The Way of No Way

Transposing emblem by Javier Gómez

“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

We freelancers are, in theory, the prime example of instability at a professional level. The horizon seems daunting when you decide you’re going to be an independent contractor, especially if you’re quitting a standard 9 to 5 job in order to pursue your dream of being free from a hellish boss and a soul-draining office. I grew up with a paradox: my father was never able to take that jump to the extreme, though he had an increasing degree of liberty in his final years. At the same time, my mother was raised in a travelling circus, and her family carried perpetual motion in their genes. They had had their own business since she was very young, and her mother never stopped being a wanderer, not even inside her own home. Being idle wasn’t easy for grandma. She would get restless after a few minutes and find something useful to do, which often involved kitchenware, gardening tools or sewing instruments. We could also feel that apparently chaotic movement all around us. My brother and I were born in Argentina during the 1980s, a period of political transition from a sinister dictatorship to a democracy that would later become a farce over time.  Our childhood was full of social and economic turmoil, almost on a daily basis, something that was and still is part of our country’s zeitgeist. In that climate, change was the only constant. Our currency’s value was a rollercoaster; businesses could go bankrupt overnight; and humor at the expense of the acting government was our most valuable product. Given all that, finding a stable job and keeping it became some sort of nirvana for most of the population. To this day, that kind of mentality holds back many young professionals in every field, and it’s very evident in the translation community. But I digress. I graduated from high school at the end of the nineties. After a few years of bouncing around between different universities and brief stints of low-paying work, I got hired by a clothing store and thus found the Promised Land of Stable Work. Or so I thought at first, having moved into an apartment in the center and suddenly being able to do pretty much whatever I wanted. But three years passed, and the thought of being bossed around one more day became unbearable. I quit and became a chef, only to find out that this job wasn’t ideal for me either. Back to square one, with less money and more existential questions. I spent a whole summer watching Kim Ki-duk movies and pondering the past, present and future. And almost by chance, I happened to come across translation after doing a one day interpreting job that I don’t know if I would dare to accept today. This, I thought, looked too good to be true. I could make a living from home while avoiding the morning hustle, eat homemade food for lunch and take a nap if I needed it. I could blast a nice soundtrack full of Neurosis, Opeth and Mastodon without headphones. “Freedom!” boomed my heart with a conviction not unlike Bravehearts. But logically, there was a downside and it came in the form of fluctuation. It didn’t take too long to find out that there were no guarantees. Work would flood my inbox this month and make a flawless act of disappearance the next one. Bills, on the other hand, were much more inclined to regularity. Needless to say, I panicked a bit. Actually, I did it a lot and for several months. My savings were dwindling and I had to pull off miracles to make ends meet. My background as a gamer and overall geek came to the rescue. The video game localization industry opened its arms to me after I replied to an ad on a translation portal. I had found my specialization, but the process was nowhere near complete. While the workflow was now reasonably steady, there are and will be no guarantees for a freelancer ever. It’s neither bad nor good; it’s just how it is. And to know this is an advantage. It would take me years to come to realize that all professions are as unstable as mine, that any employee in a company can be made redundant in the course of a few days without much notice. Therefore, why on Earth should you worry about something that you can’t control? And why would you want to control it when you can just ride the wave? The key to understanding that came in the form of martial arts, tai chi chuan to be more precise. My master and the practice taught me to be rooted even in motion and to regain that root whenever I lost it for a few moments. They also taught me to redirect an incoming attack and use it to my advantage, both in reality and metaphorically. I understood that whether it’s on a personal or socio-economic level, you can create stability within instability. It’s all about being comfortable in discomfort. Not because you’re a stoic who can take pain and punishment but because you’re flexible and adaptable like water. And the most important lesson to be learned from all this is that there is virtually no stability anywhere. Not on the outside, in any case. It is all an illusion, a collective truth that we all agree upon in order to be less afraid of change. But the value of currency is always fluctuating; jobs can be lost; relationships can end. By accepting that, we become free. By choosing not to hold on with all our might to a neat flower that has grown in our garden, we can catch the wild leaves that are floating all around us. That is why you want to achieve internal stability, which is much more real, albeit difficult to maintain sometimes. That is how I am now comfortably living abroad for the second time in six years. This path has taken me to different corners of the world including Brazil, Mexico, China and the United Kingdom. And for the sake of excitement, I hope it never ends. As long as you know that your roots are inside, you can keep on moving and welcoming whatever happens.