Saturday, January 31, 2009

Even Cowgirls Sing The Blues

As discussed here, Interplayers Theatre is the last remaining
professional theater in Spokane. Last night I attended the almost-full-house opening of their show "Cowgirls," a combination of classical music with country singing. It's the story of a classical trio musical group named "Coghill Trio" that gets mistaken for "Cowgirl Trio" by a Western saloon set to open up a musical show for the first time in 32 years. The Coghills must become Cowgirls in 24 hours. The show received a nice review in the local newspaper (here's a link, but you may have to pay to see the whole article. Sorry. Spokane's local paper is annoying that way. Quite unimpressive in its stinginess.) What caught my attention the most last night was the incredible performances of the six actors, all women. They had to be able to act, sing, and play musical instruments. What a phenomenal job they did! The very end in particular is amazing. There are several songs I'd like to hear again, which is saying a lot since I'm not a big country music fan. I hope they have a terrific run.

Daily Free Write

Learn to listen wholly, and with verve
(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Three Million Dollar Verdict

As I mentioned earlier in the week here, some colleagues of mine were in the midst of a trial. The trial ended yesterday. It was a $3 million verdict. The issue broadly: Whether this community will stand up for justice. The jury spoke loudly. The answer is yes.
My friends - specifically George Ahrend, through the law firm of Dano, Gilbert and Ahrend - were representing Plaintiff Felipe Vargas, a legal immigrant from Mexico with limited English who was jailed back in November of 2003 in Grant County, WA on charges of sexually abuse two minors. Turned out, the two minors recanted within days of making the claims. And Felipe spent the next seven months in jail anyway. The problem? He was represented by an attorney, Tom Earl, who had the public defender contract in Grant County. Tom Earl received $500,000 a year to manage all public defense felony cases. He hired a few contract lawyers to help out, but he kept half the cases (and the money) for himself. In November 2003, he had over 550 felony cases open. The absolute maximum felony caseload that any one attorney should handle at a time is 150. There were other things very seriously wrong with how he handled Mr. Vargas' case, and his caseload: he saw him for a total of between five minutes (Mr. Vargas' testimony) and half an hour (Mr. Earl's testimony) in the two months between arrest and the trial date; he never hired an investigator (for Mr. Vargas or for anyone else), even though the cost of the investigator was built into his $500,000-a-year contract; he never interviewed witnesses - not the children's mother nor the children's neighbors, all of whom knew of the recantations..... And so on. Trial date was December 23. Tom Earl had Felipe Vargas waive his right to a speedy trial, even though the prosecutor had not even subpoenaed witnesses yet. The new trial date was set for five months out. Keep in mind, the alleged victims had recanted their stories weeks ago.
Luckily for Mr. Vargas, Tom Earl was suspended from the practice of law in February 2004. No longer could he bully or pressure Mr. Vargas into a plea. No longer could he let him languish in jail, giving him the unsavory choice of going to trial with an unprepared lawyer or waiting indefinitely. Another lawyer - Garth Dano, of the same law firm above - ultimately took on the case, spent over 100 hours working on it, and ultimately lined up the victims' recantation statements, had Mr. Vargas take a lie detector test (he passed), and got the charges dismissed with prejudice (meaning, they can't be filed again).
All this was presented to the jury. Attorneys testified how they feared for Mr. Earl's clients - had done so for years. How he routinely pleaded people guilty to charges where co-defendants' charges were dismissed. Same facts, same cases, completely different results. How he would never pay for investigators or experts, making his contract attorneys rely on family and friends to help out instead (or pay for the costs out of their own pockets). An expert testified how it was an inherent conflict of interest for a lawyer to sign a contract that pitted his own financial interests against the interests of his criminal defense clients (whether because the contract resulted in too big of a caseload or required the lawyer to pay for costs out of the contract itself).
It was a very emotional case. For Mr. Vargas, he teared up when he testified how his seven-month incarceration kept him from sending $120 a month to his parents back in Mexico. They counted on that money that he sent every month. For Mr. Earl, he seemed to tear up when his feelings were hurt (my impression, not his confession). And then my friend George Ahrend got choked up in closing when the subject of justice arose - like when he quoted Thomas Jefferson about how important the jury system is, or when he spoke of how there is no way that people should ever languish in jail like Felipe Vargas had done.... He had me emotional as well. Fighting for justice is that important. When I watched Arthur in "Camelot" speak about justice, and that there must be a fairness to the system.... it did me in. For that is what we are fighting for, if we take on that fight.
In the end, the jury must have felt that same conviction. They returned a verdict against Mr. Earl in the amount of $762,000 and change. Then they were asked to consider punitive damages, as a deterrent in the future for Mr. Earl or anyone else to act so cavalierly about the proper administration of justice - about the freedom of another human being. They returned a punitive damages verdict of $2.25 million. It probably didn't help Mr. Earl's case that he had, just two weeks before trial, asserted that he would not pay Mr. Vargas a dime, and would not pay him a cent even if he were flush with finances. But the most important part of that verdict was the message that it sent to other counties and other public defenders who are willing to play fast and loose with our poorest citizens' right to freedom. "Do it at your own financial risk," I think the message is. The trial judge thanked the jury, and told them how important that message was. You have made a difference today, he said (or words to that effect).
I'm so proud of my colleagues. Someone needed to expose the harm. Someone needed to take a stand and say, never again. Not on my watch. When people do that, other people notice. And just may choose to change behaviors. What a great job the jury members did. Let us hope that their verdict impacts other counties - in Washington and around the country - to re-evaluate their penny-pinching in light of the real costs at hand. Everyone deserves justice. Not just the rich.

