Sands Through the Hourglass

Lately, I’ve been feeling uncomfortable. On paper, my life is great. And I’m self aware enough to recognize that I am blessed to have everything that I need, and more than a few things that I want. Still, I’m unsatisfied.

At 31, I came to really grasp my own mortality. The knowledge that one day, my life will inevitably end has me asking myself, is this all there is? What can I do that will bring my life meaning and purpose? What are the things that will haunt me if I die without accomplishing?

“Father Time” by Alex Stone http://www.alexstoneart.com/

Heavy thoughts, I know. I guess my midlife crisis came early. But as a result, I just don’t have patience for things the way I used to. I’m much more aware of my relationships and the value that add (or don’t add) to my life. I’m heartily sick and tired of being everyone’s rock. The one that they call when they need a shoulder to cry on, but don’t contact when there is good news. The one that they call for business or legal advice, but don’t ask me if I’m doing okay in the wake of a death in the family. The one who keeps a level head and listens to everyone else’s crazy drama, but can’t get a word in edgewise the one time I need a listening ear. I’m the one who sends surprise birthday gifts, holiday cards, or at the very least can be counted on to call you and say happy birthday personally.

In the past year I’ve fallen back on all of that. Relationships aren’t tit for tat, but the exhaustion of almost always going the extra mile and almost never getting it back takes a toll. I’ve been told that some people just have a smaller cup to pour from, and they’ll never be able to give as much as I do and I have to meet them on their level. Well, fine. I hate being parsimonious with my affection, but what I hate more is giving resentfully. So I’m going to be selfish, until I can be generous again and mean it.

Then there’s my job. Civil legal aid is my dream job although you could argue it’s thankless. It certainly requires me to give a lot mentally and emotionally. But most of my clients are pretty darn grateful, and that helps. Maybe it’s because I tend to handle thornier issues (tax debt, fraud, bankruptcies, foreclosures) but a good 90% of my clients actually say thank you when I wrap up their case and are pretty gracious throughout the process. My job fatigue stems almost entirely from the dysfunction of my nepotism riddled organization. Nobody in an executive officer position has practiced law within the past 20 years. Our director of IT almost old enough to draw Social Security benefits and refused to cede control of anything but computer and phone setup for new employees, despite the fact that there are four other people under her who are more than capable of assisting with security, web development, etc. My job is funded by three different grants and it creates so much extra paperwork it’s not even funny.

On August 7, 2018 I posted on my Facebook the following quote: “I’m ready to become a bestselling author so I can quit my day job.” This morning, I stumbled across a beautiful poem by a high school friend of mine. We were both bookworms and aspiring writers. She followed her dreams and majored in English, did her master’s in literature at Oxford College in England, and just last year published her first book. As for me, I took the practical path. I don’t regret it because if I hadn’t gone to Georgia Tech, I might never have met my husband (or might have met him much later), and he’s been nothing but amazing to be around. Law school gave me a profession that will always allow me to make money on my own terms. But maybe the lawyer phase of my life should be coming to an end. One of my Mercer classmates quit her day job to become a fitness instructor and personal trainer. And Toni Morrison, bestselling author and Nobel Prize winner, who passed away on August 5, 2019, didn’t publish her first book until she was 39 years old.

There’s still time. But not enough to waste.

Life update

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Life comes at you fast. 2019 started of slow but in March, things took off and they haven’t slowed down. On April 15, 2019, I lost my maternal grandmother, Nonny. She was suffering from dementia that had progressed into Alzheimer’s and I knew her time was coming soon, but it still caught me off guard. Thank God that I have a job with good benefits and an understanding boss. Between traveling to Atlanta for the funeral and just grieving, I was out of work for two solid weeks. It was another month after that before I started to feel normal again. Nonny was like a second mother to me. We went to my grandparents’ house almost every single weekend. They came to my school (an hour away!) for Grandparents Day when I was little. My grandmother in particular never let me leave without a treat. And she always told me how proud she was of me and that she loved me. Jesus, I’m tearing up writing this. But I’m glad that she passed away before things got to the organ failure, comatose stage of things. She still had lucid moments and my grandfather was with her at the end. She just went to sleep and never woke up, which is just about the best way you can go.

In the meantime, work has picked up dramatically. I’m enjoying the tax work but juggling the paperwork and aggy clients along with a bankruptcy case that I absolutely hate, is getting to be a lot. My manager and our unit paralegal are both out on maternity leave, so it’s just me, the staff attorney who was hired 3 months after me, and the new secretary. They are great but we have 3 people doing 5 people’s work so it’s still crazy. I’m the most senior attorney so a bunch of administrative/managerial stuff that I used to hand up to my manager are now my problem. -_- Not to mention that our secretary only had a month, two weeks of which were getting trained on our case management software, so I’m helping her get trained on how our unit runs.

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I’SE TIRED, BOSS.

I wanna have a Hot Girl Summer (trademark pending) too, but the way my workload is set up I’m gonna have to push it back to a Hot Girl Autumn. Save me some sangria, y’all.

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.