A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1991
Sunday, December 1, 1991
8 PM. For the last few hours, I’ve been doing the Contracts questions in Emanuel’s, and it’s terrifying how many I get wrong. Even scarier than not knowing the rules is when I’m unable to spot the correct issue.
I don’t feel all that confident about getting a C. There’s so much to remember, and I can’t keep all the rules straight. Probably I need to buy a black-letter law book for Contracts. I have trouble memorizing these rules because it’s such a boring exercise, and it seems pointless.
However, I need to know these rules before I begin to do the harder work – that is, analyzing. I see now that finals have little to do with the way we work in class. I don’t mind facing complex problems, but every lawyer must forget this stuff a few years after he or she takes the bar exam.
Away from my fellow students, I’m starting to feel disgust with this testing process. Is getting bad grades going to prove I was wrong all this term when I really felt I was learning? Does not being able to recall the complexities of offer and acceptance mean I don’t understand what I read and enjoyed reading? Who cares? I guess that’s a terrible attitude, but I don’t care.
Last night, when I “should” have been studying, I was reading Emerson’s essay on Thoreau. I have about as much patience with the standards of society as Thoreau did, so I’m more likely to assume there’s something wrong with law school than there is with me if I fail any of my tests.
Realistically, I feel I know enough to get D’s, D+’s, and most likely C’s, however. Part of my problem is that there’s no one I feel I can talk to among my classmates, nobody who shares my perspective: loving the intellectual aspects of legal study but who doesn’t care for the practical necessities of being an attorney.
There are some first-year students who have what I consider good attitudes, people who just want to pass. There’s Pauline, who has the burden of being a black woman in her forties raising a family, caring for others, and driving back and forth from Valdosta, Georgia, every day.
And Michael W, who sees law school as a “scam.” And other people, like Alain, who seem relaxed about grading, or Larry, who’s not even sure he’s interested in the legal profession at all.
But by and large, the brightest people are the competitive (if only with themselves) overachievers who go to all the tutorials and BarBri lectures and feel driven to get decent grades.
Earlier today I felt had I had control of the situation, that I knew everything as best I could and that what I didn’t know, I could study and learn before exams. But then I hit myself in the head with these hypos.
Well, here are my guesses about my final grades: Contracts, C; Civ Pro, C or C+; Torts, C+; Criminal Law, C+ or B; Jurisprudence, C+ or B. Let’s figure this out. If I go by my low range, that’s about a 2.2 index, and at the high range, 2.6. Not bad, if I can do that well.
Why am I driving myself crazy over this, anyway? If I cared, I should have devoted myself to studying all term instead of reading the paper and watching and listening to the news. Naturally, today I didn’t let finals stop me from the Sunday Times, Morning Edition, or the TV news shows.
Calm down, kiddo.
Yesterday I was so calm, I spent half an hour on the phone with both Pete and Harold. Pete is leaving for the Far East in two weeks, but before he goes, he’s taking the GRE, having decided to apply to Columbia’s Ph.D. program in literature.
Pete said that now, unlike when he and Josh and Simon and so many others got into computer programming, the industry seems to be contracting, and he feels he just might have a better future in academia.
He’ll keep his half-time job and go to school full-time if he can, which will make him very busy next year. Pete doesn’t want to go into debt, but he can probably get a fellowship at Columbia.
I guess that makes about as much sense as my going to law school or Josh being in graduate school in criminology at John Jay.
Pete has carefully researched his forthcoming trip and already knows the places he wants to eat at and write about in Singapore, Thailand and China. He’ll be gone for over a month, and I wished him a good trip.
Harold told me he’s okay, but he’s such a New Yorker, he’s having a hard time adjusting to Minneapolis. He dislikes the sterile modern downtown and prefers the older, “more Eastern, more blue-collar” atmosphere in St. Paul.
He sold one of his genre novels (I call them that, Harold doesn’t) and he got an advance on another one (about $1500, I think); on the basis of that, he’s asked to go part-time in January.
