A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1993
Monday, February 22, 1993
7 PM. This was the best of all Monday mornings to not have class, as it was raining heavily. I went out early, before the downpour, to get the Times and then stopped at Xerographics, which didn’t have any new materials for our Transboundary Environmental Issues class.
After lunch, I went to school and learned that Nick and Carol got engaged last week; they’re a good couple.
Dr. Diana Ponce Nava, an environmental lawyer with the Mexican government, is a smart woman whose English is good, if not quite up to the level of the earlier professors. Her first lecture was a pretty basic look at sustainability and environmental law in Mexico, Latin America and the world.
The class was annoying for me, though, because Renee on my right was absent, and in her place was a guy who came in late, a third-year student I’ve always thought had disgusting personal habits. Today he had a bad cold, so he kept using tissues to dispose of various bodily fluids.
After class I washed my hands and face vigorously – okay, I’m a hypochondriac – and was happy to see Karin sitting next to me in Estates and Trusts. She had driven up from Miami starting at 7 AM. Smith lectured some more on revocation of wills and told some cute stories.
In Legal Drafting, the complaint group showed their composite version of our first big assignment on an overhead. Our will group is going to meet on Thursday at 1 PM (that will make it a very long day for me), and we’re going to present our will next Wednesday.
For the last fifteen minutes of class, we separated into groups to come up with a composite of our latest assignment, a paragraph in a construction contract. I worked with Angelina, Claudia and Jim and wrote our draft on the transparency.
Back home there was a message from Mom, so I called her back.
She and Dad are seeing the bankruptcy lawyer tomorrow, and she wanted to know what she should do about the Associates credit card on which Dad and I are joint account holders.
I told her not to mention my name, and if I have to be responsible for the payments, I would – which is only fair since I got the card and worked up a $2,000 debt on it.
The sun came out briefly before the day ended.
Wednesday, February 24, 1993
7 PM. I knew tomorrow would be a hectic day, but it’s going to be worse than I thought.
Dr. Ponce Nava was called back to Mexico to assist the environmental minister in NAFTA negotiations, and so we’re having two makeup classes tomorrow and one on Friday.
The noon makeup class conflicts with Slobogin’s Professional Responsibility makeup, and then the one at 1 PM has caused the wills group to move our meeting to 4 PM. So tomorrow I have six classes plus a two-hour meeting.
However, upon reflection, I decided to go to as many classes as I can, with priority to my three regularly-scheduled ones since the makeup classes will be videotaped.
I’ll definitely skip Slobogin’s makeup session and do the best I can without making myself sick or crazy.
I’ve decided not to apply for a CGR fellowship – the organizational meeting is also scheduled for noon tomorrow – since I discovered it means fifteen hours a week of work for a $4,500 stipend.
I see no point in being time-poor as well as cash-poor, and even adjunct work looks good compared to that. Even when you factor in grading papers, teaching isn’t as time-consuming as a CGR fellowship would be.
I know, I know: it’s the experience that’s important. But unlike Barbara Goldstein and the other CGR Fellows, doing low-paid public interest law hasn’t been one of my goals.
While I don’t want to be a corporate attorney, I’m not interested in doing even God’s work for low pay.
Today’s four classes today went fine. I came home at 10 AM after Crim Pro and did aerobics, then read the articles on trade and international environmental law that Dr. Ponce wanted us to look at.
The afternoon classes, three in a row, were okay, but as Smith said, this is a hard time in the semester and students really need spring break.
Professor Hamann moved our next Environmental final to Tuesday at 2 PM, which is a good time for me, and next week will be a lot easier without the three classes I had expected to have.
Mostly I just have to get through tomorrow and Friday, and I’ll rise to the challenge.
Mom and Dad called last night to tell me they spoke with Robin, the law associate at the Hoffman & Larin firm I once met.
My parents seem reassured, and they’re being charged half the fee I was – but of course, they have only about one-third the $186,000 debt I did.
It will be a straight Chapter 7, and Robin didn’t anticipate any problem. They gave her money for the filing fee, and she’ll file once she gets all their information.
There seems to be no problem with the house or furniture and certainly not with the car.
The nice pink panel painted by gay activists on the 34th Street Wall that heartened me is now covered with – of course – homophobic graffiti.
In the final exam in Con Law II that I wrote for Collier last summer, I said I was willing to pay the price of similar assaults on my sensibilities because free speech is so important. But sometimes I wonder.
Friday, February 26, 1993
9 PM. This was a long, busy week, but it’s over.
Up at 6:30 AM, I got to school soon after 8 AM. Bob was sitting with Martin, going over a note or article Martin had written for the Journal of Public Policy.
Although my grades are very good, I am one of the few people who aren’t active in any law school activities.
I’m not on the law review or the other two journals; I’m not in moot court or on the trial team; I don’t do any work as a research assistant, nor am I involved with APIL and ACLU meetings. And I’m not working part-time as a law clerk.
I suppose that even with my grades, I wouldn’t be a very good candidate for legal employment because of the lack of extracurricular activities.
However, I never really wanted standard legal employment, whether in the corporate world (certainly not!) or even public interest law, really.
Am I doing my usual job of sabotaging myself? Perhaps, but I never wanted to “practice” law.
Every day in the Times I read obituaries of CEOs, painters, screenwriters, foundation presidents, restauranteurs and government officials, and so many of them “received a law degree,” as the articles put it.
On the other hand, all these people with their varied careers probably didn’t just fall into them. I don’t have any clearly-defined goals, and that could be why I’ve drifted all my life.
Still, drifting has been pretty interesting and enjoyable, no?
