A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1992
Friday, April 10, 1992
3 PM. I just got back from Civ Pro, the only class I had today. I didn’t understand anything Mashburn said about res judicata, but I also remember her saying that sometimes if you don’t understand something, just let it go.
I read the cases today and a little of the hornbook, although I didn’t do any other work. Last night I watched The Simpsons and went to bed fairly early, getting up at 6:30 AM, which is later than usual these days.
I had a leisurely breakfast, read the Wall Street Journal and Alligator, and relaxed and exercised. The Tories ultimately did win a majority in Parliament, which dismays me because it’s a good indicator of what will happen in the U.S. in November:
Despite a severe recession, a conservative party will win a fourth term, even without a popular leader like Reagan or Thatcher, by scaring the voter with a negative campaign harping on the fact that the opposition leader is untrustworthy.
I foresaw Bush’s election in 1988 even when Dukakis was way ahead in the polls, and I foresee Bush winning now. In the end, Ross Perot won’t make more of an impact than Britain’s third force, the Liberal Democrats.
Oh well. At least Glenda Jackson got into Parliament.
Tomorrow there’s a daylong symposium at UF on political correctness and the arts. I’d love to attend, but I need to work on Contracts. Maybe next term or this summer, I’ll have more free time.
With law school, I almost feel that the more I learn, the less I feel certain I know, and I don’t feel as assured as I did last semester even if I have the advantage of having gone through the process once before.
I’m sure I won’t do as well, either in an absolute sense or in relation to my classmates, many of whom seem to have caught on to what they didn’t “get” last fall.
I’ve got to remember it’s okay for me to get C’s, that I’ve succeeded just in getting through the first year of law school and obtaining skills and knowledge I didn’t have eight months ago.
If I don’t value others based on their grades, why should I value myself on that basis? People like Dwight and Gene have told me their grades are mediocre, but that doesn’t affect my opinion of them, does it?
While I’m gratified that high grades have caused people like Kathy to talk in class (she was quiet all last semester, but it’s a rare class now when she doesn’t ask a question), it’s sad to see someone like Lawrence have some of the feistiness sucked out of him by not-so-terrific grades; I miss the conservative obnoxiousness he sometimes displayed last term.
As Davis keeps saying, they’re just rankings. I don’t even know if I want to be a law professor, and that’s the only reason I could want good grades other than my own self-esteem.
Hey, today’s Shelli’s birthday; I still remember that. Twenty-one years ago I was going out with her. Her 18th birthday was on a Saturday and we drove to Rockaway to visit Ivan, then went to Long Beach before Shelli told me she was in terrible pain from menstrual cramps. She must be 39 this year, the age Ronna will be on Monday.
I was just staring off into the space of the greenery outside my window as my vision unfocused at the thought of all those years gone by.
The birds are singing loudly, and I’ve got spring fever in a way I never experienced it in South Florida because all winter there was like summer.
Yesterday I was thinking that once I don’t need to keep a low profile because I’m collecting unemployment and once I’m not spending so much of my life being a law student, I can see if I can get readings at the local bookstores, and I can try to get in touch with the Gainesville literary community.
Well, just one more full week of classes. Two weeks from today I’ll be getting ready for my first exam.
Last term I felt I’d studied some subjects as much as I could, but that was only because I didn’t know any better. However, there’s always going to be a point of diminishing returns.
Monday, April 13, 1992
5 PM. Last night I slept well, so I shouldn’t be sleepy now, but I am, a little. I’ve just exercised, but Dowd’s class this afternoon was boring. Maybe it’s because it’s 3 PM or it’s the end of the term, but both she and the students seem to have little energy these days.
I did some reading in the library this morning. Baldwin whizzed through the first of First Amendment cases, dealing with the World War I Espionage Acts up to the Smith Act anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s.
