Tuesday, December 26, 2006

the gayest christmas

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I'm home and I get to sleep in my bed next to my very own person. I swear to you I will never take it for granted again that I can roll over and see her sleeping face. She sleeps with great determination, her lips pressed tight together. Some days we sleep in to ridiculous hours. Today we slept till almost 11, for no good reason other than that we liked it. Our Christmas tree glitters in the next room. The cats have developed an obsession for plastic garland. We find it in the hallway when we get up. Sometimes it is in the groove lounge next to the kitchen. The cats always look guilty when we find them chewing it. The girl, especially, looked ashamed yet defiant, as if we have caught her masturbating. Which, since she's a cat, would be a lot more socially acceptable in our house than her inexplicable garland fetish.

It is gray and cold outside, but we have leftover apple-glazed ham from Christmas is the fridge, which means I can make extravagant egg, cheese, and ham sandwiches on english muffins in the morning. I don't usually like or eat ham, but our friend Travis had a hankering for Christmas ham, and brought a giant spiral ham to add to our 18-pound turkey on Christmas Day. We warmed it in a porcelain cooker plugged in under my desk in the study. I've never wanted to sit down at my desk as much as I did smelling that ham.

People drifted over all during the day on Christmas. These last few years we have been having gay Christmases, which is the Christmas you really want to have with all your gay friends where you sit around and eat and drink and watch something campy. One year I made everyone watch The Littlest Angel, which to me is the best blend of bizarro psychedelia, Hallmark sentimentality, and queer sensibility ever seen in a made for TV Christmas special. Think muscle-y angels in impossibly short togas doing calisthenics. Think Tony Randall as an administrator in heaven. Think Johnny Whittaker being sung to and softly caressed every now and then by Fred Gwynne.

This year I got up at 730 and made celery, onion, and mushroom stuffing with fresh herbs, then rubbed the turkey with oranges and stuffed it. I went back to sleep for an hour, then got up and made sweet potato-carrot puree with creme fraiche and two apple pies. I gave my neighbor the bag of potatos and he made them in his kitchen. Friends brought nuts, chocolate, and wine. We heated up rum punch and it made the kitchen smell like apples and allspice. The turkey reached a nutty brown color and we took it out. We threw in the pies. Damian put his green bean casserole (the kind you eat at church suppers) in the oven to warm up. Travis and I snapped the tops off the fresh green beans and cooked up a bunch in a little butter and garlic. The neighbor showed up with the potatos, and brought a homemade cheesecake. Damian made fresh cranberry sauce. Travis finished the beans and I made a lush tub of gravy from the turkey pan drippings. Someone started carving the turkey in the next room. Bottles of wine appeared and were opened with satisfying pops. GF lit the Lily Munsterish candleabra, a grandiose thing we found last year at Target, and put it in the livingroom on the coffee table. The tree glittered. The candles burned. Everyone heaped their plates with food and gravy. When no one could eat any more everyone flopped down on couches and the floor and watched Auntie Mame. Later, inexplicably, we all roared through four or five kinds of cheese, literally licking the rinds.

Yesterday GF and I had great plans to go to the gym, but instead we did a little work and GF surpised me with a spontaneous Dream Date. She took me out to a nice restaurant where I had mussels, then lamb in the most amazing reduction, which I am still thinking about. Then we went to see the movie The Queen, which was remarkably emotionally gripping. If you were wondering whether you still could cry at Diana's funeral, the answer is Yes. A lot.

Today is a late start, but we have sworn to really, really go to the gym today. I have to. I think my cholesterol must be at record levels. But first, I think I'll help myself to just a bite of leftover pie. Then I'll sit next to the Christmas tree, and look at it, and think about all the people I love who are gone, or far away. And I'll miss them, but feel only the tiniest bit guilty that I'm all alone with GF, and the cats, and the gentle crunching sound of plastic garland.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I wish I was more surprised

I'm Caligula. Who knew? And I thought that girlhood love of horses was just . . . dykey.

I'm Caligula!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
You are Gaius Caesar Germanicus - better known as Caligula!

Third Emperor of Rome and ruler of one of the most powerful empires of all time, your common name means "little boots". Although you only reigned for four years, brief even by Roman standards, you still managed to garner a reputation as a cruel, extravagant and downright insane despot. Your father died in suspicious circumstances, you were not the intended heir, and one of your first acts as Emperor was to force the suicide of your father-in-law. Your sister Drusilla died that same year; faced with allegations that your relationship with her had been incestuous, you responded, bafflingly, by declaring her a god.

You revived a number of unpopular traditions, including auctions of properties left over from public shows. When a senator fell asleep at one such auction, you took each of his nods as bids, selling him 13 gladiators for a vast sum. You attempted to have your horse, Incitatus, made into a consul and hence one of the most powerful figures in Rome. It was granted a marble stable with jewels and a staff of servants. At one point you forced your comrade Macro to kill himself - in much the same vein as your father-in-law - accusing him of being his wife's pimp. You, of course, were having an affair with said wife at the time.

Things went from bad to worse. When supplies of condemned men ran short in the circus, you had innocent spectators dragged into the arena with the lions to fill their place. You claimed mastery of the sea by walking across a three-mile bridge of boats in the Bay of Naples; kissed the necks of your lovers, whispering sweet nothings like "This lovely neck will be chopped as soon as I say so,"; dallied with your sister's lover and made her pull her unborn child out of her womb prematurely. Towards the end of your reign, you had a golden statue of yourself made and dressed each day in the same clothes you yourself wore. When you eventually died, the terrified people of Rome refused to believe that such a cruel reign could ever end, and believed you to be alive for years afterwards.

three down

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Three exams down; one to go. I've been off-line at home most nights till recently, since my airport card had a conflict with my roommate's wireless server. It's kept me from internet shopping. I know I can write at night off-line and save the document to post later, but there's something about writing on line that makes blogging easier.

Anyway, the semester draws to a close. I'd like to be able to say I aced all my exams, or bombed them, but the truth is I did ok on all of them so far, and left the room knowing precisely what I had done right--and what I had messed up. Contracts--the class I worked the hardest to stay on top of--was the most satisfying exam. Open book and open computer, it rewarded preparation and organization. I went in to that exam with an outline bristling with multi-colored tabs and filled with red-highlighted Restatements (Second, of course). Sometimes I was flinging myself out into space answering those questions. I think I missed things and got some things wrong. I talked at length about a parol evidence problem, for example, without ever managing to use the words "parol evidence."

Criminal Law was the exam I feared most. Closed book, it seemed that we not only had to memorize endless information, but apply it quickly and with precision and economy as well. Again, I felt when I got in there as if I was bursting with things to say--more than I had time to write. So much more, in fact, that i left myself too little time to round out the last question. I ended with the word "mens," in mid-sentence and mid-thought, trying to explain the mens rea that a prosecutor would have to prove for a battery charge. It should have been simple--I had already done the more difficult one for attempt, with the enhancements you have to apply for inchoate crimes such as conspiracy, attempt, and accomplice liability--but I hadn't left myself enough time. I walked out of that one kicking myself. In a good way, I guess.

Today was Property. I thought Property was a slam dunk--until I started really studying and realized how much information I had to memorize. I did what I could, but I definitely felt tiny details escaping me today as I tried to remember them. The difference between covenants and equitable servitudes? DIdn't seem to know it--though I knew future interests and estates cold. But we were not asked about these, alas. Adverse Possession? Yes--at least I knew adverse possession. I made up NO ACHE to help me remember: notorious and open, actual, continuous, hostile, and exclusive occupation of someone else's land in an effort to claim title for one's self. Joint Tenancy? I knew Joint Tenancy. Four unities, right? Time, Title, Interest, and . . . something beginning with P. Place? Didn't make sense. But say place.

Even though the answer is . . . Possession.


Ah well. On to the three ring circus of Torts. And after Saturday, my first semester of law school is over.

And no matter how well I didn't do, or how well I did, it's almost 1/6 over. And that, as the phoenix-like Martha would say, is a Good thing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

turkey hand

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I wanted to write Happy Thanksgiving, but it hardly seems fair to stand behind a celebration of the beginning of the upper North American project of conquest and genocide, as brought to you by the English. So I decided to wish you all happy fellowship, which is what Thanksgiving is supposed to celebrate, in theory. At least, that's what they tell us in second grade when we are making our hand turkeys. But then I realized that the other part of Thanksgiving is sheer gratitude for survival. Those darn Pilgrims were just happy to be alive. And it seems, with apologies to those whose survival was snuffed out by said Pilgrims, that survival is not such a bad thing to be thankful for.

Growing up in the 1960s, I got the usual spiel about the first Thanksgiving, from the unexamined perspective of the Pilgrims. How happy it was. How we all had to be grateful for the harvest, for surviving the autumn, for peace with our neighbors. In New England, where I am from, the language of the local tribes has sunk into the land for hundreds of years now. Lake Winnipisaukee. Mount Monadnok. Mount Chocorua. Big Squam Lake. Mount Passaconway. Kangamangus highway. Penacook. All Indian names. All those people gone, mostly wiped out and finally, driven into Canada. The great chief of the Pennacooks was Passaconway, the Merlin and Arthur of the New World, six feet tall and a wondrous magician, able to wipe out the white invaders but choosing not to do so, keeping peace treaty after peace treaty until he himself was finally driven north out of the lands his people had lived on for centuries. Born as early as 1555, he is said to have live beyond 100 and to have finally been taken in a burning sled up into the sky, like Elijah.

Then there was Chocorua. Sometimes he is given another name, but this chief trusted his son to the care of a white friend when he went on a hunting trip. The boy ate rat poison left out for varmints in a bowl of porridge, and died. When his father returned, he went wild with grief, and set about massacreing as many settlers as possible. When they finally cornered him at the top of a steep peak, he leapt to his death, but not before cursing the land and all its inhabitants.

