Thursday, September 14, 2006

When I was a seven year old girl, alone with a priest

and asked to make my first confession, I lied.

Because I have an extraordinarily contrary nature. If you put me in a school with four hundred nader supporters, I'll end up pro-war. If you put me in a relationship with a charming republican, I will threaten to leave him in the parking lot of a computer store in Warwick, Rhode Island, over affordable housing. If I'm studying Fellini, I'm going to go home and watch Romero. If I'm reading Petrarca, I'm going to use the word "fuck" in my term paper.

If you put me in a room full of bright-eyed, eager, individuals with passions for social justice and making the world a better place for kittens and puppies and women and transexuals and immigrants and minorities and none of them cares how little they'll make in the public sector, ever...

I'm just going to put on a straight face and tell them that I decided to go to law school because I liked the movie Legally Blonde, and that when I grow up, I want to be an ambulance chaser.

I'm passionate about things. I care deeply about reproductive rights, and affordable housing. I believe in the power of law to shape society-

But I'm about three weeks in and 50,000 in debt, so excuse my inability to talk about how I'm going to save the world until I can find the library and pay for a sandwich in cash. I think that'll happen sometime next fall.

I'm just not good at resume conversations. If I'm interviewing, I'm interviewing. If I'm working for a cause, I'm working for a cause. But I don't want to spend two hours twice a week sitting in a circle talking to people who all want to assure each other that they really went to law school because they wanted to help people.

Social workers help people. Teachers help people. Nurses help people. A really good janitor can do more for human dignity than a bad lawyer.

It seems to me that a career in law is a luxury of a kind that we're not supposed to talk about. We spend three years in school, learning, and accruing debt. But after those three years, we have a chance of entering the covetted knowledge-worker caste. Whether we're fulfilled or not, none of us will work with our hands, or have a sewn-in nametag, again. I don't think a lot of my classmates have really thought about this. I have.

I literally worked my fingers to the bone, at that cafe. The skin on my hands peeled off, from fingertip to the top of my palm. I never worked little enough that it could heel. For a while I was able to get gloves, but when they ran out no one knew where to get more. When they replaced them, they were so baggy that instead of protecting my hands from the bleach, they trapped the solution next to my skin. I woke up, I served, I cleaned, I went to class, and fell asleep to do it again.

I don't want to make it sound torturous. It wasn't, really. Even with my skin peeling off, it was the best job I ever had. I worked with some of the brightest, funniest, most generally worth-while people (seriously, call me. Let's have a drink. I miss you guys!) I've ever met. Brighter than I've met at law school, actually. R, N, T, E, even P- fundamentally intelligent people.

What the FUCK were we all doing working at a coffee house? (Not that there's anything wrong with that. Food service is below NO one.) But seriously, N. I mean it about the smarts. You need to get your butt into a classroom so you can have someone other than your husband tell you. You think T is the only one who can get a 4.0? You guys ought to be classmates. Immediately.

But I've digressed. What working there taught me, and what a lot of my classmates may not be privileged enough to know, is that a lot of very bright people are working in careers that don't recognize their minds as a great asset. And they do it for a lot of reasons. Some don't have a choice, others have made the choice to put most of themselves into another aspect of their life (raising children, for example). But there are some people who just haven't had the opportunity to get the credential that would allow them to enter a field where they'd be appreciated more for thinking than smiling.

For 150,000 dollars, a bachelor's degree, and a 97th percentile LSAT score, I may have bought my way in. Not earned. Bought. And I'll never, I think, believe that I earned it. And if I do begin to believe that I earned it, I won't think that it had anything to do with aptitude or merit. It's luck. It's the benefit of having parents who could afford to help me out while I finished my undergrad. I bought my way in, and now all I have to do is hang on for three years. Drop out rates at law schools are way down. Mine is under 4%, I think. That's less than my high school. Like, 18% less.

I think that's why I feel the need to lean back in my chair and say "Well, you know, I figured, it'd be easier than getting in to grad school...and I'll make tons more money".

People like to pretend that they're going to be selfless, middle class, public-interest lawyers without realizing that the very act of using an education this expensive to trot after pet causes is, in fact, an enormous luxury.

You can be middle class, even poor, without the privilege of being able to help anyone on the scale that we may become able to. It's amazing to be able to go to school, to take on debt, to become something, just so you can further your cause, leading to your own self-fulfillment. And we talk about it, not as if we are phenomenally fortunate- but as if waiting for a pat on the back?

I don't think this is coherent.

I don't think it makes sense.

But people may be able to get at what I'm talking about.

And I do mean it about my co-workers. I've almost never met anyone smarter than you guys.

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