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Posts Tagged ‘effort’

A few weeks ago, I came across Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” in Anthropologie. One of my favorite get-away-from-the-computer afternoons involves a wander through Anthro, fingering the nubby jackets, caressing the soft sweaters, and sighing over the silk blouses. And as I wander, I inevitably become endlessly enchanted by the grown-up picture books piled next to the scented candles, the adorable JellyCat stuffed animals, and the rainbow dishes in all shapes and sizes. Like most Anthro merch, I refuse to pay full price for it. Instead I text myself the name of the latest enchanting tome and rush home to buy it on Amazon for half-price.

So a few days after I encountered “The Happiness Project” my copy arrived in the regulation Amazon.com box. I suppose part of my curiosity stemmed from the title. Some posts back, I explained my Smile Project; so, I wanted to see what a Happiness Project was all about.

Enter chapter one where Ms. Rubin is sitting on a cross-town Manhattan bus, realizing she is in her thirties, is a Yale-trained lawyer turned New York Times bestselling author, happily married with two children, and SHE’S NOT HAPPY. So she decides to (1) find out what happiness is and (2) become happy. There are many things I liked about this book, but one of its chief charms is Ms. Rubin’s determination to make small changes in her daily life to capture the elusive bird of happiness. She doesn’t want to throw everything over, run away, and join a monastery or a circus. (Kind of tough for a mother of a seven year old and a one year old.)

So she undertakes a mountain of research to see what “experts” and “researchers” have to say about happiness and then sets herself certain areas to focus on each month. For example, her overall theme for January was “Boost Energy.” Her specific actions were “Go to sleep earlier,” “Exercise better,” “Toss, restore, organize,” “Tackle a nagging task,” and “Act more energetic.”

Another thing I like about this book, is Gretchen Rubin’s honesty. She realizes the only person she can change is herself, and she is scrupulously honest about the behaviors she would like to give up and the ones she would like to cultivate. Her book has inspired a wave of Happiness Projects, which she is quick to point out are personal to everyone who undertakes one.

Gretchen Rubin’s definition of happiness turned out to be “To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth.” I agree with her about the “atmosphere of growth,” but my own definition of happiness includes “knowing from moment to moment” what I want. That is harder than it sounds, because so much of my life has been about accomplishing tasks that have to be done whether I wanted to do them or not. Self-employment and single motherhood tend to wipe out individual preferences.

But “The Happiness Project” inspired me to set yet another goal: figure out what I want on a daily basis. So now when I get up in the morning with the laundry list of “To do’s” tap dancing across my brain like the Rockettes on stage at Radio City Music Hall, I ask myself which one or ones will make me happy if I accomplish them today. If none of them rings my happiness bell, I ask, “Are there any orphan ‘I wants’ pining for my time?” My project is not as complicated as Ms. Rubin’s. I don’t like charts and gold stars and quantifying results. I just like the good feeling that comes with accomplishing at least one or more things in a day that my real self (not my lawyer self) wants to come true.

I am glad I passed “The Happiness Project” at Anthro that day. I agree with Gretchen Rubin that small, daily changes can bring real happiness.

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project

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My Golden Retrievers, Melody and Rhythm, were also happy to see the last of the painter on Friday. Melody, my eight-year-old female, likes to spend the day sleeping in my bedroom. Rhythm, her seven-year-old brother, likes to sleep downstairs in my office. But the painting repairs disrupted their peaceful canine lives because on the days the downstairs was painted, Rhythm had to stay upstairs. And on the days the upstairs was painted, Melody had to be evacuated downstairs. And worse than that, they had to be child-gated into the kitchen for a few hours on the next to the last day because of all the coming and going. It wasn’t as bad as being whisked off to a strange hotel room for a weekend, but neither liked being denied his or her favorite sleeping spot even for a short time.

My dogs remind me of my children when they were small. They are comfortable within the confines of their routine, but they don’t like disruption. In Melody and Rhythm’s world, the food is supposed to be deposited in the bowl at approximately the same time every morning. Then as soon as Rhythm has finished inhaling his, he expects his daily medication. Immediately after that he is ready to go on his morning walk to see the ducks at the pond. Melody, who is notoriously lazy, has to be bribed to join us. After all the pond smells have been exhausted and after I have told Rhythm repeatedly not to eat pine cones, we come back home where they insist on one last treat before retiring to sleep off their breakfasts. I find the utter predictability of this routine day after day reassuring.

