Thursday, May 31, 2007


I don't want to work. I just want to... um... cook... and clean... all day. And knit, and drink coffee, and go for a walk maybe.

Actually, my work is pretty cool. I'm working for my Legal Research and Writing professor this summer, producing some new materials for next year's 1Ls. I get to create a new federal statutory memo assignment! Which probably excites exactly one person. You guessed it.

Anyway, I do actually want to work, but I don't want to end up with the same headache today that I had yesterday, which I'm guessing was the product of too many hours staring at a computer screen. Paper doesn't make my head hurt. I may have to go into school and read some things on paper. Or else I could stay here and intersperse my screen-staring with cooking, cleaning, etc.

I made risotto the other night of which I am perhaps inordinately proud, but cooking things I dream up without recipes just makes me so happy. I call it Stuffed Grape Leaf Risotto, although it involves no grape leaves, because I based it on grape leaf filling, which is one of the only rice-based things I actually like. I started by melting some butter together with some olive oil (though you could use just olive oil to make it taste more mediterranean or to make it vegan) and throwing in a finely chopped scallion and a whole clove of garlic. I stirred those around over medium high heat for about two minutes. Then I stirred in a cup of arborio rice and cooked that for about a minute before starting to add, in roughly half-cup increments, about three cups of vegetable broth (I used Penzeys vegetable soup base) mixed with half a cup of lemon juice. You have to wait till each batch of liquid is absorbed before adding the next batch, and never stop stirring. (This is basic risotto-craft, but I'd never made risotto before, so it was new to me.) I also threw in a little kosher salt and a good bit of cracked black pepper. Altogether, it took about twenty minutes to add all of the liquid. Finally, I fished out the garlic clove and added about a quarter cup of golden raisins that I'd soaked in boiling water while making the risotto. The contrast between the savory, lemony rice and the sweet raisins really makes the dish. I'll be making this again for sure, perhaps with more raisins and maybe some pine nuts, if I feel like springing for them.

Today's dish, I think, is loubieh bi zayt, green beans stewed with tomatoes, olive oil, onions and garlic. My parents and I used to get this from the Lebanese Taverna when I was little, and although none of the recipes I've seen for it mentions this, the version I remember includes ground cloves, and the Lebanese Taverna menu confirms it. So I add cloves. There's something very powerful about the memories of the things we eat when we're young.

Learning to cook, and especially learning to cook without recipes, is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. Kind of like law school, actually. It involves a considerable investment of time and money, preoccupies me at weird times like when I'm in the shower or when I'm trying to sleep, occasionally impresses people, and makes other people think I'm crazy or wasting my time. And... it's fun.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


A quick follow-up to my last entry:

I'm in Pittsburgh for a week, relaxing, enjoying being with all the people I've missed over the past year. Last night, James and I went out for dinner with two of his good friends. I ordered the "Light Steak Salad," that is, a green salad with strips of steak on top. A normal steak salad around here comes with cheese and french fries in it.

The waitress, who was acting pretty flustered, came back about five minutes later looking concerned. "What kind of cheese did you want in your salad?" she asked me.

"Oh, I didn't want cheese, thanks."

The lightbulb went on. "Oh right, you ordered the Light."

After she left the table, James turned to me and said, "And that's why you're not allowed to 'Stand Up and Tell 'Em You're From Pittsburgh.' A steak salad comes with cheese and fries. That's what makes it a steak salad."

"I can't get my salad the way I want it?"

"Oh, you can," he says, "it just makes you not From Pittsburgh."

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Now that 1L year is over, it seems appropriate for me to do a bit of reflection. Yes, I know this entire blog is me reflecting. What I mean is that it seems appropriate for me to write something that could conceivably be applicable to other people. Therefore, I give you:

Ten Things I Learned During 1L Year
  1. The answer to every question beginning with "Should I?" is either "it depends," "it doesn't matter," or "whatever works for you." Should I do journal tryout? It depends. Should I go to Dandelion, Foxfields, the PILA Auction, Feb Club parties, Barrister's, or bar review? It doesn't matter. Should I print out my outline or read it off of my laptop — or should I outline at all? Whatever works for you.
  2. The Supreme Court is just making stuff up. This is because, being the highest court in the country, the Supreme Court doesn't have any precedent to bind it. Whatever the lower courts have said, it can ignore; whatever the Supreme Court itself has said, it can overrule.
  3. There is no 1L class so horrible that you cannot learn the material well enough to pass the exam. I had two classes this year — one in the fall and one in the spring — in which I felt completely helpless for most of the semester. In both classes, I found myself some helpful supplements, buckled down during reading period, and learned the material well enough to take the exams without having any "what the heck is this question supposed to mean?" moments. You are not going to fail unless you give up completely.
  4. Grades, journals, interviews, and all the rest of it: nothing about law school is more important than retaining your sanity. Get enough sleep. Eat like a human being. Go outside every day. Have conversations, play games, go out to movies, be silly. Have fun, for crying out loud. We're all here in part because we have incredibly high standards for ourselves, so it's not easy for us to relax and let go, but we have to. Better to graduate with a soul than a killer résumé.
  5. Insecurity is the most dangerous trap into which you can fall. Insecurity can lead you to sign up for activities you have no interest in, waste days reformatting an outline you already have memorized, run yourself ragged trying to get a firm job 1L summer when you really want to work for a professor, and so on. You probably have a good head on your shoulders and a good sense of when you're doing something that makes sense and when you're expending a lot of energy on nothing much. Pay attention to that nagging feeling that you're wasting your time. You are good enough. One of my peer advisors repeated to me what one of his peer advisors told him last year: "Never let someone else's dream become your own." That sums up this point nicely.
  6. Staying out of the gossip mill is extremely difficult, but worth the trouble. What is it about law students that makes us so infernally nosy? For some reason, drama seems to fill every spare moment, as well as many that aren't spare, especially during exams. Rehearse the following phrases, out of which you will get a lot of mileage:
    • "I don't know."
    • "You should probably ask him that yourself."
    • "I don't know her all that well, but she seems nice."
    • "It's really got nothing to do with me."
    • "I don't give it a whole lot of thought."
    Also, pick a very patient friend in another city who's willing to listen to you babble about all the personal stuff you don't want entering the rumor mill.
  7. Cold calls are not to be feared. What's the worst that can happen? You look like an idiot in front of your classmates and your professor. That's likely to happen at least once during 1L year no matter how prepared you are, so it's no crisis. Don't freak out, just listen carefully to the professor and he or she will often lead you where you're meant to go.
  8. Understanding the question gets you halfway to the answer. This is true on exams and in class. Make sure you know what you're being asked. The firehose approach to question-answering is not popular in law school: it wastes everyone's time, and if it answers the question, it does so only by accident. Answer what you're being asked.
  9. Reading, taking notes and paying attention in class are not ends in themselves, but rather ways of preparing for the exam. Once you've been called on in a 90-student class, it's easy to justify skipping the reading for the next few weeks... after all, you're not going to get called on again, at least for a while. But after a couple of classes for which you haven't read, you end up zoning out, and by the end of the semester, you have nothing to go on but an email inbox full of your classmates' forwarded notes, a vague recollection of some class discussion that didn't make much sense, and a page of the syllabus on which none of the case names even rings a bell. Keeping up is easier than catching up.
  10. Get to know your professors. They're excited about getting to know you. They know a lot, and what they don't know, they can help you find out. There was more than one time in the past year when it was a professor who helped me get through a rough patch. And taking them out to lunch is fun.
I should note that I learned all of these things by screwing them up. And to be honest, I expect that most of next year's 1Ls will screw most of them up too. We all seem to fall into the same traps — I guess it's the nature of the beast, or maybe just the nature of the way the beast is marketed to us. So I guess the biggest tip of all is: ignore pretty much everything you're told about law school. There's nothing mystical about it. It's a job. You go in every day, do your work, sometimes feel inadequate, sometimes feel like the champion of the world, get sick, get tired, get bored, get frustrated, and count down the days till you're on vacation. But for me, and for many of my friends, this is a really great job. It's helpful to try to remember that.

And one other thing, apropos of nothing. Y'all have to watch this video: it's "Stand Up and Tell 'Em You're From Pittsburgh," a little motivational song that Pittsburgh's NBC affiliate, WPXI, runs during commercial breaks sometimes. It's so corny that I can't help but laugh when I watch it, but it still gets me a little choked up. The bridges! The stadiums! The parks! The architecture! The nighttime shots of downtown! I don't actually have to technically be from Pittsburgh to be allowed to "stand up and tell 'em" that I am, right?

Note to self: interview with Pittsburgh firms for next summer.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


So, the misery that was finals season is over and I have now entered the next phase of my life: the one where I wake up feeling good, spend time doing things I enjoy, and am obnoxiously cheerful.

