Thursday, April 28, 2005

If it’s Friday, it must be…???

I realized today that I will be spending each of the next five Fridays in a different place and only one of those will be Madison. Tomorrow I am off to New York again where I will be preparing myself for an important event this Saturday: the consumption of a spectacular lunch.

That I can spend two days thinking about a spectacular lunch says tons about me (that my days are indeed structured around stuffing food into my face). And that I am happy to be roaming this month says even more.

A friend said just this past week that for her, knowledge and insight came from things she read and observed in her immediate environment. I argued the opposite: for me, displacement creates the necessary agitation to shake things up and throw out some new patterns for the brain to interpret.

I’m ready for it. And so is Ocean.


Two nights ago, a neighbor took me out to dinner in honor of my promotion. Now, you could say that it was a little premature, since the i’s have not been dotted and being rather pessimistic about linear progression toward happy outcomes, I am certain that the entire thing will derail and I will be left unemployed with one of those cardboard signs saying “I am a lawyer without an income; feed me.” (I do realize that I may get rotten tomatoes in my tin rather than real cash with that sign, but one has to be honest.)

The reason I am writing about this now is that after protesting and saying “you don’t have to do that” about a dozen times, it struck me how momentous this step up really is. Because after it, there are no more promotions left for me: I will have reached the final stage of career advancement and all that’s left is to be booted out (you never know), rather than up.

Some might regard this as tremendous success. I am 52, I interrupted my career climb many times and here I am, now forever stuck at this same level of my professional status until I retire or kick my own tinny little bucket.

But it has not been an effortless ascent. I changed career paths three times in the course of my studies. And once I settled on law, the kiddies came, each choosing her birth date to coincide with the beginning of a new semester of law school. With my law degree, I still hop scotched around the profession, switching from practice, to teaching how to practice, and finally to “just” teaching.

Job security has also been elusive. Until the last decade, much of my work was funded by grants written by me to agencies and foundations that I felt sure would reject my projects, my work, my life, throwing me out with the heap of paper rubbish that routinely accumulates on their desks. I will never forget the day I traveled to DC to meet with a rep from the Department of Education concerning my most recent grant proposal. She clearly did not understand the project. Not any part of it. It was a nightmare in the making. I swear she heaped money on me in the end just to shut me up already.

Or, the interview with the nun from a Chicago foundation that was considering funding my AIDS Legal Services Project. Up to that point they had funded things like the Crane Foundation up in Baraboo. How do you make the leap from long-necked birds to AIDS? Here I was, trying to convince the nun that helping gay men (at the time AIDS was mostly about gay men) straighten out their legal messes was the way to go. We spent the entire time talking about how men got infected with HIV to begin with. I swear, up until that moment, she did not know.

My point: as I wave a fond farewell to yet another cohort of law students, I want to say – I know all about the anxiety of work v. no-work, about liking your work v. dreading each day of it, and change: most of all, I understand change. Gone are the days when you land your first professional job and you stay with it til you die (for women, I doubt that those days were ever in the offering).

And it all moves very very fast. You’re waving your diploma and the next thing someone is taking you out to dinner because you’re now senior and full, though not quite full of yourself, because you know better: were it not for good old mother fortune, it could still be you, there with the “unemployed lawyer” sign, wondering which corner brings in the biggest loot.