Thursday, March 24, 2011

I know a place, I'll take you there

Wow. I'm not really sure how to sum up my Spring Break this year, so I'll just stick to "Wow." Russell and I headed south for a family reunion on my mother's side, which may not sound too "wow"-inducing, but if you had the biggest, loudest, most talented, fun, drunken family in Northern Alabama, you would understand.
Our week started with a couple of quiet days with my amazing Nana, whose 75th birthday was one of the reasons for the reunion, and the trickle of relatives coming into town early like we did. We slept well, ate well, sat around chatting and doing nothing a lot, and spent an afternoon wandering the cute downtown area by ourselves. The weather was absurdly perfect, and it stayed that way as the stream of relatives turned into a rush and the lazy part of the trip came to a close.

On Thursday, more relatives having shown up, we shared a big dinner at the house my aunt and uncle took over from Nana after my grandfather passed away. On Friday, a family friend who runs the incredible Muscle Shoals Sound Studio took Russell for his first tour of the place where everything from "Brown Sugar," "Wild Horses," and "Layla" to "Torn Between Two Lovers" was recorded in the 1970s (and the Black Keys' award-winning "Brothers" was made last year.) Like everyone who goes for the first time, Russell had chills and couldn't quit grinning all day.

That night, our numbers swelled to at least 50 as friends from the area joined in a belated Saint Patrick's Day celebration. The loud singing, joking, fountain of Irish cream (literally), and rounds of shots lasted into the wee hours. But we were at it again the following afternoon, when the grandkids put on a musical revue in Nana's honor, leaving not a dry eye in the giant backyard. Even Russell joined in to sing "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" with my male cousins and cousins-in-law. And as that party stretched into the evening as well, the local police actually showed up to warn us about the noise! I don't know many people who can say the cops were called on their grandmother's 75th birthday party, so I'm pretty proud.

It's back to the daily grind now, and putting the appropriate emphasis on school is even more difficult after such a fun time. (I've been meaning to explain why it's difficult in general, but I should get to work on a paper, so I'll just say that a couple of my classes this semester are less than satisfying. Not necessarily a bad thing, since it will surely help me let go of this otherwise amazing place in just a few short weeks, but it's never fun being disappointed. More details later, I promise.) For now, as I always seem to be saying, I should be able to get by on the memory of having such a blast and the hope of doing it again before long.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The best kind of surprise

Well, the MPRE is over, which is mostly a relief. But the number of things I put off until afterward and now have to do, plus the many deadlines that have always been looming on the other side and now seem to be coming up impossibly soon, is pretty daunting. I have to make some long-overdue posts to the Law & Mind blog for tonight's seminar. I have to get graduation announcements under control or else my relatives are going to start wondering if I plan to finish law school after all. Spring Break is going to be awesome, but I have to turn in another response paper for my class on The Wire almost the moment I get back, and the final draft of a paper for Law & Social Movements is due a few days later. And I have to start thinking seriously about the big, final papers for three of my classes, or I'm going to look up soon and only have two weeks to finish all 50+ pages of them.
I think I'm inclined to fixate on these things, whether or not I can even do anything about them today, just because they're so much more of a reality all of a sudden. But what I really want to tell you about is Saturday, the actual day of the MPRE, which I had barely expected even to be a good day but which turned out so perfect that just thinking about it helps to offset all these obligations and anxieties really nicely.

I'll start the story on Friday, when I wrapped up some work at TAP around 4 p.m. and headed to our local grocer to shop for a study date with Russell. In exchange for his help preparing for the MPRE, I had promised him a smorgasbord of junk food of his choice, which turned out to be beer, Cheetos, and homemade cookies. I added pizza for dinner on my own behalf, lugged these things home just in time for Russell to arrive from work, and got started baking. He quizzed me out loud for the next few hours while we both pigged out - a good trade, I think.

On Saturday, I was happy to find that at least the logistics of the exam weren't as bad as they could have been. Back when we all registered, a lot of Harvard people found there weren't enough spots at the testing center at our own school, so we had been bumped to Boston University School of Law. I was one of three friends in my neighborhood in this situation, so we agreed to share a cab from a midpoint between our houses - something I rarely do, but BU is about 15 minutes away by cab and more than 45 by public transport. All that went surprisingly smoothly, especially because at 45 degrees and not too wet or windy, the weather more or less obliged. And then the exam was just what I'd been told to expect: pretty difficult, but not worth freaking out over, because the curve is so generous that to pass often requires barely half of your answers to be correct.

Back in Cambridge after the test, we met a large group of friends for brunch at the usual student haunt, Cambridge Common. Several had just finished testing at Harvard, but others had taken the MPRE in November and were just there for support. There was some rehashing of the test, but a lot more totally unrelated, raucous laughter. What a great way to decompress.

Afterward, Russell and I took the subway downtown to run a very important errand. I won't bore you with the details, but I'll say that this turned into one of those really exceptional customer service experiences, the kind that change a task that is mostly a source of anxiety into a cherished memory. Literally, we were so blown away by the humor and forthcomingness of the person helping us, we may never forget what he did for our afternoon.

