Pre-School Logic

As we brainstormed about a birthday gift for my wife this morning, my four year old suggested I “put on my thinking cap” and proceeded to tie an imaginary cap on my head. (Evidently, my thinking cap is a bonnet. Not my first choice, style-wise, and I wonder what that style says about my cognitive ability. But I digress.) She then explained how my particular thinking cap works, pointing out that the red button was for when you don’t want to think (nice to know after all these years that my thinking cap has “features”). “Why would you ever use the red button?” I asked her.

The notion that someone might want to shut off their brain had immediately struck me as a particularly silly brand of pre-school logic. But then it hit me how valuable that red button might be. How many moments of insomnia might be wiped off the board if we had a red button? How many pointless arguments could be avoided if we could push the red button and simply check all that baggage we’ve accumulated throughout the years? How many more moments of pure joy might we experience if we only had a big red button? (Watch a child for a few minutes. They push the big red button all the time – while they run in circles, while they jump in place, while they spin, and spin, and spin.)

The older we get, the more we value complex thought – the product of acquired knowledge. We almost always ignore that baggage though. A lifetime of accumulated blind spots — hard-won biases, environmental blinders (ask anyone in Massachusetts if they thought George W. Bush had a snowball’s chance in hell of a second term, and you’ll understand what I mean by “environmental blinders”), the never-ending sense of obligation that comes with adulthood — muddies our thought process as much as it benefits it.

Knowledge and wisdom are two very different things. And it often seems that we let knowledge stand in the way of wisdom. Occam’s razor says that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. The life of a four year old is one long Occam’s razor. Sure, much of what comes out of their little mouths is nonsense (albeit cute nonsense), but every now and then we ought to hit the red button. There’s some wisdom in those little ones, if only we can get out of our own way to recognize it every now and then.

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I Learned It From Watching You!

It occurs to me that some of you may have read my post You’ve Been Warned . . . and thought, “Why on earth would anyone care if he uses parentheses?” If that was your reaction, good for you! You clearly take a healthy approach to grammar and punctation (if you take any approach). And you clearly never served time in a large law firm (what some might, obnoxiously, refer to as “Biglaw“). I, on the other hand, did spend time at a Biglaw firm — two, in fact. I would like to think that the occasional parentheses, or series of ellipses, or just about any punctuation would have largely escaped my notice 13+ years ago. I was an English Lit major and a proponent of “proper English” well before law school, so it is possible that I would have noticed, but I highly doubt it would have bothered me. But, sadly, after more than a decade of practicing law (with most of those years in Biglaw firms), the notion that parentheses might bother someone not only makes perfect sense, it now seems hard to believe someone wouldn’t have an opinion on this.

I was reminded again today of what a monster I’ve become while responding to an e-mail from a friend (a fellow Biglaw refugee himself). That friend had sent a nice note to say that he had enjoyed reading MuchAdo and that he shared my affinity for parentheticals and ellipses (yes, folks, that’s professional nerdery at its finest). I wrote him a note in return to thank him and as a bit of a joke (a term I am using in its absolute loosest sense) mentioned that I also quite enjoyed the use of the en dash. But wait . . . was it the en dash or em dash that I hold so dear? And this, my friends, is where the illness takes over. A quick trip to Wikipedia, and I confirmed that it is, in fact, an en dash. Phew!

As you read this, I can sense the judgment. The derision. I’m with you all the way. I get it. I even agree with it. But guess what, folks, that friend sent me a response to let me know that he, too, likes the en dash. (Ummm . . . yeah, I guess that’s how we roll . . . I wish it weren’t so.) He went on to admit that he . . . wait for it . . . had to go to Wikipedia to confirm that it was, in fact, the en dash, not the em dash, that he uses. And there it is, dear Readers. The Stockholm Syndrome of Biglaw lawyers.

I doubt this particular quirk is unique to Biglaw lawyers (or lawyers generally). I’ve found it almost universal that people dislike certain words. (Disagree? How about “panties” or “slacks” or “moist”? One of those made you cringe.) However, there seems to be an abnormal concentration of a**hole Type A personalities in the Biglaw world. As I said, I wasn’t always like this. It didn’t take long, though, for the various partners and senior associates at Biglaw to make me care deeply about fonts and punctuation and other print miscellany (fear of losing one’s job has a funny way of driving behavior). Of course, not coming by it naturally, I could never care as much as many of my colleagues. One of those colleagues vacillated over the use of the word “utilize” versus “use” (or did she vacillate over the utilization of the word . . . never mind) for a full 15 minutes. While I watched. At 2:30 in the morning. I might have a preference for one of those words at 2:30 in the afternoon. I might have a preference at 6:30 in the evening. At 2:30 in the morning, there is no discussion. No confusion. Certainly no vacillation. But this is what you are up against, and what is expected of you, in that environment.