UPDATE: Here's an article on the trial.

Daily Free Write

listen to the music, not just the notes



(want to know what Free Writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes category to the right)

An Exaggeration?

A friend of mine sent me the following email with the caption "From Spokane":

Winter is almost over and we can see the deer wandering around now.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Metamorphosis and other writngs

When I was a student at University of CA at Santa Cruz, many many moons ago, a professor introduced me to a local author named Tillie Olsen and her book Silences, in which she discussed great authors of the world and what kept them from writing (or writing more). I also read her story "I Stand Here Ironing," reflecting silences because of motherhood. The story is about a mother whose oldest daughter's teacher needs her to come speak to him. In the story, the mother has an imaginary conversation with the teacher, in which she remembers the bits and pieces of her daughter's life. She excruciatingly reveals the times when she neglected her daughter, not because she meant her any harm but because she didn't know any better. It is a teary story, and fits well with the Silences book, especially with the incessant ironing. It is as much a story about the mother as it is about the daughter. None of us will live to our potential, the story seems to say. Or at least, none of those two will. It is very much worth the read.

I remember thinking that the story was telling me not to have kids - at least, not at an early age. I didn't, so I guess I thought I could escape such bad decisions (for my potential children, for myself). But Tillie Olsen taught me more than just the silences that a mother suffers. For she is the one who introduced me to Franz Kafka. Here was an author who also was stifled. His stifling was due to all the time he spent at a full-time day job as an insurance officer. In the end, he never finished whatever he wrote. He never finished The Trial, for instance, an amazing story about a man caught in such a bizarre and incredibly unfair court system that, when something similar arises today, we call it "Kafkaesque." (I've actually used that phrase in open court before. I think the judge knew the reference. Everyone else in the courtroom could figure it out, given the context in which I said it.)

The only work they say that Kafka completed is The Metamorphosis. This is one of the most magical works I've ever read. It would flit into my mind whenever I wondered if I ever was going to get the space to write again. It is about a traveling salesman who wakes up one morning and realizes he has turned into a cockroach. He can't get up because he has slept on his back (not a problem when he was a human, but quite the dilemma now that he is a cockroach). His first thought (after how to get up) is - why didn't the alarm go off? And how am I going to explain my tardiness to my boss? And will my suit fit? The story goes on from there. It's such a great story. Exactly what do you do when you've turned into a cockroach?

