Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blogging Across America

All my life I've attended public schools and universities, and yet, more recently, I've been caught in the bubble of private schools--with a few very notable exceptions, the best law schools are private. I can't say I'm happy about that, but I guess it makes sense in a certain way that defeats the myth of meritocracy. They are great schools, and I'm happy to visit them for both personal and professional reasons. Vacation-wise, they doesn't seem like intuitive spots to hit on spring break, but I'm not your typical beach bunny. I like checking out school architecture and landscapes, and see how the vibe is different from school to school and city to city. So in addition to my home institutions and various conferences, whenever I travel to a new city for pleasure, I check out some of the local campuses--I really am a "lifer." Plus, this way you get to meet bloggers and blawggers. A few months ago, I visited WASPy Privilege Law School and Metropolitan Law School, and yesterday it was Preppy Patrician Law School.

It is a beautiful school with great architecture and verve. Hipster Law Prof Dude showed me around, though it was a kind of useless tour since he didn't know all that many buildings outside of the law school. And I loved that. He is a kind and delightful man, and very funny and quirky--it's odd to meet epistolary friends, especially when they exceed your expectations. No offense to any of the people I've met, but you tend to always expect academics to be slightly socially awkward. Also, it's a dicey proposition in my case--I'm a personal blogger, and if you plumb the archives I've revealed some pretty personal details about my strict Asian upbringing and have made oblique references to my personal life (very little re the present, a little more about the past). And my epistolary friendships go even further--people write Belle, and then Belle's Real Life Alter Ego all sorts of things, and reveal all sorts of personal details you wouldn't reveal to a stranger you met on the street or at a conference. And I share in kind.

I'm a classic over-sharer, and one of my favorite hobbies is writing weird emails late at night when I shouldn't. Life on the page is entirely different, and though there are four corners to the page or computer screen, these are very permeable boundaries that don't seem quite real. But then, I meet these people in real life. So people tend to know a lot about me before even meeting me. And then they ask me about it all. That can be weird, slightly discomfiting, and very fun. It allows for quick (perhaps too quick) intimacy and almost instantaneous friendship--and the ice is so far beyond broken. So once you stop freaking out over how much you both have accidentally-on-purpose shared with one another, you can relax, and just be friends in real life as well as on the page or on the blog.

Apparently, in real life I'm unexpectedly (?!) talkative and prone to rapid changes of topic, but I do match the tone and tenor of my weird emails. I have been told that I "look" like what people expect me to look like from my very vague descriptions here, and that my voice sounds "clipped" (I think it sounds like a child-woman, but thanks). It's interesting, meeting people you've known for months. I always find people to be either taller or shorter than I expected, and often with younger voices. I am delighted to find people to be just as funny, if not funnier, in real life, and how easy it is to laugh with such new friends. It's a great experience.

The Best Friend went with me, and she was a delightful buffer for steering the conversation in new and surprising directions. And I somehow organized two other local profs into meeting us all for a happy hour later in the day, which is a very law prof thing to do, even if one only nurses a pinot grigio while munching happily on french fries and burgers.

This sounds very "networky," and I suppose that it is a network-building get-together. I am not fooling myself, since I write on social network theory and employment law I know the benefits of such casual interactions with people of higher positions--which, in my case, is everyone I meet in the legal academy. Though I have a JD, I don't have much else until I finish this LLM--and I'm acutely aware of my lowly status, and very much aware of how far away I am from my goal. I'm very blessed to have a motley crue of mentors and professors both at my home institutions and variously spread across the country. It's a wonderful help I never had growing up or in the process of acquiring my many degrees. And it's mostly because of this blog that I've been able to make such contacts and get such notice, and hopefully when I finally publish the articles I've been writing, such help won't be for naught. That said, they give you all sorts of conflicting advice! "Go on the market now!" vs. "Do your SJD!" vs. "Go get a Ph.D!" --till my head is spun, and upon falling back onto my chaise lounge (inherited from Charlotte Perkins Gilman) I remember that it's still up to me in the end. So I'm going to keep doing my thing, whatever that is, but take their advice into consideration.

Still, it's the personal aspect that I most enjoy, although the professional advice and contacts are an admittedly useful. In fact, the discussions about the latter are slightly awkward, and where I least flourish. I've always been awful at networking and selling myself. I'm better at making acquaintences and friends. I'm learning how to be professional, but I'm better at being personal. I relate well to intelligence, but find the dry and mundane titular and academic markers boring to talk about. I think I ask "so, what do you do?" just to get to the next step of substantively discussing the moral/legal/newsworthy aspects of whatever subject that happens to be. I learn that people went to the University of Chicago, and ask them what they think of Chicago hot dogs vs. Dodger dogs. Things like that. That said, the personal topics of conversation that came up yesterday (initiated by both HLPD and me) made me wonder if I go too far in one direction and don't work enough on being detached, aloof, "professional."

Still, I'm learning, the more I meet academics and professionals, how to talk about work in ways that are both appropriate and interesting. I'm learning how to be personal in person as well as on the page. So thank you, Hipster Law Prof Dude, for being my tour guide and life guide, and for reminding me that words on the page are created by people, who are even better in person.

Finally, tips on meeting people who are strangers (especially if you are a pseudonymous female blogger):

1. Write a relatively thorough introductory biography to get that stuff out of the way. This saves time and cuts past the boring stuff so that you can talk about other things, like music, movies, kung fu.

2. Meet in public places, preferably with people who have been vetted by their state bar moral character committees or who are not themselves pseudonymous. Avoid axe murderers by asking them if they have ever killed anyone with an axe. By that, I mean whether they have ever killed anyone carrying an axe, you know, that vulnerable lumberjack population.

3. If possible, have a friend in tow. That's rarely possible, and if it wasn't The Best Friend, could possibly hamper the conversation. Still, I let people know where I'm going, when, and who I'm meeting with and when I expect to return. (Not kidding.)

4. Drink something: caffeine makes me even more cheerful and perky (if that is possible), and a very moderate amount of wine relaxes me, and I've done both to interesting and opposite effects. Both inspire me to talk even more than I normally do. I should try milk and see if that's neutral, but ordering milk in this day and age is weird--and maybe, something I should go for.

5. Bring mix CDs. At the very least, that is a conversational ice-breaker, a token of friendship, and pretty damn cool.