Stretched & Fractured

I know I’m not the only one out here not doing so great…

There appears to be two worlds emerging from this chaos. In one circle there are people who have carried on, returned to “normal” (if they ever stopped at all) and are moving through the world as if Covid never happened—even though it’s still killing people. In the other circle there are those of us who took seriously the risk to the vulnerable, took seriously that literally millions of people have died around the world, including over 700,000 in the US. We locked down, we kept our bubbles, we took great care when necessity required we leave our bubble because we knew it wasn’t only ourselves we risked harming.

There are entire dissertations to be written on the multiverse that is the United States right now. That’s way bigger of a bite than I am qualified to take or even attempt to manage. But I see it. I’m stripped of the privilege of believing that people’s better natures would win out. I am stripped of the privilege of thinking “not here, it can’t happen here.” I don’t think I will ever recover the safety and security I once enjoyed. And maybe that’s fine, maybe I needed to lose that.

I can’t attend my church again and sit next to people who blatantly demonstrated their disregard for the lives of the vulnerable, the elderly. Watching folks who claim the same faith I do and then make excuses for letting some people die, for placing their convenience above the right of another person to live. A person doesn’t get over that. A person doesn’t forget that. I think it was Maya Angelou who said “When people show you who they are, believe them.” I understand now, ma’am.

America showed the world that we are so selfish and so foolish that we allowed basic science and public health protocols to become litmus tests of political affiliation, and performative political affiliation was more important than protecting the elderly, the disabled, and eventually, even more important than our own children. Of course it wasn’t all of us. But there were enough that it tipped the scales dangerously and cost so many…so many…lives. And millions of us shrugged, while the rest of us tried to hold ourselves and everything together.

In my own house—in my greater family thank god—there has been care. Everyone in both of our families has taken the last 19 months seriously. All of our parents and siblings and their spouses are vaccinated, collectively more than 30 people, with about a dozen children still too young. That’s been a calming reality for me, that our people have not betrayed their love for one another in favor of pottage. But we live in communities where some are cavalier, and we are not immune from the sickening effects of their stupidity.

Are my words harsh? I don’t know, go to the NICU at your nearest hospital and ask those nurses. Go to the morgue in your county and ask the coroner how they’re doing. I am commanded to mourn with those who mourn, and I have to love everyone as a believer in Jesus, but I don’t have to be perfect at it, and I don’t have to place myself in danger to do so.

Because we chose to take a deadly pandemic seriously, every facet of our lives has been affected. We both work remotely (full acknowledgement of the privilege inherent to do so). Most of our kids school remotely. In about five weeks, I will have completed 73 units of law school remotely. Nothing about it has been easy. There’s been a mental health toll, a physical health toll, an emotional toll. We have not seen our extended families. We have missed holidays and birthdays and anniversaries and births. We watched as other people did these things because they, too, were tired of being alone—and then watched as the damage and casualties resulted. Someone I know attended a funeral in person and was one of 38 people from the funeral to test positive. Jon’s uncle died, and we attended the funeral via zoom. Jon’s been in the ICU too many times pre-Covid to roll those dice now. Nothing is worth that.

Will I get a law school graduation? Maybe. I’m sad about the prospect of not, but I also will not endanger my family or others by satisfying something I want as more important than someone else’s life. I worry about what I have missed in isolation that I would have otherwise learned had covid never happened. But it did, and my law school experience is something the entire legal classes of 20, 21, and 22 are going to carry with us, for better and for worse. I am hoping there is good that can be mined from it—that we can increase accessibility for the disabled, make work and life more balanced, decrease unnecessary commutes, and have a familiarity with technical assistance devices that will allow us to serve clients better. That’s my hope.

I had my second quarantine birthday, and now we all have had two while in isolation. This is one of those things I think its good we didn’t know and couldn’t see when this all started. It would have felt far to heavy to digest. And yet here we are. Abby turned 15, Kelsey and Bean both turned 18, Jeff turned 20, Jon had a 50th. None of the things we wished to do to celebrate those milestones was possible. So we place those hopes and dreams in a box, to be taken out sometimes in the indeterminate future of “when all this is over.”

