Panorama of San Bernardino

Monday, February 10, 2014

This is it or is it?

It pisses me off that the old saying, the one that says that youth is wasted on the young, is too true.  Most days, I want to throw off my suit and dance.  But I am old.  Not old old, but almost middle-age old and old like my back hurts old and I must go to sleep at 9 p.m. and wake up at 5 a.m. old and care about retirement old.

I cannot say that I did not have wild times because I did.  My sister Annie and I spent our late teens and early twenties living on our own in a two bedroom rent subsidized apartment in Upland.  We waited tables to pay the bills and went dancing four nights a week at IE and LA clubs.  We worked out every morning at an all woman gym called The Spa in Upland and ate vegetables and rice for lunch with no dinner as we preferred a liquid alcohol infused diet (we did not want to look bloated at the club).  All that club hopping was not in vain because I met my husband Adrian at one of these clubs and we have been together forever since.

My mid twenties were spent in school getting my Bachelor's degree in English Literature. My time at Mt. SAC in Walnut was the hardest.  I walked to work at the restaurant where I waited tables (it was blocks away) and Annie would drive me to school.  It was difficult but I was in my twenties and had all the energy in the world.  School was my solace and I was the editor-in-chief of the college newspaper and lost myself in the office for hours editing stories and doing layout.  I loved the smell of the papers when we picked them up from the printers.  My teacher and mentor begged me to apply to Columbia for journalism but I could not visualize it.  At some point, I lost my job and had to move back with my parents into a trailer park in Pomona for a year or two.  That is its own story but it made me more hungry to get out and motivated me to finish junior college and transfer.

After I transferred, I lived on campus at UC Riverside on top of a bar.  The rooms were called suites and had a shared kitchen common area.  My room was a little box that was only large enough to fit a twin bed, a small dresser, a desk and my little TV and radio.  I must have had posters on the wall.  I have always been a poster type of girl (my law office has framed prints from the New Yorker and Frida Kahlo alongside an unframed Sex Pistols poster).

I met two of my closest friends at UCR, Emily and Gina, who were also English majors. Together we ruled the school (sans Pink Ladies jackets) and spent our time drinking coffee or beer and laughing.  Emily (who lived in the college suite below me) and I were procrastinators by nature and routinely stayed up all night together writing our papers in my apartment.  Occasionally, we would all go out and I would stay the night at Gina's huge old house in Riverside where she lived with her two young sons.  I remember waking up and Gina would make me coffee with cream and bring it to me at the kitchen table where we would have soul sustaining conversations about life and art.  The possibilities seemed so open.  Like we could do anything or go anywhere or be anything.

My late twenties were spent in law school at USC.  To this day, I don't know how it happened.  I planned on getting a doctorate in English Literature with a focus on James Joyce and post-modernism.  And yet, despite these plans, I applied to law school at USC after taking the LSAT on a lark.  And I got in. And I went.  It was that simple.  It could have been that I was flattered and surprised that an elite law school would even consider this former waitress and high school dropout.  Looking back, I should not have been surprised, I had a 3.8 GPA and a decent LSAT.  Back in those days, I used to feel shame about my windy road to college.  Now I see it as an accomplishment and a kind of miracle.

I would not call USC Law a mistake.  But it is a choice I question often.  I am definitely more the bookworm type and may have been happier in academia.  Or as a writer on SNL.  I kinda wish I was Tina Fey.  (Not kinda. I do.)

My time at USC Law flew by like a movie on fast forward.  I was desperately poor my first year because I couldn't work.  I got a half scholarship but did not qualify for enough loans to cover my living expenses and I had to live with Adrian and his parents for the first year.  I commuted in a car Adrian gave me and used his gas card.

I remember counting change to cover breakfast at school (bagel and coffee) and coffee for lunch at Starbucks and Taco Bell for dinner while studying.  The financial aid office found me more money and I moved into an apartment off of Hoover and Adams street for my second year (2L) with my law school friends Bridget and Tiffini.  The rent was cheap, 1200 bucks for a three bedroom  We had wires coming out of walls and critter friends and only one bathroom, but the walk was five minutes to school.  Bridget and I clipped coupons and she cooked and we ate well.

By my third year in law school, my second year summer associate job funded me for my third year in style and Bridget and I moved into an apartment in Downtown LA.  At the time (circa 2001 to 2002), the downtown area was not the hip place it is now, but our apartment was lovely and spacious.  You couldn't walk outside at night because the homeless crowd would fight but we didn't care.

After law school, I moved to Texas by myself.  I was working sixty or seventy hours a week, but for the most part I had fun.  My amigas were two Latina twins from Brownsville, Texas (Celia and Cecilia). One was a talented writer and one was a lawyer like me.  I also hung out with a girl in a grad program named Lulu (who is now a professor).  We drank margaritas on the patio of our apartments on the weekends and chatted about our lives.

At work I had Nancy, an associate who was a year above me at the firm.  My favorite part of the work day was the daily coffee break where Nancy and I would go to Starbucks and recount "episodes" from the firm.  We even cast ourselves in the dramedy version of our lives should these "episodes" ever make it to the screen.  She was cast as Susan Sarandon and I was Drew Barrymore.  After work we would sometimes hang out at the Four Seasons drinking martinis and continuing the conversation.

It's funny, but I also remember spending a lot of time alone in Houston.  I had my cat Leopold and he would sleep with me but I would go eat breakfast by myself on the weekends after which I would catch a movie and go shopping.  I even went to a play by myself.  It was a small production of a James Joyce short story.  The play was staged at a tiny playhouse in the River Oaks area and I was the only one there solo (or it felt like I was).

