Law in Contemporary Society

For Present-Day-Me

-- By CeciliaPlaza - 14 Apr 2018

I have never been a quiet person. I don’t like to be pigeon-holed or told what to do. I’m hot-headed and stubborn and I put my whole hear into everything I do. But this year, I’ve been quiet. I’ve let other people make decisions for me. I’m subdued.

Today, I hit a low point. I walked into a professor’s office without the slightest idea what I wanted to ask. I just wanted to be told what to do. How to write this essay. Needless to say, I’m disappointed in myself. I’m not this person.

I’d like to say that “1L made me quiet,” but that would be a cop out. Yes, it has been a difficult year, but so have the rest of my 22 years, and those turned out just fine. I’ve been in high-stakes situations before and thrived. Law school is far from the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’ve been doubting myself in ways I never have before.

I will be a great lawyer. That, I’m sure of. But present-day-me isn’t. Present-day-me is scared and uncomfortable and out of place and it’s clouding my judgment. The rest of law school has to be about building myself back up, regaining the confidence I had that brought me here.

A few weeks ago, I was on the For People of Color Conference student panel sharing my experiences regarding the law school application process. Listening to the other panelists, I realized I had done everything completely wrong. Studying for the LSAT, picking my schools, writing my diversity statement—all of it. Wrong. I had never felt more inadequate. What was I even doing there, sitting on this panel, giving people advice? A year ago, I would’ve said, “who cares? It worked. I did it my way, and it worked. I must’ve done something right.” But that day, all I could think about was how wrong I was—how someone in the admissions office must’ve made a mistake.

I’ve been feeling that way for a long time. I’ve spent the whole year feeling intimidated, afraid of rambling or letting loose a half-baked thought. Every time I found the right words to say what I wanted to say, the class had moved on. I had missed my chance. Again. It didn’t matter that I knew the answer, that I’d read the case, that it wasn’t a trick question. I still froze. I told myself it was because I didn’t have the luxury of rambling or getting off-topic or being wrong; I couldn’t afford those kinds of mistakes because they might alert someone that I’m not supposed to be here. But really, I’m the only one questioning whether I should be here.

It’s not that I fear I’ve made the wrong choice by coming here. I haven’t. I came to law school because I wanted to do something. Up until then, I thought I’d become an academic. I love conducting research and investigating the issues that truly matter to me. I kept trying to use that research to change institutions. I thought I could say, “Here’s the evidence. Things have to change, and this is why.” Mainly, I was trying to reform the school’s Title IX system—the way they process and investigate complaints and the way they publicize and administer resources for victims. But changing institutions isn’t about the facts; it’s about power dynamics and who has the bigger sword. Me and my research just weren’t going to cut it. I needed a bigger sword.

At least, that’s the part I wrote about in my admissions essay. And that part is 100% true. However, I left out the fact that, like some of my classmates, my own experiences with the legal system played a large role in prompting me to come to law school. My mistake was not taking the time to consider what it would feel like to come face to face with that system and with my own history again, and again, and again, albeit in a different context. In fact, I actively tried not to consider what it might feel like.

I jumped into law school head-first and started volunteering with survivors of domestic and sexual violence. As much as I hate to admit it, it took a huge toll on me—playing by the rules of the same system that chewed me up and spat me out and made me feel smaller than I ever thought possible. That told me I am not the “right” kind of victim. Here I am, trying to convince myself and all these other survivors that we have to use the system in order to change it, knowing full well that it never worked for me. How can I, with a straight face, tell them it’ll work this time?

I keep having this dream: I wake up in the middle of night and stumble to the bathroom in the dark and out of the corner of my eye, I see my reflection in the mirror. At first, the reflection scares me. Then, I think to myself, I just need to let my eyes adjust to the darkness. But the blob in the mirror never gets any clearer and I realize—that’s just what I look like now.

That’s what the legal system has made me feel in my own personal life. That’s what law school reminds me of. Feeling small. Lost. Faceless. Present-day-me had forgotten that coming to law school was a power play. Sure, I might’ve lost a fight or two, but I’m not out of plays. Far from it.

I’ve been questioning whether I should be here because this year has made me unsure if I can be here—if I can face the “why’s” of the way our legal system (doesn’t) works and still be okay. But when I think about the question, “will you be returning in the fall?” no doesn’t even seem like an option.

So, I guess I’ve answered my own question.

This does what a first draft should do: it gets your thinking on the page. The draft both describes the problem and enacts it.

The emotional and intellectual center of the writing is your panel experience, which both documents the collapse of your confidence and perhaps illuminates some of the causes. As you write, one response to discovering that your approach to law school admission was atypical of those also speaking would have been "Okay, that's your way; I did it my way." Another is to wonder, if you didn't do it the other way, whether you belong at all. That this was the actual outcome alerts us to the importance of the "not belonging" feeling at the center of the syndrome from which you've been suffering.

"Not belonging" sensations are a rather common response to the way law school withholds reinforcement and regresses peoples' adult selves in the direction of high school. But for some students, separated by class background, personal history, and other factors from the population around them, the conviction that they are ineradicably other can take very destructive hold. Your writing also reminds us that previous experiences that led to doubts about safety or belonging at earlier stages of educational life can cause the present sense to redouble. Hence the significant designation, "present-day me."

But the draft also recapitulates the experience you see as the low point: it shows up wanting to be told how to get better. You feel for yourself that being told how to get better isn't how to get better. Regeneration lies in planning and executing it for oneself, which is what your not-present-day selves have done so many other times.

Another draft that draws upon Frank Putnam's summary of personality-state theory might be productive for you. "Present-day me" isn't a new and puzzlingly disabled identity standing alone: it's a personality state, resulting from dissociations produced by law school. It hasn't destroyed any other of your states, and doesn't need to be destroyed itself. What is needed is merger, communication between and incorporation of this and other states, to produce growth through the phenomenon we call "change." This is how we change, through the recognition and merger of separate personality states into new and larger versions of ourselves. The current draft stands opposed to "present-day me," not hostile to her but afraid of the consequences and meaning of her existence. The same materials, differently filtered through another kind of writing, can show the clearer and yet not radically distorted view of yourself—including but not limited to the silencing you've experienced in law school—that is the regenerated image you look for in your dream.


Webs Webs

r4 - 31 May 2018 - 20:11:21 - EbenMoglen
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