Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Impossible Dream


These are supposed to be the best years of my life. I hear everyone say it, all the time. They say it on TV. The popular culture and general public, who seem to desire to at any cost to look my age and act my age, without actually having to relive my age. They say it to me as they wipe a tear away from the corner of eyes misted with nostaligia over the glory days--when the sun shone more sweetly and their hair wafted about prettily in the breeze. Not only am I having the best time of my life right now, but even better times are yet to come! I'm just at the beginning of the journey! On the cusp of adventure! There is so much before me--so many options, roads, choices, chances. "If I could go back," the voices seem to say...., their throats swelling with emotion. Nostalgia. Regret. Memory. Fists clench, or else clutch at aching hearts. "If only...."

See, the problem is, I'm often the youngest in the any group. I am at present 25 years and 6 months old. (I hear the readers of this blog older than I am, i.e. , almost all of you, break out their fake violins and hiss at me). Hey, I have admitted to being a young whippersnapper. I have defended old fogies. I am not just railing against the old and nostalgic here. I am railing at an idea of goldeness. And true, most of my law school friends are only a few years older than I am, but it's not these people that I'm talking about. No, my friends still have sufficient memory to know what misery this is. No, I talk of my advisors, who range in age between 35 to 60, who (what is it, turning 30?) seem to forget the maelstorm that is the Raging 20's. Either they are supremely confident in my abilities, or are assuaging my fears that I will choke in my LLM program in order to get me off their backs. Actually, this is true even of the friends who know how much it sucks, but want to do the nice thing and try to convince you otherwise. It's going to be great, everyone says! It is all so exciting to not know what is going to happen next! Everything everyone says these days ends in an exclamation point!

The Decade of Indecision.

Books are written about indecisive twenty year olds. One book is called, surprise, "Indecision."

But it is not just indecision. It is also The Decade of Indeterminacy.

Where nothing can be known or determined farther than 20 paces ahead.

And it's also the decade in which you're supposed to transistion out of the indecision and indeterminacy and form something solid, knowable, and long-lasting. At this age, the mistakes you make cost you more than they did in your teens, without the benefit of the insurance and financial security that will hopefully come in just a few more years if you didn't screw up so much right now. At this age, people start looking for life partners and hopefully meet and marry them. At this age, people get careers started and start looking for places they would like to settle. At this age, you start thinking maybe you should buy rather than rent. Shouldn't everything start to fall into place right now? I know a 20 year old sophomore who already knows he wants to be a law professor. If I had that much self-knowledge and possession at that age, I wonder if I would be the basketcase I am now. I finally figured out what I want to do--the problem is doing it. The problem is getting there, despite the slim chances, insurmountable odds, and lack of the requisite gumption. If only I wanted to be something simple, like a pharmacist. You know, get my B.A. and M.A. Take the pharm boards. I'd be golden, by this age. No, I had to suck at chemistry. No, the path I chose is one of the most difficult in all of law. No, I had to aspire, dream, and try. It could have been easy, and yet I made it hard for myself, because I saw fit to try for something I really wanted. And I'm in the middle of the hardest stage, the stage where everything is uncertain and unknowable, when everything is a possibility--of failure as much as success.

So it's a strange age. And why do people, particularly on TV, say that it's the best? Maybe I don't have enough fun. The problem is, I'm not much of a drinker or partier. I kind of act middle-aged already, preferring to cook, spend time with my kids, read, play board games, and watch period films and science fiction on this very nice TV that we have. I don't go to bars, clubs, behave promiscuously, or live excessively beyond my means. My credit card balance right now is $0. I have some money in the bank. I actually paid off one of my student loans already. So by virtue of not acting like a 20 year old, am I doomed to be exiled from the enjoyment of it? Am I cosmically denied some insight that allows me to appreciate these tumultuous years and call it "adventure"?

