Monday, December 31, 2007

A reflective moment

It's the season to be reflective. So this is me reflecting.

What a miserable blogging year I had. It started off oh-so well, with a blog every week. Every week! And then I discovered (in no particular blameworthy order) Facebook, Online Scrabble, and English summers. There was also the minor matter of my ongoing work-life crisis*, which I am still contemplating whether or not to blog about.

*That's crisis in the current newspaper language. In that it's been stop-start since the beginning of the year and no one is probably going to get hurt, who has not got hurt already.

So, Facebook. It's a great timewaster. I joined just prior to my "becoming a UK solicitor" exams, and spent hours prettying up my profile, loading the books I'd read and movies I'd seen this year and searching the likely and unlikely suspects whom I thought would have joined Facebook. There was a cacophony of internet squeals as old friends from high school and my uni years found me, and kept thinking I was in London. I'm in South East England. Not London. Following on from the internet squealing, I made a number of treks up to London where 'real life' squealing was indulged in, as well as delicious (but rather expensive) meals. My tummy and my heart swelled, and then I returned to my everyday life, one weekend and many pounds poorer. I have, more or less, kept in contact with these rediscovered friends. I am at best a sporadic correspondent (hard to believe, I know), so the mere fact of contact every few months or so is a reasonably good thing.

And then Online Scrabble (or rather, Scrabulous) found me. I don't remember how it all started (the whirlwind of the romance, you see) but, rather quickly, I found myself playing at least 5 games simultaneously. Indeed, I have not played less than 5 games simultatneously since I started playing Scrabble online. This is probably not all that many in comparison to other people. But my time is not my own. From the hours of 9am until 6pm most days, I am required to account for at least 100 six-minute blocks of my time (except for lunch). "Playing Scrabulous" is not a billing code for which I can, ethically, charge clients. I am learning to accept that I will not play a move in every game, every day. And I'm okay with that.

English summers came upon me as a strange, and very pleasant, surprise. Living in Queensland one is not privy to the joy of daylight savings. I guess when one is close to the equator, and generally without seasons anyway, the length or brevity of the day is not really that pertinent. But oh! the length of the English summer days! What joy, what bliss! All those hours to fill with hills to walk on and food to eat and drink to imbibe and friends to visit and music festivals to attend. I had a fabulous but exhausting English summer, in which every weekend - and most weeknights - was filled with some activity. This seeped into English autumn as well, because the trees changing colour was just oh-so exciting, that I had to be out there *looking* at it. And here I am, in the middle of English winter, still pondering the joys of seasons. I love the cold. I grin maniacally as I cycle to work, infecting or disturbing my fellow non-car commuters with my four-year old joy at the frost, the biting cold, and the hope for snow.

And here are some maunderings about me & my work, or my work & my life, or my life, which is mostly my work:-

I remember being quite passionate and *into* my work when I initially started in full-time employment. My job then was more research oriented. I then started work in a private practice firm - I had previously worked in a private practice firm as receptionist / research clerk / general dogsbody and quite enjoyed it. I would have wildly fluctuating levels of enjoyment of my work, but I was also given a lot of freedom to do what I wanted if there was nothing else for me to do. Some days I would be holed up in the library researching, or typing madly, and others I would be surfing the net or reading a novel.

In full-time employment, I worked efficiently and well (I think) and liked best researching an area of law to make a legal argument. My favourite piece was a successful submission to an appeal tribunal: my written argument was incorporated, almost wholesale, into the tribunal's judgment. It was also a great piece of work because I overcame some major personal issues with the client and the facts presented to me, to make that legal argument. I knew when I was able to do that, that one of my major concerns with being a lawyer - the extent to which my prejudices would affect my work - was overcome. That was a great moment for an articled clerk.

I also liked the client interaction and just fitting the facts of their problem to a legal solution. It was, mostly, satisfying work. But there were lengthy periods when I questioned the value of what I was doing. Who was I helping, and why?