When I have felt silenced by life's day-to-day tasks, I have thought about Tillie Olsen and Franz Kafka. Their life stories give me a sense of camaraderie. They give me a sense of hope as well. They are the ones that made silence productive, even when it was not. Without his job in insurance, Kafka likely never would have reached such a point of utter frustration that he could imagine a story where a traveling salesman turns into a cockroach. Truly the absurdity of that image first had to come from a long frustration with the rat race itself. And Tillie Olsen likely would not have thought of a story titled "I Stand Here Ironing" had she not spent day after day doing just that. And so I think that my own silences over the years will be fruitful someday. Perhaps today. As my first Free Write says, Seek not the lost time, but the gained moments. In everything, there is a season. Allow the silences. For then, there will be time to write.

Daily Free Write

Trample, don't gently walk - for only strong feet and strong minds will do.




.............(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Community Organizers

I sat in amazement, watching Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin poke fun at community organizers at the Republican National Convention last September. It was bizarre, watching them belittle the people who labor voluntarily to do work that few want to do because it is so challenging without much (or any) financial compensation. As it turned out, their ridiculing efforts backfired. I remember reading an article which I can't find now, about a woman from southern, rural Ohio (a swing state), herself a community organizer at her church, who listened to the derision by Giuliani and Palin and decided that that was it - she wasn't sitting on the sidelines anymore. The next day, she got up and went to work for the Obama campaign. That story is just a snapshot of what happened all around the country after the RNC chose to be so condescending of community organization. In fact, here's a link to an article that outlines the details of the firestorm that the comments set off. Why would Republicans choose to mock community organizers like that? Really, really bad idea.

At the time, I wrote this op-ed piece (never published), specifically about the comments at the RNC. Here's the last part of it:

When the Republicans mock Barack Obama’s roots as a community organizer, they mock his origins, hard work, and ability to transform people’s energy and enthusiasm into action. They mock his staff that works around the clock. They mock me – and thousands like me – who are out pounding the pavement of the sidewalks of this country, reaching out to fellow Americans.

They mock the people who are putting an Obama sign in their yard as a way to start a dialogue with their Republican neighbors, even though it is a bolder step for them to take than they ever have taken before. They mock the woman who stood in her doorway listening to how I could return with policy papers if she needed them, who finally said, with awe in her voice, “I have never had anyone come to my door and offer such things,” and who then started to imagine what information I could bring her.


And they mock the many McCain supporters who waved me off when I told them who I was campaigning for, but then – as I smiled and turned to go knock on the next door – stopped me and thanked me for what I was doing. “You are the democratic process at work,” they said.


That is who John McCain allows to be mocked when he lets his supporters mock Obama’s work as community organizer. Why would they go out of their way to deride the very nature of the democratic process?

About a week after the RNC, McCain spoke highly of community organizers - and of Obama's own work - at a 9/11 symposium. Good for him. I knew he knew their value.


Yesterday I found out that some buddies of mine were in the midst of a trial. Spontaneously, I decided to spend the day watching their trial, as my nod to solidarity. These are guys I have known for a long time. We co-counsel cases, either with me helping them out on their cases, or vice versa.. Great guys. Truly they are some of the best people on the planet. I take some credit for the current legal partnership, since I was the one who introduced one of them to the other one, who brought in the third. Within a year, they were a law firm.

Surprising the gang at the courthouse was a blast, with hugs all around. Watching the trial was the best. Then the whole day (at the courthouse, at the local restaurant where we ate lunch - called "Heroes and Legends," of all things), I ran into my old crowd, from lawyers to court staff to the security guys who check through my purse. "Hey, we haven't seen you around!" is what I heard mostly (which is true - my legal work for awhile has been in courts other than this one). And also, I heard comments on the baseball novel. See, I'm the only published novelist in the group. I think they are proud of me.

