Print Story One Door Closes; Dares Another Yet Open?
By aphrael (Mon May 23, 2011 at 12:53:38 AM EST) (all tags)
I am not a teller of stories, at least not yet; while I can spin words when I put my finger to the keyboard, if you ask me to speak stories in person, I'm likely to stammer and step all over them, and fail to communicate nearly as much as I succeed. I couldn't survive in the Homeric world; my skillz wouldn't be leet enough.

But this was a momentous weekend, at least symbolically, and so I will try.

I am no longer a student. I have earned my JD. I've spent four years feeling like I can't commit everything I want to to work, and can't commit everything I want to to school, and can't commit to everything I want to with my husband, or my friends and family, or my health, or anything. There have been times where I've felt like I'm failing at everything, and otherwise I've mostly just felt like i'm getting by. And yet: I was promoted this spring. And, pending grades from my final quarter, I'm currently in the top 10% of my class (and just outside the top 5%), am graduating with honors, and am graduating with a better law school GPA than my undergraduate or high school GPAs.

Also inside: the best science fiction novel i've read since perdido street station (and possibly since the week during which I read ender's game and the doomsday book in the same week), and a history of coffee.

The weekend began, ridiculously enough given that I had no time off work, on Thursday. Thursday morning I rose from bed, where I'd had little sleep, and after some woolgathering and coffee-drinking, set out to finish the task for the week. I organized my thoughts, finished adding the missing section of my paper, revamped the conclusion (adding as much again as I'd added in the lost section), and then called it done: forty five pages, twelveish thousand words. A paper fit for publishing (perhaps; that was, at any rate the goal - it doesn't have to be published, but it has to be publishable, a descriptor I think is dubious absent an actual publication). After some not very productive time at work, I printed out a couple copies of it, and drove to school, where I turned it in: the last assignment.

It's a nice feeling, to have studied a small corner of the law so well that I now know more about it than almost anyone. It's one of the first times I've actually felt the pleasure of specialization, rather than the pain of having to restrict my curiousity and focus on one thing: unless the law changes, and I fail to keep abreast of the change, I am now an 'expert' on a ridiculously narrow topic. (The summary version: back in the early part of the last decade, the Supreme Court decided a couple of cases whose holding basically was that, in cases where a mandatory sentencing scheme is set up so that the presence of an aggravated factor [such as, the crime being the result hatred for a particular religious group], the presence of the aggravated factor must be found by a jury, not a judge. The Court, without really justifying itself well, carved out a single exception: the fact that the dude had a prior conviction can be found by the sentencing judge without a jury's determination. But what if the judge has to decide whether the prior conviction were particularly cruel, say, or whether the crime underlying the prior conviction had been done because of an impermissibly biased motive, etc? That's the topic of my paper. :))

It was also a surprising relieving feeling to be done. I hadn't expected that; I hadn't realized just how much stress was entailed simply in having the responsibility of being a student, even if I wasn't feeling overwhelmed by whatever I needed to be doing just now - a low-lying underlying stress and worry which was present even when I wasn't actively feeling overwhelmed, a constant undercurrent which only became noticeable when it was gone. It was gone. I was free. It felt glorious.

I picked up my cap and gown, drove back to work, and had a fight with a coworker. The short version: the project I was loaned out to is close to shipping, and one of the engineers is responding out of self-interest to the incentives that the management team has set up rather than responding out of concern for the quality of the product. In this case, the incentives are actively counterproductive and will result in a lower quality outcome, because people are so worried about how things look that they will sacrifice function for beauty, and prefer to paper over blemishes rather than admit that they are there and come up with a plan to remedy them later. This isn't how I roll, and I find the experience of working with someone who does roll that way borderline infuriating.

I left the fight for the gym, had a nice workout, and then went to the weekend's most somber event: dinner with erik's widow and some friends of his that I mostly don't know very well. I've gotten better over the years at making small talk with strangers, but this wierd semi-stranger state is harder, and the context made it difficult. I was glad to have gone - Erik dominated my thoughts for much of the week - but it was awkward nonetheless.


