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They Don’t Teach You This in Law School.

Back when I did medical malpractice work, a partner once told me that doctors and lawyers don’t understand each other because doctors spend their whole careers being told they’re right, while lawyers spend their whole careers being told they’re wrong. At the time I brushed it off, thinking that doctors and lawyers don’t understand each other (especially my kind of lawyer), because we sue them, and people don’t like being sued. But the part about spending your whole career being told you’re wrong stuck with me. It still sticks with me.

No one likes the litigators. Not just because some make bad commercials, or some represent unpopular positions, or because they operate in a very nuanced world that the public by and large does not understand (this is my diplomatic way of saying that the comments on any internet news article discussing lawsuits makes my hair go gray). We all spend every day explaining, justifying, and being misunderstood. The whole career is adversarial. Even if you start the day feeling on top of the world, it wears away through the hours. By the end of the day, I might as well go eat worms.

Sometimes I just want to be liked. Instead of someone fighting with me, for someone just to be happy with me.

I needed to be liked today. So today, when we got home, spoiled dinner be damned, I gave my kid a bowl of chocolate ice cream. And then she asked for another. So I gave her another.

ice cream

She liked me. And it felt good.


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A tune-up for my headspace

I’ll start this post off by admitting that posting has seemingly slowed down a bit on my blog. The short answer is, I’ve been a grump. There is never enough time for all the things I want to do, and am told to do, and need to do. I’m sorting out the priorities, balancing the wants against the musts, and, to be truthful, sometimes being a brat about it. I do not like complainers. They drag me down and bum me out. But I’ve been full of complaints lately. Not so much on this online space, but plenty in person. As I climbed into my car to head home from work, I realized “I’m being one of those people I can’t stand.” And I can’t stand that any further. I’m determined to adjust my attitude.

My attitude is tied in with stress. Not long ago, I participated in a short seminar with Emily Bennington on the topic of mindfulness. (If you aren’t familiar with Bennington, check her out. She is brilliant.) She emphasized that when you are in a stressful situation, you should step back and separate the task at hand from the extraneous noise your mind is creating. She wisely taught, “The facts of the situation are the same, regardless of how stressed you are.”

Stress is pointless. Being stressed does not make you more efficient. If anything, stress clutters your mind, and leaves you more likely to make mistakes. Mindfulness involves letting go of that stress. Simply dropping it.

I get so wrapped up in the noise of all the things that are going on. I get frantic and stressed, and those emotions build on themselves. Settling in for my drive home from work, I realized that it’s not the facts I am facing that have soured my attitude. I’ve got plenty on my plate right now, especially with work. But I’ve had plenty on my plate before and I will have plenty on my plate in the future. At this stage in my career, this is a familiar to-do list. I know how to break the big tasks down into manageable pieces. I know how to prioritize the tasks. I know how to seek feedback. The facts aren’t the problem. It’s my attitude, and here is no good reason for me to have a bad one.

I got home from work, tossed together a quick dinner of soup and grilled cheese. I walked on the treadmill. I spent some time with my family. Instead of worrying about all the things I have to deal with tomorrow, I will accept that I accomplished some big things on my to-do list today and have a very brief breather. I will enjoy today, and leave tomorrow for tomorrow.

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Sometimes, even just for a brief little tiny moment, I feel like I’ve got it together.

It takes somewhere around 2 hours for me to get everything together and get out the door in the morning. This looks like an immense amount of time written down, but it makes sense, considering it involves: getting myself showered, dressed & makeup on, packing lunch for me & Mr. Beez, making breakfast for me & Baby Beez, sometimes throwing dinner in the crockpot, getting the birds fed and watered, getting Baby Beez dressed and wrangled and OMG KID STOP TAKING EVERYTHING APART AND WHINING AND SCREAMING. So yeah, a lot happens in those two hours.

For pretty much every weekday morning since Thanksgiving, those two hours have consisted of alternating whining, yowling and shrieking from Baby Beez. I throw in an exasperated plea to tell me WHAT on earth is so terrible, because I’ll probably fix it for you if you just tell me WHAT is so terrible, but that always goes unheeded. This morning set off pretty much the same way with the toddler drama.

Then I made it to work and in the course of the day I felt pretty proud of myself. I was focused, I was gettin’ stuff DONE. I even had to make a run out to pack up our birds and take them to be boarded for the next 10 days, or as I like to call it “Deliver them to Oh-How-I-Wish-It-Were-Summer Camp.” Tomorrow starts a construction project in the house that involves stuff getting smashed and drilled and sprayed, and the featherbeasts cannot be here for that. I expected that getting the birds into their respective carriers would be the Trauma of the Century for our little Ricky, but he ended up behaving very nicely, not biting me, and even sitting on my hand for a minute and pretending that he does not hate me.

I bite.

I bite.

Even with that detour this afternoon, I got back to the office and I was killin’ it. Mr. Beez had an evening obligation tonight, so it was just Baby Beez and me. When I picked her up from daycare, the teacher announced “She didn’t nap today.”

Great.

