Confessions of a Master’s Student

Journalism school hit me—hit all of us—hard. I was reading on my laptop when I tipped gently to the side and fell asleep. I had been studying all day. I woke up and wondered where I was. Inexplicably I continued reading on my laptop, which was still open on the bed beside me, pausing only to stare out the window of my Manhattan apartment, hugging myself as though bracing for impact. My printer shrieked behind me, spitting out printed notes like a living thing.

MC

Un signe

Oct 2. 2019, approx. 10:50 p.m.

Putain, says my new roommate, who happens to be Parisian.

Qu’est-ce qu’il y a ? I ask.

J’ai laissé tomber mon café. C’est un signe, je te jure. Angioline is in New York City on exchange for six months. It’s been great French practice for me, so far.

Pourquoi ? I hand her paper towels and a mop.

J’allais descendre en bas pour fumer une clope et tout d’un coup, j’ai renversé le café. C’est un signe. 

I am not convinced. T’es superstitieuse, toi ?

Un peu, she concedes.

Moi aussi, un peu. 


 

Fuck, says my roommate, who happens to be Parisian.

What is it? I ask.

I spilled my coffee. It’s a sign, I swear. Angioline is in New York City on exchange for six months. It’s been great French practice for me, so far.

Why? I hand her paper towels and a mop.

I was going downstairs to smoke a cigarette and all of a sudden, I spilled my coffee. It’s a sign.  

I am not convinced. Are you superstitious?

A bit, she concedes.

Me too. Somewhat.  

MC

Humming

Sept. 2019.

Some folks like to get away, I half-sing, half-mutter as I walk home from campus.

Take a holiday from the neighbourhood. A car zooms through an intersection, narrowly missing a pedestrian.

I trip over a loose paving stone. Hop a flight to Miami Beach, or to Hollywood.

But I’m takin’ a Greyhound on the Hudson River line. A rat dashes across my path and I shriek.

(I wonder if Billy Joel truly visited New York City, or merely read about it.) I’m in a New York state of mind…

MC

In Translation, Fidelity is Infidelity

Oct. 1, 2019, 10:55 p.m.

Around a year ago, I suddenly became interested in a field called “Literary Translation.” It was around the time I was applying to the Columbia School of the Arts. I had noticed their fiction MFA had an optional literary translation concentration, and though I never took up the offer to attend the SoA, my interest in Literary Translation lingered.

Now, I am enrolled in the Journalism program, but find myself stealing over to the SoA building like a fugitive.

Recently I visited award-winning Danish translator Katrine Jensen in her office to ask her how one might get started. Luckily, we are both into journalism, translation, and fiction, and got on like fast friends.

I learned from Katrine that Literary Translation is an unbelievably complex process where you get started publishing short translated works in literary magazines. You then scout authors whose work you are interested in, figure out who has the rights to the piece and ask whoever that is if you have permission to translate. You approach a publisher with a translated sample et voilà: book deal.

We discussed the art of translation, and how a translated work is really the combined from two authors. It ends up being two distinct pieces, she said.

One mistake her students make is sticking too closely to the text. “Here, fidelity is infidelity.” She suggested that I translate short works at first, short stories or flash fiction, and bring them to her for assessment. I couldn’t believe that she had offered to mentor me, because I am not technically enrolled in the SoA.

“I don’t think of it as an obligation, I think of it as paying it forward,” she said. “When I was new to the industry, that’s what so many people did for me.”

We talk salaries, solicitation, getting out from under the dreaded ‘slush’ pile. The importance of having an “in,” an editor on the inside. She said, “Translation is a good way to gain a foothold in the literary world.

“You can highlight works from the African diaspora… highlight promising new literary voices. You make sure diverse voices are heard.”

This caught my interest. “When I was in Europe I always felt that English carried with it a sort of privilege. I would walk into a room of international students, and all of a sudden, we were speaking in English, just because I was there. Translation would be a good way to use this privilege for good, I guess.”

“I think of translation as activism,” she affirmed.

I left her office feeling light. I felt as though a door somewhere had been flung wide open.

MC

 

 

You Would Have Had to See His Face

Sept. 27, 2019, 10:41 a.m.