Friday I was wiped out and didn't want to get moving in the morning, and almost didn't get the day started. I made it into work, got more work done than I'd expected, managed to get a brief gym trip in, and then drove to the city for dinner, with my husband, and my visiting uncle and my best friend and his wife. J had picked a set of restaurants for me to pick from (the weekend being mine); the list consisted of restaurants on the michelin 'bib gourmand' list (they don't have stars, but they're recommended for good value at a reasonable price). So Friday night we went to Colibri Mexican Bistro, whose food wasn't spicy at all but was quite flavorful and very good. :)

Before dinner, after we'd been seated but before my friend and his wife arrived, my uncle gave me a graduation present: a pocket watch. which he'd gotten from his mother. which she'd gotten from her father.

I'm not a pocket watch kinda guy. Hell, I think watches in general are obsolete technology, supplanted by the cell phone. I would never buy such a thing. And yet ... there's something kinda neat about a century plus old family heirloom, given to me with respect; I cannot help but be touched by it. And ... there are times, in my profession-of-becoming, when the ostentatious use of a pocket watch would be appropriate, and there are times when cell phones simply aren't allowed and a pocket watch would be, and in those times, I will use this gift. :)


Saturday was a bit rushed. I'd originally planned for a hike in the morning, but just didn't feel like it; instead, we went to breakfast at an old favorite restaurant of our houseguests (who used to live up here but have not in five years - the waitress still recognized them, which was awesome). Then, after some hangout time while J baked a tart, I shaved, gathered my stuff, and drove to the city, where my friend B had lunch and a brief walk in the park. By the time we got back to the garage so I could change, J's parents had shown up, along with his godfather, and I wandered around for a while trying to figure out where the overflow room for the ticketless was; I gave up on this task (which turned out to be unnecessary as he scored a last minute free ticket from someone), and went to go assemble for the giant class picture.

In your first year of law school, you take all your classes with the same cohort, and for the night cohort, at least, there was a strong bond between us. Most of that cohort switched to the full time program after their first year, and graduated last year (I didn't go to their graduation, but I was still reeling from Erik's death). But there were a small handful of us left, and we gathered together during the general milling about, and congratulated each other, and hugged each other, and generally kept each other company for one last time. The picture taking process was painful - how do you corral two hundred plus giddy soon-to-be-ex-law-students and get them to smile on cue? - and the photographer seemed flummoxed by the process.

After the picture, we milled about, as you do when you're playing the hurry-up-and-wait game, and eventually they formed us into lines, where we contined to mill about, and then they marched us in.

Graduation was in a cathedral. My school was a Jesuit school, built long ago; the stained glass was stunning, the artwork behind the altar was phenomenal, the decorations on the pillars were neat, and the flowers they had strung between the pillars across the base of the arches (not visible in the picture) were just awesome. The setting was regal, and majesterial, and just right for a ceremony. I'm not a believer in ceremony as a day-to-day thing - in another era they would have said I don't stand on ceremony - but for major events, it's an important thing, to have the ritual to mark the transition, to have the ritual to solidify the feeling of completion and closure. It's not necessary for the completion or closure, but it enhances and solidifies it, and marks it, and calls it out for its significance. And having this building for this ritual enhanced it immensely.

We filed in, through the audience in the back, to our seats in the front.

The student speaker is a guy I quite like, who is somewhere between an acquaintance and a friend, who has this phenomenal openness and energy and joy that he brings to everything he does, who is one of those people who can bring anyone out of a dark mood by simply being himself and being there; his speech was phenomenal. J found it banal and lacking in any original thought or feeling; the graduating class by and large loved it. I wonder how much of this was the delivery - and the fact that we were up front and so heard him, and saw him, better than those further back - and how much of this was us reacting less to his words than to him as a person, his joy and his faith speaking so strongly to his community that it bouyed us. (Well, not all of it; I cried. He dedicated the speech to erik, and he talked, from the heart, about how erik had inspired him; and while that was just a part of the speech, a single section in a larger hole, it meant a lot to me, and even though I knew it was coming, I could not hold back the tears. Tears which had lifted by the end of the speech, to be replaced with the joy that comes as a byproduct of catharsis, and the feeling that we were together, as a community, for the last time - but that we will carry the community with us, wherever we go, forever).

