Tags: New Year's resolutions 2011
You know I love New Year’s resolutions. Two years ago, my resolutions were clearly defined and yet highly unattainable. Last year, they centered around simply finding happiness (hot showers, more wine, more yoga…). I understand why people eschew resolutions in that they set unachievable expectations, leading to disappointment, etc. etc. Looking back over the past two years, it’s clear that I’m not one who makes resolutions and actually sticks to them, but I do get a lot of pleasure out of making them (in that I set up some sort of idealized vision of the future?). This year, I’m less able to articulate my New Year’s resolutions — I have some vague ideas about living more simply, lowering instead of raising my expectations, and trying to exist in some sort of more tempered universe. Of course, in the back of my head is a little voice saying, “Run more! More yoga! Spend less money!” but at the end of the year that included birth and death and health issues and lots and lots of sleepless nights — and somehow, in the midst of it all, a growing sense of contentment — I’m going to resist the urge (at least publicly) to enumerate my Resolutions.
Instead, my friend Lindsey had a fun and introspective little survey/questionnaire on her blog this morning, which I’m going to adopt. I’m answering these less thoughtfully than I otherwise might (blogging, as I am today, in the short window of Little O’s nap!) But maybe that will make my answers more honest.
What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before? I spent seven months as a stay-at-home mom. I took a weekend trip to Florida with my college girlfriends. I participated in a competitive blogging challenge. I went three (almost four — since September 1, basically) months without running. This last one sounds like a crazy thing to list, but it actually imparted to me an important lesson. I used to think I needed to exercise for weight-maintenance. Eleven months of nursing, however, took care of that for me, and I realized that running in fact gave me much more than the ability to wear skinny jeans. If I have any resolutions at all for 2011, it is to remember that running keeps me sane, not thin.
Did you keep your new year’s resolutions and will you make more for 2011? Of course not. And of course — albeit with a more measured approach, I hope.
Did anyone close to you give birth? Yes! I did! But also my sister. And several close friends and seemingly half the tax department at my firm (literally — nine women in my relatively small department had babies this year!).
Did anyone close to you die? My great-uncle. And, just last week, a close family friend.
What countries did you visit? None. Sigh. Again, if I do have a resolution for 2011, it is to “remember Italy” (a metaphor and theme in a striking book I read recently, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is by Laura Munson — see Lindsey’s interview with her, here) — although in my case, it would “Remember Paris.” More on this in another post.
What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010? Patience. Acceptance. Faith. Confidence.
What was your biggest achievement in 2010? Having a healthy baby would have to be it. But I’m also proud of myself for going back to my job. It wasn’t clear I was going to, but I do think it was the right choice, and perhaps the first time in my life I’ve done something truly rational, career-wise.
What was your biggest failure? A few work-related ones come to mind. But mostly I regret the times I’ve been short-tempered with Little Bug and a less-than-present daughter, sister, friend, and wife. I didn’t put down my iPhone/work email enough to stay focused on my family.
Did you suffer illness or injury? I feel like I’ve been sick a lot this year — an immune system no doubt compromised by severe sleep deprivation and preschool germs.
What is the best thing you bought? My iPhone and Pilates. (Am I a yuppie or what?)
Where did most of your money go? Starbucks and J. Crew. Ha ha, just kidding. Sort of.
What did you get really excited about? My girls’ weekend in Florida. My husband would tell me that I’m being all “Joy Luck Club,” but oh, god, there was something so refreshing and invigorating and inspiring about spending three days with the women who were with me when I became the woman I am, the women who have been there for me for the biggest hardships and greatest joys in my life, the women with whom I speak an abbreviated shorthand language and who can finish my sentences. And now, at this stage of our lives, the women with whom I can discuss my career, daycare, siblings, husbands and parents. Even though they may not be part of my day-to-day life, the are a part of the foundation of my life.
What song will always remind you of 2010? Have I listened to so little music that I can’t answer this? Probably, however, something country (since that is all Tim and I seem to listen to these days). I really like that song Welcome to the Future by Brad Paisley, though I suspect that was not released in 2010. OK, so, maybe I’ll make another resolution: listen to more music. It makes me happy — just as Glee made me so so happy this year.
Compared to this time last year, are you:
— happier or sadder? Happier
— thinner or fatter? Well, as I was eight months pregnant, this isn’t really a fair question!
— richer or poorer? It’s probably not a good thing that I can’t really answer this literally, but I imagine that since we spent most of 2010 paying two mortgages, poorer!
