the recovering lawyer.

rantings, ravings & reflections

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It’s personal

The last few weeks have been roadblock after roadblock, and no one seems to care about my project like I care about my project.  And part of my job is to make people care.  This fatigue and self-doubt feels like a break-up for me; my heart is heavy and I could cry at the drop of a hat. 

I thrive on praise and success (who doesn’t?), and I haven’t received or achieved much of either recently.  It’s a tough row to hoe, always trying to keep your head up and encourage everyone else to stick with it and continue to work hard because soon it will pay off.  And some days, it’s just too much.  I get emotional.  Because I AM emotional.  I do everything with emotion, including my job. 

It’s personal.  My profession is personal to me, and it’s impossible for me to perform without emotion.

It’s funny, when my emotion is positive and results in success or project execution, I am praised as “passionate” and considered as one of the company’s most valuable assets.  When I am fatigued or frustrated, however, I am met with an eye roll, a disapproving “tsk” or a down-turned nose and told to “stop being so emotional about it.”

A majority of the time, I am amped and energized.  But there are days when I am deflated and sad.  I would never be told “stop being so passionate and excited about your job”… So why is it ok to be told, “You’re just too emotional.  Get over it.” 

I strongly (passionately?) believe that you can’t have it both ways. My emotion is there whether I’m soaring through an energizing, on-schedule project or handling roadblock after roadblock on the way to complete failure. Either I go through the motions of my job with lackluster enthusiasm, ruffled by nothing and generally indifferent to successes and failures… or you get me, full of passion with an occasional touch of angst.  It is unrealistic to expect me (or anyone else, for that matter) to be passionate when things are going well and indifferent or numb when they take a turn for the worst.  It just doesn’t work that way. 

On my worst days, I just wish I could not care.  But on my best days, I am so grateful that I do.    

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form vs. substance

I needed to read this post about truth-telling in writing.  It strikes me as the ultimate writer’s dilemma, honest writing vs. wordsmithed art.  I want what I say to be eloquent (with a touch of wit) but sometimes, it should be more important to tell just the truth, regardless of how it comes out.

It’s funny how the truth can get lost in the obsession with saying something just right.  If I’m really honest, my priorities are probably:

1. Say something worth reading

2. Say it well

3. Tell the truth

This is not to say that I blog lies, but, some days, I care more about how I’ve said something than what I actually said.  I don’t have an answer here; it’s just interesting food for thought because sometimes I get away with it.  Both personally and professionally, I think I often slide by unquestioned, simply because I’ve said something well.  

Question what you read.  Be curious.  Just because it’s articulate, doesn’t mean it’s right.

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curlylocks - finding your “just right”

My hair has an identity crisis.  For my entire life, it’s been in between curly and straight, but calling it “wavy” gives it more class than it deserves.  It’s really a frizz disaster that, until a couple of weeks ago, required a straightening iron or a ponytail. 

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Thanks to the help of a friend much girlier than I, my hair can now actually be curly, which it has been every day since I learned how to tame the beast.  I have received a number of compliments, in many different forms, on my new look.  A couple of people at work have remarked, “Wow, I didn’t even recognize you.  I really like your hair” …which makes me wonder if “I didn’t recognize you” should actually be used as a compliment… but, whatever.

JP, who typically does a wonderful job avoiding any negative remarks about my appearance (and opts instead for genuine and sweet comments about how beautiful I am… even on those days when I am anything but), may have said he felt “a little bit sad” when I came home with straight hair (thanks to a color and blowout that afternoon) after having left the house that morning with curls.  I think there’s a curly-hair compliment in there somewhere.

The same friend who taught me how to use the curling iron (yes, it is possible to be a 30-year-old woman and be totally intimidated by a curling iron), told me how much the curly hair “softened my look.”  Don’t worry, I didn’t take that to mean that for 30 years I’ve been rocking a “hardened” look.  I’m sure that’s not what she meant.

Anyway, the point here is that the people (my people) like the curls.  And all it takes to pull it off, is a couple of legitimate curls with a curling iron to make my whole head look like it’s put together. *Mind blown*  

Really, six strands of artificially, well-behaved curls atop a rat’s nest looks polished.  There’s a metaphor in here that is taking me awhile to get to…

I used to spend triple the time it takes to be curly to painstakingly straighten multiple layers of hair, to apparently create a look that’s… ahem… not my best.  With minimal effort, and concentration on a few key pieces, the whole thing is not only passable, it’s preferable.  It’s what the people want.

Here’s the metaphor: Embrace what comes naturally and stop trying to do ALL OF THE THINGS flawlessly.  Concentrate on a couple of areas, perfect those, and let the rest do what it does.  The strands of well-placed, well-hairsprayed curls will give the appearance that you’ve got the whole thing figured out.