The formal graduation speech, delivered by California Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin, sucked. It had one great section, where he talked about how his parents had come here and how they had cherished the freedom they found as immigrants building a new life in a new land, and what that freedom meant; but mostly it was a speech about himself, and what he had done for the world (including bizarre things like his recent dinner with Leon Panetta and how great a guy Panetta is, and the flag he got from Panetta's son in Afghanistan). It was laced with conservative politics, which irritated many of my classmates; but that wasn't the problem in my mind: the problem was that he utterly failed to tie any of it back to the graduating class, to our hopes and aspirations for the future. And, tellingly, while he talked about how personal responsibility is the other side of liberty, he never laid a charge on us, or spelled out what he thinks our responsibility, as either citizens or lawyers, is, to help preserve and protect the American system which he loves so much. If his speech were a slashdot post, I would have rated it -1 OFFTOPIC. It was a terrible, terrible disappointment.

(I've heard it speculated that he's retiring soon - the man is, after all, 68 - and that this speech was in part a valedictory; and, as a valedictory, the speech might have worked. But as a commencement address, it was just terrible.)

My guests and I hung out a bit after graduation and I mingled; then we hightailed it up the road to Troya, for a late dinner (graduation had coincided in time with the rapture-which-wasn't, leaving us to spend much joking about how we'd clearly be safe because were in a church at the time of the coming rapture). Dinner was phenomenal; it's certainly not a good place for everyday food, but it was very, very good, nonetheless.

Everyone except me went home (past people's bedtime); I went to a friend's party, where she and her family (and her sibling's friends), and her undergraduate friends, were hanging out playing beer pong. I'd expected more classmates, and was somewhat bummed to not find them there, but hung out anyway; I didn't want the evening to end, and - while it was awkward at first - hanging out and talking to new people energizes me now, unlike a decade or two ago.

I made it home at 4.


My mother in law, at my request, hosted a brunch today, and J, and our guests, and I, wandered down to her house around 10 (note the implied lack of sleep in these two numbers). Some other local friends came, as well as friends of my mother-in-law's; we hung out until three or so. J and I came home, we cuddled and $redacted; I cooked a sausage curry for dinner. I tried to go to the gym, but gave up when my body told me that it was too tired and I should go f- myself; so I came home and wrote this, instead. :)


In the just over two weeks since my last book update, I've read two new books. (Yeah, that's not very many. But: Finals. But: Final Paper. But: rereading old books because I can. The internet is really really great.

Embassytown arrived on my Kindle Tuesday, at an amazingly inconvenient time. (Must. Finish. Paper. Must. Hangout. With. Guests. Etc). I read some of it at lunch on tues and weds, some at the gym on weds and thurs, a little bit friday night as everyone else slept, and then finished it in a blast this afternoon.

It is one of the best science fiction novels i've ever read.

I've liked China Mieville for a long time. I thought Perdido Street Station and The Scar were incredible. King Rat and Un Lon Don were a lot of fun. But ... the Iron Council bored me, I couldn't finish The City & The City (because the MacGuffin was simply so unreassonable in my mind that I couldn't get past it), and Kraken ... I liked Kraken, but it was a bizarre, frenetic, borderline incomprehensible in-joke which got tiresome and overwhelming.

Embassytown, on the other hand, is simply brilliant. It compares favorably with PSS and The Scar; it may even be better than they are.

