New world

This is probably going to come out sounding ridiculously maudlin or the like, but is there something about the place where you grow up that imprints a particular climate and weather patterns into your bones? I grew up outside of Boston, and New England/northeastern weather still just makes sense to me. I see pictures of winter and I know that winter. I watch TV shows set in NYC in November, and I know those Novembers – I know the feeling of cold air rushing in your nose, the raw cold on your cheeks while your torso is warm, even hot, under your layers of clothing, the look of your breath turning into frost as it hits the air. I know the gray of low-hanging clouds. I know the sloshy dirty puddles of slush pooling in every low part of the path. (I know the peculiarly crisp crunch of snow compressed under your feet when it’s far too cold to melt, too, but mostly I know that from Minnesota, not the northeast.) I know the look of the empty trees, and the riot of pale green when spring comes around again. I know the mosquitos, too, that harass you in summer, as well as the deerflies that used to land on our dogs’ noses. I know summer as hot and humid, broken up by cool gray days when you have to wear long sleeves.

Which is to say that I’m not really sure why I’ve moved to a place where I’m not likely ever to experience those things again. The first day of autumn is Saturday, and my friends in northern climes are talking about breaking out the boots and the sweaters; the high here today was 101 degrees.

I mean, I will adjust; I think the desert is beautiful, and it’s not like you can get both the desert and the deep dark woods together in one place – you have to give up one of those things. There’s a lot to be said for being able to walk out the door most of the year without having to drag on coats and scarves and hats and boots, and for plentiful sunshine, and spectacular sunsets, and eye-searingly bright flowers. I like the mesquite trees that surround our apartment, as well as the butterflies and hummingbirds that live in them. And I hope this doesn’t make me sound too much like an AARP member, but as I get older, I’m less and less interested in dealing with the cold. I miss it in a theoretical way, as a central part of the part of the weather that I grew up considering “normal,” but a little dose goes a long way – I’m happy enough not to spend November through April snowbound (or at least mudbound).

But anyway, here we are. It still feels pretty foreign, but not in a bad way; it’s just not our place yet.

*Well, I won’t miss the mosquitoes, but my luck with the desert has run out: my last two cities were blessedly free of insects, but here I’ve seen a furry brown spider the size of my hand, climbing the wall next to my head, and been told by NLLDH that he’s twice seen what he thinks is a black widow outside our door. I think the brown spider was a giant crab spider and they’re harmless – it was actually gorgeous in its way – but I’ve never been that close to such a large arachnid in real life and the lizard brain took over and I jumped up and down and flailed like a baby.


Today I was reminded

How much better getting work done feels than not getting work done. That’s a pretty obvious lesson, but it’s one that apparently I need to remind myself of every so often. I need to remember that effort/tedium/boredom are still better than guilt. Any ideas on how to keep that fresh in one’s mind?

(It’s kind of like the “exercise feels better than sitting around putting off exercise” lesson, except that today, after I’d been sitting around enough to feel stiff and creaky, I went for a walk/run and now my legs are killing me. Oops. At least I exchanged one form of discomfort for a slightly better form of discomfort?)

Sort of a New Year’s Post, but not really

I have been trying to write a New Year’s post for almost a week now, and I keep abandoning it. I guess that just proves one of the points I keep trying to make in said abandoned posts, that January 1 just doesn’t really feel like a new year to me – I’ve been on the academic schedule too long to think of anything other than the end of August/beginning of September as the beginning of the year. I’m sure I will get weaned off of this eventually, but not this past year, when I moved and started a new job in August, nor this coming year, when I will do the same in (probably) September.

I have two specific goals for the year, and neither have to do with work (although I do want to succeed in my current job and survive my new one. But those are far too ongoing and all-encompassing really to be resolutions in any way).

