November 07, 2003

Untitled musing. 

I got a call the other day from the former girlfriend of a client, the mother of his daughter. My client was only seventeen when he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. At that time, his daughter was only a couple of months old, and I think the girlfriend was barely sixteen.

My client has wanted desperately to find out how his daughter is doing and to have some contact with her. Our investigator found the mom, and was able to talk to her a month or so ago. We'd asked her to think about letting my client have contact with his daughter, or at least to give the girl some letters and artwork from her daddy and send him a picture of her. The woman was hesitant, but took my business card from the investigator and said she'd call me after she thought about it. I wasn't sure if we'd ever hear from her again.

But she just called me this week. We talked for a long time about her concerns about putting her daughter in touch with my client, although I had to make clear that I couldn't share any information with her about the case or about my conversations with the client.

Perhaps in part because I've been thinking about the whole parenting business these days, I was incredibly impressed with this young woman. She's around 24 now, and married with two young sons in addition to the daughter (who's 8). According to my investigator, who met with this woman in person, she has made a comfortable life for her young family, and lives in a nice apartment in a clean, safe neighborhood. My own interaction with her left me with the impression that she is exceptionally mature, intelligent, and articulate, and a caring and responsible mother.

She told me she's always taken care to make sure her daughter knows that she has a father who is a different man from the stepdad, and to only tell her daughter good things about her real father. She said the girl knows her real dad is in prison, and that they will talk more about what this means when she is older and can maybe understand it better. The mom told me that she grew up without a father, and she never wants her daughter to feel the kind of pain and sadness she knew growing up.

When I got off the phone with this woman, I sat at my desk for a while staring out the window, trying to imagine how I would have managed as a sixteen year old with a new baby and a boyfriend convicted of murder and in prison for the rest of his life. Though I know it's not likely to happen (or even appropriate under the circumstances), I want to talk to her again, and to learn the rest of her story. How did she survive during those early years as a single teenage mother, without turning to the destructive behaviors I've seen in so many other similarly-situated young women? How did she find it within herself to set aside her own admitted anger at the child's father and raise the girl with a positive picture of her dad? How did she acquire such strong parenting skills, despite her own troubled childhood? And how did she manage to build such a stable and secure life for herself and her growing young family, against the odds that obviously were stacked against her?

I hope that she can teach her children the kind of resourcefulness she must have within her. I wish that she or someone like her was reaching out to the many, many young people who turn to drugs and crime out of desperation or simply not knowing any other life, and telling them "hey, I'm just like you, and I've held it together and stayed clean." There are so many of them, those girls who keep having babies year after year in the hopes that the losers who father their kids will stick around and support mother and baby. The men keep leaving, and too many of the women end up turning tricks or moving drugs because they've got six kids and no skills.

Sometimes the realities of my clients' lives are too depressing to contemplate. But talking to this young mother mostly made me feel optimistic and hopeful. Even if I can't do much on the legal side for this client (which remains to be seen at this point), I hope I can at least help him re-establish his relationship with his daughter in a way that will work for everyone involved.

November 06, 2003

Productive procrastination. 

Ah, productivity! I've felt frazzled and unfocused all week, then today it was as though someone flipped the switch to "on." After a great swim lesson in the early hours, I spent most of the morning participating in a moot court (that's "practice argument" to you non-lawyers) for a colleague who has her first-ever U.S. Supreme Court argument in December. I love our office moots. One of the best things about my wonderful job is that because we're not slaves to the God of the Billable Hour, we can get the entire appellate group in a room to bounce a case around for as long as it takes. I would have loved to have a videotape of today's argument, so I could study my co-workers' intensity and the interesting dynamics between us.

We spent almost three hours peppering the presenting lawyer with questions, trying to imagine what the Justices will want to explore with her and hashing out the finer points of her arguments and those of the government. I'm so fortunate to work with such smart, articulate, interesting people, and I love that everyone is willing to take so much time to help a colleague prepare for the most important argument of her career.

After the moot court, I spent a few hours playing around with the case that's been driving me crazy, and I think I've finally figured out how to handle it. I had a long talk with my client -- his new case manager is really nice, and arranged a phone call on just ten minutes notice. This client has had terrible relationships with his former attorneys, to the point that both he and his counsel have tried to terminate those relationships on several occasions (one of his past lawyers filed a motion with the caption "Take My Client Please"). But for whatever reason, he seems comfortable with me and receptive to my advice. He listens carefully to what I tell him and seems to understand that although I'm not necessarily handling the case the same way he tried to do it when he represented himself, I am acting in his best interests. It's very gratifying to have such a notoriously difficult client be so cooperative with me, and I'm hoping this "honeymoon period" will continue. Part of the reason we are working well together may be because I've been careful to validate my client's view of his case, and to let him know how impressed I am with his intelligence and with the way he put his case together as a pro se litigant.

Towards the end of the day, I reached a stopping point on that case and thought about turning to my next brief (which presents a fascinating, brain-twisting due process issue). But it was too late to shift mental gears, so instead I attacked the chaos that is my office. Now I have a few minutes to write before I head to yoga, and I'm surrounded by pristine space on a desk I'd forgotten was hiding under all that paper.

But I think I may actually work better when my office is a bit of a mess. Something about this blonde-wood expanse seems to make it harder for me to focus. Maybe it's the physical manifestation of my preference for background noise when working; I don't like things to be too quiet when I'm really trying to work hard, and find the hum of the radio or the low buzz of coffeeshop conversation far more conducive to productivity than the deafening silence of a library carrel. It's almost as though the white background noise occupies my right brain, so my left brain can devote itself to the task at hand.

For a long time I thought I should learn to work uninterrupted in a quiet space. But I've finally learned to acknowledge and accept the conditions in which I do my best work. Those habits have gotten me where I am today, which really is not a bad place!

November 05, 2003

Baby it's you. 

A prefatory note to my mother: you might want to go back to gazing at pictures of your adorable grandson and skip this post.

Several conversations I've had this week, both live and electronic, have revolved in one way or another around the issue of having children. As my friends have started breeding at a rapid pace, and especially now that I'm an aunt to gorgeous baby Nathan, I keep waiting for those Burning Maternal Urges to come my way, along with the ticking of the proverbial Biological Clock. So far, though, my desire to be a parent remains muted at best, and my biological clock must be ticking too softly for me to hear.

For a long time, I told myself that I didn't want kids because of my sucky genetics. My law school boyfriend embarked on a vigorous campaign to change this attitude; though we've long since parted ways (and he's now married with a brood of his own), he succeeded in convincing me that my disabilities presented no reason not to reproduce. As he put it, if my kids turn out to have Usher Syndrome they'll just be like me, which wouldn't be so terrible. I still worry a little about that prospect, but the gene that causes my Usher has been identified and I now know that my kids can only get the disease if my theoretical future husband carries that gene (and even then it'd be only a chance, not a certainty). So it's not a very good reason to avoid childbearing.

I also worry about the logistics of having kids when I can't see or hear very well. But plenty of blind and deaf people have children, and the wonders of modern assistive technology have pretty much mooted this excuse.

It's possible that my uncertainty about having kids ebbs and flows depending on the presence or absence in my life of a putative baby daddy. Yet even when I'm in a serious relationship, the ambivalence lurks. Some of my friends are aching to be mothers, or as new moms feel blissfully complete. Others are absolutely sure they do not want children. I don't fall into either category.

There are times when I am with a pregnant friend, or hanging out with a friend's adorable, happy child, and I feel stirrings of interest within me. Holding my new nephew for the first time brought up a flood of emotion I'd never imagined I could feel for such a tiny bundle of life. At other times, particularly with new parents whose lives seem to revolve entirely around their child, or when a little kid in my vicinity lets out that horrible, spine-jarring shrieking noise, I feel anxious and claustrophobic and swear to myself that I'll never have kids.

One reason I sometimes think I do want kids is that I have such a great relationship with my parents. They're brilliant, kind, interesting, fun, multi-talented people who've been an incredible source of strength and support to me throughout my life. At this point, especially since I've been back in Colorado, I feel like they are not just my parents, but also my close friends and trusted advisors. It would be amazing to have that type of relationship with a child of my own.