It starts off very slow; much like the first third of The Fellowship of the Ring serves to set up the characters and build the atmosphere of the universe, the (long) first act of Embassytown is about setting the atmosphere, infusing it into the story and letting it steep. It's utterly required for the rest of the book to work, but it's a bit slow at times, and there was a point where I thought the book was going nowhere ... and then everything snapped into place, and the book went from being pleasant atmospheric world-building to being a gripping thrilling story of revolutionaries in a desparate struggle to prevent an incomprehensible end-of-the-world catastrophe, against one of the best illuminations of alienness I've ever seen. Yeah, there's something in the MacGuffin, near the end, which stretches credulity almost to the breaking point ... but it doesn't matter, because the story is otherwise so compelling, and the almost-past-the-breaking-point-of-credulity concept fits so well in the context of the story, that I could easily forgive it. In the end, the total package was just fscking incredible. It's literally been many, many years since I've been this blown away by a science fiction nvoel.

(I should note that almost all of the negative reviews on Amazon are from people who gave up before the shift from slow atmospheric worldbuilding to bizarre crisis tale. I get it; it was slow, and you have to either like this sort of thing or believe in the payoff to get past it. But ... I also think it was necessary that it be this way; the payoff wouldn't work without the time spent steeping in the atmosphere of the world).

(Yeah, I had a similarly strong reaction to the Half-Made World. But (a) that was fantasy. (b) this is better - because, oddly enough, it works as a commentary on the real world in a way that the Half-Made World does not. I don't think this was intended as allegory. But it works beautifully as one, which makes it all the more impressive).

Uncommon Grounds

Uncommon Grounds is a history of the modern coffee industry. It's primarily a history of the American consumer coffee industry, with an occasional tip of the hat to the European consumer; but you can't discuss that really without discussing the history of the producer industry. It wasn't as good as Fur, Fortune, and Empire, but it was good enough. :)

The book actually answered one long-standing question I've had: why did 70s and 80s mainstream coffee suck? (The synopsis answer: there was a tremendous coffee shortage in the late 40s and early 50s as a result of a disastrous freeze in Brazil, which supplied most American coffee; the roasters responded not by raising prices as the commodity coffee price rose, but by (a) substituting in lower quality beans, (b) mixing chaff into the grind, and (c) running advertising campaigns about how you could stretch your coffee further with their grounds). And it brought to my attention another interesting question: back in the nineteenth century, coffee retailers sold unroasted beans, which people roasted themselves; why the shift to preroasted? (This was apparently driven by a combination of the invention of vacuum sealed packages and the desire of distributors to build brand names using the roast as the hook for the brand identity). Sadly, it didn't explain how the abomination of preground coffee became the general mass market alternative. :{


As I said above, I am no longer a student. I have earned my JD. I've spent four years feeling like I can't commit everything I want to to work, and can't commit everything I want to to school, and can't commit to everything I want to with my husband, or my friends and family, or my health, or anything. There have been times where I've felt like I'm failing at everything, and otherwise I've mostly just felt like i'm getting by. And yet: I was promoted this spring. And, pending grades from my final quarter, I'm currently in the top 10% of my class (and just outside the top 5%), am graduating with honors, and am graduating with a better law school GPA than my undergraduate or high school GPAs.

I didn't think I would be, but you know what: I'm proud of this. Doing it became so normal that after a while i ceased to think of it as anything out of the ordinary. And yet ... the relief I felt when I was done puts the lie to that.

I'm done.

Yeah, I have to study for the bar. details. It's just work; I don't have the terror of it that my classmates do, and it's something different, not tied to the law school schedule, more in my control, without responsibility to anyone except myself. And in the meantime. No more school for me. Perhaps forever; perhaps only for a handful of years. Either way, it feels great. :)

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One Door Closes; Dares Another Yet Open? | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Congratulations! You're a lawyer by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #1 Mon May 23, 2011 at 05:18:44 AM EST
It's not official till you post your first IANYL instead of IANAL on the interwebs though.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
well, not until he passes the bar. nt by gzt (2.00 / 0) #10 Mon May 23, 2011 at 09:34:57 AM EST
ta da

[ Parent ]
Congratulations! by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #2 Mon May 23, 2011 at 06:30:35 AM EST
Good luck with bar exam.

You call preground coffee an abomination. I am ashamed to admit that in my country, people believe instant coffee is coffee.

Could be worse by Merekat (2.00 / 0) #4 Mon May 23, 2011 at 07:36:00 AM EST
Could be liquid coffee and chickory preparation.

