Power Elite = Total Conceit?

Since I got to law school, the idea of being a member of the ‘power elite’ has been tossed around liberally.  It makes sense in some ways.  I’ve totally already achieved.  I’ve proven I have a brain and know how to use it just by getting into a good school.  And law is one of those prestigious things to study.  But recent events have intruded to make me again aware of how this prestige can turn well-meaning people into…people who aren’t very nice.

To illustrate, I will give a totally unrelated example.  While I was still working as an administrative assistant, I met a man who we will name Mr. Mandolin.  In the course of our conversation together on a variety of interesting and diverse topics, I somewhat self-deprecatingly mentioned my job at that time.  He responded that he knew several admins, and that the job was a ‘necessary’ one, so I shouldn’t sell myself short.  He didn’t quite add that I could be replaced by a barrel of monkeys, but the implication was there.  Something in my face – perhaps the raised eyebrows, or the half-choked laughter – told him I thought he was being less than gentlemanly.  He quickly and angrily exclaimed that he wasn’t blanking conceited, which pretty much ended our conversation.

I’ve been in the real-life working world where people are not nice.  I’ve been in the rush-around-stressful East Coast business environment.  I studied four years as an architecture student.  I’ve been an admin who had to interact with bigwigs.  I think I have a pretty firm handle on pretension and how much egotism is actually warranted and how much I want to interact with swelled heads in my daily and professional life.

I am a realist.  I know that there’s always going to be someone who thinks they’re brighter/better/faster than me.  and I know that sometimes the idealists are the worst of the bunch.  Still, I chose a law school that was more laid back because I knew that’s the kind of environment I want to be in after I actually pass the bar.  I chose a law school with some ideals, so that I would be someplace where everyone knows there’s more to law school than backbiting competition, and that there’s more to the world than law school.  Still, I have this sinking feeling at the moment that perhaps that wasn’t enough.

I was fortunate enough in my last job to be in the kind of working environment I want to inspire and promote in others.  I had a good boss, now I want to be a good boss.  And so far most of my fellow students are the kind of good people I want to work with.  But I can already pick out those who will be less than comfortable to work with, and this worries me.  We still have years left of disillusionment and ideal-crushing stress, so those numbers are only going to increase.  So at the end of that time, am I still going to be the lawyer who realizes some admins are brilliant and that all people deserve respect and that social bonding and genuine care in the workplace increases employee dedication and work effort, or am I going to lose the half-wisdom I’ve so far gained?

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Doctorspeak

There was a short story someone once wrote which began with a yearly checkup at a doctors office for a 20-something girl.  In it, the doctor states that she will grow three inches and only fall in love once.  I have no idea what happened to, or in,  this story.  I encountered it as part of a writer’s workshop and the writer had not yet finished it at the time we read the first sections.  Still, the idea was intriguing – not only that a woman would grow at such an astounding rate in her later years, but that both her height and her heart were things predictable, were outcomes to be expected rather than hidden and unknowable futures.

I doubt that it is really possible for us to tell how much someone will grow.  I’m sure there are tests that can be done – on the growing spaces of our young bones, or in our calcium intake – and some reliable predictions might be made about our eventual height based on our family histories and statistical modeling.  But to truly anticipate a rapid spurt of growth seems somewhat fantastical and odd.  Still, it is possibly knowable within the realm of science.

At times I wish the other was.  At times, i would like to be able to say, based on my condition in life, my natural inclinations, my personality and my appearance, I will fall in love X number of times and then be done with the whole mess.  Whether that mess would end on a positive note or not would, of course, be entirely up to fate, but the idea of accurate predictions in such situations is reassuring.  But then, that takes something away as well.  Some of the magic of certain moments, the vitality of two people interacting in unknown proportions, would be drain away by reliable individual statistics.  Sure, there are numbers that say X many relationships or marriages fail, but that’s not quite the same as saying an individual or a certain group is more likely to fall in love a certain number of times.  On the whole, I think I like that variability.  It allows for the freedom of movement of the heart.

