The glory of being nobody

I watched the first episode of the new Black Mirror season, “Nosedive,” which stars Bryce Dallas Howard as a young woman in the not too distant future where every facet of your life is rated by what others think of you on social media. Those who are pleasant and well-liked rate higher; those who don’t simper and cater to people get rated down. Every human transaction comes with a cost, in which you must rate the other person immediately with a click.

In the show, this leads to your privilege in society–whether you can book a certain airline, whether you can enter certain buildings or neighborhoods, what you can buy, and so on.

Of course, there are those who aren’t as interested in “the game,” like theCherry Jones Picture character played by Cherry Jones. I love her characters in general, and this one was no different. No spoilers here, but in reflecting on the episode, I found certain parallels to my own life in recent months. And they totally negate the influence of social media.

I’ve been in my new Asheville home for four months, and it’s been an adjustment. In Pennsylvania, practicing as an attorney is considered quite a lofty profession–in our small county, “Attorney” is a title given to each of us. As in “Attorney Jones.” Like Bishop, or Mayor, or President. I always found it a little humbling, but still, it makes you somebody. Awesome, right?

 

Image result for scale of justiceKind of.

Because that means even if you are running to Wal-Mart, you dress for the chance your clients will see you, or your colleagues, or even the judges. (Although, I noticed that we hardly ever saw the judges in public–they probably had this problem to the Nth degree!) I was never much for make-up anyway, but I know one colleague who would never go out without lipstick. Is it a horrible burden? No, of course not. But it does give me some sympathy for the actress/mom who needs some eggs and has to decide if all the hype will be worth running to the grocery.

With the ease of access to social media–as in practically everyone around you has a camera/video maker available to reveal any of your foibles to the world immediately, the risk of doing anything not considered proper for your position is high and could have real life repercussions, whether it should or not.

Since I’ve been here, though, I’ve been comfortably no one.

This means if I have to run to the Kwik E Mart with sandals and socks (God forbid!) I do. technicalOr if the fibro and other chronic pain is bad enough, I confess I have gone to the local Ingles bra-less. The sweet Southern ladies might find it scandalous–but I don’t know them, and they don’t know me, and as lovely as they might be, I don’t have to worry about their opinion.

(That being said, if you see me on one of those People of Wal-Mart photo shaming walls, please quietly chuckle and then ignore me. I’ll be good with that.)

Freedom.

Sure, I can’t get the kind of service I used to with just a phone call. But I think it’s a good trade-off. I don’t need to be “somebody,” even with my insecurities. I can act on things I want to act on, state my opinions (and get jumped on for them like the average Jane), or even refrain from jumping on the popular bandwagons. I can just be me, doing what I can, day to day, with only myself as arbiter of how important I need to be. So far, it’s working for me. 🙂

What do you think? How much does what others are going to say about you regulate how you speak to or treat themor act where they can see you?

 

 

 

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Why the drama, mamma?

As a family law attorney, I know that I’m going to be dealing with people’s emotional issues. After all, when these people come to see me, usually their lives are in turmoil. They may be newly separated. They may be struggling with financial stability. Parents living in two different homes may be battling over children who clearly can’t be ripped in two. I get that.

Really, I do.

We spend a good deal of time dissecting those situations and doing the very best we can to get people through those gauntlets in one piece, and hopefully arrive as close to their original goals as we can. 

What really makes me crazy are the people who must create more drama for their lives, because they love it. It makes them feel important. These people will have their cell phones at appointments with me and answer every call, because if they don’t, the world as they know it will come to an end. Now I don’t know Uncle Harry, and I’m sure his bowel issues might be very significant to him, but if you’re paying me in excess of a hundred dollars an hour, is it really worth discussing his condition with your mother and deciding whether he needs to take his medicine for ten minutes on my clock?  No problem. I’ll just check my email while you’re busy.