[ Parent ]
Oh yes, that. by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #6 Mon May 23, 2011 at 07:55:15 AM EST
We always used it for cooking. I think my parents' bottle is about 10 years old.

[ Parent ]
My mom sent me a large can of that by wumpus (2.00 / 0) #11 Mon May 23, 2011 at 10:08:04 AM EST
in college. I have no idea if she knew what she was sending me (she didn't use anything like it at home). It took me awhile to figure out how little to use, which resulted in my discoveries that: it would last the rest of my natural life and I didn't like the stuff.

I suppose they are great for emergency preparedness. Just throw in one can and you have covered any amount of possible "coffee" needs.


[ Parent ]
I hear tea bags are also common over there by lm (2.00 / 0) #5 Mon May 23, 2011 at 07:39:35 AM EST
It's as if the entire world is forgetting how to make a proper pot of tea.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Proper tea is theft by Herring (4.00 / 1) #14 Mon May 23, 2011 at 11:40:24 AM EST
OK, I'll go.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky
[ Parent ]
Congratulations! by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #3 Mon May 23, 2011 at 07:03:05 AM EST
I agree with you that having the ritual - the something grand to mark those kinds of moments - is important. More important, I think, than most of us realize in our day to day lives. It sounds like you had a wonderful weekend. Now you can take a breath, relax, and wait until it's time for the next steps.
The amount of suck that you can put up with can be mind-boggling, but it only really hits you when it then ceases to suck. -- Kellnerin
Congratulations! by spiralx (2.00 / 0) #7 Mon May 23, 2011 at 08:23:32 AM EST
And also that you're in a good place for doing the bar next :)

congrats! by clock (2.00 / 0) #8 Mon May 23, 2011 at 09:00:40 AM EST
finishing something like that is an amazing feat.  take your time and enjoy it.

I agree with clock entirely --Kellnerin

watches in general are obsolete technology, by wiredog (2.00 / 0) #9 Mon May 23, 2011 at 09:19:44 AM EST
supplanted by the cell phone.
You don't need glasses to read a watch.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

Sort of by houser2112 (2.00 / 0) #20 Tue May 24, 2011 at 09:05:39 AM EST
I carry a cell phone and wear a wrist watch.  A cell phone is not as convenient as a watch for telling time; you have to dig it out of your pocket and push a button, as opposed to just glancing at your wrist.

A pocketwatch has the disadvantages of both.  It is redundant to the cellphone for the timekeeping function, and has the same inconvenience of a cellphone.  The only things it has going for it, to me, are style and sentimentality if it's an heirloom.

[ Parent ]
Congrats! by georgeha (2.00 / 0) #12 Mon May 23, 2011 at 10:23:59 AM EST

Congratulations by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #13 Mon May 23, 2011 at 11:03:48 AM EST

Iambic Web Certified

congratulations! by R343L (2.00 / 0) #15 Mon May 23, 2011 at 01:01:01 PM EST
I don't know if I ever mentioned it but seeing you go through law school gives me lots of ideas about how I manage to go back to school some day (if I decide to).


"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot

bullet comments by MillMan (2.00 / 0) #16 Mon May 23, 2011 at 01:04:47 PM EST

"Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no libertarians in financial crises." -Krugman

Congrats! by technician (2.00 / 0) #17 Mon May 23, 2011 at 03:45:51 PM EST
Seriously, this is a huge accomplishment. You're certifiably fully awesome.

Congratulations! /nt by yankeehack (2.00 / 0) #18 Mon May 23, 2011 at 04:52:07 PM EST

"...she dares to indulge in the secret sport. You can't be a MILF with the F, at least in part because the M is predicated upon it."-CBB
Congratulations by iGrrrl (2.00 / 0) #19 Mon May 23, 2011 at 10:37:39 PM EST
Now you'll wonder what to do with all this time you suddenly have!

"Beautiful wine, talking of scattered everythings"
(and thanks to Scrymarch)

One Door Closes; Dares Another Yet Open? | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback