Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hook by James Arlington Wright


I was only a young man
In those days. On that evening
The cold was so God damned
Bitter there was nothing.
Nothing. I was in trouble
With a woman, and there was nothing
There but me and dead snow.

I stood on the street corner
In Minneapolis, lashed
This way and that.
Wind rose from some pit,
Hunting me.
Another bus to Saint Paul
Would arrive in three hours,
If I was lucky.

Then the young Sioux
Loomed beside me, his scars
Were just my age.

Ain't got no bus here
A long time, he said.
You got enough money
To get home on?

What did they do
To your hand? I answered.
He raised up his hook into the terrible starlight
And slashed the wind.

Oh, that? he said.
I had a bad time with a woman. Here,
You take this.

Did you ever feel a man hold
Sixty-five cents
In a hook,
And place it
In your freezing hand?

I took it.
It wasn't the money I needed.
But I took it.

Monday, February 1, 2016

a lawyer is your champion in a hostile world

Through babysitters here in Cambridge I have become acquainted with the current realities of legal education.

The babysitter we had last year was a law student. She was working a ton of hours to pay for her degree, she had a massive commute to London and before she had undertaken any sort of course work whatsoever she had to produce a legal resume and take a massive amount of time preparing to market herself. This included applying for positions, having to answer ridiculous multi-page questionnaires (what makes you a smith law firm person?) studying the minutae of each law firm's website, trying to come up with reasons she truly preferred to work at a mid-size agricultural firm in rural Essex.  Weeks and weeks of work. Sixty percent of all of her degree-related time.

Now law students are tap dancing for corporations before they learn a single thing about the law. Competition is unreasonably fierce and time-consuming. I don't think it should be easy to become a lawyer. I am a big fan of academic competition. But my babysitter was spending sixty percent of her time on marketing which was seen as the only answer to the fact they are competing against each other for a scarce resource. Not good. Subtext: fear the future.  Some law students are under intense economic pressure.  They are awash in an anxiety sweat about signature font and stressful multi-day interviews.

What these kids are experiencing in their bodies is the rule of law slipping farther away from us. Their grueling lives are controlled by future flow of money.  The young suffer first, right?

It's not just law students. It's in-house counsel. The legal department of companies is an increasingly vapid post, the rule of law and duties of loyalty, good faith - these things do not have a place at the table. Legal counsels report to the CFO. How can it be otherwise, though, right? When they are competing so hard for shareholder returns? This shareholder return gig is a bad deal for most people. As an employee your company has to keep working you harder to grow results - and has to keep cutting corners and treating you worse. It's built in.  And the shareholders who benefit are almost always the  1%.  Yet everyone has accepted as a given that shareholder returns must be the prime responsibility in any transaction, and that corporations can be giant and have endless power in our politics.

 This simply cannot be the case any longer. Everyone agrees that the action of any entity, whether a legal fiction or a living thing, should not actively degrade the environment, and should provide a liveable wage, and should pay a fair tax. Yet every corporation granted existence by a government  - a government created to serve you - has no such obligation.

Why not? Because the lawyers aren't striving for justice, they are competing for money.

The ones that aren't - kids with resources and high ideals -- get channeled somehow into human rights law. I think it's such a shame. I think it's a ghetto. It's a place where not very much is happening and there are very few opportunities  Brilliant insight and legal reform is desperately needed. And a call to action to bring the courts back to the people, increase the budget for justice significantly  - a petition to the house of lords from the young. Our generation kind of messed things up so you have a lot of work to do.

Law students need to quit all the marketing bullshit and just volunteer at all the wounded institutions. Maybe demonstrate a little. Right now in my view the UK Government is in violation of the magna carta by selling justice, and by making the courts unavailable.  Consumer justice could be a website. Access to justice is a ten year wait in this country and that is disgusting. Justice delayed is justice denied, yet no one calls out the delayers. These guys are messing with the people.  We say that we live under the rule of law, but we live under no such thing. Money decides everything.

The rule of law needs a major overhaul. Human rights law shouldn't be just in a few slow minor courts, it should be at the heart of every contract, every merger, every currency decision and policy decision, and not just the letter, but the spirit. The spirit of the law. The spirit of justice. That feeling of putting things to right that have been wrong for a long time. Consumer rights and earth rights and creating a worldwide response to the migrant crisis - these issues have to come to the forefront now - and the lawyers have to help.