And it’s all about appearances, after all.

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cling to less

The universe is always at work.  More often than not, it’s behind the scenes, and things only make sense long after they’re done.  There are other times, like now, when the universe is at work right in front of my face.

Last week, amidst of a pretty big decision, someone told me (and a room full of others) to cling to less, in order to receive more.

I’m high on that prospect, surging with the need to clean out my closets, sell all of the thingsand focus on what actually matters.  Talking about it and actually doing it, though, are two very different things.  The closer we get to doing it, the safer it feels to cling.  The more real the decision becomes, the scarier it is to imagine a life with “nothing,” no things.  We find ourselves talking about how once we’re done clinging to less, we can just come back to the clinging.  ”Let’s put all of the things in storage, and that way we can have them back some day… *sigh of relief*”

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What we completely ignore in this safety-net approach, however, is that the whole purpose of intentionally clinging to less is to break the habits of NEEDING things, measuring our success by what we own and promising ourselves fulfillment by believing that “when we just have ___________, we’ll be content.”  That promise is a perpetual carrot, and run as we may, we’ll never catch it, because once we do, something else immediately takes its place.

I’ll feel content when we own a home.

[Enter home-ownership achievement] …Hmmm, a house is great, but I think I’ll really be happy when I have a new car.

[Cruising in my Audi Q5] … So, I don’t think I’ll be able to actually relax until I’ve paid off my student loans.

*** 20 (miserable) years later ***

[Loans paid] … What I really want is a job that allows me to help people.  Then, I’ll feel fulfilled.

[New job helping people] … It’s really exhausting caring so much about the job that I love.  I think I’ll finally be able to relax if we could just travel more.

… and on and on it goes.

If I haven’t made my point, I could certainly go on, indefinitely, actually.

But the point is, if we come back from the “less is more” expedition and jump back into the “they with the most stuff win” mentality, then we’ve failed.  If we want everything to be exactly the same a year or two from now, then there is no point in making a change; there’s no point in clinging to less if we intend to “need” more later on.  

"Cling to less." And let the universe do its work.

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eyes ahead

The pain was excruciating.  Worse actually… whatever “worse than excruciating” would be.  They say your corneas have more nerve endings than anywhere else in your body, and something unexplained was chipping away at mine.  It was awful.

We went from doctor to doctor, to no avail.  My eyes were purple and swollen shut, which was actually a relief, for to open them, even the tiniest amount, would expose my nerve endings to the elements and send me through the roof with pain.  The only reprieve came from eye drops at the emergency room and the opthamologist’s office.  Naturally, however, these drops caused damage with prolonged use, so I was limited to two drops each eye, each appointment.  Those were the only minutes of normalcy we had that week.  These relief drops are kept locked away in a cabinet (for now very obvious reasons); I would have paid a nurse just about anything to get my hands on just one little bottle.  I was desperate.

The terror and the pain were like nothing I had experienced before, and tears stung my corneas that much worse.  I vacillated between my deals with God, one minute promising to be ok with complete blindness if the pain would just subside, and the other offering to tolerate the pain for a few more days if it meant I could keep my sight.

Thanks to a tremendous favor from the father-in-law of one of my dearest friends, who happens to be a very reputable opthamologist, I was finally on the path to recovery… with a strict warning to manage my stress levels, lest this condition creep back up and wreak its havoc.  

Now, over a month later, I’m still not completely recovered.  While the doctors found some certainty about what it was not, they aren’t certain what it actually was or, more importantly, if it will come back.  While the conciliatory comments about how “at least I look good in glasses” are reassuring, this really changes things for me.  It has prompted me (and us) to take a step back mentally and rethink what the coming years of my (and our) life should look like.

It’s a new and totally foreign outlook.  I suppose it took a very real attack on my eyes to actually shift my focus and change my perspective.

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A good friend going through a tough time recently posted something that my Grandma had sent me when I was going through a tough time.  It just hits my soul.  It’s true, no matter where you are.  

May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and everyone of us.

- Teresa de Ávila

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over the river and through nebraska

The boys and I are about to embark on what is quickly becoming the annual tradition of driving home to Wisconsin for Christmas.  And when I say “embark,” what I mean is “emBARK.”  The brown dog, the deaf dog and the snoop dogg**.  The new car is in the garage, half (or so) of the gifts have been acquired, the playlist compiled, the friends contacted, and the dog-grandmas can’t wait… We’re pretty much there.  With the exception of the 16-hour drive.