Then there’s the extremists. “I”m taking this all the way to the Supreme Court!” they exclaim. That’s all well and good, and I appreciate that determined spirit.  Of course, the fact that the Supreme Court/other federal courts don’t handle a lot of family law cases might be relevant. But there’s still a Superior Court and Supreme Court here in Pennsylvania, if you’re not happy with the order entered by the county court. None of which matters if you don’t return my calls, don’t provide me with the documentation I ask for, and you yell at the judges during our hearings because you ‘just have to be yourself.’

And listen, people. When you have a spouse, long-term partner or a teenaged kid, there’s one rule that applies across the board: any of these people have lived with you long enough that THEY KNOW HOW TO PUSH YOUR BUTTONS. This shouldn’t be news after all this time. Seriously. So when he or she does that ONE thing you can’t stand–whether it’s call you twenty times a day, shows up to pick up your kid ten minutes early every single time, or has their new boyfriend call to negotiate custody arrangements–you don’t have to call and tell me a hundred times. I cannot repair the person that you aren’t going to be with any more. I mean, that’s why you’re not with them any more, right? Just learn to ignore them. Planned ignoring, our therapists call it. It’s a real tactic. Read about it here. It’s free. Use it. 

I’ve said it before: Breaking up is hard to do. (Actually Neil Sedaka said it before me. And got paid better for saying it.) Some people deal with the stress by making themselves into the victim to gain sympathy from everyone around them. Some people try to prove that they’re in control by running roughshod over anyone they get a chance to crush, including social workers, court staff and other people trying to help. Some people just grasp at anything they can find to hold on to as though it were a life preserver, because they really have no clue what’s going to help.

I blame a lot of the need for drama on the current trend for reality show circuses. When you watch Big Brother or Jersey Shore or Wife Swap or Celebrity Rehab or Survivor–any of them, you get a fabulous lesson in how to manipulate people, how to portray yourself. how to make yourself more important by how you deal with everyone around you.

 But as far as I’m concerned, you’re hiring me to do a specific job: to get you through your life crisis with as little damage to your life as possible. I’m not here to deal with you while you’re waiting for your close-up. If that’s what you’re really after, please call me after your fifteen minutes is up. That way, I can preserve my sanity as well as yours.

Quitting while you’re ahead

When we first start to practice law, many attorneys dabble in several areas to see what field we’d like to pursue.  At law school, I focused on employment law–unions, at-will, even interned at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Miami. But for one reason and another, I didn’t get a job in that field, so I went back to Homestead and opened my own practice, doing a bit of this and a bit of that.

One field I tried very briefly was criminal defense of alcohol-related offenses, taking two cases in succession, both while I was pregnant with K. (Which I thinks explains my insanity in doing it at all–hormones.)

The first was an adorable old Australian man named Tom, who charmed me with his accent right off, and convinced me I could handle his case. Even though, as I came to find out, he had four prior DUIs. And even more to the point, when I got the police report, I found that he had crashed his car into a concrete abutment, and when the officer came up to the car, my client’s direct quote was, “I’m as drunk as a G*ddamed monkey.”

Fabulous. Apparently he had been, because he hadn’t remembered to mention that to me.

So I hoped that because of his age, and his health, I could at least ameliorate some sort of sentence for him, because he was a really nice guy.

But I won.

In the busy Miami courts, the state gets two chances to proceed. If the officer doesn’t show up for two consecutive hearings, the case is dismissed. He didn’t. Voila! I had pulled a rabbit out of the proverbial hat (or substitute a more personal euphemism), and he walked. He was so grateful he brought us the most delicious amaretto cake I’ve ever had. We corresponded for a number of years after we moved north, and he stayed out of trouble thereafter, having realized he’d received a real gift that day.

The second one came after a call late one night from my doctor, who was also a friend. His son had been arrested and charged with DUI, could I help him out, etc.? Fresh from my consummate victory, I assured him I could, and went to work.

This case was more interesting in that this man had Morphan’s Syndrome, a condition that affects the spine and the ability to move, making it nearly impossible for him to walk a straight line.  No wonder he failed the test! I gathered up the appropriate doctor’s deposition demonstrating this condition, and also had a photographer friend take pictures of the scene, which showed that the officer was mistaken on a number of details in his report–why not this one?

