A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late October, 1991

Wednesday, October 23, 1991

4 PM. I’m less sleep-deprived than I had been, but not much. I can see myself and my classmates starting to “hit the wall” as the Legal Writing assignment is due and the pace of the coursework has picked up. Everyone is concerned about finals.

Both Dowd and Mashburn discussed practice finals with us today, and while I’m grateful they’re both giving them, it’s putting on the pressure. But because Nunn will hold only one class next week and there’s no Legal Research and Writing hour, next week should give me some more time.

Yesterday afternoon I again had to struggle to keep awake as Collier discussed Malinowski’s view of the Trobriand Islanders’ legal system, but I roused myself in the study group when we started going over some Civ Pro hypos.

Emira, like Mark and a bunch of others, has the cold that’s been going around our class, and she sounded bad yesterday.

Back home at 5 PM, I lay down for an hour, and after dinner, I reworked the first part of my memo, trying to take into account all the comments I got on the draft. But I found the comments contradictory and I think I made some of my problems worse.

If I ever do get the hang of legal writing, I’d better make sure I unlearn it quickly. I’ve heard that Appellate Advocacy next term involves a lot more work, but we also have two fewer total class hours: 13 as opposed to 15.

There’s a benefit faculty auction on Friday, and Shay asked me to be a part of a group of a dozen people bidding to have Dowd and Davis make us a homemade dinner. It would be fun if we won, but there are other groups of twelve also bidding. I’ll give Karin $40 and hope the bidding doesn’t get too high. I’d rather go home for lunch than stick around and watch the auction.

Classes went okay today. I find that my briefs in all my classes except Contracts (where I haven’t been called on) are getting less comprehensive. But they say it’s better to prepare for finals than spend hours on classwork.

We’ve been skipping reviewing our notes in the study group in favor of practicing hypos, which are actually kind of fun to deal with. Civ Pro is the hardest subject by far, and I don’t expect more than a C in the class.

If I get two B’s – maybe in Jurisprudence and Criminal Law – I’ll be satisfied. Of course I’ve heard the classes people think are easier usually turn out to be the exams that they totally blow.

There are so many tempting activities at the law school and at the university, I could be doing something interesting every night. Gainesville would be a terrific place to live if I had more time. Next year, in grad school, things will get easier, and I’m certain I’ll see a whole side of this town and UF that I can’t even imagine now.

Still, there’s a kind of integrity to this process of being inculcated with the law. When I read the Times these days, I understand so much more than I used to, and I can also figure out stuff behind the articles. It’s amazing how many news stories have some kind of legal angle.

I did aerobics when I came home during my break and showered after lunch just before returning to school.

Thursday, October 24, 1991

7 PM. Last evening I worked on polishing the first issue in my memo and citing all the cases. I also did some hornbook reading before I fell asleep, and I finished listening to T. Coraghessan Boyle read his East is East, an entertaining novel without much substance.

I slept okay and at 6 AM I was awake enough to exercise with Body Electric on WUFT-TV. At school, I went to see Mashburn because I wanted to show her a front page Wall Street Journal article on class action suits brought on behalf of fans of Milli Vanilli, the pop duo who lip-synched their songs. The story brought out some of the abuses and problems of class action that Mashburn had told us about.

It’s an indulgence for me to insist on keeping up with the news, but I’m always coming up with stories related to what I’ve been learning.

Mashburn said she can’t read the paper on the days she teaches, so I see that law professors work a lot harder than I did as a writing, literature or computer teacher – at least until they’re experienced enough to teach their subject in their sleep, like Davis with Contracts.

My own college teaching or teacher-training jobs, with smaller groups of students, seem more satisfying than being a law professor. Anyway, I told Mashburn about my joint law/journalism degree and said I wanted to write about the law, not practice it. She probably doesn’t realize I’m older than she is.

At the media library, I printed out the rough draft of my memo (the second half is all outline so far); it makes me feel better to see some hard copy. I also printed out my résumé, though I’m not sure why – maybe to remind me that I’m not just a first-year law student.

