Throughout high school and college, I wrote a lot of poems; journals full of poems; many journals full of poems. I still have the journals and looking back at them I can honestly say that the majority of my poems were fair to poor. However, there are a few poems that seem to me to be fairly decent, good even. Those few poems suggest I had at least the potential to write a poem, or even a book of poems, that other people may have wanted to read. Getting to that place would have taken a great deal of practice and rejection and starting over, graduate school, writer’s retreats and more rejection. But I might have done it.
I did not.
I don’t remember exactly when I stopped writing poems but I think it was towards the end of college or around the time I started law school. Yep, that’s right, I went from would-be poet to future attorney, because that seems like a logical progression. In fact, my decision to become an attorney marked a (then un-noticed) shift in my professional and personal ideals. I studied my ass off for three years so that I could become an attorney like my father, get a good, well-paid job and live a comfortable white, upper-middle class life like everyone else (everyone else being people from college, law school and television).
I practiced law for over a decade, as a law clerk, biglaw associate and Assistant Attorney General. I left my job as an AAG this past fall and have yet to decide whether I will work as an attorney in any capacity again. So basically, at 37, I am trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.
As part of that process, I wonder frequently about the parts of legal practice that I truly enjoyed versus the parts that I merely tolerated (or actively avoided). So far, I can say for certain that I enjoyed the writing part: creating and weaving a theme throughout a brief; telling my client’s story in a truthful and persuasive way; the unraveling of opposing counsel’s arguments in a compelling, yet concise reply brief. In short, I enjoyed legal writing that pushed me to truthfully, completely and compelling describe an event or series of events pertinent to the case. This, my friends, is poetry.
A good poet can truthfully, completely and compelling tell you the story of their loved-one’s death, their own years of captivity and sexual assault or the greatest romantic relationship of their life in less than half a page. Their words are precise. They use them skillfully. And the result is beauty, just as a painting or a sunset may be beautiful.
I don’t intend to become a poet now, but remembering that I sincerely wanted to become one when I was younger helps keep my search for what to do with myself in proper perspective. I don’t have to be what I was or anything close to it. There are so many more possibilities.