On the train today, a man asked the passengers, “Do you have any food or change that you can spare,” which made me look up. The ask was normally for change. To date, I had never heard any mention of food.

“Do you have any food or change that you can spare,” he said again. I was struck by the simplicity of the request. He was hungry. The people in the car looked at their phones. I stared at my empty hands.

“Do you have any food or change that you can spare.” He shuffled through the train car, plastic bags hanging from his wrists. I will never forget his face, which was red with shame, eyes downcast.

“Do you have any food or change that you can spare.” I bit my lip because I didn’t have anything: no food, no cash. I had started leaving my wallet, which was bulky and heavy, at home. In the moment, it seemed like a pitiful excuse.

“Do you have any food or change that you can spare.” Normally there was a story. Something to do with illness or children. But this man was too tired even to elaborate.

“Do you have any food or change that you can spare.” He arrived the other side of the train car and looked out at the people. The people did not look back at him. His hair was bizarrely patchy, made completely bald in some places from circumstances I could not imagine.

“Do you have any food—” He said it slowly this time. He was testing the waters, watching for a reaction, checking to see whether or not he existed—“or change that you can spare.”

He waited a beat, then stepped out of the train car. Not a single person looked up, making me the sole witness to the death of humanity.

I stepped off the train and walked quickly to my apartment. Once there, I sat on the edge of my bed and wept—actually wept—into a tissue. I can’t explain why. You would have had to have been there. You would have had to see his face.


In Reporting class at the journalism school, we’ve been practicing mock interviews. The interviewer asks difficult questions like, “What was the saddest thing you’ve ever seen?” As a rule, I hate these questions, because I can never pinpoint anything specific. Life is so expansive. If I am ever asked that question, at least I now have an answer.

MC

 

 

Small Stories Everywhere

It starts off as hail. By the time I get home, fat white flakes billow down.

“Isn’t it nice?” my roommate says. “I just love the beginning of winter.” She dances around the kitchen, singing a rendition of It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like Christmas.

I make chai tea on the stove, boiling water and milk and whisking in cinnamon, sugar, and ginger. It’s a recipe I learned from some Indian family friends with whom my sister and I grew up in Scarborough.

My eyes droop with fatigue. I think of the assignments I should be doing, the standardized test I have elected to take for grad school, the too-many extracurriculars I have taken on.

I look out the window and drink my tea. It’s been a year and a half since I saw snow like this. “Nous ne sommes plus au Sud de la France,” I think. We are no longer in the South of France.

The snow slows the city to a crawl. It takes one of my roommates an hour to get to campus, while the other one gives up waiting for the bus and leaves, choosing instead to walk home. Needless to say, it’s a bad day for travel.

I board a greyhound bus bound for Toronto that takes four hours instead of the usual two. I cycle through my playlists, my taste growing stranger and more eclectic as time winds on. I listen to indie, then ABBA, then classic rock, then movie soundtracks, then Disney ballads, then movie soundtracks again. The condensation on my window blurs the light from the streetlamps, haloing them in yellow and orange like watercolour paint.

All around me, small stories take place. The girls in the row ahead of me are discussing their boyfriends. The woman in the aisle across from mine says, “Hey Bonnie, it’s Sharon, I guess you called me, so I thought I’d call you, so you can call me back.”

I arrive at the train station and wait forty minutes for another train home. This one will take an hour. I buy a tuna sandwich cut into two halves. While I eat, I watch.

Not far from me, a woman asks a man, maybe her boyfriend, what she’s “supposed to do.” She looks a little concerned, out of place. He moves away from her, lips moving, and she holds his gaze. Maybe he’s saying he’ll be right back. A man across from me in a suit runs a hand down his face, hangs his head. Distracted by these people in this train station and by my own thoughts, I drop one half of my tuna sandwich on the floor.

*

Once on the train, I open my laptop to try and get some work done, and immediately freeze. There is a female voice, crying, somewhere in the train car. I catch only snippets of her garbled voice. “And I, I just don’t, understand.” I look around but can’t find the person in distress. The crying continues, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.

I don’t worry for this faceless girl on the train. There’s a strength, I think, in being able to cry on public transit. To really cry. (It’s the ones who want to cry, but do not, who I worry for.)

I close my laptop. I don’t know how anyone can get any work done with small stories happening everywhere.

MC