What do you wish you’d done more of? I wish I’d written more — here on this blog and elsewhere. I have a great idea for another blog, but I can’t seem to find the time to make it happen. I wish I could let myself go with my children — really play with them, focus on them wholly, without thinking about what’s next (be it cleaning up lunch, or what’s for dinner, or how much work I have, or even who has posted what on Facebook).
What do you wish you’d done less of? I wish I had spent less time agonizing over my job — both preemptively before I went back and then also on a daily basis once I was back. I think it affected my relationships with my family. It’s just a job. It’s not the greatest, most important job in the world, it’s not the end of the world, and I’m not a victim. I have to remember this.
How did you spend Christmas? As we do every year, in New Jersey, with my whole big crazy family. We snuggled in during a blizzard and took Little Bug in to New York City to the Museum of Natural History the day after the blizzard — rather ill-advised when it took us 4.5 hours and four different trains to get home!
Favorite TV program? Glee and The Good Wife.
Favorite books? I actually had a lot of time to read and finished more books than I have in years, both fiction and nonfiction. In the former category, the three books that stand out are: Dear Money by Martha McPhee, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. They weren’t earthshaking, but I just loved each one. In the nonfiction realm I really liked No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin (the Roosevelts on the home front in WWII) and The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison.
Favorite films? I only saw one movie in the theater this year — Eat, Pray, Love. (But I loved it. Sue me for my questionable taste!) Recently, I’ve seen The Town and The Kids are Alright on OnDemand, and, surprisingly, liked both (as you know, my taste in movies runs towards the saccharine, e.g., Eat Pray Love…)
What did you do on your birthday and how old were you? I can’t even really remember my 36th birthday! Luckily, I blogged about it. It was spring, and I was still home on maternity leave, and Tim took me to a local Italian joint for dinner because I was craving a real Bolognese.
What one thing would have made your year more satisfying? Just knowing from the start that I was going to go back to my job and that it would all be OK.
How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010? I have to divide this in to two parts: January – September and September – December. In the former, it was black yoga pants and spit-up stained black t-shirts. In the latter, it was black Theory pants or skirt and cashmere cardigans or blazers.
What kept you sane? Red wine. For reals. And phone calls with my mother. Daily, sometimes twice a day. Also, emails and texts from my hilarious friends.
Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010? You are not your job. In fact, I suspect that nobody really cares what you do except for you. You’re not a victim of some amorphous FIRM that is out to get you (a la John Grisham?) — you’ve made your choice and you can unmake it at any time. You’re not trapped. Also, even though you may get frustrated that your husband doesn’t like to hash out the nuances of your day, he is listening. More important: baby boys may not sleep and pre-school girls may whine, but it’s all doable. You can be much happier being grateful for what you have than wanting more, more, always more — this easier said than done, of course, especially for me, but slowly, slowly I feel like I’m on the verge of grasping this. I haven’t actually grasped it yet, but at least its a tangible concept now, something I can turn over in my mind, rather than something completely inaccessible.
Tags: affordable child care, Boston College Law School, coming back from maternity leave, Judith Warner, law school with a baby, law school with kids, maternity leave, Perfect Madness, tips for a new lawyer, transitioning to law firm life
My triumphant return to my law school last week as an alumni speaker was somewhat compromised by an emotional hiccup. Namely, crying. If you have been reading this blog for the past few (say, ten or 11) weeks, you’ll know that since the birth of my baby boy in February, I’ve been doing a lot of crying. This time, however, the tears were decidedly not hormonal, but, instead, passionate.
If you have been reading this blog since its inception, you’ll know that I had my first baby in between my second and third years of law school. When she was six weeks old, I returned to campus, armed with a breast pump and lots of coffee. “How did you ever manage law school with a newborn?” I’m often asked. Here’s a secret: by your third year of law school — at least, in 2007-08, when the legal hiring market was still running at pre-recession speed — you can pretty much coast. I chose my classes based on when they met, as opposed to content, for a flexible schedule. I had friends who supported me with notes from missed class and law review offices in which to pump milk. And I had a few professors (all women…) who were stalwart champions of motherhood and the law. It was one of these professors who asked me to come speak. And because one is always flattered to be asked for one’s expertise, I blew out my hair, put on a suit, heels, and lipstick, and, feeling vaguely like the lawyer I only so very recently was, I set out for Newton.
The topic was transitioning from school to practice. My professor also had asked me to speak specifically on transitioning to practice with a child and after a maternity leave. I had typed a few thoughts into my iPhone on the transition in general:
- Ask questions. No one expects you to know what you’re doing for the first year. If a more senior associate or partner is giving you an assignment and asks you, “Have you heard of the 40 Act?” you may nod yes because you kind of remember skimming that part of the 750-page text book, but you don’t know the 40 Act. Better to pipe up and ask, “Well, what specifically about the Act as it applies to this matter?” then to be stuck in the office at 11 p.m. not knowing what you are supposed to be doing when the client wants an answer by 9 a.m. I’d argue that asking questions makes you look like a thoughtful, careful — indeed, intelligent — lawyer.
- Worried about work/life balance? Let it evolve organically. It will become clear fairly quickly how different partners/supervisors expect assignments to be completed and how you can assess the urgency of a task. If I’m given a new task on top of a full plate, I’ll tell the partner, “I have this memo due for so-and-so tomorrow and an upcoming filing deadline. Do you think I can still get this new assignment done in the timeframe you need?” You kind of put the ball back in the senior lawyer’s court. In short: don’t freak out before you start that you won’t have a life. If you want a life, you can make it happen. But that’s a whole other post (and blog, dare I say tantalizingly?)
- Find a peer group. As I’ve discussed previously, I found a support system of other lawyer-moms at my firm. I relied on them heavily, on matters both professional and personal. But I think this advice can apply to new attorneys no matter where you are in life and no matter what your professional situation. Are you newly engaged, juggling wedding planning amongst your billables? Find another attorney in the same situation. Are you single and married to your work? I’m sure you have coworkers who would love to have a beer with you at 10 p.m. after along workday.
Oh, wait, you want to hear about the crying part, don’t you. Eventually, my professor asked me about my maternity leave. She asked if I worried about taking it, and whether I was worried about transitioning back. I was prepared with tips for others, not to discuss my own situation, and she caught me off guard. Yes, I worried about going on leave, I answered: Was I too junior? Would all of my great clients and assignments, which I had worked hard to cultivate, be given to others? Would I forget everything I had learned about tax law? When I returned, would I be able to ramp back up quickly enough to bill enough hours? Should I return part time? Full time? Flex time? In a BigLaw environment, did any of that even matter (which I sometimes suspect it does not…)?
“But I’m grateful for my firm’s generous maternity leave policy,” I said. And as I sat there, dark circles under my eyes, sleep deprived, my mind suddenly obsessed with all of my fears about returning to work, the tears arrived. I’m so, so tired (have I mentioned?). My baby is 10 weeks old and not sleeping through the night. Neither is my two-and-a-half-year-old. What if I, like most women whose companies’ leave policies are not even half as “generous” as mine, were back on the job already? What if I had to worry about keeping up with my coworkers and my assignments and my clients operating on four or five hours of sleep, worrying about who was taking care of my newborn?
Why do I have to qualify my maternity leave with the word generous?
I love being a lawyer, and, for the most part, I really like working, as I suspect many mothers who work do. Perhaps some women drop out of the workplace after having a baby because, instead of the oft-cited, “I just can’t leave my baby,” their harsh reality is that they only have four weeks maternity leave. Because society pressures them to breastfeed but doesn’t allow them the time to get their babies on a schedule, nor provides the space and time to pump milk at work. Because, even when they are senior executives, coworkers refer to their maternity leave as “vacation.”
My maternity leave shouldn’t be thought of as “generous.” It should be standard. Hell, it should be a starting point.
I cried because I’m angry. I’m passionate about my children, and I’m passionate about my career and my education, and why won’t society support this duality?
If you haven’t read Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness, and you care about these issues, please read it. I know Warner has her critics, and I realize that she’s writing about a particular sliver of the population (highly educated, professional women), but I happen to fall into that sliver, and her book has resonated with me to a degree that surprises me in the passion and anger it has inspired. We need a movement. We need quality affordable day care. We need realistic maternity leave. And no one seems to be doing anything about it.
Maybe I can. Maybe we all — I say to you, my small but perhaps similarly inclined readership — can put our collective heads together and do something.
Tags: backpacking, Buddha's Eyes, Nepal, traveling, wanderlust
As some readers know, I traveled almost around the world from July 1999 through March 2000, armed only with an Arcteryx backpack. I have no pictures of that trip, only three journals, densely packed with my minuscule, typewriter-like handwriting. Someday I’ll get the nerve to look back at them and write something meaningful.