As I watched the trial, and ran into these folks, I was a little sad. You know, I'm a really good lawyer. Lots of lawyers are. But I do have a talent for it - legal argument over trial work, but still. Seeing this world again, all day long, made me realize that I really am walking away from something tangible. And that's okay. I no longer want this to be my reality. And yet - it's a lot of fun, too. The camaraderie, the orchestrating.... Managing a legal case is much like directing an orchestra, while simultaneously playing a lot of the instruments too. Ah, yes. I need to remember. The law is tedious, demanding, stressful and exhausting. It's not the kind of job that can be left at the office. Too much is at stake. People's lives are at stake - their hopes, their dreams, oftentimes their freedom.... And justice. Don't forget justice. Justice is always at stake. There is nothing easy about this profession. I am glad to be leaving it.

But then, on days like yesterday, like a woman with a newborn who forgets how much pain the labor was, I think that maybe I could stay in the law. That I will miss it too much if I don't. I think about how lucky I have been, throughout my legal career, to work with like-minded lawyers who also have believed in fighting for that amorphous concept of justice. We're not that common, yet the stars aligned throughout my legal career to let me find these kinds of colleagues often. "Can I throw all of this away?" I thought to myself yesterday, in the midst of the whirl of remembrance.

Then there was this moment of grace. Suddenly at the restaurant, all my worlds collided. There was the law, of course, in the form of lawyers. But there was the political too (as I ran into some men that I met on the campaign trail). And then there was the writing, not just because people raised the subject of my novel but because, in the midst of lunch, I got a call from one of the Idaho movie guys (I'm working with an Idaho film group called KNIFVES), and then I saw one of the KNIFVES members in the restaurant itself, just as he was leaving. His name is the same name as one of the prosecutors I happened to run into.

And so I could realize - there will be joy in any profession. I can do good work wherever I am. The writing carries the potential of reaching out to many people (still time-consuming, but in a way that is different from the law). And I will love it. I love to tell stories - to think of them, to imagine them alive, to tell them in a way that helps other people. So maybe, now and then, some of those stories that I tell can do justice to justice. Maybe one day, all my worlds can fit in the same room together. Now that would be something else.

Daily Free Write

believe in yourself, and your love, and your strength, your power –
do not fear these things, for they are to bring forth the harmony

............ (want to know what Free Writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Daily Free Write

We can begin the answer with a question, all questions,
but we can know the answer with love.
(want to know what Free Writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category on the right)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cleaning Up The Interplayers Theatre

Here is my first entry of a "Spirit of Service" story (which are explained here). There's a theater in Spokane called Interplayers. It is our last remaining professional theater in town, what with ARt (actors repertory theatre) and CenterStage having shut down in the past year. They are the nicest people there, do wonderful theater, and are very welcoming. A year or so ago, they even had me come do a reading of my baseball novel (called "Until The End Of The Ninth," based on the true story of the 1946 Spokane Indians minor league baseball team that died in a bus crash midway through the season).

There is another group in town that was new to me until a few days ago. They are called the Spokane Preservation Advocates (SPA). They are about 10 years old, have about 800 members, and work diligently to "maintain and improve Spokane's historic character by preserving our heritage and pursuing outstanding, compatible new development."

So what happened when these two groups came together this past Saturday? A clean-up, that's what. It was SPA's idea. Once a quarter (or more often), SPA chooses a "doing it" project for hands-on preservation work. This quarter, they chose to clean up Interplayers, itself in a historic building. Interplayers was thrilled. And a mess. When I read about the clean-up project here,, I thought I'd try to come by and help. It didn't matter that I wasn't an SPA member - one handwritten nametag later, and I was drafted for the project. I got assigned to the "sorters" group. We were in charge of hanging up clothes, organizing hats, and identifying trash for tossing. It was freezing cold! (Interplayers keeps some floors heatless to save on costs.) We wore winter coats as we sorted (at least I did). We took some goofy photos wearing various theater hats which likely will be uploaded on the SPA at some point. It was fun, and fast. Anytime you have five or more people helping, the job can go quickly. We talked a lot, too, about SPA's different projects. My mom's a historian and I'm a storyteller, so I do really honor and respect the kind of work they do. Currently they are working hard to save big trees in town - very important. Also, we lamented how one of our historic buildings got torn down because the owner (from CA, and without a care about this place) refused to sell it at a reasonable price, even to a local building owner (Rob Brewster) who was willing to take on the project to save the building. In the end, they just tore down the building to build a parking
.........SPA folks at Interplayers.................. garage. I will never, ever park there. Ever.

I had decided to help with the clean-up before I knew about the "Spirit of Service" section for this blog. But once I was there on Saturday, I thought this story would make a great first-entry into the foray of celebrating service. These organizations are two of the greatest groups in this community, run by people with a passion for the project but not always with the recognition that they deserve. Hats off (or on!! as the case may be) to both Interplayers Theatre and Spokane Preservation Advocates. Thanks for being here in town.
The one thing I didn't ask the SPA folks: how did doing this project feel in light of this recent "call to service" by our new president? Feel free to leave a comment below in the "comments" section on that (or on anything else, of course). For me, it was a wonderful coincidence to set the intention of doing something service-oriented and then be able to manifest that intention just a few days later.
BTW, SPA does things besides "doing it" projects. They even have grants that they fund from their own coffers. Check out their site: Also, here's the website for Interplayers:

Daily Free Write

Dream, and hope abounds!

(want to know what Free Writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category on the right)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

MLK Day Stories of Service

I've been surfing the Net (as they say) and have come across stories of people volunteering in a myriad of ways this past Monday, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I thought I'd share some links. The idea started in 1994, when Congress declared the day a National Day of Service. This year, people came out in droves. It helped that the Obama folks sent out emails, asking for their service. Below are some descriptions of how Monday went.

This is a story of all the work organized by the University of South Alabama. I love how it begins - with a man with tears in his eyes, amazed at the help his mother has received:

Here's a somewhat local story (for me), out of Walla Walla, which is south-ish of Spokane:

Out of San Jose (where the weather is nice):

And Vermont (where the weather has to be cold):

Here's a shout-out to friends in Cleveland (one of the cities where I volunteered in October):

And here's a collection of stories and photos nationwide that the Huffington Post gathered:

Hope this inspires!

Daily Free Write

The sadness weeps for many ages,
but the moment for breathing has arrived.

(want to know what Free Writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category on the right)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Snow in Spokane

This is a picture of my car outside my house from early January. Can you see it? Yes indeed, we have had a lot of snow. In the end, it was over six feet total in 20 days' time. And then it started to rain. Joy. Though the rain did help wash the snow away. The snow's still here, but at least now I can see my car from my house (well, most of it).

The first 36 hours of snow were the craziest. That's when we got the first two feet. Yes, yes. Two feet of snow in 36 hours, that nobody had forecasted. It just kept snowing and snowing... On the 2nd day, I had to go to my office to get my computer, so I decided to try to drive. My little car was willing, but not able. I figured if I could just get to the tire ruts in my street that the SUVs had made (you know, the grown-up cars), then we'd be fine. I dug my way to the ruts, drove ten feet, landed in them, gunned the engine, lurched forward.... And froze in place, stranded on the top of a snow berm, my little car earnestly trying to touch back down into the ruts, to no avail. I got out, dug under the car, got back in, spun the air with my wheels, got back out, dug under the car, got back in, spun the air with my wheels.... for two hours. Yes, it was a fun day. Though I did laugh a lot. And then my neighbor tied a rope to one of my axles and pulled my car backwards off the berm with his truck. My other neighbor let me park in front of his house for the next few days. I traveled 15 feet in two hours. It was quite the accomplishment.