The next five weeks are going to be hard. My class load isn’t particularly heavy, at least compared with previous semesters, but I am also working 25-30 hours a week on top of full-time school. And homeschooling two kids. And starting bar prep. And it’s a lot. But like everything else, you just keep going. What else are you going to do?

I hope you and yours are well. I hope time brings healing to what currently feels like unbridgeable breaches of collective trust. I hope. But I don’t know anything anymore.

Pandemic at the Disco: Spring 2021

Welp. Here we are. It’s May 13, 2021. It’s been exactly 14 months since we locked down, and at this point, 5/6 of our house is fully vaccinated with a miracle mRNA vaccine that didn’t exist a year ago, and the youngest member has had her first shot. The relief this engenders—the gratitude for science and medicine and research—is immense and palpable. We need to do everything we can to get these vaccines to the rest of the struggling world now.

I am a 3L who completed 59 units of law school from home, and I wait on two remaining grades. My GPA finally sits near my undergrad cum laude level, after clawing back from a precipitous and difficult 1L year. There are physical traces of blood, sweat and tears on the floor under my desk. Nothing about this has been easy. But—with the support of my family, who each lifted when I could not—I did it.

Later this month I start an internship at an organization that I considered a moon-shot. Like, I didn’t even expect an interview, let alone an offer. This place is quite literally why I tossed my hat in the law-school ring. The work they do is what inspired me to think bigger than just helping my own kid, what inspired me to reach for policy advocacy, statutory change, and to look up what the hell an amicus curiae was (it’s a written plea to the Supreme Court to hear and consider an argument in support of or opposition to a pending issue). The place I will be working for? They write these specifically for disability laws. Friends…it’s exactly, precisely, completely why I am here. And they invited me to join them. It matters so much to me, is so big, that I just have to let that sit there because I don’t know how to approach it beyond a simple statement.

One of our kids is heading to college out west this summer. One of them has decided to defer their western acceptance and explore options closer to home. One of them has opted to scrap this nightmare academic year in favor of a do-over, and two of them will be graduating together. It changes the dynamic of our home, but isn’t that what dynamic means? Constantly changing? I think so. And it’s okay. After this last year, if we know anything at all, it’s that we have to be adaptable and adjust our sails constantly.

Domestic updates: Like everyone stuck at home, we’ve tried to make things more comfortable and suitable. We got a new sofa after the last one catastrophically failed and we had no more bricks or copies of the OED with which to prop it’s cracked timbers. The boys moved it’s carcas to the back deck and Jon paid a neighbor to take it to the dump, while Costco delivered new family-appropriate seating. Despite measuring, I was not quite prepared when it arrived, and a decorating crisis followed—the color and size changed everything about our small family room.

Jon and Jeff stood in helpless dread when it looked like I might have to paint the entire main floor because it was so much darker with the new grey couch. The colors were suddenly all Wrong, and I couldn’t stop fidgeting and moving things around. I don’t have a decorating style beyond eclectic Thrift Store, but it has to feel right. Friends, it did not feel right.

After a couple days of tweaking discomfort, it dawned on me that instead of painting, I might be able to shift things if I added different colors. It worked. But that meant I had to rearrange the art and photos; and you can see where this is going, right? Basically we played a giant game of Tetris with the whole house for a week while I moved everything around, because when you give a mouse a cookie…

Here’s the result:

It’s still a moving target, but I am happy with the art I collected and moved around. Most of the pieces are from friends or artists that I love and admire, and that’s a happy place. By the way, as Mo helpfully pointed out, this is part of what prepping for finals looks like for me. My mind is a whirlwind, and sometimes doing something physical oddly helps me focus.

I also decided it was time to do my own hair. Again. I watched a bunch of videos online and ordered all the stuff I needed (which was still far less than a trip to the salon!) and figured if I screwed it up, I could always just dye it brown. It was a roller coaster ride, but I think it worked! And, I have enough bleach and toner to do it probably another 26 times!

