Tags: Bridget Jones, favorite Christmas movies, Love Actually, Sound of Music, The Holiday
When I was a child we were allowed to start listening to Christmas carols the Friday after Thanksgiving. Everything else, however — lights, decorations, candy canes — had to wait until December 1 to be strung up and twinkle. Even though now that I have children and I am again as giddy as they (or as they will be, once they kind of “get” the idea of the Christmas season) about the next four weeks — I love advent (with a small “a”); I love that even though it is dark by 4:15 the lines of car tail lights blink festively red as they stretch down the freeway in front of me — I don’t feel right starting my own traditions until the calendar flips from November to December.
So, now it’s December, and I can break out my small but growing collection of decorations, smell the paperwhites in my kitchen windows, and light the tree at 4:30 p.m. I can also watch Christmas movies. No, not It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street (though, call me a heretic, I do like the 1994 version with Elizabeth Perkins), or even Rudolph. I have my own Christmas movie aesthetic, decidedly untraditional and, yes, decidedly skewed towards the only kind of movie I really like anyway: chick-flicks. But they get me in the spirit — and I know several of my readers will not argue with my choices! In the spirit of the blogosphere and its ubiquitous lists and countdowns then, here are my top five annual Christmas classics:
5. Elf — just as my mother commenced the Bing Crosby rotation immediately after Thanksgiving, you can watch this Thanksgiving weekend. Likely you’ll watch it a few more times during the month of December. Also, very likely for several of these viewings, you will not be completely sober (making it, like most Will Farrell movies, even funnier). P.S. Smiling’s my favorite!
4. The Holiday — I dragged Tim to this one December right after I finished my law school exams for the semester. He indulged because of my fragile, exhausted state (oh yeah, I was pregnant, too). I’m quite sure he regrets it to this day. But what a lovely fantasy with lovely home decor.
3. Bridget Jones’ Diary — technically not a Christmas movie, but it begins on Christmas with Colin Firth in a reindeer sweater. And is one of my top five favorite movies ever. (I never said I was a film student; plus, I wrote 30-page paper in law school discussing Bridget Jones in the context of Aristotle and ethics and Jane Eyre. If you don’t believe me, I’ll email you a copy.)
2 Love Actually — Colin Firth again! And Hugh Grant (again!) My sister Erin and friend Meg and I have made this a Christmas tradition. Meg pointed out last night that Natalie, the Prime Minister’s secretary, has the winsomness of Kate Middleton. (I suppose you have to find meaning and relevance where you can during each annual viewing, no?)
1. Sound of Music — is this a Christmas classic simply because it is on television at Christmastime every year? I grew up wishing I were Marta, or at least that I could play Marta in some local musical production. This movie has it all: nuns, scenery, Nazis, teen romance, a glamorous countess, and, of course, true love. Little Buggy and I sing “Doe a Deer” a lot in the car (she can pitch match, by the way — I was a bit worried that the maternal genes might not be dominant here…), and I hope that this year I can at least show her the highlights: in addition to “Doe a Deer,” the Lonely Goatherd song and maybe So long, Farewell…
What is your Christmas favorite?
Tags: Aidan Donnelley Rowley, BigLaw, Life After Yes
Like any good junior associate, I find it impossible not to check Above the Law. It’s the legal equivalent of the clichéd train wreck… can’t. look. away. One day while trolling through the most recent associate layoff statistics, I found a link to a blog called Ivy League Insecurities and was of course intrigued because, hey, I have a few Ivy League degrees and — as demonstrated, for example, by my need to mention them — I’m insecure.
What I found behind this website, however, was a wonderful surprise (one that suggests that perhaps all that ATL trolling can amount to something good?). Aidan Donnelley Rowley graduated from Columbia Law School in 2003 and worked for a stint as a litigation associate at a big New York firm before leaving her high-rise office to write a novel and start a family. I was attracted initially to her blog as a fellow attorney and mother, but as I got to know Aidan through her writing, the dormant writer in me was both inspired by and ticked by her tangible enthusiasm — her admittedly rookie glee — during the months and weeks leading up to the publication of her first novel, Life After Yes. Her anticipation was infectious, and Life After Yes finally debuted last month.
Life After Yes stars Quinn, an Ivy League, Big Law attorney who is, on the outside, living a “successful” life. As Quinn begins to encounter the realities of adult life, however — her engagement and the repercussions of her father’s death — she questions (in sometimes inappropriate ways) not only those relationships but the definition of success itself. What’s next? Quinn asks. And who am I? While the story may be somewhat archetypal, Quinn’s humor and cynicism and wit and real emotion are unique to her.
Aidan will be the first to tell you that her heroine, Quinn, is not autobiographical, but clearly Aidan’s experience as a lawyer is infused throughout Life After Yes. I thought it would be fun to ask her about writing about the law and about being a laywer and about being a lawyer-writer-mom, and she graciously indulged me.
