I hate to tell you guys this, but I never went to law school. (!) I know, right? You'd think, in this modern day and age, I'd have somehow coughed up the $90 grand (or taken out the student loans) and run the Paper Chase along with my 1,128,729 closest friends. But no. I went to paralegal school, which is like Law School Lite. It only takes a little less than a year instead of three, it's a lot cheaper, and they actually teach you stuff instead of playing hide the ball, which is, I gather, what they do in law school. (If you're a lawyer, and your paralegal can't find the ball, you are in serious trouble. Luckily, I'm so good at finding the ball that even my cat, who knocks hers under the door to the HVAC quite frequently, meows for me to come get it for her.)
There's a guy in my office who desperately wants to go to law school. He's actually been, but that was more than 10 years ago. He was accepted to Fairly Prestigious Institution and waitlisted for Really Prestigious Institution, which isn't a choice I'd want either. He wound up going to Fairly Prestigious Institution and lasted two semesters. Would it have gone better at Really Prestigious Institution? It's hard to say. He wants to go back and finish, but he's having trouble getting his LSAT score (that's Law School Admission Test for you non-legal people) up high enough. Having not-finished law school once, he's being treated like damaged goods--never mind that the goods are ten years older now and he's been a paralegal the whole time. Honestly, you want good prep for law school? Work as a paralegal for a while. There just ain't a better way to see how it all fits together.
Somehow, this has spurred me into an existential crisis. Not that I want to go to law school; no, I like what I do and I'm not in any hurry to do anything else. I like getting to go home at 5:30. Well, okay, more like quarter to six most nights, but still. Something about this whole conversation made me wonder what would have happened if I'd gone to law school right after college, as was the plan (it wasn't my plan, but that's another story). Where would I be today, and what would I be doing?
Surprisingly, the answer my brain comes up with is broke and dead.
Or maybe that's not so surprising. The lawyer who talked me out of going to law school (isn't that kind of like a monsignor talking an altar boy out of joining the priesthood?) told me I was far too interested in truth and justice to be an effective attorney. (He did say that. He really said that.) "You know what you'd do," he went on. "You'd take all those battered-women cases, and the people who got fired from their jobs for unjust reasons, and the women who can't get apartments because they have a kid with Down's. People who will never pay you and lawsuits that you'll never win. Or worse, you'll become a prosecutor, and you'll be fifty years old and still living with roommates because you can't afford your own place."
Well, okay, he said something like that. I have a good ear for dialogue, but it gets rusty over a twenty-three year time span. Still, you have to admit he was a pretty good judge of character. Most of that does sound like what I'd do. The "dead" part is a little harder to follow, but I crashed and burned pretty hard in 1999 and again in 2001, and I can't imagine I would've somehow not crashed and burned if I'd have been an attorney when all that was going on. (Although, I might have had better health insurance. Maybe.) I have a high-stress occupation as it is; if I were an attorney, it'd be even higher stress, and, well, yeah. I might very well be dead, having driven my Lincoln into the San Diego Bay over a motion denied or a restraining order that didn't do a damn bit of good.
Roland, the bad guy in Mindbender, says to Our Heroine at one point, "Surely you cannot mean to be a librarian for the rest of your life." (Yep, I've got a gun-toting action hero librarian. You tell me why it's not published yet.) She gets understandably annoyed and asks what's wrong with that, exactly. He tells her she has much greater potential, and as Linus of Peanuts would say, there's no heavier burden than a great potential. He is, of course, messing with her head, but the question is genuine and every now and then I have some stupid conversation with somebody that makes me ask it again. Surely you cannot mean to be a paralegal for the rest of your life. (No, only until about age 70, and then I thought I'd do some skydiving.) In all seriousness, though, what if I'm supposed to be doing something else? What if I'm floating around on a vast sea of untapped potential, in the paralegal lifeboat that I've somehow become deluded into thinking is a luxury yacht? Well, okay, I'm a practical person here, so let's say a 38-foot ocean-going small vessel with plenty of foul-weather gear. In short, what if I'm doing it all wrong, and ruining my life?
On the other hand, I am not a great believer in the ruinability of life. I am, after all, 43 years old, and I've had my share of ruin-your-life level tragedies. I've flunked out of music school, ditched not just a boyfriend but an entire gender, survived the suicide of someone I was crazy about, changed religions, changed political affiliations, changed hair lengths, changed favorite sports, got fat, went to Central America, had and lost a literary agent and watched a friend get her labia pierced. I have also, just incidentally, worked in a library, and before I got lured into the sordid world of things legal I was pretty sure I wanted to do that for the rest of my life, too.
But that darn sea of untapped potential. I dunno.