Jon’s brother and sister-in-law live in Maryland, and it hasn’t been safe for us to see each other since last January, so for Jon’s 50th birthday, all four of us met (sans kids who were not vaccinated yet) at the park to finally see and hug each other. It was wonderful. Thanks, Pfizer!

Jon and Abby both had birthdays during two weeks of finals for me. That timing is just awesome; I had no space to plan anything good, we couldn’t go anywhere fun or take a trip, and we couldn’t have anyone over. Just like nearly everyone else, we made do.

We are lucky, and I don’t forget it for one moment. I hope you and yours are safe and can soon hug your loved ones outside of your home again, too.

p.s. I found a therapist who specializes in trauma and I am starting to unpack some of the heavy things I have been carrying (not always—or even often—successfully) for so many years. The tools I needed to literally survive earlier years are not what I need now, but my hands are cramped and bent to their shape, and I have to learn to put them down. It’s hard work, but I’m trying.

Tons of Steel

Hey there, old friend. I need to write just to give myself a check and for my own personal sanity. It’s always been that way, but here I am, returning to my worn and beloved space, where I am safe and I can take a second to get my bearings and focus my eyes. It works better here than crying under my desk.

DAMN things are rough right now. From the outside, it’s fine, but man…the crackers are crumbling inside. Tomorrow I register for my last semester of law school, if you can believe that insanity. It also feels like I am a blown-out steam engine with seized wheels on a bowed track dragging about eighteen-thousand tons of steel. I may make it, but it’s not going to be pretty.

This semester, over a year into a global pandemic, on isolation, while taking care of my family and maybe sometimes of myself, I also will have pulled off 38 units of law school, by some miracle. I am tired. I am…so…tired. Because of pandemic *waves hands around* we didn’t have breaks or holidays, we just buckled in and went for it. I will never know what law school is like for other people, but for me and my cohort, it’s been something. Would I have picked it? Hell no. HELL NO. But like nearly everything else in life, what else are you going to do when things go sideways? You just keep going. (and sometimes you crawl under your desk and cry)

I keep mentioning that, but it’s not hyperbole or affect. I really do get under my desk and cry sometimes, when I don’t know what else to do. Once, before my doctor gave me some anxiety meds, Jeffrey crawled under there with me and just stayed next to me, making calming noises and waiting for me to stop crying. Did I mention it’s been a hard year?

This weekend, along with all of my regular reading for Monday’s classes (it averages about 100 pages a night of cases and opinions over Constitutional Law II, Federal Courts, Criminal Procedure, Legal Profession, Immigration, and a seminar course) I had to edit a couple of articles for the civil rights journal, tweak my own piece, contribute to a moot court opinion due Sunday afternoon, pick all my classes for fall not knowing what the logistics are going to be with in-person v. remote learning, contact my supervising attorney for my summer internship, and work on my outlines because finals are in 5 weeks. I also have a 20-page draft due next week I haven’t started yet, and Jon and Abby’s respective 50th and 15th birthdays are between now and then. And then regular life, like kids’ school demands and meetings, groceries, meals, pets, and family stuff. I think I am supposed to sleep in there somewhere, but law school is really not meant for people with families—or at the very least, it’s super harder if someone else isn’t managing the needs of the family and preparing delicious meals for you.

I’m so tired.

Eternal caveat: I chose this. I picked law school. I knew I had kids. I am fortunate. I have a stable home and am not at risk for housing or food insecurity. I have in the past experienced all of those things, and trauma has some long legs, and things can still be acknowledged as hard, even when I know they could be worse and I am privileged.

Last night, after hurting myself trying to fix the dog crate Dingus keeps finding ways to escape from (I screwed my thumb while twisted up at a weird angle inside the crate) I wandered into the kitchen to get a piece of key lime pie I made. I got out the canister of whipped cream, and was placing the pie on a paper plate, when the dog spooked the cat, he knocked into the metal stool which startled me, and I dropped the fork and metal canister—it’s the old-fashioned kind you fill yourself with cream and CO2. Whipped cream sprayed everywhere, hitting Jeff and the wall and the door, the cat tore off, digging his claws into my foot and leg in a panic, and I yelped some choice words before leaving everything and running upstairs to stand in the shower and cry. I could hear Bean downstairs, “THAT WAS AMAZING, LIKE THE BEST CARTOON EVER!”

