Monday, December 31, 2007

new year's wish


The old year ends, and tonight we try to remember what we have liked about this year. I celebrate that I am now half way through law school. I am happy that the embryo we are hatching is now officially a fetus. New Hampshire, a bastion of right-wing Republicans when I was growing up there, adopted same-sex civil unions. New Jersey rolled back the death penalty. MLA came to town, and while I feared it would bum me out, the reality of it was much more festive, with houseguests who ventured downtown in the morning and came back in the evening overstimulated and full of gossip. GF and I, aided in no small part by the toll the writer's strike took on our television time, began to read novels at night, staying up till all hours sometimes just to follow a thrilling plot.

Lots of other things happened this year, but pleasure reading is one of the things that is making us really, really happy right now. Pleasure reading makes me hyper-aware that I am swimming in narrative all the time. I have thought more than once that much of the psychic well-being I have felt since starting law school--despite its horrors, including the recognition that my creative, daydreamy personality is ill-suited to the sternly disciplined pursuit of law--has everything to do with being caught up in a narrative of becoming. This, I think, is why so many of us stay in school so long, and even go back. This, too, is why teaching for years and years can grind us down, as it becomes clear we are no longer part of that river of transformation coursing around us. In my last job, I felt like a boat that had run aground. In law school, I am surrounded by people--mostly young people--in the midst of fashioning their own stories. Everything is in front of them. They stand, as their hokey graduation speeches remind them, at the beginning of their journey. Even older students like me feel the infectious optimism of this structure. Though we may have already started their lives, or had whole other lives before this moment, we feel a breathless hopefulness at the destruction of the old predictable routine and the possibility that new and different paths might deposit us on strange doorsteps.

This morning the paper argued that John and Elizabeth Edwards took up politics when their son died in a car crash because they needed to focus on something greater than themselves, and they wanted a way of affecting more than a few lives at a time. This is probably true, but I think taking up politics was also the beginning of a new story for them, and they desperately needed to have new stories at that moment in their lives. It was telling, too, that at the same time they decided to start a completely new professional story, they also decided to have more children, not to mention renewing their vows. They wanted to get back in the boat and sail off once more with a whole saga in front of them, like Tennyson's Ulysses. And in spite of the cynicism around them (and inside them as well), and even despite a terrible diagnosis of cancer, they are caught up in optimism.

I was miserable in graduate school when I was on the job market, and the biggest reason was that because it was so hard to get an academic job, year after year went by without anything happening. Four years, actually. The story of me was stalled. My life felt like it had no trajectory. I just kept writing my dissertation and waiting, waiting for another year and another job list, living in a place where I knew I couldn't put down roots. I remember one winter night, my then girlfriend and I were driving to Macy's to buy silverware because we were so damned bored we couldn't think of anything else to do, and we found an injured cat sitting on the side of the road. That cat ended up infesting two separate houses with the worst fleas you ever saw, but at the time, the whole thing, including the vet bills, seemed wonderful, because something had actually happened.

When I found out this year that GF really wanted to go through with getting pregnant I began to sense what it would be like to have a new story. Courtship and marriage and pregnancy are freighted elements of narrative generation, of course, because they function as intelligible markers of the ways people make new stories in their lives (even if it's the same old story). The point is, it feels new to you, when it's your life, because it hasn't happened to you before. I think this is one of the reasons parents want their grown children to reproduce. Feminists used to point out the irony of marriage as the beginning of the story for women, when for so many it felt like the end; ditto for children. I suppose domestic privacy helped cause this, as adventures in the home replaced adventures in the world for women stuck raising the kids. Maybe the world has changed, but that silence seems to be broken. While people have always talked about marriage and children, they seem to be doing a more interesting and critical job of it these days, so it doesn't feel like the end of the story, but the beginning of a whole new bunch of stories. It could be that they feel more comfortable talking about conception, childbirth, and the work of maintaining intimate relationships because this is part of a conservative moment, and this is what we are all supposed to talk about instead of politics. Maybe I am not only part of a conservative moment, but conservative in many ways. But it feels important, somehow, not because it has replaced politics but because it is going to go on anyway somewhere and we might as well think hard about it and figure out whether it is part of our lives. Non-normative people's lives as well as more normative lives. If a non-normative person makes a life that has elements that are similar to normative people's lives, is that normative? Can it ever be?

Yesterday I finished reading Sarah Waters' Fingersmith, which I had tried to read once a long time ago then put down. This time I found myself relishing not only her various tributes to Bleak House, Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, and Tom Jones, but delighting in the new story she makes those stories tell: namely, the story of sexual passion and emotional loyalty between women that may be a possibility in those other books but never gets realized. She takes the pieces of those stories and puts them together in a way that is anything but conventional. I felt pleasure not only in reading that particular story, and the way she rewrites other stories I love, but in my own sense I have when reading her that I am swimming in her swimming. I feel like she is doing something marvelous for lesbians with that book. As she rewrites these stories, she rewrites our rewriting of all the stories around us into our narratives, with plots often fashioned by others, perhaps, and borrowed by us as our own. Feeling alive depends on this sense of fashioning, and she captures it beautifully, but she also shows the tension of belonging and apartness that is part of so many queer novels.

So I look into the new year wondering how my life will be changed by this time next year. I wonder if I will have a child, a job, a sense of the future. All I know is that everything is up in the air, and that is the best thing. Hooray for plots and counterplots, twists and allusions, citations and doublings and triplings of all kinds! If we are lucky, all of our lives will feel like stories we are taking in new directions, and the new year will be filled with the sense that anything at all that can happen, might.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

7 random things tag

Margo tagged me for this, an even though I should be studying for my Evidence final tomorrow, I'll do it. I'll do it BECAUSE I should be studying for my evidence final tomorrow. Apologies if I have told you some or all of these things before.

Here are 7 random things about me:

1. I have really big feet. They are long and thin and flat, fanning out from my narrow heels and small, weak ankles. I am not a tall person--only 5'6"--but I have size 10-10 1/2 feet. Size 10 men's, that is. That's, like, a 12 in women's shoes, which by the time they get to that size are no longer for women-born women. I once contributed an article having to do with sexuality to a book on shoes, and pointed out in my author bio that I had to buy pumps at stores frequented by transvestites, models, or both. The editor of the collection thought this was hilarious--perhaps because my rather stocky ("husky," as my mom used to tactfully put it) embodiment would never conjure either of these two figures to mind.

2. I have almost no food dislikes. I'll happily consume almost anything. This includes liver, hot peppers, wasabi, anchovies, sashimi, ceviche, snails, mussels, herring. Anything. I like my red meat and fish raw or nearly raw. I adore vegetables and salads--huge salads. The one exception is crackers in milk. When we were small and my mother was working nights as a nurse, my stepfather sometimes put saltines in milk and gave it to us. Apparently he was fed this as a child and thought we would like it, poor man. However, I used to view this "meal" as yet another sign of his sadistic nature, and to this day the thought of faintly salty crackers dissolving in a bowl of cold milk fills me with impotent rage.

3. TV drives me crazy, but this has less to do I think with a critique of its intellectual content than it does with the autonomy issues that arise in the context of family viewing. GF loves TV. I prefer movies. I often watch TV with her, though, and like it. She often accedes to our movie dates with friends. Still, we have an uneasy truce.

TV today is good--brilliant, even. There are shows--lots of shows--I watch regularly. Heroes, Battlestar, Kid Nation, Project Runway--the good and the bad together. But when that thing goes on in your house, you are supposed to drop what you are doing in your life until the commercial break, when you are allowed to talk, get up, get food or drinks, pee. If you leave the scene during the show, the people watching it--and we often have friends come over to watch TV-- feel as if you are not being properly communal. I hate that.

I used to have to watch TV with my mother, and that's probably where some of my resentment comes in. If she was watching "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" or "China Beach" alone, look out--she'd lasso you to come sit with her, at least until the next commercial break. She just wanted company, but as a teenager, I wanted to do my own thing. Of course you don't turn down a request like that, but I remember feeling sullen. Of course, now I'd give anything just to sit beside her for an hour, watching M.A.S.H.. I wonder how she would feel about the sluttiness of Grey's Anatomy.

4. I'm a completely unfashionable person with a keen appreciation for fashion and hair--especially hair. A college girlfriend taught me how to cut hair, and usually I follow hair trends with keen interest, even briefly considering beauty school after I didn't get tenure. Flat feet, weak ankles, and a fondness for cargo pants made me rethink standing on my feet all day trying to look hip while touching the heads of strangers, but I reserve the right to drop my ridiculous intellectual pretenses at any time and just "do" hair.

5. I can teach animals how to do things. I grew up as a rural Four-H kid with horses, and I have owned several dogs, so training animals is second nature. At a dinner party not long ago I taught a friend's dog to "shake" for table scraps, much to their pride and consternation. Apparently he is still hard at it.

6. I am freakishly strong and my sister is too. An ex once characterized us as The Strongest Women Alive. We are both bruisers, like the big clumsy sisters in the Mary Poppins books. I can lift enough weight in a gym to make men stare, and I have seen my sister carry her gigantic six-year-old up and down New Hampshire's White Mountains in a backpack while hardly breaking a sweat.

7. I can draw. When I was a kid I used to draw self-portraits, and if I can get someone to sit for me I can usually draw them pretty well. I seldom take the time for this any more, which is too bad, since it is deeply pleasurable. I painted a nude of GF in oils which I hung in the livingroom, prompting her to ask why when I got inspired did her ass end up on the wall. This is a great question but the painting is still hanging in there. I look at it sometimes when we are watching TV.

And now, back to Evidence.