We did this drive last year too.  A few months into dating JP, we were still very much in that phase of impressing each other, where we pretended to be total badasses who could stay up talking and drinking wine until the wee hours of the morning, only to get up at the crack of dawn and hit the gym, work insane jobs all day long, and then meet for an elaborate dinner (most likely prepared by JP) and do the whole thing all over again.  At that time, a 16 hour drive was nothing.

Nowadays, however, we’re in the “early to bed, early to rise” contingency, and a bottle of wine can last us a few days.  That’s not to say we’re old and boring, but it is to say that there is absolutely nothing exciting about a 16-hour car ride.  I’m crying a river over here.

So what can YOU do to help?  I’m so glad you asked.

My Mom has the worrying part covered.  My Grandma has the praying part covered.  So the rest of you can just send irreverent texts, good Spotify jams and optimistic vibes for snoozy pups.

'Tis the most wonderful time of the year.

** There may or may not have been an “incident” of gift-snooping recently that has led me to booby-trap this year’s Christmas gifts with jingle bells. As a result of the ‘incident,’ I now have three dogs: the brown dog, the deaf dog and the snoop dogg.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve gone here…

… But since February is my annual “ABSOLUTELY FREAK OUT & FIRE UP OVER MY LAW SCHOOL DEBT” period, consider this my warm-up.

This article nails it, and it’s published in Business Insider (which is WAY more credible than my ardent ramblings).  It’s terrifying and nauseating, but there is some comfort in not being alone in all this.

Apropos as it is, I read this excerpt of Tiny Beautiful Things last night, and it struck such a chord, that I found myself reading aloud to JP while laughing and smiling (because it’s TRUE!):

… Has [my student loan debt] ruined my life? Has it kept me from pursuing happiness, my writing career, and ridiculously expensive cowboy boots? Has it compelled me to turn away from fantastically financially unsound expenditures on fancy dinners, travel, “organic” shampoo, and high-end preschools? Has it stopped me from adopting cats who immediately need thousands of dollars in veterinary care or funding dozens of friends’ artistic projects on Kickstarter or putting $20 bottles of wine on my credit card or getting bi-annual pedicures?

What I know for sure is that freaking out about your student loan debt is useless. You’ll be okay.

Thanks, Sugar.  While I learned this same lesson acutely and painfully a few years back, the refresher helps to preemptively disarm my February Freak-Out & Fire-Up.

Cheers to $20 bottles of wine, [more frequent than] bi-annual pedicures and travel.  Your law school debt has done enough damage already; don’t let it ruin your life.  

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An open letter about my death (before I die… obviously)

Paul Walker died the other night in what amounts to a pretty terrible way to go.  Thanks to a healthy dose of red wine and prosecco at a friend’s dinner party, I only vaguely remember JP sighing heavily and saying, “Poor Paul Walker,” as we laid in bed, drifting off. I responded something to the effect of, “No… poor Paul Walker’s family and friends, but not poor Paul Walker.  He’s in a place far better than here.”  We talked about it for a little bit, but the whole time, I was writing this post in my head.  I have been wanting to write this for years, but I never knew where to start really.  I decided to stop waiting for a good place to start…

***

An open letter to my friends and family about my death

Few things are certain in life, but death is one of those things.  Death is most certainly certain.  It’s been years now since I have felt fearful of death, but what I have continued to fear is that the ones I love most will think about it all wrong and I will have missed my chance to tell them how I feel about dying.  

Now perhaps it’s arrogant to assume that people will be distraught when I go.  I’ve been told that it’s important to state your assumptions before doing any in-depth analysis, so, for the record, here it is:  This analysis assumes that people (you, people) will be upset when I die.

First and foremost, if you take nothing else from this letter, please take this:  I know where I’m headed, and I am ready whenever it’s my time to go.  And I know that it is a place that is good.  It is a place where everything makes sense - from the awful and unfathomable societal things like war and genocide and rape to the the small, internal and quiet things we all have that just make life hardsometimes (a lot of times).  I call that piece of life the “struggle,” and everybody has it.  It’s supposed to be that way. 

There is no struggle in heaven.  We are complete and we are whole and we simply understand the purpose of life.  I believe we never fully understand until we get there.  I believe the point of life on earth is to strive for understanding.  To seek understanding from our relationships and our experiences and our struggle.  I believe all we’re really doing here is striving for heaven.  And know that when I die, I will be in a place of complete understanding, wholeness and peace that simply does not exist here on earth.  

But I know that many of you, if not most of you, are probably sitting there going, “Well, Nicki, that’s great for you.  That’s great that you knowbut what about me?  I don’t really know, or I don’t totally agree with youand even if I did, I just can’t imagine that it’s all that helpful.  I can’t imagine not being so sad, and so angry, and thinking that life isn’t fair.”