That’s pretty weird, considering how hard it was for him to get a full-time teaching job, but Harold wants to write, and as I said, you’ve got to take risks. I guess teaching fifteen hours a week was too much for him, though he had only three 5-credit classes over a 10-week term.
Tuesday, December 3, 1991
6 PM. I slept soundly last night, waking up at 6:30 AM from a dream in which I was happy to be visiting Teresa at her West 85th Street apartment. I’ll be in New York City two weeks from now, but at the moment I’m feeling panicky about my exams.
I don’t know why I’m getting this way, and I can’t blame it on the contagious attitude of other students, since I went on campus only to get the newspaper at 7 AM the last couple of days.
Actually, I feel more confident about tomorrow’s Civ Pro exam than I do for Contracts or Torts. And I have this terrible feeling I’m underestimating how difficult the Criminal Law exam will be.
My stomach has been crampy and jumpy since mid-afternoon, and I’ve stopped studying for now. Whatever happens, I can’t do anything more about Civ Pro.
I just had a thought: tonight I’ll play the Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway tape I got for my California trip and used to listen to on the long A train rides between Rockaway and Manhattan last summer.
We had a blackout at 1:30 PM that lasted an hour. I was about to go to the library to study when the electricity finally came back on.
Alice left a message while I was out shopping; she said she had a bad Thanksgiving with her mother and her brother, who’s visiting.
She and Peter will be in Tallahassee next week and she’s taking my suggestion that she wear warm clothes. I think with the rain that started a couple of hours ago, our heat wave has ended.
Mom sent my raggedy old green winter jacket via UPS. It’s a mess, but unlike the Bugle Boy jacket, it allows me to put on layers underneath it. I’ll have to buy a scarf and gloves and maybe long underwear and rubbers before I go to New York.
My studying today went well and was enjoyable until I started seeing how much I don’t know. I’ve enjoyed using the CAI materials and especially the games about discovery, and I also like reading Emanuel’s, although as Mashburn said, it deceptively obscures the real complexities and makes you think you understand concepts when you really don’t – partly because some of the concepts are hard for even a Supreme Court justice to understand.
I feel unprepared for Contracts, but at least that test is only worth two credits. God knows how I’ll feel at this time tomorrow: probably I’ll be ready for a sanitarium.
Was I ever this concerned about exams? In college, I can’t recall ever feeling anxious, nor in grad school – even for my comprehensive exams. Certainly I wasn’t nervous for the GRE or LSAT.
Doug G told me he got a 46 on the LSAT, and that’s a phenomenal score, but he took a course in which the teacher taught him “tricks.” Doug could have gotten into any Ivy League law school but his GPA was only 3.3.
I have no way to compare my knowledge and skills with those of my young classmates, but I suspect they don’t read as much as I do, and naturally I have a much larger base of information than they do, if only because I’ve lived 18 years longer.
But I also know that law school exams test analytical powers, which aren’t my strongest suit. Oh, I’m getting boring again. I wish I could make myself not care, but then I guess I wouldn’t be me, would I?
In January, we can look at the incoming first-semester students with the sense that they’ve got far to go before they get to where we are. Finals are the last ritual I have to get through; if I didn’t go through this, I wouldn’t have had “the law school experience.”
Whether the “experience” is worthwhile, I reserve judgment.
Wednesday, December 4, 1991
1 PM. My test begins in an hour, and I thought it would be useful to write down my current feelings and compare them with how I feel when I return home.
My stomach is a bit rocky, but I’ll survive. I’ve got all my Civ Pro material and am ready to go. I didn’t study last night or this morning, so I have to accept full responsibility if blow my finals.
I slept okay until I dreamed that I got my Contracts final back; the final’s grade was F-. Well, I know that in reality I can’t do that badly.
After exercise and breakfast, I went back to bed on this 40° morning and stayed there till 11 AM. At noon I went out to buy a new track light bulb for the living room to replace the one that burned out last night, and stopping at school to pick up the Times, I saw Gene at the bulletin board.