I had time to read most of the Times before Contracts, which also went fast. After stopping at Publix, I came home to have lunch, finish the newspaper, and listen to a radio broadcast of a lecture on affirmative action given by Sharon Rush, a young and popular professor at the law school.
Back on campus, I went through a computer exercise on jurisdiction and venue, which I copied for home use, and then my eyes hurt, so I sat outside with Carla, Dori, Shay, Dwayne, Steve H and Mark R. They’re all nice kids – though Steve is, as he said, “loquacious” – but they are kids compared to me.
I hear them talk about stuff like wearing Garanimals clothes as children and know I was an adult when those clothes were marketed. Still, I feel I fit in with them, as nobody makes a big deal about my age: I dress like they do, talk like they do, don’t look so much older.
Maybe it’s just that I’m immature. Ronna’s 39th birthday is today – I sent her a card last week – and I’m sure she’s thinking about getting older. Maybe it’s because I do feel and act young, but I view my age as a great advantage.
I hear about everybody getting prepared for finals, and that’s probably why – apart from my not wholly neurotic need to achieve – I get caught up in their excitement and their concern over good grades.
I’d feel more relaxed if I were with people like myself, for whom good grades might be a bonus but in whose lives they will make very little difference. The only possible benefit to me would be a chance to be a law professor, and I’m far from certain I want that kind of life.
For me, this year has been a chance to learn, but more than that, it’s given me the confidence of knowing I can move to a city where I don’t know anyone, live by myself, at least 300 miles away from the nearest friends or family members, begin a way of life that’s different from anything I’ve done before, and manage to do very well, thank you.
That means more to me than a 3.42 index.
Tuesday, April 14, 1992
4 PM. Law school would be pure bliss if it weren’t for grades. Today I had such interesting intellectual experiences and conversations about ideas; I feel excited and energized. But studying is drudgery.
Last night I found reading over my Con Law notes was the best sedative I’ve ever tried. I fell asleep as soon as I put them down, and for the next three weeks, I know I can sleep better if I keep my law books on the floor next to my bed and tell myself I’ll study whenever I’m awake.
I actually don’t mind studying or taking the exams, although I’d be happier if I had to do neither; it’s the pressure of grades that’s so annoying – especially in my case, because I can’t blame anyone but myself for it.
I guess I’m aiming for C’s to get this obsession out of my head. It’s neurotic, and I won’t mention it again or I’ll fine myself a dollar.
It’s a sunny, dry, warm day. I enjoyed my classes this morning. Baldwin’s class came to life with our First Amendment discussion of Brandenburg; then he quickly glossed over New York Times v. Sullivan and Gertz because he knew we already covered them in Torts.
The material in my classes has started to overlap and merge: Torts and Property, Contracts and Torts, Contracts and Civil Procedure, Civil Procedure and Con Law.
I’ve always loved making connections like that.
I also continue to believe that my interest in making sure I read the New York Times and listen to NPR news and watch public affairs on TV helps me.
The Times had a wonderful story on George Schweitzer and how his marketing of CBS, derided when he first introduced his Kmart promotional tie-in, has been so successful that CBS’s Tisch thinks George is a genius. He probably is.
If I remember correctly from tenth grade, George was the kind of student who was very smart but who never did well on standardized tests like the SAT.
I’ve seen him on CNN, but the Times photo allowed me to study his face. When I covered his bald dome with my hand, I definitely could see the 16-year-old kid I knew. He now looks like a nice, comfy middle-aged man, the kind whose teenage daughter would say, “Oh, Daddy!” whenever he says something she considered pompous but lovable.
I think he looks a lot older than I do, but maybe I’m just vain and self-delusional.
While exercising to Homestretch at 11:30 AM – I rushed from Davis’s class just in time – and doing leg lifts, I noticed that all the hair on the back of my ankles and lower legs has disappeared.
I used to wonder why older guys didn’t have hair there and believed it was that years of wearing socks had finally caught up with them. But now I think it’s just age.