I’m not asking you not to grieve.  That’s part of it, in my opinion.  Grieving what we cannot understand is part of the struggle.  It’s what makes us real, and when we share our grief with others and allow ourselves to be supported by others in our grief, it starts to make more sense.  And then, when the grieving has subsided, we are in a position to help others when they grieve.  And so the cycle of humanity continues.  All of us trying to make some sense of this world, its wonder, its pain and this life.  The struggle and striving for understanding, through the joy, the dispair and the confusion, that is the point.   

So grieve.  Miss me, and wish I were still here.  Tell those stories I told over and over and over again.  The stories you were so sick of hearing (and rightfully so), a lacat in the bag,” the Jewish nose, “gurl, you ain’t crazy" and others.  Only, when you tell them, please use the Good Will Hunting philosophy and tell them in the first person.  They’re so much better that way.  And as the years go by, think about me on my birthday, and know that I’m rocking it (like I always do on my birthday).  I can only imagine how much cooler birthdays are in heaven.

But beyond anything else, go on.  Go on without any understanding.  Accept that my death won’t make sense.  It never does.  No one ever dies, and their loved ones say, “Well, it makes sense that it had to be him, and it had to be now, and it had to be that way.”  But there will come a day, where my death will have some meaning for you.  You will be stronger and more compassionate and better positioned to help others.  But this will only happen in hindsight (which, of course, is always 20/20).  I highly doubt that you will feel, in the moment, how my death fits into a bigger picture.  But a time will come when you look back and my death is a piece of the puzzle of your life, and you will have the tiniest of glimpse into why.  You will have a smidgen of understanding, and there will be some peace there.  And then, when you arrive at the place of all understanding, it will be completely clear.  I know this.

So with all of that, I have a few requests:

- The logistics: Cremated, please.  And spread my ashes somewhere outside, somewhere awesome.  Somewhere that means something to you and makes you think of me.  Don’t agonize over where, though.  Wherever you pick, that will be perfect.  To ashes we shall return.  And honestly, I hardly matters to me where you put my body.  That’s really for you guys.  But don’t fight about it.  That’s the beauty of cremation… there are plenty of ashes to go around (sorry… I couldn’t get through this part without making a cremation joke).  So anyway, pick somewhere (or a few somewheres) you’ll want to visit from time to time, and remember me there.  Don’t over-think it.

- The “funeral”: I don’t really like that word.  Instead, please, please, please… Have. A. Party (I like that word a whole lot better).  And I mean that.  Lots of prosecco, red wine and tequila and music (maybe even live music, if the budget allows).  I would prefer that it’s one of those awesome parties, where people end up dancing on tables to Michael Jackson, finding themselves at RockBar “accidentally,” playing one round of beer pong too many, getting on stage with a microphone in hand, running the table at a dive bar, convincing the bartender to serve just one more round long after last call (and tipping him $200 to do it), knocking out a friend’s tooth during an impromptu piggyback ride… you know the type.  Have one of those parties.

The other stuff: 

- Even if it’s a sudden, unexpected, tragic, painful death - like the worst of the worst of the worst. Please don’t dwell on that.  Know that when it’s time to go, it doesn’t hurt.  Know that if I’m wrong on that, and it does hurt, I’m ok with it.  It’s a small price to pay to spend the rest of eternity in heaven, with God, and with you all, whenever you get there.  I’m not worried about it, so I don’t want you to be. 

- I know I am loved.  Do not doubt for a second that you didn’t do enough to let me know how you feel about me.  I know how you feel about me.  Your love is in my bones.

- Make it fucking count down here.  Take the time you have on this earth, and DO. SOMETHING. AWESOME.  Do many awesome things.  Do scary things.  Fail as often as you succeed.  Grow.  Learn.  Love.  Don’t stop striving for an understanding you’ll never fully achieve… do this because along the way, you will get little nuggets.  Little pieces of understanding that will come together and certain things that will begin to make sense.  Hold on to those beautiful nuggets.  But know they’re just a microcosm of the understanding that awaits.  While the time between my death and yours might seem like forever some days, know that it’s not.  Know that we will have the rest of eternity to hang out, go running, drink wine, and get pedicures.  So until that time comes, make it count.  

That is one thing I do fear:  That you might risk making it count down here because you’re angry about my death.  Or that you might run away from God instead of turning to him.  Please don’t do those things.

If this is wayyyy too morbid to be reading with your morning coffee, I sincerely apologize.  Writing this open letter is not a death wish; it is not tempting fate or karma or God; it is not a cryptic cry for help.  It is my attempt to tell my friends, family and potentially a world full of strangers how I feel about my own death, so that when it happens (and guys, it will happen) maybe this post helps to ease the burden, alleviate the pain and make some kind of sense of this crazy life.