I was better off than a lot of people, as the weeks progressed. Reports came in about all the men (okay, "people," but you know they were all men) who came to the emergency rooms with broken legs, having fallen off their roofs while up there trying to shovel off snow. (In their defense, at least 50 roofs have collapsed all around the county because of all this snow.) There also were two incidents of two different "people" (men again) threatening snow removal plow drivers with guns. (Who would be mad to see a snow removal plow?) As one police officer said as he tried to calm people down, “Remember, when July comes we will all be laughing about those crazy days in December. Try not to reflect on those days from your shared cell at the Spokane County Jail." And then it snowed again. And again. A woman wrote to the newspaper with a grammar question: "Is it 'I snowblowed,' all day yesterday, or 'I snowblew' all day yesterday?" She then answered her own question. "It doesn't really matter. I'll just go with, 'I am snowblowing every day.'"
And then there were the animals. They couldn't find food, so they started to come to town. A moose crashed his way into someone's basement bedroom through the window. It took animal control a few hours to get him out. Apparently the moose left "presents" in the bedroom in the meantime. Poor guy. He must have been terrified.

And there have been many, many
deer, even in the more urban areas like mine. In fact, I had a deer here. I was sitting on my couch in the living room and suddenly, from around the corner of my house, there she was - staring at me. In an instant she had turned, trotted down my somewhat-shoveled walk, crossed the street, and disappeared. It happened so fast, I had no time to take her picture. I took a photo of her footprints instead. I hope she found some food.

Daily Free Write

Inspiration means a beginning to an end – salvation means your own worth.

(want to know what Free Writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category on the right)

Friday, January 23, 2009

About "Spirit of Service"

On this past Tuesday, I listened closely to our new president's inauguration speech. It welled around me in patterns and emotions, strongly to my senses though not always to my memory. But then there was a line - and I knew it would stick. "Spirit of service," is what I heard. The whole paragraph was this, and in reference to our military, both past and present:

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble
gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off
deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as
the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor
them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they
embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something
greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define
a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

He had said that phrase before, at Grant Park on November 4, when he was elected president: "This victory alone is not the change we seek," he had said. "It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice."

The phrase has been used ofttimes before by others too - there are "Spirit of Service" awards all over the country, to honor those who go that extra mile in service to their community.

And it is reminiscent of a different phrase, used by the first G. Bush: "A Thousand Points of Light," he had said, to some derision (though I had liked it, and had known what he meant).

This time, though, this phrase "spirit of service" - I think it will have traction. For it will be not just a phrase, but an action. It will be not just an idea, but a way to describe what people are consciously choosing to do, in greater numbers than we have seen in a long, long while. It will be a phrase to describe the way that people demonstrate their "willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves." Or so I can imagine.

It was what I said repeatedly on the Campaign Trail these past many months (not the phrase, but the idea) - that Obama had built a network of neighborhoods and community over the past months, and that he would turn to that network after the election to do good work, step by step, all around the country. ("Whether he wins or loses, he will do this," I would say, as I went door to door through the very neighborhoods that could be helped. Then I'd add, "Of course, it would be easier for him to do that if he won...." And then I'd grin.) But I knew it, too, not just because I said it, but because people told me. Wherever I went, the veteran Democrats would say they had never seen such an outpouring of assistance. Five days before the election, in Colorado (where I was volunteering), we were told that the 2,008th out-of-state volunteer had just arrived in CO. That's a lot of people.

The glitch I see is that it is easy to congregate around one issue like an election. It is more challenging to stay unified with diverse effort, which is what this now will become. Still, it is worth the effort to make this "spirit of service" phrase come fully to life.

I want to do my part in that effort. So I am asking (on this blog, and through outreach to my own network of community developed during this past year) that people share with me their "spirit of service" stories. I'm interested in all types, and will work to make room for as many as I can. I know many out there have already been laboring for years without national coordinated effort - let me hear from you, too. My email address is

Daily Free Write

Choose paths that wind around in circles, and cycles – for they are the paths that lead the way.

......(want to know what Free Writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category on the right)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Daily Free Write

Seek not the lost time, but the gained moments.

Once in 1998, I attended a class on setting boundaries. During one session, a woman talked of how she worried that she had stayed in her marriage too long - that it had hurt her children, stunted her growth to wait so long before leaving. I was too shy to say that I'd written it, so I said, "You know, I read somewhere..." (which technically was true - I did read it after I wrote it).... "Seek not the lost time, but the gained moments," I said. After I said it, she looked relieved - like maybe she didn't have to feel guilty about her choices. Like maybe she and her children had gained some moments from that time before her divorce. She and another woman wrote down the phrase. Their response gave me my own gained moment (as it let me know for sure that these phrases could help other people).
......(want to know what Free Writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category on the right)

The Law

I had to write a legal brief today, so I didn't write on this blog in the a.m. That's the last brief I have to write for awhile. In the days leading up to a brief being due, I call it stupid. "I've got a stupid brief due," is what I say. I hate them before I write them. Then, after they're written (like today - the brief is now on its way to the courthouse), I no longer hate them. I'm committed to them, sure of them. They're brilliant, not stupid. Or so it feels. Though I have learned to have no expectations as to outcome, for my criminal cases. Just so you know, Law and Order is not reality. I watch that show and think, hey, I want that judge to sit on my cases. In real life, winning legal arguments as a criminal defense lawyer is a rarity, no matter how good or strong or right the argument.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

About Free Writes

Back in 1997, I was depressed, so I started seeing a not-particularly-helpful therapist. In one of our sessions, she suggested I start a diary. I suggested that a diary would depress me. (Um, hello, I'm coming to see you because my life depresses me, so writing about it would be depressing, don't you think?) She then suggested that I stop trying to think of things to say in my diary, but just write the words that came to me. So I rolled my eyes and agreed to try it.

OMG. Words poured out. At first they didn't, but within two or three days, my writing went from something about a friend to some ellipses to "four dots to every eye - four corners to every square - but a neverending circle to every whirlpool - every windshower..." And then more. I never would have chosen consciously to put these words together. But there they were. From my pen. I didn't even know what I had written until after I put down the pen.

My next therapy session, I was so excited. I read what I had written to my therapist. She freaked out a little - I can't remember how, now, but I do remember thinking, "This is dumb. I'm outta here." So I dumped the therapist but kept the technique. For about a year, I wrote whenever I felt the compulsion. I wrote the words I saw, one word at a time, at first on whatever scrap of paper I could find, and then in a journaling book that a friend bought for me so all the writings could be in one place. For the next six months, I carried the little book around with me. Amazing words showed up. I called them my "free writes," for lack of a better term. They were inspiring. They put me in a zone.

In the end, the compulsion for free writes slowed down to a trickle. But I had learned a lot about writing in the process, and started writing with less rigidity. And then there were the words themselves. I have never published them, but I've always thought they'd be great for greeting cards, or "thought of the day" calendars.

So in that spirit, I am going to start posting my free writes from 10 years ago. One a day. Even if I blog nothing else on a particular day, I'll be blogging a free write.

About ART's Title

I love titles. They come to me all the time, often without a project attached.

When I thought of the title "accidental rabbit trails," years ago, I was tickled. And not quite sure what it meant. Rabbit trails by definition are accidental, aren't they? So an accidental rabbit trail - well, maybe that is a more deliberate route, in spite of erratic intention. The intentional rabbit creates a mess of footprints, zigzagging from baby point to baby point. The accidental rabbit, who fails to make purposeful zigzags due to the now-accidental nature of the trail - well, that must be poetry in motion, in spite of the rabbit's very-best intentions.

I tried explaining this to my younger sister once, way back when, with a lot half-sentences in between (saying I loved the title but didn't know when I might use it, or how). She listened intently and then made her assessment. "Sounds like your life," she said.

Oh. So it does. Maybe that's why I love the title so much.

Here is what I think she meant.

Before I wrote the baseball novel, I spent about two years following a pull on my heart to do what I ended up calling "spiritual archaeology" - helping myself, and then gradually others, explore the ancestry of something and looking for where the wound may be, where the ancestral voice may have been silenced. By the time I found out about this Spokane Indians team - nine men died in a bus crash in 1946 - they died as a team - I couldn't not write about them, and a novel was born. . . . . .