Many scholars have written eloquently about primitivism, about the lure of the fantasy of unfettered freedom that indiginous peoples symbolize to many westerners. I wonder if this is part of the attraction of Thanksgiving, but I wonder if it is more ambivalent and vacillating in its fetishism than stable on one side or the other. It's not that you are the Indian, or the Pilgrim, but that you can be the Pilgrim and the Indian too. Isn't that so American? That kind of identification seems predicated on a certain security as a survivor, doesn't it? You know you will survive, so you have the luxury of being either side, or both sides at once.

There is a road just north of where I grew up, a dirt road running nine miles through the wilderness, that once housed an entire settlement. Now all that is left are the cellarholes of farms, schoolhouses, taverns. These people moved on when the Ohio valley and beyond opened up. They felt Chocorua's curse on their farms, tiring eventually of pulling one granite boulder after another out of the sandy soil in a vain attempt to plow. They kept the exodus going after the Civil War, taking their doors and expensive windows off their hinges and frames, leaving the snow and rain to sift in and quietly pull the houses apart with soft fingers. In the heart of what used to be a town there is a tall rock where a minister famously spoke in good weather to the congregants below, exhorting them to cling to each other in the wilderness. It is still known as Pulpit Rock. If you go there you can hear the river bubble on the rocks nearby, and hear the wind in the leaves.

Our house was built in 1780. A man named Sturtevant climbed an enormous pine tree and surveyed the land around it, eventually building several houses, including ours. It served as a summer camp for girls from the nineteen thirties to the nineteen sixties. Supposedly the girls dressed as Indians and rowed out on the lake in canoes. They had rituals and songs about warriors, adventure, and magic. They gave themselves and their lodges Indian names.

In the fall when I was little we gathered the flaming orange and yellow leaves from the road for our school bulletin boards. We made Indian headdresses out of construction paper and string. In late October or early November the chill might warm for a week or two to 60 or even 70 degrees--Indian summer. Some said it was called that because the warm weather had meant new attacks on white colonists. Indian summer was a scary time once.

We played on stone walls covered with moss and thought nothing of it. When you walk in the woods up there, even in dense trees, you will cross stone walls. Beautifully built stone walls that remain sturdy and thick, stretching on over the tops of the hills. And you know that you are walking in someone's field, and that it has been reclaimed these long years past by the trees and the pine needles and the underbrush. I wonder if these farmers thought they would stay forever.

I'm not sure what kind of alibi or consolation it is to remember the Indians like Passaconway, who could have wiped everyone out but chose peace. I'm not sure where it gets you to think about why people like disidentifying with the rulers they are and identifying with the people they have wiped out. I like to think about Passaconway, though. I wonder why someone so powerful and intimidating chose diplomacy and forbearance.

I remember the giant pine trees in our driveway at home, sighing in the wind. Sometimes you could see the silhouette of a great horned owl in one of them. Of course we never felt like pilgrim stock. We were children free on the land. We were powerless yet we had all the wealth of exuberant childhood, and all the righteousness of people who were not grownups. We had survived the centuries to be there, yet we would never forget what the land whispered to us, or so we thought. We were so American. We were Indians, with Pilgrim futures. We still are.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Breaking the Syndrome

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If you are anything like me, you experienced a roller-coaster feeling on Tuesday night. By "roller-coaster" I mean that mix of queasy and happy, alien and familiar in your stomach that started to set in as the poll numbers came back. Like a middle-aged person who has found love again, I felt hope, and it was a strange feeling.

Remember 1992? Remember how it felt after the bleakness of the long Reagan-Bush era to see the country choose someone intelligent, liberal, vibrant, and in touch?

That night I celebrated with friends now long gone from my life, sitting around the tv with champagne and cheering as the states came in for Clinton. I was just thirty years old and the country had come to its senses for the first time since I had been old enough to cast my vote at eighteen for Jimmy Carter in the Reagan landslide.

I don't even have to say how much has happened in the last fourteen years, besides pointing out that I can't believe it's been fourteen years. The personal and political tragedies that have ocurred in the interim seem common to people all over. Very few of us have not lost jobs or seen our wages stagnate or fall. Some have gotten rich on real estate, but not the people I know. My friends have battled depression, illness, unemployment. When we looked to the national mood, it routinely confirmed the bleakness in our hearts.

There was little joy in soldiering on, though we did. Of course Howard Dean was ousted by the crypt-keeping party elite, the compromisers and slick operators like Kerry and Hillary who sold out so long ago they can't remember who they were. They voted for a war we knew was wrong, and what was worse, we knew as we watched them that they knew it was wrong, too. We watched them lose and we didn't care. They were a bad TV show we dutifully sat down to because it was a habit from younger days and there was nothing better on. Like ER.

So last Tuesday was a revelation. As the numbers came in and I watched the tide turn, I felt something lifting and moving away. People were coming to their senses. They finally saw this administration for what it is--an abusive husband who isolates you from your friends, beats and exiles your sons and daughters, cuts your spending allowance while demanding more and more of your labor, lavishes scarce resources on opportunistic cronies that prop up his masculinity, and pays for his self-indulgent new gadgets by mortgaging the family farm.

Like battered wives, the nation returns over and over again to these strong men, these people who threaten you with fear and violence, who take from you and tell you that you need to be taken from, who tell you that you are evil and immoral and must be punished. Republican hegemony has created and played on the masochistic psyche of our guilty culture. We know we are pillaging the earth but we don't care. Beat me daddy. I'm a bad, bad girl.

After a while, though, even whips and chains can become routine. So maybe our bored consumers are ready for a less perverse adventure in political optimism. Maybe they are ready to like themselves enough to end the ridiculous blood and penance kick of the post 9-11 neofascists, and get on with being grownups in a morally-nuanced world.

How did you feel when you watched the tv this week? Surprised? I would like to say that this feeling I experienced when I saw state after state turn blue was happiness, or even exultation, but I think it was more basic than that.

I think I just felt relief.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ima peach

Thanks Hilaire and LucyRain for this fun test.

The Peach
Random Gentle Love Master (RGLMf)

    Playful, kind, and well-loved, you are
The Peach.

    For such a warm-hearted, generous person, you're surprisingly experienced in both love and sex. We credit your spontaneous side; you tend to live in the moment, and you don't get bogged down by inhibitions like most women your age. If you see something wonderful, you confidently embrace it.

Your exact opposite:
The Nymph

Deliberate Brutal Sex Dreamer
    You are a fun flirt and an instant sweetheart, but our guess is you're becoming more selective about long-term love. It's getting tougher for you to become permanently attached; and a girl who's in a different place emotionally might misunderstand your early enthusiasm. You can wreck someone simply by enjoying her.

    Your ideal mate is adventurous and giving, like you. But not overly intense.

DREAD: The Battleaxe

CONSIDER: The Peach, The Playstation, or The Window Shopper

Link: The 32-Type Dating Test by OkCupid - Free Online Dating.
My profile name: sfrajett

Monday, October 16, 2006

the competition

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After working all weekend to revise legal writing memo number one, due today by noon, I have a little breathing room. Property is cancelled this week, although there is a makeup Criminal class tomorrow in that time slot (but not today! and not Wednesday!) I could be studying Contracts, but I'd rather blog.

Contracts gets me down. I enjoy the reading so much and I hate the class itself. Contracts is evil. Something happens to my mind when I get there. No matter how much or how little time I spend on the reading, I always feel blank and unbalanced. Today we did math. We calculated, or attempted to calculate, damages. We read a case where a lady had bad plastic surgery and ruined her nose. The doctor had promised her beauty and perfection, and delivered disaster. We had to plug in figures and variously calculate restitution, reliance, and expectation damages for her. I missed that she would still pay the hospital, since she was actually suing the doctor. How did I miss that? Dumb.

I think I have mentioned that the girl sitting next to me bugs me. She started out nice but then I think decided that I wasn't very smart since I never answer his questions very well. So she is snappish. I think she worries I'll ask her for something. Competititive people are like that. They always worry that in a world of finite resources, someone will try to take away from them what they have justly earned. I don't want to think about her. Why do I have to think about her? I feel this way about school often. I can't keep myself apart enough to remain unruffled by the bizarre emotions of these first-time graduate students. If I try to hang out with them, though, something is never right.

There she sits, typing furiously next to me in two classes, three days a week, driving me insane.

We are different species. She is trying to be smart, but she talks like a Valley Girl so the boys will like her. I have spent my life learning to be critical, and I don't care who knows it. Her smile is brittle under the strain of trying to seem nicer than she feels herself to be. A lot of the things I say and think would be considered mean and judgmental, or "too intense," by people like her, people in their twenties. She is compulsively overprepared. I gave up briefing cases weeks ago when I realized that it took up enormous amounts of time merely for the benefit of helping professors teach their classes by calling on you and having you recite facts. She is the kind of girl who would have a Mean People Suck sticker, or at least, agree with it. I am a mean person. I suck.

I like to judge people, measure them, put them in categories, find their limitations, then fall in love with them when they try hard to be smart, or interesting, or kind. I like passionate people. I like people who are messy and unruly. You would think this was the very definition of a young person, but in fact, young people are rigid. Very young people are still worried about what other people will think of them. Other young people. Their professors. Job interviewers.

When people, any people, are worried about what other people will think about them, they make you feel that way, too. You know the feeling--you suddenly feel too loud, too cynical, too fat, too old, too learned, too butch, too opinionated. Too much. People in their twenties can make you feel like that. A lot of women of all ages make each other feel like that. Women in general have a lot in common with twenty-somethings in the way they monitor other people's behavior. Women are idealists. So are twenty-somethings. Idealists want a utopia. They want purity and goodness. They want to uniformity so that the rules can work. They also compete with each other. Monitor, compete. Two sides of a coin that replicates itself, mother to daughter, down through the ages.

Men, they are angels for remembering to breathe. But women? They'll drive you crazy. They drive me crazy.

