Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Ivory Tower Has a Fire Escape?

3Ls: Is graduating overwhelming and sad to you, too?

I know I'm about to get pilloried for saying this, but I'm afraid, and nostalgic, and frankly, panicked. It's not about the work.* Instead, it's about that fear of mediocrity that never really left, from the first time I picked up a pencil and started sketching out logic games. It's about the fact that, after 20-some years of school, broken up by what can only be considered "fake jobs," the real world is bearing down hard and fast.

In law school, I learned to think and challenge myself in ways I didn't know I was capable of. I watched my writing develop (though not, it may be said, my blogging). For the first time, after years of athletics and overcommitments and a serious case of being an idiot 18 year old, I got in over my head in all the ambiguous mess of language and theory and structure and policy and stuff that makes up the law. I got up in the morning, plunked myself down at my computer, and pounded away at my keyboard, sometimes for upwards of 14 hours a day. I've had the luxury of sitting in classes like Fed Courts, pushed by my classmates and encouraged by someone brilliant, just so that I can spend an afternoon shooting the shit about Pullman Abstention. Really.

And I know that saying things like that, I sound like an insufferable gunner. But I'm a little afraid. Truth be told, I'm only 60% good at law school--but I'm happy here.

What if the world outside these walls isn't all its cracked up to be? What if, rather than marching confidently into whatever the future holds, I start to lose my grip on the important things? It's not mortgages and retirement plans and health insurance and aging that really frightens me. It's the fact that, when I am sitting in Fed Courts, I feel like I belong. It's the fear that when I walk out of those doors, diploma in hand and loan payments lurking over my shoulder, I'll somehow lose sight of the things that I am so proud of now. I know it won't happen right away--but I am afraid that, as time passes, I'll lose track of the intellectual in my efforts to take care of the mundane. I don't want to be mediocre. I don't want to wake up at 40 and discover that all of the academic aspirations that were floating around my addled brain at 26 got pushed aside in an effort to make partner, to be the good employee, to win the case.

After 26 years of considering myself "a good writer," I've learned, in the last six months, that it might actually be in my capacity to develop a compelling piece of legal scholarship. The change not one I can take credit for--I've been goaded along by my mentor every step of the way, to the point where now, I fear she may have a dartboard with my face on it. Still, realizing that I can write something worth reading (besides this small blog) has been a mind-altering experience for me.

It may sound trite, but what I really fear is losing my intellectual life. The practice of being an attorney is not easy, but it is a different kind of challenge than the life than that of a student. I will not have professors like my mentor, pushing me to ask difficult questions, puzzle out challenging legal difficulties, and sit down, shut up, and write, goddammit. I'm not confident that I have the intellectual steel to keep that sort of development up, without a community of people nearby to support and push me. Candidly, I'm not confident that I'm clever enough to ask those smart questions without a professor around to push and guide me.

Tomorrow morning, with a few hours sleep and a few more pages under my belt, this may not seem like the crisis that it appears to be tonight. Tonight, though, I'm feeling small.

Le sigh. New beginnings are rough, guys.

* Holy shit guys, I can not, at this time, come out from the wonderful world of coconuts and denial to tell you about the work that I have to do. I know. Preaching to the choir. But still: 3L was advertised as easy. I would like my money back, please.


1L poet said...

awesome, awesome title.

Tree Hugging 2L said...

As a chronic worrier, I obsess about the real world as a 2L (all the time). I think it happened after appellate, when I treated myself to champagne for arguing so dang well in front of a panel of fake judges. The word fake has daunted me ever since. Will I ever measure up to the real version? So you're totally not alone. And we'll both totally rock.

All rights reserved to my snotty and generally self-deprecating writing. And if your comments bother me, I'll delete them. That's right, pumpkin.
...How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one's name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!
-- Emily Dickinson