Then, I started working in commercial law. Although the work was pretty dry and there was very little client interaction, I found the mechanical work satisfying in its odd way. And it was very clear who I was helping and what I had to do to help them. I was helping a company make more money. Simple. I could put up with it because I knew it was short term, and I got given smaller pieces of research to keep me interested in the law (my bosses knew I liked doing research, and that was supposedly rare). It was like doing factory process work: satisfying when it's done for the simple reason that it is now done. But there's no bigger meaning behind it. Or what bigger meaning there was, was much too long-term and big to be comprehended.

I am now in an area that I believe I want to remain in. But I am not always happy. As a matter of fact, I am sometimes bored. Part of this is my own fault, and not the fault of the work. I could engage myself in it, but I don't. I think some part of me has changed, and I don't love doing this as much as I used to.

The things I like about being a lawyer is fitting a factual problem to a legal solution. What I don't like is that you may not agree with the outcome that you are assisting your client to obtain.

I did say something in a random conversation with my boss which surprised me as being both accurate and true (in that I did beleive it). I said that there is no reason why the people whom we help have to be deserving of that help. If they have the legal right, than we can assist them to assert their right. They don't have to be deserving people. Money should not be the barrier to people asserting their rights - but it often is.

It is very clear who I am helping now - each of the individuals who come my way - and why. It is tangible. But sometimes, I don't agree with it. And sometimes, I don't like it. And sometimes, I'm bored of it. Each of those feelings happens to me every day. And each work day seems to involve some navel gazing on my part. (Navel gazing is also not billable time, in case you're wondering).

Working in the law, on the side of the individual, is not satisfying work. Because you have an almost insurmountable opposition (the case law, the legislative law, the sheer weight of resources on the other side), but you have to believe that your meagre presence is worth something. That asserting a legal right, even if the odds are poor is important to the whole legal structure.

I believe this, and yet it is a hard pill to swallow. To put it into practise everyday is hard.

My 2008 looks set to be more of the same. I don't expect to come to conclusions about how I feel about my work. I do expect to post more often. Let's see how I go.

Happy New Year, all and sundry.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Bluest Eye

I finished this book on the train from one client meeting to another. For many reasons, the book struck me and I hope I was as moved as Toni Morrison wanted her readers to be.

This struck me:-
We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humour. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used - to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.

And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only agggressive; we were not free, merely licensced; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.
[p163 of my edition]

There are some books, and films that make me quiet inside. And there are others that have my mind racing. Incomprehensibly, this book did both, at once. As I walked through icy winds from the train station to my workplace, I thought about these words. I thought about being not good, not free, not strong. I thought about how I delude myself into thinking I am these things.

I thought, also, about another passage that struck me in the book. That struck me because it sounded like it could be about me - or at least (or worst?) an eloquent articulation how I am feeling about myself at the moment.

[H]e found misanthropy an excellent means of developing character: when he subdued his revulsion and occasionally touched, helped, counseled, or befriended somebody, he was able to think of his behaviour as generous and his intentions as noble. When he was enraged by some human effort or flaw, he was able to regard himself as discriminating, fastidious, and full of nice scruples.

As in the case of many misanthropes, his disdain for people led him into a profession designed to serve them.
[from page 131 of my addition]

I could keep on in this vein. I could keep typing out passages in some kind of homage to Toni Morrison's ability to hold a mirror to my view of myself, and of the world. I would be doing so mostly to impress upon you the need to experience Toni Morrison's ability to hold a mirror up to yourself. You will probably find different things that hit you where it hurts, that make you confront some ugly truth you don't want to admit about yourself. But you will find them.

The first novel I read of Toni Morrison's was Song of Solomon. Someone gave it to me thinking it was a rendering of the Biblical love story of Solomon. And certainly, it was something like that. (Not that I am overly familiar with Biblical stories, but I suspect Toni Morrison is.) I know, when I read Toni Morrison, that I will be horrified and saddened, and rendered so much more human because of my horror. But I have never before been so discomfited - and not because of the incestuous rape of a character by her father - but by the way she has implicated me - the reader of a piece of fiction - in the act.

I could more succintly say what all the above ramble means: You, too, should read The Bluest Eye.

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