Which leads me to a final random fact, this one about Evidence, for those of you not in the law loop. Remember all those TV shows with courtroom scenes where lawyers would jump up and say, "Objection! Hearsay!" I used to think that they meant, "Oh, someone is just saying that! They can't prove it!" Which makes me wonder about all the "law" things we see on TV and in the movies that are never defined for us. I think there are a lot of them, and I think it's a little scary that we THINK we know what they are about, but don't. Which is to say, I'm really glad I'm going to law school, even though it it often hellish, because now I get to find out what the heck is really going on. I feel this a lot when I read the newspaper and I understand the point of a story about the death penalty, say, or felony murder.

Random Evidence Fact: Hearsay is an out of court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. We don't like hearsay because we can't evaluate the truth or falseness of a statement made out of court. We want the person who made it to say it in court, and be cross-examined about it. Which is not to say we don't let in hearsay--in fact there are a lot of hearsay exceptions that are allowed in, such as emotional responses("Oh my God! He drove right into that tree!"). But for the most part we are suspicious of it.

File that away for your next episode of Boston Legal.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

what rough beast[s]

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I've wanted to write, but there was so much news I couldn't. When news is about someone else's body, they have the right to control when it comes out. However, sInce the body belongs to GF but she is finally blogging about it, I'm giving myself the green light.

The first time something sparked, it was a magical week. An old friend came to town and dragged GF and I out to a party in GF's old neighborhood. Inside the house were various couples; one older, childless couple really into wines; one couple with a young child; the guy whose house it was, who had two mischievous girls and a pretty wife who looked a little like Tori Amos; and us. I liked this last family a lot--he was a mechanic who had bought a house cheaply and slowly refinished his way to the top floor, and she had a mellow, earth-mother way of letting children crawl up and down her body while she sat or stood, calmly talking. We sat around all night, sprawled on the floor in the living room, drinking wine and eating pizza. Sometimes we talked about children; Tori Amos wanted more, she said, because once you start having them you just want more. GF and I wanted to get to the first part of that equation of desire: we were due to get inseminated for the first time the next morning. The old friend sat in a chair all night, drinking wine and smiling benignly down at us all. The full fat harvest moon floated low in the sky, the dusky orange of sweet potatoes and cream.

Two weeks later we were pregnant. Day after day GF ran to the bathroom to pee on the sticks of various pregnancy tests. She carefully lay them on the window sill, one under the other in rows, each marked with the number of days past ovulation. "11 dpo" showed nearly white, with the strong test line and just the faintest ghostly shadow next to it, flickering in and out of focus like a wish. "Is it positive?" I remember asking, sure I was imagining the second line, or tilting the stick under the light wrong to show the x-rays of its chemical composition and give myself the illusion of a companion line.

"There's no such thing as a false positive," she told me. "If it's negative, it's really solid white." Then she took a stick out to show me the smooth plastic of an all-white untested stick. It was true, then. We really were pregnant.

Another stick followed, and then another. Each day the line grew darker, moving towards us in the white mist. Pink lines. We stared at them, unbelieving. Then, believing. But as suddenly as something sparked, it flickered out, and by the end of the week, the HCG numbers were falling. GF was devastated. It had seemed too easy, then great good fortune, then--though we had only just started--tragic.

When we saw some of the people from that night again a few weeks later, at a pumpkin-carving party, we found out that it had been magical, indeed. Tori Amos was pregnant, her wish for a third child answered in the shadows of that harvest moon. GF counted the weeks she would have been pregnant and sighed. I carved a pumpkin for her at the party from a picture we found on the internet of Grendel shambling out of the slimy depths. GF picked it because she said it reminded her of her theory of writing, where you work and feel anguish and then, just at the brink of despair, you begin to see the first outlines of the beast emerging from the muck. She handed it to me, her eyes shining, and told me she had walked by this house, with its carved pumpkins all in a row, when she used to live in this neighborhood, and had wanted so badly to get invited to this party some day. I gazed at the picture with some trepidation. "It looks complicated," I said. She said, "You can do anything."

So I carved it, half-closing my eyes so I could imagine it on the curved surface of the pumpkin. We won two bottles of wine, so we took them home and left the pumpkin, gleaming in the darkness, on the porch of the lady who had thrown the party. We bought a different bottle of wine called Sinister Hand with a scary picture of a severed arm on it and next day we split it between us, for luck.

Medicine overmanaged our second try; Clomid and hormone shots and multiple eggs yielded nothing. GF ovulated on the weekend, so the second insemination was on a Saturday. The weekend nurse wouldn't look at me or talk to me even when I tried to address her, clearly freaked out by lesbians, or me. She was in such a hurry, in fact, that GF didn't even know when the catheter went in, which seemed more than a little disturbing. The up side, however, is that in her hurry to perform her drive-by insemination, nurse Rachit left behind the vial from the sperm sample, with the birthday of our donor typed on it: 1/1/1965. We had known his age before, guessing that he might be gay, donating into his forties. We chose him for this, and for his piano skills, and because he liked purple and could do long division at five. The Cinderella slipper she dropped in her homophobic haste gave us the added charming detail that he was born on the New Year, with all its promise of hope, smack in the middle of a decade where all good things seemed possible.

We smuggled the vial home, but there were no plastic sticks on the sill that month. GF shrugged, a little worried but not freaked out.

This month fell on the week. GF timed her own surge and went in to inseminate by herself, since I was in school. That night I drove home and we went in together the next morning. Two very nice women did the procedure, chatting and laughing with us. Afterwards one brought in pictures of her son. "This one's going to work," she told us. "I'm crossing my fingers for you both." Back in the house GF asked for a blessing. "A what?" I said. "Say something," she told me.

I put my hands on her abdomen and closed my eyes. I thought about my friend who can't father children because he is HIV-positive, but who was so excited when we told him we were trying that he wanted to buy sperm. I thought about my other friend who wanted children but never had the time in her life and her job for it. I thought about my friend who discovered total joy when her sister had a baby. I thought about my sister, who finally had the baby she always wanted at 39. I thought about GF, wanting children all her life but never having it be the right time, the right job, the right person. I thought about me, so sure I would have children when the time was right, watching that certainty pass away when I lost my job. And now, in a last wild chance, with no money and no certainty, we fling ourselves towards something we can't see, knowing that we have to make it real. GF is going to give herself over, and put her body through all this nonsense, and suffer pills and suppositories and morning sickness and childbirth. I'm going to run next to her the whole way. "Come to us," I told something hovering nearby. "We are waiting for you. There's a circle of people here, and they're all waiting, and they didn't know they were waiting until they thought of you." GF said she felt a jolt in her heart.

So now the windowsill is littered with white plastic sticks. "11dpo"; "12dpo"; "13dpo"; "14dpo" and so on. She only did one a day but the pile on the windowsill made me have a fantasy of pushing in the bathroom door only to find it unyielding, with thousands of white sticks spilling through the cracks out into the hall.

GF's HCG numbers soar, double, double again. On the sill the sticks show the history of lines growing stronger by the day and more solid. We pat GF's stomach and call it Mrs. Dalloway. We thought about "the little nipper," which is what the toxic couple call their imaginary son in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," but Mrs. Dalloway seems more cheerful. When she or he is born, if they are born, we may say "For there she was," even if it is a boy, but for now we are trying to wrap our heads around his or her coming, peering into the future cautiously, but eagerly, the way a person squints at a figure they think they know as it walks towards them in bright light.

Monday, September 10, 2007

9/11 is my birthday.

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The fact that 9/11 is also my birthday might give you some insight into how much my post-millennial life has sucked. Not sucked as much as the post-millennial fates of people who died in the World Trade Center, or people who lost people that day--not even close. Not sucked as much as my mother's life sucked that year, diagnosed that spring with brain cancer and dead by the last dying days of the year. Not sucked like the lives of people at Enron who lost their life savings, or people whose families got torn apart by a member's deployment or injury or death in Iraq. Or poor people everywhere.

As my friend Eric likes to remind me, some people in the world are so poor they live on nothing.

But still. Just because I didn't die quickly or slowly in 2001 or have nothing to eat ever, doesn't mean I don't get to smile grimly and indulge in a tiny, luscious dollop of self-pity when someone hands me back my ID and says, inevitably, "Wow, 9/11. That really sucks."

Which is why this year is doubly amazing to me. Eliot said April was the cruellest month, but he should have said September. September is when the summer ends, when school starts, when the first intimations of how lousy the MLA job list will be start to emerge to darken our hearts. And, of course, 9/11. Recently I added the acronym "OCI" to the list of horrors. OCI means "on-campus interviews," and anyone at all familiar with law schools knows that fall OCI is when the big firms come a-courtin' students with stellar GPAs, ready to offer them a cushy 30K summer job that pays the bulk of their third year of school. Most big firms only hire new associates from that summer pool. Most law schools pretend big firms are the best, the only real payoff for all those hours of studying.

But in reality, very few students get summer jobs from OCI interviews. I went to five interviews and felt sick to my stomach every day. When I realized I didn't have the follow-through GPA to close the deal on the good impression I had made with my interviewers, I felt even worse. When I thought about those uptight people and their high-pressure lives, I felt nothing but misery, but when I heard about people with several callbacks (firm visits) and from that, several offers, I just felt like a failure.

But there are dried tubers in September, and leaves to keep us warm. The last few weeks have been a revelation to me, as I gradually came to realize that now that I didn't have to try for the money, I can do--anything. You have to try for the money, you know. It's just plain irresponsible not to. And if it comes to you, you have to take it. And if you take it and they want you, you have to go to them. And then, only then, do you begin to plan your escape.

But if this passes from you?

You are free.