Because he’s got reserve duty this weekend, Gene’s taking the Contracts final next week. He said he read all the commercial outlines and agreed that they lull you into a false sense of security.
We discussed our preparation, and he mentioned annotating stuff like “the Matthews test.” I don’t even know what that is, but I vaguely recalled something – and I found I had put a post-it note on that page of the Supplement.
I saw Denise and Greg with Steve H, who’s determined to get an A on today’s exam. I feel embarrassed about feeling this nervous. Well, here goes.
5:30 PM. My first law school final is over. As I told Darlene, who was really nervous before the test, “Look at it this way: you’ll never have to take your first law school final again.”
It was daunting, but I’m certain I passed, if Mashburn can read my handwriting. I know I missed a great deal, but I was rarely clueless, and I made good enough use of my time so that I was able to answer all the questions.
I spoke with Donna, Bob and Roman when I got on campus; they were smart enough not to be discussing the test. In the room, Karin and Dan were going over “burden of proof” together, so I made certain not to listen.
Lawrence kidded me: “Rich, a hornbook? What are you going to do with that?” I opened the book and placed it on top of my head: “This is going to get through by osmosis.”
I went to the other room once Mashburn had given out the test and our answer sheets, which had only limited space for each question. Intending to read the questions carefully and outline, I found myself thinking on paper and at one point totally going down the wrong path as I misunderstood which party had moved for what.
I giggled when I got to the last page, whose hypo involved two people “in a bizarre gardening accident” that involved “spontaneous combustion.” (Mashburn got that from This is Spinal Tap.)
Anyway, I don’t feel like my head is a punching bag, which is what I’d been led to expect. I made sure I avoided classmates who were discussing the test and quickly made my way down the back stairs.
It’s dark and chilly: about 50°. My throat is sore, either because of the heat in the room or just from not drinking as much water as I wanted to.
I took all my Civil Pro material and put it into a box, as Marty Peters suggested. That did feel good: a sense of closure.
Thursday, December 5, 1991
7 PM. Getting through the first exam left me elated last evening. To wind down, I watched and read the latest news.
The last three American hostages in Beirut were released one by one this week, and yesterday Terry Anderson, the AP bureau chief, who’d been held captive for nearly seven years, was freed; he looked and sounded remarkably well and must be a very strong man.
Compare the unspeakable horrors those men suffered with all the pain I’ve had in my life, and you’ve got a galaxy next to a gluon. It’s important to keep in mind how little importance things like law school finals have.
At 10 PM last night I watched Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan on PBS; it was a 1990 movie about New York debs and preppies that I hadn’t managed to catch, and it was a treat for me to stay up past midnight to watch a film.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to sleep till 2 AM and I woke up at 6 AM, so I had a dull headache all day. I spent about four or five hours studying Contracts today and am sick of it.
The worst part about law school for me is final exams because so much of the preparation is trying to memorize black-letter rules I’ll soon forget anyway.
I can understand how seeing the issues and applying the rules to an analyzed fact pattern is an intellectual challenge, but the time constraints make it hard, even with open-book exams, to do much consulting.
And how realistic is that? When a client goes to a lawyer with a problem, she has lots of resources to consult; time might be a factor, but I don’t think it’s crucial.
Anyway, I’m resigned to getting C’s, especially in Contracts. I didn’t put in enough work to get A’s or even B’s. I could study twelve hours a day like Steve H or Lorraine or Darin, but I don’t want to. Good grades in law school aren’t going to do me any good.
For better or worse, I’m a generalist, not a literary scholar nor a legal scholar nor an educational theorist nor a mass communications specialist. And I’m proud of that; I feel superior to most academics and their narrow interests.
Also, I always wanted to be engaged in the world. That’s especially true now, because I sense that my prediction that the 1990s would be congenial to me is about to come true.
I don’t like Joseph Campbell and I don’t really believe in his notion of “following one’s bliss,” but I know that I’m happiest when I listen to the guy inside me.
Friday, December 6, 1991
4 PM. I went to school for Davis’s question-and-answer session at 2 PM. That’s the same time as our final tomorrow, and as Kim said of herself, I feel as ready for it as I’ll ever be.
