Sunday, August 12, 2007

Headaches Make Me Slow

I get headaches. Maybe a migraine every month or two and a less horrible, headache every couple of weeks. I've gotten headaches since I was eleven or twelve, and I always took Advil for them even though Advil didn't really work. When Aleve hit the market, I tried that, and it very occasionally worked. Then I discovered Excedrin, which worked so well for me that it could even kill a migraine in less than an hour.

So I've been ill for a while (stomach issues) and I've had to give up coffee. I used to drink quite a bit of coffee, so this was a pretty major adjustment, and if I'd used Excedrin to fend off the headaches that ensued, I would never get over my addiction to caffeine. So for the first week or so sans coffee, whenever I got a headache I'd just lie down for a while and hope it wore off, and eventually it did.

Then I got a headache in Pittsburgh, and James gave me aspirin. It worked. Finally I bought some of my own. It's gotten rid of every headache I've had since then in less than half an hour.

Why did it not occur to me to try aspirin when it's one of the three ingredients in Excedrin?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Saturday at the Law School

I'm trying to think whether I ever came in on a Saturday last year, other than the one time I took a Saturday morning exam. I don't think I did. I'd come in on Sunday afternoons sometimes, after church, and spend a few hours reading in the quiet study room off of Scott Commons, and on my way in on those days I'd always notice how beautiful the landscaping is around the school, and how nice a building it is.

I'm here today because I had a bit of summer work that I actually physically needed to be in the library to do (a rare occurrence) and I put it off until the last possible moment (unfortunately not so rare). I've now gotten that bit of work done, and I've also noticed some things.

There are people here in the library on Saturdays for unknown reasons and doing unknown things. Okay, there's the guy with the Greenberry's travel mug who always inhabits the back corner table in the main reference room, but there are others. A teenage boy with a four- or five-year-old girl in tow: she runs up the stairs giggling and he chases her, making futile hushing sounds. A very tall, thin man in perfectly matched clothing: his pants, jacket and driving cap are all the same shade of khaki, and he pops in and out of the reference room, shuffling some papers around and walking very fast. What are these people doing here? I don't mind, of course—they're not bothering me, and the University's libraries are open to the public—I'm just curious. Why would you go to the law library on a Saturday afternoon if you didn't have work to do?

Although actually, it's quite nice. During the school year, I avoid the library. Too many people. On the other hand, I gravitate toward Scott Commons, where the population density is higher, so maybe that's not the issue; maybe it's too many people working. I thought of myself as a fairly diligent student last year. I did all my reading (except for one day's assignment in Contracts II that I missed because I was sick and then forgot about until I was cruelly reminded on exam day), I rarely missed a class, I read the recommended study aids and answered practice exam questions. But I did it all at breakneck speed and with only half my mind, since the other half was busy worrying about whether the work I was doing was good enough, and anything else it could think of that might provoke worry.

So the sight of other people being productive—say, opening a casebook, slowly turning pages, and then, maybe an hour later, closing the casebook and getting out another one—made me terribly nervous. Things weren't sinking in for me. I would read an assignment and then put the book away, whether or not I remembered what I had read. I was used to understanding things the first time, and I figured that if I didn't understand well enough, I would find that out from the class discussion. Oh, I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I just wasn't reading the right way.

Strange, perhaps, that I've learned this over the summer, when I didn't have to read much of anything, but I started practicing reading the way I always intended to read, but never managed before. I reread one of my favorite novels, Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. Normally, I would read a book like this in a day; possibly in a sitting, if I didn't get hungry or otherwise interrupted. I remember reading Nick Hornby's About a Boy when I lived in Seattle: I started in late afternoon, and closed the book several hours later to find that I was sitting in near-complete darkness. I don't even know how I managed to make out the words toward the end.

Anyway, this time around with Prodigal Summer, I read the first chapter, and then I put the book down. Twenty-three pages, and I managed to take half an hour to read it. I was kind of proud. I thought back over what I had read, telling myself the story again in my head. When I couldn't remember how the story went, I went back and checked. The next day, I read another similarly sized chunk of the book. I couldn't quite keep up my slow pace, but I made the book last a week. I'm on my third week now of Sophie's Choice.

My point is that I should be reading like this for school, yes, but it's also about focus, deliberateness, concentration. I'm more of the breakneck-speed type. I'm reminded of a scheme that my seventh-grade English teacher had in which we would get a certain number of extra credit points for each page of creative writing we turned in. I asked whether a poem counted as a page, and she said yes. I handed in one hundred poems that quarter; I probably wrote them all in a couple of weeks. The extra credit policy changed after that.

