We're Moving ... To Texas

When I was in the sixth grade, I was really obsessed with Texas. It was the beginning of my political awareness and George W. Bush was in office. I envisioned Texas as big and conservative, and probably something to be mocked. My friend Alyssa brought me a "don't mess with Texas" keychain from her vacation that stayed on my keys well through high school. But I never went to Texas, and I never bothered to complicated my understanding of the state. 

El paso Texas View

And now, here I am, 15 years later, packing boxes up to move to one of the least likely states I could imagine. AND I'M SO EXCITED. A took me to El Paso for a quick whirlwind visit last spring, and after that we made it one of our top choices for post-grad work. And then, it worked! And with less than a month's notice, we're packing up and moving across the country. 

Here is what I'm looking forward to most about Texas:

  • The chance to work with TWO really amazing immigration agencies.
  • All the opportunity I could want to perfect my Spanish.
  • Being en la frontera again. 
  • SUN.
  • Going back to this great coffee shop that had breakfast quinoa(!!)
  • Green chile bagels with green chile cream cheese. (Technically these are in Las Cruces, NM, but that is practically next door to El Paso, so.)
  • The chance to explore an entirely new place in the world
  • TAMELESSSS

But first we just have to survive finals for the last semester of law school while simultaneously packing up our entire lives, finding a subletter for our place in Boston and an apartment in El Paso. Did you know Texas doesn't state wide anti-discrimination statutes for LGBTQ people? And El Paso doesn't prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation? That adds another whole level of weirdness that has me sending emails to potential apartments that say things like, "me and my lesbian woman girlfriend partner who is female and also I am female, too, because we're lesbians..." because I would rather get it out of the way over email that they're not going to rent to us than when we show up to sign a lease. 

It kind of feels like we're looking for something to go wrong before it has, but the reality is, that even in Boston we faced issues with people being unwilling to rent what was cringingly referred to as "a girl couple." So, yeah. There's a big difference between Texas and Boston, and so I'm trying to keep my hopes in check and not get too attached to any one place before we know we'll be welcome there. 

In the meantime, you can find us listening to "Formation" on repeat and packing 800 pounds of books. 

Making a Murderer is about more than the failures of our criminal justice system.

A and I are a few episodes in to Making a Murderer. Every night she asks to watch it, and almost every night I say, um how about tomorrow? Because I have a low sadness tolerance and I don’t like feeling so helpless. About a million things have already been written about Making a Murderer, but the thing I keep coming back to (aside from the constant reaffirmation of my commitment to prison abolition) is how class is portrayed.

Making a Murderer and Class

A is from a Wisconsin town a couple hours away from Manitowoc County, and I am from Northern Michigan. Parts of our families look at lot like parts of Steven Avery’s family. Last night, while we were watching A said, this is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone who talks like me on TV. The Avery family has the look of a life lived hard, the same look that could be read on to so many people in my own family, the same look that stands in as a social cue of someone’s class and someone’s worth. The remarkable thing to me, so far, is not the insane lengths prosecutors go to for a conviction, but the compassion and complexity with which the filmmakers portray Manitowoc residents and the Avery family. None of it is overt, and none of it overdone, but we are allowed to a glimpse into the full and difficult lives of people different than those usually portrayed on TV. Interspersed with the long panning shots of the Avery junkyard are moments of honest humanness, Avery being handed a baby he doesn’t know when he is first released, and Avery’s girlfriend being too embarrassed to tell him she loves him over the phone while camera’s recording. Avery telling his sister he loves her after a heated conversation about his nephew during a from-jail phone call.

There are people the world wants to leave behind, and they have to make their own families, their own money, their own fun and often we begrudge them for that, wanting them to be more like us. More respectable, less uncomfortable. But, they’re not like us, and as Avery says, “the poor lose.” That’s true in life, and true especially in the criminal justice system.

 

Watching Avery’s family hold onto each other reminded me immediately of something I thought I’d long since forgotten: a moment, probably 11 or 12 years ago when I was driving with my dad in his busted out red Ford Explorer (nicknamed, affectionately, “the exploder” due to its notoriously bad safety). He had just finished explaining to me that he had broken up with his longtime, live-in girlfriend because he had discovered that she had been taking the prescription pain medication he used as part of his treatment for lung cancer. When he finished, I sat in the car feeling sick as he went inside an unfamiliar liquor store to pay of the hundreds of dollars he had discovered that she owed the owner for alcohol purchased on credit. You do what you have to do for your family. When he died a few years later, we tried to invite her to the funeral only to discover that she was gone too. In a family marked by poverty, you simply do what has to be done for your people and you accept the tragedies along the way.