Yesterday after taking my con law exam, I walked through the Withers-Brown hallway standing up straighter, I think, than I have in months. "We Are the Champions" played in my head. I went to Scott Commons and hugged a lot of people. Then I went out to Chili's with Cathy, where I undoubtedly irritated other patrons with my too-loud, sleep-deprived babble, and downed more sugar than I have in a long time in the form of two Blackberry Lemonades. Next I went home and took a nap, which I haven't been able to do since... oh, sometime in September. Then I talked on the phone with James for four hours, made myself a grilled cheese sandwich, watched five episodes of the Real World, and slept the sleep of the dead.

This morning I awoke with two thoughts in my head. One, I haven't slept like that in ages. And two, it's a Saturday morning between April and October, and that means it's City Market time.

I am lucky enough to live about three blocks from the parking lot where City Market is staged. So I threw on some clothes, stopped by the Mudhouse for a quick espresso, and headed on over. I bought a basil plant to add to my windowsill herb garden, as well as a quart of locally-grown strawberries, a head of lettuce that smells better than I thought lettuce could smell, a baking-powder biscuit with country ham, a jar of habañero jelly, and a cinnamon-sugar cake donut that the vendor cooked right before my eyes. I also saw no fewer than five vendors selling fresh-from-the-farm eggs, as well as a couple selling chickens and pork butts out of the back of their van. The City Market is no less than a delight.

Now that con law is over, I kind of like it. Is that wrong? All credit to Erwin Chemerinsky, whose book not only taught me con law, but was really interesting. Not that I ever intend to take another con law class, mind you. There's way too much other stuff I want to take, and I only have two years left.

Oh! Yeah. I guess I'm a 2L now. Getting through 1L year was not the hardest thing I've ever done, but it was the most protracted hard thing I've ever done. Most of it was fun. I'm incredibly glad it's over.

Friday, May 04, 2007


People deal with stress in all different ways.

Today I took a long walk. On the way I stopped at the Mudhouse. I walked up to the counter and ordered a double espresso ristretto. The barista worked on it for about five minutes, apologizing, saying the shots were pulling long today, but he wanted to get it right. Finally he handed me my little demitasse cup, filled with two ounces of espresso, beautiful speckled crema, miniature spoon alongside. I poured a line of sugar across the top and stirred it in, then drank it: five sips. Perfect.

Yesterday before I went to take my property exam I cleaned my bathroom. I planned this. I built in time to my morning so that I would be able to leave for my property exam with a clean bathroom. What can I say? It helped.

There have been a lot of those times in the past few days, times when I've had a feeling that I needed to do something very particular to feel okay. My anxiety has been bad. I've always worried a lot, but this isn't the same thing as worrying. It's a physical thing. And while long walks and perfect espresso and clean bathrooms help, they don't fix it. So next week I'm going to take a break from studying for con law and go find myself someone to talk to about fixing the problem. I'm willing to work at it. It's just figuring out how to work at it — what, specifically, to do — that's exhausting. And then I don't have the energy for doing the stuff other than the stuff I'm trying to do to help the anxiety. And that stuff — the stuff I don't have the energy for — is the stuff I like.

I went clothes shopping today too. I bought, among other things, silver flip-flops. I don't know how anyone wears flip-flops, but I thought I'd give it a shot and see if they still hurt my toes just as much as they used to. And now I'm going to do something else that, historically speaking, I hate: go on an epic grocery shopping trip. Because I need to have enough food in the house so that I can eat when I get hungry without having to be creative all the time.

I've taken two exams now, and I'm taking my third tomorrow morning, leaving just one (yes, of course, con law) for next week. I've actually handled this exam thing very well, both in terms of planning and of execution.

All right. Grocery shopping can be forestalled no longer, or it won't happen at all and I'll be eating Nutella out of the jar again. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I went for a drive tonight. I think that's the first time I've ever done that, just gone out and gotten in my car with no particular destination in mind. That's a dangerous proposition for me — well, not literally dangerous, but somewhat daring, considering that I have no sense of direction whatsoever. But I was sitting in my living room, having failed at studying for Property, feeling restless and not having any luck at finding people to blow off studying with me. So I figured that going out for a drive would be better than sitting on my couch being angry with myself for not being able to concentrate, and so I got up and went.

Initially I planned to drive south on 29, because I remember 29 South being very pretty. Two things dissuaded me: one, I couldn't remember how to get on 29 South without driving down the irritating part of Emmet Street (yes, I figured it out eventually); and two, I haven't been down there in a long time and I was craving something a little more familiar. So I decided to drive west on 250 into Ivy.