Creepers

I’m a fan of the slightly spooky.  A full moon on a chilly night or an abandoned house in disrepair appeal to me at some level.  I like those spooky sounds tapes available for Halloween at the public library.  It may even be a genetic condition – one of my sisters likes to refer to herself as ‘Queen Creepster’.  Occasionally however real life situations are a little too creepy for me.  Take, for instance, the recent discovery of yet another foot in BC.  This one washed up along the Fraser River.

What’s really spooky about the whole situation is not the fact of a foot in a shoe but separated from a body.  I mean, it probably was pretty creepy to find the shoe, but a dead foot is not the spookiest thing I can think of.  The creep factor for me really comes in with the origin of the feet.  These weren’t feet that were hacked off – they supposedly came off the bodies through a natural decomposition process.  The question for em is just where all these decomposing bodies came from.  it’s not like they’ve had that long to decompose – the shoe models were from 1999-2004.  And it’s not like these are shoes washing in from a known burial site – all of them are athletic shoes, which is not what people are typically buried in.  What makes it creepy is that somewhere out there are the lost and unclaimed bodies of those we cannot identify and may never know.  Their families and loved ones may never know what happened to them, or where their final resting place may be – even if a foot or two is positively identified.  The unknown, as always, is the creepiest thing there is.

The occasional fall day.

This morning dawned clear and unfortunately cold.  Not that I have anything against autumn – it’s my favorite season in fact – but the more icy portions of it I don’t find appealing.  I’d rather stay securely under the covers, thank you.  Today was one of those days that was just brisk enough to make me want to linger in warmth.

But at this time of year, the colder days are the clear ones.  Autumn provides some of the best times for stargazing.  In the colder air, without clouds to obscure and warm the earth, the heavens open up.  Amazement reigns.  And if we are lucky, we might gain a little perspective and understanding. Of course, most of the days are overcast, but I think this serves make the clear ones more stunning, more memorable.

For me it is often a time for reflection.  In particular this year it has been so.  The stress of applying to schools and deciding what I want (for the rest of my life) has been painfully coupled with the loss of a relationship which I thought was secure, throwing my choices even further into doubt.  I’ve felt very lost about many things, and regaining my balance has proved more difficult than I initially anticipated.  Friendships, more often than not, have felt the strain.

To remember who you are is to begin to know who you want to be and how to move forward.  I’ve spent time thinking about things I thought I’d left behind.  I’ve thought about the idea that making a life with someone else was a key towards what I wanted, that a steady companionship or a passionate love were the two options for where I wanted to be in my relationship with someone. I’ve begun to realize – emotionally, not just intellectually – that either option is not enough.  That even both combined is not enough.  I think of Tony, and him trying to do Teach for America after graduation, and his move into a job, any job, when that failed.  I think of Mike, and his one-time medical goals and his current doubts about what he will do with his life.  I think of Abe, lost somewhere in the wilds of West Virginia accomplishing – hopefully – something lasting.  And with sudden clarity, I feel balanced again, as if I begin to know what it is I want.

One way or another.

I’ve never been a big fan of conservation.  The idea that all land should be put to good use has a certain pride inherent in it to my mind.  Who are we to say that our judgment of use is the correct one?  And, since conservation is not an exact science, how do we know we aren’t damaging the natural landscape, rather than protecting it?

A current example is the idea on the table to move endangered species to new habitats to preserve them from extinction.  While I mourn the extinction of any species, I wonder at the validity of the idea.  Obviously, those presenting it are aware of the difficulties inherent in such movement – species interaction in the new setting, and choosing between which species are saved, as well as the actual logistics of the movement.  But what happens when climate change or human encroachment threatens this same species again?  What happens, when despite our best intentions and most rigorous science, we make a mistake and destroy the ecology of a region?

It is time, and past time, to reject stopgap measures and really choose how far we are willing to push the world habitat.  We’re breeding like bunnies and taking over resources left and right  – how many species are worth that reckless expansion and waste?  I am human, and as such, I would have to say I would choose the life of a child over that of a puppy, or turtle, or rare endangered warbling crane.  But how far am I willing to to push that choice?

Walking the fire.

