Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Death of a Semester

It is finished.

After completing my second final last week and blog-updating you on the progress, it was back to the grind for yet another fun filled adventure--this one was called Public International Law. Fortunately I had a whole week to prepare for this one. And boy did I ever need it. Day after day passed and I would roll into my bed sometime past midnight, calm in what I thought was a realistic anticipation of everything magically coming together at some point before my Thursday morning final, because, frankly, it always seems to come together in time. That optimism suddenly turned to panic on Wednesday afternoon at exactly 1:47 PM when I sat in a last minute Q & A with 50 of my closest friends and the professor of the course where it finally occurred to me that for exactly 47 minutes people had been discussing the material for a test that could make or break my entire life the next morning and I truly had no clue what was going on. For several minutes at a time I wondered whether people were speaking Hebrew. I just made sure to generally mimic the collective emotion of the class (laugh when they were laughing) so as not to blow my cover over obliviousness. This is a common occurrence for law-school-Eli during the semester but not for day-before-final-Eli who seems to have magically pulled it together by then.

So, despite the great entertainment going on in the row in front of me (Annette, one of my biggest idols and in my top 10 list of smartest people I know, was typing away on her laptop and in true Annette fashion repeating every 14th word that escaped the professor's lips, out loud and in an inquisitive tone, usually followed by a fragment of a joke related to that word; a joke that I can only imagine is utterly brilliant when connected with her thoughts), I quickly gathered my things and sprinted to the fourth floor study area that my friends and I have completely taken over and have recently named "CTU" (we have every intention of renaming it "the clubhouse" when finals are over and we are all allowed to start having fun). I slammed my 600 page case-book on a table and frantically started reading, positive that I was going to get through every page by 8:30 the next morning, or die trying.

My friends must have gotten worried about me because Corey brought me both chocolate and some drink injected with caffeine and then spent the rest of the day periodically walking into the room just to say things like, "you are SO smart! You are going to be great tomorrow. You've gone up against worse." On a side note, I always know when Corey is worried about me because she is willing to part with chocolate, a gesture that indicates that she believes I need it more than she does (and anyone who knows Corey, knows that things have to be pretty bad for her to think someone might need chocolate more than her). Additionally, Annette returned from the review and gave me a high school football coach locker room speech that you only hear in movies (the ones where a bunch of misfits form a sports team that fails until someone believes in them, thus granting them the magical power to defeat the rival team full of quasi-professional athletes (that cannot possibly be in high school based on their size and general facial maturity), which inevitably solves all of the life problems of each of the once-misfits). Her speech started out with something like, "look at me. I'm telling you right now, we are going to be fine." And it ended with her making me promise that I believed her when she swore on her life we were going to survive.

We used every precious minute until deep into the night when we all decided to get some sleep. Miraculously it did seem to come together at the last possible minute. What can I say--I like a suspenseful ending.

Two months ago Annette and I wrote in our planners that as soon as that final was finished, we were going to go to Cafe Rio, and then leisurely wander around the mall all afternoon to do our Christmas shopping. The leisurely wander was total torture after a shockingly long and hard-in-a-lot-of-ways semester, so after 2 hours of not buying anything, we went home and took naps.

Maybe this all sounds a little dramatic. I have been known to dramatize things a bit (or so I'm told). But what I've gone through on this academic roller coaster for two and a half years, and specifically, for the past few months, has really felt dramatic. So drama in my writing only seems fitting, although underwhelming from my perspective. But the challenging experiences have been unique. And I'm really grateful for every minute of it. Law school is making me better than I was. It's been really challenging. Much more so than I thought it would be. Some days it really has been hard to hang on. But I'm so happy that I have. Everyone has their own challenges--some of them are chosen, some of them are not, and some are sort of hand-picked at first but then end up being totally different than expected yet entirely nonreturnable once in their hand. I guess all of the experiences that have made up my law school career have felt like a good blend of all three of those things. Law school has shown me what my strengths and weaknesses are; it has shown me that some of what I thought were strengths are actually weaknesses; it has shown me that my limits are different than I thought they were; it has made me sometimes lose perspective, but has given me the ability to much more easily gain perspective when it sometimes gets lost. I love my law school experience, and wouldn't trade it for anything in the world (except for maybe some good cheesecake and a good permanent tan).

So goodbye semester number five. I'm glad that you are dead. But may you forever live on in spirit.

~It Just Gets Stranger

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Two Down: Fed Courts and the First Amendment

Week one of my 5th set of law school finals has concluded and I'm alive.

