Monday, September 25, 2006

Facing It

Hard work, fear, grief, ambiguity and joy: that's my life right now. Once again I realize that I have it pretty good.

Jeff and I had dinner at Cafe Europa the other night. It's one of our old haunts — we used to meet there for lunch on Fridays when I was a student here and he was driving buses. (Of course, now I'm a student again and he's driving buses again. But a lot has changed in the interim.) I got my old favorite meal, tomato basil soup with a chunk of bread and Greek salad. I talked a mile a minute for most of the hour or so that we were there. Jeff got to hear my argument on why, as a religious person, I believe that separation of church and state is essential to preserve the significance of religious observance, as well as the rights of those whose beliefs differ from those of the majority. He also got to hear about the Webb for Senate campaign, in which I've been pretty involved. And he got to hear a lot about my personal life, which is confusing, scary, and yet, a lot of fun.

I got married in November of 2003 and divorced in April of 2005. Out of respect for my ex-husband and his friends and family, I won't share any details about the marriage, but I think it's my place to say that I shouldn't have entered into it. I'm still struggling with that decision. It's easy for me to brush it off as something I did because I was young and foolish, or because I wasn't as socially well-adjusted as I am now, or because I was depressed. All of those things are true, but they don't help me figure out how not to make a decision like that again. And so I tend, now, to get scared when I let people too far into my life. I assume that everyone to whom I give the power to hurt me will use it. It takes me a long time to learn to trust people.

In the intense social atmosphere of the law school, everything happens at warp speed. I met most of my best friends here on August 16th or 17th, and let them into my life completely within a couple of weeks. Part of that, I think, is that the workload is heavy, and the material is sometimes difficult, and there's almost a complete lack of feedback from our professors. So, we gravitate towards each other for reassurance. We want to be part of a team. I have a team here, and I love them. But in my darker moments, I wonder how I can trust people so fully whom I've only known for a few weeks. On the other hand, there's no way I could get through this alone.

James and I met and started dating immediately after my ex-husband and I split up. I was more than a little bit skittish, but I knew I wanted to give being with James a shot. One afternoon in October, he was driving us through Schenley Park, where the leaves were turning and the sky was a brilliant blue. He turned to me and said, "I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" I asked, my stomach tightening, worried that he'd done something awful and this was the beginning of a confession.

"I'm apologizing now because I know that eventually I'm going to hurt you. It's impossible not to hurt people you love, and I'm not very good at relationships, so I'm sure I'll hurt you somehow. And when it happens, I want you to know that it's not on purpose."

I'm pretty sure I laughed, and of course I accepted his apology-in-advance. I thought it was silly at the time, but now I don't. James and I dated for two years or so, and it was wonderful — certainly the most comfortable relationship that I've ever had — but he did hurt me at times, and I hurt him too.

Maybe it's learning to write legal proofs that's leading me to think about feelings this way, but I feel like since pain is always a possibility when entering into close relationships, there's almost no point in worrying about it. To borrow terminology from Torts, I've been thinking of relationships as operating under a strict liability regime. If something bad happens, I'm liable. So I might as well just not get close with anyone, since the pain that might result will then be my fault. But as we've seen in Torts, strict liability only makes sense in particular circumstances. I'm going to try to operate in more of a negligence world instead. If I get close to you, and you hurt me, I'll only hold you liable if you fail to take the care that a reasonably prudent person would take under the circumstances, or if you intend to hurt me. Some pain is inevitable. It's one of the costs of participating in the system, like the fact that if I drive my brand new car, after a little while it's not going to look so brand new anymore. But if all I do is keep it in the garage and gaze at it, what's the point of having it?

So I'm going to try to get comfortable with vulnerability again. I was living a very safe life before I started law school. I had a job that I was good at, a boyfriend who was unfailingly nice to me, a cheap place to live, a church where I knew people, places to go to get coffee where the baristas knew how I liked my espresso. Most of the time, I was content. But now I feel like I have a shot at actual happiness. And even though it isn't a safe bet, I have to go for it.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Why Law Students Seem Boring

Studying the law is like being selectively brain-dead. The more time I spend here, the better I get at the various sorts of work that I need to do. For example, I just transferred my vehicle registration here from Pennsylvania, so I have to mount a front license plate on my car for the first time, and there's no bracket on my car with which to do so. So I found the Code of Virginia and looked up the relevant statute to find out which vehicles are exempt from front plate requirements. Then I checked what sort of violation it is if you don't have one, and how much the fine is. I'm not saying I'm an awesome legal researcher or anything — far from it — but a few weeks ago it wouldn't have occurred to me to do any of that.

On the other hand, I don't have time to go to Advance Auto and buy a license plate bracket for my car during the week, so I have to go do it on Saturday. I clean my apartment on Sunday mornings at 7 because I can't sleep past then anymore. I can figure out why it might make sense for a contractor who decides not to do a job to help the client find someone else to do it on favorable terms, but I can't remember to bring lunch to school. I haven't watched TV in a week, since the Steelers game last Thursday. I only listen to music in my car on the way to and from school.

I'm busy, but more than that, student life is just really different from wage-slave life. It used to be that I'd spend the whole day doing things that didn't make (or even let) me use my brain much, and then come home and be full of creative energy. Now I spend all day thinking, reading and having interesting conversations, and when it's over I feel like having a beer and going to sleep. Besides the inevitable classes and reading, there are also get-togethers featuring a bunch of us law students talking, get-togethers featuring a bunch of us law students talking and playing board games, and get-togethers featuring a bunch of us law students talking and watching movies. In the afternoons, we often gather to talk at meetings or to listen to people talk at panels and symposia, and if we're lucky, there's food, which we gather around and talk. So when, eventually, I get home, I do my reading if I can stay awake long enough (usually it gets postponed until the morning) and then crash. But I don't feel much like talking. Luckily I live alone.

So, for those of you who aren't in this ridiculous little club of ours: if you meet a law student, and she's glassy-eyed and taciturn, you now know why. And if, on the other hand, she's bouncing on the balls of her feet and talking a mile a minute, you know she's just that excited to be talking to a normal human being. Indulge her.

Monday, September 11, 2006


The Cavalier Daily reports that Stephanie Garrison has been acquitted on appeal. I wish the article were more detailed, but the gist of it is that in order for an honor code violation to occur, three factors must be present: act, intent, and non-triviality (or seriousness, as this article says). The jury found that Garrison's lie was not serious enough to make it an honor code violation.

I applaud this verdict. If there's one thing I've learned in law school so far this semester, it's that you can't convict someone (or hold him or her civilly liable) because you feel like that person's done something wrong and deserves to be punished. If the actual sequence of events doesn't match what the law says is necessary to produce liability, then you find for the defendant. Of course, that doesn't always happen, but I'm very pleased that it has happened here.

How are we to judge non-triviality? The Honor Committee website says the question we should ask is: "Would open toleration of such an act impair the community of trust sufficiently ... to warrant permanent dismissal from the University?" The University Judiciary Committee is empowered to impose sanctions on students, and those sanctions ought to be completed. From the facts as stated by the Cav Daily, it seems to me that Garrison made a good faith effort to complete her sanctions. She didn't go about it in the world's smartest way: it was unwise for her to interpret the sanctions as broadly as she did, and when threatened with suspension for being late with her completion form, she ought to have explained her situation to the UJC rather than just figuring she'd sign the form and everything would be okay. But is this the sort of behavior that, if other people did it, would damage the community of trust here at U.Va.? I have to say I don't think it is.

The Honor Committee website also says that "the Honor System can only act effectively where it is reasonably well-known and understood." They're referring to the reasons for the geographical limitations on the system, but I think their statement applies here too. How many of us, when hearing that Garrison had turned in her sanction completion form believing that she had completed two of the three sanctions, and being scheduled to complete the third soon, would have thought, "Oh, that's an Honor Code violation!" Since the purpose of the Code is to protect the integrity of our community, its implementation should reflect our community values. That means that, at least outside the realm of academic dishonesty (for which the rules are more severe), we should tolerate no arcane implementations and no charges based on technicalities.

Honor Committee tryouts are next week. I'm thinking of going.

Friday, September 08, 2006


For those who don't know, U.Va. has an extremely pervasive honor code (you're bound by it at all times within the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, as well as in other places when you're representing yourself as a U.Va. student) with a single sanction. That means that if you're found guilty of an honor code violation, you're asked to leave the University; or, if you've already graduated, your degree is revoked.

This week, the Cavalier Daily has been running a series of articles about a U.Va. undergrad's honor conviction and upcoming appeals trial. After reading them, I'm really concerned about what's going to happen this Sunday at the trial. I tried to get tickets to go see the trial myself, but they were all gone when I called. Serving on the Honor Committee is something I've wanted to do since I was an undergrad here, but I'm not sure how I feel about how things have proceeded in this student's case. The articles are here:

Part one
Part two
Part three
Part four

The single sanction is always controversial, and every few years there's a vote on whether to continue having it as a part of the honor code. To me, the single sanction is entirely fair: we enter this community deliberately; we sign the honor pledge when we enroll; those of us who violate the honor code shouldn't be a part of the community. But the flip side of this severe sanction is that trials need to be carried out extremely carefully. I hope that this Sunday will see that happen.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Every law student has his or her favorite hideout. Some choose the library; others prefer a study room; some, for reasons beyond my comprehension, choose the "Fishbowl," a large, silent atrium with glass walls. I like the garden on nice days and Scott Commons in the mornings.

The longer I'm here, the more I realize that I have to do what works for me. Friends are wonderful (some of mine here are especially wonderful), but when they go off to study in silence, I'm not following them. Some of them stay up late; I get up early. Pretty much all of them seem to think that my daily NY Times crossword habit is a little nuts, but I'm not giving it up because it helps me get comfortable and focused each morning.

I admire my parents now for going to sleep when they're tired. I need to get better about that. I need to find my rhythm. Ever-increasing quantities of coffee are not going to cut it in the long run. I don't want to feel strung out for the next three months and have to detox over winter break.

Last night I had my red sweater out, the one with a zillion little cables and patterns, the one that took me over a year to finish knitting. I hadn't looked at it in a while and I was surprised to notice that it is a truly amazing object, a testament to the vision of the designer, the versatility of the craft, and my own skill and persistence. I've been knitting seriously for about four years now — not too much longer than the time I'll spend here. In that time, I've become a real craftswoman. But looking back at my first projects, I can find holes, uneven stitches, and evidence of some pretty big errors in judgment. It's easy to see these things looking at a pile of sweaters and socks, because my work is its own record. In a few months, I hope I can remember how tenuous my grasp on this law school beast seemed, and more than that, I hope that in a few months it will have changed.

Friday, September 01, 2006


This week has flown by. I'm not sure how it got to be Friday, but I'm already enjoying the weekend. I started with a heavy dose of Not Doing Work, which I plan on following up with wine and cheese, bowling, a dinner party, and liberal doses of more Not Doing Work. And also some work. There's just way too much work not to do work on weekends.

Unfortunately, law school amusement doesn't often translate well, so I won't try to bring much of it here. I do need to mention that it has been very cold at the Law School this past week. Apparently the building is cooled by two "chillers," a term I have never heard that I assume refers to some sort of huge compressor. Well, one of them is broken, so the other one is doing all the work, and apparently its thermostat has to be overriden to get it to stay on that much. Let's just say that the bookstore is probably doing record sweatshirt sales. Hey, I caved. Mine's a brown hoodie that says UVA LAW on it. Very comfy and worth every penny of the $25 I spent on it. That's the rough equivalent of three cafeteria lunches. (I've learned to bring lunch.)

Although I love my section and my professors, I think I'm missing out on one thing. My friends in another section have a Contracts professor who likes to make cases into limericks. Apparently they're such excellent mnemonic devices that this professor freely admits he can't remember the facts of cases that don't have limericks. Perhaps I need to employ this as a study method. It would also help me keep my hand in as a poet.