I outlined the issues and feel confident that I can spot the most important issues on an exam question. Perhaps that feeling is dangerous, but then again, all I need is a C.
Karin seemed devastated by the Civ Pro test, but I bet that’s because she did extremely well and saw issues that I missed totally. Or else she just expects too much of herself. Angelina said she never felt so bad after a test in her life, and I said she should have expected to feel that way. Steve H still looks like he’s not sleeping at all.
I know I totally screwed up on parts of the Civ Pro final, but that was okay with me.
Davis came in, dressed in jeans and a Bugle Boy shirt (looking much more comfortable than he does in a tie and jacket), and he answered questions, none of which were too complex for me to follow. Paul asked a million questions, which is a sign that he’s studied a lot, maybe too much.
Steve H and Karin were upset with Mashburn because she snapped at them when they asked questions the day of the exam. Softening, Mashburn told them that if they didn’t understand something, to just forget about it. Certainly that’s what I’ve been doing.
As Davis said today, law students hate ambiguities, but if there were no ambiguities, there would be no work for lawyers. I don’t understand people who can’t be comfortable with ambiguity, but maybe when you’re 22 and feel insecure, it’s harder to deal with the fact that you don’t comprehend stuff.
In each of our classes, the teachers themselves aren’t always sure of the “answers.” It’s the process of getting there, not the product, that’s important.
I did only a couple of hours of work today, and I feel that if I keep “studying,” it will just go to waste.
When I called Grandma Ethel, she said Marty had hoped to rent the apartment this month. He’s doing so badly that he needs the money, but as of last week, he hadn’t rented it, and I didn’t want to call him, so I’m just going to take a cab to Rockaway, and if someone’s living in the apartment, I’ll ask Aunt Tillie if I can spend the night and then scrounge around for a place to live.
Besides, I have my microwave and some of my other stuff in the apartment, which I need to get out – Marc’s coin collection, too. Marty has no legal right to rent the apartment anyway.
This Christmas in New York City may be a weird one like the time I had there in 1981. A decade ago I flew to New York after my first autumn term at Broward Community College, and I had a difficult time, getting shuffled between Teresa’s and Barbara’s and my grandparents’ and feeling I had no place where I could be comfortable.
I remember I barely slept for days, until one night Teresa put me into Barbara’s spare bedroom and I caught up on my sleep. While I got enough sleep last night, a terrible sinus headache prevented me from feeling rested.
Mom tried to call Grandma yesterday, but Grandma had been downstairs watching a movie. Mom said she’d been feeling nauseated all week, perhaps due to postnasal drip from her sinuses.
She seemed pretty steamed that her brother planned to get rid of the apartment and couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to give it up last summer, when she had planned to come up and take care of it.
Saturday, December 7, 1991
11 AM. I suppose I’ve been foolish and/or self-destructive, but I haven’t studied at all either last evening or this morning, apart from looking at old Contracts exams and figuring out what I’d write about.
Well, maybe I’ll panic at 2 PM but right now I feel relaxed. This will be an experiment to see if little studying actually makes for a much worse grade. I doubt it.
Last evening I read my diary entries from the summer. Just six months ago I wrote that since I didn’t need to get good grades, I’d be happy to be in the middle of my law school class. After reading One L, I was terrified about just getting through day to day at law school, and I’ve done that fine.
The humiliation and fear I expected never was an issue at UF. And I wasn’t sure that I could live in a strange city I’d never been in before all by myself, but I love Gainesville.
In a way it would be a lot easier just to stay here for the holidays and clean up my apartment, read ahead and hang out in Gainesville.
I’m a bit nervous about going to New York. It won’t be relaxing and it will probably be stressful, especially if I don’t have a permanent place to stay there.
But it will be a good test for me, and a change, and I don’t know when I’ll ever get to go to New York again.
9 PM. I was right. I got a C or C+ on the Contracts exam, but if I’d spent hours more in study, my grade would probably be about the same.
