Laissez les bon temps roulez

Note: This is a draft post I dug up from my archives. We went to New Orleans for our fourth anniversary in 2017. Still, it’s such a great city that I wanted to share my impressions. Mardi Gras is coming up so it seemed like a good time to do so. 

I finally went to New Orleans!

Ever since I learned about the roots of jazz music as a child, I’ve wanted to visit New Orleans. When I was nine years old I heard Duke Ellington ‘s “Take the A Train” and fell in love. That led me to George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, Stephane Grappelli, Dave Brubeck, and more. In fifth grade I would go to Barnes & Noble to buy Jazziz magazine and the Beanie Baby collectors magazine (talk about divergent interests!). One of my top choices for college was Tulane University, until Hurricane Katrina hit and I was scared out of applying by the thought of another hurricane hitting while I was in school. Still, New Orleans was one of the places I knew I had to visit during my lifetime or I would regret it. 

Sidewalk graffiti on Frenchmen Street

Even though the city was hot, muggy and a little bit smelly in certain parts, there was a kind of magic in the air. The cultural melting pot was apparent in everything from the food to the architecture. There’s just something different about walking on 300 year old cobblestones; you can feel the weight of all that history. I’m a history buff, so we hit The Cabildo, the old U.S. Mint, and the Jazz History Museum. I learned so much I didn’t know! There were so many eras of New Orleans, and of course money is its own empire. As for the jazz museum, I’m a musician so being in the same room as Louis Armstrong’s trumpet had the weight of a visit to the Vatican. It was fantastic. Cafe Du Monde was so nice, we hit it twice. Both the beignets and the frozen coffee were absolutely to die for. 

Oops…I ate the photo op

I didn’t take many pictures because I honestly just wanted to soak in everything and remember it however I needed to. Most of the few pictures I did take were fuzzy, as if the place itself didn’t want to pinned down to a single expression. It was our first trip alone together since before we got married, and the week passed in a haze of new sights and sounds and romance. It wasn’t the farthest we’ve traveled but definitely the most memorable. I understand now when the natives say the city isn’t just a place, it’s a feeling. New Orleans…I’ll see you soon.

Jackson Square

3 Shows That Were Doomed To Failure

Good ideas are a dime a dozen, but it’s the execution that’s tricky. Dozens of new TV shows pop up every season, but only a few go on to become moderate successes, much less smash hits. Here are a few shows that I wanted to work.

Emerald City (NBC, 2017): Emerald City is a gritty reboot of The Wizard of Oz. It sounds crazy (and but was way too over the top for network television. In this version, Dorothy is a cop. She also has magical powers and becomes the unwitting heir to the Witch of the East. The Scarecrow is a tragic soldier. Glinda isn’t such a good witch after all. The Witch of the West basically runs a brothel and is usually high on poppy tea. The Tin Man is a teenage amputee and Ozma is his magical transgender BFF. Oz is, of course, a fraud–but he’s also a scientist who is scared to death of magic and tries to ban its use in order to preserve his own power.

The cinematography was excellent, but the show was ultimately brought down by trying too hard. It started really slow, and there were just too many plot points. It also dealt with some very adult themes that had to be glossed over in order to be fit for a prime time audience. A few edits and a move to SyFy or HBO could have made this show a success.

Constantine (NBC, 2014): Constantine sought to take advantage of the new wave of comic book adaptations. However, NBC was definitely the wrong network. The comics were created by Alan Moore, the same man behind The Watchmen. John Constantine is an occult practitioner and demon hunter haunted by his failure to protect innocents in the past. But the demons he fights are not of the wise cracking variety displayed on Supernatural (The CW)–they’re the baby eating, serial killing, apocalypse bringing kind. Moreover, in trying to add a female character they shoehorned in a reluctant sidekick who had escaped from a cult. The writers tried to split the difference between grim dark and comedic by making it sorta kinda dark, which killed all narrative momentum.