And, so it is that you find yourself, as a matter of course, proofreading and fact-checking every document and, yes, every e-mail, because the wrong word or, God forbid, the wrong punctuation could land you in a superior’s office listening to a lecture on why “we use the word ‘aggregate’ not ‘total.'” (For what it’s worth, the answer to why we use the word “aggregate” is “because that’s what we use.” Thanks.) Don’t believe me, consider this e-mail string, between a holier-than-thou Biglaw associate (delivering a firm-wide e-mail rant that its successful defense of the Washington Redskins was likely to dishearten Native Americans) and an a**hole Biglaw partner. It’s an entertaining read that nicely illustrates so many of the quirks of Biglaw lawyers, including one lawyer’s strong feelings about, you guessed it, parentheses. Read the partner’s response. While there is ample material in the snarky associate’s e-mail for criticism, the partner simply cannot resist the urge to critique the irksome associate’s punctuation saying, “Note the lack of any parentheses in this email. It makes it much easier to read.” {sigh}

And this is why you can land on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times for being an a**hole without any impact to your career in Biglaw. Because it matters not that you are a jerk, so long as the final product is good. Nay, perfect. All of this makes for good stories once you’re out, but it can be hell while you’re in. Go ahead, ask the Biglaw lawyer in your life for their favorite Biglaw lawyer story. They are bound to have several, many of which are passed around from firm to firm — the oral history of our legal predecessors (and contemporaries). Some are sad, or embarrassing, or funny, or all three. Almost all involve some supreme a**holery.

I, of course, am generalizing here. When all is said and done, I am grateful for the training I received (and the friends I made) in those firms. It made me a better lawyer and a better editor. But there are times I would like to be able to turn it off.

And, if you, like me, bear the scars of Biglaw life, all I ask of you is that you do your best to turn it off while you’re here. Ignore the utilization of parentheses if it bothers you. Appreciate that, in the aggregate, the facts are checked. And most of all, if you notice a typo on this site, please, for the love of God, keep it to yourself. It would be more than I could bear.

By the way, you might want to throw those moist slacks in the dryer.

She Put What Where?!?

After many days and far, far too much couch time, tomorrow marks the official end of my holiday season.  I face the thought of shaking off the remnants of two weeks of vacation and putting on my big boy clothes with mixed emotions.  There is that part of me that would like to win the lottery and spend each of the rest of my days with family and friends lounging and having fun.  Sadly, that part of me (as well as the rest), in addition to rarely playing the lottery (which I understand actually makes my chances of winning lower, albeit only slightly, than those who do), hails from a family that lacked the forethought to amass billions (or even millions) of dollars.  So, it is back to work I go.

Then there is that other part of me.  The part that is happy to be returning to the office, for I simply cannot say, “Stop hitting your sister!” or “Get off the table!!” or “Get your fork out of your hair!!!” one more time.  That part of me is, at times, very, very small.  Like when I am with one of my children cuddled up close on the couch watching A Christmas Carol or sharing a hot chocolate and some Christmas cookies.  And then, there are the other times —  those times when I am counting to three for the umpteenth time or  mopping up that full cup of milk that inexplicably got knocked over after my eldest failed (despite being told repeatedly) to stop recreating The Nutcracker at the dinner table — when I simply must go back to work.

The office is a safe haven — replete with bottomless cups of coffee, ample time for mindless web surfing, actual adult conversations, and meals that rarely involve a prayer to “just make it end.”  My wife has no such safe haven.  She has shown up at work seven days a week, 13+ hours a day, for the last three years and change.  No sick days.  No vacations.  All of this by choice (a choice she makes many times a day, no matter how many times she has said, “Why are you putting that in his ear?!?”).  I certainly didn’t ask her to stay home with the kids, though I’m grateful every day that she does.  She has other options.  She could return to her successful legal practice in a heartbeat, yet she doesn’t.  She, a Princeton grad with far more intellectual horsepower and potential than her husband, has happily showed up for work on Project Stop Doing That every day.  Frankly, and I say this without an ounce of insincerity, I don’t know how she does it.

There seems to be a tendency in households where one spouse “works” (that is, goes to an office, factory, construction site, etc.) and the other “stays home” (which is a misnomer of the grandest variety) to undervalue the contribution of the professional caregiver.  Or, rather, to overvalue the contribution of the one “bringing home the bacon.”  I sincerely hope that my wife knows how much I value her — how much I respect all the work (and it is work) she does every day.