Lately I've been talking to anyone I can about public interest jobs. About activist jobs. At the height of my post-OCI spiritual revelations I went to Lavender Law, the LGBTQI national law conference, and sat blissfully through an entire day of panels on the exciting issues in queer family law, from surrogacy, sperm donors, and second-parent adoption issues to marriage, estate planning, taxation, and elder law. The speakers were riveting. The issues were riveting. They were not lawyers working at big law firms. They were not academics. They were activists and legal aid workers and family law practitioners and clinicians. They did pro bono work and organizing.

They were the most interesting panelists and panels I had heard since, well, the heady days of the early 1990s, when academic conferences were full of feminist panels and anti-racist panels and marxist panels and people of color panels and queer panels, and none of it seemed tired, and all of it felt like it could change the world. I swear, this felt like that.

And it got me thinking.

Maybe it can be like that. Maybe it still can.

I still don't know what I'll do for a job next summer. I still don't know whether they'll be anything but renting an apartment for the rest of my life and wearing clothes from Old Navy. I've never owned a new car and I probably never will. But the best part is, I think I don't care anymore. There's more to life, as my mother liked to say.

So happy 45th birthday to me. All this week we waited for GF to ovulate, filled with trepidation. What if we couldn't begin IUI insemination this month? Worse--what if we COULD?

The weekend came and went, and with it, enough ovulation predictor kit sticks to build a modest cabin somewhere strange. Two women with PhDs squinted at lines on peed-on pieces of plastic until their heads swam. And then, Saturday afternoon, two solid lines appeared like a tiny pink pathway. The hormone surge! At last!

So Sunday we threw on clothes, grabbed coffee, and got inseminated (well, one of us did) at the fertility clinic, all before 11am. Afterwards we strolled the walkway outside the clinic and watched kayakers navigate the calm waters of the river that meanders through this part of the city. Canadian geese drifted by, and I felt more peaceful than I have in years. I thought about tides, and how they turn, and then I hoped for everything.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Day 3

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It's day 3 of interviews and people are starting to get cranky. Madam Sosostris woke up with a bad cold, and she (I) struggled gamely to emerge from the Nyquil/Alka-Seltzer plus-induced sleep coma in time for today's interview. The interviewers were young alums from my school, and were very nice. My eyes watered the whole time. I struggled to come up with something to do with my face. What do you do with your face when people in interview situations are telling you things? Narrow your eyes and nod. Oh yes. Try not to look puffy, which means pursing your lips occasionally to get some mobility in your face. Bad water retention, OUT! Good suppleness, IN. Dark circles, AWAY. Twinkly eyes of bemusement, SHINE FORTH.

All this while smiling and nodding and thinking of something clever to say. But not too clever. One interviewer began telling me about an important case his firm had argued before the Supreme Court, and I practically interrupted him to gush about how I just LOVED that the oral arguments had been posted on the firm's web site. What is WRONG with me? Too much school, that's what. Just let the guy give his spiel. You don't ALWAYS have to impress people with how thorough you've been. Insecurity much?

I feel like a blurter. In an effort to convey personality, I blurt and gush. I say stupid things like, "Oh, I've made you talk too much already! You have the whole day to get through!" Idiot. You just told them they talk too much.

Tomorrow, just one more interview! Yay!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

naked nose week

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I'm back at school a week early for on-campus interviews. It's odd to leave a place and return three months later as if nothing ever happened, remembering the same highway exits and shortcuts, driving downstate through the farms and fields, all dark green and heavy with the late summer's harvest, to the University town with its sandwich shops and tire showrooms, to the very street and driveway, gliding into the very same parking spot I used all last year. I say hello to one of my housemates, then meet two new ones. I dash into my room as if I'd been there only an hour before--except that I'm dragging a suitcase--and peel off my clothes. With only an hour before my interviews, I quickly change into my suit and apply--horrifying as it sounds--makeup to my feverish face. Face powder to even out the blotchiness, and a little eye pencil for drama. A dark lipstick conveys professional certainty, I wager. I make sure the transcripts I've ordered have arrived, I print out my resume and references on bond paper, and I dash back to the car, clutching my mapquest directions.

I am going less than two miles to my destination, but I just want to make absolutely sure I know where I'm going.

When I get there, people I recognize are milling around in suits. I greet some of them effusively then remember when they answer me with their friendly reserve that these people are not exactly my friends. After a summer with friends, being myself, even making new friends with the incredibly sweet and warm people at my internship, I remember that down here, things are different.

Down one hallway there are interview rooms. When it is your turn to interview, you stand outside the door of the room where you are scheduled. A piece of paper on the wall bears your name, with a time next to it. People in suits stand next to the white doorways, facing each other on the narrow corridor. We might all be in an existentialist play.

Some people are frightening in their suits; others are pretty vulnerable. Some of the men have a gleam in their eyes that says, this is the moment where I become powerful. Their jaws are clenched and their eyes glitter. Other people slump over in their chairs. They lurch out of the interview rooms looking straight ahead, or down.

The women are almost all friendly. They have a gleam in their eyes, too, but they stop to compliment each other on new haircuts.

Everyone is nice while waiting in the hallway. The biggest complaint I've heard so far is having to wear the same suit day after day. I think the people complaining must have a lot of interviews.

I don't. I just have one or two every day. I think I might have gotten these because of the lottery system where you pick your favorite firms, and you have a good chance of getting your top numbers. I got my top numbers. I picked the most gay-friendly firms, the ones that support Lavender Law and the lesbian and gay bar association.

My first interview was with a tax attorney who was also a CPA and did estates and trusts. He was mild, slightly rotund, and older, with pale blue eyes. He said my resume looked pretty public interest, so what was I doing interviewing with law firms? He said it kindly, which made me laugh. I asked him about GLBT lawyers at the firm. He said he was a "G." Then we had a great conversation about how much GLBT law was growing, past the usual areas of family law and labor and employment into estate planning, elder law, and more. I really enjoyed talking with him.

My next interview was with an ex-judge who had gone to work for a firm. She was delightful. When I described myself as older she chuckled and said I was around her age, so I switched my description to "experienced" and "seasoned" and she laughed. She kept pushing me to describe how a social justice-y type like myself would find a niche at a firm, and I told her that universities are large corporate employers too, even if they don't like to see themselves that way, that professors are constantly asked to balance what intellectual and research freedom they have against the financial rewards of doing administration, and thus many professors become very much like firm employees in an effort to make better salaries. I said that professors find the intellectual work they like to do, and that social justice may be in there, but that the pull of the work is what matters most, and that the pull of intellectual engagement can be what makes people find their niche in both academic and law firm settings.

She seemed to like that answer.

I turned the question on her--I felt I had nothing to lose--and asked if she could see me fitting in and where. She was thoughtful. "Labor law," she said, "and litigation, and even in our energy practice. I could definitely see you there."

I know you can't really ask that kind of question in an academic interview, but it seemed, oddly, to work in this case. Plus, it gave me some ideas to mull over.

I didn't feel like the job might be mine. But I didn't feel like I was only a formality.

I enjoyed those interviews. It reminded me, in a good way, of MLA interviews that seemed to "go well." It reminded me, too, that often those interviews don't result in a job, but somehow the civility of the conversation takes the sting away. Not all the sting, but some.

I come home, peel off my suit, and look at my nose in the mirror. I had taken my nose ring out before driving down to school, so I wouldn't forget and accidentally leave it in for an interview. I try to put the ring back in but it won't go. Did my piercing close overnight? I panic, then remember I've had it for at least six years. Sure enough, a straight post goes right in.

I look at myself in the mirror, a forty-five year old woman sticking pins in her nose to make sure she is still who she thinks she is. Maybe I don't fit in to anyone's idea of a summer firm hire. If so, I can breathe a sigh of relief and start looking for public interest summer jobs. The pay might not be great, but the work is supposed to be fantastically rewarding, public interest lawyers are among the happiest lawyers around, and I can probably wear nose jewelry sometimes.

On the other hand, that Summer Associate money sure would help out with tuition next year. Sigh.

I think that perhaps I'll have to get one of those nose screws that slips easily out and back in. You can take it out when you go to work and put it back in when you come home.

Nose screw. What a weird term.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Still Alive

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First things first. Thank you for saying that you like reading my posts. It means a lot to me and keeps my spirits up, not least because you are such smart and interesting writers. I read and reread your comments. Thanks for taking the time to read and write back.

Early August is sliding into middle August. I let them know at my internship that Wednesday will be my last day. I also promised to help on cases down the road. I think I felt like I SHOULD help. I think I feel guilty for leaving a few days early. I have had a love-hate relationship with this job. I think the work is important. I hate the inefficiency, though, of the office mentality that values presence more than work quality, where showing up all day is more important than what you get done. I'm spoiled. I think I have a freelancer's mentality.

Still, it's been pretty interesting to work in an office all summer, to go out to lunch, to have co-workers and group projects.
The good news about the summer's labors is that I got invited to be on a law journal. I also have some on-campus interviews for summer jobs next year, despite being certain that no one would want to interview me. Interviews mean the chance at summer jobs. Summer jobs at law firms mean big money. Big money helps cut down on big student loans.

The bad news is this means I have to go back to school a week early. Interviews are only twenty minutes long, but they are spaced out over four days. After that, there is an orientation at the law journal on Saturday. Monday is the start of classes.

This means--alas!--that summer is over.

I have a few corrections to make to the brief we are filing at work in the Mississippi case. I finished helping out on another brief in an Indiana case. My supervisor tells me there will be lots to do down the road on all the cases we worked on this summer.

I want to end my job today, but I also don't want it to end. Ending means the end of summer, and the end of a liminal time. No job, no money, but infinite choices and possibilities.

