Note: Dearest friends, the following post comes on the heels of a tremendous amount of deep thought and emotional blood/sweat/tears. Since I announced that this year would be the year for law school, and that I’d have to make some tough decisions about what to do and where to go, I have received a staggering amount of comments, emails and phone calls offering advice. Some of you have known me for a long time; some of you are new friends. To say that I am gratified and moved by your concern and your care is to grossly understate the case. I thank everyone for caring enough to share their experiences and advice with me. Having said that, please know that Lloyd and I came to this decision after hours and days and months of talking and weighing and planning. We’ve made up our minds. We’re happy with, and excited by, our conclusion. It is entirely possible that, were you in our place, you would come to an entirely different conclusion, and think that ours is dangerous and ruinous. By all means, you are certainly entitled, nay, encouraged, to come to your own conclusion. But if I receive any incendiary commentary about how our conclusion is stupid and wrong and marriage-ruining—seriously, I am not exaggerating when I say that I have received email telling me just that—I’m going to cut it off at the knees. We have made our decision. If we change our minds, it will only be due to factors that affect us, and no one else. Thank you all, dear ones, for respecting our decision.
Additional note: This is *not* the official travelogue I keep promising. That one is on the way. Really.
Where does one begin? If that one is me, one begins with fits, starts and hiccups. Three times have I drafted an opening sentence; three times have I deleted it, muttering “no, no, no.” I returned home from California yesterday morning, bringing with me some brilliant things, all of which will be described in the lavish and overwritten style you have come to expect from PTMYB. (I also brought home a little sunburn on my chest and a mild head cold, which are somewhat less brilliant, but I have applied Lush Dream Cream to the former and Theraflu to the latter, and am now just fine for going out and playing in the fresh air with Lloyd, who is off from work this week.) So I’ll start with a teaser and a confession. Here’s the teaser:
This would be my adored and splendid hostess, Grace Davis, sliding down one of the neatest hidden gems of a city ever to be found, the Seward Street slides, a concrete slide situated in a lot between two buildings in the Diamond Heights/Castro area of San Francisco. There is a story to tell about this slide, and about the other wonders my dear friends shared with me so generously, but it will take me some time to tell, particularly since I also came home with 207 photos to sort and catalogue and dream over. So for now I will limit my observation to say that it was a clear joy and an unadulterated hoot to watch and listen to Grace as she rode down the slide on a piece of corrugate. On her first trip down, she cried out “ohmygodohmygodit’sfastIT’SFAST!,” and we’ve found a hundred reasons to say it ever since that moment.
Did I ride down the slide myself? Nope, I didn’t. Even as I know how berserk this sounds, I’ll confess: I thought the contours of the slide were a bit narrow. I am not narrow. I was afraid that I would get stuck. Grace thinks I need to get over it and just ride the slide already. She’s right, of course. I do need to get over it, and I will.
Now for the confession: Whatever virtues I might have, patience is not one of them. (That clicking sound you might be hearing now is the sound of a thousand foreheads being smote by a thousand friends and readers. “Tonight’s contestant is Bakerina. Her chosen subject: That Which is Manifestly Obvious.") Every time I sit down, take a deep breath and get into the quiet writerly space, a noisy little gremlin pops into my head: “Come on, come on, get to the good stuff! Why are you writing about the taxi ride to the airport? When do we get to the news? You have news! Say it! Say it! Sayitisayitsayitsayit SAY IT.” It’s obnoxious, that gremlin, but it’s right: I do have news, and I don’t want to barrel breathlessly through a narrative that deserves full attention and care in an attempt to get to the good stuff. If I’d wanted to do that, I would be a scriptwriter for the adult film industry. (Cheez Whiz, that sounds like a setup for a joke.)
Dear friends, I am happy to announce that after a lot of discussion, trepidation, tears, laughter, questions, answers, travel and a liberal dose of crossed fingers, the geographic smackdown is over. Bay Area wins. Come August, I will officially matriculate at Santa Clara University School of Law.
Although I am thrilled with the decision, particularly since Lloyd and Momerina are thrilled right along with me, I hasten to add that this was not an easy decision to make. It was not a battle among unequal opponents. Northeastern is a terrific school in a terrific city with a singular law curriculum. If you are contemplating a law education in an East Coast city, I can, and will, recommend Northeastern with enthusiasm. I met some truly smart and funny and impressive people there, and yes, I regret that we will not be playing together in the fall. Likewise, the decision not to attend Pitt Law doesn’t come easily, either. If anything, that was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in this whole process. I received my undergraduate degree from Chatham College (now Chatham College for Women, the undergraduate school of Chatham University) in Pittsburgh. I adored the city then, I adore it still, and I know that I will feel more than a little pang when I visit my dear friend Sharon (who was my roommate at Chatham) when I visit Pittsburgh later this spring.