I know very few of you will pity the 25 year old lawyer who is on her way to a very nice, highly ranked post-graduate law program and hopefully a career as a law professor. "There's worse to be had," you all say derisively. I know there is. I know. I was there! Before we transitioned into lower middle class life, we lived 8 people to a 2 bedroom apartment. I slept in the kitchen with my parents. I was a small child sleeping on bales of newspapers as my family worked their second job, the 10 pm--2 am shift at the LA Times stuffing the inserts for morning delivery. I was the larger child doing it along side my parents. I know that there is worse. I know that hunger and want, dividing up the mango between 3 siblings, Doritos as a luxury kind of existence. I know! That's why I don't want to go back! Even when there is no chance of going back, you still have that "don't use two slices of bologna in one sandwich, that's extravagant" kind of mentality. You want security as an adult as much as you wanted it as a child. Heck, you want it even more. No longer is it sufficient to not cram 8 people into a 2 bedroom apartment. No, you want health insurance, a retirement plan, a steady salary, and brand name (not generic) snack foods! And to get all that, you want your life figured out, your career figured out--right here, right now.

The next year of my life is well-settled. I will go to Liberal College Town Law School, and I will be happy there. I will work really hard at my LLM program. I have to, because the chances of getting into the JSD program are slim at best. There are only 15 spaces, and I have to convince a faculty to supervise me for up to two years. What is plan B if I don't get in? Should I buy the most disposable furniture, thinking to live just one year at a time, rather than indulge in some of my nesting and decorating instincts? Do I live out of boxes the entire duration of the program? Do I quit before I've started?

Or, do I apply this September, during that short window of time when you can apply, to state and federal clerkships? Do I apply to other schools' JSD programs that admit LLM students not from their own institution? Do I apply to teaching fellowships? Do I try to go on the market before I'm ready? (hellllll no, to that I know) What if all avenues are closed to me? Do I (shudder) have to move back home, again? (a bigger helllllll no to that) There must be other options. If there aren't, I will create them.

No, whatever happens, I will have to be determined and creative, and find options to continue on this path to law teaching. I am after all, The Aspiring Academic, and these are The Chronicles of Academia. These may be the most nerve-racking, nausea-inducing, ulcer-creating times of my life (oh, do not begrudge me my moment of epic melodrama, as my own fist is clenched and my own throat wells with emotion), but I will try to weather them with grace and dignity. I will persevere. I will not give up. I will not be so afraid of uncertainty, indecision, and indeterminacy over where my next slice of bologna comes from, that I will give up the chance to for once reach for what I truly want (a slice of roast turkey, and tenure anywhere).

In your 20s, more than any other decade, you don't know where you'll live from year to year. You sign month-to-month or at most 1 year leases. In your 20s, you don't know if this little gamble of yours, the first you've allowed yourself since your childhood starved you of the belief that you were able to reach higher than settling, will ever pay off. This is not an easy path to choose, law teaching. If it were, it wouldn't be worth it. Man, I read somewhere that a guy spent 12 years in two graduate programs in a similar quest to become a law professor. If he can do it, I guess I can. There was a time when I didn't even dare to apply to Ivy League schools because the application money was considered too wasteful to spend on a "dream." But, thankfully, my professors were instrumental in convincing me that it is okay to dream, reach, and waste a little money in doing so. There was a time when if one avenue failed, there was nothing left to do but give up and go home. But now, I guess I realize there are other options--at least ones I can create for myself, to keep pushing forward rather than going back. Maybe the security of knowing exactly where I'll live, what I'll be employed at, and what I'll be doing is a necessary sacrifice if I am going to pursue the dream of doing what I want to do--no matter what it takes. A tear is forming in the corner of my eye. One of my fists is clenched, while the other hand clutches at my filling heart. My throat wells with emotion. My shoulders are back in defiance. My head is held high. This is not nostalgia. Nay, it is determination.

Does anyone else hear "The Impossible Dream" from The Man of La Mancha playing in the background? Is it finally drowning out the sound of all those fake violins?

To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ..
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ...
This is my quest, to follow that star ...
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...
To fight for the right, without question or pause ...
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ...
And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm, when I'm laid to my rest ...
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach ... the unreachable star ...

|

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home