GF came to visit me for the first time this weekend. She has offered before, but I have insisted on getting the hell out of here instead. This weekend she had a conference paper to write and wanted to work in the law library. We spent the whole day Saturday sitting quietly next to each other getting work done. It felt heavenly. Getting her away from the stresses of our apartment--two needy Siamese cats and a running toddler pounding the upstairs floorboards day in and day out--made us both realize that we enjoy each other a lot. Even just sitting quietly, working.

GF and I fight sometimes under the strain of it all. Not this weekend, thank goodness, but sometimes. She calls me a beast. I call her a horrible person. At some point it blows over like a summer storm. It is never about anything except its own energy released. The energy of idealism, of being nice, of being women. Women and lesbians in a stern world.

I think maybe it is the best kind of feminism to fight with women, to tell them what you think of them, to forgive them and love them again, to let them be themselves in a world where only men are allowed to march differently. I wish I could crack the manic achiever facade of the mad typing girl. I wish she would blow up or calm down. Throw things or laugh. If she did we could be friends. But her mask is tight on her head, and she's not coming up for air until after exams on December 16th. Tll then, we'll be at an impasse--she with her pursed lips and flying fingers on one side of the long table, me with my rolling eyes and slouchy sweaters on the other side. Worlds, genders, generations apart.

Unless I kill her first.

Monday, October 09, 2006


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Half way through our second section of Contracts, the room started to get tense. Forty minutes earlier I had asked someone how far she thought we'd get in the reading. She looked down at my open page covered in highlighting. "Oh we'll NEVER get that far," she assured me. I certainly haven't read to where you are. If we do, you'll be the best-prepared one!" I laughed uneasily. I wasn't so sure.

Thirty minutes in, the professor called out a case and page number. I heard several indrawn hisses from the seats around me. The girl next to me muttered "Oh Jesus" under her breath. Suddenly I realized that the whole class was worried. Would he get beyond where anyone had read, or would he stop at the very precipice of our preparation?

We marched on, working our way through the textbook. I watched every minute tick by on my computer clock. On through the cases I knew, into the thicket of discussion notes and hypotheticals that provided filler. One note concerned a man who checked a parcel of furs and sued when the checkroom lost it. The checkroom insisted that the disclaimer on his ticket stub amounted to a contract. The case referrred to a "bailer" and a "bailee" in a most confusing manner. The language was convoluted and archaic, and included several confusing court results. The appellate judges had disagreed about whether the man should get a thousand dollars or 25, as per the stub disclaimer. I had barely noticed it in my careful reading of the surrounding cases.

"Ms. Sfrajett." My heart stabbed. I felt it stab. With five minutes to go, he called on me.

No problem. I scanned the case. No highlighting. No notes. Why had I not written any notes? He asked me who won. I couldn't say. I read it again. I gave one result, but that wasn't the one he meant. He badgered me for the final ruling. I swear I couldn't find it in the oddly-worded argument. One guy piped up from across the room that it was hard to tell what it said. The professor moved on, just as I found the answer. The court held that the ticket was not a contract becuase the ticketholder thought it was just a ticket. But I was too late. I remained an idiot, unredeemed in the eyes of my peers. The ex-English professor. What a joke!

Class ended and the room erupted. I heard one woman behind me complain bitterly that she hadn't been able to tell what he was asking when he called on her. She said she knew he thought she was stupid.

I didn't think she was stupid. I don't think anybody else did, either. The person I had spoken with in the library laughed about how she had nearly peed herself when he started jumping pages. I laughed back. What can you do?

I thought about the guy across the room who had piped up in my defense. The relief when class ended was palpable in people's voices, as they rushed out of the room in a warm wind. I felt it all around me.


Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Gay Wedding

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Last weekend, gf and I flew to Massachusetts for a gay wedding. I remember getting the first draft of the ceremony on email a week or two before. "Oh no," I told gf, as I gazed in horror at the clauses of a Pablo Neruda poem, something codependent about your hand being my hand and my hand being your hand. "It's so . . . sentimental!"

I also freaked out about the date. A whole weekend spent travelling in the middle of the semester. Flights with two legs each way so we could afford them. A day of missed classes on Friday, and Monday morning missed as well. And what--with my year of overweight unemployment wardrobe--to wear?

"Why, why do gay people have to get married?" I wailed. Why indeed. Weddings are a drag. At my sister's wedding, my mother freaked out and wouldn't let me stay at the house. All the lesbians sat at one table together. None of us felt very comfortable dancing. Weddings seem always to be more for the older people than the people getting married. Weddings are about the fact that you made your parents happy
1. by actually finding someone unwary enough to marry you
2. by giving them the occasion to show their own siblings and cousins that they are not such dysfunctional parents that they can't produce reproducers, and
3. by giving them the chance to look as if they are big spenders.

Now, a gay wedding to go to, for one of my oldest friends. The first gay wedding I'd ever been invited to, and that rarity of rarities besides, a LEGAL one. I'd been asked to co-officiate. Because I don't live in Massachusetts, I couldn't be the "official for a day" that married them, but I could help the official. I could write something sweet to say. Ugh! Now I had to find something to wear AND do wedding homework.

GF and I flew into Providence and were picked up at the airport by friends of my friend. They had an SUV with a navigation system that talked. They had named her Dolly, and we joked about what would happen if Dolly snapped. What if you caught her on a bad day, and she was drunk and maudlin, feeling unappreciated? Would that calm, valium-coated calm crack? What if we took the opposite route from the one she patiently outlined? Would she swear at us, or pout quietly? Would she take her revenge by luring us somewhere completely out of our way?

Not having many friends wealthy or bourgeois enough for SUVs, let alone with navigation systems, GF and I marvelled at Dolly, and the lesbians who used her so callously. We patted the creamy leather seats and laughed at all their jokes. Later that afternoon, we marvelled at the big bed and breakfast on Buzzard's Bay where we had luxurious rooms paid for by my friend, who wanted us to come and knew we couldn't otherwise. You could see the ocean from the windows at the headboard of our king-sized bed. Lesbians with money. How dreamy it felt to be swept into the soft rush of comfort, where material things were mostly taken care of and people were free to focus on their emotions, their friendships, their families. How nice to escape our apartment where bored cats clamored constantly for attention, and the toddler upstairs regularly erupted in a lengthy, head-splitting trot up and down the entire length of the apartment.

GF always seems to look nice, and has a decent wardrobe of teaching clothes and snappy outfits she pulls together on a shoestring. I have one suit and a bunch of polo shirts, but that suit jacket and a brief trip to Dress Barn Woman resulted in some passable ensembles for the dress reheasal dinner and the wedding day itself. The couple who drove us and another couple we knew were staying in the B & B with us. We all drank champagne and chatted in our underwear as we changed for dinner. Suddenly, it was festive.

The dinner was at one of the brides' family house. We all showed up in our suits and drank up their liquor and ate and ate. We made my friend getting married sing Vikki Carr--something she used to love to do 20 years ago. She pretended to protest, then sailed off on "It Must Be Him," accompanied by the rest of us in a rousing chorus. It was a brief, but very welcome camp moment, a female impersonation of female impersonation that offered a respite from the lovely soft normativity of it all. I kept looking around and pinching myself. "It's a gay wedding, " I wanted to say out loud, to the various people I didn't know but tried to chat with. It didn't feel any diffeent from any family event, any wedding I had been to. But it was.

Later that evening, all of us rather drunk, our group sat alone with the brides and talked about relationships. I couldn't believe they were actually going to be able to be legally married in the morning. It felt like something that happened to other people, people on the inside. Not to people you knew well. I found myself looking at them speculatively. I felt like they were different from us, would always be different from us now. They had turned their backs on the sexual revolution, on the "We don't need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true" era of Joni and Janis. They were moving away from the radical sexual politics of the 90s. They were taking vows to be monogamous, to join their stuff together.

They were matter of fact about it, but I wondered whether we would do it too if we could, and how it would feel. I thought about what it feels like to be defined by a lack of options, and tried to imagine the choices I would make if I had them. I gave up because I just couldn't imagine what it would actually feel like. if I could imagine such a thing, would I be a lesbian any more? Or something else?

I became acutely aware of my own guardedness. I am always guarded around straight people--the more normative they are, the more guarded I am. I suppose this is something like the way people of color feel in crowds of white people, though with differences. Some straight people are cooler than others, but few of them get how it feels to be a freak on an everyday basis. Accomodating while being fiercely ourselves is the balancing act of our queer lives. Don't worry, boss, we're really ok EVEN THOUGH we are gay. Don't worry Dad, we won't embarrass you, and you might be surprised how much you like hanging out with us. Don't worry, student of mine, I am your out professor but I really am thinking about World War One poetry right now. It's ok, girl who sits next to me in my law school classes, my body space won't take up too much of yours.

Gay people live like this all the time. We get on a train, and people stare at us, and we pretend not to notice, or care. We get gas in a rural area and leap back into the car as fast as we can. We smile, or don't smile. We try not to seem too comfortable. We rarely say hello to people's children, even when they say hello to us.

At the wedding we were surrounded by lots of heterosexual family, in this case the local family of one of the brides. Family usually means high guardedness mode for me. These were not artists or intellectuals, either, so there were no real bohemian queerish exceptions. They were resolutely normal, married, with kids and houses and jobs. BUT they were there for a lesbian wedding. The secret was not only out of the bag, as it usually is, but it was the subject of the event. The subject.

Can you dig it? That means even the thinnest layer of genteel closet that stubbornly sticks to the social relations around any event not dominated by gay people was GONE. I'm talking about decorum, about social logic, about the truth of relationships. The center was gay, you see. No one could be erased. The species in the center defined other parts of it. We were not aggregate particles, but the main event. And that, my friends, was mind-blowing. That was was made everything lurch slightly out of its normal perspective into something shaded differently. Gay people were not a majority of the attendees by any means. But we were not a minority, or outsiders, because the rules defining us as those things were not possible given the nature of the event.

