A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-November, 1991
Tuesday, November 12, 1991
4 PM. I’m home now because the others in the study group went to a BarBri lecture, which is fine with me.
I’m not really studying properly, as I’m spending too much time reading the texts. Collier told us not to read some of the stuff for his class that I already read, but I’m glad I read Brandeis and Warren’s “The Right to Privacy.”
It’s hard not to get caught up in the desperation about finals and the mania over grades. But I don’t see any logical reason why I need to do any better than just pass. Sure, I won’t be proud of my transcript, but since I don’t plan to clerk or put on a suit, I don’t need grades to impress anyone.
As good as I could do in law school, people will always be more impressed with my other, earlier accomplishments. It’s harder to get books of short stories published than it is to go 3.4 in law school.
I’m not paying much for this education, and it’s first-rate. All I want to do is get through this first year and pass. Next year I’ll be in the journalism school (Dr. Dodd is out of town this week; I’ve got to call her, about the assistantship, next week) and things will be different.
I should be doing more hypos and outlines, but I can’t seem to get motivated. Perhaps my priorities are screwed up. My real worry is that I’ll get less than a C, but I don’t know how realistic that fear is.
During my morning breaks, I read ahead in my Torts casebook and briefed the cases for Contracts in case I was called on. (I wasn’t.)
I was disappointed with the comments on my legal memo, but Scott said I’ll definitely pass. I could probably get an S+ if I work really hard, he said, but it’s just not worth it to me.
I don’t want to be a TA like him. They used to get paid, but now all they get is a three-credit A, and they have to pay the tuition for it. That’s a part of all the budget cuts.
They let go half of the six Legal Research and Writing and Appellate Advocacy teachers; next year’s classes will be taught in large lecture sections. I guess I’m lucky I got here before the budget cuts hit hard.
Torts, Contracts and Jurisprudence were all pretty interesting today. This evening I plan to read the paper, listen to the news, and work if I feel like it. I guess this isn’t a good attitude, huh?
Or maybe it is: learning for learning’s sake. Discussing the Langdellian case method of legal education in Collier’s class, some of the second-year (transfer) students said it doesn’t work and that you’re better off for finals if you just read Emanuel’s and Gilbert’s and learn black-letter law.
But that stuff seems easy to me; the fun is in the analytical puzzling it out.
It’s cold in the mornings but warms up by mid-afternoon. Two more church fires occurred in the last two days.
Wednesday, November 13, 1991
1:30 PM. I’m on my lunch break.
Last evening, I felt a bit restless. I called Mikey and probably bored him with my talk about law school although I’m sure he understands the phenomenon. He got a conviction in his big trial and says he will “happily coast on that until the end of the year.”
Because of New York state budget cuts, everyone at his agency has to take ten days off without leave; however, there’s talk of a long-term budget agreement that might make it easier for Cuomo to run for President.
Mikey said he doubted I’d be a C student, that law school exams aren’t all that different from other exams – but we shall see.
I looked at some old Contracts exams after I let Mikey get off to have dinner, and then in bed at 9 PM, I listened to a PBS documentary about a case in which a woman sued her psychiatrist for having sex with her.
A lot of what I learned in Torts and Civil Procedure gave me a deeper understanding of what was going on, but that just made me more dismayed at the outcome of the case and the extent to which lawyers will go in order to “zealously” defend their client and make miserable the lives of people who aren’t even really involved.
In this case, the biggest loser seemed to a woman psychiatrist who tried to help the abused patient while the psychiatrist-abuser came out smelling like a rose – legally, anyway, and in terms of his private and professional life.
I didn’t get much sleep, though since I was wide awake at 5:30 AM, I decided to exercise, have breakfast and get to school extra early.
Students seem to be reacting oddly to the pressure of the end of the term. In Torts it seemed obvious people hadn’t done the reading – one guy passed – and there was a terrible moment when Lawrence called out, “Is this the attendance sheet?” referring to a pro-choice petition some student had passed around. “I just wasn’t sure how much of an activist our teacher is.”
Dowd lost her train of thought and glared at him icily. At the end of class, she asked to speak with him, and afterwards Karin saw Martin – the most active Democrat in the class – consoling Lawrence, saying he was sure it wouldn’t affect his grade in Torts.