Goldens are amazingly sweet, loving, and patient animals. They make fabulous therapy dogs. During the tragedy at Newtown, I discovered the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs. They are Golden Retrievers trained to provide comfort and support; and they travel to disaster sites as well as to schools, hospitals, and hospices to offer love and comfort. They were the chief reason that some of the children were willing to return to school after the December 14 tragedy. Recently some of the Comfort Dogs headed out to Boston to comfort the Marathon bomb victims. Each Comfort Dog has a Facebook page, and they hand out their business cards to the people they comfort. One of the little Newtown survivors made a special box to keep all the dogs’ cards in and brought it to school to show the dogs her treasures. This morning the dogs and their handlers were given well-deserved special recognition and assistance on Good Morning America.

I adopted my first Golden from rescue after we babysat a friend’s Golden for a few days. Back then, the children and I lived in a house that had a small concrete slab for a back porch. Within an hour of our canine guest’s arrival, I found my then-three old sitting beside her on the slab, his arm around her neck, pouring out his heart to her as if she understood every word. And she sat and listened as if she, did, indeed, understand. Those were in the early black days of the divorce. and we all had heavy hearts and needed comforting. I called Golden Rescue that same afternoon and put us on the list for the first available retriever that needed a home.

A few months later, we adopted six-year-old Sasha, an adorable female Golden who lived to the ripe old age of fifteen. Really old for a retriever. She was so special it too two to fill her shoes: Melody and Rhythm.

Melody is stubborn, but doesn’t do much to get herself into trouble. She’s a small retriever and happy to do her dainty walk to the pond twice daily once she’s received a suitable bribe. Rhythm on the other hand, likes to live on the edge. He once got away from me and jumped into pond leash and all. And woe is me if he comes across a dead bunny. It is spring now, and bunnies are plentiful. They tend to become road kill or coyote kill. And sometimes bits and pieces get left behind. Rhythm has been known to go native on me and consume a whole bunny carcass while I watched in horror. All I can say is, dead bunny does things to a retriever’s digestive system you don’t want to know about.

My children and I have been blessed in many ways, not the least of which is the presence of our beautiful Goldens. Our personal Comfort Dogs.

Some of the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs in New York on their way to Boston

Some of the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs in New York on their way to Boston

Our Goldens, Melody and Rhythm

Our Goldens, Melody and Rhythm

The Pond - Our Daily Destination

The Pond – Our Daily Destination

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The Easter Bunnies eyed me from the front door this morning and said they are not ready to come down. Normally on the first of April I would be putting them up, not taking them down. The green shamrock wreaths always rule the month of March. But the calender played a trick this year and stuck Easter on the day before April Fool’s, leaving me with some unhappy leprechauns who didn’t get to come out of their boxes in March.

In my last post, I explained how my neighbor Lenore inspired my monthly door decorating sessions. Her whimsical greenhouse window displays reminded me that each month has something special to celebrate. I also was inspired by my southern roots, particularly the years I lived in Virginia where I first noticed wreaths displayed on doors year round.

California entrance doors don’t seem to need decorations (except at Christmas) because front doors aren’t used. Most Californians enter their homes through the garage. They pull up in their expensive European sedans, hit the garage door opener hidden in the car’s sun visor, and vanish into the depths never to be seen again. Or at least, never to be seen until the next time the garage door goes up, and they pull out once again in their expensive European sedans. (At Four-Way Stop Intersections in California, the first car to go is not the first one that stopped; it’s the most expensive. Heaven help the Mercedes driver who encounters a Lamborghini.)

When I first came to California in the mid 1980’s, I noticed that the houses here don’t look out on the street the way houses do back east. Where I grew up, and throughout the South, houses have front windows that seem to look outward like eyes. And backyards don’t have fences; or if they do, they have the chainlink ones that let you see into the yard next door. But in California, houses more often look inward toward a pool or courtyard. And people here put high wooden fences around their yards, so you know you have a neighbor, but you cannot see hide nor hair of him or her. I came to wonder if this modern-day residential phenomenon could be attributed to the history of California because people from back east arrived to live on isolated ranches and to fend for themselves. When they urbanized, they continued to keep their neighbors out of sight as much as possible.