Torts went much better today, and Dowd seemed more dynamic. I think I’ll enjoy having her perspective in Family Law next year although I wish that class and my others were smaller than the hundred or so seats in those alpine rooms.
I got a letter from Helmut today. He wrote it at 8 AM while “suffering a little bit from a hangover.”
Helmut began by filling me in on his 1987 marriage to Susan, “a person whom I am married with still”:
On Christmas Day 1989 she told me to fuck off. End of 1990 I held my A-graded biology diploma in my hands. July 1991 I moved into Susan’s apartment in Hamburg . . . Worked for federal mail until Christmas 1991 . . . I now have an affordable place in the center of the city but no job.
I was accepted by a University of Hamburg professor to Ph.D. with in the next four years in the field of the history of the natural sciences. On the side I will sell the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Richie, you must supply me with information about societal phenomena in the U.S. If you told me what’s going on there, I’ll know about what will be going on here in four years. This could be an advantage.
It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that Germany is reunited. I have to cope with that. Would you believe that greedy little fascists grow here? You do?
Is it true that you’ll become a lawyer? Will you find out who really killed JFK? Will you stay being a writer of phantastic fiction?
Richie, I’m still crazy. That is the only way to preserve mental health in this world. You predicted a world-wide economic collapse for the ‘90s. I say: World economy, do what Richie told you to do.
See you hopefully next year July. I plan to visit Avis in Phoenix, Arizona. She’ll move there in May. (That’s news to me.) Will you be in New York then? Florida is OK with me, also. Do you have the Texas address of the McAllisters? Questions upon questions. Let it be for today.
With great affection,
What a great letter. He’s still a terrific person, and I have to stifle the urge to call or write him back immediately.
Thursday, April 16, 1992
8 PM. Yesterday Baldwin blew most of us away when he said that the in first question he gave us in the practice final there was really no constitutional issue at all, and then he went into a discussion of obscure caselaw we could have cited.
Now I know I remember facts better than most, but I couldn’t have remembered these cases, so I doubt very many others could have.
On the other hand, Baldwin says he counts good writing skills, especially on the “creative” question, and he said he would also take into account class participation and attendance, which might raise us one letter grade. On the latter criteria, I am doing fine. I haven’t been absent from a single class in any course this semester, and Baldwin can see I’m a fact fiend like he is.
Talking to groups of people after class, I discovered many students are worried the most about Baldwin’s exam, particularly because it’s closed book. It was fun to hang out and chat with friends before I came home for dinner at 5:30 PM.
Last evening I studied Con Law for two hours, then fell asleep during a William Greider Frontline election special that seemed to be a little mushy even though I agreed with its conclusions about money having completely corrupted politics in Washington.
I had many pleasant dreams, including one in which I was teaching college English again. At school today at 7:45 AM, I read Moynihan on landlord/tenant and then went to Julin’s lecture on the subject. A lot of material in my courses is only just starting to cohere, and much of it remains amorphous.
After class, I went shopping, then came home to read Civ Pro, exercise to Homestretch, listen to a radio show on gay families, and eat lunch before heading back to school for Mashburn’s class on collateral estoppel.
I haven’t looked at the Times yet, but I’m going to try to study some more now. I don’t mind studying, actually; it’s easier to do it when there isn’t the pressure of reading for class.
Although we have fewer days this term between the end of classes and the start of exams, I expect I’ll have enough time to do at least a halfway decent job of studying.
Foremost in my mind is being able to understand and use the material I’ve learned. Today Julin said it’s important only to figure out what questions to ask, that you can always get the answers elsewhere. I’m more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, and I prefer it to being sure of myself.
Listening to students around campus, I can tell that the job market for attorneys is worse than ever. Even a good student like Darin, who ordinarily would have gotten a summer clerkship, said he’s happy to have found a volunteer job just to get experience.
Friday, April 17, 1992
4 PM. I’ve been so busy with law school that I realized only a few hours ago that today is Good Friday. Passover begins tonight, too.