I haven't been able to focus very well for a couple of years. Sometimes I wonder whether it has to do with the conversational style I developed with James, which is meandering and impulsive and which, when it veers off track, almost never finds its way back anytime soon. But really I think it has more to do with the constant what-if narrative I get going in my head. What if this reading takes me forever and I have to stay up late to finish it and I sleep through my alarm? (For reference, I have never once slept through a properly functioning alarm.) What if my memo is terrible and unconvincing and I hate my work so much I can hardly stand to turn it in? (Hmm. Welcome to 1L year.) And so forth. In essence, they all boil down to something like: what if I somehow humiliate myself?

So, turns out, humility is a good thing. Turns out I'm good at some things (editing) and bad at others (memorizing). I am not the greatest student ever in the history of Virginia Law. [cough] Not by a long shot.

Thus humbled, I'm ready to start another year of school. One in which I intend to do less and do it better. One in which I hope to focus on the things I do, and not the things I think I should be doing.

The view from the library is beautiful, by the way, which is what I set out to say a good half an hour ago. Out the window I see a row of locust trees, mottled with yellow leaves and the occasional burst of orange; a giant monarch butterfly circles nearby, repeatedly slamming into the window before moving on to less difficult environs. In the garden, the fountain bubbles, soon to be surrounded by crowds of new students lining up for barbecue and cole slaw. Sun reflects off of the roof of Caplin Pavilion. It is so bright I can't look at it directly.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

An Abundance of Riches

I went up to Pittsburgh last weekend, on a trip that was planned at 10:30 on Thursday night and began at noon on Friday. Normally I'm not much of a seat-of-my-pants kind of person, but James pointed out that sometimes the seat of your pants is the only thing you can really count on. So to speak.

I had a funeral and a graduation party to attend, both in one day, which was a little surreal but not bad (several hours intervened), and took me to two parts of Allegheny County I'd never seen before (Moon Township and McKees Rocks). I also got to spend some time with James, though he had to work on Saturday, and see his family, and I stopped and spent the night at my parents' place on my way back to Charlottesville, which was great. Well worth the many hours in the car, even with an hour of mostly sitting still in a cloud of exhaust because a car broke down in the middle of I-66 right after road work had caused four lanes to merge into two.

It's funny how many of the things I feel about Pittsburgh resemble my first impressions of Charlottesville when I started coming down here to visit Jeff in 1997. Both cities are much more than they appear to be: full of hidden treasures, impossible to explore thoroughly, and beautiful in disarming ways. Both have a plethora of restaurants worth visiting, and places to buy cheap, fresh food. I especially love Pittsburgh for its unpretentiousness (which makes the isolated pockets of high-society snobbery more amusing than alienating), which most of Charlottesville does still have, despite the influx of yuppies after having been named America's #1 City a few years ago.

Both cities have bizarre and unpredictable weather. My first January in Charlottesville, there was a week of ice storms. It was unseasonably cold, and everything just froze solid. Then the temperature rose over thirty degrees in a matter of hours, and as we drove on the back roads in Ivy, I could see the ice and snow sublimating, and great clouds of steam rose from the asphalt. There followed a week of sixty-degree days, when even with most of the students gone for break, the Corner was absolutely packed, and people were picnicking on the grass everywhere I looked. And I recently read a line about Pittsburgh's weather that brought it all back to me: a blogger mentioned that on a typical day in February, she would leave the house in a coat, hat, gloves, scarf and sunglasses. Pittsburgh is where I learned that if the temperature is below ten degrees, you can tell because your nose hair freezes. I also learned to clear a windshield of snow and ice in less than a minute (most of the time). The summers are usually stiflingly hot, and they stay that way into the night because of the way the city hangs onto the heat. But Pittsburgh also has long, glorious autumns. And, truth be told, I miss the cold down here.

Interview season is coming up, and I'll have to make some decisions about where I'd like to work next summer, as well as where I'd like to settle after law school. This is really hard. On the one hand, I'm kind of afraid to go to a new city—what if I fall in love with it, too, and have to add another entry to my list of places I miss when I'm not there? But on the other hand, what great town might be out there, perfect for me, just waiting for me to discover it?

As I narrow down the choices, I'll have fall classes to think about, friends returning from their summer jobs all over the place, and (woohoo!) the beginning of football season, which will find me, I'm sure, drinking Yuengling in a Charlottesville bar and rooting for the Steelers.