Today has been better.

I hope your world is calmer and holds more sleep than mine. Onward, right? Onward.

Happy Birthday David…

You would have been (are? I don’t know how these things work, I only know that you are not here) 56 years old yesterday. Because I was swamped with homework and I didn’t order all the right ingredients, we had your birthday dinner tonight. It’s become a sweet family tradition, your papa’s pappas with a red, white, & blue smoothie. I cracked a joke that no one got, but it was really just for you anyway.

We miss you. It seems like such a silly, obvious thing, but when I was looking through pictures, I realized that I simply will never have any more. What we have is all there will ever be, and I was suddenly achingly sad. I rang your bell and I lit some nag champa, and watched the rainbows on the wall through my open window. It’s unseasonably warm, and I appreciated that today. I feel so inadequate to convey who you are, who you were, how important you were—and remain to me in inconceivable ways. None of it is enough. And it’s all we’ve got.

I miss you. I have deep love in my life, and great happiness and stability, and the duality of life and love is that I can have all of those things, and they can be deeply real, and nothing minimizes the other. That the sharpness of your loss still catches me in the small of my heart and makes me hold my breathe, my eyes sting, my belly hollow, even now, years later. I miss you.

We all miss you.

Pandemic Check-In: One Year On…

Kelsey’s 17th birthday was the last family outing we had before we shut the door on the outside world to keep our family safe. Yesterday, we celebrated her 18th birthday on the back deck, with everyone masked and distanced. She has in-person school so she has to exercise care around us. We are hopeful she can be vaccinated sometime soon and we’ll be able to hug her again safely. I know not everyone has to be (or can be) as careful as we have been—but I’ve already gone over why we made the choices we did; at this point I am grateful my family is safe, both here in Virginia and across the country, through Utah and on to California and Oregon. We’ve been very lucky— while we didn’t escape unscathed, most of us are ok.

We’re starting to dare to contemplate what the new normal will be like. I have no delusions about things returning to some mythical normal. I doubt I will ever be casual about hand-washing or crowded spaces ever again. I expect to wear a mask when I eventually fly again, and I think we are all more aware of the links in our societal chain that keep us going, fed, safe, and sound. It’s maybe not who we thought it was either—it’s work perhaps I shamefully took for granted. It’s grocery workers, postal workers, farm workers, nurses and nursing assistants, teachers, childcare workers, bus drivers, sanitation workers. I find myself robustly supporting pro-union movements—not just because of the pandemic, but man….case law is an eye-opener when it comes to exploitive labor practices and we’ve got to make some changes. As I know better, I am able to do better.

Law school continues to…do whatever it is that is happening each day. It’s hard to tell alone. I have less than a year until I am done, and that feels incredibly surreal. Like, how did that even happen in this weird extended collective experience we’re all stuck in? I don’t know. I’m taking six classes this semester (federal courts, constitutional law II, criminal procedure, legal profession, immigration, and a seminar court in legal literature) and it’s a lot, but it’s how I am planning to graduate in December. I’m open to changing plans if that proves too much, but for now…here we are. I want to walk with my cohort next May, even if I am officially done earlier. I really want to put on that fancy robe and dance across that dais with the people who came through this mess with me. I want to celebrate them as much as my own accomplishment, and it’s something that carries me when I want to quit. I want to quit far less often now than I once did, so that’s a thing that happens, I guess. Basically y’all? Law school is hard.

Bean, Jeff and I built a new crate for Dingus. He outgrew his puppy crate, and ordering a new one was crazy expensive, and then we didn’t have a spot to fit it. So we took matters into our own hands and I found the circular saw and don’t look too closely, but it fits under the dining room table out of the way, and Dingus likes it just fine. It cost less than $10 in hardware, and we had the wood. Feeling pretty okay about that ingenuity, even if it’s imperfect. Turns out I am not the best wood cutter. Maybe I should have been doing my reading for Monday instead of building a dog crate.

