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.


Hilaire said...

Oh, lovely, lovely reflections.

You know, I think it says something that your young, taut colleagues tell you that you can't not dye your hair. Aren't they sort of the younger versions of the people who will interview you? And they get you, it sounds like. At least some of them. Maybe what that says is that the folks interviewing you will get you, too. At least some of them. You're so good at seeing when people get each other in unlikely situations...maybe this will be one of those.

Also: I think GF is right on the lucky suit front!

Also: I do wonder if some of these interviewers will actually be relieved to talk to someone like you, someone with your experience and, I don't know, gravitas.

And, congrats on the law journal position!

What Now? said...

I was chaperoning a high school dinner/dance cruise last night, and felt old and frumpy and fat in my outfit that suddenly seemed to scream "Apparently I no longer care what I look like." And the music was so damned loud, and after four hours I wanted to throw myself overboard just to escape the noise. And I was a *chaperone*, for God's sake; when did this happen, and what does it mean about me?

All of which is to say that I have something to say about the question of dumpy vs. young and taut, but I'm not sure at this point what exactly it is that I have to say. It will come to me eventually, and then I'll swing by and say it.

In the meantime, keep the suit, get a new blouse, and congrats on the law journal!

lil'rumpus said...

Huge congrats on the law journal. That IS a big deal. Hair and earring...I've done a bit of reading in the world of piercings, tattooing, bod mod and such and when in conversation with a colleague a fairly priveleged uni about this research, I mentioned the fact that people still have to make very real decisions about display depending on context because some versions of body modifications and style are still, well, subcultural and perceived as deviant in some way. He looked at me with some amount of disdain and said "I can't believe that, it seems that EVERYONE on my campus is pierced or tattooed. Hell, even their grandmothers are."

hmmm, the tower is indeed ivory.

btw: I like Pearl Jam, too, dammit!

Oso Raro said...

Um, PJ, not so much. But the suit thing. Sigh. I dunno. Mr. Gordo and I had a strangely similar discussion over good and bad vibes associated with clothes. For my fellowship interview, I went with La Vicks and bought a new, snazzy suit, very spruce. And got the fellowship. Was it the suit? Or the way it made me feel? That one's up in the air..

As for the little details, you can mainstream it but they I always feel people can see beyond the mimesis.

The end of summer sucks. I have two weeks left here in BEC and then back to Cold City. We're going to the Cape to capture the last little bit of being together, but it sucks all the same. At least I have a lovely tan, which will slough off by September.

Tenured Radical said...

I would throw the suit away. Or freecycle it, or whatever. And either go to a department store, or go to a really good consignment store and buy something that makes you feel smart and fabulous.

You know, one of hte reasons I read your blog is that I was a heartbeat away from chucking my career during the period that some mean old bastards were beating up on me. And I didn't have the *courage* to go to law school because I pretty much knew how scary it would be to be around all those young folks. So I admire your courage.

And I'm sure it has it occurred to you to pull a Janet Halley and teach at a law school afterward. At the right place, it could be a fun way to restart your career.

Sfrajett said...

It's funny you call it courage, cause I think it's more like desperation. I felt like I didn't really have a choice, given that my options were adjuncting, which I simply couldn't afford financially, or moving far away for any job i was lucky enough to get. I just didn't have the faith in academia anymore for that. Janet Halley is a great role model, except that she got into Stanford and probably did a lot better gradewise than I seem to be doing at my state university. But who knows? Anything can happen. Thanks for your advice about the suit, though! And thanks for reading.

Sfrajett said...

As a matter of fact, thanks to everyone for the suit reflections! I love to think about the degree of superstition we attach--or refuse to attach--to the things we wish would give us more certainty, control, and success. If only the suit itself could determine the outcome, how nice would that be?

MaggieMay said...

Your whole post is great, but I just wanted to say: I like Pearl Jam too. And singing "I'm Still Alive" is an absolutely fabulous way to begin a new semester. It was my anthem my senior yr in college, as I was going through the hideousness of grad school rejections!