I'm afraid of law firms. I'm afraid of tense, mean bosses. I'm afraid of firm interviews. I'm afraid of trim, hard little people in expensive suits who may or may not have wanted to talk to me at all. Interviews on campus are partially requested by employers and partially a lottery, which means they could be rolling their eyes inside as they talk to me. I'm afraid of feeling big and awkward and old. I'm afraid to buy a new suit, and afraid to rely on the old one.

Can suits be lucky or unlucky? I think of my suit as unlucky because I interviewed in it for an academic job I didn't get--a job that was my last hope at the time for keeping my career afloat. GF says the suit is lucky because that job was in a southern state, and how sucky would it have been for me to get that job? So maybe it is a lucky suit, after all.

I am tempted to be thrifty and use the suit again, and buy another shirt to wear under it. And new shoes. The suit is just large and black and sort of polyesterish in that "woman's department-store suit" kind of way. I wonder if I look dumpy in it. Old. Tacky. I think of my trim 20-something classmates in their tight little suits, marching smartly off to interviews, exuding taut control. I am all over the place. Not taut. Not controlled.

I think I want dignity.

But then, when I think about it, the most dignified gesture is often the refusal of dignity. The way a drag queen refuses to renounce the "undignified" choice of wearing women's clothing radiates dignity. So does her choice of the biggest, most garish wig and makeup.

I took a poll about how I should look for interviews. "Would you hire me with white-blonde bleached hair?" I asked people I knew in law school. Young, taut people. "It's who you are," they told me. "You CAN'T not dye your hair."

Though we all agreed that the nose ring should come out just for the interviews. Simple gestures, these weighings and decisions. Right now I'm trying not to think about what it means to take out the nose ring. I don't think about leaving it out for good, but I don't think I'll be wearing it to work.

Yesterday an old friend of GF came to town. He is tall, dark, handsome, and glamorous. He makes lots of money. He works in the beauty products industry, and had two free passes to Lollapalooza for the day. These are the passes that let you into the VIP lounges, where there is free booze, free food, and trailers with air-conditioned bathrooms that have actual toilet paper. Where a ticket for one day runs about 75 bucks, these passes would have cost us $225 each.

GF couldn't go because she has had foot surgery and couldn't walk far. I dyed my hair a bright, bleached blonde, put on my "Homophobia is Gay" t-shirt, and went with a friend to the concert.

The crowd was mostly in their twenties and thirties, mostly white, mostly middle-class, and mostly straight, probably because the music is mostly sensitive white-guy music played by sensitive white guys (although Patti Smith played what I heard was an amazing concert Saturday. Sigh.) Everyone there seemed to be in a good mood, which was remarkable considering the crowds and the humidity. I forgot how old I was, or what year it was. My friend cackled with happiness at our free food and vodka. It was a hot summer night. I watched Modest Mouse from a platform where it was easy to see the stage, then walked from one end of the fair to the other, following the crowds lining up to see Pearl Jam. There was an almost scary number of people. At one point the crowd seemed so thick I didn't see how we would get through it. A woman beside me said "We just stopped here." She gestured to her boyfriend, who smiled sheepishly. "We just couldn't go on."

We did go on, and got a fantastic vantage point on a walkway near the stage. I like Pearl Jam. I don't care what anyone thinks about that. I like Eddie Vedder's voice. I like their songs. There were tens of thousands of people pressed together in 90-degree heat, and no one seemed to mind. I like that the stars began to twinkle over the thousands of people singing "I'm Still Alive," all together, waving their arms in unison. I like that the Sunday night fireworks went off over the lake behind the stage as the band played. The crowd roared, the band sang, and my hair shone brightly in the twilight. It felt like the perfect beginning and perfect end, to summer, youth, other dreams, and other lifetimes.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

a road trip

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I was excited to go home. I hadn't been to New Hampshire in a year. I hadn't seen anyone in my family, or visited my mother's grave, or walked in the woods and smelled pine. I hadn't heard loons, or felt the pleasure of a view opening suddenly in the mountains when you've climbed high and far, and the trees part, and you can see cool blue and green hills rising up into the clouds if you face north, and flattening into the lakes as you turn south.

One summer when I was revising my Big Article, after graduate school but before a job, I went home to work. I climbed a mountain by myself one day, taking two dogs, and was enchanted by the discovery that the mountain I had picked had an alpine meadow full of delicate wildflowers as its summit, like something from the first helicopter shots in "The Sound of Music." I remember sitting in the grass eating my lunch, feeling the afternoon sun burning my face as I looked across at the slopes of Mount Washington. A plume of smoke rose from one side, winding its way around in an upward spiral, and I chewed for several minutes before happily realizing I was watching the cog railway chugging up the hill, taking tourists up to the top of the highest mountain in the east.

When I go back to New Hampshire I think I am trying to get back to that day. I was young enough to take being young for granted, alone but not single, employed but not obligated, hoping for success but willing to appreciate what I had right then. I think up there I was happy. In the mountains, there you feel free.

We left town late for our road trip because we had people over the night before. We had scarcely made it out of town before we hit bumper-to-bumper toll traffic. As we got in line for the toll people started beeping at us. Apparently we had a flat tire.

We pulled over on the shoulder and a man in a business suit asked if we needed help. I shook my head and got out of the car, ready to change the tire myself. As I lifted the hood I saw another man jogging towards us from a car he had parked up ahead. He wore a crushed hat and sunglasses. He looked to be in his twenties or early thirties, and was waving a bike pump. I fished the jack out of the trunk and he tried to pump up the tire, "in case," he said, "it had just gone over something and broken the seal." He never asked if he could help; he just started working. When the hiss of air escaping made it clear we would have to change the tire, he helped jack up the car so we could put on the doughnut. His wife and daughter waited up ahead while we finished, and as we rolled our car back in traffic I waved to them, and they waved back.

We were inching sluggishly towards the toll when he ran up to us again. "Our battery seems to have died. Can you give us a jump?" he shouted. I laughed, pulled over, and trotted back to his car. He wanted to try to push-start it first, so his wife and I ran behind the car and pushed it as he tried to pop the clutch. When that didn't work we hooked up the jumper cables. As we worked GF started talking with his wife, and found out that she had met him because he stopped to help someone on the road, who eventually introduced him to her. I marveled at his generosity. Their car was old and didn't even have hubcaps, and they were on their way to the beach with a child in the back, but they had time to stop and help people, and not for the first time. I'm pretty sure the story of his battery did not end well. You can bet that if his battery died just sitting there for twenty minutes while we changed my tire, that battery was either on its last legs, or his alternator didn't work, or both. But he was cheerful. They were all cheerful, headed to the beach on a sunny day.

After we got their car started we all parted ways, waving and laughing. GF and I pulled off at the next exit. Laziness, indecision, and procrastination meant I had an actual extra tire in my trunk--a remnant from my last flat tire episode, when I bought two new for the front of my car and found myself with an extra. Unable to give away or throw out a perfectly good tire, I had kept it. Now, on a late Saturday afternoon when buying a new tire would have meant hours lost, I pulled into a tiny mechanic's garage and asked if they could put my extra tire on the rim that now held the flat. Fifteen minutes later we were on the road again. I was so jubilant I gave the mechanic a 20 dollar bill for a ten-dollar job, which caused him to smile broadly and make small talk. The sun was shining, we were on the road, and the world seemed full of kindness.

The rest of the trip had its bumps. An hour later I got a speeding ticket, though that didn't immediately dim my cheer. Later that night I took a wrong turn and missed the highway, adding an hour to an already late trip. We made it to the hotel, then had a beautiful drive through Vermont the next day. In New Hampshire, one of my sisters took us on a torturous hike that left me barely able to walk for a week, a hike with no payoff at the top. Limping and grumbling on the way down, we finally found a trail that opened out near the bottom, and we ended the hike walking down a ski area and looking at the mountains all around. There were wildflowers under my feet, and I tried to appreciate them, but my knees were killing me and my back hurt. That sister later decided to act beastly, talking about me behind my back for no apparent reason except that it hurt my feelings and made her feel better about her own disappointments. GF stayed in Boston for a week of research, and I drove home alone for two days in 100-degree heat.

I return home at the beginning of the on-campus interview season, when law firms begin hiring people for summer jobs next year. My first-semester grades make it unlikely that I will get one of these jobs, which can help pay down the cost of law school. My heart swells with anxiety as I contemplate more failures, now with the added burden of vast loan debt and a baby perhaps on the way.

I try to get back to the place where there are vistas and wildflowers, but it seems hard. I helps to think about the guy with the family and car with no hubcaps. He doesn't have much, but he isn't selfish or cautious or bitter, and he still stops to help people. I hope he made it. If he didn't, I hope that somebody stopped to help him. He believes they will make it. He believes that with kindness we all will make it to wherever we are going.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Just Say Yes

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"Tomorrow is Bloomsday," I said last night to GF.
"What should we do to celebrate it?" she asked.
"You should get up, go out, ogle some girls, buy a kidney, fry it up, give the cat some milk, and bring me breakfast in bed and pornography to read," I said.
"Why do you get to be Molly?" she said.
"Everyone wants to be Molly, " I said, "Or at least, they should."
Of course, it's also fun to be Poldy--he gets to go to the beach, and later, to visit the Ladies of Nighttown. But he also has to deal with a lot of assholes.
Molly gets a lot of having her cake and eating it too.

Bloomsday, as some critics have noted, memorializes the first day James and Nora went out walking.
Apparently he got a handjob, which back then was considered a pretty good first date for a man.

What did Nora get?

Devotion, apparently. And she got to be Molly.

Molly is an antidote. Molly feels things but isn't morbid. She's physical but not narcissistic. She indulges herself but also evaluates her appetites. Molly is alive. She goes forward. She makes lists. She keeps in touch with joy.