One of my quarantine discoveries (because for reals, cooking is my relaxing treat after hours of reading/studying) is tutorials by people in other countries. It is wonderful to find that while I may not understand the words, cooking is universal and as long as I’m generally familiar with the ingredients, I can follow along. I have learned things I wanted to know forever. Find a Vietnamese cook to show you how to make bánh xèo (crispy rice pancake stuffed with pork and veggies), or a Brazilian cook to show you pao de queijo (though Jon speaks Portuguese, I can follow the recipe for cheesy rice bread puffs without him) and I can make baleadas and pupusas from following Honduran and Salvadoran cooks. It’s been like finding a vein of gold and if you love food and love to cook, I highly recommend watching native-language cooks demonstrate their recipes.

The other thing that has been bringing me joy is one I save for a treat at the end of the day. After everything is done, I fall into bed and we watch an episode of The Muppet Show. When I was a kid, I would sneak next door to my aunt’s house, where she would let me watch it (Crazy Chicken Annie’s, which will surprise no one) and it brings a simple happiness that I haven’t felt in a very long time. It’s so weird. And creative. And purely what it is—and I love it so much. It’s an odd cavalcade of weirdly a-list stars and people I have never heard of, and it doesn’t matter at all, because there will be oysters singing, rocks singing, giant blue monster puppets eating opera stars, odd disco men clinging to trees while they sing and bear Muppets try to eat them, Elton John looking completely at home, and it’s just pure delight and I love it.

That’s my happy place for the week. That’s it. That’s what I’ve got. I hope you’re doing ok. I hope you’re hanging in there, and your mental health is doing alright. I hope you found your equivalent of cooking tutorials that bring you joy. If you, like me, were a child of the late 70s or early 80s, give the Muppet Show a try.

I Hope.

I’m…sad.

It just sort of hit me. We’re coming up on our year anniversary of being completely isolated from our family, from our community, from everything and everyone except just us. When I say we haven’t broken our bubble, I mean it. No family or friends in or out. No trips to the grocery store or pharmacy—not a single one. Everything has been delivered, no contact. The first building I entered since last March 4 was the Covid vaccination clinic for my first shot.

At this point, I have the hope of one (1) semester of law school in-person before I graduate. One. I spend 70+ hours a week alone at that desk. Learning the law is a hard thing, and I knew that when I took it on. But I didn’t imagine doing it in complete isolation. Unless I get cold-called in class, I don’t get to talk about the law with anyone. Jon’s wonderful, but he doesn’t care about constraints on federal jurisdiction, or whether a drug dog alerting at a traffic stop is a “search” under the 4th Amendment. I haven’t been in a library since February of last year, when I left school for spring break. I didn’t know I wouldn’t be back. No study groups. No libraries. No carrels and talking with the research specialists, no chatting in the hallways about the latest Supreme Court decisions. Nothing. Just me, reading alone and doing my damndest in a vacuum.

(Listen, I know I am privileged and fortunate. I have secure housing, enough to eat, and a space of my own. I can know all that, and also—because humans are social animals—feel really lonely and sad now and then. Today is one of those times.)

I’m in upper division classes now, and these are the smaller types of classes that really benefit from in-person interaction and lively discussion and exchange of ideas. But all the upper division students are remote at my law school so the 1Ls can be in-person safely. Knock on wood, strict protocols have thus far yeilded zero Covid cases at my law school. And I get that the hell that is 1L should get priority. But it takes a lot more effort and time for me to get concepts to stick and to remember things doing this alone remotely.

I know a whole lot of people are running into similar walls of fatigue and sadness right now. Even our isolation-exhaustion appears to be somewhat collective. We just can’t help it. We need each other. It’s been a very hard year for so many people. We have lost so many. We can’t even really grieve yet. And so we wait.

The family in my house is mostly fine. We have the usual ups and downs, and if we are doing anything well, its that we are learning how to really support each other through rough days, and enjoy the moments where there is laughter and goodness. I deeply and truly like these humans, and this is a very good thing. Our extended family has experienced some loss and difficulty, but again, this is literally everyone right now. There is nothing about our losses unique right now.

