Entry: Update Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Written circa June 2008

To follow up on my last post, I may as well light up the matches and start throwing furniture around. The occasion? I'm going back to law school. Two months have afforded me the opportunity to not only rest and relax, but also to rethink. Before finals were up - and even for some time afterward - I couldn't bring myself to even consider going back next year. The stress and misery were too fresh. Instead, I absorbed myself in other pursuits, primarily writing. My boyfriend jokingly questioned how long that would last, and after two weeks, I couldn't bring myself to write or edit another sentence. This is the reality that has undergirded every endeavor of mine: I pressure myself to such a great extent that I inevitably burn out. Three major areas of my life so far have followed that exact pattern: writing, music, and law. My "awakening" two months ago was followed by a second awakening: to the real world. Eight hours a day, I've learned, is a vast stretch of time in which to be bored. Fortunately, my job as a research assistant has led me to realize that when it's paid, studying (and learning generally) isn't so bad.

I've also realized (for about the zillionth time?) that I need to get past my perfectionist complex if I am ever going to achieve a satisfying existence. My lack of motivation in preparing for final exams has produced a significant (and, I must admit, gut-wrenching) opportunity for me to practice accepting non-perfection. When I think about my future, two distinct paths appear: either the never-ending quest for perfection, that holy grail which drives lawyers in the large firms to sacrifice everything else in their lives for the competitive marathon of "success"; or the path toward fulfillment, where my motivation comes from a guiding sense of purpose. I think I'll choose the latter.

On an unrelated note, I have learned a valuable lesson: orange juice, cranberry juice, and tequila do not mix well. At least not for my taste buds.

I've also developed a new, most shocking addiction: Sex and the City. I'd like to be optimistic and believe this shallow vice took root solely due to my lack of Tivo and the four seasons of DVDs that my sister conveniently left at my apartment. But I guess I shouldn't be too surprised; this seems a logical outgrowth of my other guilty indulgence: hip-hop music. Actually, that's probably a euphemism. A more accurate description would be "that pop trash that constitutes the flimsy substance of AT 40 and the like." (I even find myself taking pride in blasting that shit from my car with the windows rolled down!) Ah well, everyone's gotta have a little fun sometimes.

Which leads me to another thought. I've entered one of those blessed stages of life where I truly enjoy it and, for lack of a better descriptor, feel like I'm in a good place. Perhaps it's just the rejuvenating intoxication of summer. Or perhaps it's the perks of my low-key job: sleeping in, working until noon in my pj's at the kitchen table, taking a leisurely afternoon jog . . . you get the idea. Whatever the cause, I am delightfully free from angst and the burden of not knowing where I'm headed. Granted, I certainly don't have my future mapped out, but I have a general sense. The result: that elusive achievement of contentment with where I am now and genuine excitement for where I'll be in the foreseeable future. My college orchestra teacher always used to talk about her quest for finding that delicate balance in life between work, her family, and her own well being. That thought was practically her theme song; somehow, it managed to crop up in every conversation. Although I didn't really appreciate it then, I'm now starting to apprehend the importance of balance. No longer do I have the desire to fling myself unreservedly into the arms of a single pursuit, whether it be law, music, or anything else. Whatever career path I ultimately find myself straddling, the ideal no longer encompasses perfection. Instead, its hallmark will balance. One more final to go, and I'll have completed my first year of law school.

Every major change in my life has been accompanied by a hefty dose of angst. The transition to high school, where I was confronted by a bleak hierarchy of popularity in which I had no place; followed by a more severe uprooting when I began college, accompanied by a six-month plunge into depression. Even my four-month stint in Guatemala nearly derailed in the first week when I realized I had jumped in a lake that was far deeper than I imagined, and I couldn't swim. But somehow I made it through, still intact. I mention this not to indulge in some sort of self-pity, emerging-victorious glorification, but only to explore possible explanations of the meandering emotional roads in which I've become entangled. Law school is certainly one such complex bramble.

Fortunately, the Catholic school I'm at cares enough about each student's development as a person (rather than a scruple-less intellectual machine) to require us to take a foundational ethics/morality course during our first semester. If nothing else, this course has at least instilled in me a bright red, flashing lights, blaring alarm as to the singular downfall and temptation of the lawyering profession, the roots of which are sown in the first year of law school: the loss of one's self. Okay, I'm exaggerating. But it seems the cliche of the hired-gun, soulless lawyer has an unfortunate grounding in reality. I've already noticed it: a gradual tarnishing of the ideals upon which my entrance essay hinged; a resignation to the solutionless ambiguity of any moral framework; a deepening skepticism that fades ominously into an over-arching pessimism; a thoughtless resignation to the presumed truism that money, not morality, is the ultimate engine that must motivate every law student's lofty goals.