At any rate, I am a cultural anomaly here because I both use and decorate my front doors. (Yes, I have not one, but two. And I saved them from the vicious Homeowner’s Association over a a year ago and vanquished a male chauvinist bully on Yelp while I was at it. But that is yet another story.)

To keep the peace, I promised the bunnies they could stay until Saturday. Then they have to go back to their boxes until next year.

Can't It Stay Easter for a While?

Can’t It Stay Easter for a While?

Cheeky Bunnies

Cheeky Bunnies

I refuse to leave:  squatter's rights.

I refuse to leave: squatter’s rights.

Cheeky Bunnies Demanded Their Close-Up

Cheeky Bunnies Demanded Their Close-Up

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Two years ago, I started “The Smile Project” because I became uncomfortable with “The Zombie Zone.” I realized that when I passed a person I did not know – in a parking lot, in a grocery store, at the gym, or while waiting in line to use the Ladies’ Room (because ladies, unlike gents, ALWAYS have to wait in line) – the two of us entered a Dead Zone where we were close enough to greet each other or at least acknowledge each other. But, of course, we didn’t do that because we were strangers. No, we passed with blank, dead looks on our faces. In other words, we became Zombies passing in the night. (Or in the day as the case might be.)

I didn’t like the Zombie Zone. I hated that split second when the approaching stranger was close enough to require turning my head to avoid eye contact. If I timed it wrong, and our eyes met, we became two strangers awkwardly wondering what to say to each other. If I timed it right and got my eyes out of there in time, we became two strangers awkwardly avoiding each other. None of this felt good to me.

I considered what to do. Throwing out a “Hi” seemed like a bad idea. The trouble with speaking was I’d be overheard, and I’d look and feel like a Real Idiot if I didn’t get a return greeting. And the odds were pretty high in California that random strangers were not going to greet me back.

So I decided to found “The Smile Project.” The rules were I had to smile at every stranger, young or old, male or female, who came within the Dead Zone. I’d wait until that moment when eye contact should be avoided, make contact, and smile. And then I would wait to see what happened. It was a no risk proposition because if my smile didn’t Undead the approaching Zombie stranger, no one but me would know.

I have enjoyed watching the reactions to “The Smile Project.” There are, of course, the Zombies who remain Undead and ignore me. (“Really, why is that strange woman smiling at me? Do you think she wants something? She’s kind of cute, but I don’t know her. Better get out of here fast where no one is smiling at me.”)

But most of the time, the reaction to my smile is a return smile. There is usually a startled moment in the beginning while my target tries to figure out why this strange woman is smiling at him or her, followed by a (1) a tentative return smile or (2) a big grin. Once in a while, my target will smile and say Hi, or Nice Day or even wave. A smile is the greatest icebreaker in the world.

The Smile Project is also very useful when Waiting in Line. Californians do not Wait in Line well. They whine, complain, and look for ways to cut. They do not simply settle in and accept the inevitable truth: there are other people on the planet and They are Ahead In Line. So here’s where The Smile Project comes in handy. I scope out my fellow Line Mates and smile at the one (or even two) who don’t break eye contact the minute they see me. I smile and say, “Nice earrings,” or “I love your boots,” or “Yeah, we love pepperoni pizza at our house, too.” Usually from my minimal effort, a conversation is born that makes me, at least, forget about having to wait. Other people love to tell their stories. And since I am a storyteller, I have two great passions: telling stories and listening to them. So passing the time listening to someone’s story is well worth the price of a smile.

The Smile Project is also like garlic to vampires when it comes to warding off angry stares. The grocery stores here have aisles wide enough for one and a half carts. That means if you stop your cart to select an item, you are automatically blocking traffic. And every turn from one aisle to the next is a blind turn because of the stuff they pile at the end of the aisles. Pulling your cart out in front of another person or asking someone to let you pass by can net you an angry glare because that person has just been forced to recognize There Are Other People In the World; and right now, in particular, Those Other People are in Their Own Personal grocery store. However, throwing out a random smile usually gets me a smile in return and often a pleasant verbal exchange about the need for smaller carts or wider aisles. You can see a glare melt under the shine from a smile. You really can.