I don’t think of that trip either with frequency or urgency, but every now and again I’m pulled back. For example, just this past weekend, Little Bug and I were taking an early Saturday morning walk. Believe it or not, among the boutiques on Newbury is a Buddhist gift shop called Prem-La, and swinging over the door is a big sign with the “Buddha’s Eyes.”
“Owl? Owl!” pointed Buggy at the sign.
See, they do kind of look like owls’ eyes (isn’t my baby smart?). I don’t think I had ever really noticed that store before other than to perhaps note the Tibetan prayer flags out of the corner of my eye and wonder in passing how on earth a store like that stayed in business. But, now, those Buddha’s eyes immediately (I’m not being dramatic — the connection was intense) transported me to the wondrous and yet frightening three weeks I spent in Nepal, subsisting on garlic soup (for the altitude sickness) and staggering up some 18,000 feet to cross Thorung-La on the Annapurna circuit. Those eyes were all over Nepal — on stupas, homes, t-shirts — and were utterly otherworldly, mesmerizing to me then.
And then, tonight I stumbled upon this Times article on the revamping of European backpackers’ hostels into something a bit more upscale than the stereotype. Oh, but how I lived the stereotype for the first four months of that journey as I traipsed across Europe — in the first hostel I ever stayed in, in Amsterdam, where I was almost too tall for the stairwell and was almost electrocuted by a shower head that inexplicably shared space with the overhead lightbulb. Or at the hostel in Normandy filled with happy Brits and lots of very cheap, very good French wine, which was drunk into the 10 p.m. summer dusk as we relived the day’s tour of the D-Day beaches. Or the hostel in Sevilla, smelling like cat pee, and next door to potentially the best bar in the world, La Carboneria, where a group of Australians tried to recruit me to help them drive their ambulance across Europe (for real). Further east, the only bus or train out of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic left at 9 a.m., so travelers at the Australian-run hostel ended up staying days, weeks, or months past their intended departure because the amount of (real) absinthe consumed often made it hard to get out of the hard, wooden bunk beds before noon. (On my first night there I heard a distinct “thud” from one of the common bunk rooms. “What was that?” I asked another guest. “Oh, it must have been one of the Australians falling out of the top bunk again.”) One of my favorite hostels was the Mountain Hostel in Grindlewald, in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland, in the shadow of the Eiger, where dinner was an almost cliched combination of cheese, chocolate, and French bread and the duvets soft and clean. One of the worst was in Budapest and was called, simply, “Back Pack Hostel.” Here, travelers slept on mattresses on the floor, seven or eight to a room. My room was in a musty basement, and I distinctly remember waking up in the middle of the night to see a random dog skulking around the floor (ugh!). (Check out the website if you have time — the pictures say it all…)
The Times article describes hostels filled with wi-fi, internet access, bars, and private baths. That sounds nice. The article, however, also had pictures of the hostels’ common rooms — much nicer than the ones I remembered — but what really affected me (and inspired this post) were the travelers themselves, pictured relaxing over foosball, a cafe table, a drink. More likely than not, they had met only hours earlier. More likely than not they would head out together that evening for drinks and would stay up very late, sharing stories and perhaps shots of absinthe (take a teaspoon full of sugar, dip it in the absinthe, and then light it on fire; the sugar will liquify, then stir it back into the absinthe to cut the bitterness). They might even travel together for a few days, as I ended up doing with the aforementioned Australian ambulance drivers (we re-met in Tangier while waiting for a train to Marrakesh; re-meeting the same group of crazy Australians is not as random as it sounds).
These pictures made me nostalgic — achingly so — for such spontaneous moments of camaraderie. I’ll never travel avec backpack again — I don’t particularly want to — but I also realize with certainty that neither will I stagger off an overnight train and explore the cobblestones of a new city at dawn. I actually would like to do that again, just as I’d like to drink cheap Italian (French, Spanish) wine outside, maybe gazing up at some European church steeples or some Alps, with strangers/new friends until the light fades away.
Tags: law firm layoffs, sabbatical, stay at home mom
If you are reading this and you are a relatively young associate, you read Above the Law and so know what went down at my firm yesterday. If you’re not a lawyer (and thus not addicted to the train wreck that is abovethelaw.com — Must. Stop. Looking. At. Carnage), I’ll try to summarize as briefly as possible:
Many, many law firms — large and small, prestigious and niche — are laying off associates. Most law firms will not lay off first-year associates. The reasons for this are both selfish and somewhat humane. If you lay off first-years during a downturn, what third-year law student is going to take a chance on you? Especially the most coveted law students who tend to have more choices when it comes to recruiting (or, at least, used to). (The economics behind it are something like this: the more “prestigious” a firm, the more it can charge. How do you get to be “prestigious”? You boast that you can hire the top students from the top law schools. Thus, these students are heavily recruited and [used to] spend their 2L summers being wined and dined.) The humane reason, I’d like to think, is that if you get laid off as a first-year associate, you’ll have an incredibly difficult time finding another position (although I’m sure this is also tied up with reason #1).