That’s the thing, I think, about what I see in Making a Murderer, is that the filmmakers show the tragedies, but they don’t make anyone tragic, and they don’t make them noble either. They are simply people I recognize as familiar.

 

 

Shake it off

I have been in a little bit of a funk lately. I think its extreme senioritis because this is LITERALLY my 20th (TWENTIETH!!!!) year in school. In an effort to combat my blahs, I came up with my new 2016 mantra for problem solving:

When I have a problem I either can remind myself it's not such a big fucking deal (a/k/a shake off my annoyance at winter) or shake it up and do something different to solve it (a/k/a join a yoga studio so I stop feeling like a disaffected housewife when the cold weather and general malaise keep me inside.)

So far, it's working. I can still barely walk from my first yoga class, and I'm dragging A back for another one tomorrow. 

You can get the print here.

The Best Books I Read in 2015

My entire life, I have been kindly be described as a voracious reader. In fourth grade, my idea of a great recess was one in which I got to sit quietly alone and absorb a chapter in whatever fantasy novel I was currently toting around. I read while walking, over lunch, and at night falling asleep. I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire until binding literally fell off. Books were my first true love, and the feeling of complete escape is one I will never forget. Books, and a little later, writing, allowed me to create for myself the most magnificent life I could imagine.

Reading is so important to me that it makes up 1/3 of my list of deal breakers in relationships: no littering; no smoking; must be a reader. (But seriously, nothing good comes from someone who litters.)

Unfortunately, law school takes up 90% of your time and 150% of your mental energy and leaves almost zero time for reading. When A read ten Supreme Court biographies in a row, I began to feel bad that I hadn't really read anything I loved since beginning law school in 2013. I was such a non-reader at that point I was turning into my own deal breaker, while A was lounging around next to me devouring a new SCOTUS biography weekly. So, for my 2015 resolution, I decided to read 25 books, mostly fiction, mostly by women. Compared with my old reading habits of a book a day, 2 and a little books per month seemed easy. Of course, nothing in law school is easy, and I barely scraped my goal of 25 before ringing in 2016. 

25 books was more than enough to remind me why I feel so fucking in awe of the world every time I read a new book. So on that note, if you're looking for a little escape from the January blues, here are my favorite books I read in 2015, in no particular order, because all books are kind of the best books, right?

Furiously Happy - Jenny Lawson

I was really looking forward to this book because I love Jenny Lawson's blog. Her writing about living a hilarious life in the face of anxiety really resonates with me, and I loved the book just as much. A quick read that will make you feel ecstatic to be the weird anxious person you really are. Especially if you are the type of weird person who is super into ethically sourced taxidermy, which ... you do you, ok? 

Favorite quote: "Like my grandmother always said, "Your opinions are valid and important. Unless it's some stupid bullshit you're being shitty about, in which case you can just go fuck yourself."

Get it here

The Miseducation of Cameron Post - Emily M. Danforth

I went through a big YA thing this year. I don't know. It was weird but also great. YA just gets better you guys. It turns out that all those amazing YA books I read when I was actually a YA still exist and even better MORE PEOPLE ARE STILL WRITING SUPER AMAZING IMPORTANT YA BOOKS THAT I WOULD NEVER GET TO READ BECAUSE I'M NOT A YA! So get your YA on, it's worth it, I promise. Teenagers feel EVERYTHING so deeply it's kind of magic to remember how that felt. 

Miseducation is about a young lesbian in '90's Montana, which reads a lot like '90's midwest to me. After her parents die, Cameron is in a haze of grief and falls in love with her the cowgirl butch dream girl, Coley. When Cameron and Coley are found out by Cameron's conservative grandmother and aunt, she is sent away to be re-educated. The only thing I wanted more of from this book is pages -- I wanted everything to be drawn out longer so I could savor it more. 

I think it says a lot that I finished this book sitting on the ground at an outdoor food festival in Tucson, AZ, completely unable to be distracted from its compelling storyline by the delicious food around me. 

Favorite Quote: "I just liked girls because I couldn't help not to."

