Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

(Big sigh)

I finally did it. I edited my "About Me" mini-bio to remove the reference to "and caring for my elderly parents." That phase of my life is over. I'm not done with it, though. There are many aspects of it that I am still chewing on, digesting and processing. I am not done writing about it. There is much more to be said.

There's another little change in the "About Me." I made myself a writer first and a non-practicing lawyer second. That's big for me. Really big. I have spent nearly my whole adult life defining myself as a lawyer. I worked hard to obtain the right to use that title. It feels dishonest somehow to not use it at all. But it is no longer how I define myself. I've had an epiphany.

In all the years I practiced law, I always liked parts of it and hated others. I loved the helping people part, and the research and analysis part and the gabbing with other lawyers part, but did you know that there are a lot of not very nice lawyers out there? Lots and lots of them. Being a divorce lawyer, I dealt with an unusually large contingent of the nastiest ones. It wore me down, dealing with them. It eroded the crisp edges of my optimism and soured my humor.

Some nice lawyers find a way to remain themselves in the midst of all the unpleasantness. They surround themselves with colleagues who buoy them or they compartmentalize or, very often, they drink. None of those routes really solved the problem for me, and I tried them all.

If it were only the other lawyers that were the problem, I could have looked at my lawyer-glass as half-full, but it wasn't only that. I was a litigator. I was in court in some fashion nearly every day and usually in more than one courtroom on any given day. Courts do not operate efficiently. Even when the judges and staff try to operate effectively, and not all do, there are unavoidable bottlenecks and detours.

I do not blame my clients for being annoyed at our rather medieval court system. I tried my best to educate them and prepare them for the inevitable, but seen through eyes fresh to the system, the process seemed worse even than I had described it. Clients tend to hold their lawyers responsible for each and every delay as though said lawyer had control of the docket, the judge and the other side's lawyer. The plot, then, thickens: we now have nasty lawyers, a cumbersome system, and irritated clients.

There is an old saying that criminal defense lawyers represent bad people at their best, and divorce lawyers represent good people at their worst. As with all cliches, there is a measure of truth in it. There were few of my clients that I truly disliked. Most were decent, hard-working people who were going through what is among the most painful happenings in life. I do not share the widely held belief that people rush to divorce instead of trying to work out the problems in their marriages. Some do, but most do not. In my experience, divorce is a decision rarely taken lightly.

My clients came to me at a low point in their lives, full of worry, guilt, anger and sadness. I did my best to shepherd them through the process with their dignity intact, concerns addressed and with the least financial impact possible in the circumstances. I knew all the intimate details of their lives: how and where they spent their money, who cheated, who lied, who screamed and who hit. I knew it all about each of them and it was a heavy burden to carry. Most appreciated me. Some did not. Most paid me. Some did not.

It was my job, but they were not just projects to me. They were human beings, complicated and unique. Although I was careful to maintain a professional distance, every one of them left a mark on me in some way. All that emotion pouring out of them like melting glaciers, and I was the rock. In more than one way, I was the rock.

I came home from the office every day, exhausted; physically and emotionally. I rarely wanted to talk about my day; I didn't want to relive it. There were good days, when I "won" and when I got to strut my stuff in trial. There were funny days, when ridiculous things happened or were said. Mostly, though, there were exhausting days.

When my girls were 2 and 4 and when Hombre and I thought we could live on one income, I sold my law practice. I didn't make a lot of money from it, but it was something; something for what I had built. There were still a few loose ends hanging out there, but I was free to move on. I enjoyed my little ones as I hadn't ever before.

A couple of years and one downsizing later, I went back to work, this time in the corporate world. The intellectual aspect was exhilarating, the social aspect was rewarding, but having been self-employed for so long, I found the lack of control frustrating and corporate policies inane. I hung in there, making the best of it for just over four years. And that's when Mom and Dad got sick and life changed for all of us.

I always told my clients that a divorce is a death: the marriage has died. I gave them a list of books that dealt with grieving and I suggested that they seek counseling. I told them they might go through similar "stages" of emotion as one might when diagnosed with a terminal illness, or upon the death of a loved one. In some strange way, dealing with one type of death prepared me to deal with another.

I had been a sporadic journaler since second grade, when I got my first locking, 5-year model, but my journals tended toward archive rather than analysis. As I embarked with my parents on their journey to the end of life, and as I drove the 98 miles between their home and mine, I thought and thought and thought about all they were going through; all we were going through. I was gripped with a need to write it all down, to parse it out. I found that blogging worked best for me because the possibility that someone else might read what I wrote forced me to think it through and to resolve what ever issue I was grappling with - dementia, cancer, being "sandwiched." It took me from merely noting events and thoughts to exploring them and maybe resolving them. And it helped me immensely.

I discovered something about myself this past year. I discovered that I am a writer. I have always been a writer. I will be a writer. I feel self-conscious labeling myself this way. I didn't earn this title through a degree or take a three-day exam. I gave myself this title and I am nervous about that. Am I qualified? Am I kidding myself here? Do I really have a talent for this or am I being humored by my friends and family? Should I finally get rid of all of those suits in the closet? It is risky to rename yourself and then to announce it to the world, but here I go.

I was invited to join a writers group, and I did. For the first time ever, I read my work out loud to near strangers and it felt good. I am working on a blog about poetry with a poet friend. I went to a poetry reading and the next time I go (there will be a next time!) I am going to read something I have written. I am excited about the possibilities and energized every time I finish a piece - an essay, a haiku, a journal entry.

I am a writer.

So why did this chicken cross the road? To be with her peeps.


  1. Congratulations. It's an important first step. I know, from what I've already read, that you'll be a terrific writer - all biases aside. :)

  2. Own it!

    Claim it!

    Go Meg!

    (And beautifully written, I might add).

  3. I admire you, Meg. Not only for putting your thoughts, emotions, your life, 'out there' for all to see, but for embracing the change and using it to better the little world we live in. And that is what you do for me, my friend. I am sure that there are others who feel the same. Keep on doin' what you're doin' - you ARE a writer<3

  4. Phenomenal, and a change in the words you use about yourself that merely reflects what's been there all along. I like it when we allow our perceptions of ourselves to catch up with reality. I also like your phrase about journaling as archive rather than analysis; that's a crucial distinction, one where we can only move from one type to the other when maturity allows.

    I'm a huge fan of your writing, as you know. And I don't put my time into reading crap writers.