Transition to practice (or, why I cried at law school)

April 20, 2010 at 9:17 am | Posted in law school, little bug, Little O, not yet written, politics, read this, tax law is sexy, the firm, the media | 9 Comments
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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.

Stay tuned.

You say Ploof, I say Pluff

November 19, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Posted in politics, read this, the media, wine | 1 Comment
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David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, spoke last night at the First Parish Church in Cambridge as part of his book tour for The Audacity to Win.  I was told that the church was not quite as packed as it had been for John McCain’s (pre-election) talk or even Harold Bloom’s, at which people were packed into the rafters, but there was a solid and obviously sympathetic crowd.  I finally put a face to the man who has sent me dozens and dozens of emails over the past two years. I also learned how to pronounce his name. Not “Ploof,” but “Pluff.”

See? There he is!

He spoke broadly of the several threads in the book.  First, he emphasized that throughout the election, the campaign refused to judge itself by the news coverage of the moment.  Instead of focusing on the split-second media, it tackled small, daily demographic goals — for example, how many undecided females in Terra Haute should be contacted and registered to vote.  Plouffe pointed out (helpfully!) that this is still Obama’s tactic.  Plouffe explained that the president knows that coming to the right decision on Afghanistan is more important than whatever beating he is taking in the press that day; he ignores the “winds of Washington” (as Plouffe put it) and focuses instead on what his goal was for that day. To talk to a certain general? Read a certain report? Likewise the beating he took just yesterday in the Times over his trip to China. Plouffe assured us that Obama does indeed have the big picture in mind.

Another thread Plouffe elaborated on was the power and the novelty of the grass roots campaign. I didn’t realize that before Obama made the decision to run, he had absolutely no infrastructure. No pollsters, no advance fundraisers. Plouffe pointed out that Obama had been to New Hampshire for a book signing, but otherwise, not to either Iowa or South Carolina (states in which potential candidates tend to find themselves often, for whatever reasons, in the months before declaring their candidacies). And the decision to go “grass roots” was entirely Obama’s. People thought the campaign was crazy to be holding rallies in, say, Michigan in the month before the South Carolina primary, when Michigan’s was months away. But as Plouffe explained, these rallies got people talking far ahead of time. People who would invite their friends to another rally, or to a call center, or to knock on doors in the coming months. Or, of course, to donate money. The Obama campaign had 4 million individual donors, giving an average of $85.

“Why are you giving away all your secrets?!” I kept wanting to jump up and ask him. But towards the end of the talk, the man who regularly sends me emails that begin “Dear K –” finally read my mind. This election obviously will be studied for years to come as a turning point in the use of technology, data, and strategy in a grass-roots setting. Still, by 2012, technology will have rendered many of the 2008 campaign’s tactics obsolete or slow — how many more people will have iPhones? Plouffe wanted to memorialize the election in his own words before others could spin it. Don’t worry, he assured the crowd, I didn’t give away all my tricks.

Once again, my dear friend Erin was my ambassador to culture.  Somehow, she knows when interesting authors are popping up on book tours (she has brought me to hear Ann Patchett read at the Athenaeum and has invited me to countless other readings).  I have long been fascinated by David Plouffe (and am of course now going to buy his book…) — probably lingering idealism from my lost dream of working on a campaign, something I never managed to do,  maybe because I always thought of myself more as a journalist than an real activist.

I love, too, these outings with Erin, often bookended by dinner and a glass of wine somewhere fun (last night: Upstairs at the Square. White Rioja for Erin, envy for me!) Our conversations range from contemporary fiction to comments such as “You know how Puplicious isn’t as good as Pinkalicious, and Goldilicious is even worse?” to our toddlers’ verbal skills to creative writing classes.  I got home late (for me), long after both Tim and Little Bug were asleep, but invigorated by a crisp cold night in Cambridge.  This city of intellectualism, liberalism, culture, and craziness was my first home in Boston — and for all these things I’ll always love it.

Politics and more

October 28, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Posted in little bug, Massholes, politics | Leave a comment
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Ted Kennedy died, and Massachusetts needs a new senator. The special election takes place January 19, 2010. There are four candidates. In addition, the Boston mayoral election is on November 3.

I moved to Boston in June 2003, and this the longest I’ve stayed put since I went to college. I consider myself relatively well-informed, politically, but these races have hardly registered in my conscious. I don’t know whom I’m supporting, nor who stands for what. The current New Jersey gubernatorial and New York City mayoral races still seem more relevant, somehow. I care more that Christie might actually be the governor of New Jersey (a potential travesty) and find discussing the pros and cons of Bloomberg’s potential term-limit extension much more interesting than whether the Menino machine can be broken.

Maybe this is the problem: In Boston and Massachusetts, in adherence to all stereotypes, the “machine” still seems to means something. If you want to be a player, have a future, in Democratic politics, you support the incumbent mayor for a fifth term, even if you can understand one of every five words he mumbles.