I probably over-prepared for Contracts on the chance I’d be called on, but I wasn’t. There are four more classes, however. This afternoon I’ve got Jurisprudence and Marty’s workshop.
– – That was the door. UPS brought me a package from Mom: two pairs of pants and two pairs of shorts from Introspect (I’ll have to have them shortened and tapered) and the Miami Book Fair supplement to the Herald. Well, I’d better get moving along.
7 PM. I returned to school and sat outside with Dwight, Emira, Greg and Steve H. It had gotten warmer out and those fifteen minutes sitting in the sun relaxing with my classmates did me a world of good.
Jurisprudence was fine; Collier canceled tomorrow’s class and said we’d make it up at a review session in two weeks. So that ends my plan to cut that class tomorrow.
I went with Karin, Emira, Dan and about a dozen others to Marty’s test-taking strategy workshop and picked up some helpful information. I’ve got to take practice exams; that’s the best way to prepare.
Thursday, November 14, 1991
5 PM. Yesterday I was thrilled to see the rave reviews of Cape Fear in the Times and USA Today. Dad said the movie got panned in the Herald, but Scorsese is a genius, and I’m sure Wesley’s screenplay is excellent.
Hopefully they’ll both get Oscars and the film will do well at the box office this weekend, have “legs,” and make a lot of money. Of course I feel weird that I’m nowhere as successful as my old friend, but mostly I’m rooting for him.
I admit that last night, when I read the Herald supplement for the Miami Book Fair and saw the names of the scores of writers who’ll be appearing there, I felt resentful that I was never considered worthy enough of being asked to appear at the fair in the place where I’d lived and worked.
But a little resentment can be toxic, and about a minute after I felt self-pity, I thought of Melville and all those talented gay guys my age whose obituaries I find every day in the Times. Immediately I counted my blessings, using the binary system so that the numbers stretched out into long rows of zeros and ones.
Maybe there’s a metaphor buried somewhere in there, but my head hurts too much from trying to understand the Celotex opinions on summary judgment to do much with it.
Last evening I spoke with Teresa. She’s living sans answering machine, at a Fair Harbor house overlooking the bay. There are only about a dozen people left in the town at this time of year, but she says it doesn’t feel that isolated, that her place in Oyster Bay was also isolated.
Apart from a few parties and her catering for the U.S. Mission to the UN, Teresa also gave a successful talk about preparing Thanksgiving dinner to the elderly ladies at the Syosset Homemakers Club, who enjoyed her recipes and jokes.
She drives off and on Fire Island with her new car, which Brian’s mother also uses in exchange for her permit. Teresa sounded pretty cheerful.
I’m a bit sleep-deprived, but I got through my classes today: first, our final Legal Research and Writing lecture, at which Pat gave us instructions for the final draft, due on Monday, and then Criminal Law.
Back home for lunch, I spent an hour revising the first part of my memo. Before returning to campus, I dropped off the Moby Dick tape at the public library after detouring around the downtown street that was blocked off for the satellite dish trucks from Orlando and Tampa TV stations’ news departments.
I guess they’re expecting the grand jury will hand down an indictment in the student murders. (Next weekend I get to be on a jury myself, at a mock trial, as part of my law school obligations.)
In an interesting Civ Pro class, Mashburn clarified summary judgment – somewhat – and it was a pleasure that Jurisprudence was canceled.
Shay complimented me on my black turtleneck, saying I looked good in black. “Thanks,” I said. “I fit in really well in New York.”
Mashburn explained why they make our schedules to be such a long day at school: it’s not coincidence but ABA guidelines on what constitutes the number of hours and days we have to be on campus.
When I got home, I did aerobics and read the paper and I’ve just taken a shower.
Friday, November 15, 1991
9 PM. Even though this was a four-day week, it felt longer. Tomorrow I’m trapped in my apartment because the Gators are playing an afternoon game where they can win the SEC championship outright (they’re already assured of a tie), so it will be wall-to-wall cars and drunken fans here.
Last evening and this morning I worked on revising my memo, and now I just have to do a little more revising and then edit the hardcopy I printed out at school today. I have less reading than usual, so actually I shouldn’t be too bad off, and I can start preparing for finals.
The Torts practice exam was at 4:15 PM, and Dowd – who’d brought along her cute little daughter – gave us an hour and 15 minutes to answer one question with three parts.