Other people see law school as the start of a long career and a way of life; I see it as another phase, a time in my life that will pass, leaving me with a great deal, but then I’ll move on.
Am I nuts? Well, writing has always been a part of my life, and for most of the last 18 years, teaching has been a part of my life as well, so you can’t say I haven’t had some consistency.
Do I not plan for the future because I live more intensely in the present – maybe I get more out of my classes and put more into them than other people do – or because living in the present exhausts more of my resources than it does other people’s?
Talking to Gena, I learned that she planned to split her summer between working at Barahona’s organization in Costa Rica and at the Székely/Ponce Nava law office in Mexico City.
She’s fascinated by the issues of indigenous peoples as it relates to environmental law. I wish I had Gena’s passion.
Have I wasted all my passion on myself? Or is my narcissism and selfishness a necessary part of being a writer?
Of course, I haven’t been a very successful writer, have I?
I enjoyed my morning classes with Nunn and Slobogin and came home to exercise, shower and have lunch before returning to campus.
In Bailey Courtroom, I caught about 40 minutes of the moot court competition’s Final Four, listening to Lee and Kevin J give their oral arguments in front of three federal judges playing the U.S. Supreme Court in an Eighth Amendment case.
Upstairs, during Ponce Nava’s final class, the applause from the courtroom kept punctuating her talk.
Some of the students are so chauvinistic that they think America – the United States, I mean – has the right to order the rest of the world around because they believe we are humanity’s greatest benefactors.
Yesterday, in our first makeup session, Dr. Ponce seemed frustrated and a little rattled because a lot of the conservative students in our class kept completely missing her big picture and instead focused on tiny issues.
These guys – and the students who did this were all men – seem to actively resist trying to think in new ways, as transboundary environmental issues should force people to.
Before our second hour in our regular classroom yesterday, Renee, Gena, Dionne, Ana and I reassured the professor that some of us understood where she was going. That seemed to get Dr. Ponce Nava back on track.
As Renee said after class today, what’s most discouraging about these yahoo attitudes to her, a Guatemalan of mixed indigenous and Jewish background, is that if that is what we get from educated law students, imagine how far the uneducated people in the U.S. have to go before they can see our country for what it is.
During my break, I went to the media library and watched the tape of yesterday’s makeup session of Professional Responsibility, with Slobogin going over the Upjohn case.
It was nearly impossible to hear any student comments because they sit too far from the microphone, and the two women on either side of me, listening to Ponce Nava’s classes from yesterday, had the same problem.
Before Race Relations, Ana told me there’d been an explosion at the World Trade Center and a fire. The roof of the PATH station action collapsed, and the two upper levels of the underground garage fell onto the lowest level.
As of now, five people were killed and 500 were injured, mostly from debris or smoke inhalation as they made their way down many flights of stairs. Nobody’s saying for sure, but a bomb is suspected. Is this a terrorist act?
Nunn lectured on the Civil War Amendments and Reconstruction. Before I left class, he inquired how I was doing after the World Trade Center bombing. Everyone at school knows me as a New Yorker.
Saturday, February 27, 1993
10 PM. I needed to take time off from schoolwork, so although I’ve got a drafting assignment do on Monday and the Székely/Ponce final exam on Tuesday, I didn’t study much today.
I went over the last two weeks of notes from Transboundary Environmental Issues, and I read about 20 articles and documents about NAFTA and the environment that I got from Lexis/Nexis.
Last night Teresa called from Oyster Bay, where she stays with married friends when it’s too cold for the beach.
She had another typical Teresa relationship disaster with Paul in California: two crazy people making each other even crazier.
Of course Teresa is so desperate that she would have stayed in the relationship even though they were literally at each other’s throats.
One night Paul got so upset that he left her with his friends in Mill Valley and then called Deidre, an hour away in San Francisco, telling her to pick up Teresa and then have her committed to a sanitarium before morning.
Of course, I told Teresa she was better off discovering now that they couldn’t live together.
I think that as crazy as Paul probably is, at least he’s aware enough to see that they never could have gotten along.
Back in San Francisco – and even more so once she was back in Long Island this week – Teresa realized that she tried to start a new life with Paul because she was desperate to move away from Fire Island.
FEMA issued her a check for $19,000, but nearly all of that pays for her car, which had already been declared a total loss by the insurers.
Now she’s supposed to return the excess money, which would leave her with just a couple of hundred dollars, so she’s going through the long process of having FEMA reevaluate her claim. Of course she did get $1,500 for living expenses already.
Teresa says she has very few friends left in Fair Harbor. Even Micki isn’t talking to her.
But she will go back there this summer. In April, the house will have water again and it will be warm enough to stay at the beach: it’s cheap, all her stuff is there, she still figures she can make a few thousand dollars catering during the season, etc.
Teresa’s been doing the same thing for so long that she doesn’t know what else to do.
Getting into that kind of self-destructive rut is what I’ve been trying to avoid, not always successfully, all my adult life.
It remains chilly here, but I noticed that the lilacs on University Avenue are beginning to bloom, and although today’s high was only 58°, the sky was cloudless.
I read the Times banner headline stories on the World Trade Center disaster. It does appear to have been caused by a car bomb, and the FBI is investigating.
Of course I’ve been in that parking lot that collapsed, most recently when I went to that Law Services law school fair at the Vista Hotel in September 1990.
And I’ve taken the PATH train there and I’ve waited several times at the escalator near the PATH station for Justin when he worked at Shearson Lehman and we used to meet for lunch.
The scenes of New York City were so familiar to me that they made me feel homesick.
But I also realize that New York will always be with me. It’s very clear in my memory (as it is in my dreams).