What law firms can do in lieu of retracting offers or laying off current associates is push back the start date for incoming associate classes. Instead of staring in September, new associates would start the following January, thus saving the firm six months of six-figure salaries (x 180 new associates). My firm has chosen to do this, leading me to believe that its financial future is not as stable as they assured us a few months ago (shocker). My firm also has taken an innovative step, now being adopted by a few other top firms (see today’s WSJ, which of course I can’t link for you because they charge for online content!) of offering one-year public-interest law “internships” to all associates. You can take a year’s leave of absence from the firm to practice law at an approved public-interest focused organization — e.g., an attorney general’s office, the local district attorney’s office, a legal services organization, a nonprofit. You’d forgo your six-figure salary, but the firm will pay you a respectable $60,000 (more than you’d make working there normally). Plus, you retain your health benefits (huge).
This would be an attractive option for me if I did not have day care costs. I’d love to work for a DA’s office or Greater Boston Legal Services, but the reality is, after child care, I’d clear very little (if any, after taxes) of that $60,000. In fact, I’d probably lose money.
The other option offered by my firm is a year-long “sabbatical.” You won’t get firm “credit” for that year, since you wouldn’t be practicing law, which means that if you took a year off obviously you’d come back as a first-year associate (or second-year or whatever year you are). You would be paid a stipend of 20% of your salary, and you’d also retain your health benefits. And this is where the sirens began to sing for me (“I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each…”)
What if I stayed at home with the Little Bug for a year? We’d have to give up our full-time child care, of course. But the stipend would be enough for some hours of babysitting each week. What if I became one of those “yoga-pants-at-9 a.m.” mothers (so described by Judith Warner in her column today, here — although I actually feel like she got that phrase from me!?)? What if I took Little Buggy to Tiny Toes dance class with all the other toddlers? Made dinner every night? Would I write? Could I write? A novel even?
My days would be spent like this!
My firm is dangling a seductive proposition — “Here: try out being home with your child for a year. Just try it. You may like it!” And if I don’t — supposedly I have a job to come back to.
Rationally, logically, even emotionally this is not going to happen. First of all, I have a job, with a paycheck, in this unstable economy. Moreover, I’m too old to have my career advancement slowed any more than it already is, and I don’t want to come back in a year, still being a first-year associate, only to compete with all the “new” first-year associates. I’m not sure I’m going to be a BigLaw employee forever, but if I leave now, I may be shutting that door earlier than I had planned.
And, finally, I actually do like being a lawyer. It took me a loooong time to get here. Were I a third- or fourth-year associate who had lived the law-firm life for awhile, I might see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try something new and different. But I’ve already written for a living, lived in a ski-town, traveled around the world, lived on the West Coast near the beach, become a yoga instructor. And, even after all of that — even after doing all of those things that I’m sure sound quite exciting to a mid-level associate who has been stuck in a high-rise 60+ hours a week for the past five years — I wanted to become a lawyer.
The only thing I haven’t done is be at home with my child on a regular basis, being her primary caregiver, and that’s why the siren call is so strong right now. What if… what if…
… I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
(Am not trying to be dramatic, but just remembering how much I have always loved this poem…)
Tags: breaking in to travel writing, Frugal Traveler, Matt Gross, travel writing
Turks and Caicos, winter 2007
I suspect that every journalist at some point thinks he or she is going to be/can be a travel writer. I was (am?) not immune. At one point in my fervent quest to turn my journalism career into that of a fabulous, globe-trotting travel writer, I got a freelance job helping a strange woman write a travel book on Caribbean destination wedding hotels. I was told to get my information from the hotel brochures. Supposedly it was to be a Frommer’s guide, and, clearly, the hotels were paying her. It was all very disillusioning (and where was my actual trip to the Caribbean, anyway?). Travel writing, I’ve come to theorize, is as much about luck as effort. Because believe me, I’ve put in the effort: I’ve come home from trips to Europe and South America and even Idaho with bags stuffed full of obscure restaurant menus and museum ticket stubs, pictures, and journals filled with my daily encounters, only to find that the newspapers to which I submitted my stories seemed already to have a cadre of regulars. Breaking in was difficult (at least for me).