Someone should investigate these rumours that UK Tory MEPs were told to lobby against multinational corporate tax treaties.  Even as hospitals close. A government that is telling the people that there is no money for the NHS cannot also be lobbying against increases in government revenue by protecting Google's tax status. There is a violation of a duty of loyalty in there somewhere. I mean that is some treasonous shit. At the very least, you can debate a fraud case in the house of lords. Or do something. Where are the gadflies? Who will be the gadfly to bite the flank of the horse of Athens? Could it be law students? Students? Poets? Whoever is willing to go for the jugular. The jugular of the legal fiction.

So Dershowitz was my criminal law professor. I regret taking the last piece of cake at our Orientation Group dinner at his house because he looked so disappointed. I actually was mostly surprised that he even wanted cake. I thought he was above cake somehow. But Dershowitz would quote Freedman - a lawyer is your champion in a hostile world. I loved it. Push as hard as you can to get the best result . Don't cross the line.  But go up to the line and maybe explore novel interpretations of where the line is. Try really, really hard. Tax your brain.  I loved that and I loved to think about it and it made me a good lawyer.

Now a lot of things need champions. Every refugee. Every stream, the wind and the air. Every person working for a corporation or buying from a corporation. They need the rule of law. They need justice. And we're all tap-dancing for the money.

The world is woven by laws, by institutions that are only in the end legal fictions. Corporations, religions, borders - these are legal fictions and if we apply the laws of people to these fictions, we would just have a much better story. We would have better rule of law. But this would take champions. Where's the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Please Send Food

In 1995 between White & Case and Skadden I took a month off and my friend J and I flew to El Paso, rented a convertible, drove down the Rio Grande to Big Bend, where we hiked and rafted for week. The first couple days of hiking in the Chisos Mountains were gorgeous, and we stayed in Big Bend National Park, very remote, where chicken fried steak and Bud Light was pretty much our only fare. We would drink Bud Lights and send postcards to our current boyfriends with terrible fictional tales of the excesses of the other. And make prank phone calls. One night we had J's boyfriend believing we were in a Mexican jail.  We sort of deserved to be because after one trip across the border for a lunch break we were questioned by the INS at re-entry. Are you American, they asked. J replied that we were American but the guys in the trunk of the rental car were probably Mexican.

Five hours later we resumed our road trip. I bring this up only because J's signature line came from that trip. She signs off: please send food.

Yesterday I was hanging out with someone who was preparing for their third trip to the refuge camp in Calais. A place without electricity. A place in darkness except for some occasional starlight. And I remembered J's joke missive except now it is horribly not a joke. Please Send Food.

There are families in that refugee camp - a lot of families - families like yours. The people are accountants, or university professors, or farmers. They have left their country because it wasn't safe. In many instances, bombs that were dropped by planes with our flags made it unsafe.

We are implicated. This is our problem. Those refugees are us. I can't stand the boring, banal nature of that sentence and this is about the fourth time I tried to write it. Forgive the banality and see the truth.

Thousands of people are cold and hungry and stateless. They are without sanitation and nutrition, without education for the children (and there are many more children, I now understand, than the media are reporting). They are bullied by police. There are fires. People go missing. There are unmarked graves. Wikipedia says there are six thousand migrants there. People on the ground estimate at least double that.

At this refugee camp, on top of a former landfill and asbestos-ridden soil, people just arrive. Every day. Having walked across Europe. Having had to sneak past barbed wire or riot police. And many Syrians have sent their minor children on after having been stopped in central Europe. See, what I am trying to tell you is that as we sit home and enjoy the wifi, there are stateless starving children wandering across Europe. This is a real thing. It is in my estimation a great humanitarian crisis. In our backyard.

No state is claiming them. The French State is policing them with riot police.  They are there to intimidate. There are reports of incidents of violence.  Fires. Apparently the locals fire rifles into the air above the camp so that the shells will fall on the refugees and make them feel unwelcome. There are two churches and two mosques. the Afghani section of camp had a great ironic sign at their entrance "TERRORISTS", There are town meetings. The rudiments of something like a city have taken hold but people are overwhelmed. The locals are creating a sort of apartheid, where muddied shoes refugees are not welcome, whether or not they have resources.

But winter is coming.

Winter is coming and governments all want to ignore this problem. They have decided instead to drop more bombs which will of course, of course, create more suffering and more refugees. Here in the UK, anyway, this is what they have decided.  And you know what? The head of the  Church of England backs the government and offers a perversion of international law to the papers so they might run the headlines "Just War". It is not a just war. It is not. It is a big mess that is making the military industrial complex a lot of money. It is a nexus of suffering. I feel now sitting in a cafe in Cambridge waiting for my daughter to finish ballet nauseous, because for the first time I face the reality that my church and the state have become evil, Have ignored the rule of law for their own convenience and power.