Likewise, now that Martha Coakley seems to have been appointed “the” Democratic candidate, it is unlikely that her three challengers will have a chance. Which is too bad, despite the fact that I’m sure she’d be a good senator (and I’m always supportive of women who run for office). 

Case in point: Last night Tim and I attended a fund raiser for Alan Khazei, another senatorial candidate. Khazei founded the nonprofit City Year (a kind of Peace Corps for teenagers that focuses on inner cities in the U.S.). He’s running a decidedly grass-roots campaign and is embracing the “community organizer” label. (“We have a community organizer in the White House!” he exclaims during his speeches.) I attended not so much because I support Khazei (indeed, I didn’t know much about him before yesterday and even thought his name was spelled like it is pronounced – “Casey” – and he was yet another Irish guy running for office) but because I knew some of the people hosting the fundraiser and was curious about why they were supporting this relative underdog.  The crowd was decidedly young and idealistic, and I spied a few figures whom I knew coveted a future in politics publicly bucking the machine and throwing their support behind Khazei, not Coakley. That in itself was heartening. But I don’t think he has a chance – not because of his message or demeanor (he is a funny, likeable man), but because the fundraising momentum is already behind someone else.

Khazei didn’t necessarily win me over last night. But meeting an actual candidate kindled my overall interest in the race.  In fact, it was invigorating.  I have always thrived when feeling like I’m in the know and aware of the world (one of the reasons why I became a journalist). Though going to the fundraiser meant missing putting Little Bug to bed (and how I miss her when I don’t see her all day!), a night away from my child might be worth it to keep the currents of inspiration and commitment to and interest in the world around me buzzing. In other words, to keep me being me.

Duh, you say. Of course you have to have a life of your own, apart from your kids (isn’t this what all mommy-lit is about?)  In reality, though, we all know how strong the pull of home is after a long day, children or not.  After the event, Tim and I swung by Gaslight (our favorite go-to-French bistro, in large part because of the free parking and quick access to the Expressway) for a quick steak frite. An impromptu weeknight dinner with one’s husband in an actual restaurant – no TVs, no computers, no dirty dishes – discussing politics and our work days (I have a vague fantasy that people without kids or with grown kids do this regularly…) is indeed a rare treat. And further compounded the obvious:  it’s good – essential, important, necessary, fulfilling, sustaining… – to get out of the urban-suburban commuting bubble (home, work, home). There’s a senate race going on and it matters to my life. So do personal relationships. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have stoked both fires.

Follow up

February 25, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Posted in celebrity obsession, Oprah, politics, read this, running | 1 Comment

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Once again, Michelle Obama inspires me.  This time, it is her arms.  If a working mother of two young children — who is undoubtedly far, far busier than I — can have sculpted arms, I have no excuse. 

My love for Michelle (can I call her Michelle?) cannot be simply be that of the flighty “girl-crush” used for actresses and the like.  Instead, I would compare it more to that of my grandmother for Jackie Kennedy — we catch a glimpse of our best selves (not to get all Oprah!) in the First Lady.  My grandmother saw a stylish, educated, barrier-breaking Catholic woman; I see an educated, lawyer-mom not afraid to stand up for herself — and Michelle’s barrier-breaking quality is not so much race as it is a woman who is living the life so many of us do — juggling work and kids and doing so openly and, hopefully, honestly.

In any event, just as Michelle inspired me to stop dithering about heading off to work as a corporate lawyer (remember this piece?), she has motivated me to stop dithering about exercise. My running clothes are sitting at my feet, under my desk, and if I don’t walk out this door at 5 p.m. to sneak in a run before heading home, I’ll have all of you to answer to!

Blogroll addition: Mrs. O

January 26, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Posted in politics, read this | 2 Comments
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Several of the day’s little happenstances having to do either with blogs or fashion serendipitously culminated in a new blog favorite.

The blog-related:  There’s a new legal blog out there, Boston Common Law. The graphics (and some of the writing) are a bit JV, but it did break the story of layoffs in a well known Boston firm before Above the Law. The new blog is written by someone named Ms. P, and my law school friends and I spent part of the morning trying to guess her identity (while denying our own involvement, of course.)

The fashion-related: First, I noticed around lunchtime that one of my pant legs had come unhemmed, making me self-conscious for the rest of the day. (That’s sort of fashion related because I was thinking: how the hell could this expensive suit be coming unravelled after only a few months?) Then, a work friend emailed a query: could she wear these red patent stilettos, bought for her sister’s bachelorette party, to work? Apparently the saleswoman at the store had suggested she could.  “Where does she think I work?!” demanded my friend. So we had to discuss whether anyone (other than strippers, obviously ) could click around the office in these. 