The Smile Project is also a godsend in Costco where I am absolutely the Only Human Pushing a Shopping Cart and Watching Where I am Going. Haven’t you noticed that everyone in Costco is pushing his or her cart with his or her head sideways (think The Exorcist) looking for free food? Just smile when they run into you.

I invite you to try The Smile Project for yourself. It is totally no cost and very low risk. The worst that can happen is you will encounter a Zombie who likes being Undead. But not always. And something really magical happens when the Dead Zone vanishes because your smile has made a stranger’s eyes go from blank to warm. I didn’t expect much when I started The Smile Project, but it has been more than worth the effort.

Founder of the Smile Project

Founder of The Smile Project

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Back in the day when newspapers arrived on the doorstep in the morning instead of on iPads, Nooks, and Kindles, people had careers as newspaper columnists. Anne Landers, who died recently, was one. Erma Bombeck was another. Depending on whether the column was published daily or weekly, the writer labored on a regular basis to produce copy audiences wanted to read.

Now I fully understood that a serious blogger has the same responsibility when I opened my little word shop on WordPress some months ago. I figured the Christmas holidays would be my temptation to backslide. Wrong. I sailed through Christmas with flying blogger colors.

No, it was January that derailed my weekly posts, and work that snuck up on me on little cat feet like the fog in Carl Sandburg’s poem. My job involves three things: reading, writing, and staying sane reading about crime for a living. I am the appellate version of the public defender, and I tell the stories of guilty people who have made some pretty bad mistakes. I tell their stores to the mid-level courts of appeal here in California and to the California Supreme Court and write lots of legal reasons why they should get new trials. (That doesn’t happen, much, as you’ve guessed.) You lose in the trial, court I’m your next step in the food chain.

How do you represent guilty people, most people gasp at this point. It’s not hard. Here’s why: a good lawyer is like a car mechanic. Think about it. Your mechanic does not get emotionally upset when you and the tow truck arrive at his shop. (Well, truth to tell, they do get kind of emotional about MiniCoopers, but that’s another story and an exception to the rule. Every lawyer knows there is an exception to every rule and probably more than one. But that’s another story, too.)

Your friendly car mechanic does not give you a lecture or cite scripture or otherwise have an opinion about fault and broken machinery as your car exits the tow truck. No, the mechanic looks at the problem, gives you an estimate, and goes about the job of fixing what he can.
His blood pressure never rises.

And that’s what I do. I read what happened at the trial and write the story for the court according to a prescribed set of legal rules. I do not judge. That is not my job. The jury judges. I just write.

The other way to look at what I do is to consider baseball. I’m the pitcher. My job is to throw the balls across the plate. The umpire (the court of appeal) calls the balls and strikes and says when the batter is out.

Anyway, although I am paid by the state, I am a subcontractor, which means I am self-employed. I had no background in self-employment until I began this job. My father was a government employee, and I had always had salaried jobs, too. The downside to salaried work is you work according to hours your boss sets, on projects your boss dictates, and according to rules your boss makes. In exchange for giving up these freedoms, you get a paycheck at promised intervals from your boss. But self-employed people only get paychecks when they have completed the work they have contracted to do. Sometimes that means a lot of paychecks, and sometimes it means not so much. Work flow is uneven. The perks are you have more control over your time and the projects you agree to do. You set your own hours and work in you jammies if you want to. (Me the fashion plate does not often want to. But that’s another story, too.)

There are advantages and disadvantages to both forms of employment, and everyone is different; so it is not a one-size-fits-all world. It took me a long time to learn how to manage my little business, but I’ve done a good job, and I’m very proud of my achievement. I’m rainmaker, CEO, chief partner in the firm of one, accountant, secretary, and gopher.

To my great delight, January rolled around with a bumper crop of good projects for me. Smile! But that meant giving up a lot of my own time to read and get ready to write the briefs that will be due over the next few months. Sigh! So I’ve not forgotten my responsibility as a serious blogger. I’ve just had it temporarily derailed by a sudden influx of work. Instead of blogging at night, I’ve been reading about murder. And not murder as in Agatha Cristie or Inspector Morse.

I’ve missed blogging, but self-employed people must never, never look a gift horse in the mouth. It is very bad luck. Always, always be grateful when you have too much work to do. Beating the bushes looking for work is not fun. This is the first and the greatest law of self-employment.

I suppose I could make up for my lapse by posting in rapid-fire succession all the posts that have been on my mind over the last few weeks. But I kind of dislike being bombarded. I respect my fellow bloggers who, like me, have fallow times. Four posts a week from the same source, as entertaining as they can be, sometimes overwhelm me. I want to take in everyone’s info and express my gratitude, but there’s only so much of me to go around.

Anyway, I am back. I intend to adhere to one a week, and I am grateful for the New Year, for my readers, and for all the pages and pages of murder trials that are hanging around my office waiting to be spun one by one into unbrief briefs. (Only a lawyer would call 25,500 words a “brief”!)

iah109ts

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Life as a stay-at-home mother of three children, five and under, was an endlessly demanding job. I had always been a hard worker and an over achiever, but child/care 24/7 was the most exhausting challenge yet. There were days when, as much as I loved my three little ones, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get up at sun rise and keep going. I had never been so tired in my life. And I had a sinus infection that lasted for three and a half years. One unhelpful and terrifying male doc said I needed to be tested for HIV. The woman doc whom I went to for testing and whose children were the same ages as mine couldn’t stop laughing when I told her why I was there. Honestly, it wasn’t very funny.

I became fascinated with Princess Diana in that period. I’m not sure why. There were probably a lot of reasons for my fixation. First, I loved her clothes. Whether in her early Laura Ashley mode or in her shoulder-padded Power Suit mode in the 1980’s, she was gorgeous. She was the IT Girl of Style.

Second, she delighted in mothering just the way that I did. In the pictures of her with William and Harry, who were only a few years older than my children, her love shines off the page. Granted when she played games with them in their nursery, she’d had a full night’s sleep because her nanny was on call, but even my sleep-deprived brain could connect with another mother who loved her children the way I loved mine.

Third, she and I had entered into similar marriages. My husband’s job was to our marriage what Camilla Parker Bowles was to Diana’s. The third party to my marriage was a corporation whereas for Diana it was the Other Woman; but the result was the same. And Diana had married a man who wanted a wife and children from Central Casting to be available only for photo ops. And so had I.

Fourth, Diana went through a very public divorce with a man determined to wound and humiliate. One of my few consolations on those terrifying days when I left the Family Law Courthouse threatened with the loss of my children and so emotionally upset that I was afraid to drive, was that at least the venom that had just been spit in my face wasn’t going to be heard around the world. For Diana, it was a very different story.

I didn’t lose my children. I would have if I hadn’t been a lawyer. Oddly enough, the role that sat most uncomfortably on my heart was the one that saved the people I loved most from being lost to me. But that victory came at a heavy price. During that marriage, I had done the thing I had wanted to do all my life: I had written a novel. After a lot of tries, I even got an agent in New York. In those early dark days of my divorce, my little book traveled from editor to editor at major publishing houses. Some did not like it. Some liked it but would not buy it. It was called Summers’ Child, a title that another writer would use for her own very successful novel some years later. (I had copyrighted my manuscript, and I knew she hadn’t done her homework before using my title.)

But when my husband found out that I had written a novel that was not succeeding with New York publishers, he dragged me down to the Family Law Courthouse and accused me in public of being a no-account deadbeat who was trying to live off child and temporary spousal support. He argued that I was trained as a lawyer, and so I had to go back to work as a lawyer. Even though I hadn’t done any work as a lawyer for eight years and hadn’t the foggiest idea, anymore, how to even sigh on to a legal research service.

Family Law Court, at least in those days, was a terrifying hell of illegality. I had graduated second in my class from law school, and I knew how unconstitutional the various rulings from that court were. The family law court operated at that time as if the Right to Privacy did not exist. At one point, I actually thought they were going to send me to involuntary psycho therapy to force me to withdraw my accurate and true statements that my husband had abused me and the children. I felt as if I’d wound up in a Russian Gulag as a political prisoner for not Speaking the Party Line.

I knew how to challenge these outrageous family law court rulings in higher courts. But the problem was I had to play the Family Law Court game or lose those dearest to me. It would do me no good to take my case to the United States Supreme Court only to be reunited with my children by my victory there when they were adults. So even though the Thirteenth Amendment abolished involuntary servitude, the state of California said I had to go back to work as a lawyer. And I did. In my living room, where I wrote appellate briefs and remained close to my children. But who I really was born to be was quietly dying, day by day.

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The seasons change in Southern California, but subtly. For the first two autumns I spent here, I was always waiting for the cold, wet, windy day that would announce winter had landed. That day always came in the South, a day when it became apparent that winter coats were now inevitable until late March or early April.

But to me autumn in Southern California has always consisted of the uneasy feeling that real winter is just around the corner. Except there is no corner, and real winter never arrives.

In my second autumn-waiting-for-winter here, my September baby began to settle into life. By late January, she slept more and cried less. From her infant seat, she began to look around at the world she found herself in, appraising its potential to entertain.

Less sleep deprived, I started to recover from months of living in survival mode. At last I began to feel separate from the child who had not allowed me to put her down since birth. And as I did, I began to reconnect the dots of the picture that was me. It was as if coming to California had severed my life into two halves. In half number one, I had been first a teacher and then a lawyer, married to a gentle man who wanted me to assume the responsibility of breadwinner. In half number two, I had married a man who ignored me, I had had a child, and I had lost myself. Why had I chosen this path? What had I been running from?

At least part of the answer could be traced to a deep winter day in February in Virginia. One morning I was sitting in my tiny cubicle of an office (it was exactly the same size as a secretary’s cubicle, but it had a door), watching the icy James River slide by my window and wondering if there would be black ice on the commute home. To say I was bored would be an understatement. I had never dreamed life in a big law firm could come to a crashing halt, day after day. But the litigation partner I worked for was busy on matters that didn’t require my help; and likewise the senior associate, who would be a partner within a year, hadn’t produced any interrogatories for me to draft or answer for more than a week.

Enter a Newly Minted Partner in the labor practice, looking for an associate to do a research project. I was “loaned” to the labor section and ushered into a conference room whose floor was white with paper. Every legal job begins with a story. And this was the story.

Newly Minted Partner, who was the rarity of all rarities at The Firm, a Female Newly Minted Partner, had just lost a Motion For Summary Judgment with her Mentor Male Senior Partner (to become partner at that firm, it was an advantage to have one of these). Now Summary Judgment is the worst legal insult possible. It means your lawsuit did not even get to first base. You filed something that didn’t state a claim a court could consider. Bad news. You’ve wasted everyone’s time. And money. And the client doesn’t think you are very smart.

Now The Firm, being one of the smartest and best anywhere, rarely fell victim to Summary Judgment. But, then, again, no one is perfect. Although The Firm did not see things that way.

At any rate, the paper on the floor was nearly every sex discrimination case ever decided by an appellate court. My job was to find the rest of the slippery little dears – if any more existed – and turn them into a memorandum that would be The Firm’s Secret Weapon to be used by Newly Minted Partner and Mentor Male Senior Partner when they went back to show the judge just how wrong he had been to dismiss their Age Discrimination Case. Or, in the alternative, my memo would be the basis for writing a new lawsuit that no one could throw out. Either way, The Firm had been embarrassed in front of one of its Highly Important Clients. And I was now thrown into the breach to repair the damage.

That project seized my imagination as few projects had done since becoming a Big Firm baby lawyer. Maybe it was the sight of a woman who had survived to join the Inner Sanctum that grabbed me. More likely it was just the intellectual challenge of making sense of all that paper. One of my professors in graduate school, when I’d been dreaming of being a professor myself one day, had explained we are biologically driven to create order out of chaos. So perhaps my creative juices were happy to be alive and well again.

I was given two weeks to produce The Firm’s Secret Weapon, otherwise known as my memorandum. I threw myself into it, spending twelve hour days reading and researching, sometimes working while lying flat on my back on the floor because I was in the grip of a nasty inner ear infection that gave me vertigo. (Someday I will tell you how I discovered baby lawyers were not allowed to be sick. But that is a story for another day.)

