Monday, August 17, 2009

Some Sort of Book Thoughts: The Associate

Had finished reading this about a week ago as well (in addition to April 1865, below), and had some thoughts jotted down that I thought I would post on here.

The book itself is not any special masterpiece; its a typical Grisham legal novel, where the background is law, but the plot generally revolves more around other events. Anyway, the book provided me a little opportunity to reflect on my present employment. The story centers on a recent law school graduate, from Yale Law, who goes to work for the largest firm in the world in New York City (its not as simple as that, but there's no reason to give anything away). The story itself, and its twists and turns, have nothing to do my reflection here. Rather, its the depiction of big law firm, big city life that draws me in, because how contrasting it is to my experience in the small firm, small city attorney career.

So many differences besides just the sheer volume of difference in attorneys. The stress, which you always hear about in law school, of billable hour requirements. I have no requirements for billable hours. Based on a formula, what I bring in, I earn. Simple, and lets me determine my level of insanity and workload. The space. The associates working in several in a quad-cubicle (I have a friend that started in this arrangement in a firm in Detroit. I was given my own office, that if I ever get around to furnishing, has enough room for a monster desk, a built in book case, extra storage cabinets, along with a love seat (again, if I ever decide to furnish beyond the desk and bookcase). The difference in technology. These large firms that provide company phones, smart phones for instant communication, high tech legal software for the computer. We don't subscribe to either Lexis or Westlaw, using the free service of Casemaker through the State Bar Association (works pretty well really). The computer in my office was bought over six years ago and has little hope of replacement until it crashes, we don't use voicemail due to the age of our phone system and wiring, have no internal network connecting the computers, and one of the partners here doesn't use email or own a cell phone. There are obviously, many, many more, obviously including the substantial difference in starting salary and potential salary.

In saying this, I don't intend to suggest that one experience/career is better than the other. They're just different. But my reflection leads to me, personally, to be grateful that this is where I ended up. Its part of my continuing realization that a big town would probably not work for me in many ways, and one way is that a large town and large firm (I know those don't always go hand in hand - but when I entered law school that crossed my mind, particularly when you start thinking about paying off student loans), would not be a good work experience for me. The experience requires a dedication to the job, that frankly, I don't want. Its not to say that I couldn't do if I had to, because I can and would, if that's what available and was required. But in my mind, it requires a dedication that almost makes you obsessed in part by your job, always thinking about it, everything centered around it and scheduled based on it. In other words, I think it trends towards making one defined by the job.

And I didn't want to be defined by whatever my job was, I wanted to be defined by things in my family and my community, not the occupation chosen to pay the bills. Thus, my experience with a small firm in a small city has been a huge blessing, because it allows me to pursue my other interests, allows me to even have other interests, allows me to avoid consumption by an occupation that can truly eat you up and spit you out in a few years if you're not careful.

I enjoy reading. It's always nice to read a quick read book like a Clancy or Grisham or some other popular author. It's nice when the book hits a chord, and makes you realize that you have much to be thankful for in your own life.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Book Thoughts: April 1865

Finished April 1865 about a week ago, and really wanted to share some thoughts about it as I found the book very interesting. I haven't read a great deal of books about the American Civil War. Most of my U.S. history reading has been limited to post-revolutionary / constitutional era, so it was a bit a venture into a new topic.

Maybe due to this previous light reading, I found the book incredibly informative. The author packs a great deal of information about the events of this month that its almost impossible to walk away from the book without an appreciation for how pivotal 30 days can be in a nation's development and history. You have the surrender of Robert Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the assassination of Lincoln, the attempted assassinations of Andrew Johnson (Vice President) and William Seward (Secretary of State), the abandonment of the Confederate capital Richmond by Jefferson Davis, and General Joe Johnston's disobedience of Jefferson Davis, who called for continued fighting and rebellion, when he decided to surrender his army in North Carolina to Sherman. All in thirty days. Absolutely incredible.

Another facet of the author's approach that was particularly fascinating is the amount of biographical details you receive about the major actors involved. In addition to the information just about the actual historical events of April of 1865, there is essentially several mini-biographies included. There is quick but thorough research and discussion of Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, U.S. Grant, Gen. Joe Johnston, Gen. William Sherman, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and John Wilkes Booth. Winik's research and articulation of each of these pivotal actors in the close of the Civil War is thorough, enlightening, and fascinating.