First, I want to KNIT A SWEATER THAT ACTUALLY FITS AND LOOKS DECENT. I keep starting sweaters and abandoning them once I realize the size is wrong, or the yarn doesn’t fit the pattern, or the pattern is going to look horrible on me. I have one sweater about 1/2 done right now that looks really, really promising – I tried on the part I’ve managed to accomplish, and it fits! and looks like a sweater! and is comfortable! (It’s also looking very very green – almost nuclearly green. But I’m ignoring that part).

The thing about knitting, for me, is that I enjoy the process, but I also really really want to possess whatever object it is I’m creating. I want to make STUFF for ME that I will use and enjoy. But I keep moving to warmer and warmer climes. I’m moving to a state that has had a streak of 39 days in a row above 100 degrees, and where the average lows in December and January are about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. There isn’t a lot of point in making hats or cold-weather scarves or gloves and mittens or blankets and the like. So if we’re talking stuff I would actually use, we’re left with sweaters(non-wool sweaters, mostly – light cardis, short sleeves, but sweaters). Which kind of rules out quick/instant gratification knitting, and puts me in the land of long-term projects.


My second goal is to GET A BIKE AND LEARN HOW TO USE IT PROPERLY. I’m less wound up about this one right now, since it’s freezing and there’s snow on the ground here right now and it gets dark by 5:30 pm. But where I live now is a cyclist’s paradise, and where I’m moving to is even better, and ever since getting into spin, I have really envied all the cyclists I see on the trails by mountains where I live. So I would really love to do this at some point in the next year.

(Of course, it’s probably been a solid decade since I’ve been on a bike that actually transports you somewhere, and I’m kinda terrified of crashing. So I think I’m going to be true to the total over-educated wimp I am and take a bike-handling class.)

So those are my goals – the fun ones, the ones I’ve chosen and am excited about. As I mentioned, I also want to succeed in my current job and survive the first few months of my new one (which kinda scares me, but that’s good for you, right?). But those don’t really feel like things I’m choosing to do – they just go with the territory. Does anyone really not want to succeed in their job? I’m sure even the people who don’t care about their jobs would nonetheless prefer not to fail. (Unless you hate your job so much you want to do such a bad job that you get fired, but even that’s a goal.)

This is preying on my mind a little right now because I’m behind at work and a little terrified I’m not going to get certain stuff done by the time it needs to get done. But I have to remind myself the work does always get done – I may have to stay late and run on little sleep for a while, but it gets done – when I was teaching, the semester always did, eventually, pass; here, the cases will pass, too. I guess what I really mean is that I dread the next couple of weeks. For which there’s no one to blame besides myself! (Which doesn’t actually make me feel any better, but is useful to remember.) (I’m behind in part because I engaged in a fairly intense job search in October and November, and I got in a very bad habit of letting that distract me. So time to focus again, which I’ve been doing successfully, but I still have to pay for my sins.)

It doesn’t help that I spent almost two weeks at home with LDH over the holiday, and now I have to adjust to being here on my own again. It’s nice here and all, but I find myself staying up till all hours of the night – even on work nights – which is my classic “LDH isn’t here” thing to do, and I have to stop (I was kind of zombified for the short work week, even after sleeping tons over the holiday, because I refused to go to bed when I need to). And I’ve also spent too much money on clothes – I can’t resist the post-holiday sales. Everything I’ve bought has been from 40-60% off full price, but, yeah, that excuse only goes so far. (I should add that I’m shopping online so none of this has arrived yet, and I have no intention of actually keeping everything, because most of it probably won’t work on me anyway. But the amount of stuff winging its way towards me is still freaking me out a little. As if it’s just magically happened without me playing a part…)

So, staying up late and spending money: two classic signs of anxiety and depression in my world. Which means it’s time to get back to the gym (me and all the resolute hordes), as well as do other stuff that takes me out of my own head. I’m nearly done with training to volunteer at the humane society here, so I need to get that done so I can be scheduled for a regular shift and get some kitteh cuddle therapy. And I’ve signed up for a Spanish class that starts a week from Monday, which I’m excited about – both to learn the language, and to interact regularly with people I DON’T work with. (I really like everyone I work with, but apart from my hairdresser, and the guy who teaches my spin classes, they’re about the only people I ever talk to.)

Here’s my awful confession about Spanish, though: I am not really expecting to have to work very hard, since I’ve taken French, Italian, and Latin, and when I look at written Spanish I can pretty much parse the sentence structure – identify the verbs/nouns/adjectives, that kind of thing. And I can get an awful lot of the vocabulary, too.That said, I can’t speak a damn thing besides English, nor can I understand word one of spoken Spanish. And this time round, I’m taking the language because I really really want to be able to speak it. So I also suspect at some point I’m going to hit a cinderblock wall and suffer a rude awakening about how much work it requires. But it will be good for me.

Anyway. Not sure how I really got to this point, as this isn’t what I intended to talk about when I started this post. As you can see, the whole New Year’s post thing clearly isn’t working for me. But I will stop here, because otherwise it will be June before I manage to say anything about the New Year.

* * * * *

As an aside, I wanted to thank you all so much for your sweet comments on my previous post about Middle Cat. They are all immensely appreciated.


Sleep well, sweetheart

We followed a path yesterday that we've followed twice before, but it never gets any easier: we put one of our cats to sleep.

Middle Cat, who was born sometime in May 1992, has been suffering from a number of chronic illnesses for some years now. First it was hyperthyroidism, then renal failure, then last January she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and this fall the vets discovered a multi-lobe mass on her liver. Any one of these would have finished off a lesser cat, but as our vet put it, Middle Cat was too stubborn to die, and so she hung around, getting skinnier and skinnier but still enjoying life. She slept 90% of the time, but she was always eager for her food and slept on the bed with us at night. She was particularly fond of sitting on LDH's chest and breathing in his face. 

But Friday night she vomited a few times, clear liquid flecked with blood. She wasn't interested in her favorite treats, freeze-dried chicken. She just seemed tired.

So we took her to the vet on Saturday morning and after consultation decided that now was the time.

It's such a hard decision. On the one hand, I always wish that they would take the choice out of our hands, that we'd wake up one morning and find the still, cool little body of a creature that had passed peacefully in her sleep. On the other hand, as the vet put it, this is the one thing we can do for her – give her an end without pain, surrounded by the people who loved her. 

There are always things to second-guess – for instance, in this case, our vets would be closed Sunday through Tuesday. And I go back to clerkship town on Tuesday. You don't want to arrange something like this around a holiday and the convenience that I'm here right now. But we love our vets, who have never displayed anything less than the highest levels of kindness and compassion, and if we waited but needed to take action before Wednesday, we would have hated to go to strangers. And I would hate for Middle Cat to have left on this final journey without being there to say goodbye. 

It was so helpful, too, that our lovely lovely vet said, "I would rather do it a week too early than one day too late."

So we sent off Middle Cat, sitting in our vets' "comfort room," decorated in warm colors with a cozy couch and a pretty rug. I sat next to her and stroked her soft head the entire time. She lay on a rich red chenille blanket. One of the vets who's treated her in the past came in to say goodbye, and we talked about how I had chosen Middle Cat out of the cage full of kittens at the shelter because she'd been beating up the other cats. The vet who administered the euthanasia keeps the supplies in a pretty little tool box, covered with antique maps and accented by bronzed hardware, something that looks anything but clinical or medical, like something you'd find holding treasured keepsakes in someone's study. 

When it was done I felt sadness, but I also felt relief. Middle Cat is a tough, stubborn little creature – typical (dilute) tortie. She was never one to sit on our laps and cuddle and demand to be petted, but she was always there – by our side, watching, wanting to be part of what we were doing. She would have dragged herself along with us to the bitter end, never leaving us till she had to. I'm sure we could have continued treating her ailments – upped the fluids we were giving her, put her on antibiotics, more pills, more painkillers. But nothing was going to cure her, or even make her feel that much better, and you can't explain to a cat that there's a reason you're poking her with a needle and shoving pills down her throat (which she hated. Eldest Cat, of blessed memory, was such a needy attention hog who loved being held that he was pretty easy to pill. But Middle Cat hated ever being confined in any way, even for the 30 seconds necessary to give her medication). Now she doesn't have to be interfered with anymore.

