Un état sombre

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When I was in high school, I worked for one semester at an in-house film production department at a company here in Guelph. The department had a good deal of autonomy from the company, in part I think to justify its existence. They produced PSAs for non-profits and government programs, as well as internal videos for communicating with the company’s satellite offices (at the time, if you can cast your mind back that far, part of my job was to make copies of these videos for distribution on VHS, and then package them up to be sent out by mail).

Some of the satellite offices were in Quebec, so any time the communication videos were recorded, they also had to be translated and subtitled. I got some of my first experience editing on an Avid system adding the subtitles for the French translation. Because I speak both languages this was a rare instance when I was more useful in the editing room on one of these projects than in front of the “high-speed” copying VCR.

One one of these occasions, I was going along, matching up the French text with the English audio, when suddenly the meanings diverged. The company CEO, had been explaining in English that although they had been operating “in the Red” for that quarter they were now safely back “in the black.” Meanwhile, the translation text was saying that the company was about to enter “un état sombre,” a dark state, or period.

I quickly called the translator for clarification (to be fair to translators, her only qualification was that she was francophone, it was an internal video after all), and sure enough she had misunderstood the meaning of red versus black in the CEO’s analogy, and we realigned the translation.

The French phrase she used has stuck with me, as well as the slightly vertiginous feeling of hearing one thing, and reading its opposite simultaneously, particularly when the words themselves are so close when taken out of context. If being “in the black” didn’t reference a needle on a gauge, it would indeed sound like a very somber place to find oneself.

I’ve been thinking of it lately as I try to pull myself out of my own little état sombre, and it helps to be reminded of that dichotomy: how, with a little shift of perspective, of language, of understanding, one can become the other.

Yesterday our furnace declared its retirement, and threw its lot in with the rest of the million things that have been weighing on me since the beginning of the year. But instead of feeling the old anxiety throwing up its walls around me, I thought this is it; this is the tipping point. Where sombre turns back to black. This morning it is sunny in my cold, cold house. And whether it is a trick, or the nursing hormones finally releasing the dreadful hold they take when I wean my babies, the light seems to me to have a certain quality to it today, one that might tease flowers from the ground if the snow would give it half a chance. The promise that spring is coming.

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