Winik's writing style allows all this information to come through without appearing burdensome or boring. I believe it a great attribute of his writing skill that he was able to present so much historical information in a manner that was interesting and easy to read. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the Civil War, either as a reader with little to no information about this event in U.S. history, or as a reader that has read many books about it. Its definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the father of my dog

Things have been kind of hectic lately, not allowing just some good old fashioned down time for blogging. As Jackie put it here, its not for a lack of excitement. I think she hit on the big things thus far, new car purchase and Ellie's surgery. There have been other things I have been meaning to blog about, finished a couple more books and had some thoughts to share, possibly an update on the whole weight loss goals I mentioned previously, and maybe even a post about feeling a bit over saturated with connectivity (FB, Twitter, Blog, etc.), or maybe overwhelmed. But, that will all have to wait for another time.

Today was Ellie's surgery. As some may know, our 9 month puppy was diagnosed with Femoral Head Necrosis a few weeks back. As I understand it, for one reason or another, blood flow was not getting to her back left leg, causing the tissue and bone to eventually die off. Her condition was not severe, but it would only get worse, devolving into bone on bone contact and a lot of pain. Thus, the surgery, which, according to the Vet this morning, will remove the forming of the joint as it is dying off, and smooth the top of the femur to reduce any bone on bone contact, and eventually scar tissue will form a false joint. That leg, which already a tad bit shorter than the other hind leg, will now be noticeably shorter. While the surgery is not too serious (it doesn't involve heart or kidneys or brain), its still a serious leg/hip surgery, with the Vet referring to it as a "salvage procedure" to rescue what's left, I suppose.

As I was driving down to Fort Wayne this morning, with Ellie visibly nervous as she sensed this was not normal operating procedure, I wondered how this would feel if it was my child instead of my dog. These feelings tend to naturally arise, in part because I view dogs as family members, and thus have paternal feelings towards Ellie, and in part because Jackie and I want children, and the prospect of parenthood is something we desire and hope for. However, as I don't currently have kids, I can only imagine what this would feel like, taking your infant or toddler (for equivalency purposes) to a surgery, and trusting doctors and nurses to do what their training has trained them to do. I imagine the doubts and worries, that we all bury deep within us, would be more nagging on the day of, more nervewracking in the hours and minutes before handing over your loved one.

What I kept thinking about Ellie was that I wish I could make her understand what was happening. At least with a young, school age child, you could have a discussion, you could at least attempt to make the general concept of what was happening known, i.e., something's not working right and this will fix it. With an infant and toddler, you couldn't do that, and in our situation, we could not do that with our Ellie. And while I truly and genuinely think it would so much tougher with a child than a dog, I have to admit that those worries left my shut cellar door somewhere inside me and came to the forefront of my mind this morning as I was dropping Ellie off for her surgery. It wasn't a matter of trust with the Vet (because we have a lot of trust with that particular vet office, particularly with our last dog), its just the worry that something could go wrong because, well, things go wrong all the time, sometimes for no particular reason, that's life. But I imagine much of it is the paternal feelings manifesting themselves, the urge to protect and care for my loved one, our pet, and the knowing that I have done all that I can, and I need to rely on someone else to finish that care.

It invokes simultaneous feelings of helplessness and humbleness. Its the realization that all I can do is have the surgery done, and hope that the surgeon's skills is a gift to our dog and helps. Its the realization that even for those that you love and feel charged to protect and care, there are points in the process where you are helpless and its out of your control, where you need someone else's special gifts to help find a remedy. And that realization leads to humbleness. The humility that comes from these situations, where our interdependence with one another as a community seems to hit you on the head. The humility that comes from knowing completely your own helplessness and inability to complete a task (surgery), and finding someone else that has the talent, skill, and gift to help in the exact manner you need it.

My sense of faith, be it as full of doubt as it tends to be, has always felt a strong pull to the idea of interdependence, the concept of one family, one body so to speak, all working together, utilizing our differing gifts. In a situation when you are in complete reliance, and putting full faith, in someone else's special gifts, that interdependence, that connectedness we all share as we live out our common journeys in this world, truly hits home. It's at points like those that our frailty, our weaknesses, and most importantly our inherent limitations are easily recognizable; and in me, it creates humility deep within me, and simple awe at the sheer volume of ways we can help our fellow beings.

(btw, the Vet called and said Ellie did fine with the surgery, and we should be picking her up this evening).