So, if you, like me, are leaving a loved one behind with the Finger In The Nose set, consider keeping the whining to a minimum.  Or, if you, like my wife, are sending a loved one off to work, remember that it isn’t all fun and games for us either — we are, after all, leaving behind what we love most in the world, even if only for a few hours.  And you might think about “whipping up” one last family breakfast, if only to give us one more chance to yell, “Get that out of your nose!!!” before we head back to work.

Please Won’t You Help?!?

On this, a day of new beginnings and hope, I am reaching out to the readers of MuchAdo to appeal to your charitable spirit.  Our lives are busy.  It’s all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, and we often forget to take a moment to consider those in need.  Today, I would like to ask you to consider contributing to a worthy cause that has all but escaped the attention of the mainstream media.

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen that SPCA commercial with Sara McLachlan where the one-eyed dog is eaten by some heartless dog-eating Republican (at least I think that’s what happens, but I don’t actually watch that commercial because it’s really, really a bummer).  Well, this is, believe it or not, a much more worthy cause.  No, it’s not starving children.  No, not disaster relief.  NOT UNICEF!  Stop guessing!  I started this post off by saying it “has all but escaped the attention of the mainstream media.”  Why would you think you could just guess.  As I was saying, this one is a doozy.  A real heart stomper.

[Note: this would be a good time to click on that link for the SPCA commercial, and let it play in another window while you read the next bit.  I would embed a stirring song here, but (a) I don’t really know how and (b) I’m pretty sure that would violate some sort of copyright, and who needs that mess.  (Whatever you do, do not watch that commercial, it will totally ruin your day.)]

It turns out, in a country that has everything (well, at least 1% of this country has everything, supposedly the other 99% have nothing but time and hacky sacks, but I must admit I didn’t follow the Occupy [Insert Name of Someplace Here] movement all that closely), there are photographers who lack access to the most basic, high-end technology.  What could be more disheartening than the thought of a photographer without the proper equipment?  I am certain there is a photographer in your life that is struggling to make images with substandard equipment.  I know in my heart that this is true.  Oh sure, he (I strongly suspect the photographer in your life is male) may actually have  an SLR.  And to the outside world, it may seem that his images are perfectly adequate.  But he knows that he is greatly in need of a new camera.  And that knowledge alone is too much for any photographer to bear.

So, what exactly is it that this photographer needs?  What he needs is the Canon 5D Mark III.  (Again, I am positive the needy photographer in your life is a man, and I am positive he is not shooting with Nikon.)  What’s that you say?  You are not familiar with the Canon 5D Mark III?  Well then, my friend, you are not a Canon enthusiast, for there are entire web pages devoted to the Canon 5D Mark III.   Why, the fine folks at Canon Rumors have a whole page with dozens and dozens of posts devoted to this camera.  Same for Keith Cooper over at Northlight Images.

Now, here’s where things get a little dodgy.  Sadly, the Canon 5D Mark III does not exactly, in a literal, non-fictional sort of way, exist.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it very much exists in the way that my four-year-old daughter’s stuffed bunny has been to college, lived in Mexico, Japan, various parts of Europe, California, and Chicago, has run a variety of successful businesses, and has magical powers, despite having been purchased by friends on what I have learned is a very ordinary, non-magical website shortly before my daughter’s birth.  That is to say that the Canon 5D Mark III exists in the minds of all those Canon enthusiasts I mentioned, but not in a physical, mass production sort of way.  And I . . . er, I mean . . . the poor, hard-working, saintly, deprived photographer in your life really, really wants the Canon 5D Mark III to exist — in a, “Hey, I think I’ll head over to my favorite photography shop/website and pick one up” kind of way, not a “Did I tell you about the time Bunny went to China on a flying dragon and ate won ton soup out of the holy grail” kind of way.

I know what you’re thinking. “But, what can I do?”  Let’s be clear, I don’t have all the answers.  I have identified the problem, now I am looking to you for help.  I, for one, plan to continue reading all of the rumor websites so I will know the second the Canon 5D Mark III is just days away from being announced (which, at last count, has happened 468 times in the last twelve months alone).  However, maybe you are close personal friends with Chuck Westfall (not to be confused with this guy) or someone else from the imaging group at Canon U.S.A. If so, for God’s sake, stop reading this right now and implore that person to release the Canon 5D Mark III (or better yet, get me . . . um, I mean your, oh, whatever . . . a test device — I’ll sign an NDA).   In the meantime, please start saving your pennies (by which I mean twenties or hundreds), because I am fairly certain that MuchAdo will be launching a Needy Photographer Fundraiser once this camera is released.  We are really going to need your help.