Yet how could I possible ensure that my child grows up to like and respect me as much as I like and respect my own parents? My parents raised us with the knowledge that we could do and be anything we set our minds to, and that any obstacle could be overcome through tenacity and resourcefulness. But do I have it in me to provide a similar foundation for my own children? How on earth did my folks survive my teenage insanity without irreparably destroying our relationship? What if my child has some horrible mental, physical, or emotional problem that not only will require enormous sacrifice on my part, but will prevent the child from ever truly connecting with me? And what if my kid turns out to be a Republican?

I think that before you become a parent, you should recognize that there are even more "what ifs" than you can possibly concoct in your nightmares, and that you must be prepared to weather whatever storm life flings your way. In theory, if your marriage goes south, you can get divorced. If you hate your job, you can look for another one, or change careers entirely. But by bringing a child into the world, you're in for the long haul, and you have no way of predicting what lies ahead. That scares the crap out of me, and makes me very, very uncertain whether I'm up to the task.

Or maybe I'm thinking about this too much. Maybe people shouldn't focus on the realities and unknowns too much before they have kids, because if they did the population would die out in a generation.

As I said earlier, it's all very theoretical for me right now, but I wonder sometimes why, at almost 33, my body and heart aren't sending me clearer signals about motherhood.

November 04, 2003

The wheels on the bus. 

This morning I managed to drag my tired tushie out of the house to the bus stop in time for the 5:30 bus (which gets me to the gym in time for spin class). I've gotten my a.m. routine down to a fine art, and can be shivering in the dark on 8th Avenue within 9 minutes of being vibrated awake by my deaf-chick alarm clock. Usually, the bus is only about half full when I get on, and I can take over a two-seat bench, hang my clothes from the back of the seat in front of me, and close my eyes for a few more minutes.

But this morning, the bus was packed. I found myself cramped between two supersized human beings with my backpack, purse, and suit bag balanced precariously in my lap. These logistics made napping a challenge and didn't leave me with a hand free to flip through the mail I was too tired to read last night. So there I sat, trying to make my sleepy eyes focus and taking in the particularly diverse slice of humanity that rides the bus at such a godawful hour.

This is the first bus of the morning on the #6 route, which goes all the way from Aurora to Northglenn, via downtown. I've been seeing some of the same people on this bus for over 5 years now. While I've rarely spoken to any of them, I have little names for some of the regulars. One is Pillsbury Doughboy, who gets on two stops after me. He's a huge, moon-faced man with no neck and a beatific half-smile on his face every time I see him. He carries a mini Igloo cooler, and often wears a goofy little hat that's so small on his enormous head that it has a cartoonish effect.

Another is a woman I call Sophia Loren. I see her coming home sometimes, too, and back when I lived in an apartment on Downing Street, I would occasionally see her on the #12 bus in the early mornings. Sophia is tall, slim, and elegant looking, with coffee-colored skin and gorgeous long black hair that she wears in a french twist or tucks under one of several beautiful hats. Even at the crack of dawn, she is impeccably dressed, with perfect makeup and a designer suit. She color coordinates her shoes, handbags, and coats, and she carries herself like royalty. I'm fascinated by this mysterious woman, and always wonder how the hell she can look so fabulous that early in the morning, and where she is going on the bus in such fancy attire.

In addition to the regulars I've noticed over the years, there's a motley collection of folks on whom I've never really focused. They are secretaries and receptionists on flex-time schedules, construction workers carrying huge metal lunch pails, and hospital workers in scrubs, presumably headed to early shifts at Denver Health.

And then there's the assorted human detritus of the wee hours. My bus isn't nearly as . . . interesting as the #15, which travels Colfax. But it gets its share of banger wannabes in baggy pants falling off their nonexistent butts (I imagine they are heading home to the north 'burbs after a night of hanging out on the urban streets). There's always at least one drunk paying his bus fare in loose change, sometimes smelling so strongly from booze, vomit, stale cigarette smoke, and hard luck that I have to change my seat. Often, there's a woman I'm sure is a hooker, who gets on when the bus turns onto Lincoln. She has dead eyes and faded makeup, and she always looks like she's been up all night and had a rough time of it. And there are two or three regulars who seem to be homeless, but ride the bus almost daily from Capitol Hill to downtown, muttering loudly to one another and occasionally raging at the bus driver, who tolerates them with enviable patience.