When the time came to think about life after college, my mind immediately went to more school. I have always loved school – the classroom culture, the debate, even the papers and deadlines. And then I thought a bit about it and decided that it would be law school since it would “open so many doors.” (At the time, I didn’t think about how many it would close.) My favorite classes at law school were the theory-based. (These were essentially thinly-disguised philosophy courses.)
What type of law did you practice? Do you miss it?
I was a litigation associate during the short time I practiced. I have never once regretted my decision to walk away and focus on my writing and family, but I am nostalgic for the BigLaw world sometimes. There are odd moments when I am immersed in my current reality of baby tears and torn jeans when I miss the power, the pulse, even the pinstripes.
Do you still consider yourself a lawyer?
This is a hard one. I’m not sure I ever considered myself a lawyer. I am not sure whether that was because I didn’t practice for long or because being a lawyer was never going to be me. What’s interesting is that very often, when asked what I do, I say, “I’m a lawyer who writes.” I think I throw that out there because of insecurity, because I know that being a lawyer is seen as quintessentially impressive. Only recently have I begun saying what I should say, what I am proud to say: “I am a writer.”
Was it fun writing about a fictional attorney at a fictional BigLaw firm? Are your former colleagues going to see themselves or their firm in the book?
It was fun and freeing to write about the BigLaw world, particularly because Life After Yes is pure fiction. I was able to cobble together stories I had collected from friends and colleagues. I was able to dream up characters and scenarios and knit them together into a story. If my former colleagues see themselves or the firm in my book, I have succeeded. Because that means I have captured something of the universal ethos of this world. What surprises many is that I did not have a miserable time at my law firm. To the contrary, life was quite pleasant and peaceful. I left because I started to dream of doing other things. As such, when I sat down to write Life After Yes, I had zero intention of penning a scandalous portrait of law firm life. I just wanted to use that life, that world, as a backdrop to make a bigger existential point.
How has being an attorney influenced you as a writer? As a mother?
I am sure that being an attorney has affected me as a writer and as a mother, but it is hard to articulate how. One thing that the law has taught me is the importance of verbal economy and efficiency. It is critical to say what we mean and mean what we say. This lesson, this profound lesson, has great currency in both creative writing and parenting, I think.
You’ve created a career of which many disgruntled attorneys probably dream. What’s the best/worst part of that?
The best part is that I am prime evidence that there is life after law if you want there to be. That if you allow yourself to dream, if you acknowledge your aspirations, however imprudent or intangible, they can in fact lead somewhere. Many would say that the worst part is that I am in so many ways a cliché. There are countless lawyers who want to write and who do write. I don’t really care about this. Lump me with them. I am now doing what I love.
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: David Plouffe, First Parish Church Cambridge, Pinkalicious, The Audacity to Win, Upstairs and the Square
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.
Tags: Fall TV schedule
There are far more productive ways to spend one’s evening than in front of the TV. If you are an attorney, for example, you can bill some quality hours at home at night (and indeed I do, when I must). You can read – The New Yorker, for example, or a book for your book club (which you never attend because you never have time to read the book). You can go to bed early, so that you can get up early and do something productive in the morning (such as exercise). Despite my post yesterday extolling the benefits of breaking out of routine, however, generally I just like to watch TV. I’m a pop culture junkie, and I’m proud. Other than on Friday nights, when both my People and Us Weekly have arrived and I curl up in bed with my celebrity gossip trash at 8 p.m. (not sure they count as productive reading), I like to curl up on the couch with a glass of wine (not these days, sob!) and decompress in that most American way.
I didn’t watch a lot of TV until I went to law school. I read a lot. I wrote. I went to sleep early. In fact, for a few years, I didn’t even own a TV (perhaps Iwas living out an intellectual aesthete’s fancy? That was misguided.). In law school, however, after a day and usually part of an evening reading case law in very fine print, your brain is quite literally unable to process another word. TV becomes the ultimate — and only — escape. I watched so much TV in law school that I was even DVR’ing re-runs of Cold Case on the USA network. Happily, these days, the queue is much smaller (sort of):
60 Minutes — I DVR this, but rarely go back and watch if I haven’t caught it live, but it has become our Sunday night tradition to eat dinner in front of Morley and the gang and make fun of Andy Rooney. (By the way, Lesley Stahl’s biography, Reporting Live, is very good.)
Gossip Girl — although I’m about to give up on this. Somehow everyone has ended up at NYU together, and sex and alcohol are just not as racy in college as they are in prep school. That being said, I’m surprisingly enchanted by Hillary Duff’s guest appearance! And I love this weekly recap.
The Biggest Loser — essential to only watch this on the DVR, not live, as you can blow through the interminable challenges and weigh-ins and focus in on the good stuff, like all the crying, as Father Scott so accurately depicts every week, here.
The Good Wife — perhaps my favorite new show. I should have thought of the concept: newly divorced mom (her husband, the former Cook County DA was caught with a prostitute and is now in jail for perhaps using state money to pay her…) goes back to work as a first-year associate at a Chicago litigation firm. (Love that Josh Charles from Sports Night is in this too. Have always thought he was cute/dreamy in a nerdy way.)