But there is no time to reform the state while unaccompanied minors sneak across borders or drown in our seas - there is no justice, just us.

What can we do?

We can send food. We can send blankets. And sanitation engineers and schoolteachers and doctors and lawyers. We do not need to wait for our governments to do this, we can and we must act without them.  We are not powerless against the state and indeed the refugee camp is a stateless, starless place anyway.

We can notice. We can talk. We can organize.

The friends I have who have the least are the friends who have been to that camp. People with nothing. I am ashamed. I want to jump in a van and drive to Calais. But I have a certain consumerist obligation in December and builders in and children with expectations. It feels unbearable, actually. For of course I must ask what world I leave for my children (and their blasted Christmas expectations) if children are sneaking over border at night and starving and I have done nothing.

There is a great war looming inside me between creating a good life for my children and being a good person. The rumors of war are here on this blog.

I am going to send food. Please, you too, send food. Send something. Notice. The Guardian website has a great interactive tool to find a charity that can help.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Wedding at Cana

So this play OneWheaton commissioned for Homecoming 2015 from me has made it to Soundcloud for six months. If you have an hour and fifteen minutes, you can listen to Wedding at Cana .

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Various Plays and a leavetaking

I have tried to avoid anything self-referential in this blog. Tedious in the extreme is every line of writing about writing. This blog is neglected. I have such a hard time finding time to write. That kind of stuff. I write for the story, not the story about the story. But I must break that rule to tell you that I will be taking this blog down shortly.

Over the last six years I have sporadically chronicled true love, parenting, Occupy, mental illness, British culture, writing and seeing plays and posted my favorite poems.

296 posts since February 2009. The first was about Williams v First Government, the predatory lending case I tried in 1997, age 29. That was quite a story. It was a story of our times and we didn't even know it.

I have since written the play of that case, called Kerching.

This blog though is mostly known for Occupy.

The most popular post is one of my worst entries, a series of random observations on the rule of law and children ("The Trial Is Friday"). The second most popular is Why Is The Economist Confused. This was written before Occupy but after the London riots over, guess what, a race-related police execution. I write in there that I always wanted to be in a riot but the truth is I'm a middle-class pansy and pretty adverse to physical discomfort and even being kettled by the police was such an anathema to me. Anyway if you ever wonder what any of my plays are about, read Why Is The Economist Confused. About alienation and fear in a consumerist society and the failures of my generation.

So around Occupy I sort of used this blog as my engagement with those wonderful people at the London camp via twitter. I mean I was still going there all the time. I remember my husband Rhys with his impeccable manners asking sweetly if I would be going to London and risk arrest on Saturdays indefinitely?

In the middle of Occupy I got a call from Guy Masterson and I started writing him some plays. One is touring London, Adelaide and Little Rock next year. It's called Bill Clinton Hercules.

And then there was This Is Water with ADC and Seven Words for Love for Twisted Willow and most recently, Wedding at Cana which will be available to listen to on Soundcloud in the coming days.

It's been a busy period my life and it's intensifying, so I will say goodbye to the blog for a while. Here are some updates for the die-hards (three of you I know by name)
Faranelli and the King: What is it with Rylance? Magic candelit show. Hidden depth. Such a night at the theater.

Nell Gwynn: Charming and wonderful although Nell's no River Song.

Edinburgh 2015: I am in a weird period where I super disagree with popular opinion and critic's choice so it was a strange Fringe. I liked I'm Not Here Right Now, I was not overly impressed with The Christians. Man to Man was ridiculous despite the rapturous audience reception. I mean I really wanted to break into the sound booth and forcefeed a sedative to the tech. Smoke and Mirrors was a strange dance work with moments of total poignancy. Really worth seeing. After all my years in Europe I was somewhat snobbily shocked that these sensitive and subtle dancers were from like Arizona. Arizona!

The best show was This Will End Badly - a Rob Hayes one man monologue that weaves a terrifying love story, a potential suicide, obsessive compulsive disorder and testosterone. It ends on one of the most magnificently theatrical moments. An ejaculation of light. The casual observations about the characters Hayes creates especially about hooking up with drunk girls are devastatingly accurate.  An extended constipation arc. I was absorbed.

Goodbye and thanks for all the fish.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Three Day Play 2015: The Secret of the Baker

So a dozen kids are making a play with me and Sochel Rogers in my backyard. Here is my shot at a synopsis. A world divided into zombies and humans. A town with a camp for the zombies. Some humans feel kindly toward them, but the intellectuals, fearing their tempers, seek to eradicate them.

