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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Long, Cold Winter

Winter is not my season. I see snowdrifts and envision not postcards but ominous possibilities of famine and isolation. Ice is not the thrill of the frozen pond on the back forty, but a harbinger of bruised tissue and fractured bone that complicates my already marginal driving skills, which, incidentally, are legendary in some circles. Above that, I chill easily and tend to lose gloves.

Spring semester at Brandeis is under way, but it bears none of the characteristics of spring. Classes resumed for the most part days ago, although some of our professors canceled to attend a conference scheduled sufficiently early for most law schools but without regard to the uniquely Louisvillian mindset that all human activity must be coordinated to accommodate the Kentucky Derby.

And so, as it happened, the first snowfall of the semester coincided with the full onslaught of a loaded schedule. First-year students attending full time are up to 18 credit hours now, thanks to the addition of a fifth doctrinal class. The legal-writing class, the single course to span a full year, is now devoted solely to crafting a brief supporting one side or the other of a fictional lawsuit and advancing oral arguments in a setting designed to replicate an appellate courtroom. I’ve drawn what is, in my view, the honorable side of the issue, but is also the side with arguably the steepest uphill trudge in terms of existing state law. There is much work to be done. 

And yet, while I can’t speak for my classmates, I’ve been slow to embrace this second round. My reflexes are slowed, like some sea creature that drifted to the ocean floor and burrowed into the mud over Christmas break and now must be stirred into action again. At this moment, law school and I have settled into the cordiality of companions whose faces have grown too familiar, whose once-charming habits are, on certain days, not all that charming. That’s the nature of law school, though. It’s a virtual game of table tennis in which you’re constantly scrambling to return your own serve, and the patience can thin. It could be what one of my colleagues called the life of the mind, a strange measure in which one scales great longitudinal heights without covering much latitude at all.

It could also be that we’re resuming this journey in a climate that has grown temporarily oppressive in ways that have nothing to do with the weather. Politicians that would have been late-night punch lines even to conservatives a decade ago have somehow achieved a dangerous mainstream acceptance. We choose our representatives like we’re casting an episode of The Jersey Shore and then are chagrined when the fringe element interprets their examples to be baseline models for acceptable conduct. On a personal level, I have swaths of  pain that run the length of my scapular muscles and don’t know whether it’s the book bag that is slung over my shoulder or the one that rattles at my heels like a toddler’s pull toy.

That being said, we here at 1L blog headquarters – and by that I mean the laptop and the coffee pot and I – try to maintain a policy of placing a positive spin even on the frustrating moments. To that end, I remind myself that I am exposed to challenging material and brilliant professors by virtue of an opportunity not extended to everyone. I love the new core class, Criminal Law, not least because our recent discussion of actus reus – the Latin term for the wrongful act that justifies societal punishment – reminded me to put the Johnny Cash version of “Johnny 99” (along with its reference to taking a man’s life for the thoughts in his head) back into the I-pod rotation.

Yeah, I anticipate an upturn in the collective disposition when the new semester’s engine is fully engaged. And spring is just around the corner.

1 comment:

  1. I concur with your burrowing sea creature metaphor. It always takes me a couple of weeks into the Spring semester before I can establish a rhythm and law school starts to fit comfortably again.