I was bracing myself for an evening to mirror our morning. In the car ride home, Baby Beez asked for Cinnamon Toast Crunch & Scrambled Eggs for dinner. Sure kid, that’s fine. I won’t be winning any child nutrition prizes tonight, but that’s a dinner I can handle making, especially if it will keep her happy. Since I’m the “fun parent” (i.e. the idiot responsible for encouraging all that whining), I even let her watch her current Disney favorite (Hercules) at the table while she ate.

And she ate everything. And didn’t whine. And after eating, she played a little bit. And then I said it was time for a bath. And she went upstairs. And took a bath. Without whining. And then I said it’s time to brush your teeth. And we brushed teeth. Without whining. And then it was time to get in bed, and we read a Llama Llama book. All without whining. And I gave her a kiss and she closed her eyes and snuggled under the blanket.

And I went downstairs and ran a couple miles on the treadmill. And it felt good. Then I stretched and drank some water. And now I am writing all this down. And for once in recent memory, I feel just the tiniest¬†tiniest bit like I’m not treading water. Like I’ve made it a couple paddles forward, and I’m going to be OK.

Now I will go upstairs and read my book.

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Number 5 in 10 to 10: Thoughts on writing, and how I’ve become a writer

Thoughts on Writing and How I’ve Become a Writer

August 21, 2011

Adjectives on the typewriter
He moves his words like a prizefighter
The frenzied pace of the mind inside the cell

“Shadow Stabbing,” Cake

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer (also a pediatrician, marine biologist, and teacher….but I frequently came back to “writer”).

In high school I was especially driven by hopes to be a fiction writer. Friends would give me ideas or themes and I would write short stories for them upon request. I was the biggest most hardcore dork in the creative writing club. My proudest feat of the 10th grade was that I wrote a story that was 45 pages long. I’m pretty sure everything I wrote was garbage. My inspirations at the time were Stephen King and Clive Barker. I was fascinated by all things dark and morbid. I often felt like an outcast. This is a perfect recipe for angst and melodrama.

Of probably 20 or so stories I wrote in high school, I believe I have a copy of only one, buried somewhere in a box I never bothered to unpack after we moved into our house 4 years ago. I recall unpacking boxes, seeing the first page of the story, and thinking “I can’t bear to throw this away, but if I actually read it, I will die of embarrassment.” Every now and then I tinker with the idea of trying my hand at fiction again. I’ll come up with a theme or an idea, but have yet to put pen to paper.

I started college expecting to focus on chemistry, but hated organic chemistry so much that I abandoned the idea. I had taken German for a few years and liked it well enough, and ended up majoring in German. There was a part of me that still wanted to write fiction or creative nonfiction, but I never got around to it. I took a few film analysis classes, children’s literature analysis classes, folklore analysis classes, and pop culture analysis classes. I loved learning and thinking about all these topics, but really did not wrap my brain around critical thinking skills. I could write a decent paper summarizing something, but I had significant difficulty deconstructing things, analyzing things, or interpreting things. My professors tried to teach critical thinking, they really did. I remember getting my final paper back in my pop culture analysis class. I wrote about Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers.” My whole paper was about Oliver Stone’s vision of our bloodlusting, media-fervored society, and how he expressed this vision through extreme gore. The professor’s comments on the paper: “That’s all very interesting about what Oliver Stone thought, but what did you think of the film?”

In my third year of law school, when I was working almost full time in a litigation boutique, I finally wrapped my brain around critical analysis. It didn’t matter how many people explained it to me, I couldn’t really understand it until I found myself in a position, day after day, where I had to take an idea, parse it, and develop it inside and out in several different directions. I had to develop winning arguments, losing arguments, counter-arguments, and novel arguments. I often found myself in a position where there weren’t any authorities directly saying what I wanted them to say, but I had to interpret what was out there, justify it, and make it work as well for me as it possibly could.

I was listening to an old episode of the fabulous Filmspotting podcast today, and one of the hosts (I think it was Matty Robinson, but honestly don’t exactly recall…) was talking about a student who asked him what he should do to make it as a film critic someday. Matty’s advice was “Write. Write every day. Write about anything and everything. It doesn’t have to be about movies. Just write.” (ok, I’m paraphrasing)

I still have occasional moments of wishing I were a novelist, or writing clever investigative nonfiction books, or even a film critic. But honestly, I’m there. I’ve fulfilled my childhood dream, I am a professional writer. As a litigator, my job is to read, interpret, analyze, and write convincingly for my client. Sometimes when I feel gloomy about the 3 sets of discovery, appellate brief, 2 complaints, and research memorandum looming over my head, I remind myself that I am a writer. It doesn’t do much to get the work done, but it makes me feel better about it.

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Post 6 of my 10 in 10: A Day of Transition

It’s easy to see why this entry has a special place in my memories.

Day of Transition

May 5, 2007

At 8:46 am yesterday I handed in my last final.
DONE with law school.
I went into work, and spent the day writing responses and motions for our upcoming trial
Then I went to the bar with the other associates for the first time
And then went to a dinner hosted by the trial lawyers association

Yesterday, I moved from the little kids table to the grown-up table.