Here's to being Molly. Lounge around in bed, make someone bring you breakfast, sing operatic and popular songs, flirt all over town, give generously to the poor, be pretty, have wild sex, turn heads, appreciate yourself, and remember why you love someone.

Everyone gets to be Molly today. Or at least, they should.

Friday, June 15, 2007

father's days

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I never imagined myself shopping for sperm. Who does? It's not that I never imagined having children--no, that's not right--it's not that I ever imagined I'd never have children, so naturally the sperm I needed to have the children that were inevitable would find me, somehow. A dear friend, perhaps, would naturally live close enough to make the whim that is a child convenient and easy to express. Because children are whims. They are desires that become real in a flash. Or they are desires that don't, whereupon they become obsessions. I never wanted to be obsessed with having children. I was always too busy.

Honestly, I thought I would have one after tenure. It seemed so much harder to imagine how to get a child than how to get tenure, I thought I'd better concentrate on the one first and the other would follow. One didn't. Then real life became more of a problem, fortunately solved by the copious availability of student loans, which have, if you haven't noticed, been operating for some time to prop up the economy so we don't have a revolution. They are talking now about making student loans harder to get, which I hope they don't because then everyone who just keeps going back to school, like me, or just stays in school forever, like I did, will hit the job market, bomb out because, as we know, there are no jobs out there, figure out that there are no jobs, and join a terrorist cell. Then the shit will really hit the fan.

But back to sperm. The plain fact is, trying to have a successful career--or in my case, an unsuccessful career--means that those baby years sort of creep on by. Suddenly. you're almost 45, and back in school again, and there's just no way.

Enter GF. She's been thinking about kids for a while, and she's only 38. She feels fairly secure in her job. So why not get pregnant? Why not get a baby now?

Well, I'm still in school, for one. But isn't it better to be up all night for ten weeks straight when you're in school than when you're starting a job? You bet. There's never a good time, a perfect time, for a baby. Wait for the perfect time and it will never come.

So she'll carry the baby for the both of us. Cool. But then there's the matter of sperm. I first should say that it's very odd how many people will throw sperm at you when they hear you are thinking about getting pregnant. Really. It's like suddenly you're the girl (or boy) on their knees in the middle of the . . .well, you get the picture. Sorry about that if you're squeamish, but you really can't afford to be shy about sperm, if you want a baby. You've got to grab a jar, metaphorically speaking. SO yes, lots of people will offer you sperm. That's the good part.

The bad part, of course, is that they can get a little get mad if you don't want it. And it's not like you're rejecting only their sperm if you don't take it. Or even them. Or quashing their dreams of genetic eternity. No-- They will tell you that it is wrong to not let a baby know its father, if it is at all possible for a baby to know its father. They will demand to know how you could deprive a child of this. Then they will try to get you to take their sperm again.

I have a problem with this. See, I'm the father, in a manner of speaking. I don't want baby to have another one.

I don't mean I'm the father, really. What I mean is that I am the other parent. There are two parents, primary parents, and I'm one of them. So when people start screaming about the "father," by which they mean the sperm donor, I have to wonder what they think my role is in this whole thing. Housekeeper #2? Second Income Lady? Why in the world does the child need to know its sperm donor?

This is complicated by the fact that it turns out you CAN know your sperm donor father, if you want, when you're 18, if he said it's ok, and your mom paid extra for the sperm. Lots extra. And the weirdest part, is that we--me and GF-- actually went through a period where we thought this was a good idea. So, like, you're supposed to raise your daughter or son and tell them their whole life that they can meet their FATHER when they turn 18. And they build it up and you build it up and it takes on some kind of mythic significance no matter what you do, because let's face it, in this culture all that really matters to too many people is who your father is.

It seems weird. Like there's a shadowy person lurking around for the whole time you are raising your child, a fantasy person, a mystery and site of impossible desire.

I should know. I never knew my biological father. He and my mother divorced when I was a toddler, and he was permanently out of the picture by time I was five. But I know I loved him, I think a lot, and I know I longed for him, for somebody I belonged to, when my mother married a man who found me and my little sister annoying and inconvenient. I wanted someone whose flesh I shared, who would scoop me up and hug me close, unselfconsciously. The romantic ideal of a father. But lots of people have biological fathers they never feel close to, so this normative ideal is only that. I could talk about these things with a child, I think, and comfort them and make them think about all the different ways people make families.

I also know what it is like to have a family where your siblings don't like to bring up the issue of different fathers because it's painful for them to imagine you all aren't totally related to each other. Because they love you that much, and they need for family to be defined more than one way.

What I find interesting about all this is that when we decided to go with an anonymous bank closer to home, one where the children would never know their donor, having a sense, an intimate sense, of the donor became even more, rather than less, important for us. The short file where he talks about his favorite foods and the instruments he plays, where he draws a picture of a cat, becomes even more important to us, since it will be all we have of him if we choose him. These days we find ourself gravitating to the men who write lots down on these forms, who fill out every question, who seem to yearn to communicate something to the children they might have. The ones who have nothing to say we discard. One, our favorite, wrote in answer to the question about what he would want to communicate to us, the recipients of the sperm, "Teach your child the love of a good book, forgive them when they are precocious, and don't let them watch too much television. I hope that he or she brings great love into your home and a lifetime of joy and happiness." Another guy, also a favorite, wrote something similarly sweet and signed it "Love, Donor 220."

Does choosing an anonymous donor mean we don't want to know him? On the contrary--we find ourselves choosing the ones who we feel like we know best, donors who try to let us know who they were as much as possible within the confines of the form. And what is funny is that the things you think might be important--height, ancestry, hair color, skin tone, eye color--become much less important than personality.

It might be that the best thing that could happen to the category of father is that it expands to include mothers, co-parents, friends who participate in the child's life, sperm donors, and more. This could take away the "significance" of fatherhood in a way that would make it more significant and meaningful for families like mine (and, truth be told, like lots of other people's families).

In San Juan last weekend people dressed as sperm and danced in the streets to protest gay marriage and adoption. Hopefully people here could also dress as sperm for the opposite reason--to celebrate gay marriage, adoption, and families of all kinds.

All of which is to say Happy Father's Day--to all the donors, participants, and recipients, adoptors, and mentors for children born, becoming, and yet to come.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

making a window

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I know that I am a bundle of cheer to read this week, but I just heard a cool story. The spiritual advisor of Michael, the guy who is going to be executed tonight, came by the law office. She a Buddhist, which says nice things about Michael. She knows a lot of the guys on the row.

Some of the inmates get to have cats. Michael has a cat named Joker. There are plans to take Joker away tonight and give him to a family member.

The spiritual advisor smuggles in autumn leaves every year so the prisoners can see them. She sneaks them in her clothes.

One old man put them all over his wall, the leaves from every autumn. She said the last time she saw him, one whole wall of his cell was covered in leaves.

a waiting game

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Today at work, life is a waiting game. Every time the phone rings there is hope that some kind of news will stop tonight's execution. We try to read cases, but most of us are surfing the capital defense web sites, looking to see if any of the executions scheduled this week have been stayed. Yesterday the Virginia governor stayed an execution, saying it is only fair for all appeals to be exhausted if you are going to take someone's life. We will be waiting all day to hear if the Supreme Court grants cert or a stay on Michael's case. The press is already calling every hour or so.

Everyone has mostly gotten kind used to the idea that this is really going to happen. It isn't really mournful or anything. Just the sound of the windy rumble of the air conditioner on the wall, and the high whining ring of the office phone every now and then, and murmured voices in the next room. And counting down the hours till lunch.

While we wait I am reading about a woman on death row in the south accused of hiring someone to kill her husband. There is no proof she did so and her son confessed to the murder. The man who was killed beat them both for years and everyone knew about it. There are holes in the walls all over the house from the son punching them in frustration.

He did not get the death penalty but the mother did. She was in the hospital at the time her husband was killed. She had been eating rat poison for years. The judge took ten minutes to sentence her.

One of the guys who has been working on Michael's case for years is going down to witness his execution tonight. The person being executed only gets to have two witnesses. It seems like the kind of thing people should get to see, but almost nobody ever gets to see an execution.

One of the thiings I always liked to talk about when I'd teach Foucault's Discipline and Punish is his discussion of the delicate balance between the display of state power and the flashpoint of the crowd, and how dangerous public executions can be as sites of resistance. I used to talk about the French revolution and how the people eventually became moved and sickened by the spectacle of so much death. I can't help thinking that a few public executions, or simulcast events, would probably be all we'd need to get rid of the death penalty once and for all.

Lots of people are going to be outside at the prison tonight. Anti-death penalty groups will be there, and lots of police and their families are also going to show up. They say the police are going to be holding blue glow sticks to symbolize the thin blue line between order and anarchy that the police supposedly represent. I haven't heard much about protests on the other side.

South Dakota has just "upgraded" its lethal injection protocol so it can start to execute people. Illinois has maintained a moratorium on executions ever since Governor Ryan suspended the death penalty iin 2003 for being too riddled with error to be considered justice.

If there is an execution tonight we get the day off tomorrow. I am thinking about sitting on the beach for a while. I'll feel the sun on my face, and gaze out at the cool water, and listen to the shrieks of children and birds.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

the awful machinery

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This morning when I came to work I met with the news that one of the people we were trying to keep from being executed in a neighboring state had just lost his final appeal in the circuit court. His execution is scheduled for midnight on Thursday.

I came into the dirty office with scattered paper and piles and piles of cases on tables and boxes stacked everywhere with names on them of the different death row defendants. The mood was somber and distracted. I was supposed to read the trial transcripts of a southern woman on death row for killing her husband, but I was distracted, too.

