-out. Drop me a line next time you’re in town!
Stay tuned for the rest of this conversation on March 24.