When the violinist started playing and the flower girls sullenly tossed their petals, I felt like my whole body was being squeezed. My throat closed with emotion. My friend came down the aisle to stand in front of me, escorted by two burly gay men. I blinked back the tears that welled up immediatley with the first strains of music. I looked around, and everyone was blinking back tears. Then her lover came in, and walked down slowly, with a sideways smile. Friends came forward and spoke about the two of them, and about love. I was supposed to speak about evolution in relationships, but having consulted with GF, decided Pater's exhortation to live each moment today was better than talking about measuring a relationship by its pastness. Burn with today, I told them. Let today pulse through you.

Then it was time. We gave them the rings and they said their vows. "Now you will shelter each other," we told the two women getting married that day. "Now you will not feel the rain." Everyone held their breath.

The woman co-officiating with me then tried to say "By the power invested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" but her voice broke at "Commonwealth." Everyone let out a sigh. Sobbing, she squeezed out "I now pronounce you married!" They kissed, and all you could hear was sniffling in the room.

And then, a loud, long cheer.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

google book search and irony

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Is it weird to you that the school that didn't tenure me bought my book for its library? Just wondering.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


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Property was cancelled today. That meant that my entire section--60 people, or 1/3 of the Class of 2009-- got out of school at 11am instead of 2:45pm. I haven't see such hilarity in years. I actually heard one guy tell his friends he was getting drunk before noon. I don't think he was kidding.

Sometimes the sections are broken into half sections for smaller classes. My half section--A1--went out to lunch together to celebrate our good luck. We sat at long table in an Italian restaurant and ate pasta and chatted.

It felt so nice to actually talk to people. One girl said we should try doing this once a month.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

remote control

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Getting my first paper back is a good occasion to blog about what it feels like to be a student again. I look at the short, loopy cursive messages tracing the borders of my Legal Writing assignment, a "single case analysis" that examines a situation in light of a precedent case, and hypothesizes how that situation should turn out. "Good that you use a direct quotation here!" it applauds on the first page. "Clarify," it commands, elsewhere.

Going to law school is a schizophrenic experience. The first half of the week, I hate it; Thursday and Friday, I like it very much. I find the reading fascinating; I'm not so wild about wandering the halls as a student. I like getting lost in the material; I hate how in order to do it I have to drive away from gf, both of us inevitably in tears.

So my ups and downs have a lot to do with leaving home and getting ready to return; with tough material and material I feel less alienated from, and from the simple material effect of scheduling and endurance issues. Still, I spend a lot of time thinking about being a student across the divide from the teacher. I think about what it means to have the norm be 23 years old, and how that might make some teachers feel as if they are talking to children, or building knowledge up in a person with nothing for a foundation. I suppose I am talking about infantilization, but I am also reaching for something about the powerful effect it can have on students when they feel constructed by their teachers. Constructed as tedious morons, or as remarkable young people, or as an odious task to get out of the way so that research can be done, or as sensitive, lovely thinkers.

How do you think about your students? Do you think they know?

I have Contracts on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings from 9 to 9:50, and again Monday afternoon from 4 to 4:50. Property is also on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, from 1:30 to 2:45. When I come back from seeing gf for an all-too-brief weekend, I face a dreary first part of the week. Contracts is taught by a renowned expert in his sixties who flees the room as soon as class is over. Today it was my turn to be called on, and I did the best job I could presenting the case, in which a man read a newspaper ad for mink stoles on sale for a dollar at Abraham and Strauss on a first-come, first-served basis, presented himself, was told the sale was for women only, and sued. I successfully contrasted it to the Nebraska Seed Company case, pointing out that the mink stole advertisement was clear, and for a stipulated item at a specific price and quantity (unlike the Seed Company case, where the company got off the hook when it couldn't fill a customer order because the amount of seed it offered for general sale was not specified). When Professor Contracts asked me what the point of the first-come, first-served stipulation was, I had already answered the question (a specific amount of goods) so I thought he was asking something else, maybe about performance. When I attempted to explain this, (the customer presented himself, which satisfied the requirements for performance on his part) I was told with some disgust that we all knew the definition of first-come, first-served.

Later I asked a question about the wording of an acceptance and whether it constituted a closing of the deal or merely a preliminary negotiation. I asked it to get back on the horse, but it wasn't satisfying, even though he liked the question.

Property is taught by a corporate gal who makes very detailed lecture notes. She is still unsure of herself, though very interesting to listen to, and very smart. It is clear that she wants the class to like her, but she also wants them to be a little afraid of her. I try to volunteer examples in her class, but I think maybe I'm stating the obvious. Her voice always drops, almost to a whisper, when she reluctantly says my last name. She has never been unkind, but she has a way of making me feel like it is probably better just to keep quiet and continue typing my notes. Mostly, I do.

The second part of the week is much better. Torts is Thursday and Friday mornings from 8:30 to 9:45, and Criminal Law is Thursday and Friday afternoons from 1:30 to 2:45. I like both of these classes a lot, mostly because I like the teachers as well as the reading. Torts is taught by a guy with a fabulous flair for absurdly ridiculous hypotheticals that get more and more outrageous over the course of the class period; Criminal Law, by a precise, very smart prosecutor with faint traces of a Maine accent. Both of these teachers are very kind. There is something engaged about them--a genuine interest in the students they call on. They like what they do, and they like the people they teach. You can tell. Their classrooms are more relaxed, but no less rigorous. Most of the time, people are raising their hands to volunteer answers. When these professors call on you, you feel as if it is your moment to shine, to engage the material. NOT your moment to fail. These professors are comfortable in the classroom, and comfortable with themselves. They are passionate about their material, and not afraid to show it. They like their lives. They like us.

I'm sure it doesn't hurt that both Torts and Criminal Law are concerned with the vagaries of human nature, but this doesn't entirely explain the dread I feel in the beginning of the week, and the happiness I experience on Thursdays and Fridays. What I am trying to say, perhaps not successfully, is that it I can pretty much tell how the teachers in my large lecture classes feel about individual students, about their roles as professors, about their classes. I can tell which professors are enjoying class and which think it is a bother. And this affects how I feel about being there, about myself, about my capabilities and what I know.

Did I mention that some classes make me feel stupid? Worthless? Like a loser? Other classes I feel excited. I am not threatened by what I don't understand; only intrigued. I sit on the edge of my seat, sometimes talking, sometimes not, but always in the fray. I feel lifted up and carried along by someone else's mind, by their expertise. At the end of class I realize I have been flying.

So this is what it feels like. Throw in a Legal Writing class Tuesdays from 3 to 3:50 and Fridays from 10 to 10:50, and a Legal Research class Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 10:50, and you have my schedule for the week. These last are gnat-like classes that fly around my head and pester me while I am trying to get the work done for the big classes that will determine my life. These little classes are basically pass-fail. These are the classes that my heart longs to love, since they best resemble what I am used to in academic work, but I cannot love them. They require a stern eye and a cold cheek. Turn away from their voluptuous primary- and secondary-source siren songs, their vixenlike concise arguments, and master the other material that you will be evaluated on at the end of the semester. In one. Single. Exam.

Did I mention that the entire semester hinges on one single exam in each class?

So I don't like being a student, but I do like learning new things. I don't like the pressure, but I do like the accomplishment. I don't like the student-teacher divide, the strange passivity that can be enforced in a classroom, the odd disconnect that happens when you become part of a bullied mass. The solidarity of that mass with each other. The silent compact not to speak under such conditions.

I like being in a classroom where that isn't happening, and oddly enough, when I am in this better classroom, I feel the divide between teacher and students disappear. I know it is gone because I am no longer thinking how much it sucks to have lost my job, to be stuck in a classroom feeling like an idiot. I forget. I marvel at the patient logic of law and its painstaking rules. I get lost in ideas, and contemplate marvelous machines.

When I was teaching, I used to complain about students who seemed to have a "remote-control" attitude, where they got to sit back and watch me dance and perform for them. I felt harried, defensive, judged. Now it is easier to see what kinds of teaching contributes to that, and what breaks it down. Sarcasm, disgust, and condescension build it up. Zany humor, earnest engagement, intellectual and moral passion, self-deprecation, and mutual respect and admiration break it down.

It's what I think I always knew, but from where I sit now, it's just as plain as day.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

the few, the proud

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WARNING: This isn't one of my serious-type posts, where I try to be all artsy and tie everything up in some profound bow. This is a newsy, slightly bitchy post. I hope that's ok, because I am feeling slightly bitchy a lot these days, which means you have to listen to it but hey, it's better than depressed. For me, anyway.

I went to my first meeting today. No, not THAT kind of meeting, though after this weekend's multi-martini bender in Midwest City with GF and my best friend from out of town, I probably should go to one of those meetings. No, today's meeting was a chance at last to meet GLBT people at my school. I have been looking forward to it. The group calls itself SOLIS, which stands for something I've already forgotten having to do with Sexual Orientation Legal whatever. I find this acronym very interesting, because it sounds so, well, solitary, which is exactly what I've felt here. Note that the usual name for the gay groups in many law schools is OUTLAW, of which there are chapters all over the country. Now, besides the sly nod the name gives to the way gay behavior has been criminalized in the past, OUTLAW is also a cool acronym because it sounds very OUT. SOLIS, on the other hand, not so out. Maybe masturbatory, as in one of my favorite nineteenth-century euphemisms, "solitary vice." But not exactly loud and proud.

Ok, so I used to teach English, and I'm a little heavy with the close reading, which law school is only intensifying. But I go to this meeting, and there are twelve people. I know, you're wondering, "Where's Jesus?" Me too. But besides this, I'm wondering why the hell there are only twelve gay people in a college of 680 J. D. students and 37 L.L.M. students. To make my heart sink even further, the president of the group applauded the "large turnout."