Get it here

My So-Called Ruined Life - Melanie Bishop

I can't believe I didn't read this until this year. It came out in 2014, and I didn't read it because ??? Idk, I guess I wasn't in my YA mindset yet. I read this shortly after Miseducation, and I'm glad I did, because they go perfectly together. In My So-Called Ruined Life, sweet, smart, and mouthy Tate McCoy's world is shattered when her mom is murdered and everyone around her is treating her like her world is made of glass (boy I know that teenagehood feeling... minus the murder part). I particularly love how authentic all of Tate's relationships feel, especially her relationship with her dad and her best friend Kale. I can't wait for the next book in the series. 

This is a quick read perfect for a lazy day when you want to curl up and fall away into the story of someone that could have been you in another life. 

Favorite Quote: "Nobody wants to date a girl who has 1) mandatory therapy, 2) a mom in the grave, and 3) a dad in jail. I give people the heebie jeebies. I am a walking reminder of the whole mess. Ruin." 

Get it here.

Swedish Lessons - Natalie Burg

Ok, this is another one I can't believe I waited so long to read because I'm a memoir junkie. I bought a copy when it first came out, in 2013, but somehow (SOMEHOW) haven't read it until now. Sorry Natalie, I regret it! Natalie's memoir chronicles the year she spent in Sweden as an au pair after leaving the United States and a crappy relationship. She goes to Sweden to take care of a couple kids for a year and ends up essentially the indentured servant of a cult leader. This book is everything I love: funny, honest, and bizarre. I actually (actually, literally) laughed out loud to myself. Multiple times! I know the author in real life, so I got the plus of being able to hear her voice in my head as I read it, but trust me, you'll still find it hilarious. 

Favorite Quote: "Where was my usual fear of flying? Nowhere in evidence. How was I not fretting over a midair collision? It was a mystery. Had I forgotten to count the onboard children? I always counted kids on my flights. It was my secret recipe of anxiety-induced OCD and superstition: the higher number of children the better, because (obviously) God was less likely to allow a plane packed with his little angels to crash than one filled with crummy adults. Not this time. All of us crummy adults were headed home, and that was all I needed to know."

Get it here.

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

I almost didn't want to include this book because it felt kind of like including Twilight because everyone already knows and loves it. Right? RIGHT? But in the end, I decided to include it anyway, because I loved the book and it teetered just enough on the edge of way too depressing to read to keep me going. I generally stay far away from cancer books but like I said, I was having some manic YA streak and everyone loves John Green. The love story was sweet, and that's probably all I need to say about it because a million reviews have probably been written. I was rooting for both Hazel and Augustus and I loved them through the end. 

Favorite Quote: "Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book."

Get it here

How To Grow Up: A Memoir - Michelle Tea

Every lesbian loves Michelle Tea. It's mandatory. I love her because I saw her read on a Sister Spit tour in Tucson and Dorothy Allison read too and my heart was more filled up than it maybe has ever been from the words of others. So a book of essays about growing up (and living as the oldest person in an apartment where mold takes over the fridge) is exactly what I want from her. Because she grew up, lately, and got married and had a baby, and this book talks about all the mistakes and bridges that took her there. Sometimes it reads as a bit advice column-y but I'm willing to forgive her for it. #lesbiantrust. 

Favorite Quote: "I spent the past decades alternately fighting off adulthood with the gusto of a pack of Lost Boys forever partying down in Neverland, and timidly, awkwardly, earnestly stumbling toward the life of a grown-ass woman: healthy, responsible, self-aware, stable. At 43 years old, I think I've finally arrived."

Get it here.

Yes Please - Amy Poehler

You guys, Amy Poehler is a fantastic human being. I devoured Bossypants by Tina Fey and this was just as delightful. This is the perfect book to get your feminist rage on for a minute and then enjoy a great pep talk about being a badass woman who can do whatever the fuck she wants! Amy did it! We can too! Just read it, there's no way for me to do it justice. 

Favorite Quote: “It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.” 

Get it here

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress - Rhoda Jansen

This is weird right? What can I say, I love memoirs and also there aren't a ton of them on my library's overdrive account, so I end up reading (or listening to, as the case was here) whatever pops up and is available for checkout. This one was surprisingly delightful. Rhoda Jansen's husband leaves her for a man her met on gay.com and Rhoda goes home to her weird and delightful mennonite family. She then dates a man with a giant cross necklace made of nails (very 90s) and makes all sorts of delightful mennonite soups with her mother. I listened to the audiobook of this as I was running, and it was interesting enough to distract me from both my burning lungs and the fact that A and I were long-distance while she worked in New York, so that ought to be a pretty good endorsement. 