I've also started to notice more and more how many blind people ride the busses, although I see them mostly in the evenings, not the early hours. I find myself staring at the blind passengers, watching them navigate the world with their canes and dogs and careful strides. Sometimes I see myself in their movements; as my field of vision began to shrink, I inadvertently began to rein in my range of motion to the point where my walk almost mimics the tight-hipped, measured, almost shuffling steps of the blind. I've been working hard to correct this, and am finally able to run again with relatively little knee and hip pain. But I can't totally shake my semi-conscious fear of moving in space I can't see.

In some ways, it's comforting to see so many blind people going independently about their business. More often, though, I feel a catch in the back of my throat as I wonder to myself, is that going to be me? And if so, when? As I wrote last week, I don't like to dwell on this stuff, and so I find myself feeling slightly resentful of these people whose presence calls up such frightening and negative thoughts.

I guess if I still drove, I wouldn't be exposed to so much diversity (and if I could still drive, presumably I wouldn't be obsessed with staring at blind people). Admittedly, I loathe waiting for the bus in the darkness and cold, and it gets awfully hard to drag myself to the gym before work in the dead of winter. But I've grown attached to my assorted anonymous bus companions, and to the window the bus ride opens for me onto lives that seem far different from -- and surely more difficult than -- my own.

November 03, 2003

Lost in contemplation. 

Steve and I saw Lost in Translation yesterday. It is a dreamy, contemplative movie, perfect for a cold and gray Sunday afternoon. Later, as I was putzing around my house doing laundry and flipping channels, I thought about the type of snapshot moment the film captures. I've had experiences with people who passed evanescent through my life, yet left a profound impact in their wake. Often, the person him or herself has little to do with this impact; as is true for the characters in Lost in Translation, certain people have catalystic effects on us because they enter our lives at moments when we need to connect with someone else in order to access new pieces of ourselves or process internal conflict. Anyone who's discussed religion or metaphysics with me knows that I flatly reject the notion that "things happen for a reason." Instead, I think that certain people come into (or leave) our lives and certain experiences happen to us because, at a particular moment in our lives, we need something, and so we derive that from whatever source presents itself.

In the movie, the main characters are stuck in a Tokyo hotel, feeling jagged and disoriented by a Japanese culture that underscores their feelings of isolation and loneliness. Their connection is neither sexual nor truly romantic. Rather, they share a cathartic coming-together that allows each of them to articulate the dissatisfactions with which they live and play out the fantasy of a different life before returning to their separate realities.

Travel is especially conducive to this type of connection. I've certainly felt isolated and alone while away from home, and have forged unexpected connections with strangers as a result. But more often, I feel like I inhabit myself most completely when I'm farthest away from the trappings of my "normal" life. When I travel, I leave behind the clothes, possessions, titles, and routines with which I shroud myself. Underneath all of these layers lies the essential me, stripped of all barriers but those of language, experience, and culture. Sometimes, this makes travel particularly stressful, because I am forced to confront insecurities and limitations that my normal routine protects me from acknowledging. But more often, travel allows me to access strengths and abilities I've forgotten lie within me, because my normal routine also protects me from the challenging and the unknown. This feeling of "me-ness" is part of what I love about traveling, and surely plays a role in generating my incessant wanderlust.

When I start to feel that my life is becoming too predictable, that I am slipping into traps of habit and routine, and that I am beginning to lose myself in my own settled existence, I begin to spend inordinate amounts of time dreaming about exotic destinations and searching for frequent flyer seats to far-flung places. I'm feeling a bit of this right now, and since I don't have a major adventure in the works, I've been struggling to channel my restlessness into productive pursuits. I've also been trying to explore new and different experiences, and to open myself up more within the confines of my day-to-day patterns. This may not be quite as much fun as discovering hidden aspects of myself in the mountains of Bhutan, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper.

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