So you're doing the math, and you're coming up with about 717 students, right? Ten per cent of which, if Kinsey is anywhere near the mark, should be gay. That's 70! Five per cent if you credit recent scholarly insistence that Kinsey overestimated his one in ten. That's 35! Half of that is, well, you get the picture. We didn't even get half of that. The twelve of us waited for our pizzas to arrive (pizzas are apparently the way they get you to show up to organizational meetings at my school), and introduced ourselves to each other. It wasn't hard. And you better believe I memorized each name there like it was my secret agent password to get me out of the war zone.

Now, I understand that the law is a conservative profession. I understand that my school is in the cornfields. I understand that even the people that make it to law school as out GLBT folks tend to stay in big cities, if only to stay alive, get a date, and not go ballistic when they walk by the Federalist Society organization booth.

But we are a public institution less than 150 miles from one of the largest cities in the country. I couldn't help it. Yes, I was crabby. "Is this it?" I asked, loudly. "Is this really a large turnout?"

I regretted saying it almost immediately. Some of the people in the room got that sad, shamed look in their eyes you see when country people think you are making fun of their town. I grew up in the country, and I don't think city life should always or even ever be the measure of value and sophistication. That wasn't what I meant. Certainly this college town is fairly urbane. When you go to the Panera (ok, now I'm getting that look in my eyes) you can see a mix of people that includes genuine farmers in jeans and John Deere caps, ladies with long white hair who look as if they have looms in their houses and pottery wheels in their backyard sheds, Sikh men in turbans, hippies, many different people of color and families of color, professor types, student types, graduate student types, people who haven't quite figured out how to leave here and get on with their lives, people who are various combinations of several of these identities, and more.

In addition, our law school is in the top 25, top 20, or top 15 of the 200 law schools in the country (depending on which ratings system you go to). I certainly don't feel as if this is a second-rate or backwards place. And yet.

Twelve people.

The good news is, I could probably take over the gay organization if I wanted. Hell, I could crown myself Queen of the Night and drop down to my seat in Contracts every morning riding a crescent moon. But all of this doesn't matter if there are no subjects to rule. Where are they? Did they not come? Are they not out? Or--and this is my favorite theory--are they so young and so interested in NOT being alternative that they aren't out yet even to themselves?

On the bright side, I met some very nice people at the meeting. One went to my undergrad college, though much more recently than I--aged thing--did. Two knew people in common that I am friends with at Elite University, though as teachers, not friends in the way I--aged thing--know them. One went to the MidAtlantic university as an undergraduate where I--aged thing--got my PhD. The 2Ls and 3Ls planned barbeques and happy hours, talked of getting a speaker or two, and invited the 1Ls to visit a firm in Midwest City in October.

The best part, though, is that several people in the group are 1Ls, which makes me think that even if Jesus doesn't show up for one of our meetings, talks, barbeques, or happy hours, we'll somehow figure out how to keep our tiny sect alive here in the coming years.

There's my moon idling outside to rapture me off. Gotta go read Torts now, but next time, I promise to tell you all about how truly creepy it is being a student in the machine that is the law classroom.

I won't make you wait long, because it is bugging the hell out of me.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cocktails in cyberspace

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The hardest part of law school is not the reading, or the sleep deprivation, or the Socratic method, or even living 150 miles from GF and cats in the middle of the cornfields. No, the hardest part of law school is socializing.

Socializing? you say? I know--how lame is that? I have always been proud to think of myself as one of the lesser misfits of academe. To me, at least, I was the girl who could make conversation flow in a standing group of painfully awkward cup-clutchers. I vowed never to be one of those professors whose every social interaction was defined by their role as a teacher or mentor. You know who they are. They date graduate students because they like their intimacy peppered with some kind of professional security. Call it emotional tenure, if you will. In social situations, they lecture people because they are used to it. A friend of mine calls this "talking in paragraphs."

As I write this, I remember that lately I have become aware of my own tendency to talk in paragraphs, or not talk at all. I think maybe I am not so cool as I once thought. At a certain point, I fear, we all become a little teacherly in our lives. These days I find myself frighteningly out of my element. In law school, you are supposed to bond with your classmates. The school tells you that this will get you through, that your study groups will help you excel, that your law school friendships will last the rest of your life. But few of my classmates are older than 25. In fact, a large number of them have come straight from undergrad, despite encouragement on the part of the law school that everyone do something else for a year or two. I don't know what to talk to them about. I worry about seeming lonely, which I am, or tolerated, which would be worse.

I went to a social gathering at a bar during orientation week and anthropologically observed gender behaviors I hadn't seen since high school. Girls in skimpy, singles-bar wear. Boys acting gruff around the girls and each other, trying to be cool. Eventually I found the nerds and married people, but the nerds didn't really want to talk, and the married people sat stoically try to make their husbands or wives not feel excluded. I drank too much and tried desperately to make conversation. I asked people about themselves. People kept asking me about books. The best conversation I had all night was about Joyce, but I think it was more of a lecture than a conversation, though that is of course what I had been invited to deliver. I defended him passionately, then felt sick inside. I had talked too much, and in paragraphs. What if being a teacher meant that the only thing interesting about me was what I could tell people about books?

So right now I want to meet people but I don't really like softball. Beer darts? Do I really have to play beer darts? Lately I have taken to sitting in the atrium and reading, hoping that casual conversations might happen. When one does, I try to pitch in, or laugh, or just remain good-naturedly on the fringes, if that seems right. Today a couple of us passed around a crossword puzzle, and it felt like a major intimacy victory.

The other day I realized I am old enough to be their mother. That my mother was my age when I was one of them.

I try to strike up conversation with a former philosophy grad student. He is 24, but always seems older to me. I feel encouraged when I pass him in the hallway and he stops to talk.

"I'm not sure what the right thing to do is when I see people I just talked to a half an hour ago," he said. ""In these small sections we all keep running into each other. Should I stop and talk or not?"

I laugh, warming to this one. "I know!" I say. "I'm actually wondering how to communicate with people when I feel like everyone's idea of what socializing is is so different. Like, is socializing different for 40-year olds than it is for 23-year olds? Or are we all just eager to talk about the same things?"

"Well, he says, "I guess talking about talking is what you and I talk about."

"Oh, but that's very meta, so I don't know if it counts," I say. Then I add, because I like talking, "Well, I guess if you have already talked to somebody just a few minutes ago, then you can just nod if you are busy and on your way to do something." I know I sound stupid but I'm trying here, ok?

He laughs. "So since we talked here, next time I see you I'll just nod, ok?"

I nod back, but now I feel a little dizzy. So I just had a conversation about NOT having conversations?

It's all too much. I duck into the library and open my laptop. The screen lights up, and rooms telescope out from the back of my computer like a long, familiar corridor. Are those your names on the doors, you bloggers? Are you typing away or reading in your offices, studies, bedrooms? If I think about you all I hear voices, like the voices that echo in a house at a party, and the tinkle of glasses.

I think I hear your voices, familiar voices talking about books and crushes and jobs and graffiti and how much families can drive you up the wall, and children and how much you love seeing them grow up, and how sad it makes you. You talk about your pets. You trade music and poems and favorite movies. You worry and drink too much and work and laugh at yourselves.

I am still in the library, but I am somewhere else now. I know you all are out there, talking to each other and to me, humming, living your lives but touching other people you've never even seen in important and sustaining ways.

I feel lucky to know you. In the rooms you have made, all of you are conversational, strong, and graceful. None of you are clutching your cups.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

First week

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"Property Owner" by Andy Dixon

My first week of school was one of the longest weeks of my life. It began with Contracts at 9am in a big auditorium. The teacher is an older guy who looks like the "kindly drill sergeant" character in a war film--stern, unapproachable, ready to take you down for the good of the unit, but all about your growth in the end. He wants us to know words like "demur." We spend an hour on the idea of consideration, or the grounds for evidence that a contract was made. Consideration might include a promise for a promise, a performance, or a bargain. Gifts are not consideration. We look at examples of people caring for their neighbor's escaped bulls, of secretaries' pensions bestowed by grateful CEOs and rescinded by skinflint grandsons, of grandmothers who promise money to grandchildren on the condition they refrain from drinking and using tobacco. Professor Contracts interrogates several of us during the class, but his questions are fair, and if someone clearly does not know the answer, he moves on. He does not, thank heaven, call on me.

The next class is Property. It is taught by a woman who looks to be in her late thirties, a slightly hard femme, very corporate, skin evened out by the best cosmetics. Looking at her you do not have to be told that she worked for a major law firm, that she did the partner track, that she has handled important accounts and made bundles of cash. Professor Property did not make partner for some reason, though she seems like someone a law firm would find very useful. Like many lawyers who leave high-pressure firms for better lives, she is trying her hand at teaching.

From the start of the class it is clear that Professor Property believes in property. Although she passes out short readings (Bentham, Blackstone) reminding us that property cannot exist without the law standing behind it, property is for her far more than a legal fiction. Her eyes flash at the mention of encroachment, her voice loud and strong when she speakes of ownership.

I begin to realize that I actually think deep down in my heart that owning things is wrong. Especially land. Who in the world imagines that they actually own the earth? We are all caretakers, or should be. Pillagers, too often. But owners?

Yes, I believe I feel the gentle stirrings of rebellion in my heart. Still, once you have the system in place, you have to think about its rules. We discuss a case where somebody builds a wall on his property line, and his surveyor messes up, and the foundation stones of his wall jut one inch into his neighbor's yard. The neighbor sues and the court says either the wall has to come down, the one inch of land be sold to the wallbuilder, or the offending stones chipped down. The neighbor won't sell the inch and won't allow the builder to come over and chip away the stones, so the only thing left to do is tear down the wall. The judge, in disgust, splits the court costs even though the builder lost, largely just to penalize the cranky neighbor for being so difficult.

Professor Contracts asks who among us think such a small encroachment is still significant. I raise my hand. After all, an inch is an inch.

Then she asks who thinks it's no big deal, and a number of hands go up. She seems surprised. "Really?" she asks. Then after a moment,she says to the people still holding their hands up, "I'm just curious. How many of you are Democrats?"

