That Magical Moment by Mae Clair

Have you ever struggled to understand something, then had a moment when it magically falls into place?

Recently, a couple who needed directions came into the real estate office where I work. They didn’t speak a word of English, only Spanish. Our receptionist, who knows I’ve been trying to teach myself, asked if I could help. *gulp* Learning a few words and phrases in another language hardly prepares you to converse with a native speaker.  Even so, I was willing to give it a try.

Once I greeted the couple, I knew I was in over my head. They rattled off three or four sentences and I only understood about two words. Not a great start. They had an address typed on a piece of paper and I understood they needed to go there. I was familiar with the location, a doctor’s office a short distance away, but was unable to relay the directions with my limited Spanish.

Spanish book and bookends in the shape of text Habla? (Do you speak?) Speak Spanish concept

Improvising, I pulled up Google translator on the reception computer, typed the directions for  Google, then read them back to the couple. Blank stares.  Apparently my accent was all wrong.

Next, I copied the Spanish from Google, plopped it into Word and printed it out so they could read it. For some reason that didn’t work either. They pointed to the phone number on the paper they had and mimicked calling. That I understood. I also saw the woman’s name on the paper—Guadalupe.

I led  Guadalupe and her husband to a conference room, got them seated, and called the doctor’s office. Meanwhile, our receptionist tried to track down an agent who was fluent in Spanish.

The doctor’s office couldn’t help me—no one there spoke Spanish— but by that time, our receptionist had reached Ricky, our Spanish-speaking agent. I put him on the phone with Guadalupe and she talked to him for a few minutes. Again, I tried to catch a few words, but most of what she said soared over my head. I ended up putting Ricky on speaker, relaying the directions to the doctor’s office in English, which he then translated for Guadalupe.

Afterward, he had me pick up the phone and told me that although he could understand everything the woman said, she spoke a Mexican Spanish with a very thick accent. It was almost like a mountain dialect, and thus understandable I couldn’t decipher what she’d been saying. That made me feel a little better.

After I hung up with Ricky, Guadalupe’s husband stood and began talking, but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. I had to reply “no entiendo”—“I don’t understand.” I could see he was disappointed which made me feel bad. Then, like magic, a lightbulb pinged on in my head.

“El bano?” (restroom / toilet) I asked.

Smiling, he nodded. “Si.”

We laughed, realizing we had communicated. We understood each other. *fist pump* I was giddy.

Once I knew what he needed, I was able to rattle off my limited Spanish and direct him to the men’s room. When I pointed out the door for the ladies’ restroom to Guadalupe and said “la mujer” she understood me.  Another score!

If this seems trivial, remember I spent a good 10-15 minutes with this couple, neither of us understanding the other. Those last few minutes of limited conversation felt like a monumental breakthrough. The elation kept me on a high for the rest of the day.

So what does this have to do with writing?

magic Aladdin genie lamp with blue smokeAs authors we try to reach our readers on multiple levels, hoping to engage their emotions. We can’t always be certain we’re expressing ourselves properly, reaching our readers on a visceral level. Sometimes, it may even feel like we’re struggling with another language as we try to build an emotional bond between readers and characters. But when it happens—when we know we’ve nailed it—it’s magic.

Here’s wishing all of you a little magic today.

31 thoughts on “That Magical Moment by Mae Clair

  1. I think all writers feel that way. Then we read a review of our work–a thoughtful, glowing review from a talented writer herself, for example–and we know we’ve reached at least one reader. It is a triumphant moment.

    And I’m glad you were able to reach your clients in the end. I’m sure that was a thrill for them as well as you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m smiling and I think you know why 🙂 Although now I need Faith’s story. She’s next, right?

      I do like to think that couple was just as pleased as I was. I also learned I still have a heck of a lot of Spanish to cover!

      Like

  2. Speaking a foreign language may sometimes even save your life. I used to tell my students that a reason why they should learn English, or any other foreign language for them, was that it saved them the pain they would have in their arms when talking to a stranger on a plane/train/trip to another country.
    Regarding the emotional bond between readers and characters I totally agree with you! The greatest satisfaction for us is the review that says that the reader laughed or cried with our characters.
    Well, you had an interesting day. Hasta pronto,querida amigo !

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I struggle to learn Spanish I am reminded that English is not your native tongue, Carmen. It amazes me that you written books in English and even taught classes. I definitely think it’s enriching to learn another language….and yes, helpful when you visit countries where that is the common language.

      I like your sign off 🙂

      Like

  3. Excellent metaphor, Mae. *fist bump* I can easily see how exciting a moment of clarity would be. You’ve studied hard, and learning a foreign language is not easy task. Well done!
    I didn’t realize you were in real estate, so that was a fun fact to discover, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL. Yep, I’ve been doing the real estate thing for over twenty years. I work in the administrative end, although I do hold a license. I can honestly say this was the first time I ever had to translate Spanish!

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s awesome, Christy. So great to have you drop by and comment. Wishing you the best with your WIP and glad to hear my post worked well in conveying it. Does your WIP involve a Spanish speaker?

      Like

  4. I can relate! I took German in high school (only foreign language offered) and in college, then didn’t use it for many years (some would say a decade or more 😉 )Went on a trip to Germany and Austria, and was on a walking tour of a small town where our trip tour guide did the translating for the mayor, who led the walking tour. I asked him a couple rudimentary questions in German on our way back to the bus, and low and behold, he answered me in flawless English! Just goes to show the effort sometimes means as much as understanding.

    It’s great to get that “aha” moment when brainstorming a scene. You know the one, where you slap your forehead and say to no one in particular, “Of course! It has to happen that way!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, how cool that you remembered your German and that he replied in English. That would definitely be a magical moment of communication. I hope, as I progress with learning, I get to experience more of them.

      And oh yeah on the “aha” moments. I had one of those last week that spurred me through several scenes. I love when that happens!

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  5. Lovely post, Mae. I’m sure that couple appreciated your efforts.
    I can look back at some things I’ve written and known I’ve created something good and gotten that “I’ve nailed it feeling”. If only we could figure out how to capture that every time.

    Like

  6. Thank you for this. We have a strange, remote relationship with our readers. Much as I try to envisage the person who (occasionally) reads one of my books I can never really cross the divide. I can only hope that they think in accordance with my own twisted logic and somehow we find that moment you speak of. And then they write a review??!! Ah well,,…

    Liked by 1 person

    • If only we could learn more of what they liked and what they didn’t through reviews. I am so thankful when a reader leaves one for me, especially if I make that “connection” with them through my characters.
      I thinks as authors, we write for ourselves and hope an audience somewhere will enjoy our offerings!

      Like

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