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Posts Tagged ‘winter’

It must have been the last winter storm of the season that came overnight. It seems odd to say “winter storm,” since in San Diego “winter storms” do not have freezing temperatures and snow, the hallmarks of real winter. But even though it was 61 degrees when I went outside with the first of the retrievers at seven o’clock on Saturday morning, it felt colder than that. I put on my jacket before accompanying retriever two on her first potty break of the day.

We walked to Hendrix Pond after retriever breakfast. (Mine comes later with a foamy hot latte that I make myself in a bone china cup with pastel flowers that is the sine qua non for reading my emails.) Everything was shiny wet under gray clouds that carried the potential for new rain. The eucalyptus trees tossed restlessly overhead in the wild winds, and the world smelled of rain and the fruity, but faintly astringent, aroma of eucalyptus. Excitement was in the air; but I had no idea why.

The pond was a sheet of greeny-brown glass, with few green-headed mallards and navy-winged females swimming among the reeds. The three white heron that had been there yesterday were nowhere to be seen. (It has been ages since all three were present; a good sign, I think when all return together. I found a white feather once that one of them left behind, and tucked it into a flower pot by my front door as a symbol of magic and good luck.) Most of the ducks were tucked securely into various sheltered nooks around the pond, some with their heads under their wings. No one had come to feed them as people often do of a morning. The retrievers and I had the wild, windy, cold, wintry world of the pond to ourselves.

We followed our usual trail around the perimeter, the retrievers investigating every new smell that overnight wind and rain had created. I waited patiently while they exhausted every sniff of whatever blade of grass or smooth bit of rock caught their canine fancy. I gazed out at the ducks and listened to the creaking eucalyptus overhead and wished I had awakened in the night to hear the wind and rain. There is nothing more cozy than waking in the wee hours to hear the world being tossed to bits by winter winds accompanied by the staccato beat of rain on the roof while retrievers snore contentedly close by. I love to snuggle deeper into my warm bed and my heap of feather pillows and say a prayer of thanks for my roof, my bed, my dogs, and for being cozy and dry.

The retrievers and I walked out of the shadows just as the morning sun broke through the heavy clouds. I felt the warmth of a normal April morning on my back for a few minutes; and now my jacket, which had been so welcome a minute ago, was uncomfortably hot. In this new unwelcome heat, the world seemed to go fuzzy the way a scene does when you turn the focus ring of a camera too far the wrong way. In an instant, I remembered what hot summer walks are like, with the heat of the sun on my back, and the retrievers, in their fluffy blonde coats, anxious to return to the dark cool of the condo. But, as quickly as the heat of April emerged, it vanished behind the gray morning storm clouds sailing across the rain-washed sky. Now the focus ring had been turned in the opposite direction, and it seemed as if the world had gone from fuzzy into sharp focus in the crisp air.

Some people love summer. Maybe because I grew up in the excessive heat of Southern summers, that season has never been my favorite. In a few days, it will become summer-hot here. Nineties are predicted where we live by Tuesday. So this morning’s chance to bid farewell to the cozy focus that winter-damp air brings to life under the tossing eucalyptus was welcome. Winter, I will miss you.

The Pond - Our Daily Destination

The Pond – Our Daily Destination

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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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