I heard a story about weird minor Presidential candidates today, and media fever almost bit me – but I’ve done that before, and like all the stuff I’ve read and don’t quite disbelieve about Geminis, I hate to repeat myself.

I stayed in the library and surreptitiously copied onto one of my own disks a copy of a Civ Pro simulation game, Buffalo Creek, based on the Buffalo Creek disaster, in which opposing players get to be attorneys on both sides and deal with discovery issues – what we’re covering in class these days.

It looks like helpful fun, and of course, I’m fascinated by all computer education software. I wonder if I could carve out a niche as an expert on computers in legal education.

Our last Legal Writing seminar was mostly tips on getting the memo in shape by 11:30 AM Monday, when it’s due at the office. I didn’t work on the memo this afternoon, but I know I can get it done before Sunday night. Luckily, I’ve read ahead in a couple of classes, so I don’t have to read that much this weekend.

I enjoyed my Crim Law, Civ Pro and Jurisprudence classes today and I felt kind of like I’m doing what I want to be doing in life. Besides, this may be my last chance to indulge myself before money troubles force me to quit school. I couldn’t get hired even as an adjunct with all these state budget cuts now anyway.

Lawrence asked me if I work for Bugle Boy because he noticed I keep wearing shirts with their logo. When I told him about Dad’s job and how I get the sample shirts for free, he said, “I can respect that.”

We didn’t have a study group today. Nobody even discussed getting together.

Friday, October 25, 1991

4 PM. I awoke to the sound of sirens and flashing red lights of emergency vehicles, and instantly I knew the Lutheran church next door was on fire.

There’s been a series of suspicious church fires in North Central Florida, and just Tuesday there was small fire at the United Church across the street and a larger one at another Gainesville church; yesterday, Ocala’s First Baptist Church burned to the ground.

It’s been on the national news, and the feds are investigating. When I went out in the morning darkness, the fire was already under control, and firefighters were taking the media on a tour of the church.

Radio and TV reporters were there (there was a live broadcast on TV-20’s new noons – I mean noon news), and the block was cordoned off. I hope they find the people who are doing this before any more fires occur.

Back in my apartment, I did aerobics, had breakfast, and left for school at 9:30 AM; after parking the car, I sat outside reading the paper till Criminal Law began.

Today Nunn discussed the battered woman syndrome in self-defense and whether we should apply objective or subjective standards to the “reasonable person” test. Is the defendant regarded as a reasonable person who is a battered woman or a reasonable battered woman? Of such distinctions is first year law school comprised.

If some people haven’t yet realized that there’s no right answer, they should have gotten it when Mashburn emphasized that in her remarks about exams. She’s giving us a review session the Monday before classes end.

Our final will be totally open book, but that doesn’t make the difference to me that it does to most of my classmates. Having Emanuel’s there isn’t going to help. You either know the material, and more importantly, can use it in analysis, or you don’t and you can’t.

For me, a C next to my name isn’t as important as what I’ve learned this semester, and that’s not just idealistic crap. Practically, high grades won’t help me at all, so I’ve only got to aim for good grades the same way I did in all the classes I’ve taken just for the hell of it at FAU, FIU and Teachers College the past few years.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see how my fellow students behave as the first year moves on. Most people know most of the other 95 or so people in our section, even if we’ve never spoken to them.

Today was the faculty services auction, and I gave Karin $20 to pay my share if our group of twelve won the bidding.

When I returned from lunch at home, I learned that Dwight, doing the bidding for us (me, Karin, Dennis, Shay, Kim, Midori, Dan, Angelina and a few others) dropped out after $240 – $20 each – but Lorraine (for a group Steve H had organized) and Nick (for a third group) got into a bidding war, and the Davis/Dowd dinner went for $520, with Lorraine dropping out long after a reasonable price.