My first final was for a class that left me in a crying bloody heap of madness after three and half months of intellectual torture. Never in my life have I felt so dumb (and that includes the time I hit a button in my car when I was bored during a slowly moving traffic jam on state street because I didn't know what it was, only to find out it was the trunk button, which then flew open and stayed that way for the next hour as I couldn't pull over). This was a smaller class (only about 20 people in it) and it was full of people whose names you have to say with a British accent because any other way doesn't adequately describe who they are. These are people who will all end up solving all of the world's problems by 2015 using nothing more than scotch tape and a five function calculator. It matters in law school to some degree who ends up taking the same classes as you because each class is graded on a curve and whether your class is full of the leaders of tomorrow or the partiers of today, the middle grade is set in stone at the exact same place and exactly half can be above that and half below it. And then that grade is taken and added to your gpa which is then ranked against the other 149 gpa's in the 3L class which then determines whether or not your dreams are actually a possibility. And each semester there is a chance to rise or fall, and it all comes down to what happens during these two weeks of finals, sometimes in classes like the one I've just described. And we all felt that on Tuesday morning. Two hours of typing took place in one of the most highly pressurized settings I've ever seen until time was called and 20 shaky people who had just spent every waking second (which happens to be about 18-20 hours a day lately) frantically struggling to grasp incredibly complicated concepts at least slightly better than the others in class, who, both fortunately and unfortunately, are each other's best friends, walked out of the room trying to feel accomplished but probably feeling something more like defeated despite having really done something quite impressive and having really learned a lot.

Then we walked outside, made sure the sun had come up, punched walls, did push ups and whatever else we needed to (for one friend of mine this involved walking to nearby gas station and buying a bag of beef jerky. To each his or her own) to get out the anxious adrenaline that seems to be controlling most of us lately, only to climb back into our holes to prepare for the next one. My next one happened to come less than 48 hours later. Thankfully I had Corey to help me study for that one and the two of us shut ourselves into a small study room (that started looking more like a dorm room after a while) and frantically typed dozens of pages of notes and absorbed every detail we could from about 7:00 AM to past midnight for two days to prepare for our early morning Thursday exam. This one was three hours of typing.

I woke up before the exam pretty early and took a "comfort" shower. Let's just take a quick detour here for some nice blog fodder: I recently found out that showering experiences are very different for the genders. There are two types of showers I take: 1. Comfort shower, and 2. Utility shower. There are no other options. The first is to clean my spirit, so to speak, and requires no effort on my part. The second, however, is a lot of hard work and serves only the purpose of getting me physically clean. My female friends recently informed me that women are not able to take noncommittal comfort showers the same way men can. That is, I can take my comfort shower, climb out, do a 12 second dry off with a towel, throw on a set of clothes, and bounce out the door looking good as new. Apparently for women the shower recovery time is a force to be reckoned with because (so I'm told) woman hair takes somewhere between 7 and 36 weeks to dry (calculated by assuming an automatic 7 and then increasing it by one week for each additional inch beyond one, and then capped at 36). This combined with an array of other problems, mostly involving makeup, is the actual unspoken source of contention between the genders in any conversation in which any of the following phrases are heard: "of course you don't understand! You're a man!"; "you have no idea what it's like!"; "psh! You would say that you heartless [fill-in-the-blank]"; and my personal favorite, "YOU have a baby and then come and tell me I'm being emotional!"

So after my comfort shower I put on my shirt and tie (I dress for success for every final. I have one friend who thinks something is wrong with me because of this as she chooses to dress down as much as possible for test day. Coincidentally this is the beef jerky friend described above). The final happened and I spent the rest of my day getting bombarded with emails and phone calls from frantic 1L's who had less than 24 hours until their contracts final for a class which I am the TA for (for my second and (sadly) final year). I heard the panic and desperation in their voices and emails and I did what I could to provide the last minute support, partly because I remember exactly how that fear of the unknown feels (largely because I still feel it to some degree, although a different one, today). I remember how a totally mysterious process and highly pressurized 1L semester can feel, which seems at the time to be the process and semester that really does determine whether your dreams are possible, for the very first time. I remember coming to school day after day and wondering whether I was really smart enough to be with all of those people who seemed to have it all figured out.

It's strange that the experience never really gets familiar. Each semester my friends and I decide about a month before finals how we're going to tackle the beast this go around. It never really goes exactly according to plan. Too many last minute parties. Too many last minute problems. Too much temptation on Thanksgiving to act like a normal person and just want to hang out with family rather than lock ourselves away in a room at grandma's house for three days while the rest do what they're supposed to do on holidays: spend time together and make memories. And so there is a little give and take and nothing given or taken on either end really seems that satisfying because all of it is either too much or too little, but in any event it's not really ever good enough.

But amid all of the discouragement and, often, exhaustion, there is always that group of friends who don't think something is wrong with me for sometimes being at the library on a Friday night at 11:15 because the only way they know I'm there is because they are too. There is always that group of friends who is willing to explain something to me over and over again to help me understand, even though they have their own work to do. Always that group of friends who are a source of comfort when I catch them out of the corner of my eye during one of these 3 hour typing contests. Friends that remind me every time we're together why they appreciate me and, in being who they are, in turn remind me why I appreciate them. They drop whatever important thing they have going on to drive me  to the hospital when I break my hand, even if it's 5:00 in the morning. They humor me by putting on a homemade 9-headed monster costume and marching around the school growling, just because I ask them to. They throw me birthday parties and get genuinely excited when something good happens in my life. And no matter how stressed and tired I sometimes get, all I have to do is think about these people to remember one of the biggest reasons why this is all so worth it.

~It Just Gets Stranger