I must have made that trip a hundred times at least, from Jeff's mom's old house in Ivy into town and back, but always as a passenger. Jeff always drove, either his little red Civic hatchback, or, before that, the big yellow station wagon that his sister inherited when he graduated. There are a few landmarks that I remembered — the Ivy Nursery, the Boar's Head, the Volvo dealership — but the road didn't feel nearly as familiar as I expected it to. I got tailgated into Ivy because it just doesn't feel right to me to drive 55 on a winding two-lane road. Then I took a right on Owensville and went to visit Jeff's old house.

I didn't actually drive up to the house, because people I don't know live there now. It's been almost ten years now since the first night I spent in Jeff's mom's sewing room. That house was always a comfortable, happy place for me, and it was nice to visit.

I kept driving out Owensville Road, until it dead-ended, then turned onto Garth and headed back toward town. I passed horses, cows, thousands of azalea blossoms in full bloom, and some of the greenest grass I've ever seen. I saw the sun set and the moon rise, full, low on the horizon, yellow and shrouded in mist. I had my windows down and my music up, singing along sometimes, sometimes not, breathing deeply so as not to miss the smells of sweet hay and onion grass or the brown-sugary scent of wood mulch. It's too early yet for crickets or cicadas, but they'll be along, I'm sure.

It turns out that Garth Road turns into Barracks Road as it heads back into town. Thus, I was dumped off of the comforting, quasi-rural two-lane highway just a few blocks from the Law School. I wasn't quite ready to go home, so I headed over to school to see whether I could find anyone there who didn't feel like studying either.

I parked around back by Scott Commons and went in and walked the halls a bit. This is the sort of thing I do when I get in moods like this. Here and there I spotted people I knew, mostly hard at work. I sat and chatted with a couple of my Property classmates about the exam, which we're all planning on taking in the next few days, and one of them explained a couple of cases to me that I hadn't been able to understand. Then I ended up chatting with various other people until almost one in the morning.

Very little studying got done today, it's true. But the drive truly did me good, and so did the chatting. The law school during exam time really isn't so bad. I've been staying away because I always thought I'd find it stressful, but really, it's kind of comforting. Maybe I'll try studying there for a change.

And this part of Virginia is just so beautiful. I've felt somewhat disenchanted with Charlottesville recently, possibly because the parts of it that law students frequent are not the most charming ones, and possibly because I've just been having kind of a rough year. But the things you can see in an hour-long round-trip drive without ever leaving Albemarle County... well, I found myself a little breathless more than once.

I need to do that more. I'm told Earlysville Road is another lovely route. I'm sure I'll find out before finals are over.

When my Grandma Rosie died a few years ago, she left me the money that I used, in part, to buy my car. It's the first car I've ever bought for myself, nothing fancy, but I love it. And I know for sure that if Grandma Rosie could see me tonight, she'd be absolutely thrilled that, because of her, I was able to go out and drive around in the woods when I needed to.

There's one story I always find myself telling about Grandma Rosie because, to me, it so clearly represents who she was. When I was about seven, Grandma took me out to see the movie Willow. We went into the big, dark theater and sat down with our popcorn, and Grandma gave me a Tic-Tac out of her purse. Then the movie started. About ten minutes in, as I remember it, there was a scene in which a baby threw up. That absolutely terrified me, as my younger brother had had a string of stomach viruses that year, and I thought vomiting was the world's scariest thing. Grandma could tell I was upset, and when she asked if I wanted to leave, I said yes with much relief.

Outside it was sunny and warm. We walked home by way of the bookstore, and Grandma bought me a book and a bottle of orange juice. About halfway home, as we were crossing the street, I said, "I'm sorry I wasted your money, Grandma."

She looked down at me and smiled, and said, "The only way that would have been a waste of my money is if you'd sat through the rest of the movie and not enjoyed it." Then we walked the rest of the way home, and I wouldn't be surprised if she never even told the rest of the family that we hadn't stayed for the whole thing.

Grandma never said she was proud of me for anything I did. I didn't have to get straight As or be the best at anything. Grandma was proud of me for existing. And that day, she was proud of me for knowing what I needed to do, and for doing it.

As one of my friends put it tonight, as we sat amid the remains of Chinese takeout at a table in the low light of Scott Commons at midnight, this is the best job ever. We come in every day and spend our time learning interesting things from brilliant people while being surrounded by folks who are as nerdy as we are. It's a privilege to spend three years this way, and no three- or four-hour exam can invalidate that.

So drives in the country, and similar things, are the order of the day, every day, from now on. There's no virtue in misery for its own sake. Sad that it's taken me twenty years to learn that.