Most people chose to take the test at home, but I liked being in the uncomfortable position of seeing what a final exam is really like. The only preparation I did was reading an outline the hour before, and I found that I could spot more than enough issues.
As Karin said when we left, “I hadn’t realized that I knew that much.”
“Well, at least I know I would have passed,” was my reaction. My paper was badly organized and atrociously written, but I just spewed out all the things I could think of and had time to name.
I could have gone on for hours, but the point of law school exams is that you can’t possibly spot all the issues in such a short time.
The double session of Crim Law and my struggles to understand summary judgment in Civ Pro made the day a full one, but I feel productive and bit less anxious about finals.
Saturday, November 16, 1991
8 PM. They’re still voting in Louisiana, but according to what I infer from CBS Radio’s hourly newscast, those exit polls point to a victory by Edwin Edwards.
Still, David Duke will win a majority of the white vote, and racists and anti-Semites are becoming respectable again. People look for scapegoats in hard times.
A more pleasant public event is happening outside right now. Car horns are honking in celebration, and people are dancing, shouting, drinking and throwing up. The Gators beat Kentucky and are SEC champs.
As I expected, I’m trapped in my apartment, but I did go out at 12:30 PM and walked to McDonald’s on 13th Street. It was like being in Manhattan as hordes of football fans walked past me on University Avenue, carrying Gator seat cushions and Gator lunch boxes, wearing Gator T-shirts, Gator caps, Gator shorts and probably Gator underwear.
Ticket scalpers were doing a brisk business, and I saw people with stuffed (real) alligator heads on a stick and kids with their faces painted orange and blue.
Today was a warm, sunny day, and I enjoyed being outside. Later I could hear the shouts from the stadium as the game progressed, and lots of cheers after the win at 4:30 PM. Right now it’s like New Year’s Eve out there.
I spent the morning working on the final draft of my memo. It was a struggle, once I’d done it, to change the margins and eliminate unnecessary words so the paper met the 16-page limit. But I did it before going out for lunch, even if it’s dot-matrix. (I didn’t have the patience to single-feed sheets into my printer at slow near-letter-quality speed.)
This afternoon I did this week’s reading for Contracts, Torts and Civil Procedure – and for Civ Pro, that’s all I have to read for the term. Maybe I can take care of the other two courses before the end of the weekend.
I found time to work out, and after McDonald’s, I walked up to Mother Earth and bought some groceries and supplements. Then I walked back home via 5th Avenue.
I felt I looked pretty good today, in my shorts and gray Introspect T-shirt (a new one). I’ve been cutting down my calorie intake and I’ve discovered if I don’t eat at night unless I feel real hunger, I can stop gaining weight.
Sunday, November 17, 1991
5 PM. I just came in. It’s gorgeous out now: about 72° and dry, with the sun falling low in the sky. I remember back 19 years ago Sean telling me how pretty Gainesville was, with all the live oak trees and Spanish moss. This is a nice place to be.
I thought I’d go see Cape Fear today – it’s at the Oaks Mall – but somehow I couldn’t get to the 2 PM show, and I didn’t go to the one starting now because I need to eat dinner and because I have a bad sore throat. It’s probably not a cold, just postnasal drip from my sinuses.
I’ve read all my assignments for the rest of the semester except for Torts. I just finished Contracts while sitting at a bench at the law school; I needed to get out and get some fresh air. Unlike during the week, the campus was mostly deserted and quiet.
Rob came over and we talked briefly for the first time. He’s one of my classmates on whom I’ve had an intermittent crush.
Yesterday I had one of those emissions of prostate fluid after I urinated. It seems to happen when I build up a backlog of semen. I immediately masturbated and had an enormous ejaculation. I guess I still need to have orgasms every few days, but I tend to forget.
Forget? How can a guy forget his sexual needs? Well, when you’re as repressed and screwed up as I am, it’s easy.
Hey, if I wanted to meet guys, I should go at 7 PM to a meeting about the Gainesville human rights ordinance; somebody called me about it last Friday.
But you know me: yes, I say, if I weren’t so busy with law school, I’d do it.
Partly that’s true. Next year I’ll be happy to have a social life – maybe even a sex life. I’m 40 but I look pretty good. I just don’t know how to deal with relationships any more.