Anyone who’s ever been around a campfire knows you can only stand so close. There is a point at which the flames sear and scald instead of warming. There is an unseeable edge of heat that begins to crackle the skin, wrinkling flesh with dryness. It’s just beyond this edge, not quite touching the flame, where marshmallows roast to perfection and darkening ash whirls outwards quickly. It’s the place where sneakers begin to melt instead of drying, where wet woolen mittens cringe rather than shrink. It’s this space that makes your face morph from flushed to blistering.

Standing in this space is a constant battle. You lean in, you feel your face get brittle. You lean out and the night begins to chill you. You kind of hover, and in-out-in motion that keeps your nerve endings jangling. Then there’s a gust of wind, a blast of sparks, or a new swirl of smoke that makes the fire edge uninhabitable, at least momentarily.

I come from a long line of stubborn hard-nosers with raging tempers on both sides.   It is this fact that makes my own life – my relationships, my career choices, my moral code, and my lifestyle – its own edge of fire.  I dance at the edges of other people, flitting only close enough to be slightly warmed or a little flushed.  I have yet to fully commit to a single career path, leaning in or out in one direction or another as I circle the potential brightness of future jobs.  I edge a narrow line of responsibility and freedom.

It’s true that most of us act in a similar fashion.  Most of us just dance at the edges of life.  Most of us are afraid of the bad burns, the scarring, the pain, and the possible loss that fire causes.  But there are some few – fire eaters, hot coal walkers, special effects technicians and stunt men – that master the delicate balance of heat and burning, flame and ash.  I wonder if my life would be fuller if I learned to walk the fire, instead of tentatively bordering it.

Memory misplaced.

I like to go for long walks.  I like to go for long walks and discover secret things.  Some of the things are secrets of space:  the half-hidden trestle footbridge near the Belmont commuter rail stop, or the rocky and secluded outcrop of pines above a trail at McCormick’s Creek State Park.  Other secret remainders are more portable – the forgotten glove or shoe, a half-inflated dodge ball, the gnarled twists of wood and metal left from an old picnic table or porch swing.  Each secret is a story you will never know the entirety of.  Each place or object is a part of your own secret story, that you choose to disclose or keep hidden from the world.

There can be a sense of loss with these items.  Someone has a lonely glove.  Someone else may have lost the disposable camera that could have kept past memories fresh for them.  Others, with time and change, may lose their favorite space to think, or just to be.  Now however there are internet sites dedicated to the reunification of people and those things they’ve lost.  There’s something unique and inspiring to rediscovering these lost things, even for the discoverer.  Here, at last, is a chance to know a bit about what stories these things might hold.  It is a chance to know a portion of the tale of the lost notebook or the tale of the misplaced monocle.  And it gives the loser the chance to regain some moment of their past, or even possibly some useful part of their current lives.  It is something precious, whether rediscovered or found for the first time.

Salem, in Kenya.

One of the early black marks of colonists in the US are the Salem with trials.  A few adolescent girls accused powerful and upstanding members of the community of witchcraft.  Instead of reacting with sense, the community reacted with fear and envy, basically tearing the tightly-woven community apart.  Why did it happen?  Why, in some cases, can small communities deal with petty rivalries and power in the hands of a few, but in others demand retribution for every imagined crime?  Why do some situations allow for this dysfunction, and others root it out, tree and branch?  If such a small community can tear itself apart, what hope is there for any nation attempting to function as a united whole?

When people live together in close proximity, those people need certain outlets for the accumulated stress of living.  The criminal justice system, the civil courts, the right to assemble and speak and protest, unions, campaigns, boycotts, and lobbying are all modern outlets that we use to vent our grievances against our fellow man and living with him in a society.  Other societies have other means, including ritual, religion, tradition, exorcism, shamanic practices, and even witchcraft.  These different means are not necessarily better or worse than our own.  Sometimes, they fail – murderers we cannot catch, the criminally insane, an angry mob that kills suspected witches because of envy, greed, and malice rather than evidence.  But I do not think such failures render the system invalid.