Karin later told me that Nick’s group actually had 15 people (including Angelina, who joined two groups – “Not right,” Karin said). Gena, who was in Lorraine’s group, and Shay found out about this and protested to Nick, who said, “It’s like Burger King: sometimes you’ve got to break the rules.”

“Very nice for a law student to say,” Midori told me when we heard that. I find it surprising – and probably a good sign – that Midori and others would expect law students to behave more ethically.

It’s interesting to see the group dynamics at work in our class. I talk with just about everyone, of course, except those people who seem totally quiet, and there’s no one I dislike.

But dyads and triads and groups form, and people know that Rob and Paul (who got called on in Civ Pro today) are best buddies, and that Darla, Jim, Don and Ray are friends; that Steve F hangs out with Gena and Shara; that Dwight, Angelina, Midori and Shay always sit together; that Lorraine and Tosha have things in common; that Doug K, Wil, Greg and Kenny K work out together; that there are other groups that ebb and flo; that Todd, Emira, Dan, Karin and I are in a study group; and probably that Karin and I are close and sit next to one another in every class.

Last night I dreamed that Karin and were in a class taught by Chief Justice Rehnquist.

I stayed late to talk to her and Gena about our papers, which are hanging over all our heads this weekend. I’d better get started working on mine.

Saturday, October 26, 1991

7 PM, though I’ve set back my clocks (the clock radio by my night table, the analog clock on the counter, my two microwaves and my computer) to Standard Time already.

What will I do with the extra hour? Right now I’m listening to klezmer music on Garrison Keillor’s radio show, live from Symphony Space on 95th and Broadway, right around the corner from Ronna’s.

Earlier, I danced around as my Healthy Choice chicken enchilada heated up and Keillor talked about seeing the Anglo-American School street fair on 89th Street – that’s my old Franklin School, where I was a tenth grader 26 years ago.

Pardon me while I sit here, slack-jawed at the passage of time. I guess it was 25 years ago when I started getting bad anxiety attacks the following year at Midwood High School, and I began seeing Dr. Lipton.

Wow. Here I am, a quarter of a century later (I remember how depressed I was on my 25th birthday, having merely lived a quarter-century).

I took a vacation from my casebooks today, and unlike most Saturdays, when I rarely come up for air, I didn’t even open a book today. Of course, I did do my legal memo.

I worked on it last night and again when I got up at 4:30 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. I sat at the computer and three hours later, I printed out a first draft.

After I went out for the papers and had breakfast, I made some corrections on the hard copy and then on the disk. When I’d exercised and showered, I decided to take a walk. It was 10:30 AM, a warm, sunny morning.

I walked down to University and across to 13th Street, where I stopped at Goerings, which looks like the big literary bookstore in town: it’s where the people from the English Department give readings.

I asked if they had Denis Woychuk’s picture book for kids, and it had just come in: The Other Side of the Wall, with great illustrations of Mimi the hippo and Gustav the mouse.

Good for Denis: I hope he sent a copy to Baumbach, whose mouth would probably drop open upon seeing it. Even though I can’t really afford it, I bought the book; I’ll send a copy to Lindsay for her birthday next month.

At the bookstore, I looked at whatever literary magazines they had and realized how out of touch I am now. At this point, if any of the books and stories I’ve got out there – where, I don’t know – had really had much value, someone would have noticed.

I tend to be self-effacing, but even I overestimated the quality of my stories, especially those in Narcissism and Me. I didn’t get the positive feedback I expected on that chapbook, and I can only conclude I don’t have much of a future as a fiction writer.

I still get the urge to write, but it’s satisfied, sort of, by my journals and by my scribbling in notebooks. I’ll always define myself as a writer, but I’ll have the spotty, struggling publishing record of the third-rate wannabees.

Still, that’s a lot further than most people get, and I can’t complain. Well, I won’t, anyway.

At the public library, I read recent issues of magazines and The Wall Street Journal, and then I exchanged my audiotapes for two new ones, books by Isherwood and Borges.