Almost Human (Fox, 2013): This science fiction drama shakes up the usual buddy cop dynamic by making the sidekick an android. Michael Ealy plays an AI who has seemingly developed sentience. It hit all the beats of a traditional procedural, but with an intelligent exploration of the tension between humans and robots. Karl Urban’s character also has a prosthetic leg, due to an injury he suffered in the line of duty. He hates it because he is staunchly anti-android, but as he starts to develop a true partnership with Michael Ealy, his feelings start to shift. However, the show was much too niche for Fox. SyFy would have been a natural fit, and they’ve kept worse on the air (Wynonna Earp, anyone?).

How to Survive Marriage

Happy Valentine’s Day! Ain’t love grand? Unfortunately, according to many people love and marriage are mutually exclusive. I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m five years into my marriage and still happy. Our relationship doesn’t stay that way on its own though. I’ll always be learning how to be a better partner, but here are some of the gems I’ve gleaned so far. 

The couple who wears onesies together, stays together.

Know and love who you are. I’m amazing, but imperfect. I am well aware that there are certain quirks of mine that I’m sure aren’t easy to live with–my tendency to expect the worse in any uncertain situation, the fact that I don’t like being talked to for 15-30 minutes after work, the fact that I won’t talk TO anyone for the first 15 minutes after I get up in the morning. . .I’m sure there are more but I’m not going to spill all my tea. Remembering my husband’s graciousness when I’m annoying makes it easier to woo-sah when he’s tap dancing on my last nerve. Although I will never not be irritated when he falls asleep on the couch instead of taking his ass to bed when he starts fading away. ARGH.

Stay close…Marriage is the merging of two separate lives into one. So you can’t be successful at it unless you are willing to share yourself with the other person, and part of that is spending time together. How much time depends on you, but if you do not have kids and can’t remember the last time you and your spouse hung out, you’re probably not spending enough.

…But not too close. No one person can fulfill 100% of your needs, 24/7/365. So don’t abandon your other relationships. For example: my husband, like a lot of men, is very blunt. So if I’m feeling really sensitive about something I might talk to my sister first. Sometimes I get upset over something I know is petty and I just want to complain without being judged or told that I need to be the bigger person. You’ll always need your friends. 

You’re gonna be doing a LOT of this.
Photo Credit: Atlanta Black Star

Get comfortable asking for what you want. Skip the BS where you wish he could just read your mind and keep getting mad at him for not knowing why you’re mad. HE’S NOT A MIND READER, SIS. Do you need him to take over some of the household chores so you don’t feel overwhelmed? Ask for it. Want a monthly date night? Ask for it. Do you need more variety in the bedroom? Tell him (and show him, too). Feeling like you two just aren’t connecting? Let him know. The common theme here- USE YOUR WORDS. 

While you’re at it, get used to awkward conversations. Discussing things like life insurance, finances, and birth control is not fun and probably won’t ever be. But ensuring that you’re on the same page creates a harmonious existence. You’re on the same team, so it would help if you’re using the same playbook. This is the person you’re spending your life with, so you should really be able to discuss anything without embarrassment.

When you’re angry/irritated/moody, just shut up. Every once in a while your spouse will irritate you so much that you can’t even stand to look at them. At that moment, say that you need to put the conversation on hold because you’re too emotional, and walk away. Listen to some music, phone a friend, or work out some aggression in the gym. Some words can’t be taken back so it’s better if they never get said in the first place.

Don’t go to law school unless you’re one of these five people

Starry eyed dreamers continue to consider law school. One of my sorors posted this on Facebook:

“…… thinking about law school. I see law everywhere I am. All the products I use (copyrights, trademarks, consumer safety) to driving down the street (city, county laws) to even being on social media (privacy and communication laws). I’m intrigued…..”

My reply ( because we are acquaintances and I didn’t want to be a dream crushing jerk) was: “Really think hard about that. The legal job market is awful and the practice of law is not what it seems from the outside looking in. There are literally licensed attorneys doing unpaid internships trying to get a foot in the door. You can be equally overworked and underpaid as a teacher, except teachers get summers off, federal holidays, and benefits! That is almost impossible to find as an attorney.”