Somehow, in identifying it, the "darker side" of the practice of law (and the unspoken atmosphere of law school) is revealed to be a farce. The very nature and purpose of law is the pursuit of justice, not the pursuit of money. Lawyers, as gatekeepers to that system of justice, bear the foundational obligation to open those gates to the marginalized of society, not just to those who can pay the top buck. And lawyers are not merely slaves of an individualistic paradigm, forced to forgo their own moral convictions in order to serve "The Client," but rather people who cannot and should not slip in and out of their conscience and value systems like paper dolls disposing of one set of garments after another.

All of this I know; yet it scares me to realize how much I've been slipping. For the past three years, I acquired and developed what came to be the integral basis of my outlook in life: a commitment to unblinkingly face the suffering of the poor and marginalized in the world, and to do something about it. This entailed countless implications, ranging from a disdain for the isolationist and materialistic elements of American culture to a deep-seated discomfort with any expression of luxury or excess. But then I graduated, and somehow that all dissipated into the background. I no longer give pause to the fact that I enjoy plentiful restaurant meals while 90% of the children in the Guatemalan village where I lived for over a month are malnourished. I no longer feel guilty, or even a bit saddened, when I spend $30 on a pair of boots I don't need, when that $30 could feed or clothe several children for a month. Of course, I'm simplifying these issues. But what most disturbs me is that I no longer think about them. Whether I should feel guilt, or sadness, or some mild form of troubledness - that is open to debate; but what is clear and compelling is that I, as a Christian, should at least think about these issues and feel something. Instead, I've been snug in my own selfish world, content to hinge my worries upon nothing more important than the next day's readings or edifying my course outlines. Thankfully, I have a wonderful boyfriend who is kind enough to remind me of all the times I railed against the pitfalls that I've recently been slumping into. And who also has instilled in me the epiphany that simply being angry and ranting against something is worthless; and that progress and ideals are only achieved by actions.

I recently joined a community orchestra, which is the culmination of a year-long yearning. Nine months ago (it's absurd how fast time has gone!), I sat in a folding chair on a humid night in front of a Guatemalan cathedral, where their national orchestra performed Tchaikovsky and Resphigi. Their performance became my lament for what I felt I had sacrificed - the unspeakable joy of being a part of something larger than yourself, creating something beautiful that none could produce on their own. A month later, I was overcome with envy when I encountered a young violinist warming up for a wedding in that same cathedral. In those four months, I came to recognize that music is an essential part of my life.

Although I am occasionally, when moved by the raw emotion of a tender note caressed with vibrato, tempted to regret giving up my stake in the race to become a professional musician, most of the time I regard it as one of the best decisions I ever made. That spring a few years ago, when I gave up practicing six hours a day and re-awakened to the infinite well of other joys and interests the world has to offer, was rich and abundant. I discovered, among other things, a profound passion for theology, for intellectual stimulation, for nature, for spending time with friends, and for a good novel. I had forgotten that music is not the only source of beauty and light in the world. I had forgotten that I could derive satisfaction and peace from a copious banquet rather than a stifling staple diet. Now, the pendulum has finally come to rest in that harmonious middle ground. Music enjoys a place in my life, but not a pedestal.

Which summons me back to the topic of law school. In sharp contrast to my last entry, I've had a change of heart. Feel free to giggle or even laugh out loud at the over-the-top dramatics of my previous tirades, and at the immensity, and perhaps foreseeability, of this colossal turn-around. I'll qualify that I am not nearly as dramatic in person as I am in writing. However, every major adjustment in my life has at first been met with bitter antagonism. On my third day in Guatemala, for instance, I left a sobbing message on my boyfriend's phone insisting that I couldn't handle what I had blindly plunged into and would be returning home. Thankfully, a few days of forbearance brought about a return to rationality. Law school, I think, is analogous.

Part of what allowed me to embrace law school, and the profession entailed therein, was an explicit rejection of those repugnant aspects which originally tainted its entire flavor: namely, the pressure-cooker atmosphere, the obsessive perfectionism, the competitive mentality, and the temptation for it to be all-consuming. For the sake of simplicity, I have consolidated all of these negative characteristics into a single representative entity: the Big Firm. Thankfully, my school has made a pronounced effort to unveil the horrors of the Big Firm, and to convince students that it is but an ugly pimple on the otherwise lovely face of the profession. I have made a choice to remove that pimple and all it represents from my complexion. That is not to say that there aren't still hardships and doubt. I recently experienced what I've come to dub "the mid-semester meltdown." That is, I reach the point in the semester where I realize I've got a ridiculous amount of work to do to complete a major writing project, create extensive outlines for all my courses, and being preparing for finals. This can be quite overwhelming, and it is tempting to throw up my hands and screw it all.


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