It's really perfect for a long drive or a long run, or a book to put on your nightstand and pick up when you need a laugh and to not feel too emotionally invested in one of the YA books I suggested above.

Favorite Quote: "In my opinion, sexiness comes down to three things: chemistry, sense of humor, and treatment of waitstaff at restaurants.” 

Get it here

 

Writing Down the Bones - Natalie Goldberg

Everyone has read this right? I was assigned this book in the first writing class I took in college and it is the one I return to over and over again whenever I need a good dose of inspiration. Goldberg making writing seem like the most important, most doable thing in the world, which it is, of course. Rereading this book makes me want to hole up in my room with my favorite pen and notebook and not come out until I've written that memoir I dream of writing someday. It makes me feel like all the life energy I expend on words is worth it. I always knew writing saved me, and this book affirms that. And it's not just for serious writers, I think any blogger would be remiss to ignore this one.

Favorite Quote: all of it, really, but especially: "We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important."

Get it here.

 

How do you decide where to live your life?

A and I are obsessed the El Paso housing craigslist. It started as a diversion from the awful, soul sucking stress of filling out fellowship and job applications and now has turned in to a full time hobby. We compete to see who can find the best listing, and each one we find is endlessly delightful. A four bedroom single family home in the suburbs for $900 a month?! A downtown loft with exposed brick for $1,000? We map the closest coffee shops, gyms, and bougie amenities. This is all despite the fact that we could just as easily end up in one of six places we're applying for jobs other than El Paso and if we had a four bedroom house we would have to get two more cats and give each one their own room to fill up the space.

Marveling over affordable housing is keeping us sane, because right now we're lingering on the edge of the start of careers and have no idea where we're going.

I am not a spontaneous person and I'm really bad at not having a plan. But right now, A and I are in the ultimate place of plan-less suspended animation. In that neither of us know where we're taking the bar, where we will have a job, and where we will live after we graduate in a little over six months. We have each foot in a different door. We have a few serious contenders in places where we have (lets be real, where A has) applied for jobs, and they have nothing in common other than the fact that they have great holistic public defender programs and are currently hiring.  Public defenders are kind of unique in that they hire "classes" of incoming Public Defenders, as opposed to hiring one person here and there to fill a vacancy. They also have really intense hiring processes with multiple levels of interviews each increasing in hostility (to test how you will react to being potentially bullied by DAs and judges in court, I assume). While A is applying to every single job in America, I have applied to one single solitary fellowship that is such a long shot that I couldn't help but laugh when I sent off the application. Don't get me wrong, it really is a dream job, but fellowships are very competitive and tend to go to people graduating from top tier brand name law schools. 

We're graduating from like... a school that is still  well-respected in the public interest world,  but certainly not recognizably impressive. We're Trader Joe's, not Whole Foods. So our potential future lives are limited to places where there are great PD offices and where there are immigration non-profits that are hiring.

I'm gunning hard to get back to the southwest, but stupidly and unsurprisingly, there are not that many immigration nonprofits actually on the border, because no one in their right mind wants to live there. I am not in my right mind, obviously, and can't wait to get back to cultivating a cactus garden that will be the envy of my neighbors. I am pretty much certain that my entire future is in El Paso and I've only spent 24 hours there, and that was with comically serious missionaries who refused to talk to A and I because of, I'm assuming, our satanic lesbian lifestyle. Or they were really shy? Unsure, but it was weird. 

And yet, late at night during our 24 hours in El Paso, A and I awkwardly stood on a stranger's porch in the apartment complex where the friend we were staying with lived and looked over the lights of Juarez, Mexico with its yellow halogen  burning against the desert blackness and in that moment I knew that El Paso was for me. Two cities cut in half by the violence that is the border wall and I fell in love. What can I say, I love a militarized zone.

El Paso isn't our only option and the other cities we are considering are disturbingly far away from my beloved prime cactus cultivation zone: NYC; Boston; D.C; and possibly somewhere in Alabama. In my dreams we are also considering Tucson, but neither of us can find any jobs to apply for there.  

We're both kind of terrified that we are destined to end up in NYC, because that's where there is funding for the work both of us want to do, but its not nearly as fun and one billion times more stress inducing to look at the NYC craigslist. A and I may be the only twenty-somethings on earth who remain completely uninterested in the New York lifestyle, but that's just one more reason why we're perfect for each other, I guess. If NYC is the bridge we have to cross to get to our future, we'll deal with that when it comes, but for now, we're dreaming of El Paso, and a future in which we have a beautiful old, wood floored house for half the rent we pay now. 