The Jewish Law Students Association is having a $5 pot luck seder, but I don’t plan to go, as I don’t miss the ritual since my family hasn’t observed it in years.
Well, I’m coming down from the last five-day week of law school. Today we had our last classes in both Property I and Civil Procedure II, though both teachers have scheduled review sessions during the exam period.
Mashburn ended by saying, “You’ve been a nice class, and I’ll remember you fondly and probably see some of you again,” and then she looked embarrassed as we applauded.
We didn’t applaud Julin. He was okay in his 9:10 AM lecture on landlord/tenant, but at our makeup session at 11:30 AM, he droned on and on, so much so that he seemed oblivious to our blinking incomprehension.
He’s a nice man, but lectures are not as effective as student interaction, even if that means the terror of being called upon. This summer we’ll have lots of Julin and Collier, both of whom can be boring – but I also appreciate their easygoing styles, so it’s a tradeoff.
Yesterday I studied by using Emanuel’s First Year Questions for Civ Pro, and I found I enjoyed the hard work. I should have studied more today.
I read from 8 AM until Property began, but between Julin’s two classes, I sat outside with E.K. and Barry, and eventually we were joined by Dwight, Min, Mark R, Kenny H, Angelina and Erica. (The latter two left their tape recorders with Dwight and went out for Sichuan food during the second Property lecture.)
People seem concerned about the lack of jobs. Barry, too, says he may volunteer at the county courthouse this summer. It’s such a bad employment outlook that it’s made people even more competitive, as they worry that only the top students will get, not just the best jobs, but any job.
(I now feel I can rationalize getting bad grades: Why should I take the food out of the mouth of one of my colleagues who really needs it?)
This morning my car wouldn’t turn over, and then it did, weakly. I poured water and scrubbed the schmutz off the battery terminals and finally got it started. It’s been okay the rest of the day.
After coming home for a quick lunch at 12:30 PM, I deposited my unemployment check in the bank. I got a curious letter from Optima, urging me to call them if I wanted input into any decision they were about to make. I assume they’ve discovered my scarlet past and are canceling my credit card account.
That’s okay, as long as they let me make minimum payments. I’ve already used about $950 of the $1,000 credit line. And I want to write that op-ed piece about my credit card chassis and my bankruptcy now that one year after my discharge has gone by. (I seem to have read I can’t get into trouble anymore.)
Speaking of time gone by, a year ago today I was nervously awaiting the next day’s plane trip to California. What a great experience that trip was! If I had the money, I’d take another trip to Los Angeles this year.
9 PM. I couldn’t bring myself to study; instead, I caught up with the Times, Wall Street Journal, All Things Considered, McNeil/Lehrer, Washington Week and Wall Street Week as I ate plenty of low-fat, mostly nutritious food.
I feel uneasy now. My caps in my front teeth are wobbling worse than ever, as they’re prone to do this time of night. It’s been two years since I’ve had a decent dental appointment. I’d like to go, but I can’t afford it.
Money has been a real problem, and while we’ve been doing landlord/tenant law in Property, it’s made me think that I need to move to a cheaper apartment this summer.
I’m paying $450 a month here, where I’m happy, but if I had rented a place instead of letting my parents do it for me last May, I would have picked someplace cheaper. I like the Student Ghetto, but I probably could find something cheaper where most of the law students live, in the suburban rentals south and west of here.
I’ll have plenty of time to look. I’ve gotten spoiled by having a washer/dryer and a second microwave, but I can live without them, and I don’t need all this space. A studio or a smaller one-bedroom would be fine.
If I could pay $375, I could save $75 a month over what I’m paying now. Over a year, that would add up to $900, enough money to make a difference.
I hadn’t wanted to check on my loan application because I don’t want to get upset before finals.
Anyway, whatever happens with my grades or my money problems, nobody can take away from me the wonderful experiences I’ve had as a first-year law student.