You Probably Think This Post is About You

Before going to law school, the only thing I really heard about lawyers were awful jokes about them being dead at the bottom of the ocean or that I would be sued by one of them if their kid ever suffered some third grade injustice, like being found in a game of hide-and-go-seek.

Claire Huxtable was a lawyer and she seemed very nice but she would also get really mad at her husband whenever he ate potato chips. So before I even met a lawyer, face-to-face, I was scared of them, expecting them to be a group of snack food hating, A-type personalities who would rigorously argue a “fact” whether they believed it to be true or not. What I found in my first year of law school, though, were people just like me. I was able to make friends with other non-hardcore types who thought a lot about social justice and also ate Doritos. The same was true when I started working at a firm. Sure, there were the aggressive types who oozed bravado and had never seen an episode of Allie McBeal, but there were also really nice lawyers. There were really wonderful people practicing law, with really good hearts, who helped me and brightened my days. While I cherished these friendships, they just weren’t enough to eclipse the parts of law that I didn’t like. No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t seem to feel comfortable in private practice, I couldn’t find my voice or assert myself in the way that I wanted to or in the way that I imagined a successful lawyer should. I had trouble standing my ground and when a partner would raise his voice at me, justifiably or not, I felt small. Like when Rudy gets soap in her eyes because Denise kicked her out of the bathroom.

Seeing my timidity as the albatross of my legal career, I was excited to pursue my dream of becoming a writer, where I thought my inability to advocate for myself would be a non-issue. I thought I was entering a community of hand holding, kumbaya singing individuals who would share their hopes, dreams and books with me, people who know just what I mean when I tell them about “when I have fears that I may cease to be.” People more like Norma Arnold from The Wonder Years. For the most part, this has overwhelmingly been the case. In the past year and a half I have been blessed to have met the most amazing and talented individuals who provide unconditional affection and support. I have found such a supportive network of people, some of whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting in person, who are eager to share and help and cheerlead. I have met people who I treasure so much, I can’t imagine my life without them. I wouldn’t be able to keep the faith, keep on writing, without their guidance and tenderness. In a small, saturated market where it can be difficult to make a living, there is no end of people willing to lend their time, resources, expertise and contacts to the people behind them. A brilliantly beautiful writer offered to read a cover letter of mine to agents, while another prolific talent offered to edit my book. I am overwhelmed by their generosity and kindness. It is comforting to be surrounded by such kind-hearted people and it’s inspiring and powerful to be amongst others who share your values, ambitions and fears.

As it turns out, though, there are also mean writers. There are competitive writers and manipulative writers, writers who unabashedly lack artistic integrity and writers who are quick to dig their hand into other people’s potato chip bag but are loath to offer anyone a crisp of their own. This discovery has been upsetting for me. I have had to let go of my childish ideals that drew the world in black and white, realizing now that every profession has its good and bad people. Just as there are social science majors who become lawyers simply because they didn’t know what else to do, so too are there people who take up writing because they want to be a Writer, not because they want to write. You probably have the equivalent of people like this in your field of work too.

The real kicker, though, what I have found most surprising, is that the literary douchebags are so much worse than any arrogant lawyer I have ever met. So. Much. Worse. These people are Holden Caulfield’s worst kind of phonies. You know who they are, you have probably even seen them. These are the people who wear scarves because they think they have to while sitting at indie coffee shops readings the books they think they are supposed to, sometimes over and over again because they aren’t just readers of these novels like you and I, but, rather, these books are “theirs.” And in truth, these books have birthed their very identity. Suffering conversation with them, they will say such eye-rolling things like: “Really? I wish I paid more taxes,” in response to people’s end of April grumbles (but they certainly don’t voluntarily contribute funds to the public coffers), or when you ask them how their book is doing they will scoff at such a pedestrian question, telling you that “it’s not about the money,” the money is so irrelevant to their art (but they certainly don’t offer up their work for free). They are typically adorned with tattoos, comprised of lines from their favourite books, books that permanently sit on their coffee tables, spines facing out. You can unsettle them by asking about the meaning of their ink. What do you mean, what does it mean? Didn’t you hear me? It’s from that really important book. It’s right there on my coffee table. Didn’t you see it? The really sharp ones are scrawled with Latin phrases, like Angelina Jolie. You will even hear some of them refer to themselves in the third person, like Julius Ceasar, because they are super irreverent. How irreverent you ask? They are so irreverent that they will tell you just how irreverent they are. We’re talking that irreverant.

These people are not people at all. They are images, one-dimensional caricatures of a person they want to be and in that way they become parodies of themselves. They are like non-murderous Patrick Batemans, fundamentally missing the part that makes a person, even a bad one, really, truly interesting. Some of them are able to charm you at first, drawing you in like any good character. But the closer you get, the more you see their thinness, the more you discover that there is nothing behind the curtain. There is nothing to hold onto, even if you wanted to. They are blank.

Meeting people like this has cast a shadow over the artistic romanticism I once held as a little girl. I find it easy to let one bad experience scare me away, to let one bad sentence spoil an entire manuscript and throw it all away. Sometimes, I wish I could go back to the time when I thought writers wrote together in a magical fairy land of hugs, lollipops and easily flowing sentences.

What troubles me the most is that while my professional landscape has changed, I still haven’t. I worry desperately, that in the same way I couldn’t find my voice in law, these people will also silence me. I am scared that these people will forever stand in the way of everything I want to achieve. I am scared I will never be able to climb over them, because they take up so much space, make so much noise, suck in so much of the oxygen. I am scared that I will never develop a sense of agency, never believe in myself enough and in what I have to say. Because the truth is, until I do, I am the real phony. I am phonier than them. I am the one who goes along to get along, who tries to like everyone and everything, who congratulates these people on their work. I don’t call bull-shit on them, tell them to leave the scarves to those of us who really love wearing them. I don’t stand up and say “the Emperor is not wearing any clothes.” I nod and tilt my head when they speak, in a stroke-of-the-chin sort of way, affording them undeserved respect and admiration, affording them things I don’t ever give myself. Most of all, I am terrified of becoming one of them. I am terrified that these aren the qualities needed to succeed, not just in a given profession, but in life. I pray this isn’t the case.    

Changing careers, writing a post like this, is helping me become bolder. It’s helping me to gain a certain kind of self-respect, one in which I give myself the space to keep growing and developing as the person that I am. Perhaps recognizing the type of person I don’t want be, regardless of profession, will help me become more like the people I so admire and want to become: the ones who run bring-a-book, take-a-book libraries and the ones who will help you, someone much more junior, even when they are busy publishing the next Great Novel. Perhaps I am finally learning that I don’t need to love everyone, I just need to love myself.