When Adrian got into dental school in San Francisco I jumped at the chance to move.  I missed him and wanted to be closer to my family.  The partner that I worked for at the law firm was supportive and gave me a month off to study for the California Bar.  I moved to the Bay mere months after finding out I passed and took the first law firm job I could find.  

In San Francisco, Adrian and I lived in a five hundred square foot box of an apartment on the UCSF campus.  The apartment was up on a hill in the Twin Peaks area.  The bathroom was so small that I had to wiggle past the door.  Adrian and I started building our pseudo married life there.  He cooked two or three nights a week and we both cleaned. Adrian accepted the fact that I was cooking challenged and on the days he didn't cook we ordered in or ate out at one of the numerous restaurants.  After a year, we moved to a bigger apartment in the Inner Sunset area by Golden Gate Park and on the weekend we would walk around the lake and look at the ducks.  It was the best of times.

When my Dad died suddenly, I moved back home leaving Adrian to finish off his last year of dental school alone.  Looking back, it was an impetuous choice.  I didn't think.  I just jumped ship.  I felt that I needed to be home closer to my mom and my sisters.  Or maybe it was because I felt adrift and aimless. My accomplishments seemed meaningless.  All I kept thinking about were those seventy hour work weeks and that I hadn't spent any real time with my parents for five years.  And now my dad was gone.  I could not fix it.  It was too late.

Coming home was the right thing to do.  I know now that I should have waited for Adrian but if I had waited to move, we might have stayed in the Bay permanently.  We loved it there.  But our family was here in the Inland Empire.

And I don't think I would be where I am career wise if I hadn't left.  I might not be a public defender and instead could be working at a big firm and hating my job.  Life is too short to hate your job.

In another universe, there is a girl with curly hair who is probably still overweight and gazing out her high rise window at a Houston skyline while she slaves away late into the night.  Every so often she sighs and thinks about writing a poem or a story but she is too tired.

Ultimately, I am writing this to figure out how I got here, and where I belong.  It is obvious that I have been melancholy of late.  The same restlessness that has plagued me at various times in my life has resurfaced and I want to make the right decision.

To be continued...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Letting Go

I am not adept at letting go (or adept at not letting go).  Instead of shrugging the bad situations off, many of them petty and trivial things, I agonize over every slight or negative comment.

Some days I wish I could be one of those people that don't give a shit, but alas I am not.

This is not all bad news.  The positive aspect of my personality is that I am constantly reassessing and asking myself how to improve.  The problem could be that my job as a public defender is by its very nature confrontational.  And, I like to argue but I pay a price for it with my internal critique.  In Nora Ephon's "You've Got Mail", the Meg Ryan character laments that she always thinks of what to say after the fact which is similar to my dilemma.  I like to debate and argue, but I am always questioning my reactions and performance.  Perhaps it is the artist in me that wants to edit my life like I can the written word.  In other words, I want a rewrite.

And I know what you are all thinking while reading this, I am narcissistic.  Stipulate.

Maybe all I need to do is vent by writing and relieve the stress by exercising.  I always feel better after a good run and a good story.  In my self-imposed sobriety, exercise and writing are my new drugs (other than Diet Coke).

Tonight with rain falling from the sky, this is my outlet.

Thank you for listening.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Feminism Scheminism

I have always considered myself an independent woman.  I grew up blue collar and put myself through undergraduate and law school by waiting tables.  Feminism was just a term I heard thrown around by older white women.  Mom never used the term while I was growing up in the Inland Empire of the 1970's and 1980's.  Mom worked but it was because she had to.  She had no choice.

I always think about how hard Mom worked when I start to complain about my job.  You see, I know what it is like to come home from a ten hour day of waiting tables.  Your feet hurt so much that when you take off your shoes, you can't let your bare feet touch the ground.

Dad moved furniture and Mom waited tables for all of my childhood and most of my adult years.  It was a necessity to pay the bills.  We were what you called "bill poor".  There was enough money for food and vacations and an occasional Barbie Dreamhouse but my parents paid for that comfort with their own sweat, aching feet and backs.  When my 75 year old mom finally quit her restaurant job five years ago she was happy to leave it behind.

My parents' work ethic is the best thing they could have ever given my sisters and I.  It is more valuable than any money or property.  That work ethic is what got me through Mt. SAC Junior College and what propelled me into the editor-in-chief position at the college newspaper and what sustained me through my financial struggles while at UC Riverside and USC Law.

After graduating law school, I worked in corporate litigation at the big firms for six years with back breaking hours.  In Texas at Vinson and Elkins, I saw female partners and senior associates with deep circles under their eyes working seventy hours a week while trying to balance family.  I may have admired their cars (one had a Jaguar that I coveted) but I thought to myself, "Fuck that. I don't want to be them."  (Yes reader, I even cuss to myself.)

Before he died from the pancreatic cancer that caused my formerly hefty father to wither into a tiny bird, he told me, "I thought you went to USC so you could work less not more." Dad was right and after he died I made a change and ended up at the Public Defender's Office.

This morning I started thinking to myself, am I a feminist?  I may seem like one from the outside.  I kept my last name which my husband Adrian reminded me of this morning.  But that choice has more to do with wanting to keep a piece of my father alive more than anything else.  I work full-time as an attorney.  But I would rather not be working as a lawyer at all.  I love to write.  Writing is what I see myself doing full-time for long term happiness.

I don't have kids but it is not for lack of trying.  If God gave me the choice between working and no kids and staying home and raising kids, I would take the kids (even triplets) and happily stay home to raise them through their young years.  My point is, at this age if God gave me a miracle, I would not thumb my nose at the gift.  If that makes me old fashioned so be it.  It is not that I think you have to stay home to be a good mom, it is that I would want to.  And I am lucky that I have the ability to make that choice.

At this point, feminism be dammed.  I just want to be happy.