I can't believe I heard that one right. I watch as a guy with his hand up who I know is a Mormon snatches his hand out of the air like he'd been burned. I don't think anyone has ever called him a Democrat in his whole life. Later I overhear him talking to another Mormon guy about starting a Republican Law Students club.

Professor Property laughs, pleased with herself. "I just like to test my theories sometimes," she says. I think about how her theories are wrong. After all, I'm practically a socialist, but I think encroachment is encroachment. Mormon guy is obviously a right-winger, but he thinks small encroachments can be handled reasonably between neighbors. You can't make generalizations about people's politics, and you really shouldn't make snide comments about people's religious or political beliefs in a classroom. But what do I know? I'm back to being a student myself, and my job consists of trying to tell professors what they want to hear on exam questions.

A friend of mine who went to an elite law school told me that there were things he liked about being surrounded by conservatives. He said it helped him define for himself what he really believed in.

I think I'm beginning to know what he means.

Friday, August 25, 2006

bedtime blessings on a friday after my first week in law school

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Ah children, such sweet greetings. Sfrajett is very tired. She has spent all week determining contract consideration and property lines and tortfeasors and whether or no you can arrest child molestors for sexual fantasies. GF is passed out on couch. I am home for 2 days. I will tell you stories tomorrow. Thanks more than you know for the beautiful trumpet carillon of welcome, and welcome back, and welcome to the new year to come. Tomorrow, stories. Sleep on, my fellow-journeying friends. I am so glad to have each of you out there, no matter which patch of territory this mission has parachuted you towards.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

the perils of orientation

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Late summer has come and gone, and many of us can no longer pretend that the beginning of a new semester isn't here. The difference for me this year is that I am not going back to school to teach it. The old sfrajett has finally left the building. Last week, she bought a new computer, took a carload of stuff downstate, and re-entered the front door as a student. Take Rodney Dangerfield, reimagine him as Phyllis Diller with spiky hair and a nose ring, and you have me, middle-aged and paunchy, trundling through a sea of young, thin, glamorous, incredibly normal twentysomethings at the beginning of their professional lives. Ye gods.

The trip down was itself an excercise in the dangers of being different. Trying to avoid construction in the city, I took an alternate route and ended up lost for an hour and a half in the strange sprawl that bleeds south of the city into the cornfields. Why oh why couldn't I just stick to the script, obediently following the line of cars moving slowly through the dusty sheep pens of changed lanes and orange cones, patiently waiting my turn? Lost, on strange roads with numbers I didn't recognize, I called gf, who patiently helped me navigate with help from google maps. I finally arrived at my new house at 8pm, met the roommate who owns the place, decided he was incredibly sweet, and proceeded to miserably unpack my room. I put flannel sheets on my bed because they seemed soft and comforting. I put a few lamps around the room to get some low-level illumination ambiance going on.

The next day was the first of two packed orientation days for 1Ls. From 830 to 5 we were welcomed, exhorted, flattered, warned, and celebrated. They fed us sandwiches. They reminded us of the next day's mock class. They invited us out to bowling and miniature golf that night.

I returned exhausted to my new house, where I live with three other students, all of them boys. But more on that later. I sat down in the livingroom to watch the finale of So You Think You Can Dance, knowing that my gf and friends in Chicago were all sitting down to watch it together at the same time. I pretended I was with them. I decided to stay in and reread the case we had been given for the mock class, the landmark 1974 New Hampshire labor case Olga Monge v. Beebe Rubber Company. Turns out Olga gets fired because she won't go out with her boss, so she sues NOT for sexual harassment, because such a thing didn't really exist yet, but for breach of employment contract. The NH Supreme Court upholds her lower-court victory, but takes some of her damages away, reasoning that she should only be entitled to lost wages under a contract dispute, not compensation for mental suffering. The decision changes labor law because it argues that an employer cannot terminate an employment contract for bad faith, malice, or retaliation, and that the public has an interest in the fair balance of employer and employee rights.

Next day I nearly oversleep, spring out of bed, slug down some coffee, and dash to day two. There is some anticipation about the mock class because the professor leading it is known as a tough and entertaning interlocutor who chooses his victims according to whimsical categories that appeal to him at any given moment. So for example he may choose students with the same surnames as baseball players or movie actors. Today he has chosen students with common last names, such as Jones. One duplicate name strikes him because, unlike Smith or Jones, it seems unlikely to turn up twice in one class, yet has. This name is Chamberlain. I sigh in relief. My last name, while English, is rare.

Having chosen a Jones and a Chamberlain, he proceeds with his interrogation. What are the facts? How do we know? What is at stake? What is the new rule of law fashioned here? How would this new rule apply to different situations? "Can an employer fire someone because he doesn't like them?" he asks. He decides to muddy the waters. "Can he fire someone because they are stupid?" There is some discussion about whather or not "stupid" constitutes a category of incompetence that could justify termination without malice.

Then he decides to get outrageous. "Ok, so what if Olga is a lesbian?" he asks. "What is the difference between firing someone because they are a lesbian and firing someone because they are stupid?"

I sit there, the only recognizably out lesbian or gay man in a sea of 188 faces, and think about why this example is still ok to bring up as a marketably entertaining example of minority status. If he had asked about Olga's race, he certainly would have been more circumspect about the proximity of color and stupidity. If he had said "gay" instead of "lesbian," it wouldn't have gotten laughs. He says "lesbian" with a big round "L," the way some people say "ho-mo-sexual" with emphasis on every syllable. Pronunciation makes the word strange, unpracticed. Pronunciation can imply that the speaker is unused to this word, and by association, the idea it conveys. At least he didn't say "one-legged" or "one-armed," the way so many people using the lesbian example often do, collapsing disability and sexual variation into one steaming, hilarious package.

The students he calls on are a little upset by the juxtaposition of his examples. One boy stutters that you can't discriminate against a lesbian because sexual orientation is something that a person can't help. "What about stupidity?" the professor asks. More laughs. The boy clarifies his argument, pointing out that lesbianism doesn't affect job performance, whereas stupidity might. He is indignant. I feel that the heart of the class is with him. I love him very much at this moment, and think that this generation of young people is lovely.

But there is that little matter of his argument about what you can and can't help. I ponder it as I sit in my seat towards the back of the auditorium. It is much easier to defend a quality that someone can't help having than a quality they choose. This certainly explains why the gay rights movement has jumped on the biological determination bandwagon in the last few years. But is it fair to defend people's right to be different only if they can't help it? What if Olga chooses to be a lesbian? What if I do? Do I still get protected from hate speech, employment discrimination, violence?

And why is the best and "funniest" example of true minority status still the one-armed lesbian?

Monday, July 17, 2006

I Guess Gay Doesn't Mean Happy

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The incredibly tedious Opening Ceremonies to this year's Gay Games should serve as a stern warning about the terrible price of mainstreaming. For four excruciating hours on Saturday evening, my butt sweated on a hard plastic chair in Soldier Field in 90-plus degree heat as I watched what can only be described as the most miserable high school assembly I have ever had to attend. And the worst part is, I actually paid to be there.

Not so much money as the participants, who should be howling that the best part of the show happened long after they left the stadium, which they had to do if they were competing in the next day's 6am triathalon. Not so much as the suckers who coughed up 100 or 150 bucks a seat. I bought my tickets Friday afternoon, shelling out 35 per plus handling fees for two mediocre seats above the timber line of the stadium. That night, I watched in horror as fistfuls of free tickets were given away at the bars in my neighborhood, apparently because saner people than I had just said no to the 35-dollar base ticket price.

I should have known this was a bad sign, but I consoled myself with having donated money to a "good" cause. And drank another double pint of Harp.

Next day, with enough free tickets in our hands to gain separate entrance for each one of all our various limbs, should we choose to play twister among the stadium seats, my friends and I climbed the ramps to the top of Soldier Field. At 8pm, the start of the festivities, the seats were still fairly empty, though that changed in the next hour to about half full.

The sun was sinking behind the Greek pillars at the top of the old part of the stadium, and it was a beautiful, if sultry, evening. I admit I had my fears when I looked at the organization of the program: five parts to the ceremonies, each with its own theme. First, a "Prologue," with speeches of welcome and the procession of athletes from all over the world. Megan Mullally was supposed to say something.

Second, "Exclusion" would feature a dance of some kind, Kate Clinton, a song by Andy Bell of Erasure, and four legends of women's music--Holly Near, Barbara Higbie, Nedra Johnson, and Teresa Trull. Hmmm. A little slow, but I guess there has to be some solemnity, right?

Then I saw that the third part of the program was called "Oppression."

Oh, no, I thought. This is going to suck.

"Oppression" looked like it would go on forever. Scheduled were speeches by James Hormel, and George Takei, another Andy Bell song, a tribute to Tom Waddell, an award in his name, more speeches, a Jody Watley song,a "rainbow run" against HIV and cancer, and something with the AIDS quilt.

Then would come "Expression." This would feature more dancing, a song by Heather Small, a song by Andy Bell, some marching bands, and Margaret Cho. Are you counting? Are we done yet? Hey, Margaret Cho will be there! How bad could it be?

Oh, then there would be "Ignition" and the lighting of the torch. Cool! I love giant torches!

So the program starts. The athletes march in, and it's really nice to see so many people from so far away. China, for instance. A huge bunch from The Netherlands. Bulgaria. One lone guy from Uganda with a handwritten sign who got a huge ovation. More people from California than from all the other countries combined. Until Chicago showed up. Twenty-one hundred people from Chicago.

The lights go off and all the athletes are holding variously-colored glowsticks, to form a giant rainbow flag on the filed. Cool! How did they get the bands of color so nicely organized? You can see a fuzzy approximation of the colors in the tiny picture above that I took with my cell phone.

Megan Mullally was in a hot little black and white dress and spike heels so high she looked like she was on point. Her voice was rich and warm, and she was relaxed as she slammed the Rupublicans for the politics of exclusion. She was great. We loved her.

Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. I'll summarize by saying we sat though interminable sad and angry speeches. Even Kate Clinton wasn't funny--she just spoke very slowly about how hard it had been to be a female athlete when she was young. OK Kate, but can you tell a story? You were a high school English teacher once, for crying out loud! Can ya give us an illustrative example? It's 92 degrees out here and the only thing to drink is Miller and Bud Light! Pleeeese!

At some point an actor read a gay boy's suicide note. An angry woman raged about the Bush administration. Someone started a speech and I heard, faintly, a man's voice in the stands screaming "We Know!"

Unfortunately, nobody heard him, and the speeches droned on. Andy Bell kept appearing with listless disco anthems. Everyone was wilting. The four women's music ladies belted out an extremely depressing a capella "We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives," putting the "eee!" in "cliche."

The dance numbers were, well, odd. They featured people in strangely caped costumes and one lone guy in a t-shirt that looked like an International Male take on the wifebeater, and this guy kept flexing his arms beseechingly at the heavens. Maybe he was imploring the Goddess to end it all with a hailstorm. At one point Greg Louganis gave out an award, but I couldn't hear anything because my head had melted and collapsed like a candle.

"Good luck with this," some cute boys said, gesturing at the field as they left the row next to us. By the time the gay marching bands, drill teams, and flag twirlers came on, it was past 11pm, and lots of people had fled the stadium in disgust. The bands were great but my ass was permanently stuck to my seat, and a thin plastic veil of heat grime covered my face and neck. How had we fallen so far? Where was the irony? Where were the drag queens, for heaven's sake? Gays were the people responsible for the best entertainment and cultural production of the twentieth century, and THIS was the best we could do?

The whole thing reminded me of that dreadful queer tv show from the early 90s, the one that took itself so seriously and tried so hard to be politically meaningful and socially non-offensive that it was unwatchable. What was it called? Ugh.

The marching band was terrific. Where had they been for these long three hours? Just as they began making formations, a streaker ran across the field. Everyone perked up immediately.

The streaker surrendered quietly to security guards at the other end of the field, and I blessed him in my heart for having remembered how to be entertaining.

Margaret Cho commented on the streaker, noting that when she saw his balls whizzing by her face, she knew she was at the Gay Games. Everyone laughed, probably because that was the first they had heard of it. Gay? Up until then, a Promise Keepers rally would have been more exciting.

A cool acrobatic troup in tighty whities rolled hamster wheels around the stadium, then somebody lit the torch, and eventually some real pretty fireworks went off, but by then everyone was cross. The worst moment was being one of five people left in the entire stadium to applaud the last song, a terrific number by the Gay Games Mixed Chorus, who sat there all night in long-sleeved white clothing only to have ABSOLUTELY NOBODY left to hear them perform.

Which brings me to my question.

Why does every gay event have to look like every other gay event? Is an athletic event the same as a Pride March which is like a protest which becomes Take Back the Night?

Why Exclusion AND Oppression? Is it worth being pious if you make everyone so angry and bored that they associate politics with torture? Should people pay to be tortured like this?

Okay, those are lots of questions. But seriously. The "real" Olympics pays tribute to the courage of athletes without making us watch two hours of clips about Bosnia and footage of the Olympic hostages. The "real" Olympics has a sense of the balance between respect and celebration, politics and triumph, tragedy and hope. Where were the gay and lesbian athletes that felt not only the agony of defeat, but the thrill of victory? Billie, Martina, Greg, Brian?

Most important of all, where were the drag queens? Drag emcees? Baton twirlers? tumblers? Female impersonators?

Even Janet Jackson flashed some booby at the Superbowl.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Insensitive, or Just Bad Timing?

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Is it me, or does anybody else agree that it was in really poor taste for the New York Times to publish, in the same week that both New York and Georgia rejected same-sex marriage, Maureen Dowd's insipid column today about heterosexual married couples getting all giddy about amalgamating their last names?

Whether we agree with marriage or not, it is hard not to feel disheartened and depressed about this week's bad news. New York decided that heterosexual unions are less stable than ours, but that the children of heterosexuals are more worthy of state interest and protection than the children of same-sex couples. The New York majority decision also recirculated the unproven assumption that children who grow up in heterosexual households are better off than children who don't. The "truth" of this assumption will be news to people who grew up with fathers or mothers who beat them and raped them while their opposite-sex spouses looked the other way. Apparently half-baked, unproven moral opinions are suddenly valid if uttered by judges. But I digress.

I didn't link to it because it's on Times Select, so unless you are paying for the paper I don't think you can read it. But it doesn't matter, cause it's stupid, and I'll tell you about it here.

To begin by adding insult to injury, Dowd titles her piece "A Tale of Two Rachels," leading many a reader to wonder, hope even, that she was really, for once, talking about two women. Maybe even women in a couple. But nope! Fooled ya! She's talking about a married man and woman who decide to make their first and last names the same! How freakin' hilarious is that! The woman takes her husband's last name, and the husband takes his wife's first name--but ends up only using it as an initial, to avoid problems making plane reservations! So he's still a guy on paper, and she's got his last name!

Those heterosexuals are so rad! Changing society one custom at a time!

Another couple decided that the wife would legally change her name to his when they had kids, but keep her "maiden" (ya, right) name as her professional moniker. Amazing!

The only guy in Dowd's account to truly change his last name is Tony Villaraigosa, the mayor of LA, who by all accounts seems like an ok dude. Yay, T. V.! You got a pretty name out of the deal, too.

Changing your name is icing on the cake, the mere symbol of the union already recognized by the law, the state, the church, the families, the neighbors, and everyone else, when one is legally married. It's frivolous and fun, and anyone who wants to do it should have a good time being inventive.

But seriously, kids. Is this the right week to gloat about it?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

what happens in vegas, stays everybody else's access to marriage

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So New York decides not to extend marriage to same-sex couples on account of how the blanket of marriage seems too small to cover those darn impulsive straights. With three in the majority, one supporting, and two dissenting, the court argued that opposite-sex people need marriage because they can accidentally become parents at any time, while same-sex people cannot:

"These [same-sex] couples can become parents by adoption, or by artificial insemination or other technological marvels, but they do not become parents as a result of accident or impulse. The Legislature could find that unstable relationships between people of the opposite sex present a greater danger that children will be born into or grow up in unstable homes than is the case with
same-sex couples, and thus that promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships will help children more. This is one reason why the Legislature could rationally offer the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples only."

I so wish this would mean that infertile couples now can't marry, and post-menopausal women can't marry, and impotent men can't marry. What if you couldn't marry if you need a surrogate, or in vitro fertilization, or fertility treatments of any kind? Or if you're old? Or if you need Viagra? Or if you've had a hysterectomy, or a vasectomy, or had your tubes tied? Or if you're on the pill? There'd be hell to pay, that's what.

It's clear that there's a willing blindness here about non-reproductive heterosexual sexual activity. After all, as the judges argue:

"A person's preference for the sort of sexual activity that cannot lead to the birth of children is relevant to the State's interest in fostering relationships that will serve children best."

The decision later takes up the question of excluding childless straight couples and dismisses it by arguing that such an exclusion would be too intrusive. Apparently, however, it's not intrusive to prohibit gay and lesbian parents from marrying. So the possible but unlikely children of childless het couples are more worthy of potential protection than the actual, living and breathing children of gay couples? Or is it just that straights are way more unstable, as a rule?

And does this mean that marriage will be extended to polygamists? After all, if anybody is engaging in sexual activities that could lead to accidental and impulsive conception, it's those Big Lovers, right?

I think it's time to hurl ourselves into the fray, and I encourage all of you to out every straight couple using birth control to your local officials and representatives. Those of you who prefer oral or anal sex, or do use birth control, or cannot conceive without performance-enhancing drugs or fertility treatments, you are on notice. Your parasitic enjoyment of the rights and privileges reserved for breeders is over, your queer status now about to be revealed as anti-American and selfish.

Meanwhile, we lezzie girls need to throw a sperm-wrestling party or two, while the homo boys can play "surrogate toss," if they can find women willing to be human horseshoes. These diversions should up the accidental factor enough to get us our piece of the marriage pie, and also prove an entertaining spectacle. Cheer up, queers. Summer picnics in the park are about to get a lot more interesting.

Friday, June 30, 2006

dyke march saturday

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Oso raro's lovely tribute to gay pride moved me to relate my own pride story, or Pride Eve story, about Saturday, the day before pride, which in some cities is dyke day. It's dyke day because it's the day of the dyke march, a tradition that started for me back in the early nineties in New York City, when the girlz decided they needed their own parade of power. I remember marching up the big avenues behind Lesbian Avengers waving giant guns. My friends and I applauded the energy, but guns? we wondered. Weren't we supposed to be a GENTLE Angry People?

This year we faithfully turned up for the dyke march in our city, a much smaller affair up in the northern part of town. Yes, we have Dykes on Bikes. No, we don't have a lot--maybe ten bikes in all. But the ladies are tough as nails, and the bikes are almost all Harleys. They rev their engines and send smoke and fumes into the air, and everyone screams and swoons, and it's good unclean fun.

There are placards, and a few organizations, and people on the sidewalks wondering what we are marching for. There is a group of drummers on the corner making sure we make the turn heading down towards the lake. There are women wearing nothing but crosses of electrical tape over their nipples. Some of us exchange stories about the awkwardness of running into students who insist on hugging us in their electrically-taped dishabille. One of us reflects on the perkiness of young breasts, observing that if she taped Xs on her nipples, no one would see the tape, since everything would be pointing down and hanging so low anyway. Several nod mournfully.

One of the benefits of being older and more experienced is realizing that you can do the main part of the march, then avoid the boring rally afterwards. Also the participants there are 20 years old. This is new to them. We, on the other hand, are hungry.