But here on my blog, I am going to let you all know that there are five kinds of people who are successful in law school and if you don’t fit entirely into one or more of those categories, you need to hang it up. TL; DR: people who enjoy the academic challenge of law are not the ones who are the most successful lawyers.

The people making enough money to be comfortable fall into one of these categories:

  1. The Trust Fund Babies. These kids may not have a literal trust fund, but they have connections. This group includes future Presidents and Supreme Court Justices, of course, as well as people who have lawyers in their family going back to the Mayflower. It’s the legacy admissions who have Thanksgiving with your Torts professor because he taught dear old dad 20 years ago. It’s the children of the senior partners of the biggest law firm in the state. It even includes the son of the local personal injury lawyer whose commercials everyone laughs at. Well, while you’re stressing over exams, he’s got a job for life lined up. While you’re struggling with the finer points of Bluebook citation over spring break, they let daddy’s paralegal revise their memo and hit the beach.
  2. The Second Career Veterans. These people spent 8+ years in corporate America, and have industry specific knowledge that put them head and shoulders above the competition.  A human resources benefits specialist is a shoo in at the employment law firm who needs a worker’s comp or ERISA attorney. Maybe it’s a real estate agent who gets a law degree so they can do their own closings and stop splitting commissions. Whatever the particulars, they have something you don’t– prior job experience that is highly valued enough to launch them into a six figure job after graduation, and a strong professional network in their desired industry.
  3. The Sharks. These are the hustlers, the go-getters, the ones who will succeed by any means necessary (and for some that means buying old exams from alumni to get the edge on finals). These are the folks who started reading the WSJ business section freshman year of college so that they wouldn’t be at a loss for conversation with a potential employer. They are intensely competitive and love working 24/7. They don’t have time for the law fraternity kegger but they are at every alumni mixer and go to local bar association section meetings. They can come from any rung on the socioeconomic ladder but they pursue their goals with single minded focus and precision. 
  4. The True Detectives. Crime is a constant, so it’s a good thing to stake your career on. The thing is, it takes a special type of person to do criminal law no matter which side of the aisle you’re on. Criminal law, much like medicine or the clergy, is a calling. Every successful criminal attorney I’ve met says they knew coming into law school what they wanted to do, and the same was true of my classmates who have taken that route. You must have a bone deep desire to uphold the integrity of the legal system by ensuring fair trials for any accused person, or a bone deep desire to put away the bad guys. Passion required. 
  5. The STEM nerds.  Even in the legal industry, a J.D. alone isn’t  good enough for you to breathe the rarefied air of intellectual property law. But if you’re a nerd who would rather read and write about inventions than build them, IP law is made for you. You need an undergraduate degree in a scientific or technical field along with your law degree in order to take the patent bar. But the overeducation will pay off immediately. For every Google, Microsoft and Samsung, there is a team of IP attorneys writing their contracts, doing their litigation and locking down their patents and being paid handsomely to do so. 

If you aren’t 100% sure you fall into one of these categories, you are not one of these five people. That means you are NOT the exception, you are the average and will likely have an average law career with an average salary. The average is around $118,000 according to US News & World Report, but that number is heavily skewed since they solicit survey responses from lawyers working in large law firms, who are among the highest paid and made up mostly of the 5 types of people listed above. Half of that number is would be a much more realistic average. And yes, you can be an “average lawyer” and still have a satisfying career and a happy life.

I don’t believe that average is a dirty word and if America was more honest about the fact that you cannot actually be anything you want, we could reform our educational system in a meaningful way. Besidesif everybody was exceptional then exceptional wouldn’t mean anything. My point is that a) you don’t need a law degree to get to a $60-80k/yr lifestyle and b) if you are going to end up in the average lawyer position, you should not go to law school unless your cost is being subsidized. If you can get through law school at a cost of no more than $30,000, it’s worth it. Even on an average salary, that is the same debt load as a new car (a lower end car at that) and you will easily be able to carry the payments. If you can get into a top 50 law school I’d say your ROI makes sense if you can get out under $60k. I won’t get into any other hypotheticals because if you aren’t one of the five people above and don’t fall into the two scenarios I’ve already listed, law school is quite simply not for you.

