Law school is so good for me.


I don’t think I’ve heard anyone else ever say something like that. I’ve heard them talk about the aches and pains. About whether school prepared them for the Bar and for actual lawyering. But I’ve never heard anyone say that it was a good thing on a personal level. That it helped them grow as a human being.

It’s been doing that for me.

Story…

It takes almost no time for new people in my life to recognize I struggle to ask for help. They usually diagnose me with a pride issue, assuming that I just hate to admit I can’t do everything, but it’s actually a really different thing than that. There’s probably pride in it, but the fears that play in my head when I know I need to ask for help aren’t people finding out I’m finite and human. It’s more like: “Ahhhh! He’s going to hate me for taking up his time! She’ll say yes to be polite, but secretly resent me forever. Ahhhhh!”

I’m making light of it, but it’s actually a paralyzing thing for me. I often would rather miss out on an opportunity than run the risk of having someone feel irritated by my presence.

This year, I’m writing my substantial paper (a.k.a. note). It’s pretty much the same thing as a dissertation. It’s a 30-35 page paper required for graduation and for various certifications (there is a certification for Juvenile and Family Law, for instance) . Also, for students who write for a law journal, there is the chance of being published.

I feel a little bit overjoyed and even giddy about it for a lot of reasons. My topic is something I’m truly passionate about. It’s a complex issue that combines constitutional law with juvenile and family law, plus I get to delve into the psychology of domestic violence. Academia is not over-saturated with articles on the topic, so it may be publishable. Also, I love to write.

For my note, I have an assigned student editor from the journal I’m on and I was required to find a faculty member willing to supervise me. My editor is delightful and super helpful, but…

Problem: I would rather have my fingernails torn off one by one than risk causing a professor to feel irritation.

It really wouldn’t be out of the question for a professor to be irritated with note supervision. After all, the nature of the relationship is such that I (an inexperienced lawyer-in-training) will be writing about something I am in the process of learning, and which the professor should know like the back of her hand. It’s a time-consuming endeavor of reading each draft I write, correcting legal and writing errors and making sure I write something worthy of transforming me into Kathryn James, J.D. (or, if I’m real fancy, Esq.). If I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, suck at legal writing/legal research, am lazy, or simply get off on the wrong track, the supervising professor is supposed to guide me back into the realm of competence.

It can be a great collaborative experience, OR it can be the intellectual equivalent of Student climbing into a potato sack and asking professor to drag her carcass from one edge of the desert to the next.

I really wanted to work with my favorite professor. She used to be the dean of the whole law school. She brings so much to the table in every discussion. She is smart and kind. She approaches the law with an admirable intellect tempered by empathy. She sees and articulates both sides of the issue.

She is pretty much the greatest thing since sliced bread, and I want to be just like her someday.

When I started thinking about asking her to supervise me, though, all I could imagine was how much she would grow to hate me for asking her to drag my carcass across the desert. I also assumed that all the fancy students who are in the top of the class would be asking her to supervise their notes and she wouldn’t have time for me. I also assumed that because my topic isn’t fully in her area of expertise, she would tell me to ask someone else.

And yet… I forced myself to ask.

Within minutes of sending my email, I received a response: Yes, but also consider talking to ______ and _______. They can help keep you on-track on areas outside of my expertise, but I would love to work with you.

Woohoo! She said yes!

I felt extreme terror at having to ask two more professors (neither of whom had taught me previously) for their time, but I did it, they said yes, and all seemed to be on-track.

My first real deadline was a couple of weeks ago – the first ten pages were due.

I felt like I hadn’t worked nearly hard enough. I felt inadequate… lazy, even. My paper was probably embarrassing. Laughable. I just hadn’t the knowledge and wisdom to realize it yet.

When I submitted my pages,* I assumed they would be returned to me bleeding of edits and feedback.

And yet…

“Your first ten pages are beautifully written. I usually provide students with sentence-level edits even at this early stage in the process, but I don’t have any for you. You really are a good writer.”

I nearly missed out on receiving one of the greatest compliments of my life… for fear of asking for help.

*I finished up my ten pages while sitting upstairs in a small town coffee shop called Appalachian Java. That day was the first day of my fall break, and I told my mom that I would need about 4 hours of study time that day. 8 ish hours later, I finally submitted my ten pages, having not eaten at all that day and having subjected my mom to a full day of sitting nearby, wondering when I would finish.