However, this guy was also incredibly quick at his job, sending us back into the streets of downtown Boston in just a fraction of the time we had allowed ourselves for the errand. It was not yet 3 p.m., and we had nothing to do until our 5 p.m. dinner plans in the North End with a dear friend who is soon moving away. So we wandered around some of the stores in Downtown Crossing, where Russell got a steal on a new brown belt and some undershirts and, stumbling on a hidden cache of the Polish Pottery my mom uses in her kitchen, I bought three things for her at a terrific bargain. Then we started winding our way toward the North End.

First, we passed Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, where Russell was able to recall a bunch of interesting historical facts I knew nothing about, having been out of town when his parents visited a few months ago and he took them to all the tourist spots. Then we somehow wandered into the New England Holocaust Memorial, which I had no idea even existed, right out on Congress Street across from the bars and fishmongers. Unexpected as it was, it completely took my breath away, and I now consider it unmissable if you're ever in the area. Also, Russell is so great with things like that - he held my hand tightly and took his time reading every plaque, then wanted to talk about it for a while afterward, which I'm sure is the memorial's intent most of all.

Soon after, we reached Haymarket Station, where we were due to meet our friend. We were still early, so we squeezed into the completely chaotic public market to take a look at the shouting vendors offering fish, meat, and produce at rock-bottom prices. The noise and crowds were a bit jarring after the memorial, but it also made me laugh to see life going on in all its vibrancy so close by. I was in a great mood and telling Russell all the latest law school gossip by the time we curved back around to meet our friend.

The three of us wandered through the North End, enjoying the atmosphere at dusk and checking out menus on different restaurant doors, until we picked a place called Piccola Venezia. The food was very traditional, but great - I ate the fluffiest, most melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi of my life in a simple, rustic red sauce while Russell and our friend enjoyed fried calamari and ziti with broccoli and spinach. We shared the latest news about various mutual friends, compared notes on some recent medical drama in our families, and generally had a great going-away meal. Then Russell and I headed home to drop off leftovers before going to campus for the HLS Parody, an annual student-run musical lampoon I insisted on seeing since I had missed it the two previous years.

When we first arrived, I was devastated to see the show already underway, because it turns out I had been mistaken about the start time. But a friend encouraged us to stay, and I'm so glad we did, because there were over two hours of great material still left to see. As I announced on Facebook the next day, the highlight of the evening was definitely "Cambridge Blows," to the tune of Nina Simone's "Feelin' Good," performed as a strip tease where after removing 5-6 layers of clothes the dancers were still in jeans and sweaters. But plenty of other moments were nearly that great. It was the perfect ending to a spectacular Saturday.

Of course, Sunday wasn't too shabby either. I spent nearly the whole day in bed, first watching George Clooney in "The American" on Netflix and eating leftover pizza with Russell, then getting some things done for school. For dinner, we headed to a friend's house for the best Chinese take-out any of us had ever had, and we finally learned to play Settlers of Catan, the game all our nerdiest friends had been (not wrongly, it turns out) raving about for years.

I'm back at school today, and although it's sunny in my window seat at the law library right now, the weather is supposed to suck a lot this week. Not to mention that all those deadlines I'm facing aren't looming any less than if I'd had a rotten weekend. But hopefully, with all this fun to look back on, I can survive all that until the next wonderful surprise comes along.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


No, seriously, it's getting really old. Early spring is the worst time for my seasonal issues anyway - there seems to be some cumulative effect after the long winter that the longer days can't reverse all at once - so all the bundling up and trudging through the snow and taking lukewarm showers because the water heater is on overdrive running the radiators is pretty much adding insult to injury. The effort it takes me to do basic things is unreal. I was so proud to have washed dishes, sent a bunch of e-mails, and ordered a passport photo for my admission ticket to the MPRE this morning. Studying for that thing is going to be a whole other story.


In other news, I've managed to make more progress toward my obscenely high paper-writing page count this semester: I wrapped up another five-pager for Law and Social Policy last week and a seven-pager for Law and Social Movements this Monday. It's funny to type out both those class names and be reminded that they're so similar, when the classes themselves couldn't be more different.

Unfortunately, those papers were just two of the many balls in the air for me right now, from a meeting for TAP tonight, another for my journal tomorrow, and this MPRE business on Saturday to planning for graduation, signing for a bar loan, and getting health insurance for this summer. I'm definitely banking on my experience so far in law school that no matter how much it seems like things will never fall into place in time, they usually do.

But in case all this sounds too depressing, I want to highlight a couple of things that are GREAT in my life right now! The first is my upcoming trip to Alabama for a reunion with my mom's fabulous family. Russell is coming along, and it will be his first time seeing the family's home base in a cluster of little towns on the Tennessee River, not to mention meeting my zillions of great-aunts, great-uncles, and second cousins, all as loud and raucous as you could possibly want, who will be converging there. I'm so excited and ready for this break from school and the cold, I can hardly stand it.

The second great thing, which I've been meaning to share here for a long time, is the Law and Mind Blog I've been working on for my Monday night seminar at school. Almost all the assignments for this class are blog posts; each week the professor takes volunteers to post about the reading, connecting the reading to current events or other fields of study, or about any other mind science topic we like. Don't be turned off by the jargon in some of the titles - the result is a pretty cool assortment of silly and serious takes on how our psychology influences our lives and our laws. I really hope you'll check it out - especially the post I wrote about Born This Way, whose creator commented to thank me for my thoughtful discussion!

So it's not all work and crappy weather. Mostly, but not all. (: