Leisure Time That Does Not Involve Leisure

I didn’t have a job this summer — three months without work or school. I haven’t had such a large chunk of free time since I was 14. So in essence, I’ve been on vacation since the end of the spring semester.

There’s one arresting similarity between this past summer and the summers I remember from childhood: the first three-fourths stretch and stretch, as if the summer was going to last forever, and then the last part just whips by. School starts in two weeks; where have the last three months gone?

The most striking dissimilarity is that not having a job doesn’t automatically mean three months of free time, interrupted only by the jingle of the ice cream truck or arts and crafts classes run by the Parks Department. The ice cream truck does not come to my current neighborhood, and I have plenty of lanyards and comb cases already. I have not whiled away the summer on equivalent grown-up activities — no sitting in my deck chair, eating bonbons and reading romance novels. For one thing, I don’t like romance novels. For another, I had some pre-existing commitments that left little time for sloth.

Commitment number one: helping my mom get married. While Mom is in the habit of being married, but she is not in the habit of getting married; this summer marked her second foray into the institution, and I’m not sure she would have made it without assistance. There was a dress to select, a wedding party to name, a program to design, and a billion other tiny details to wrap up. The invitations, catering, musicians, and ceremony and reception venues had all been lined up in advance, but the four weeks preceding the wedding were still relatively nutty. I’d had no idea that a wedding was such an all-consuming affair. My support for the legalization of gay marriage just dropped to nil.

During the drive down to my hometown on the day before the wedding, my cell phone rang. An unfamiliar number popped up. Normally, I ignore those calls; I had a bad experience once with a persistent caller named “Dwayne” who told me I’d met him at a bar, and wanted to know when we could see each other again. He called and called. I eventually answered, hoping to stop the barrage of calls and messages; when I finally convinced Dwayne that I was not “Carla,” he started asking me what my name was and whether I would be interested in a date. After Dwayne, I didn’t take calls from strangers.

But this time, my skin started tingling, and I picked up the phone. The woman at the other end of the line gave her name, which I recognized immediately, and said she was calling from Law Review. It seemed unlikely that the editor-in-chief of Law Review was calling me to tell me that I didn’t make the staff. I started flashing hot and cold all over; I imagined confused neurons firing at random and a lot of signals comically colliding with one another, a la the Keystone Kops. The EIC might have thought that my voice sounded exceptionally loud and effusive, but she couldn’t have known the extent of my elemental freak-out. Thank goodness.

After I accepted the offer of a position on the Law Review staff, blathering on for too long about my thankfulness for the opportunity, I hung up. I have never experienced a prouder or happier moment in my professional/academic life. Because I was driving on a fairly twisty road, there was no question of dancing, jumping up and down, or other expressions of unbridled joy, but my girlfriend and I did some heartfelt whooping. In a sense, it was as much her achievement as mine — she witnessed and shared all of the late nights, the physical and emotional absences, the stress, and the other fun stuff that goes with the first year of law school. She hugged me really hard before telling me that I’d broken out in hives. Am I allergic to success?

The excitement over making Law Review was mixed with a bit of foreboding. Law Review is not for wusses. I’d thought twice before applying, knowing that every bit of the prestige attached to Law Review is fought for and earned. Staffers seem to hover on the knife-edge of exhaustion, struggling to find time over the school year to assemble, vet, and publish six issues’ worth of articles — in addition to writing their own articles, attending classes, and participating in the fall round of on-campus interviews, or OCIs.

Ah, OCIs. Where hopes are pinned and dashed, if that is metaphorically possible. Recruiters from local and national firms conduct back-to-back 20-minute interviews in small rooms throughout the law school building. It’s a taxing process for both interviewers and interviewees; 20 minutes is not a lot of time for a student to make an impression or for a recruiter to form a solid opinion. I tried to get a jump on the whole process by setting up a few informational interviews over the summer, but I will still be sending out piles of resumes and cover letters just like most of my classmates. We’re competing for summer associate positions, which usually lead to post-graduate job offers. So OCIs are definitely something to take seriously. Unfortunately, OCI activities during September and October can seem too important or not important enough amid the rush of journal and moot court activities (Law Review involves checking citations, writing my article, a mysterious practice called “racking,” and other assorted duties), homework, classes, and the various family events and assorted outings that seem so irresistible from my well-rested point of view. My dad is remarrying in a few weeks, but — true to form — his wedding does not involve too many details. “Ceremony at 3:00 p.m. in the back yard, reception at 3:05!” he said. I think he meant it.

In a sense, a summer without a job or school has prepared me better for the year to come than working might have. I’m really relaxed, and I’ve used a chunk of my free time to exercise. I feel great. All the exercise — and the change in professions — has rendered my old wardrobe completely inappropriate (and baggy — totally ’80s hot!), so I’m starting the school year and the interview season with a lot of nice new clothes.

But some of my classmates have been keeping their legal wits sharp with internships, externships, and associateships. They will swarm back in to the classrooms like a school of piranhas. Meanwhile, I’ve been maintaining my law school brain by doing legal research for the Sierra Club, a pursuit in keeping with my plan to specialize in environmental law and energy policy.

But while researching key energy/environmental issues will be an asset in my future career as a practicing attorney, I realize that this knowledge won’t be of much help to my family or friends. They are too tactful to say so, but I think that some of them are secretly wishing I were interested in something else, like estate planning or family law, or dog bites and DUIs. After all, I would be a very useful family member if I could help them draft wills; they are unlikely to be embroiled in legal struggles involving the classification of wetlands or siting wind turbines. If I went the personal injury route, there’s a chance that they could see me on TV. Environmental attorneys are almost never on TV. Well, maybe they pop up occasionally on CSPAN.

Working for the Sierra Club has been interesting, though, and law-related experience is valuable in a number of ways. For example, potential employers conducting OCIs would not be wowed by an entry on my resume stating that my sole law-related activity for an entire summer was working my way through Linda Fairstein’s series of legal thrillers. Alexandra Cooper, Fairstein’s alter ego and head of the sex crimes/domestic violence unit in the Manhattan DA’s office, is an inspiring but fictional character. She’s not someone to use as a reference, even if I think she’s taught me a thing or two about civil procedure.

Those potential employers may be more interested in the grim, epic battles with my girlfriend over the backgammon board. If sudoku puzzles can teach me about property law, as one of my student study group leaders asserted last semester, perhaps backgammon can give me some sort of strategic edge. (Or maybe not. I often lose.)

What else could I add to this imaginary resume? A recital of my grades and work history seems so dry. I could talk about the gardens. We put in a lot of work at the beginning of the summer, but then the weather got so unseasonably hot that we couldn’t set foot outside for longer than it took to move the sprinklers or take the dogs out. No weeding was done. But the gardens turned out beautifully anyway. The lack of intervention seems to have helped.

Maybe that’s the lesson of the summer: “Leave things alone and they will turn out just fine.” I’ll talk up that philosophy at the first meeting of the Law Review staff. I’m sure they’ll all be very impressed.


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