All this was during my “traveling years,” now somewhat abandoned for law school and Little Bugs (although, to be fair, we did go to Turks & Caicos last year). Still, when I read good travel writing I not only fully appreciate the effort and meticulous detail that goes into a story, but I am incredibly jealous of the writer and also filled with practical questions: how did he or she get this gig? Is this their only job? How did they break in? Matt Gross, who writes the Frugal Traveler column and blog for the Times, has been my favorite travel writer for a few years — I love it when he’s on one of his $100-a-day trips: from traveling around the world or driving across the U.S. , to his current journey, retracing Europe’s “Grand Tour” on 100 Euros a day (a nod to the dismal exchange rate). His writing is accurate — probably the most important trait for a travel writer — but also witty, personal, and at times surprisingly poignant. Check out his current trip here. Reading this makes me wonder how many European law firms need a U.S. tax lawyer…
As I noted before, I don’t like movies that are suspenseful, scary, violent, or downers. And so therefore I didn’t see many of this year’s Oscar nominated movies. Last night, however, we watched Once, which won the Oscar for original song, and whose tagline is “How often do you find the right person?” (which right there makes it my kind of movie!) Here’s what else makes it my kind of movie: it is a surprising love story in that by not being a typical love story it’s all the more poignant and heartbreaking; it’s Irish and is set in Dublin; it’s about music; and, both physically and musically, the main character is a cross between Damien Rice and Chris Martin (check and check check check). My sister and her husband (who met through their Middlebury a cappella group and who dabble in the guitar) recommended it, so after the first few minutes (a long scene of the main character busking on a Grafton Street sidewalk), Tim was skeptical (“They probably liked this only because they’re musicians…”). But I was already hooked, and soon enough, Tim was too. We have, of course, already downloaded the soundtrack.
What was most touching to me, however, was a more subtle revelation about the artists. A quick recap of my day to set the mood in which I watched the movie: I took the MPRE in the morning (and still feel like I may have failed it), and Tim immediately picked me up so we could trek to the Babies R Us in Everett to buy some childproofing stuff for our about-to-be-quite-mobile 8-month-old. I find huge stores like that enervating to begin with, and the driving rain and traffic didn’t help. In other words: not a good way to relax after a tough and important exam. So, despite a lovely bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape that we were saving for a special occasion, I still hadn’t completely unwound from my self-induced yuppie stress. Back to the movie: the story is about a musician who sings on the streets of Dublin, but lives at home in the suburbs, helping his aging father in his vacuum-repair shop and a young, Czech émigré who sells roses and cleans houses, and who ducks into a music store on her lunch hours to play their floor model pianos. She helps the singer with lyrics and harmony, and he decides to record a spec CD to take to London to get a record deal. He asks some other buskers who perform down the street from him to help out on the tracks – another guitarist, a basist, a drummer. All five of them practice in John’s tiny bedroom and spend an entire night in the studio recording. What gave me goosebumps was the transforming effect of the music. The characters were no longer a vacuum-repair guy, or a housecleaner, or street buskers. In a poignantly powerful detail, one of the guitarists even wears a tie into the recording studio. It was worth it to them to live a relatively meager quotidian existence for the chance to do their art: music was that important. And, in the movie at least, this passion was tangible and authentic.
A few years ago, in a fit of despair and clarity (the former often brings on the latter), I thought I might run off to Rome and sweep floors in a well-known yoga studio to pay for my classes there and to support myself freelancing. I’m totally serious. It sounds terribly romantic and naïve, but I felt I’d be forced to be true to myself and, by giving up material comforts, might finally become the “real” writer I’ve always wanted to be. And yet, here I am, just months away from become a big-firm attorney. It would be easy to say that materialism and things won out, but, of course, real life is more complicated: this was, after all, just a movie that I watched last night. Still, I have a deep and almost soulful admiration for true artists who put their music or their writing or their painting first and let that art sustain them more than creature comforts. After taking the MPRE yesterday I thought, almost happily, that if I failed it and couldn’t sit for the bar, I’d have a whole summer to write a novel (which would, of course become so successful that I wouldn’t have to take the bar and be a lawyer anyway). Oh, the irony.
An idea for yet another soon-to-be-written bestseller (on which Tim’s plans for an early retirement so solidly rest…)