The good news is that both our parents have had their first dose of vaccine—Jon’s in Utah, and mine in California. Many other family members and friends are still waiting and hoping. We sure would like to see them again someday.

I hope you are well, whenever and wherever this finds you. I hope your losses have been bearable, and that the hope outweighs the heartache. I hope spring brings relief and vaccines and the arms of friends. I hope you are well. I hope.

Post Finals Dam Breaking

My last final of fall 2020 ended at 5:00 on Thursday, December 10th. I sat staring at the wall for 17 minutes before I realized that she’d changed the time and I didn’t have to submit until 5:30. You haven’t seen quite the panic-reaction like me logging in and pulling my submission and frantically typing for 13 minutes to try and scrape up the random points I left on the table because I thought I was out of time. Perfect ending for a cursed semester in the gobsmackingly hellish year of our Lord 2020. Regardless of what may or may not have been salvaged, it’s done.

This is the first real break I’ve had since school started for me 18 months ago. I have moved from crying every night in the shower thinking, “I made the worst mistake of my life, I am too old, I am not smart enough, this is so hard,” to crying under my desk once or twice a semester, still feeling pretty stupid, but mostly just plugging on anyway because while it’s still so hard, I’m more than halfway there, and also, law school does this to literally everyone. So what do you do? You keep going.

(p.s. when they say it gets easier, it’s a lie. you just get better at managing it and lowering your expectations for the rest of your life. not healthy. but true.)

So what does my anxiety-fueled, sleep-deprived, cortisol-saturated brain decide to do as soon as I have a break in the structure of externally imposed academic rigor? Besides waking up panicking because I am sure I have missed a non-existent deadline, it’s apparently Trauma-revival time! Hooray! While I have done years of work on trauma, recovery, and dealing with the emotional baggage I haul around as a Gen X kid who left home too early and had to finish raising herself, and who then lost her spouse and best friend to drugs… It turns out there are still bruises hiding in places I hadn’t found yet! Meanwhile, Jon, ever-patient and stable, arcs an eyebrow while kissing my forehead. He’s a Good One. Anyway, trauma’s got some long legs, y’all.

Learning a little bit about childhood trauma too. One of my kids was asking how it is things they don’t remember could hurt them, and we are learning about research on pre-memory and how it’s in there, even if the conscious memory doesn’t access it. While my children never experienced any physical abuse, they did live through years of incredible stress and instability. They did experience the loss of a parent, first to drugs, and finally to death. I was powerless to prevent or protect them to a certain extent, and their stored trauma belongs to them, both linked to and also outside of me. It’s hard to examine, and it’s really important that I focus on what they need to grow and mend as people, and how I can support them in healing. Anyway. Working on it. (because who needs a whole week off without something hard to do? i wonder if that’s a trauma response too? i have to look it up…)

The holidays around here are going to be small and quiet. I suspect this is true of most folks this year. Or really, it should be, for the sake of everyone. My family-member physician who is intubating Covid patients all day says to STAY THE HELL HOME. None of us are seeing each other this year, just like we didn’t at Thanksgiving. We are all tired of it. We all miss each other. We all want things to be normal again, but the God’s honest truth is that our wanting it doesn’t make it so. So because we take our responsibility to each other seriously, and because we have work that allows us to stay safely home, we will choose to continue to lower the burden on our neighbors and the folks who must leave home for work by sitting tight. It’s not too much to ask. The vaccines are coming. In the meantime, we wait.

A few mostly-silly things I have discovered during the pandemic that I like, that you may already know about but are new to me: First, Wood-wick candles—I love the little popping and crackling noises they make. Second, I am giving my hair a break from heat processing and allowing it to revert to its hellishly curly state, which makes me feel like a hot mess, but what’s more apt for this year than that? Third, a tiny space heater under your desk is just about the best thing in the world if no one in your family has your I’m Cold All The Time gene. Fourth, gel nail polish—with the lockdown I had to stop going for manicures–I know its silly and vain, and I don’t care, but I do care enough to stay home. So I ordered a set of gel polish online and I’m very bad it it, but the colors are pretty and its lasts for weeks. Finally, while there are stores I miss (oh my thrift stores…please be okay, I miss you SO much) the grocery store isn’t one of them. Online grocery delivery is a safety issue for us right now, but I suspect I will likely be a staple going forward. As with so many things we’ve started using as a society during the pandemic, delivery services are getting better, are more efficient, are broader, are serving a larger segment of the population, and are huge plusses for disabled communities. Please continue to support the inclusiveness afforded by delivery services and remote work.