An Eastern European woman going through the fiction tapes with me, said, “My poor husband, he’s so sick, he can’t even read a book. But at least there’s something he can get a little pleasure from while he’s lying in bed in agony.” I wished I could do something to make her husband better.

Anyway, my next stop was the media library at the law school, where I used their quick form-feed printer to make a copy of my latest draft of the memo before making final corrections and changes at home, where I used my slow-as-molasses single-sheet-feed, near-letter-quality printer for the final final draft.

Would you believe I still stick with PC-Write shareware after all these years, even when I have to add the underlining and bottom-of-the-page pagination by hand with a pen?  I guess I am a semi-Luddite after all.

While at the computer in the media library, I played (yes, and I copied) another Discovery game, one Mashburn recommended, Coney Island, in which you get to be the attorneys in that 1973 case about Mark Twain Junior High and also Judge Weinstein. I plan to play these games until I understand Civil Procedure.

Yesterday I bought Emanuel’s First Year Questions, which contains some of the little hypos Karin gave our group last week.

After buying some groceries at Publix, I can home and finally finished the paper. It’s 16 pages, and I feel satisfaction with the job I did; I learned a lot doing it, too.

Whether it will get a good grade or not, I have no idea, because I’m still not sure what they want from a legal memo. Does it matter?

Yesterday Dean Kent acknowledged my assistantship application and said he’d use the recommendations I gave him last year to save me trouble.

Monday, October 28, 1991

8 PM. Last night I did my Torts reading for the week and most of Contracts, and I fell asleep after I finished listening to The Berlin Stories.

It’s still dark out at 6 AM now, but half an hour later, dawn breaks. I slept okay but still felt tired all day today.

Most of my classmates had begun working on their papers only yesterday, and some, like Karin, who called me up last night with a question, stayed up half the night or even all night. I was happy to get rid of my paper at 8:15 AM in the Legal Research and Writing office.

I showed Lorraine and Karin the book Denis wrote, which impressed them. And I was impressed when I read Denis’s byline on a review of a children’s book in yesterday’s Times Book Review – in the same issue as a review by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer.

Denis’s literary success is enough so that it’s a challenge for me not to feel envious, but he deserves it after such a long time. He’s one person I totally underestimated back in our MFA program in the ’70s.

Classes were okay, even kind of interesting, although many students looked bedraggled after staying up so late working on their papers. We had more students absent in the morning classes than I’d ever seen before.

In Jurisprudence I got called on to do a case (about fencing out chickens), and it had been so long ago since I’d read it, I was a little shaky but I feel I did okay – even if Shay asked me afterward if I was reading the case as I was going along.

Someone left a copy of the Appellate Advocacy book in the library, and I looked through it to see what tortures they’ll put us through next term. It’s probably more work than Research and Writing, but I’m looking forward to learning to use Westlaw and Lexis on the computers.

We met as a study group from 4 PM to 5:15 PM, and I read short hypos from Emanuel’s First Year Questions. Going over some Contracts hypos was rewarding, but it also made me feel I hardly knew anything about these complex rules. Still, it’s only our first or second session doing the hypos.

Davis put the rest of the term’s assignments on the board; after tomorrow, we’ve got only eight classes (the Wednesday after Veterans Day will follow a Monday schedule).

I came home to the news, dinner and a quick read of the New York Times. Our last Torts case this week is an accident that happened at Gateway National Park, and reading it made me homesick for Brooklyn and Rockaway.

Tuesday, October 29, 1991

2 PM. I’m already tired, but I still have to return to school for Jurisprudence in an hour and then another session with the study group.

Last night I fell asleep at about 9:30 PM, listening to the tape of Borges stories – somewhere before the end of “The Garden of Forking Paths,” a favorite of mine that I taught at BCC last year – but I woke up at 4 AM and started to drift off again only a few minutes before the alarm went off.

I again worked out to Body Electric, and after breakfast and a shower, I briefed the cases (I’d already read them) for today’s Torts class.