I found a picture of the death row guy on the internet. In it he looks like the boys I went to high school with, the ones with long hair and skinny shoulders and unbuttoned flannel shirts and hairless, board-flat torsos who drove trucks or muscle cars and smoked outside every morning in the smoking area (when high schools had such places). I was afraid of most of them but they were always nice to me. They had fathers who came home tired and dirty, who drank every night and made their sons quit school at 16 to go to work on the road crews, because that meant another paycheck for the family. Those boys came in for cigarettes every afternoon at the general store where I worked on weekends. When they got older they came in for beer, too. They had thin necks and hard forearms and soft eyes and soft, tired voices.

The death row guy has changed a lot since that picture. The ragged mullet is short now. The sullen, leonine face rearing back from the camera is quietly resigned, peering upwards, mouselike. He wears glasses but still has a thin, adolescent beard. His mouth is still uncertain in its expression. Soft. Now he could be a bank teller, or a junior high teacher, or a fast-food franchise manager.

The night that changed his life seventeen years ago he was so drunk he couldn't stand up. Apparently he was in the middle of a custody battle with his ex-wife over his two-year-old son. There was a vandalism call to the police but the police found only a very drunk young man crawling around on the ground near some parked cars, who told them he wanted to lay under them for a while and sleep. The court documents say he was lightly dressed. It was snowing and the men on duty decided to take him in that night for his own good. One officer patted him down and tossed him in the back of the squad car; another got in and started for the station.

The official version of what happened is that another police car on the highway saw an oncoming car slide off the road, and when they got near it, recognized it as a cop car. The driver was slumped in the front seat with gunshot wounds in the back of his head. The drunk teenager was still in the back seat, handcuffed. A gun with empty chambers was on the floor.

After lingering in the hospital for 11 days, the officer died. He left behind a wife and two children.

At the trial, police demonstrated how the teenager could have gotten a gun out of his pocket and shot the driver, though this would have required some dexterity. During the sentencing phase, the judge allowed the victim's wife and his boss to talk about the horrific impact of this crime on their lives. The teenager was sentenced to death.

Later this "victim impact" evidence was ruled inadmissable and harmful, but the death sentence stood.

The boy thrown into the sqad car that night is now 36 years old, and scheduled to die Friday morning by lethal injection. Today the circuit court denied for the last time the petitions filed by his lawyers to stay the execution. Most people hearing about the case think he deserves to die.

This morning we sat in the back room of a tiny storefront office and listened as the lawyer we work for told the death row guy gently over the phone that there was bad news. It was hard to listen to the soft tones of his voice, to hear him trying to comfort the taciturn person on the other end. Men are so often hard and sarcastic creatures. Lawyers especially. The lawyer we work for is sarcastic. He has to be. Listening to his voice being gentle made the upcoming execution real.

The last time this inmate, whose name is Michael, was sentenced to die, the Supreme Court stayed his death with only four hours to spare. He probably won't be that lucky this time.

He says he doesn't remember what happened that night, though he has confessed to mulling over different scenarios in his mind. I think he remembers, though. How could he not?

So the awful machinery rolls on. There won't be a nice public dismembering, frought with political allegory. He is scheduled to die at 12:01 am. There will be sedatives, and a last meal, and a midnight shackled shuffle down a dismal corridor or two. A procession with no bystanders. There will be no sun or moon or breezes. Other prisoners will be angry and sad. There will be arm and leg straps, and numb families sitting behind one-way glass, and fumbling with needles and fluid bags, and flourescent lights. There will be a death like a dog's death, but without the love, pity, and kindness of a dog's death. And it will be supposed to mean something, but it won't mean anything except that people will go to extraordinary ends to make meaning out of something senseless that happened on a winter's night in some teen-age midwestern kid's dead-end life.

They told us at the office to go home early this afternoon. The lawyer I work for tried to straighten up our table before we left. He half-turned to look at a shelf full of boxes labeled with Michael's last name. "We'll be able to clear these out soon," he said, with a short laugh. "We'll take them all out of here and file them away somewhere." He laughed uncertainly again and his eyes looked vaguely around the room, but it seemed like he wasn't really seeing anything that was there.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

it still walks like a duck

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News from Springfield today that the Illinois civil union bill ( HB 1826) has been purged of references to marriage, apparently in an effort to appease those on the right who won't be voting for the bill anyway. The story, by Erik Potter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reveals that an amendment by the bill's sponsor is calling for the 49 instances of the M-word that appear in the bill to be reduced to 3. The right claims this editing is an attempt to fool legislators into thinking this bill isn't about marriage. That's just silly, of course, as the language of the bill calls for same-sex couples to be given all the rights traditionally afforded to spouses. Specifically, the bill would give same-sex couples rights taken for granted by married couples, such as hospital visitation rights, medical decision-making capabilities, and inheritance, among others. No matter what you call it, it is sure starting to look and sound a lot like marriage.

The bill currently lacks the 60 votes it needs to pass, and the legislature adjourns at the end of the month, so it is unlikely that there'll be many Children of the Corn born to legally wedded same-sex couples in the near future. But still, we can hope.

What does it suggest that it is still so amazing that such a bill is out there, whether it passes or not? Kudos to Greg Harris, the only out gay Illinois legislator, for sponsoring it in the first place. Courage such as his is still rare. He seems to actually think a political career is about representing the interests of the people that elected you (blue Chicagoans) rather than people who can get you things (red downstaters).

Whether you are for marriage or against it for gays, straights, or anybody, you have to admit that there isn't much room for debate concerning the relative merits and detriments of marriage when it isn't even a right everyone can choose or reject in the first place. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and writing to reps, but even if the bill doesn't pass I can't help feeling as if this wave is coming. It may take years, but the conservatives are on the wrong side of this one, as they almost always are when it comes to civil rights issues.

The fact that we are even talking about getting enough votes to pass something like this in the heartland, that we are at that stage of seriousness, is happy news indeed.

Here is the link to the story, since I can't seem to get the link to work otherwise above:

Or you can click on my link and look for "civil unions" by Erik Potter.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Happy New Year

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It's finally over. My first year of going back to school, taking exams, reading dense, boring prose for hours on end, watching terrible teaching and wonderful teaching, rolling my eyes at the sea of children in my classes, being humiliated, learning to think like a lawyer (supposedly). In class at 8:30 or 9 every morning, five days a week. Having two or three hour breaks in between morning and afternoon classes that went until 3, 4, or 5 some days, because this incredibly inefficient schedule was deemed to be "good for us." Sitting in a classroom with a frozen, patient smile on my face, being lectured at in front of other classmates who stare at the floor in embarrassed sympathy as a country judge excoriates me for not speaking louder at the podium (apparently no one will ever tell you during oral arguments if the auditorium acoustics are bad. Because it is somehow, always, your fault). Keeping the frozen smile as another volunteer judge, woman who works as a lawyer at the county courthouse, reminds me never to dress provocatively in a courtroom because it is a sexist place. This even though my clothes are so baggy and buttoned-up I might as well be wearing a burqua.

Over the humiliation of being spoken to scornfully by professors. Over the devastation of realizing after getting through forty-four years and a PhD without ever taking real exams, ever, I would have to take said exams, perform miserably, and learn how to take a test properly. Over having my life, my achievements, my career, my talents, matter not at all.

The most repeated phrase I heard this week in the halls? "You never have to be a one-L again."

This batch of exams went better, though the last was not my favorite. I hesitate to think I did better, but I think I did.

Before summer, one last job to do. I have to write something for one of the journals. There are several options, and I would be happy with any of them.

Next fall my schedule works out to three days a week. Some people I know have two-day schedules. I never have to have more than four, though, unless I want it. And that means more time working at home and less time away from it. Any way you look at it, that's a good thing.

The year is over. The summer is here. And I never, ever have to be a one-L again.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

One down, three to go

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A short post, because I really do need to pull a last-ditch effort not to fail Civil Procedure. Con Law exam was yesterday. I can't say how i did because my critical skills are inadequate when it comes to law school, but I really did try as hard as I could. In fact, I tried so hard that I felt depressed afterwards. What if no matter how hard I try, I just suck at this?

Which is why I then went to the gym and watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy from season two. Completely overstimulated, I thought about how the media takes extraordinary people and tries to make them seem just like "us." I mean, surgeons who go to Stanford are nothing like me, unless you count overeducation. Nothing. They are smart enough and talented enough and disciplined enough to go through doors that few of us will ever, ever have the chance to enter. You can go to school your whole life and still be mediocre compared to such people.

But Grey's Anatomy makes it all seem so . . . level, somehow. See that brainiac intern? She's brilliant and credentialed, but YOU have better interpersonal skills. See that world-class surgeon? He can't keep his marriage together. Aren't you glad you can? Look at all these doctors trying unsucessfully to balance work and a personal life! Aren't you glad you have a dead-end job and can see your kids/dogs/plants every night?

One of the emblematic shots in the opening credits shows two sets of feet touching in a hospital bed. That picture promises something most of us also never find in the real world: love and sex and meaningful work all in one place, symbolized by two people touching each other in a semi-private/public context. As if we want life and work to be so connected. Do we? Don't we?

Now, I know people in communications and media studies ask these questions all the time. Is television supposed to make us feel normal, not just in its content, but in our participation in its rituals? Because I think I experience it that way. I mean, when GF and I sit down at night to watch tv together, it's not as if we are sharing intimacy--in fact, she yells at me if I talk too much, which I often do, because I get a little lonely and bored. So what are we doing, exactly? We're not together, but we're not apart. We aren't in company, but we are somehow sharing something with an imagined community of people we will never meet or know. Is that what it is? Imagined community--like Benedict Anderson's theory of national identity? It would certainly explain why live network tv is so much more comforting than more divergent cable stations, and why GF and I seldom watch DVDs when we can flip through the channels.