For the most part, it seems that members of the community in Western Kenya recognize a crime has been committed.  They recognize that these accused and killed ‘witches’ were most likely nothing of the sort.  They realize that there are vendettas being carried out in the name of witch hunts.  But they are not willing to give up on the system as faulty quite yet.  One of the families of a victim continues to play by the rules in abandoning the home of the accused witch though they know she had done nothing wrong.  It remains a bad luck sort of place, and they are willing to let that go to maintain order in the community.  A nearby shaman also has encouraged others to speak to him of suspected witches, so that they can be dealt with appropriately.  Hopefully there will be a societal push to deal with some of the underlying vendetta, striking to the core of struggles over increasing poverty, a lack of land, and the general struggle to survive.  If not, this community may tear itself apart as well.

4 packets of biscuits and a pair of flip flops

Flood.  Famine.  Earthquake.  Disaster.  It seems that in recent news, the world is tearing itself apart.  In some cases, such as the earthquake and related destruction in China, relief has been quick and a source of a revival of nationalism.  In others, such as Burma, the crisis is complicated by other political motivations.

What does it mean when a family of 14, is apportioned “4 packets of biscuits and a pair of flip flops’ as one of the lucky families winning aid from the government from the drawing instituted by the local headman?  What does it mean when villagers outside Rangoon survive on the charity of those within the city, rather than the direct aid being sent in by humanitarian organizations? We can talk about relative power, we can talk about foreign aid not getting where it’s supposed to be going, we can talk about various international perspectives on Burma’s military junta and what to do about it.  We could even write a book.  None of these discussions would come close to explaining who we are, or why we are mean to each other, occasionally even despite our best intentions.

A Tribute to Heath Ledger

I was sad to hear yesterday about this actor’s death. I don’t feel the drama that most people seem to feel about it, but I do feel something. Maybe it is the lass of the on-screen charisma that many remember and love. Maybe it’s the lack of this hot-hot actor just a year older than me in any upcoming new films. I’m not sure, but it is a fleeting thing, not like the screaming annoyance I felt at the cancellation of one of my favorite TV shows back in 1997. Stupid Fox.

In the wake of his death, there have been conflicting reports, various statements by those close to him, and a variety of resources being published to both remember this actor and address the issues concerning his death.  A collection and analysis of the reporting snafus can be found here.  If you want up-to-the-minute information, check here.  As for me, what I’d really like to address is my beginnings with Heath, which were also the beginnings of his career, at least in the United States.

It seems I have a  history of loving those television shows that are doomed to failure.  Sure, i don’t mind watching the occasional episode of shows like Heroes or Battlestar Galactica.  And Friends and Seinfeld reruns are good once in a while as well. But the shows I seem really drawn to, that I HAVe to watch every week, are doomed to a few seasons at most.  Take Pretender, that wonder-of-wonders with Michael T. Weiss!  Not only is it addictive plot-wise, but you can get caught up just in the man’s extreme facial expressions.  Now that’s acting!

With Heath, it was that non-hit TV show, Roar.  He was a cutie worth following even then, and his Celts knew it.  For those who don’t understand the greatness, the wikipedia summary is here.   Basically, this was a show to end all shows – and it didn’t get all the way through its first season.  Why?  People are dumb.  It’s the only underlying law of human nature.

With the end of Heath comes the end of any hope of rekindling the Roar tradition, and for that I am especially sad.  I am grateful to discover the existence of Roar: The Complete Series, including the episodes that were not aired in the US, but that will never replace the fullness of what might have been in the rest of this actor’s young life.  And I think the types of shows he was involved in early show who he truly was as an actor.  They were not the most popular shows, or the most well-developed ones.  But his character still had something that we needed and loved on the screen – perhaps is was his humanness.  I hope that was something he didn’t lose, even in the end.

I leave you with a quote from the flickfilosopher: “It’ll be quite a while before we know how Ledger died, but I’m not sure I believe that there’s truly such a thing as an accidental drug overdose. I hope I’m wrong about that. Because it’s hard to imagine that someone so gifted and with, clearly, so much further still to go could imagine that life is not worth living.”