Before I represented victims of sex abuse against the Spokane Catholic Diocese, I spent a couple years following a pull on my heart to be a support system to the local SNAP group (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), ultimately writing a play called A Man Of Sacred Heart, about an exorcist, all the while rejecting offers from other lawyers to represent different people, saying I didn't want to wear too many hats. By the time my half-dozen cases came to me - they needed representation fast, with a lawyer who knew the issues - it was right. In the end, I think I helped my clients. I also freed myself up financially a little (not forever, but for now). Had I not followed the pull on my heart, I never would have ended up there. .... ... . . ..

And before I volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008 - well, it was just like the other two trails. I had a completely different plan for 2008. It was 2008 when I was going to start my full-out writing effort. But 2008 was also a critical year for the nation. I already knew (had known since his DNC speech in 2004) that we needed Barack Obama as our president. It was his words. It was his process. And then it was all his words, as I started reading them whenever I could. I told people we needed him. They invariably said, "Who?" I never wavered. Suddenly it was January, 2008, I was in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, I saw a campaign office sign, and I felt compelled to volunteer. Then there I was, turning 47 years old, never involved in a campaign before, all obsessed, going state to state, volunteering. Halfway through the year, someone that I met in North Carolina said to me, "You should write a book about your experiences." I laughed and then thought, hey - I should write a book about my experiences. This has not come to pass, though I think it would be a really good book. Still, I can't really care about that too much, for what I really, really wanted has already happened. President Obama, is what we call him now. No one asks "who" anymore.

So now, it's time. There is nothing in my way. All before me is an open path. A new rabbit trail. Deliberately accidental (accidentally deliberate). Time to make this happen. All out.

There were other titles I considered for this blog. A Time To Write, for instance (or variations thereof), recalling Ecclesiastes' "there is a time for everything under the sun...." It is a biblical passage that my mother used to recite to me often to help quell my impatience. (I was my parents' third child in four years, always a step behind my older brother and sister, always trying to catch up.) But I tossed that title. It felt passive, not active. Besides, I couldn't remember it. And Accidental Rabbit Trails - that's more about all things. Its acronym is ART. And, as my sister says, it describes my life. ART.

About ART

This blog is about writing, sharing, and making myself accountable to myself. The blog is for this year in particular, because this year is dedicated to my decision - hope, intent, expectation - to become a full-time writer, and leave the law behind. Well, it will never be completely gone. (You can take me out of the law, but you can't take the law out of me.) Still, my passion and calling is the writing now, not the lawyering anymore. Maybe my writing will end up being about justice. It often is. Whichever way, it's time to make the writing happen, full scale.

I'm choosing today as the blog's official beginning because it is the day after the inauguration of now-President Barack Obama. Yesterday marked the end of a chapter in my life, as I volunteered for the Obama campaign all last year. That makes today the day for beginnings. (It's like Semisonic's Closing Time song: "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.") (a line which first came from ancient-Rome philosopher Seneca, it seems.)

I didn't go to the inauguration itself, though I did get access to tickets at the last minute. I kept thinking, and said a few times aloud, it's like the difference between the wedding and the marriage. I'm more interested in how the marriage unfolds. Though I'm awfully glad that people took time to create ceremony. What's weird is, there were many moments yesterday that resembled a wedding reception. Weren't there? My favorite part of the day (other than Obama's speech, which I loved and can't quite figure out why some pundits had to pan it) was when Obama interrupted the Chief Justice at the beginning of the oath, which in turn threw the Chief into his own misstep. I laughed and thought, well, Barack just wants to get this over, and get started on the speech, doesn't he? And on the work. Always, the work....

I do expect the blog to include a daily entry of my "free writes" (explained in another entry). I do expect the blog to contain other writings of mine as well as references to other people's writing. And I do expect the blog to include a segment called "Spirit of Service" - a line from Obama's speech yesterday - where I hope to highlight people's efforts around the country to manifest this call to action we heard yesterday - where we work to help each other. I want to honor those who work so hard to make a difference, often in anonymity. So tell me your stories, people. Tell me your stories. Let's give voice to this new process, and make it happen. I know we can.