Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Into the swing

It's finally here: the first week of my last year of law school. Classes start Wednesday, but to pick up textbooks, course packets, and a check from financial aid, I went up to campus yesterday for the first time since May.
Langdell Hall was decked out in crimson banners for 1L Orientation, and the trees on Holmes Field were impossibly huge and green compared with the crunchy dryness of Texas plant life this time of year. It was wonderful to be back and totally bizarre to think it would only last eight more months. I was literally looking forward to the reunions already.

Of course, not every part of my day went smoothly. I got to Financial Services only to realize I had never filled out some necessary Web form and would need to do so, then wait two hours for them to process it, before I could pick up my check. Luckily, I ran into a friend who also needed to go textbook shopping, so we did that in the meantime. I was happy to see that my Administrative Law class uses the same book I already bought for 1L Legislation and Regulation, but less pleased when the "abridged" version of the Internal Revenue Code I needed for Taxation was still thicker than my fist. In hindsight, I guess I was naive for expecting otherwise.

On the bright side, my new schoolbag proved itself worthy by carrying half my haul back to campus very comfortably. But I was still pretty hot and sweaty when I got back to Financial Services, where my check wasn't quite ready yet. Unlike heating in winter, air conditioning in summer isn't something folks in Cambridge always get right. So I continued to sweat while waiting and catching up with several classmates who were doing the same.

To clarify, this check contains the balance on my student loans and grants after tuition, student health insurance, and some other fees are paid. Harvard takes what it's owed and gives you the remainder, in my case around $10,800, for living expenses (which are an acceptable purpose for education loans - who knew? This was all Greek to me when I started at Harvard, since my parents were able to pay for undergrad at my relatively cheap state school with no help from financial aid. But by now it's old hat.)

Once the check was finally ready and I deposited it at my credit union in the Square, I couldn't help but lug all my books to the new Anthropologie on Brattle Street to shop. It felt SO GOOD to have money again after my incredibly cash-strapped summer. I didn't buy anything, but being able to try on several things in earnest was a breath of fresh air on a hot, sticky day.

I also wanted to pick out a good notebook, since laptops won't be allowed in 2-3 of my classes this semester, but for once my favorite stationery store let me down. There are other good places to try, like the enormous school-supply floor of the COOP, but I decided to go back when I didn't have half my weight in case books in tow. So I headed home to cool off, watch some Buffy, make tofu with couscous and generally enjoy one of these last lazy nights with Russell.

With that stuff out of the way, today should be a little more fun. Some friends are having a picnic on Cambridge Common in a few hours, so I'm about to get cleaned up and put together a lunch to bring to that. And tonight I have a shopping date with Anush at a classy little mall we like near MIT, which should take care of the last of my back-to-school needs. I may just be ready to start this last year of law school out right.... Gulp.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

School bag perfection

I mentioned before that one of my important back-to-school rituals is finding the right bag to carry to class all year. I think it's funny what an evolved and complicated process this has become, so I thought I might share.

It all started the first week of 1L year, when I realized just how much I would need to haul up and down the street every day for nine months. I'd assumed that some existing purse of mine would work - they were all pretty huge since I'd refused to carry a separate laptop bag throughout undergrad - but now my thinnest textbooks were twice as thick as my computer and could only fit in a couple of the most gigantic bags I owned.

Unfortunately, all of these happened to be in bright printed fabrics that clashed badly and obviously with a lot of my clothing (partly because I'm a vegetarian and try not to buy leather, and such is the style of many bags that aren't.) So I spent the first week of school only using them when I could find clothes that somewhat matched, and otherwise I showed up to class with numb arms and a distinct junior-high appearance from carrying a stack of books outside my too-small purse. I also repeatedly forgot things in the switch, leaving my highlighter or Bluebook or Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the wrong bag just in time to need them.

Needless to say, I put a stop to this the first chance I got. Aware that other students with this same problem had decided a backpack was the only solution, I strongly considered one of those. But every time I tried on a friend's, I felt like an idiot. Other people didn't seem to look like preteen geeks or wannabe hikers in them, but I couldn't quit feeling that way myself. Also, they made it kind of difficult to breathe. Maybe my years of using purses for my laptop had trained my body to want to haul weight on just one side.

So I marched into my favorite stationery store in the Square, where I'd seen great big tote bags hanging from the ceiling. I picked out a shiny apple-green one in quilted vinyl, happy that it was vegan and reasoning that unlike black or brown, it wouldn't cause a mismatch when I wore one or the other. I was in love after just a few days of class, and even for socializing I barely used any other bag all year.

However, come May I was pretty happy to retire it. The thing was threadbare, and anyway I had developed just a couple of complaints I hoped to eliminate for the coming year. With a similarly picky friend, I came up with a list of criteria for my 2L year schoolbag. Carrying over from the first year were:
  • Enormous
  • Not leather
  • Two handles, so I can get into it while carrying it
  • Solid color besides black or brown
But I added for this next time around:
  • Structured enough not to flop around while I put things in it
  • Lining not slippery, so if it falls over all my things won't slide out (say, across the ladies' room floor, because yes this did happen)
  • Looks sharp enough to carry into job interviews if need be
If you think that sounds like a pretty tall order, you're right. It took a few weeks of keeping an eye out on my own, then a few days of intensive searching with my good friend Bella in New York, before I found my perfect bag at the colossal designer discount store Century 21. Made by vegan and earth-friendly designers Matt & Nat and originally priced at something like $325, it cost me $120 and looked like this:

It was worth every penny. It probably would have been if I'd paid full price. It rose to every challenge of a long and tiring school year, and when I took a hard look at it this May, I was very sad to conclude that it had gotten too shabby to carry for another year. But it had served me so well that I couldn't think of a single thing I would change. So I set out shopping with the same list as last year in mind.