Part of it is lack of practice. And I don’t mean sex: like riding a bicycle, you never forget that and it all comes back quickly. But my social skills – aside from friendship – are rusty. Still, I’m sure I can remember how to act like a human being again.
Last week was hard work, and this week might not be as bad. It’s the last full week of school. Orientation was three months ago. Can you believe all I’ve learned in three months?
The questions I want to ask our teachers don’t turn on the material we need to know for our finals, but on speculation about how this issue relates to that one, etc. Naturally I keep silent.
I feel that nobody would understand if I just came out and said I was here for personal enrichment, as if I were taking an adult ed class.
Last night I read the last two issues of the Times Book Review and felt enriched by that. I’ve been in that literary world, a little anyway, and even if my own writing is artless and clumsy and nobody’s interested in what I have to say, I feel a part of that world.
One Sunday another book of mine will eventually be reviewed there; I’m pretty sure of that. Of course it will probably be panned.
Tuesday, November 19, 1991
1 PM. Remember how pleased I was with Dowd’s practice exam? Well, I would have been lucky to get a C. She went over it at the end of class today and for about 25 minutes afterward with those who stayed.
It turns out I did exactly what she said not to do: I poured out everything I knew about law, whether it was relevant to the question or not, and I totally “missed the issue” on one question.
I really screwed up, but a lot of other people had similar experiences, I think, and Dowd said that she herself did the same thing on her practice finals when she was in law school the first semester.
To me, the key is doing as many practice exams as I can between now and when I have to take the final. I need to learn how to take a law school exam, because it isn’t a natural skill.
Anyway, it’s probably good to have this jolt now. The half of the class who didn’t take the practice exam or didn’t stay after class today might get the jolt only after they see their final grades.
I know I’m not trying to be an A student, and if I got C’s, it would be okay, but I want to try my best – within reason.
Maybe I should think about making a few sacrifices over the next month. Now that I’ve done most of my reading, I should have more time to take practice exams. The problem is I’m so tired when I get home.
Even now, I’m tired although I slept seven hours last night. I guess my problem is that unlike my classmates, I don’t have fear as a great motivator.
Would I really rather have a 2.0 index and avoid doing the necessary work to raise my grades? Well, I can do a Learned Hand BPL-type analysis. Is the burden of studying greater than the foreseeability of the harm and the magnitude of the risk?
Either way, I have to accept responsibility for my actions. There’s no appellate court in my head I can go to when I feel lousy after seeing my final grades next January.
I guess right now I feel conflicted. Maybe I’d be shattered by C’s. Well, I doubt it. Certainly if I got them and didn’t try very hard, I’d have my usual excuse. Usual excuse? But at least in academic work – if nowhere else – I’ve usually tried.
Maybe the same isn’t true with my careers as a writer or a teacher. I don’t really like to compete. Darin asked me who I thought “the real competition” would be and I hate to even think in those terms.
But the pressure to feel pressure is intense these days, and it’s contagious. Am I an asshole to be interested in the study of law merely for its own sake? Should I be committing more of my identity into being a law student? Why?
Today is the first day in the past several weeks that I’ve worn shorts to school.
Wednesday, November 20, 1991
4 PM. A week from now, classes will be over, and two weeks from now, I’ll be taking my first final exam. I’ve just come from Marty’s workshop on relaxation and panic reduction, which helped me.
We did one of those relaxation exercises which always makes you blissed out. It was just Lorraine, Karin and me. Exams are not especially anxiety-provoking for me, but I thought it can never hurt to pick up tips for relieving anxiety and stress.
After school yesterday, I did manage to work out a few Civil Procedure hypos, and I’m going to figure out a way to study to get the grades I can live with.
Right now I tell myself if I can get one B and two C+’s and two C’s, I’ll be satisfied. Naturally I can’t tell anyone I feel I’ve already gotten an A+ on my own self-evaluation.
Of course, I’m too easy on myself.
Classes are winding down, and I see people xeroxing frantically or discussing this or that in a kind of panic. It’s very difficult to stay centered.
I actually think I’ll do better exam preparation once classes are over, and tomorrow I was thinking of cutting both Criminal Law and Jurisprudence because I might make more effective use of the time studying on my own.
I guess our study group has fallen apart, and basically that’s okay with me; neither Karin nor Dan nor Emira brings up getting together.