We cut out, find a cafe, and eat nachos and drink a couple beers. Then it is time to check out the festivities in the neighborhood. Lesbians from the suburbs have flocked in to socialize with other lesbians at bars and boring parties in parking lots where you pay 10 dollars to hear a cover band that sucks, where everyone is a stranger (not in a good way), and a plastic cup of Miller runs you five bucks apiece. Meanwhile, just outside Satan's Sandlot, a perfectly nice bar with window seats looking out on the street sits empty. You have paid dearly for a crappy party, but you choose the bar. It proves a good choice.

You sit with your gf and order a drink. Friends see you in the window and join you. At some point the table is full, and more and more women are coming in the bar. We hold the table, sending out scouts for hotdogs, brats, veggieburgers, fries. At some point it is time to have a roundtable. It begins innocently, with the lesbian ritual known as the Feeling of Muscles. Each bicep is flexed and given appreciative treatment by the group as a whole. Workout strategies are exchanged. I wish to point out that the feminine types are the most eager to have their muscles measured.

It is time for the Throwing Out of Topics. We are all trying to play it cool, but eyes are shining. Everyone is revved up to see so many women pouring out onto the streets of our neighborhood. The whole town seems bursting with lesbians. Bursting.

"Vibrators: Blessing or Curse?" is the first topic, followed by "Dildos: Relationship Fad or Fixture?" And we're off.

I'm happy to report that despite some of us grumbling that vibrators have ruined the finesse of lesbian sex (how are those machine-dependent girls ever going to learn technique?) most of us are eager FOH, or Friends of Hitachi, which if you don't know is the Harley of vibrators. Accept no substitutes.

I am also happy to report that while some of us only strap it on occasionally and even listlessly, others among us cultivate a dildo collection with rare discernment. I learned that one way to impress your girl is to carry your toys in a briefcase. Agent 99, we've simply got to go over this paperwork!

As the evening wore on, most of us became more animated, rather than less. It began to dawn on gf and I that this was all adding up to big time foreplay for the couples around us. Even the single people seemed to be planning a hot date with themselves. The final straw was a heated discussion about the best time of the day for sex, followed by an analysis of days of the week. By the time the group broke up, it seemed pretty sure that everyone in the group was going to get lucky that night.

So did we? They? Answering these questions directly can be construed as crass, but I can say with absolute certainty that no one should ever underestimate the empowering effects of sexualized conversation on a group of lesbians sitting in a bar filled with lesbians on a street populated by lesbians in a city euphoric for gay pride. That's all I'm saying.

The next day was fun, but anticlimactic after the night before (cough). We ran into some of the same friends on the street during the pride parade, and we all hung out for a while in the sun. At one point I thought I'd joke with them. "So, was the evening successful?" I asked, laughing. One friend answered me right away.

"Let's just say I told her there was no way she was coming home last night and playing with the dog!"

That reminds me of a good topic for next year's bar panel. "Lesbians cats and dogs: amiable roommates or kinky, furry little voyeurs?"

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


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I take my trip to State School Town to look at housing. The day is gorgeous--partly sunny and dry, with temperatures in the 70s. I dawdle until noon, then finally start on the road.

The day feels surreal and dreamlike, especially because one of the main roads out of the city is under construction, and that means vast tracts of concrete in the middle of a busy highway have become pedestrian squares filled with construction workers and swirling white dust. Driving slowly by in one lane of traffic, I think about walking versus driving, about feeling the ground under my feet, about the engineering marvel of the highway, about Roman times, about the thin wires of technology holding up everyday reality. I remember the time a girlfriend and I hitchhiked to Connecticut my first year of college, drinking peppermint schnapps out of a bota bag by an underpass to pass the time before going back out on the road to stick out our thumbs. When too many cars went by us, she would announce that it was time to take down my hair. I would undo my braid, and shake out my waist-length locks. She was smart. Truckers usually stopped for us right away.

Today I open the sunroof, turn up the ac (a very un-pc trick taught to me by my southern California gf) and crank the tunes on my ipod.

The drive in June is much nicer than it is in March. The fields are kale-green and the sky is big and warm. There are MacDonalds everywhere, though that is not a good thing. I realize I am hungry, stop, buy, and eat a fish filet, and marvel at the angry feeling it gives my body for hours afterward. I am no health food nut, but there is no way that food isn't bad bad bad for you.

I enter town with a map, my face slightly tanned from the drive, and kill a half-hour navigating around. I have lived in towns like this one before. It is pretty and suburban, with shady streets and sidewalks next to real working fields. The University sprawls along the main road of town, its older pavilions and arenas set back from the street. It isn't a striver's school, such as you find in the east, or in the city; it doesn't have to compete with private small colleges or elite universities nearby. This University, the flagship university of a midwestern state, possesses a stately, middle-class assurance, its boundary lines marked with large brick wall-corners like you find in upscale housing developments.

I find my first house--a low, pleasant ranch on a leafy, well-manicured lot. I meet the owner and his father, the first a youngish kid in his twenties looking to find his way in the world, the second his highly successful dad desperate to make sure his son gets a profession. I talk with them for an hour, for once grateful that I am not a boy with wealthy parents. At first I think there is no way I can live here. Let's just say there is no sense of feng shui to be had in the arrangement of furniture in the rooms. Let's just say the father corrects everything you say. Let's say I grow tired trying to introduce topics of conversation. Let's say it's too easy to picture a house full of 25-year-old boys watching football and me, the strange older woman with really short hair, skulking around the kitchen.

After talking with them, though, I look around with fresh eyes. The dad has grilled me, and is satisfied that I am a serious person--a prize, in fact. My PhD apparently means that I know how to study. My age and gender suggest I'm not looking to marry his son. He wants my gravitas to rub off on his progeny. The kid just wants a living situation that isn't depressing. I just want roommates who don't care if I spend weekends away in the city with my gf, or am always in the library, or eat nothing but frozen diet dinners for months on end. I walk outside. Across the street is a field of vegetable plots you could rent if you wanted a garden. A tar running path runs down the road, rolling away towards parks and more fields. A running path.

I remember what it was like for me to live in a town much like this one, years and years ago. Just out of college, starting an MA, I took up running and quit the cigarette habit I began in high school. I remember the cameraderie of that town, where everyone was either a student, a professor, or someone who had moved there for school and stayed there for the quality of life. I remember the bars, the library, the peaceful, disciplined routine one lives on the way to a goal. It was the same when I moved to another state and another college town for my PhD. Classes, then working out, then a quick dinner, then the library. Every day happily the same, with excess and despair pushed to the margins by the the dream of completion. Long bike rides on winding back roads. The hot summer smells of dust and rain and sun on freshly-oiled tar.

This kind of life runs on dreams. The dream of graduation, the dream of an academic job, the dream, now, of a law degree and a decent position back in the city, a new car for the first time in my life, a place owned, not rented. New dreams, but also old ones. I have been here before, taking small but determined steps towards goals that forever recede from me, a Zeno's paradox of progress and delay, desire and frustration.

I have two hours to kill before my next appointment, so I find a coffee shop and order a giant latte. I have a trashy historical romance that I can't put down. My skin is tingling from all these new places. I am already becoming new, or old, or something that feels more realized.

I drive to the next house at the exact hour. It is a big, rambling farmhouse. In the back is a huge lot and a wild, overgrown vegetable garden. Green onions have thickened and shot up four feet high. A squash plant has clambered up the compost heap. In the undergrowth I see two sturdy rows of kale greens.

A very pregnant young woman greets me at the door. She is friendly, foreign. In the kitchen a big wooden table and benches mark a communal space. Someone is boiling pasta. I meet several women, all warm. There are plants everywhere, in the windows, on the shelves. I think maybe I could like it here. Someone offers to show me the house.

We walk back out to the garden. My guide has no idea what is growing there, and intimates that the vegetable garden is a cyclical phenomenon, dependent on the current tenants and their inclinations. Visions of gardening dance in my head. I start cataloguing the vegetables I will grow. A big tuft of tigerlilies sits in the yard, reminding me of home. This is looking good.

The livingroom is my first warning that all is not well. There isn't a scrap of carpet on the well-worn wooden floor. All the furniture is threadbare, sunken, and slightly sticky-looking. Nothing matches. The walls haven't seen paint or paper in years. Boxes and air conditioners sit by the front door, along with a few wooden chairs. The windowsill on the window by the stairs is naked wood, gray and ragged. The sagging, scuffed stairs going to the second floor ring hollow under my feet, like little wooden drums.

Upstairs, the rooms are bare and worn. One bedroom has cheerful peach paint; the rest are in various states of catastrophe. One has a sleeper loveseat for a bed, and papers and empty cups everywhere on the floor. "My" room looks as if a tripping person tried to paint it twenty years ago but kept running out of paint, trying different colors until finally giving up and falling asleep. The ceiling is peeling and hanging down in places. Most rooms have mattresses on the floor. Nobody has a rug, or a pretty bedspread, or a FREAKING BROOM. The upstairs apartment, which has its own kitchen and bathroom, is the homiest space in the house, but occupied.

Slightly disturbed, I go down to dinner.

Everyone introduces themselves, giving charming two-minute speeches. Some of them have come back to school. Some are undergraduates. Some have gone away and come back, unable to find something somewhere else to hold them. Most talk of moving on this month, this summer, this year--to another house, another city, or traveling. They have dignity. They are transient. They come back over and over to live cheap, regroup, reinvent themselves. They ask me about myself and I tell them. They murmur supportively.

I tell them that I like them, and I mean it. They are wonderful, thoughtful, rootless. I wish I could live here. I know I could take over, fix things, clean it up, make it better. Rugs, paint, and little ceiling tape would work wonders. I have enough to do as it is, though. I also have to reinvent myself. I have to have carpets, comfort, a running path, a grown-up life. I drive away into the darkness, gauging how it feels to be going back to the city. I have to imagine coming back, too. In the dark I am doing both, remembering the cycles of leaving and return I have known elsewhere, trying to imagine the kinds of movement that will come.