When we put Youngest Cat to sleep, there was a different kind of sadness. Because he was FeLV positive (feline leukemia), we knew he wasn't likely to live very long (he made it seven years, which was pretty good). But he went downhill very quickly at the end (developing pernicious anemia, which sounds so Victorian), so we had only a few days to prepare ourselves for his loss.

When we put Oldest Cat to sleep, I felt guilty that I wasn't able to keep him alive forever. Obviously no one can do that, but he had been my first pet, and I felt so responsible for him – like there was something I could do to cure him and keep him with me always. (There wasn't, of course – he was eighteen and had hyperthyroidism, and it had affected his neurological system, so his back legs were weak and he couldn't walk in a straight line. He'd navigate a room by following the perimeter, leaning on the walls. We took him in the morning after the night when he cried the whole time because he was hungry but he couldn't eat.) Like I said, he was a needy attention hog who loved his mummy (me) and couldn't bear being separated from me – it used to be that when I took a shower, he'd sit on the covered toilet and cry – we always said he was worried I'd wash down the drain. When they took his body away there was a small incredible part of me that cried out, "Wait, I made a mistake, I want to take it back!"

For whatever reason, I didn't have that kind of sadness this time. Mostly because I had known for a long time that Middle Cat, like Youngest Cat, was going to leave us. (Of course all pets ultimately leave us, but both Middle Cat and Youngest Cat had specific terminal diagnoses that Eldest Cat never did.) Our concern had always been whether we would know when we should let her go. I think the relief was because we finally realized that she would never let us go, and that we had to let her go instead.

And so an era has ended. I got Eldest Cat right before I graduated from college, and Middle Cat a year later; I had them before I met LDH. LDH and I found Youngest Cat nine years later (he was born right around 9/11). When Youngest Cat left us, we were back to my original two; when Eldest Cat left us, I lost my first companion; now that Middle Cat has left us, there is no one left who knew me when I was a terrified grad student, living on my own for the first time, wondering if I would ever succeed at this academic stuff, get a tenure-track job, make something of myself. She saw me through a master's degree, prelims, a dissertation, two tenure-track jobs, the LSAT, applying to and attending law school, the bar exam, a first clerkship, part of a second, and acquiring a permanent post-clerkship job. She saw LDH and me through living together, living apart, breaking up, getting back together, getting married, and various stints of living apart again. He was her devoted Special Friend and she loved him as much as she loved me. 

We are not alone – we have our funny little blind bobtail cat, who loves company, and for whom we will adopt another cat sometime in the near future. But I feel old, to have outlived all my previous cats. And sometimes I'm bewildered at how I've ended up somewhere entirely different from what I imagined when I was that lonely person adopting a little kitten, mottled gray and silver and white and buff, on a hot July 3, in a Twin Cities suburb. It's not a bad place to be, just a little unexpected.

DSCN0090Little Girl, May 1992 – December 2012

I am going to hell

I don't know if I've mentioned this, but despite spending about 90% of my life being entirely unathletic, I am kind of a gym fascist. You see, I am all about FOLLOWING THE RULES (see: Myers-Briggs type ISTJ, and I am the ISTJ-est ISTJ you could ever meet). Which means, for instance, that (in my head) you should come to a class when it starts, stay until it's over, and not chat with your neighbor throughout class. (Hey, I didn't say these rules had to be written down anywhere.) 

