Law in Contemporary Society
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How To Be Creative in Law School: A Personal Reflection

-- By AnnePower - 28 Feb 2020

Absence and presence, presence and absence. I’ve been rolling this maxim around in my head for the past several weeks. It’s a tidy little phrase, and it fits tidily into my life, encapsulating a familiar modus vivendi and echoing a similar mantra given to me by my shrink (“separation without abandonment”— harder than it looks). The maxim has also proved a useful lens with which to examine this prompt, which, I must admit, puzzled me at first. I came to law school with the expectation that I would be building a foundation for myself and that the construction of this foundation in 1L would be rote and methodical. I did not expect the process to be a creative one, nor did I particularly want to be (at least, not at first).

What I Expected

Prior to law school, I spent the better part of a decade studying classical languages (mostly Latin, Greek when I had to) in pursuit of first a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree in the subject. I got to the point where I was composing Latin in the style of Caesar and Cicero and writing mammoth theses on representations of Dionysus in American Pop Culture and the use of rhyme in the translations of Catullus. I believe this work was creative (from the Latin creo, creare – to produce, bring forth; for the Greek, ask somebody else), and I know that it was exhausting. When I had a few months off after graduating, I slept for twelve hours every night. I came to Columbia when I was two years out from my master’s; I was refreshed enough to look forward to being a student again, but still tender enough to be relieved to be starting from scratch, required primarily to build that methodical foundation and reprieved from putting off creative sparks. To a certain extent, this routine has been my reality, and I do find it restful to have an educational institution once again prescribing my schedule and my responsibilities. Read this many pages, write so many words, learn these rules. No problem.

What I Got

I was wrong to think that 1L wouldn’t cause my creative juices to flow – or, rather, wring them out of me. For example, I have found that the process of reading, retaining, and understanding the law requires me to flex some of the same creative muscles I used to pick apart Latin literature and put it back together again. I’m glad to put these muscles to work again, and I was delighted when, at the end of last semester, I could feel a measurable expansion in my brain’s ability to approach and understand the law (an expansion that shrank exponentially over the doldrums of winter break).

Ultimately, however, these occasional moments where I feel the 1L material inviting me to exercise my creativity and expand my understanding are not indicative of the creative exercises I practice on a daily basis. Those exercises look something more like this: you see a classmate in a suit. You’re not in a suit. But maybe you should be in a suit? If they’re in a suit, and you’re not in a suit, does that mean that they are doing something you should be doing? By not doing that thing (what thing? Good question.), are you somehow sabotaging yourself? Your career? Your life?

The answer? Of course not. But does that stop me from spiraling down this drain regularly? From inventing more and more scenarios in which I am throwing away opportunity by not going to a firm event that has no relation to what I want to do? Of course not.

Why I was Suprised

I have spent the majority of my educational career in those environments infamous for consuming and regurgitating highly strung and highly competitive individuals, but I have always felt more than capable of distancing myself from the rat race. I was always able to say “Good for them; not for me” (and usually mean it). My mother has a theory that I got into Harvard because I was a “happy middle,” meaning that I could toddle along happily enough somewhere between “big man on campus” and “applied math shut-in.”

Although I am required to resent her for it, my mother wasn’t wrong in her assessment of me; she just forgot to factor in one thing: a “happy middle” raised in a sea of highly competitive, risk-averse control freaks is still, at her core, a highly competitive, risk-averse control freak. She’s just able to manage it better. And I did, I think, though there were some hiccups along the way.

I thought I could repeat this experience in law school, maintain this balance between absence and presence that allowed me to graduate exhausted, but with sanity mostly intact. What I failed to realize, however, is that there is an absence built-in to high school and college that is lacking in the first year of law school, where identical class schedules and claustrophobic sections compress any distance in interest and proclivity that might give you room to breathe. It is all too easy to be overly present, to give into the daily opportunities for creative self-flagellation.

And How I Am Dealing With It

I am struggling now to regain my balance, to temper this overwhelming presence with absence. It’s hard. Speaking with professionals about what I actually want to do helps. Seeking out and consuming culture helps. Taking the subway everyday helps. But, of course, as I work to build absence into the law school experience, there is the concomitant fear that I am becoming too absent, too checked-out to be productive, successful, or clued-in. The cycle continues. So: how to be creative in law school? For me, the answer lies somewhere between absence and presence, separation and abandonment, the bread and the roses. I’m not entirely sure how to get there just yet, but I’m working on it.

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r1 - 28 Feb 2020 - 21:03:25 - AnnePower
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