Monday, August 20, 2012

On the legal field

I jumped into the legal field when I was 17: Dad's office needed gopher work, and I needed money.

I recognize that most 17-year-olds worked at Starbucks or the pool (and my own sisters still tease me over "working for Daddy"), but the hours were consistent, I wasn't flipping burgers, and I earned every penny of that $6.50 an hour.

Lest working for Daddy seem glamorous, let me paint a picture of my environment: I spent most of my time in the basement of one building or another with college student Sara, hunting for sometimes decades-old files among general basement grime and random home artifacts from the 1960s. The IT guy came down to reset something or other frequently. I craved sunshine. I tackled the receptionist role on Tammy's lunch breaks and rolled up to Dad's office to check my e-mail (or put a funny photo on his desktop background) on my own lunch breaks. Sometimes I'd be upstairs in the library, searching for this precedent or that opinion. I rocked the postage meter and hated the copy machine.

I was incredibly precise about my timesheet, and that probably drove Nancy nuts. Dad, of course, measured in tenths of hours. I went one decimal place farther, not realizing what a pain that would be for the books. Hey, I worked 8.32 hours, not 8.3.

I remember the day I got my first paycheck. I burst into my father's office and wanted to know why I'd been robbed. Then I learned — really learned — about taxes. ...Then I spent the remainder on a pair of Oakleys and figured work wasn't so bad. I worked at that firm during summers and holiday breaks for several years.

During college, I worked for the biggest firm in State College. I made dear friends, made copies, made contacts, made runs to the county courthouse, led the document digitization project, trained newcomers, played Rock Band in the parking lot (OK, just that once), and wrote. My work schedule was planned around my classes (amazingly enough, given the 8-to-5 nature of offices), and my transportation was subsidized — because my education came first, and my contribution to the firm was valuable. I learned a lot about what kind of employers and coworkers I wanted, how to prioritize my many obligations at work and personally, and the hierarchy of the law. I sobbed the day I quit.

My first post-college job was at a large firm of trial lawyers in Denver, in what was the Qwest Tower. My role was that of gopher and clerk. I assisted with exhibits, edited briefs, and organized case-related communication. The hours were beastly at times, and I had to be prepared to travel for trials, but I was much more involved in the legal process than I had been in high school and college, and I devoured it. I was lucky enough that the attorneys with whom I worked most closely were happy to explain the laws and procedures to me instead of just requesting that I go find a file for them. Had I not gone to the world of more editing-heavy jobs, I likely would have been on the paralegal path.

The jargon and formalities in legal writing can be rough on the eyes and the brain, frankly, but the smoke and mirrors don't have to be scary — simply growing up with Dad's dictations helped me get used to hearing terminology, and my work experience brought me closer to actually understanding and deciphering those things I had heard.

It is with great pleasure that I am pursuing paralegal studies now. There is the familiarity that encourages me to delve deeper into what is applicable in my own state, the pride I feel when I discuss famous cases with Dad, and of course the quest to snag a civil service job.

Aaron will begin teaching my future interns in September, Monongahela is assuming the role of legal beagle, and I treasure the opportunity to combine my legal and writing/editing experiences.

Legal beagle keeps me company as I review jurisdiction.

Monday, June 25, 2012

On leaving Denver

It's not hard to be sentimental about the place that gave me everything — everything!  for the last three years, and if that sounds dramatic, it's because it is.

Now, I'm not leaving to move back to Pennsylvania, and I'm not leaving because I've been run out of town (although what a story that'd make for the Wild West). I have wonderful reasons to be peacing out of the Front Range.

Fate (and by "fate" I mean "Pagosa Springs Elementary") offered my other half a teaching job; he took it. Even if it weren't an area he liked, he'd have had to take it. (It's the economy, stupid.) But everything came up Aaron, and he got a grade he likes in an area he likes where he already has a house with a wife whose work is portable.

And so we're going.

Pagosa Springs, Colorado, has a population of about 1,800. ...My high school was bigger than that.

It is, without a doubt, a big change for me: I grew up in the suburbs, went to college with 40,000 other undergrads, and moved to a city. I've never lived in a place without other family members. My neighborhood roads were always paved. I've never lived hours and hours from Target (or something of the sort).

Change doesn't have to be a bad thing. 

My beagle will have much more room to play, inside and out. I'll never have to worry about a parking space. Aaron and I will finally have all of our collective stuff in one place. We'll have a hot springs pass and a greenhouse — and perhaps some chicks. I'll edit on the deck, with a view of Pagosa Peak.

Oh, and some other big changes include, y'know, marriage. Work. And very soon my name (legally, finally).

I've never considered anyone else in my relocations, in my job choices, in my finances. (Well, OK, I consider the dog in my finances, but she doesn't have access to my bank accounts.) We're doing this together.  I'm excited to do it together.

But excitement for our future doesn't change how I feel about my adoptive city.

Fewer than 10 days after graduation, I arrived at my cousins' house. Moving here meant spending more time with people I care so, so much about — and being broken in to Colorado culture gently by people who care so, so much about me, too. I doubt I would have moved here if it weren't for Heather and Mark. They gave me the guts to work hard to get out to Colorado. You can bet I'll be paying it forward.