These events — the blog speculating, the trashy-fashion trash-talking (not the unhemmed pants) — were the small highlights of a frigid Monday, so Lindsey’s link (that girl must read 100 blogs a day, I swear…) to a relatively new fashion-related blog was the icing on the cake. See for yourself:

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(Note to self — i.e., my graphic designer — I need to get me one of these little pictures/links for other people to download onto their sites!)

Inauguration Day

January 20, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Posted in politics, the firm | 4 Comments

Everyone knows I am a politics junkie. I always have been. In high school I wanted to be a U.S. Senator. Now I want to be a speechwriter (and found out that a coworker is friends with wunderkind Jon Favreau, a little connection I’m going to keep in my back pocket…) I had MSNBC and CNN streaming desktop all day, and was one of the first to arrive in the firm’s conference room to watch the inauguration on the projector screens with dozens and dozens of my colleagues, not really caring when they saw me wipe away tears. And I was the literally the last to leave the conference room and head back to my desk — only after I had witnessed this:

Obama Inauguration

As much as I marvelled over the details and the entirety of today’s events, I continue to be awed by the absolute peaceful transition of power that took place at noon. No matter our political affinities, we should be grateful and inspired by this. And, I should note, how utterly classy of the Obamas to escort the Bushes to the helicopter, bidding them farewell with handshakes and hugs and a mouthed, “God Bless” from Michelle Obama to George Bush. I was pretty proud today — cliche alert! — to be an American.

And now, a running stream of commentary:  Craig Robinson wearing a Princeton scarf (I don’t care if it was some other school! It looked orange and black!); the Obama girls’ beautiful coats (especially loved the red and pink on Sascha!); I did love Michelle’s coat (and am loving her white off-the-shoulder dress at the balls); Rick Warren almost ruined it for me — especially when you compare him to the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery; Jill Biden’s boots and that short skirt! (If I ran five miles a day and looked like her, I’d do it too! My friend Kara thinks her kind of a hot mess and sure to be sporting lots of cleavage at the inaugural balls; I think she looked great, although we can debate the appropriateness…); Joe Biden has handsome blue eyes; John Roberts — wtf? Were you nervous? Also, do you think Justice Stevens is retiring, like, tomorrow?; if you want to see the funniest comment about Aretha’s hat, look here. Finally, I spent most of inauguration day texting and on Facebook, just revelling sharing in this moment. I loved today — like November 5, I woke up feeling it special, and I am finding it hard to tear myself away from the coverage more than 12 hours later.

Wednesday night: this is all I’ve got

November 19, 2008 at 10:03 pm | Posted in politics, read this | 2 Comments
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Why doesn’t Obama consider Hillary for a Supreme Court Justice? Is it such an obvious non-starter (i.e., she would never tie herself up in a lifetime appointment thereby forever eliminating a possible presidency) that no one will write about it? I emailed Maureen Dowd this morning (for real) and told her to get on it.

I pass the bar and get called for jury duty for the first time in my life. How does this work for lawyers? Can I say that my mother is a district attorney and so therefore I’ll be a bad candidate? That as someone who very recently crammed all the Mass. and Federal Rules of Evidence, along with a (now fading, admittedly) mastery of the sixth, seventh, and eighth amendments, into her little brain for the bar, I’d be too fair? Too biased? I’d actually love to serve on a jury.  But not now.  All I can think about is, “My hours!!!!!!!!”

Also: we’ve been killing mice over here in Back Bay. Glue traps, plastic garbage bag, dumpster. I’m afraid it’s actually the same mouse who escapes from the garbage bin in the basement and crawls back up here. It’s awful when they get caught in the trap and squeal. Tim is preying on my sensitive side and keeps telling me I’m killing a whole family. Someone once told me that rats and mice do not co-exist, so if you have mice, consider yourself lucky. And since I read either “Goodnight Moon” or “Goodnight Gorilla” (if you have a small child — run, do not walk and buy the latter — it’s nothing like “Goodnight Moon,” per se, but is a wonderful, new bedtime classic!) every night, and a little cute mouse figures prominently (on every page) in both, I have sort of a soft spot for them now. I just don’t like the thought of them running around the baby’s room. Would they ever crawl up in the crib? Eeeew it makes me shiver.  Now I keep thinking I see mice out of the corner of my eye, wherever I am.  Such as in a conference room at work today.  Maybe I need to lay off the caffeine.

Election Day 2008

November 4, 2008 at 7:36 pm | Posted in little bug, Massholes, politics | Leave a comment
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As I settle in with MSNBC (we are addicts) and my laptop (to work while watching returns) on this historic night, a few pictures from the day. 

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The one-and-a-half hour line to vote at the Boston Public Library at 7 a.m.

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Little Bug and her dad stand in line.