Fern Gully, Fitzgerald, and Frappuccinos


Years ago, when I first started blogging, I found myself pissing off a handful of people I never intended to piss off, and it surprised me.

I was surprised, in part, because I don’t think I’m all that offensive, in part, because I don’t think a 500-2,000 word blog  post is worth getting worked up over, and, in part, because I doubt I’d be angry if we pulled a Freaky Friday and you were writing about me. It’s a temptation for me to go more in-depth on each of the reasons I don’t understand and didn’t foresee The Anger, but that’s an awful lot like having an argument with someone who’s left the room so I’ll refrain.

Instead, I’m going to try to persuade The Angry to give me back my blog…

For me, this blog and writing in general exist in a separate and imaginary world. Anything the heart experiences is more than admissible in this world; it’s required and respected. The landscape looks like an animated, pre-Pixar Disney film – probably Fern Gully. In this imaginary writing world, J K Rowling grabs coffee with F Scott Fitzgerald to discuss the carelessness of witches and wizards who break things and leave the mess for others to clean up. They set up their coffee couch in the middle of a Fern Gully field. Fitzgerald spikes his coffee, of course, and, while Rowling doesn’t, she thoroughly approves.

Maybe that’s not a great way to describe it. Maybe it’s a barbaric yawp. There’s a poem by William Carlos Williams about dancing naked in front of a mirror while his wife sleeps that I think touches on the freedom I seek in writing. Maybe it’s impossible to paint a picture that displays the beauty, whimsy, thought, humor, and mystery of sitting down and translating thoughts into words. Maybe I can’t help The Angry see what they robbed me of when they limited my writing to the inoffensive…

To write well, I’ve always felt that a person must see and articulate with honesty and without apology. Good writing, to me, prioritizes truth, and truth, even in its most excruciating forms, should be a bridge between people. It should be what C.S. Lewis described as the birth of friendship, “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself.” That birth of friendship is why I read and write… because it’s such a strange and wonderful thing to know that person who is dead or a person who lives across the world or a person who I thought I knew everything about or any person at all is intimately acquainted with a part of life I thought was exclusive to me.

When people are angry with me for my writing, even though I don’t understand how they could be angry… I feel like I have to censor myself or stop writing altogether so that I won’t need to explain and comfort and apologize for my words. I wish in the past I’d taken a harder line with The Angry. I wish I’d protected my imaginary land of Fern Gully, Fitzgerald, and frappuccinos.

This place exists because I wanted to write. It does not exist because a friend or family member said to me, “I want to read,” and I thought, I should write a blog so that _________ can read. Rather, I decided to build myself an imaginary world, where there is no part of myself that is too offensive, too blunt, too honest… and possibly the one place where I could exist as I am without asking for permission.

This has all been churning in my head since I wrote something that didn’t make someone angry.

What I wrote hurled a friend and me into a difficult conversation, but when I offered never to write about that topic again, she said, “I don’t want you to do that. I have no right over your blog. That’s your place.”

I want to write here again. For real. Not for you. For me. It’s cool if you want to read it. It’s also cool if you don’t want to read it. Just please, if you get angry, keep it to yourself and know that whatever I wrote wasn’t about you… I grabbed ahold of something that was troubling in the real world, dragged it to Fern Gully, and sat down to try to sort out our troubles over a cup of spiked coffee.

 

NaNoWriMo 2015


It’s National Novel Writing Month again… and even though I thought I’d be ready to fully participate this year, I’m not, and I’m sad about it.

Re: the manuscript I’ve been working on for ages…

This manuscript is incredibly personal. Everything about it is wrapped up in who I am and what I’ve seen. That’s not to say that it’s autobiographical. It isn’t. However, it is personal, and there’s a vulnerability in writing what I’ve written.

Also, this may not seem like a big deal, but it’s my first full manuscript. I’ve written tons of first chapters but only one final chapter, and that one final chapter is contained in this manuscript. I’ve written short stories and essays galore, I’ve been starting novels since I was fourteen, but I’ve never put much hope in any of them until my current Work in Progress. I’ve never believed anything would ever come of them.