And those little girls? I learned about parenting. I re-learned how to have fun with my imagination instead of a tailgate. I reveled in hugs and laughter.

Two weeks after arriving, I got my first post-college job! How's that for turnaround? (Economy, schmeconomy.)

I found the Penn State alumni bar — and found friends. This gave me a safe, close, happy place to get in some gridiron goodness and to feel at home. (On fall Saturdays, anyway: Pat's is a Philly bar otherwise, and we all know how quickly I'd probably die in such a place.)

I got my own place. I got a beagle puppy. I got 14ers. I got to see my (sometimes surprisingly victorious) visiting Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins.

The PSU alumni bar later gave me one of the best things ever: Aaron. If you know the story, you know it's a good one. If you don't know the story, the very short version is that we met there. May [the deity of your choosing] forever smile on Penn State football and that bar.

I got snowshoes. I got new, better jobs. I got an engagement ring. I got more nearby family, as Aunt Lisa and Uncle Ed moved westward, and I tacked on a brother-in-law.

I love this place.

I don't know where I'm going to make new friends when we move. I'm certain there's not a Penn State alumni bar anywhere near Pagosa Springs — Colorado Springs might be the closest, and it's at least four hours away. 

I don't know where our "nearest" Target is (as if there were multiple from which to choose). I think there's a Wal-Mart in Durango.

I don't know how my little Neon is going to handle the back roads in the winter. Maybe he'll need all-season tires?

I don't know when I'll next see everyone I care about in the Front Range. The phone will have to do for now.

The I-don't-knows don't scare me. They're just new projects that I am lucky enough to tackle with my other half.

One more I-don't-know: I don't know how to fully express what Denver — and Colorado as a whole — has meant to me.

And on that note, take me home, country roads. We leave on Saturday.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Charity: Reading Village

(...Lest you think I forwent March's charity!)

Headquartered in Boulder, Colo., but carrying out its mission in Latin America, Reading Village supports literacy efforts in Guatemala.

A donation helps to pay school fees for teenagers. Schooling is not free in Guatemala, and children who are privileged enough to go at all often don't study past sixth grade. These teenagers whom you support with your donation take their reading skills and books to the younger children, to instill the importance of literacy and enjoyment of reading. It does double duty, really: educates the younger ones and helps the teenagers to become leaders in their communities.

Imagine it: If you couldn't read, you'd have trouble with directions, addresses, menus, names, etc. And this is all in our highly developed country. In Guatemala, the literacy rate is low, the communities are poor, the school system is lacking, and the idea of well-stocked libraries is laughable.

Someone (probably many people) cared about you enough to read to you, to help you sound out words, to give you your own books. You can help to provide that to others by donating to Reading Village.

**If you're looking for a more local approach, your community libraries certainly have opportunities. The Denver Public Library system (which is always facing budget cuts, reduced hours, and branch closings because our legislators apparently can't even read the bills they pass and laws they enact) asks for volunteers for delivery to homebound patrons and reading aloud to children.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Grammar Day haiku

Today is March 4, National Grammar Day. In its honor, I give you this haiku.

Doctors? Editors.
Always slicing and stitching.
Red pens for scalpels.

So, march forth (get it?) and lead by example.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Charity: To Write Love on Her Arms

Two-thirds of those who suffer from depression never seek treatment, and 19 million Americans suffer each year. (Twelve million of them are women.)

Not all are suicidal, and not all are the lock-myself-in-my-room Emily Dickinson kind. Depression can be genetic; depression can be a surprise. It was a surprise in my case.

I am one of the lucky ones: My parents did whatever they could for me when we all realized it wasn't a brief phase, and it has been almost five years since I've taken medicine for what I'd dubbed "my broken brain." 

It's not glamorous to wake up feeling hopeless, to lose interest in your friends and activities, to let your grades slip, and to cry yourself to sleep. It's not glamorous to have to hide everything you feel -- or don't feel -- and keep most people on a need-to-know basis. It's not glamorous to have to try different medications and doses for months, because what doesn't make you sad makes you numb and because what doesn't make you numb makes you nauseous. And it's not glamorous to explain to your college roommates that the packages you get so frequently aren't just brownies -- that those boxes are filled with meds and appointment reminders.

All the things that can be associated with depression (e.g., self-injury, substance abuse, and eating disorders) aren't glamorous, either. Although concurrent issues are not always present, depression seems to be a magnet for a demonstration in What Else Can Go Wrong.

What my psychiatrist and general doctor both deemed seasonal affective disorder (SAD) wasn't helped by central Pennsylvania's winter gloom. My post-college relocation to Colorado, with its 300 days of sun, was no coincidence.

But not everyone is as lucky as I am, because getting help -- and even suggesting you're not OK -- can be taboo. We laugh at drunken idiocy that results in broken limbs, but we scoff at mental health. 

Promote well-being: You can donate to To Write Love on Her Arms and find resources and facts.