Classes went okay: punitive damages in Torts, and a lecture on the Statute of Frauds in Contracts. In between, I briefed tomorrow’s Torts cases. Some of my classmates seem to have stopped briefing, but I enjoy doing it even in classes where I’ve already been called on.

It’s another beautiful day, just warm enough so that I can wear shorts in the morning (though maybe I’ve grown used to being dressed lightly when it’s 65°).

Well, I should be getting back on campus. I’ve still got tomorrow’s Civ Pro reading to do, if I can manage it, tonight. I hate cutting it so close.

Boy, I’m tired. Doug G kept falling asleep today in Torts, and Gena and others looked as tired as I feel now.


8 PM. Jurisprudence was pretty interesting today. Karin had a problem with a tooth and went to a dentist after class, so I alone joined Dan, Todd and Emira for some short-answer Crim hypos.

I find Emira a bit ditzy; she’s very much into the social life of the law school and seems to go out every night. I’m not sure how smart she is, and I remember now that she also got into the law school at the last minute after other people canceled. Todd and Dan aren’t brilliant, either, though of course they are both smart.

I don’t know if I come off as intelligent or not; although I’m the only one in our study group who talks in class, maybe I say stupid things.

I think Karin is quite bright, and from their comments, I also admire the minds of others: Rich T, Rick, Lawrence, Michael K, and some others.

But I’m sure the really bright ones, the people who’ll be at the top of the class, probably aren’t the same ones who talk a lot. They may very well be the faceless, silent students in the back rows.

Talking in class and being able to analyze and synthesize and reason are not always – oh God, I can’t think of the word. That’s bound to happen a lot. Well, they’re not the same thing, surely.

I’ve read the Upjohn case for Civ Pro. My eyes itch. There has never been a time in my adult life when I’ve received less mail. I can go for days with an empty mailbox. But with my schedule at law school, that’s probably a good thing.

Wednesday, October 30, 1991

7 PM. It’s pathetic how grateful I am not to have my morning classes tomorrow. I don’t have to be at school until Civil Procedure at 1:50 PM. Maybe by sleeping later, I can make up for some of my recent restless nights.

I couldn’t deal with exercising early today, so I lay in bed a little longer and eventually dragged myself off to school. I was tired, but the two classes in a row weren’t too bad, and I revived myself at home by doing aerobics and getting a decent lunch.

Back on campus, I voted in the JMBA (John Marshall Bar Association) elections for student reps. Karin and I avoided voting for Nick, who, after the auction, strikes us as unethical – which probably argues for his future success in the legal profession – and instead I voted for Clinton and for Dee, a black woman I’ve spoken to only a few times.

In Civil Procedure, Mashburn spent another hour on work-product immunity, and at times I just couldn’t keep up with her train of thought or those of my classmates who spoke.

At this point, I’m resigned to getting a C in Civ Pro no matter how hard I work, and I’ll be amazed if I score better than a C or C+ in most subjects.

At Library West late this afternoon, I read Newsweek’s cover story on “The Middle Class Crunch”—more  economic gloom – and the “My Say” column, “Why I Quit Practicing Law,” by a man who gave up after two years, so disgusted was he with the deceit, the chicanery and the misery his job caused other people. I copied the column and will show it to a couple of classmates.

Rochelle Ratner is doing a nationwide reading tour for her novel from Coffee House Press, Lion’s Share; she wrote and asked me to come to her reading at Books & Books in Miami Beach. I sent back a postcard telling her I’m 350 miles away but said she should contact Betty, Patrick and others at BCC and FIU and I gave her the names of the book editors of the Herald and Sun-Sentinel.

Last night Dad said the literary magazine Pleiades came out with my “R Evolution” story. It’s probably the last story I’ll have coming out for a long time, so I’ll appreciate seeing it.

My AWP membership is up, and I’ll renew; all this stuff reminds me I’m still a writer. And that, too, is pathetic: look at how eagerly I grab any crumb that comes my way.