Additionally, this is the only time I’ve written anything near the realm of Christian Fiction. There’s a weighty responsibility that comes with that. I feel an urgent necessity, that I hate feeling, in writing something that glorifies God. I chose Weston, my character, because I couldn’t imagine a more heart-wrenching conflict than the one I’ve seen in my friends who are both gay and Christians. I thought it was good timing historically for a book about that conflict. I thought it would be easy to sell. Yet, now that it comes down to either publishing it or not, I’ve got a slow-growing fear based in all of the things that drew me to this conflict to begin with. I’m afraid of how the nation is changing, and how my friends are changing. I’m afraid of how difficult it seems to be for people like Weston to hold onto convictions and trust that God has it covered, and even if they don’t get what they want, to refuse to bow down to any claiming the place that belongs only to the Almighty.

Piled on top of that fear is the problem I currently have of perspective. I started out trying to write my manuscript in 3rd person, because it’s an impersonal, analytical way of writing that allowed me to think the story instead of feeling it. There’s this strange thing that happens in the writer’s mind, where characters are real. It would be impossible for me to write a great story without suspending my disbelief at least as much as I want my readers to suspend theirs, so Weston is a real person to me. I have emotions towards him that only find their match in my relationships to real people. I feel affection, disappointment, anger, and hope for him and for the other characters in his life – Madison, Riley, Dave… all of them. That’s super difficult, because it’s my job to push these people through to most difficult parts of their lives.

I would prefer to do that in 3rd person, even though that wasn’t the right choice for this story.

Alongside the emotions of it, writing in 1st person has a ton of complications because the story is not about what happened. Rather, it’s about what one person thought happened. A narrator who is living the story is almost never going to be 100% reliable, and my character is particularly unreliable because she’s young, foolish, and confused. She’s emotionally invested to the extent that she can’t see straight. The result of telling the story this way is hours – nay, HOURS and HOURS and HOURS – of trying to figure out how a person can tell a story exactly as she experienced it without communicating only what she experienced. Ideally, Madison would tell her story honestly and without concern for the reader, but I’d be skilled enough to communicate to the reader through Madison – that I’d show bits and pieces that Madi didn’t see, or saw falsely.

It’s painstaking work.

Also, I decided to rewrite the entire ending of my story. I got one of those epiphanies that hit at the strangest times, when the muse speaks, and what needs to be written becomes clear. And yet, it’s a ton of work rewriting the entire ending – especially because I did my best to weave the ending into every chapter of the book so that readers could look back and be all mind-blown at the clues that were there all along.

So… where I find myself now is at the end again, rewriting and trying to be intentional about the level of satisfaction I bring to readers… or not. It would be easy for me to wrap everything up nicely and tie it with a bow for readers. OR it would be easy for me to wrap nothing up and leave readers bewildered to figure it out for themselves. Probably, the right thing to do is somewhere in the middle of those.

Finally, the actual news of this post is that I’ve recently been put in touch with an editor who may actually be able to help me, without costing me a boatload of cash, which means I need to get myself in gear pretty quickly here and not let this opportunity pass.

BUT…

All I want to do is start a brand-new manuscript that I can write in the detached voice of an omniscient 3rd person narrator. I want it to be an absurd dark comedy/social commentary about public education, and I want to be in the planning stage rather than this editing and perfecting stage that I have to be in with Weston’s story.

AaaaaaaHhhhhhhh!

I love NaNoWriMo… next year, I guess.

Spam? … Or Poetry?


*So… I was reading some of the spam in my spam folder, and I realized that one piece shined above all of the others.

And must be turned into a poem.

Therefore, I deleted, rearranged, punctuated, and came up with this… I think you’ll find life more meaningful after reading it.

Occasionally,

it appears such as the only strategy

to break cost-free from your cruel chains.

Fate is always to take a bet.

With 1 ticket,

a single gold-filled lottery ticket,

you will go from down in your luck

to winning.

You can,

beyond shadow of doubt,

live the life you intended,

your options no more restricted by the magnitude of the bank account.

Breakfast around the finest meals.

Journey most extraordinary.

Enjoy.

Live.

I understand you might be asking yourself why.

The explanation is easy.

You need to evaluate.

Verify.

THE END. 🙂

Don’t Be Embarrassed


“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed. Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use ’emolument’ when you mean ‘tip’ and you’ll never say John stopped long enough to perform an act of excretion when you mean John stopped long enough to take a !@#$.”

Stephen King On Writing (117)