I started to make a Contracts outline from my notes, but I expect I’ll rely more on the outlines I got from former students. Like others, I am starting to dream about cases. I hate getting obsessed with law school.
I was glad to see Cape Fear did great at the box office.
10 PM. I took Davis’s practice exam and did pretty badly, judging by his comments afterward about the kind of answers he wanted to see. I did spot some issues, but I missed big ones and my format stank.
Still, I’m learning.
I’m glad it’s turned warm enough to wear shorts again; I was afraid Gainesville was going to be really cold, but since the weekend, temperatures have been mild.
Thursday, November 21, 1991
4:30 PM. Up very early, I read the Times. I see that Lucille Falcone, who’s Bob Miller’s law partner (I was invited to a party thanking campaign contributors at Bob and Estelle’s Brooklyn home) is raising money for her Friends of Mario Cuomo group.
Lucille, a women’s rights advocate, was a friend of Larry, my former BCC student who moved to New York.
I also noted in the paper that Jacob Hartstein, Ronna’s old boss at Yeshiva University, died. Ronna made him sound less saintly than his obituary did.
After I worked out and had breakfast, I decided to put in a full day at school after all, and I’m glad. Nunn’s class on the insanity defense and Collier’s class on Lochner v. New York (the 1905 Supreme Court case finding a labor law limiting workers’ hours to be unconstitutional) were stimulating discussions in which I participated.
And in Civ Pro, we answered a question on summary judgment that I found difficult. Larry thought it was a breeze, and that’s probably why he’ll get a C. I’ll probably get a C, too, but I’ll have worked harder for it. Makes sense, no?
It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen Wil in a while, and I asked Doug K about him. “He dropped out,” Doug said. “He said he was too immature for law school.” Hell, I’m too immature, too, but I’m still here. Wil was one of those quiet types you rarely see in any group; they’re the ones I worry about.
Todd is also like that, a little. We’re not meeting as a study group anymore, but Todd seems cut off from everyone. I may be a “turkey” in that I talk a lot in class, but I think we’re better off than the quiet loners.
The non-talkers who are otherwise involved in law school or who are in groups – people like Dan, Emira, and Karin – don’t seem to have any problems other than being shy about talking up in class.
Kathy, Judy and Nancy, for example, rarely talk, but I bet they do fine on their exams. All three of them were dressed up for their lunch with Dean Lewis today, the one they won at the auction.
I saw them after they returned from the restaurant. They said Dean Lewis was very nice and chatted about the school and the budget cuts, which are dreadful but which none of us have control over.
The only saving grace the Dean found in the budget cuts was that all the other states are in similar fiscal pickles, so the quality of public higher education is going down everywhere.
Lots of people are picking up my theme that the next 2½ years are going to be a good time not to be looking for a job. As Doug K asked, “Who’s going to hire Wil now when everybody’s losing their jobs?”
Kathy worried that the economy will still be bad when she graduates, and I said, “If it is, you’ll have a lot of company, and the country will have worse problems than out-of-work lawyers.”
Taking out the garbage a little while ago, I found the elderly black homeless lady going through our dumpster. I needed to get by her, so I said, “Excuse me” as politely as I could.
She froze, and I felt bad. So many people treat her and the other homeless like an object, a non-person. Now I regret that I didn’t offer her some money.
Earlier I deposited a $500 Visa cash advance check in my NCNB account. I have no alternative right now because I have no money coming in.
Since I did the Civ Pro practice final today, I’m not going to write out another test tonight, but I hope to do a little studying.
Mashburn will probably send me into a panic when I find out tomorrow that I completely missed the whole question. Actually, it was worth ten points on her three-hour exam, but she gave us 45 minutes, and I barely finished.
It’s another warm, sunny day, but winter weather will replace summer over the weekend. I need to buy some heavier clothes, not just for Christmas in New York, but for here: gloves, long underwear, and maybe a heavier jacket.
The first year students might have a party after our last final on Monday, December 16. I’m already looking forward to next term. Even though Baldwin is a tyrant, I’m interested in Constitutional Law; I dread Property and Professor Julin, however.
It will be nice to have Mashburn, Dowd and Davis next term again, and having Torts and Civ Pro only twice a week should make it easier – unless we do the same amount of work in two-thirds the time.