More to the point, I am Judgy McJudgerson about form at the gym. If your form is incorrect, I WILL JUDGE YOU. Silently, to myself. But vigorously. In part, I figure if you're not going to bother using the correct form, why bother working out? In part, this is my obsession with following rules. But mostly, I think, this is precisely because I am utterly unathletic, and so one of the only things I have to offer is form. I'm slow and weak and inflexible, but dammit, my form is beautiful. It's the only thing I can beat you on. Well, not you, reading this. But at least some people at my gym.

(Let me state for the record that being able to complete a particular yoga pose does not count. The fact that I can't touch my toes with my knees straight doesn't mean I can't have beautiful form in a sun salutation. Ahem.)

Anyway, last week I went to the gym, and roaming around, found a couple of beat up Concept II rowing machines. I was kind of delighted, because almost everything else I like to do only works my lower body, so I was happy to find something that would give me a full body workout.

I should also note that there is definitely a proper way to use a rowing machine.

There was a guy using the machine next to mine, and man, his form was AWFUL. It sucked. I'm not going to be able to explain this well, but most of the power in rowing actually comes from the lower body; you start with your legs bent and arms extended in front of you, leaning forward. Then you push off with your legs until they're straight, and only then do you engage your upper body to pull the handle of the machine back. You pull the handle by first leaning back, and when you've leaned back as far as you can, you only then do you pull your hands back, keeping them at the level of your waist, until your elbows are bent and the handle is tight against your abdomen. Then you sort of let the handle pull your upper body forward, back to the beginning of the stroke, and only once your arms are fully extended again do you bend your legs and slide back to the front of the slide. (This happens much more quickly and smoothly in real life.)

The guy next to me – he was pulling back with his arms at the same time he was pushing with his legs (don't do that); he wasn't moving all the way back on the slide, but only pushing back a little bit, so his legs never straightened; he didn't lean back at all, so he didn't get as much leverage from his upper body as he could, and the "pull" was very short; also he lifted the handle up at the end of every stroke. Basically, he wasn't getting anywhere near the power into any of his strokes that you should be able to get in rowing.

So I'm rowing away, feeling exceedingly smug, waves of judgment emanating from my sweaty self in this guy's direction. His poor form pains me, in fact. It makes me twitch. It makes me happy that I, I know what proper form is and how to execute it. 

And then the guy stopped. And he took out his crutches, and balancing carefully, worked his way to his feet, and slowly crutched away. 

And I am going to hell.

Never say never

So, anyone who reads here probably also either knows me on Facebook or follows me on Twitter or both, in which case, you know that earlier this week I got a job. (If this is news: hey, I got a job!) It's a permanent gig for after my current clerkship ends (which means that it starts about 9 months from now. Clearly I cannot avoid the academia-like practice of getting jobs months and months before they start), acquired through an elaborate drawn-out process partly described here. (It's Interview #1 job! the one I really really really wanted!) I'm very excited, LDH is excited, all is good.

But the funny thing is that for a long time, I would have said that I would never have taken this job. Partly that's because it's in a part of the country that gets really, really hot, where I said I'd never live. But partly that's because it involves criminal law, and I thought I didn't want to do criminal law. First, it seems like way too many people go to law school because they watched a lot of Law & Order and expect law to be dramatic moments in a courtroom, solving brutal (and yet entertaining) crimes, and I did not want to be that cliche. Second, the stakes in criminal law are REALLY high. I mean, sure, money (at stake in most civil litigation) is pretty important to most people, but in civil litigation no one goes to jail. Third, in case you hadn't noticed, our criminal justice system has a lot of problems. On the one hand, do I really want to help the government exercise its already considerable power to convict people who frequently have been dealt the crappiest of hands and have few legit life options? (see especially the WAR ON DRUGS!!!!) Shouldn't I be one of the people making sure the government can convict only if it can genuinely prove everything beyond a reasonable doubt, keeping the government honest? On the other hand, do I have the stomach to defend someone I know to be guilty? I saw someone write just recently that what they like about being a criminal defense lawyer is that it's very clear – they're not working to serve justice, they're working to serve their client. Can I do that, if I think those things conflict? Obviously that's not always the case. But what about when it is?