By now you’ve probably guessed that I am well-embedded in the concentrated urban milieu, and you would be right. You might also have guessed that the Bay Area and Silicon Valley are a far, far piece, both geographically and emotionally, from everything I have ever known. You’d be right there, too. You might think, further, that for me to pursue a strenuous education in a new place, I’d have to find the school in question to be pretty damn special—and there, dear friends, is your hat trick. I’m not only East-Coast-born-and-bred, I’m citified to the core. My family is from Philadelphia, a place embedded in my blood, bone and marrow. Even when I was growing up in the Poconos, a good three hours’ drive from Philadelphia, I still felt that Philadelphia was my true place, and that all this small-town nonsense was getting in the way of finding my authentic self. Neither Boston nor Pittsburgh are Philadelphia—I will assert until my dying day that East Coast cities are *not* interchangeable, and that they’re not all wishing they were New York City or Washington—but they do share enough of a common taproot that, with a little time and patience, one can find one’s feet and comfort zone pretty easily. Santa Clara (and San Jose and Santa Cruz and Redwood City and the other towns I visited last weekend) are a far, far piece from my own visceral landscape. (San Francisco, by virtue of its citified nature, comes closer, but the geography of the city is so unlike that of any city I have ever lived in or visited that it still counts for me as a completely new milieu.) The quality of light is unlike anything I have ever seen. The geographical markers, the vegetation, the very air itself is different, and I went into instant sensory overload, disoriented and enchanted all at once. It is spectacular, but it is not yet comfortable. It will be, though. I know it will.
Of course, brilliant weather and splendid food and lush vegetation and sunsets that break your heart open, while lovely, are not the stuff for which law firms look when you come to them with your spiffy new J.D. degree and your bar certification in hand. You still need a decent education, and based on what I saw on Law Preview Day, Santa Clara provides much, much more than a decent education: if the 3L students I met on Saturday are any indication, the education it provides is not decent, but magnificent. If my fellow 1Ls are anything like the crowd that was in the moot Ethics Law class in which I participated, I’m going to have to work hard to keep up with my peers. These people are *smart*. Why, no, I’m not intimidated. I’m challenged in a healthy manner. Really. (breathes into paper bag) Seriously, though, I was impressed, deeply, with the moot classes, the faculty lectures, the current students and the incoming students. And yes, I did have a moment of worry ("These people are too smart for me! I don’t belong here!"), but it turned almost instantly into something more exciting and, ultimately, powerful ("That was *cool*. I want to learn how to think like that"). I haven’t had that “I want to do that, too” moment since my restaurant externship after culinary school, when I saw pastry cooks bake cakes, freeze semifreddos and do complex chocolate work simultaneously, exhibiting the coolheaded grace of dancers, or air traffic controllers. As soon as I had that moment, felt that desire, I knew what my answer would be.
This is not to say that I felt any kind of finality, or certainty, at that moment. There was still plenty of wheel-spinning. ("What about not seeing Lloyd every weekend? What about the distance from my family? God, I miss Lloyd so much right now—what will this be like when we can’t see each other for six weeks at a time? What about all the flying? My god, I’m going to have to make peace with flying once and for all! [Those of you who’ve known me for a long time know that I’m not the most phlegmatic of flyers, and that “peace” and “flying” are often mutually exclusive where I’m concerned. That shit stops right now, though.] What if I want to quit? What if Lloyd wants me to quit? What if I end up alienating everybody I know and love? My god, my god. Maybe a beer would help.") Poor Grace was a witness to a lot of this wheel-spinning; for this, if for no other reason, she deserves a Purple Heart for letting me live in her house for four days. She held my hand, literally and metaphorically, she walked me through a lot of this anxiety, she hugged me tightly and put me on the plane and assured me that, whatever I decided, good things will follow. I spent the next six hours reading and dozing and watching tv and turning over my thoughts as the plane zipped over our motley landscape, riding home from JFK in Tuesday morning rush hour traffic, navigating the cabdriver who took a wrong turn on Astoria Boulevard and damn near took us onto the Triborough and into the Bronx, and finally hurtling myself, missile-like, into Lloyd’s waiting embrace. I held on like I would never let go. He held on with me. And then we sat down and made a plan.
There was once a time when we had thought that regardless of where I went to school, we could keep our home base in New York. I would go away, I would come back, we would always have a home here. We’re not blind, though. We can see what’s happening in New York. The economy is in the tank, the job opportunities available for us are largely terrible cubicle-farm jobs where the retention prospects are tenuous at best. You can’t walk two blocks in this city anymore without running smack into construction on new buildings full of apartments we can’t afford. The neighborhood in which we live has officially been discovered by real estate watchers. Our neighborhood message board, and the coffee bar from which much of the discussion generates, is full of commentary from young New Yorkers who have tried for months, years even, to find an affordable apartment in Astoria from a landlord willing to rent to them. All around us, we see signs of tightening, the best of New York being parsed for those who can pay extravagantly for it, the rest of us being squeezed out. Eventually we will be forced to leave. We’d just as soon go of our own free will, thanks.
So this is our immediate future. I will scramble for loans and scholarships and any other means to pay for school. (Thankfully, I will not have to scramble for work. I have a part-time job waiting for me in San Jose. A nifty prize awaits the first reader who can ascertain where I’ll be working.) I will cross my fingers and hope that on-campus housing comes through. School starts August 11. To get there, Lloyd and I will go on our long-discussed, long-desired cross-country road trip at last. We will share the driving and eat road food and look for real homemade pie, much as I wanted to do after reading Pascale Le Draoulec’s American Pie four years ago. He’ll get me settled in, he’ll fly back to New York, we’ll talk every day, we’ll fly to each other as often as time and money will allow...and then, once he is fully vested in his pension next spring, we will pursue transfer and/or new job opportunities, anything it takes to bring him to me. It may be later rather than sooner, but Lloyd is coming to California, too. Once I’m finished with school...well, there’s the bright shining question mark. In general, where one goes to school determines where one will stay to practice, so the odds of living permanently in California are good...but they’re not a given. We could end up in Seattle. We could go back to Philadelphia, where Lloyd and I met as bookstore clerks on a day that feels like yesterday. We could see the world. We could go anywhere.
Where does one begin?