I love my career but if I knew then what I know now I probably would have been an accountant, who dreamt of being a lawyer so who knows? I’m a tax lawyer though, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds.

Feel free to drop me a note in the comments or shoot me an email. If you’re considering law school and have questions, I’m happy to chat with you.

Movin On Up: Thoughts on Class Transition

I’m a first generation lawyer. I’m a second generation college graduate on one side of my family, and the first lawyer on both sides. I say this because, by and large, the legal profession is still an elitist profession. Your earning power and therefore worth (to some people) is based on your pedigree. Were you on law review? Did you do a judicial clerkship? How highly ranked is your law school? You practically need a class just to figure out how to get into law school. After all, the law is an old profession which means it was founded by wealthy, land owning white men. I, a black woman with dark skin and natural hair, do not at all fit the traditional mold of what an attorney is.

This isn’t me, but it’s how I feel on the inside.

Becoming a lawyer involves a background check before law school and after graduating to take the bar, astronomical tuition, an ethics exam, an expensive bar prep course, and 2-4 day bar exam. Then you finally get to be a lawyer. Being an attorney is expensive, though. You have to get continuing education credits (sure there are free ones, but it will take you the whole year to get your credits because they’re usually only 1 or 2 hours and you need somewhere between 10 and 20). Then there are the annual state licensing fees. Then there are the bar association dues, which don’t buy you anything but networking with other lawyers except every bar association event has a damn cover charge. Let’s not forget the wardrobe, because you can’t look like a lawyer in a $40 suit from Ross.

My husband, a third generation college graduate and computer engineer, is slightly more advanced in his family legacy but similarly situated in his career. Silicon Valley is new but it came with all the old problems. Fortunately, money does solve some problems. We just disembarked from our home buying journey and it was been interesting to say the least. We could have bought a home that was $25-50k less and 15-20 minutes closer to both our jobs. But it came at the expense of living in a food desert that houses the worst school district in the area. The practical choice was clear but I still felt conflicted about making it.

I say all that to make it clear that while we are doing well, and are set to possibly end up a little better off than our parents, we are not wealthy. I don’t feel so secure in my position that I can afford to try and be the good influence of the neighborhood. I’m not ready to save the hood by living in it. The risk of buying a home that depreciates in value, of my child going to a school where they can’t be challenged because 70% of the students are not performing at grade level, of not being able to put my kids in dance or sports because the closest teams are an hour away–I can’t take that chance.

Theoretically I would love to give back–to do more community service, mentor with the Boys and Girls Club, all that good stuff. But I just don’t feel like I have enough time. Since I work in legal aid (which is half social work, half lawyering) I feel like I do community service 40 hours a week. While it’s more fulfilling than private practice, it’s much more emotionally draining because most of my clients’ problems can’t be solved by legal intervention. My brother is a bit, shall we say, militant in his political views. I”m a comprimers because I’m just honest about the fact that I like the creature comforts of capitalism. I’m not ready to burn it all down and live in a hut just to prove a point. Where is the balance between working for the cause and enjoying your life? I can’t afford to quit my job and be an activist full time. When I’m not at work I want to recharge and enjoy my husband, my friends, and some good books

What is the answer? I have no idea. All I can do is try to navigate the double consciousness of being a self-aware Black person in the [orange-haired President] era with a modicum of grace.

Life as Performance Art #MicroblogMondays

The “pics or it didn’t happen!” social media mentality that has infiltrated our lives is grating. What’s worse than going to social gatherings where people spend more time tweeting and instagramming the event than actually participating? Then there’s the fact that algorithms and Big Data have an insane about of power. They know so much about me already that I don’t want to give them every single mundane, intimate, sacred or profane moment. My entire life is NOT up for public consumption.

All the best times of my life happened when I was living it, and although I’ve liked thousands of Facebook and Instagram comments, I couldn’t quote you a single one of them. I want to put my energy towards the things in my life that give me joy and memories, not just lolz.

Click this link for more info about Microblog Mondays, which supports people who want to reclaim their personal blogs.