Thursday, October 31, 1991

10 PM. I really goofed off today, and I feel guilty and terrific. The only work I did outside of class was actually play: playing those Discovery games, Coney Island and Buffalo Creek, on the computer.

I did catch up on sleep last night, getting in nine hours before I woke up at 7 AM. My dreams were peopled with my law school classmates: Karin, Lawrence, Gena, Dori.

This morning I relaxed, but I also called Aunt Tillie, who spent most of our conversation complaining about her hiatus hernia. It’s getting worse, but she’s afraid of that hospital procedure they gave her last year.

Aunt Tillie always had the most sensitive gag reflex – she couldn’t stand the dentist – and wouldn’t you it, the procedure involves putting a tube all the way down the throat, which sounds horrifying. Her arthritis and sciatica are also bad, and sometimes she just wants to die.

She told me something horrible: a few weeks ago, Aunt Minnie’s grandson died in an accident in Ithaca, just days before his bar mitzvah. It was cousin Jonny’s son. The poor kid’s bicycle got hit by a bus, and although he wore a helmet, it cracked in two from the impact.

What a tragedy for the family. For Aunt Minnie, it must bring back bad memories of her son Bobby’s death on a motorcycle so many years ago.

Tillie found out when she phoned Minnie and someone else answered and Tillie thought she had the wrong number, but the woman on the phone said she was Susan, Kenny’s wife, who told her what happened.

Last week Carol brought Minnie over to see Tillie, and of course Minnie is taking it very hard. Tillie’s so sad about it. She told the story to Lillian Goldberg, and it turned out that she’d heard about it because Lillian’s daughter’s boyfriend’s cousin had been invited to the bar mitzvah, and like all guests, he was called with the gruesome news that the bar mitzvah boy had died.

I didn’t even know this second cousin of mine existed, but I feel terrible about his death. It’s heartbreaking.

A bad storm swept the Northeastern seaboard last night and today, and Tillie said it was too windy in Rockaway to go out. Parts of Fire Island were evacuated, I heard on the news, and I left a message with Teresa.

In the Times, I saw a photo of Plumb Beach inundated with water. Apparently this storm caused more damage than Hurricane Bob a couple of months ago.

I got to school at 11:30 AM because I wanted to attend a forum with Professor Baldwin speaking about Justice Thomas’s confirmation.

Baldwin’s very liberal, and I think he’s extremely bright, too, but he seems as if could be an imperious or condescending Con Law teacher. However, I’m still looking forward to his course next term.

Many of the frat boy Southerners among my classmates are movement conservatives who worship Judge Bork. And Baldwin said he could have lived with a brilliant legal mind like Bork’s on the Court, which now consists of Scalia (“top-notch,” Baldwin said), a couple of competent judges, and mostly mediocrities.

Baldwin suggested that Thomas’s appointment shows Bush has no respect for the Court as an institution, and its stature is now very low in the legal community.

I had lunch with Darin, who had been studying Prescott’s Civ Pro final exam answers from last year. Like nearly everyone in our class, Darin says he won’t sacrifice his personal life to work 70-hour weeks, but I wonder how many of them who say that now will end up working just that hard.

Mashburn has actually slowed down, though work-product immunity and lawyer-client privilege are very complex.

She must like our class; today she gave a free pass to anyone whom she hadn’t called on yet if they could identify how the three drummers in Spinal Tap died.

One guy in the back row knew: a gardening accident, choking on vomit (not his own); and spontaneous combustion – something Mashburn seems to be particularly interested in. (Shay told her about the incident in Bleak House.)

In Jurisprudence, Collier talked about the positivist philosophy of John Austin, and I could barely keep myself sentient.

Nobody wanted to have a study group session – maybe because it was Halloween – so I walked to the parking lot with Dori and Shay and went straight from school to Albertsons, where I bought $93 worth of groceries, charging it to my Visa. (Without all my coupons, it would have been $105.)

I plan to sleep late again tomorrow. “Four weeks to go,” Doug K said to me today.