I’m going to go make cinnamon rolls. Mostly because cooking makes me happy. I missed both general conferences this year, so we’re going to have 3rd Advent Cinnamon Rolls Today. Edited to add: I did not make cinnamon rolls, I got distracted and I made chilaquiles and then Claire Saffitz’s apple tarte tatin. Best laid plans, eh?

Tomorrow I start to work on writing an article for a civil rights legal journal. My proposed paper is on the intersection of the juvenile criminal justice system and the special education system. You will likely not be shocked to learn that there’s a correlation to a state’s funding of education and disability programs with children who are turned over for juvenile crimes into the justice system, and once in the system it’s often almost impossible to extricate a child, and when you overlay poverty, racism, and the structural history of a given geographic area, the statistics are damning. Also? Congress has never (not ever) fully funded IDEA. And that matters too.

The cat has taken over the house.

Pandemic Journal: Finals Eve

It’s Law School Finals Eve. What that means—to any sane person who has not subjected themselves to the unique and intense pressure-cooker that is the American academic law educational gauntlet—is that classes ended, we’ve finished our “reading days”, and a test for each class is scheduled over the next ten days. It also means no law student is sleeping, probably surfaces only to find some caffeine in whatever form they prefer, and then disappears back down an outline and supplement.

I don’t know how other countries do it, but here law students have one mega-test at the end of the semester on absolutely everything covered for the entire class. They’re not “What is X” questions, but rather, they’re “issue spotting” exams. That means, for instance, that you will have a 3-page long complicated question about an issue, and you have 3-4 hours to determine what the professor is looking for, identify, state, and apply all the law you learned in that class, and analyze the outcome. It’s an adrenaline fueled race on which your entire grade for the entire semester is determined.

I’ve got feelings about the pedagogy of measuring legal acumen in a timed race and its effectiveness, when actual legal work is contemplative, careful, resourceful, and detail-oriented. This testing method favors ranking on rapid recall and speed, when very little about legal work requires either. But it’s a method firmly entrenched in legal academia, and very few professors deviate, at least in doctrinal, bar-tested classes—mostly because that’s exactly how the Bar tests too. *shrug* but here we are.

I took all of Thanksgiving off, which felt like a ridiculous luxury, and then I tried to cook for our small cadre of people in our house who will eat Thanksgiving fare. Turns out I am definitively not good at cooking little batches of things, even though this represents a truly concerted effort. I mean, notice that the sides are legitimately smaller, and instead of a turkey, I cooked chickens. Jon, Jeff, and Abby have been living on leftovers. Neither Bean nor I eat Thanksgiving food—Bean for his Reasons, and me for gradually worsening food allergies. He had English muffins with (wait for it…) peanut butter, and I had plain chicken. What a holiday treat! I love to cook and making this meal was a happy respite.

Mostly everyone else is ok. Things just keep plodding along here in our bubble. Thankful for remote work, remote school, pre-ordered grocery pickup, and delivery options. We are very much in the continued social distancing, no-contact camp for our foreseeable future. I recognize the privilege, as always, in our ability to navigate life with some measure of safety—we have family members who are doctors and nurses who do not have the ability to stay home, and we are keenly aware of the sacrifices they are making (and the sacrifices of other essential people like grocery clerks, drivers, postal workers, poll workers [whoo hoo!] and caregivers). No member of either side of our family broke their bubbles and met for Thanksgiving—we traded photos, group texts, and video chatted from California to Utah to DC—but we did so from our own small family groups.

A family member is an ER doctor who spends their days caring for Covid patients and intubating very sick people. They are optimistic about the vaccines coming this spring, and I hang a lot on their perspective. Winter and the consequences of holiday travel are likely going to exact a steep toll, but spring holds some real hope. I hope. I hope. I hope.