Imagined community explains the appeal of shows like Grey's Anatomy, which are about being young and finding comeraderie in the Rat Race. It explains Seventh Heaven, a wretched show GF adores. I imagine that I watch them because I want to be like the other people watching them. Or at least, share something with the other people watching them. But what?

There are no gay characters on Grey's Anatomy--thought there are gay actors. This is probably part of the point. We are all watching and none of us feels like we can figure it all out, and we want imperfect perfect versions of who we might be, but aren't. Kind of like the theory that women buy more clothes when they hate their bodies than when they like them (do they ever like them?). We all feel inadequate, lonely, queer, poor, stupid, ugly, old, declasse, outmoded. These shows allow us to experience ourselves being constructed in this way, as yearning for a normal ideal and falling outside it at the same time. There is immense pleasure in this, and sorrow, which is also quite pleasurable. The shared sorrow of all of us who don't fit in--because none of us do, really, do we?--getting old, side by side without talking, in the Rat Race. Thinking about what it would be like if things were different, but not really wanting to change anything.

Anyway, there's no point to this musing, except to point out how oddly lonely and communal modern life seems. This may be particular to my being a 44-year-old lesbian stuck in school with 23-year-olds I almost never have a converstion with, or it may be more general than I think. Which is fine, because uncertainty about the universality of one's experience is, I think, the point of these shows, or at least, a big part of their appeal.

I think I'll go to the gym now, where I'll get on the elliptical machine, surrounded by people I will never speak to--and in fact who are usually freaked out if I accidentally talk to them in order to get a machine (they are 20 years old and wear tiny shorts with sorority letters across their asses. I should be the one screaming.). We will all face front, listening to our individual music players, watching the tvs in the front window, or, as in my case, watching our video ipods, and move our limbs in a strangely synchronized sea-dance under the blue light of the television screens, and the early May Scorpio moon.

Happy finals to all, and here's hoping there's a conversation or two at the end of the work--and workout--tunnel.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The end in sight

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Sorry about the last post--version one got published too early by mistake, which explains some of its incoherence. Or it could have been the martini. Martinis.

The end of the semester is two weeks away. I would be looking forward to it, except that means final exams are only two and a half weeks away, and I haven't started outlining yet. Not one damn line. And another weekend is shot, as GF's father, who I have never before met, has come to town on a whim. Which means long meals and NO martinis (alas, those Mormons).

I hate outlining. I can't do it. I have never in my whole life been able to outline, and now my entire GPA depends on it.

It's the variety. I get dazed by variety. Too many choices. Too many things to pick and choose and edit out. I like the details. I like them all. I have been rescued by people in supermarkets who comb the entire store in exasperation only to find me slack-jawed in the same aisle where they left me, staring at soups.

So I have to sit down and go back to the beginning of courses that are now ending, and review and organize all the material, in detail, in the vain hope that I will have it all at my fingertips for the exam.

I hate exams. Some people love them. I hate them. I like papers. Long, lovely, detailed papers.

What am I doing here? How did I end up in law school?

I am maybe the mellowest person around. I walk slowly. I linger and luxuriate. I take baths. I am calm (mostly). I seldom was a hardass as a teacher. In fact, the thing I hated most about teaching was working for the Man as his Gatekeeper. Why did Bobbie have to get a "B" on a paper he worked really hard at, just because he's stilted and organized rather than organic and creative? Bobbie knows how to outline, which is why his English papers sucked. He controlled every damn word. Nothing new ever popped out of Bobbie's prose. I would sigh, and comment on his perfectly anal organizing skills, and note his hard work, and give him a B for boring, but with a plus.

Bobbie is kicking my ass right now in law school. Bobbies do very well there. The worm turns.

So that's my life, as I prepare to pack my things and leave after a day and a half home with my gf, who I didn't really see at all because her father is in town.

I don't get to blog or read blogs much these days, but gf does, and she tells me about people out there not getting renewed in their jobs, academic jobs they have sacrificed everything for. I don't know what to say, except that the world is vast and it will really be ok. GF has a theory that this is all part of the larger plan where life gets to be about more important things, and while that doesn't comfort anyone skulking around their department feeling like a Dead Man Walking right now, life will get better. I am more and more convinced that people who make it in academia do so despite the horrendous people around them, and the ones that don't make it really are lucky insofar as they get the chance to get the hell out of there and make some real choices in their lives. Academia is all about giving up choices for The Job. The Job tells you where you can live. The Job determines if you and your partner get to be together. The Job will let you know you really can't afford to have kids right now.

Screw the job. Make some choices. It's really an incredibly giddy, strange feeling, after spending decades having no choices, to have nothing but choices.

Go ahead and gape at the soups for a while. Look at the salt content. Remember the joys and drawbacks of Ramen noodles. Laugh as you remember your mother's recipes she made with cream of mushroom soup. Wonder if corn chowder in a can is any good.

Look, marvel. Buy them all.

Friday, April 13, 2007

oh hillary.

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They put a college picture of you in striped pants on the front page of the New York Times. How young you were. How earnest. Nerdy and completely adorable.

Did you believe what you said in those days? Oh, yeah. Did you cry in your car when they read the names of the dead on the radio? Could you believe they still played where have all the flowers gone as a protest song, even when your husband was running for governor? I thought that song was so lame when I was growing up, because it just went on and on. Oh yeah. Now, of course, it makes me cry.

Did you think when he deployed troops to Afganistan that maybe we were repeating some pattern . . .that felt . . .vaguely . . . familiar? And when you voted on Iraq, was there anywhere in you the tiniest twinge of conscience? When they asked you about gay people, did you have an answer? No. Oh Yeah. Do you think you'll reverse your husband's policy of don't ask, don't tell? Oh yeah. No. And woman in the military? Women? And Gays? Gays? And the military? What?

Hillary, will you stand by us?

Are there any issues that aren't purely politics for you? What happened to that girl who wore striped pants and opposed the Vietnam war? Do you have her contact information?


Cause I think I'd like to vote for her. You, though, I'm not so sure about.

Monday, March 12, 2007

magic meter

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Law school is depressing right now. It's a little past the middle of the semester, and the glow of new material has rubbed off. The weather has warmed up, briefly, which makes going to class doubly sad. This also means the classroom where I take Criminal Procedure on Monday and Tuesday afternoons is so hot you wonder seriously if you are going to pass out before 75 minutes is up. Today I fanned myself furiously and watched every minute tick by on the wall clock, feeling delirious.

Civil Procedure (on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons) is unwinding in an ever-more dizzying string of rules. The cases all turn on procedural glitches, each of which is assigned its own rule and subsection letter. Twelve-bee motions! Rule eleven charges! Pleading amendments (whose number, alas, I have forgotten already). I try to take notes as best as I can and not fall asleep, or daydream, or check my email, but some days it is so hard. Here I am again. Back where I started from. Stuck in a big classroom, feeling rebellious and stupid, trying to make myself stick with important minutia. The girl in the row in front of me is internet shopping. She is always internet shopping, or reading celebrity gossip. I found out that Anna-Nicole Smith had died because I was idly watching her surf one afternoon. I sometimes wonder how ADD girl does on exams, but I never feel superior in my note-taking. It is possible--very--that she does a lot better than me.

My legal writing teacher has taken a turn with the weather. Lately I've noticed a certain droopiness about her. She's usually nice, but has grown remote. Last week another guy and I walked in at the beginning of her class, papers in hand (they were due that day), but she had just started talking, which meant that we were officially late. I am usually never late to class, but for that day I was one or two minutes off. When I got my memo back I saw she had taken ten per cent off my grade for a late paper. Ten per cent. We broke the rules, and had to pay. The other guy told me he had gone to get a paper clip.

Statutory Interpretation is a little stale too, and even Con Law feels forced. I feel like I have too much personality, like I am too formed for the dormant norm that is supposed to be the awakening law student. I like to talk in class, then feel as if I've said too much. It's not what they were looking for. They wanted the application of principle A from the reading to illustrate hypothetical B. Duh. Stick to the program. Play by the rules. I feel like summer will never come. I feel like I will never be good at this. No one will hire me. I hate rules. I always have. Things will never get better, ever.

Mostly I feel like a freak, as usual. I can't decide whether or not to continue the shocking blonde hair I usually wear, because I am just so weary of being so different all the time. Old, slow, and queer in a sea of young heterosexuals who have never known anything much different from school, just like this. A few who have left and worked and come back, but most, just slogging on, going through the hoops. Traditional--some very conservative. Still their parents' children. Giggling, flirting, never running out of steam. Being exactly the A students they are supposed to be.

Some weekends I go home and GF and I just cling to each other. We sit near each other on the couch with our laptops, or drape over each other in bed with the newspaper. Sundays are especially hard. I put off going back until the sun sets and we are both a bundle of nerves. Then I get in the car and drive to the house I live in for now, the temporary house with too many roomates, with boys I have to share a bathroom with, and who I can hear snoring in the next room at night. I think for the thousandth time about moving but it seems so hard. Sometimes it's better to hearing snoring in the next room than have no one in the next room. Mostly I can't wait for spring break. I can't wait for summer. I can't wait for law school to be over, forever.

Then, last week, I find the magic parking meter.

I discover the meter one morning when I have to park a little farther away from the law school than usual. In a field of digital zeros flashing on and off for empty, this meter stands out. It is a solitary survivor. Its battered white half-moon dial is marked with lines in increments, like a protractor. All along its arc are numbers, signalling the hours from one to twelve. Instead of clock-radio digits, it has a black arrow that points to the numbers to show the time left.

