Boilerplate

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Prospect Park, Brooklyn

I am a lawyer.  This means that I think about future contingencies and the probability of bad things happening and how to protect against bad things happening that have not yet happened. It’s a dance, this protection of bad things.  I run around carefully laying down arrows before people’s feet, like “don’t go this way!” or “HEAVENS SWEET MARY DO NOT TAKE A LEFT.”

I write a lot of contracts.  Sometimes I scowl and shake my head at innovation or even compassion because of the inadvertent layering of future bad things atop the good.  I sit in meetings and scratch my head and answer text messages from ladies named Sharon.  Think of me as some muttering old professor, always trying to create walkways over water.  Bridges over bombs.  Pathways around trouble.  I talk to myself while walking toward the bathroom.  Maybe that’s why no one takes me to lunch.

But here I go referring to bad things and good things like I’m some hand-wringing evil avoider.  It’s just merging companies or buying widgets and no one is dying.  And let’s not kid ourselves. I’m in Target at lunch buying socks for my kids who always manage to lose their socks.  I am no superhero, and my job isn’t that important. Except when people are fired and laid off and punished for the color of their skin.  Or when someone works so very hard to build something from nothing, only to have that something vanish because of a deal gone wrong.  Every penny they worked for is just ripped out from underneath them.  It’s all just boilerplate on a page that no one reads but the lawyers.

I do.  I read those words. I’m in a profession people turn to when there are problems, real or in the future. In some small way lawyers are a tool to avoid these atrocities, and are paid to fight against such wrongs when they surge. So it’s only natural that when I see something, I rush on past it to the next thing, and imagine how that thing will be avoided by some reworking of this thing.  It’s no wonder I imagine my children in college and believe they’ll never pass Chemistry. How could they, really, when we spent two hours with dolls and imaginary tea parties and I let them skip bath and now we are all just lying in one bed with unbrushed teeth atop each other snoring.

I often can’t just let life be. To lie in bed and look at leaves fluttering to the earth, or live inside of love without the fear of it being crushed.  I try to write out my current station in life so clear that it cannot be ambiguous, or terminated without cause, and will withstand the scrutiny of any judge.  And yet life is not a contract.  Even contracts we make between two people and God, as any family lawyer knows, can be broken. And we are left only with today – shreds of us, really – floating along.  And when we collect all those pieces to form a life again, we begin wringing our hands at what it all means, and what future is to come, and whether we will again be ripped open like a deal gone south in a smoky back room.

I didn’t read the boilerplate.  The love will someday vanish.

And yet God tells us to not worry, us goofy little humans.  For if he cares for the ravens, he cares for us.  His yoke is easy and his burden is light. The same language is repeated throughout the scripture that we are and will forever be taken care of. The edges will be made smooth.  The pathways straight.  “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.

There are times that I fear the future, when flakes of me fall like snow and I panic at the thought of losing myself again in the weather.  And yet I cannot write a life that suits me.  I cannot create an air-tight pathway that my legal brain craves.  What I can do is trust, and pray harder than I expected, and smooth out the rushed and harried edges of my heart.

The other day I walked along the long pathways of Prospect Park on the edge of a rain, holding the hand of the One Whom I Love, and for once didn’t worry about the future.  I felt solid and calm. I knew this is all I care to be, and all I care to live, and all I care to do.  And in the echoed and narrow aisles of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral with scaffolding covering the stained glass like an apron, I grasped his hand and whispered to God that I am thankful this torn and beautiful life, just a drop amidst a congregation dripping.  For outside these holy walls where two-dollars-will-light-you-a-candle is a Burberry store with four-hundred-dollar scarves, and people drenched with greed, and yet I am on the inside of love.

I am a lawyer.  I worry about how current things affect future things.  Yet at the same time I am learning to not worry.  For I am a daughter cherished. His hand has written the most perfect contract that cannot, no matter how much I scrunch up my nose, be terminated.  And this allows me to rest in the knowledge that the good can outweigh the bad, and love wins.

My friends.  Those intellectual and hollowed.  Those working and labored.  Stop worrying about the protection of your current status.  God is the arbitrator and the judge.  The prosecutor and the defender. We have but to lift up praises to the heavens, and offer ourselves as consideration for such a lofty gift. And in return we receive peace, amidst our toiled human instincts and flawed minds.  We can finally come to Him, the forever and the infinite; the never and always.  Despite our drenched hearts that fear love. Despite our minds that tear at things.  Despite our very selves.  We can finally rest.

brown paper stories

I hate to use the word artist to describe myself.  I’m not covered in tattoos and don’t work a night shift at IHOP.  I’m not struggling to make ends meet, recovering from a drug habit, or walking around with paint on my elbows.  I’m a lawyer, for goodness sakes.  The amount of artistry it takes to craft a well-rounded, persuasive argument is only appreciated by a select few.  To everyone else, lawyers are just suits whose mouths open and shut and money comes funneling into their pockets every time they answer the phone.  As if.

But even now that I’ve made a conscience decision to walk away from practicing law, it’s hard.  Hard to call myself a writer.  Hard to create things simply for the pleasure of creating them.  I feel a need to aim that ambition, the same one that fueled me through honors classes and bar exam courses and clerkships, directly into the heart of the creative process.  It’s not good enough just to write.  Any fool with a laptop can do that. I need to be validated.  I need to be paid.  I need for this to mean something.

But art is subjective.  What makes one person laugh or cry or want to call their mother might be pure drivel to another.   My husband read a blog post once that I found particularly emotional and decided to point out an inverted quotation mark.   Thanks, dude.  Glad that hit you right there in the ticker.

When I was writing my novel, I stayed up into wee hours of the night pouring my heart into the story.  I went away for writing weekends.  I traveled to Upstate New York and rode cabs alone in Manhattan and hired babysitters in the stale Texas heat just to finish.  It took almost four years of painstaking rewrites and hundreds of deleted pages.  An editor helped me comb out the background narrative and useless rookie mistakes.  But then, I expected my hard work to pay off.  I would find an agent.  I would get published.  My words would matter.  

And yet here I sit, after putting two children to bed and wiping off kitchen counters and throwing in yet another load of whites.  I don’t have the look of an artist, sitting here in black-rimmed glasses and an oversized t-shirt, with a box of triscuits and a jar of peanut butter by my side.  I instead resemble a slightly-crazy person, ignoring reality and doing what I didn’t think possible:  I’m giving in to my instincts. I’m not published.  I don’t have tangible validation.  And yet I keep on going because I simply cannot imagine a world in which I have to stop.  I put my hands over my ears when that small little voice starts screaming in my head.  No one cares.  Quit while you’re ahead.  You’ll never make it as a writer.  Damn you, little voice.  You are meaningless.

I thought perhaps I’ve not been praying enough, or listening enough, or being present enough in this writing process.  I stopped myself tonight, standing right in front of the microwave, and prayed that God would reveal to me the best path.  How I should be reaching people.  Or perhaps learning not to care so much about what those people think.  After all, I can’t move mountains.  My name might not be in marquee lights. But I can certainly speak with passion – words driven straight from the heart that was formed and blessed by God in my mother’s womb.  My heart is ravenous with emotion.  My soul is aching to be heard.  My hands tremble at the thought of writing about sadness and joy in a way that has never been done before.

And then it comes to me: God’s listening.  I create simply for the joy of creating.  My words are an offering and a sacrifice, and I can imagine no other audience that matters more.

I am an artist. I offer up these small gifts, my brown-paper stories filled with sparkling words.  And that matters, even if no one else is paying attention.