Back to the books.

Pandemic Journal for Our Someday-Heirs

It’s mid-October 2020. It’s difficult to distinguish between the anxieties that pop-up like an unrelenting game of whack-a-mole: Is this law school anxiety? Election anxiety? Covid-19 anxiety? Fear for Democracy and the future of my country and the world anxiety? Is this just plain old anxiety, which frankly would be like a warm blanket of familiarity right now? Or is this just the trailing macabre gift of the insomnia that that’s like a houseguest on day twelve?

It’s impossible to tell.

The history books will tell what this period was like in general, so I am left with the mundane, the personal. And it turns out, that’s my jam. I am completely insignificant and powerless in the maelstrom of the world, but I do have some influence over those in my home and in the small corner of the world in which I lift. I’m imagining the collective power of ants–and hoping that collectively, we can do things that are in fact impossible for any single one of us.

Today is day 230-something of our pandemic-based isolation. We shut the door of this house in March, and no one has directly interacted with the outside world—or entered—since. Thankfully we had a substantial storage of staples, as Mormons are counseled to do, and we’ve replenished perishables through delivery services. I’ve attempted to support local businesses where possible, but we live in the bedroom suburbs of DC and there aren’t many independent options nearby. The only thing I have control over is how generously I tip delivery workers; I’ve now built that in to our budget.

School for the kids—not to put too fine a point on it—is for shit. Our districts are fully from-home, and I both acknowledge that it’s the only way, and also that it completely sucks. It’s bad for all learners, but it’s really awful for Special Ed kids who need extra support in a myriad of ways. My kids have good teachers and a great IEP team, but everyone is trying to function in a system that wasn’t built for this, and districts are attempting to impose pre-pandemic standards on unprecedented and highly irregular circumstances. It’s not working to hold teachers to those standards, and it’s absolutely not working for teachers to then roll that downhill to their students.

Law School from home is complicated. I am officially remote for the entire 2L year, joining all of my classes via Zoom or Google Classroom. It’s more difficult to focus and synthesize concepts through this medium compared to in-person. I am in a house with 3 students learning this way, and a spouse who is working this way. There are technical issues, and despite the best internet we can get, connections fail and streams are lost. The stress and time expended dealings with the fallout from theses failures is a tangible cost. While I am grateful I can do this for the safety of my family, it adds several layers of difficulty to what is already a hard undertaking.

One of the things (sooooo many things) I didn’t understand about Law School was that you start securing jobs your first year. Don’t feel qualified? Do it anyway! For 2/3L internships, we’re advised to have a solid list of places to apply, and then have a “reach”—the legal world is striated, competitive, and often uses institutions and class-rank as a sorting method.

Last week, while I was doing the dishes after dinner, my “reach” application called and offered me a position. I was competing against Ivy-covered applicants half my age, and I didn’t expect an interview, let alone an offer. We had an impromptu family dance party in the kitchen while we listened to the voicemail on speaker. It’s in DC again, and I hope I get to serve in-person, but I will show up however I can.

I am having to resist the urge to just keep adopting new pets. Being home all the time, the dogs are such a source of comfort. As always, Tiberius is at my feed, snoring and slobbering. Squidward is settling in—albeit with some bumps. He really likes to eat things, and despite countless chew toys provided, he prefers destroying kitchen towels and believes the towel basket is his toy box instead a laundry depository.

The cats are fine. They have taken to waking me at 4 am for whatever meal comes before breakfast in cat-Hobbit world. Not that I was actually sleeping anyway. Then once I’m up, may as well get to work. There just aren’t any boundaries around work, school, home, family anymore—it’s all saltwater permeating the cell walls and running willy nilly with gravity.

Speaking of Hobbits, one of my professors is a D & D fan, and uses a twenty-sided dice to choose his cold calls from a chart he made. Whatever gets us all through it, right?

Also, this happened on September 18 and my heart is still broken and I can’t really sit and pause and grieve for a person who threw herself into good work and without whom we would all be poorer.