It sits next to a chain-link fence that surrounds a cemetery. Meter 116. On the other side of the fence from the meter is a grave with a little angel on it. I notice the angel because it looks like the one we put on my mother's grave back home.

My mother believed in signs. When birds came back to nest in the back yard, she thought it meant something. When certain items she needed for the week coincidentally went on sale, it was because God was watching out for her. I used to ridicule her. I couldn't believe that God was sensitive enough to arrange for the precise groceries she needed to become magically available. Did He really have time to make sure vanilla extract was in the sale bin at the Star Market for the week of February 10th? She always went along with the teasing but I could tell a part her was dead serious. She really believed that God helped her make ends meet some weeks when it appeared impossible to feed all of us on what was available.

The first time I parked at meter 116, it was noon, and all the closer meters were filled. I noticed its difference from the meters around it, and noted, happily, that its arrow pointed just past the 1 on the dial. I put a quarter in and it jumped to the 3. Wonderful! Usually a quarter only bought twenty minutes. Maybe this meter was an hour per quarter.

When I came out two hours later to add money, though, the meter hadn't really moved. I wondered if it was stuck. I went back in to class, came out, and saw that it remained on the 3. I drove away, feeling the satisfaction of a bargain, but my curiosity was aroused. Was it broken? Would it stay that way? Had anybody else noticed it, besides me?

Sure enough, the next morning was early enough that the whole row of meters was empty. I pulled up to 116, still set at 3 hours. The sun was shining. The morning was new. Even though I had to go to class, I felt a bend in time. Not all rules were absolute. Not every system was monolithic. What luck!

I told my roommate about the magic meter when we drove to class one day. Sometimes I give him a ride to school in the morning. I thought maybe this time I should add some money to it, just in case the arrow fell slowly. I didn't want to impose too much on the universe, or take it for granted. He stood next to me and we both watched in horror as I put in a quarter and the turnhandle stuck for a moment on the yellow "violation" bubble. Oh, no. I wiggled it some more and it fell back down, leaving the arrow on 4. We both exhaled.

"Maybe you shouldn't mess with the luck of it," he murmured as we shuffled across the street. I nodded. It had been a close call. I had to learn respect for my gift horse.

Now I park at the meter every morning. I try not to hog it. I haven't changed my schedule to take advantage of its largess. I still come and go as I please, and sometimes in the afternoon, the spot is taken. I haven't noticed any consistency in the cars that park at it. I don't know if anyone has really put two and two together about its secret powers.

At some point, a parking person will notice. Some keen-eyed cruiser will remember that the arrow was at the same exact number the last time they drove by, and it will be finished. Or someone like me will dare the gods with an additional quarter, and the violation balloon won't snap back down this time. Then the meter will be officially broken, and they'll fix it, or worse, take it out and replace it with one of the soulless digital kindred that surround it.

Until then, it is the bright spot in my morning, like a bit of stolen sunshine. It is always a surprise when it is empty. It makes me happy every time I park at it for an hour, from 9am to 10. I drive slowly by the numbers, scanning the opposite side till I see 116. Empty! Ha! I swing around and pull in, facing away from the school, as if for a quick getaway. I lock up, check the meter dial, and shake my head with immense satisfaction. A free hour! What luck--again!

I walk inside, thinking about the simple pleasure of it. I know that it might seem silly--hokey, even--but in a universe that often takes without justice or kindness, my meter could very well be a sign that even when you are not looking for a bit of luck, even when you don't believe in it anymore, it can sometimes find you, in a tiny, dumb, immensely satisfying way.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

public interest

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The day of the public interest job fair, the temperature hovered at five degrees. I had to be downtown at 7:30 a.m. to sign up for an extra interview slot and register. The wind razored its way through the legs of my suit pants. I was grumpy because my day to sleep in was taken from me. I wore a down jacket over my suit jacket. GF drove me down, bless her heart, and dropped me off at the pretentious gothic gates of Secondmost Elite City Law School.

Secondmost had waitlisted me the first year I applied, but my LSAT scores were too low, and they cut me loose. They had been my first choice early admission school. They make you interview. I spoke with a very nice woman who had gone to law school elsewhere and was now working for them. Not a good sign about satisfaction in the profession, I remember thinking. She asked me about teaching, then grilled me about whether or not I really wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to ask her the same question, but I couldn't.

The next year I spoke with an impatient young woman who grew irritated when we both realized my most recent freelance job was not on my resume. I had been bouncing around by then, and was trying not to look unemployed, but my piecemeal writing gig was not what I thought of as a real job, and I had forgotten it. She didn't like that. My LSATs were slightly higher, and I applied early decision again, even though everyone told me the school was a corporate lawyer mill. What law school isn't, though? They didn't bother to waitlist me this time. No corpora te lawyer mill for me.

Now I had a whole day to wander their halls, stuck without a car until after my one scheduled interview at 4:15. Thier cavernous stone entryway reminded me of similarly uninviting halls down at Most Elite University. Impressive but not at all friendly or warm. Interesting that this was the site of the public interest fair, given how many other law schools are in the city. I sat down on a hard wooden bench and tried to keep warm.

At 9 a.m. we were herded into a big parliamentary classroom with high-backed pews that faced each other, descending down to the middle of the room like old-fashioned medical classrooms sometimes have. Medieval-looking crests sat on either side of the stage and podium at the front of the hall. Impressive, but hardly friendly, this room strained to convey an impression of striving, reminding one of nothing so much as the ermine-trimmed patrons in Renaissance altarpieces kneeling with their families on either side of the Annunciation. Rich enough to pay for the painting and even be in it, but not good enough to come inside the house and hang out with the Virgin.

The lottery commenced, and I signed up for an open interview slot with a policy group. I thought they might be interesting because they worked on affordable housing, public housing, and educational policy.

After this we were free to wander among tables where different representatives from city and state government services and public interest organizations sat ready to answer questions, hand out forms, and take resumes. I spoke with people at legal aid clinics, child services, and the public defender's office--all lovely, friendly, skeptical people who loved their work. After that lunch, then the wait to interview. The interviewer at the policy place was not a decision maker, but was there as a kind of intake person. I gave her my resume and tried to be enthusiastic. She was slick, wooden, heavily made up, and under 30. I think her hair was made of polystyrene. I think also she didn't like me so very much.

Finally the whole reason for my being there all day approached. My one interview. I climbed the steps of the library, up into the stacks, looking for the room where I was supposed to be.

The stairs of the law library rose before me, up through the center of the library itself, modern stairs with see-through steps. As I climbed, I looked out at magnificent panoramic views of the frozen lake glittering brightly beyond the huge floor-to-ceiling glass expanse of the far wall. Students sat quietly at tables, reading, oblivious. This treat was only for them, but none of them even raised their eyes to it. I wondered if they noticed it anymore.

The room at the top of the third floor stairs on the right was small, flourescent, and windowless. A little man with white hair that stood out in wispy strands around his face shook my hand. His baggy sweater hung on his shoulders. He asked me why I was in law school. I fed him some line about opportunity he only half-listened to. He cocked his head and looked intently at me. "Do you know what we do?" he asked.

I confessed that I didn't. I hadn't been able to find a web page, or a google reference of any kind, and they weren't listed in the big books that had been in the law theater that morning.

He nodded his head, satisfied. "We do post-conviction habeus petitions for people on death row."

"Fabulous!" I breathed. I couldn't help it. It just came out.

He went on to emphasize that this was no Innocence Project. "These are the guilty!" he announced, happily. Then he told me some of the petitioners were mentally handicapped. Others had been victims of spousal abuse. One woman was on death row for attempting to kill her husband, though no one was hurt.

He asked me what it was like to be back in school at my age, and told me his wife had gone to law school in her fifties. he told me he was 69. He spoke contemptuously of young law students, who he warned me would sit at work and tell me about their boyfriends and their girlfriends. "You're lucky if you can get six hours of work out of 'em!' he cackled.

Then he leaned forward. "I had a guy like you," he said, looking at me steadily. I think he meant an ex-academic going back to school, not an overweight blonde lesbian with a nose ring. He told me that first year students were the best for what he did, because second year students had to take the money of the big firms in the 2L summer, whether they wanted to eventually work at a firm or not. He told me that my writing skills would be perfect for his little storefront office, where he and his wife toiled together to try to save people from being gassed, or electrocuted, or lethally injected for the bad decisions they had made in their fairly awful lives. He gestured to my resume with disgust. "I mean, an English Professor! Of course you can write! How do you like law school? How did you do?"

I confessed I hadn't done so well. He shook his head, as if I had confirmed his worst thoughts. "We'll teach you something that'll be USEFUL to you," he said. "My wife and I, we gotta take care of the older people."

He asked me if I had any questions, and I asked him when he might know about his selections for the summer. His eyes twinkled. "If I offered it to you right now, what would you say?"

I was flabbergasted. "I'd say I'll take it, of course!"

He nodded, satisfied. "Send me an email accepting it," he said. "My wife and I, we'll protect you from the teenyboppers."

I stumbled out of the flourescent room onto the stairs, past the reading students and their panoramic vistas, past night and day and into the stone hallway, out the heavy oak doors and into my gf's waiting car. "I think I just got a summer internship!" I breathed. "He actually PICKED me!" I couldn't believe it. I hadn't imagined that I would actually get something out of the day beyond information and a few applications.

As we drove home past the expensive highrises, past the lake and the big houses near its shores, I thought about people who spend their lives making no money, wearing scuffed shoes and stretched-out cardigans, saving the world in their classrooms and storefront offices and legal aid clinics, day after day. And for the first time, really, since starting law school, I felt happy.