 

Our current view from our porch.
Downtown El Paso, when we visited earlier this year.
Tucson

Apostrophes

This is what fall is looking like this month. It is looking like late night phone calls and weekend long dates, because A is in NYC and I am in Boston, and there is no good way to get between the two. Each trip back and forth our hearts get broken in the inevitable delays in the four hours that separate us. There's dropped calls, bad reception, broken train tracks, bus delays. And then there is the moment at two a.m. when A texts me to tell me she's finally here walking up the hill towards the house from the train station and I walk down the road to meet her in my bathrobe, freezing in the fall air but too anxious to hold her hand to wait until she gets to the door. Our weekends together snap by like a flip book.

We're living parallel lives hundreds of miles apart and its alright, but it also is horrible. I have been reading a book of essays about Ruth Bader Ginsberg and I am constantly inspired by her husband's dedication to her success. They supported each other through law school and jobs and sexism and here A and I are on a teeter totter trying to balance our careers with, well, each other. But usually we can see clearly that we our both following our hearts. And they are pointed north, together. We're heading towards the brightest star, and the right direction. 

And some days, there is no work, and no law school, and no fellowship applications, there is just us, celebrating two years of everything good with perfectly sunny fall days in the North End. I grabbed my camera for the first time in months and we went on what one might characterize as a gluttonous rampage in a two square block radius. We had lattes, fresh apple cider donuts, carrot beet juice, pasta at our favorite Italian restaurant, and then the best and most adorable miniature cheesecake. It is these moments in Boston that I will miss, when everything is on fire for the fall and Haymarket is crowded and the sun still warms you up but the air is cold enough to make your cheeks a little pink. 

It is these weekends that I am reminded once again that we are each others' apostrophes. We belong to each other. B's A and A's B. And we're headed forward. 

Blog Redux: Meet GAY DOJ

Inevitably, one of the questions a law student (or future law student) is asked ad infinitum is, “what kind of law do you want to practice?” Mostly, people are looking for an answer like family law or criminal defense. The question is deceptively simple, but for the first two years of law school I mumbled something about “immigrants’ rights on the border” whenever someone asked me.

Now, at the start of my last year of law school and after two different full-time legal jobs, I think I’ve found my answer.

practice human kindness law law student blog

I want to practice human kindness law. 

There are bits and pieces of various “types” of law (as if legal issues always arise in discrete, easily categorized bites instead of big tangled piles of real life) that appeal greatly to me. I love the adrenaline rush of preparing for big impact litigation, I love the nerdy economic theories of property law and contracts, I love the implications of constitutional law, and I love the passion of criminal defense. And most of all, I love the day to day heart-wrenching humanness of immigration law. But none of these things alone satisfy me. I don’t want to be a public defender or just do affirmative immigration claims; I came to law school because I wanted to change the world. (Even I am rolling my eyes here, sorry.)

But truly, I want to change the way we interact with each other. I want to practice the type of law that doesn’t alienate people from each other, but instead builds bridges to create sustainable, safe, and diverse communities. And the important thing is that I know that this is possible outside of NPR sponsorship ads.

So, how this relates to Gay Department of Justice and the site redesign: what started off as a place where I could control my online identity and write about legal issues in a personal way turned out to be really restricting and I kind of hated it. And as I come up on the rigorous bar review and fellowship application processes, I am wary about how I am perceived online. So I want a website with my name to be associated with my professional identity, and not so much with my creative/project/writing side.

Here is what you will find at GAY DOJ:

Writing. Not content, not NINE WAYS TO BREATHE SUCCESSFULLY WHILE ALSO WALKING AND WATCHING MY VLOG: A FREE E-BOOK -- SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER, but writing about how I am constantly trying and succeeding and failing to transform law school and lawyering into human kindness law. Which mostly just means, this is a place for me to write about all the hard and amazing and ridiculous things I have learned over the last two years and document my life as I struggle through the last year of law school and the process of finding my place as a lawyer in the real world.

So, that is it. This is me: practicing human kindness law and eating vegetarian hotdogs. Welcome to my blog, I think you might like it here.

(The name, by the way, comes from when Alec Baldwin freaked out  a few years ago about being called homophobic for saying a bunch of homophobic things and blamed what happened to him on Anderson Cooper and others "in the gay department of justice." And, since I am a lesbian law student, I like to think of myself as the gay DOJ.)