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12 January 2006

Fiery? Yeah, not so much.

My friend Mason is a law student, but she is taking an undergrad Spanish lit class because she wants to keep up her Spanish so that when she embarks on her career as an ass-kicking international human rights attorney specializing in Latin America she can, you know, talk to her clients.

Anyway, Mason came out of Spanish class yesterday feeling upset. Apparently, the topic of the discussion had been la diversidad, and the discussion had been lively. The undergrads were all riled up, bemoaning the distinct lack of diversidad on our particular campus, despite our location in the heart of a mostly non-white poor neighborhood. There was talk of racism, classicism, sexism, the CIA’s gross injustices perpetrated during the reign of Pinochet- you know, the biggies. Mason said, somewhat plaintively, “In the old days, I would have been right up in there, talking about how much Pinochet sucked and down with the CIA and we hate Bush and viva la diversidad! Law school has changed me! I am not fiery!”

Poor Mason. First of all, Mason definitely still is, by law school standards, fiery. It’s part of why we love her so- she’ll get all agitated and rail against the pervasive apathy that seems to plague the law school, the kind of carefully studied ennui that people cultivate. Plus, she’s never dull at a party.

But her point is well taken. Recently, I have become concerned that law school has changed me, too, in a fieriness-sapping kind of way. There’s an undergrad who is in a seminar I’m taking, and she’s kind of so classically liberal guilt ani di franco on her discman urban studies know it all that it’s almost trite. Sorry, but she is. She raises her hand all the time to say things like “but professor, didn’t the rest of that quote you just read say blah blah blah? And doesn’t that additional information change how we ought to interpret the passage?” As if to alert us all to the fact that she’s read all this before, and therefore is terribly well qualified to comment and my isn’t she impressive? I spent a solid third of our last class session writing internet notes to friends talking about how ridiculous this woman is. And then it hit me: in college, I was this woman. Except for the urban studies and finishing the professor’s sentences part. And then I wondered: what has happened to me?

Often, it seems good and right that I have developed a more even keel as I have gotten older. I’m no longer so quick to jump into a debate unprepared, no longer interested in making everyone in the world understand where I am coming from, no longer willing to sit up until four in the morning talking to a sincere but kind of dopey volleyball player, trying to convince him that he should live in a house with a passive solar design and drive a hydrogen car. (side note: when I was in college, the Prius had yet to become reality. I was sincere in my belief in hydrogen! It was the future!)

I look back on that version of myself and I wince a little. Was I really so sure I was right? Did I really need to always be IN the conversation? What was I trying to prove, exactly? But the next moment, the wincing is replaced by just the slightest sadness that I am now “too old” or “too mature” or just “too pragmatic” to get all caught up in the moment and allow myself to get in over my head.

The head of the Federalist Society at our school is a friend of mine. Recently, we were at a party together with a man I’ll call Activist. Activist was spoiling for a fight, and knowing there were lots of law students in the room figured at least a few conservatives would jump into a good ol’fashioned shouting match. With beer. He looked to me for help, wanting the two of us to band together against The Conservative Menace. But I was too tired, too careful, too disinterested, so I made some carefully qualified comments, a few lame attempts at wittiness, and moved to a different side of the room. My Federalist friend told me later that he was impressed by my unwillingness to take the bait, my impartiality. When he told me that, I was pleased, flattered even. I wonder if I should have been.

It’s important to note here that I still have opinions. Strong ones. Passionately held ones. I just can’t quite figure out why I’m less likely to rise up in protest, take to the streets, shout down the enemy at lecture events. Maybe I should start wearing this shirt, which I got at the SF dyke parade, more often. (Sadly, Samuel L Jackson was not there when I bought mine. Wouldn't that have been cool?) At the very least it would get people’s attention. At least I hope it would.

Confidential to my readers with pseudonym Mason: given that this post was inspired by you, now would be an excellent time for you to de-lurk and write a comment. That’s right, I’m calling you out.


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