My then-husband was quite supportive. An extraordinarily bright man, he listened as I talked endlessly about the project and my findings. He made helpful comments here and there even though he was not a lawyer himself. And I’m sure in the back of his mind was his devout hope I would survive to become a Newly MintedPartner one day for our Mutual Economic Benefit.

Trouble was, about three days into the project, I saw why The Firm had lost. The existing law was against what they were trying to do. The judge, whom Newly Minted Partner had not had nice things to say about (use your imagination, but remember to keep it professional), had actually gotten the law quite right. Oh, dear. What was a baby lawyer to do?

Now, despite what happened next to me in this story, the truth is the best lawyers are creative. Think Thurgood Marshall and Brown v. Board of Education. He saw the possibilities in the law where none yet existed and pushed forward to change the lives of every non-white, non-male American forever. (Yes, Virginia, the African American civil rights movement made the Women’s Movement Possible. And now the push for Gay Rights. We owe it all to Thurgood.)

Anyway, I wrote my memo, explaining the existing state of the law and then explaining how Newly Minted Partner and Mentor Male Senior Partner could draft a new pleading, using the Sex Discrimination Law creatively for an Age Discrimination client. If it had been a law school exam, I would have had an A plus plus. I finished, after a nearly all nighter, handed over the thirty page extravaganza, and went home to sleep the sleep of the Righteous. My then husband, Ph.D. in English in hand, had read my magnum opus and congratulated me on my writing and my presentation. Even he, a non-lawyer, got it.

TWO WEEKS LATER:

I know it was the end of February. I like to think maybe it was leap year and the 29th, so it is a day not often to be repeated. But I am not sure. I was summoned to the Ninth Floor to the office of Newly Minted Partner where I expected to receive congratulations on my work. For not every one of us spiffy little J.D.’s can see how the law can be pushed and molded and prodded to the next level of social change. And no one had ever said I couldn’t research and write with the best of them. Until that day.

She was one of those enviably thin women whose suit skirts never had to be fastened with a safety pin. (True confessions. All that sitting at a desk and Firm Luncheons had taken its toll on me.) She had the short, professional haircut we all thought was required in the eighties, and she had the most highly polished French manicure I had ever seen. She was certainly a woman in charge of her life and highly successful in a world and time where women did not succeed. She’d sacrificed marriage and children to her success, but I assumed it was a choice she happily made.

I admired her as a sort of Legal Rock Star. And I had put my everything into her work. And she spent the next forty-five minutes telling me what a Worthless piece of Human Trash I was. About three minutes into the diatribe, delivered in the low professional tones you would associate with someone of her standing, I realized that she hated me, my work, and the creative solution I’d given her. Rather than seeing the beauty of my striving, she pronounced me an ignoramus for not coming to her on Day Three of the project and telling her the law was not on their side. (Something I had assumed was obvious from the beginning since they were the victims of Summary Judgment.)

Newly Minted Partner wore hats. Even now, it is rare to see a professional woman in a hat. Especially a red hat. As the diatribe continued, I fixed my eyes on the stryofoam head behind her desk that held her hat and pictured my head there in the morning, eyes glassy in what she would have considered my well-deserved death. The whole idea was so ludicrous, I wanted to laugh out loud. But I’m sure Newly Minted Partner would not have taken it well.

Her parting shot, as she released me from the hell of her office, was “We couldn’t bill the client for your work!” The ultimate disgrace for a Big Firm baby lawyer.

I went home and cried all night. My then-husband tried to comfort me, reminding me over and over how unreasonable she had been. But she looked so wise and knowing behind that Big Firm desk under the guise of Big Firm Partnership, I forgot who I was. And I let her bully and humiliate me. And then I eventually fled to the other side of the world, away from everything familiar, cutting a swath through the center of my life, in an effort to escape my own incompetence. Except, I wasn’t incompetent. And I had nothing to escape. But I was a long way from discovering that fact in the first autumn of my daughter’s life.

So, as I began to come back to myself in the mild California January, I blamed myself for being creative – the very thing I was born to be.

Below:  Richmond in Winter.

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