I spent the afternoon at WilmerHale answering an Election Protection hotline, where voters (mostly in Massachusetts) called in with questions such as “If I moved and didn’t re-register at my new address, can I still vote?” (If you’ve moved in the last 18 months, you can go to your old polling place. If you moved less recently than that, you need to go to your new polling place and fill out a provisional ballot. Which, unfortunately, probably won’t be counted.)  There was a mishap in Cambridge this morning where the election workers showed up with the wrong voter registration lists, so people who had voted in the same place for years were told they were not registered.  That was solved, but a lot of people had to cast provisional ballots (although those most likely will be counted).  Some people were kind of crazy (“Can you see if I’m registered? I’m not? Well, I’d like to register now and say I’m voting Republican!”) The lawyer working the phones next to me (someone I know from my PPLM work) kept getting really interesting calls: four-hour waits in Chinatown, white powder discovered at a polling place in Rhode Island.  My calls were fairly tame.

I’m giddy with excitement.  I love election night, even when it’s just a year of Congressional races.  I remember spending 2004 with the Blocks in Jamaica Plain, a rather glum night. 

I received an email yesterday from a Boston lawyer I know — a successful Renaissance man whom I might have guessed was, like many successful lawyers I know, lured into the Republican fold by his distaste for having his hard-earned wealth taxed.  Instead, he wrote this eloquent request:

“The time is finally here to cast our votes to elect our finest President since Franklin Roosevelt.  One equipped, as FDR was, to return America to a Republic placing its citizens’ welfare above that of the wealthy and the powerful.  An America where “sweet reason” is the coin of discourse and we regain the respect of our fellow nations.  I believe we all want to say to our children and grandchildren, “we stood with Obama on election day” and therefore I hope and trust you will!  
PS:  For my Republican friends, its not a vote for either Party, but for a fresh start for America.

Exactly.

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Obama baby.

Barack the vote

October 22, 2008 at 10:21 am | Posted in celebrity obsession, politics | 1 Comment
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Last night I attended my first Obama fundraiser.  It was a serendipitous occurrence: I woke up Sunday morning to Colin Powell’s endorsement and thought, “I need to contribute to the campaign this week.” The next day, Lindsey invited me to attend a house party in Cambridge called, “Writers for Obama.” It was the kind of event I could only dream up: held in an old Victorian house in Cambridgeport, fires burning in every fireplace, chili cooking on the stove, lots of wine. It was hosted by a number of well known writers — a who’s who of the New Yorker, basically (and indeed, the magazine’s fiction editor was there…) — and Lindsey and I, English majors and wanna-be novelists ourselves, walked around staring at name tags (“Did you see who that was?”) Here’s whom I spied: Susan Faludi, Lois Lowry, Claire Messud (the hostess and Lindsey’s friend — our ticket in), Gish Jen, Elizabeth McCracken, Helen Lee, Tom Perotta, Susannah Kaysen, and Robert Pinsky (yes, Robert Pinsky). We got up the nerve to gush our fandom to Tom Perotta, shorter and slightly more awkward than one would think, albeit perfectly dressed in a black leather coat and thick black glasses.

Just as important was the event itself. A woman from the Obama campaign swung through on her way from New Hampshire to Logan to fly to Ohio. Her speech was rousing, and because she went both to Columbia and Harvard Law with “Barack,” she spoke forcefully about him as a candidate and friend. I realized when I returned home that not one negative word was uttered all evening about the Republicans. Instead, it was a celebration of the momentum that this campaign has created and needs to continue for the next two weeks. The woman from the campaign said, “I’ve quit my real job at this point. Because if for some reason we should lose on November 4, it won’t because I didn’t do everything I could to get Barack Obama elected.” And she encouraged all of us to do the same. For my part, I’ll be manning a voter “hotline,” on election day, where supposedly I will dispense legal advice to those who feel their voting rights were impinged. I doubt the state of Massachusetts will produce many of those calls but, nonetheless, it will be exciting to feel like I’m truly involved in the day itself.

(Lazily) live blogging the debate

October 15, 2008 at 8:54 pm | Posted in politics | Leave a comment
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9:08:  Good question, Bob S.!

9:17:  Are you kidding me, John McCain?

9:26:  So, wait, if Obama had agreed to town hall meetings you wouldn’t be calling him a terrorist?

9:39:  Wait, did McCain really just say that?

9:41:  Answer the question, John!

9:42:  Sarah Palin is a role model for women? What?

9:46:  Climate control/climate change… Don’t correct the moderator, John!

9:49:  While I’m sure this debate will change fifty or sixty undecided minds, not only do I know (and have known for, oh, MY WHOLE LIFE) for whom I’m voting (the Democratic candidate, duh), but I live in Massachusetts so it really doesn’t matter anyway.  Bedtime…

Disclaimer: to my treasured Republican-leaning peeps (you know who you are!), I still love you…

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