We’d gone to one hearing where the officer hadn’t showed up, and I was so excited that morning of Sept. 27, 1988, when we went downtown to court, that I’d roll the dice again and win.  But no such luck.  The state attorney was conferring with a number of police when I checked in, including my officer. Bummer. But that was okay, I was prepared.

Until the first labor pain set in.

I wasn’t officially due until the next week, but apparently K thought it was time. (She always has been a little contrary like that.) The room was packed, probably 100+ defendants on the call of the list, so we waited our turn, but over that hour, it became clear it was not just Braxton-Hicks, or general kicking discomfort, it was the real thing.

When the judge called us forward, I caught her look at my bulging stomach before she asked the SA if she was ready to proceed. She said she was. The judge turned to me and asked the same.

“I think I’m going to have to ask for a continuance,” I finally said.

“Because?”

“Because I’m in labor.” Another contraction came about then and I leaned over the table a moment. There was a silence and then a general hubbub broke out.

“Go on!” the judge said, waving me away from the bench. “Get out of here!” She had the bailiff clear a path for me, and my client brought my briefcase as we went down the long aisle, several defendants taking the chance to ask if I could be their lawyer for the day so they could have a continuance too.

I drove straight to the hospital, 25 miles home. (Yes, I know, that’s crazy. But my doctor and husband were there. What was I going to do?) They sent me home to wait awhile, and sure enough, by the next morning, we had a 9 lb. 1 oz. bouncing baby girl.

The case was rescheduled, of course, without further continuances. I presented my evidence, and the officer presented his, and the judge, not quite sure, withheld a finding of DUI and just sentenced my client to some alcohol education classes. So I considered it a win, and hung up my DUI gloves, with a record of 2-0.

Besides, I’m pretty sure that “In-labor” defense isn’t going to work again. Ever.

Don’t shoot the piano player–or the lawyer

We’ve made the decision to move my legal office back into the house. I had it there for several years, when I was a single mom with older daughters at home. Then I got married, had toddlers in the house, and went to work for Legal Services to get benefits, so I closed it.

But looking at the state of current affairs, it just seems to be a good idea to be close to home. First, the kids are starting therapy again and we get afternoons filled with lovely strangers in our home; but a parent needs to be present. Second, the cost of gas and electric are supposed to double in our area–it’s hard to justify paying for that at home and in an office downtown at the same time. Third, I can be available to clients later each day, because I won’t have to rush home to get kids off the bus. Of course, there’s always the question whether the economy will be left in shreds any given day–cutting expenses to a minimum would surely help in an economic crunch.

On the other hand, having a professional office in your home, particularly one where people get a little volatile, is sometimes an adventure of the not-so-pleasant kind. My older girls still remember some of the drama. Like the skinny little woman who drove semi-truck and never bathed, whose child was placed in foster care and then decided he liked it better than home. She came by the house the night after the hearing and threw all his belongings onto our front lawn. The Truck Lady. Now those were good times.

There’s also a bullethole in the front window that we’ve never quite traced. We weren’t home when it happened. That’s good enough for us.

The Cabana Boy is talking about getting us some protection. We’ve been a little reluctant to have any firearms in the house because of the Captain’s difficulty with distinguishing reality vs. television/fantasy, i.e. when people are shot on TV, they are revived or come back on another show next week, etc. (I mean seriously, how many times can you kill Stefano DiMera??) But there’s just something about people who feel they have nothing to lose that makes you want to take that extra step to make sure you’re safe.

We’ve been working on rearranging, clearing out, cleaning up the areas in which we’ve now grown comfortable to return them to a professional standard. Some people, I’m sure, will feel that a lawyer without an “official” office isn’t good enough. So be it. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, you know? Many years ago, I came to terms with the fact I’d never be F. Lee Bailey or Gloria Allred. I just want to serve my community in a small, quiet way. Apparently, with a gun in the office drawer.