Glee — OK, this is the best show on TV, despite the slight RT* factor of the musical numbers. Will devote a whole post to it at some point.
The Office — even though it gives me the RTs. I love Jim.
30 Rock — I literally guffaw at this show. I love Tracy Morgan, I’m sorry. And Alec Baldwin. And my father’s law firm was (is) in 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Supernanny — for some reason, even though it couldn’t be more formulaic week to week, we love this show. Schandenfreude?
Saturday Night Live — I just fast forward through this in case something funny happened (e.g., “Dick in a Box”), which 95% of the time it has not.
The Daily Show — on DVR, you can get through this in about 15 minutes.
Curb Your Enthusiasm — almost unwatchable due to the amount of RT’s produced, but this season is much fresher and funnier than it has been as of late. Even though as of late was like two years ago.
Shows I tried this season and rejected:
Parks & Recreation (I love Amy Pohler, but it hasn’t won me over yet)
Shows on hiatus but usually programmed on DVR
Entourage — have always liked it for the LA-industry references, but it’s getting old. I’m just about over it.
24 — total addiction, even though I don’t like suspenseful movies or shows. If Tim’s not around, I end up fast forwarding through the suspenseful scenes to see how they turn out, and then I rewind and watch them after I know the outcome.
American Idol — I refused to watch for years, but now I’m at the point where I text in my votes! This is a show that you can’t DVR, however, because you’ll inevitably hear about it before you have a chance to catch up. How brilliantly conceived is a show that forces you to watch it live — like in the old days!
Royal Pains — it stars Mark Feuerstein, for whom I have a soft spot since he went to my alma mater and I met him once at a post-college party in Brooklyn. I am so hip.
*If you don’t know what “RTs” stands for, email me and I’ll tell you privately — it’s not quite PC enough to explain here! Basically, though, it stands for the feeling you get when you’re just so embarrassed for the characters on the show that you cringe and can barely stand to watch and would fast-forward through those parts if your husband didn’t grab the remote away and call you a wimp.
Have you heard of Radio Ink magazine?
What, you haven’t? I’m shocked. Well, let me introduce you, here (scroll to p. 26).
Tags: David Rhode, Dexter Filkins, New York Times, The Forever War
David Rhode is a Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban on his way to interview a Taliban commander in Afghanistan. As it turned out, he was taken hostage by the very subject he was supposed to be interviewing (though he didn’t find this out until weeks later) and was held for seven months, until he escaped. This week, the Times has run a five-part series by Rhode, recounting the experience. (Read the first installment, here. Then read the rest. It is worth your time.) It was big news when he finally escaped because the Times and other news organizations had never publicized his abduction to begin with. Rhode’s story is incredible, not only because of the obvious — he was kidnapped by the Taliban — but because of its insights, as a result of his capitivity, into what is actually going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan (for example, how utterly brainwashed these uneducated young men are in their anti-American thinking).
Afghanistan, the news media has recently let us know, is the big story right now. Bigger than Iraq. And, yet, it’s difficult to understand why. Who is the army? The militia? The Taliban? Al Qaeda? Rhode’s reporting starts to delineate the “enemies” from the “allies,” and yet also underscores how difficult it is to tell one from the other. It helps one understand why the decision to send more troops there is so fraught.
My interest in this area also has recently been piqued by Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War. Filkins, another Times reporter, does not merely recount the stories he already reported from this region. Instead, he opens up the rest of his reporter’s notebook — his observations and personal analysis of his reporting in Afghanistan and Iraq, before 9/11 and before and after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. We read about his interactions with warlords, politicians, soldiers, and the often overlooked civilian. I was given this book by a pro bono client, whom I’m representing in his application for political asylum. My client, an Iraqi, is mentioned in the book several times. (After reading Filkins’ accounts of some of the things my client went through — things my soft-spoken client plays down — I have moments where I am so glad I am a lawyer and can help someone like this and yet despair that I can’t do enough.) I haven’t read many other books on the conflicts in this region, so I can’t compare Filkins’ approach or effectiveness, but his book has given me important background into why the U.S. is finding it so difficult to accomplish what it wants and needs to in both of these countries.
Tags: escape plan, Next Great Sports Blogger contest, Weei, weei.com
While I suspect the majority of my readers are lawyers, it’s never too soon (or too late) to plan your escape. Thus, I provide as a family-oriented (my family!) PSA, a link to weei.com‘s “Next Great Sports Blogger” contest — kind of like an American Idol search for new bloggers for the site.
In case you don’t know — or, if you live in Boston but under a rock — Weei is Boston’s sports talk radio station and is sort of an anomoly in the radio business in that it’s incredibly successful just by having people rant about the Patriots all day. But I guess in this town, that’s not surprising. Anyway, they have relaunched their website (a damn fine website, I might add…), and are looking for “talent.” (Law-school Lindsey — consider it!) You could be the next Bill Simmons…