(To be clear: I think both prosecutors and defense attorneys perform incredibly important jobs. Without them the adversary system is impossible, etc. etc. They're just not easy jobs, neither of them.)

But you know, the thing is, since graduating and clerking, I've realizing: I find criminal cases way more interesting than civil cases. I mean, yes, the facts are often more dramatic in criminal cases than in civil (although a lot of times they're not: the fact of drug possession is not generally that exciting. The fact of illegal reentry is not generally that exciting. Violence is not, in and of itself, interesting). But it's more that I find criminal procedure really interesting, and the constitutional issues it implicates really interesting. (And civil procedure…not so much.) 

So, long story short, I'm pretty sure I've said at some point that I would never work in criminal law. And that I would never live in this part of the world. Yet, here I go. And I'm thrilled. (And also a little terrified. But as LDH said, that's all the more reason to take the job.)

* * * * *

I was actually lucky enough to get some interviews for positions in other areas of law that also interest me, but are totally different from the job I've taken. So there's just that little nagging part of me that thinks, What if you'd really prefer doing X instead?? The thing is, it's kind of like wanting to be a historian and being equally interested in colonial Quebec and modern South Africa – you can't really do both; ultimately, you have to pick something. But I didn't have offers anywhere else – at least, not yet; and wasn't going hear back before this job needed an answer (which was pretty much right away); and this isn't really an opportunity you pass up. It's really just as well, because it prevented me from agonizing over what would be the best choice. (Presuming I would have even been lucky enough to have to choose.) But setting out a new path often entails a little regret about all the other paths you can't take at the same time.

Exercise, my least favorite thing

When I moved out here, I joined a gym, to have access to spin classes (I haven't used the gym at all for any other purpose). I was in mourning for a while because the spin instructors weren't like my instructors back in my former city, and I still like those classes better, but have made my peace with the new place and found some instructors I like.* So I'm trying to go more regularly, and realized: I think I have to suck it up and start going to the 5:30 am classes. That's pretty painfully early, but I used to go to 6:15 am classes, and it was really great getting the workout over with first thing, and having my evenings free. Plus, going after work is totally fine, but more of a hassle, because I have to prepare a gym bag the night before, take it with me to work, and then change at the gym; and it kills most of my weekday errand-running time. If I leave work right on time, I have about 15 minutes to kill at the gym, which is slightly annoying; but if I run later than 15 minutes at work, I'll either miss class, or have to rush like a mad thing and race in last minute (which I hate). Conversely, if I go first thing in the morning, I can avoid the whole "change at the gym" hassle,** and should have time to get home, change, and shower before heading to work. We'll just have to see which is the greatest danger: that when the alarm goes off at god-awful-o'clock in the morning and it's dark and cold and I'm not really awake, I'll say "eff it" and go back to sleep;*** or that at the end of the day when it's dark and cold and I'm tired from work, I'll say "eff it" and just go home.

Are you a morning exerciser, or an evening, or something else? And if you're a morning exerciser, how do you make yourself actually do it?

*Had a new-to-me instructor Saturday morning, and she was really really good, overall. However, she kept talking about our workout in the context of what Thanksgiving foods it would let us eat – and while I get that it was the weekend before Thanksgiving and it's an appealing approach for a lot of people, I really really hate measuring a workout in terms of calories or food. It seems way too food-issues-triggery, I much prefer to think about it in terms of building strength, power, endurance (or flexibility/balance, depending on activity).

**I know some people don't like changing at the gym because they don't like changing in front of other people. I don't care about that; I'm just lazy, and hate hauling stuff around and making sure I have everything.

***It didn't hurt that at my old gym, you had to sign up in advance to be sure to get a bike, and if you didn't cancel more than 24 hours in advanced, you got charged for the class. So as long as I signed up in advance, it was too late to cancel the morning of; here, I can't sign up for class until 30 minutes before anyway, so no foul if I don't show up.