The exam wasn’t hard, but I know I didn’t state half the issues and rules there, and I totally blew one section. But it was okay.
As I drove off to school, I listened to Bush at Pearl Harbor, and I liked when he quoted “the Greek poet” (Aeschylus, though he didn’t say, I think from Prometheus Bound) about how drop by drop, pain becomes wisdom against our will, through the awful grace of God.
Before the test, I sat outside with classmates I don’t see much because they tend to sit in the back: the older guys Rich, Bob and Rudy, the two Lauras and some other people.
I’m not really close to any of my classmates outside of school, but they all seem to be extraordinarily nice people, and I try to be friendly and cheerful with everyone.
I’m embarrassed because there are some people whose names I still don’t know, like the woman who sat next to me (and I took her UCC by mistake).
Anyway, Davis was low-key, as he was yesterday when he told the story of the “Jewish-Japanese sex pervert” who, every December 7, “attacks Pearl Schwartz.”
Midori Schoenberg didn’t think it was offensive, so I guess I should lighten up. And of course that joke is probably from 1942. Davis must be Jewish; in one of his exam questions he has a subcontractor tell a contractor named Gerry Gentile, “Eat shellfish and die!”
After the test, I drove out to the airport and picked up my boarding passes for all the flights; it was a good way to bring myself down, though just as I did on Wednesday, I felt a giddy sense of euphoria.
Tuesday, December 10, 1991
8 PM. My $348 unemployment check arrived today. So much for yesterday’s worrying about not getting the money. Now don’t I feel stupid! Let this be a good lesson on the fruitlessness of needless worrying.
Against my better judgment, I checked the mail at 1 PM; I was afraid that bad news from Unemployment would throw off my concentration just before the Torts exam.
Instead, I felt pretty good, and I feel good about my performance on the test, which lasted from 2 PM to 5 PM.
There were two questions, dealing with issues relating to airbags in cars and fetal alcohol syndrome, and several sub-questions in each. I tackled the longest question first, and I kept good track of the time as I wrote 18 pages in all.
At the end, my concentration flagged, but I know it was at the very least a C exam and maybe it’s a lot better than that. It’s hard to tell because I don’t know what issues I didn’t spot, but my answers were well-organized.
Yesterday I read the Torts hornbook and this morning I reread the term’s notes. Dowd was an excellent teacher, and I feel I learned a great deal in her class regardless of the grade I get.
With three out of five tests over, I can see the end of the semester is in sight. I’ve probably slighted Jurisprudence and Criminal Law, but I need to do a lot of reading for them before the Jurisprudence exam on Friday and Criminal Law on Monday at 9 AM.
Tomorrow at 3 PM we’ve got a review session with Collier.
I spent nearly $100 – paying cash, not using a credit card – to buy the Constitutional Law and Property texts for next term, and I’ve done many of the chores on my to-do list, although I still need to get a haircut.
I’ll be in New York City a week from now – hopefully at Grandma’s apartment in Rockaway but if not there, somewhere else.
I always seem to force myself to leave right at the first possible moment – when my teaching ended at BCC, CUNY, or Rockland County – giving myself no chance to relax.
On the other hand, even after a hard first semester at law school, I don’t feel ready for a rocking chair, and as I wrote yesterday, I’m not going to get many chances to spend time in New York for a while.
Also, being in a totally different environment will put the experience of the last four months in a new perspective – plus, I’ll get to see Grandma Ethel, Aunt Tillie and some of my friends.
I slept okay, listening to distant AM radio stations fade in and out before I dozed off. Usually Atlanta and New Orleans stations come in clearly for a while, but last night I got two stations, both from Cincinnati.
I like hearing traffic and weather reports and local news from places I’ve never been because it gives me a feel for the place – as do commercials for local businesses.
I suppose America is more homogenous now than it’s ever been. Even on Deep South stations, you rarely hear distinctive Southern drawls anymore. A lot of the time I take living in the South for granted; I forget what’s particularly Southern about Gainesville.