And I'm happy to announce that it went much more quickly this time: just one day in Harvard Square (where the best candidates, I was surprised to find, were at Urban Outfitters) and one day in downtown Boston did the trick. My new bag came from DSW, cost $66 with tax, and should hopefully meet every need I have:

There's a song I heard recently - playing over a scene in the Dennis Quaid movie The Rookie, actually, which Russell and I watched the other day over a game of Scrabble and really enjoyed - that made me smile to think of this ridiculous quest I've been on. According to Google, the song is Stuff that Works by Guy Clark, and I recommend it if you understand my pleasure in hard-sought things that work just right.

I know, or at least I hope, that we all have things we're this picky about. Maybe you can use some of my insights if you're headed to law school or some other activity involving very heavy things. Otherwise, I hope you can just share my satisfaction in being picky and having it pay off - again!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jiggity jig

It's weird to think of myself as having come home, when that's the same feeling I overwhelmingly had about returning to Austin to start work back in May. But a lot of this week has felt like a homecoming, too, because some parts of living in Austin did NOT feel like home.
For one thing, I was subletting an apartment, which feels a little like living in someone else's dirt for three months. I doubt I'm actually a cleaner person than the regular tenants, but it can feel that way when someone hasn't prioritized cleaning the things you would never tolerate being dirty (and has probably left spotless some things you don't even notice because you don't care if they're clean.) Before long, I was desperate to get back to my painted countertops, shiny white bathtub, and easily swept and mopped wood floors in Cambridge.

Of course, living without Russell also made Austin feel like another planet. He's so fun and silly that I find it much easier to get bored living alone, or at least to feel unproductive and lazy for taking what he'd probably help me recognize as well-deserved breaks. Plus, it is so much harder to finish groceries before they spoil without him, and there's no way to divide labor so that I'm spared my least favorite household chores while doubling up on the ones he hates but I don't mind. We're such a good match in this sense that he's officially the best roommate I've ever had, and I've had some good ones. It's so great to be living with him again.

And Ramona! Smart kitty, she recognized me from the moment I walked through the door (which we weren't really sure she would) and ever since has been every bit the fun companion I remembered. Russell is right that she mellowed a little over the summer, which the vet did say would start happening on the other side of two years old. So she's been more affectionate and tolerant than when I left her, which is great, but she still has distinct bad moods when she wanders the apartment literally grumbling and whining. Hilarious, but it's best to stay a few feet away when it's happening.

So I'm settling in, and I've already checked off some important back-to-school duties like finding a weekly planner and a school bag for this year. Russell and I joined a classmate for brunch this morning, then helped him find a place in Harvard Square that sold water guns so he could stock up for a city-wide water fight this afternoon on Boston Common - I can't wait to ask him how it went. Russell and I were a little more practical and went grocery shopping, which was desperately necessary since he left the kitchen mostly empty (and yet surprisingly messy) before coming to get me in Austin. (I can't blame him, though. Just like my poor record with taking out my trash this summer, I think stocking the fridge was something he had grown accustomed to letting his roommate do.)

Now I have just over a week to enjoy Cambridge and Boston before classes start again, and I plan on milking it. The weather these days rarely tops 80 degrees and is mostly sunny, although we're in for rain tomorrow night. So I'm planning a lot of walks and meals outside, and I may even hit up the beach a time or two - with an Environmental Law or Federal Income Taxation textbook in tow, of course, because it won't be long before those first reading assignments are due. Wish me luck and enjoy the end of your summer!

Sunday, August 8, 2010


It's Sunday morning here in Austin, making it my second completely free day since the end of both my summer internships. I don't know if this will really sink in until tomorrow, though, since I would have had the weekend off anyway.
Things ended well - a few good going-away lunches, some cases closed, others transferred. I was frustrated that unresponsive clients kept me from finishing a few things in the time I was at legal aid, but I know that happens sometimes with clients whose struggle to make ends meet can be even more pressing than their legal situation. C'est la vie.

I also wrapped up a big round of judicial clerkship applications this week - the ones for judges who want paper rather than online applications. They're due to Harvard for mass mailing tomorrow, but I mailed them last Wednesday to be safe and already got delivery confirmation that they arrived. This is a huge load off - for fully half the judges I'm applying to, things are entirely in someone else's hands now. In the coming month, I'll need to upload all the same materials to the online database most federal judges use, but that's a little easier (and less permanent) than the printing, stuffing, and mailing part.

In the meantime, I need to gear up for my good friend's wedding a week from today and the move back to Cambridge two days after that. But I'm feeling a little sluggish: the other bridesmaids and I threw a damn successful bachelorette party Friday night, with so much eating, dancing, hairspray, high heels, and loud karaoke singing involved that even as designated driver I needed a full day to recover.

Today I have a movie date with my mom and one of her friends, and I'm weighing whether I should spend the time beforehand cleaning and doing laundry and making my life feel more in order, or getting out and soaking up some sun. Whichever I don't pick, there will be plenty of time to do tomorrow, which is a nice change of pace from the last ten weeks!