The action opens in the neutral territory outside the camp where the baker Alicia is hawking her baked goods. Enter Owlboy, looking for a man named Bob. He is warned away from the zombie camps by the baker. Blueberry, a witching student (thank God there is only one Hogwarts student in this production, this is the fourth Three Day Play, in the first two years it was nearly all of them) - Blueberry is robbed by a mercenary. Owlboy stops the theft. More by luck than skill, because Owlboy is just a normal human orphan. Owlboy does not find Bob.

  In a corner of the neutral territory Bob sits in a cafe. A kindly 55-year-old man named Bob, a former police officer, he has come to town to produce a zombie show. He befriends the public relations person for the zombies​, who is herself a zombie -Gertrude . He convinces Gertrude (and also Gerald Lizzie Duckworth​ her PR assistant who could only join us today) to help him put on a zombie show in the neutral territory. Gertrude and Gerald agree. The last zombie show had ended in chaos and anger and the creation of the camps for the zombies. So Gertrude and Gerald are being very brave.

Two healers who witness the petty thief stealing the wand lure him back to their sanctuary. They want to hire him. They seek to make a potion to turn zombies back to humans.  For this they need him to steal the secret of the baker. He figures he is too expensive for them but then they promise to make him a potion to bring back his memory if he can steal the secret. He agrees.

Another intergalactic mercenary - this one a cat -- breaks into the house of the nearby inventor. He begs the the inventor to make him a human disguise to end his lifelong loneliness. The inventor cannot be bought, but her fondest wish is to be the greatest scientist and create a vaccine to prevent humans from becoming zombies. For this she needs the secret of the baker. (The baker is like the old lady in the Matrix she can change people into zombies and does so at will, so both the inventor and the healers think she holds the key.) So two mercenaries going after the baker. The amnesiac is unsuccessfully questioning her about her secret when he is tackled by the cat. They have a vicious fight, broken up by the beloved superhero Owl Boy. The baker beseeches the mercenaries not to eradicate the zombies, and all are moved to tears by the incredible cuteness of two zombie children who wander into the bakery. Somehow I find my daughter cast in this role. She seems to enjoy it when people sob at how cute she is.

Owl Boy returns to the neutral space where people slowly lead him to Bob. He tells Bob he will kill him because Bob killed his parents. Owl Boy takes off his mask when he announces this grave intention. The sight of Owl Boy's face restores Bob's memory and he explains he is Owl Boy's father and not a killer. Owl Boy satisfies himself that Bob speaks the truth and they embrace.

The mercenaries -now in love with zombies- return to the humans who hired them and explain that they refuse to go after the secret of the baker. (this is also name of play).  However, the cat still wants his mask and the amnesiac still wants his potion so they demand payment. (Only in England would this be a plot point.) The humans refuse but give the mercenaries a chance to earn their payment. The healers and the inventor both want to show the mercenaries the justness of their cause as well, so they go to Bob's show in the neutral space and attempt to trigger the uncontrollable Zombie temper. They hassle Blueberry, a new zombie now, until she runs into the Zombies as they start their dance. The neutral space and Bob's festival ignite in a huge fight. Owlboy is gravely injured; fighting ceases as they gather in concern. The healer is called. The healer's assistant and the zombies quickly gather unripe apples and holly leafs and cure Owlboy. All are united in the effort and agree to live in peace and get rid of the zombie camps. They all dance.

It's on tomorrow. Please don't email me pointing out gaping holes in the plot until it's all over. This is exhausting but it's also good. The Secret of the Baker is a good show.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Screen Free Week

Screen Free Week:

First Day, Monday:  7:00 – wake up. 7:15 - Son collapses at breakfast table saying he can’t take any more. Dog gets a long walk and daughter makes up new trampoline game involving her ballet costume. Strange not to be able to Google things I don’t know.

Tuesday: We went to Rock Road library after school. What a magic place. The kids now sitting around before dinner reading. After dinner, we listened to music and danced around. Kids into Fleetwood Mac. 

Wednesday: I break out the Yahtzee game and teach it to the children. The sound of the dice rolling makes the kitchen a little Las Vegas-y. This is like pre-poker. After baths we read By The Shores of Silver Lake, one of the Little House on the Prairie series. Mary and Laura had lives of hardship and no screens. 

Thursday: My son misses Minecraft. Refrigerator magnet Minecraft block magnets on the fridge make him nostalgic when he comes downstairs. 

Friday:  Friday night is pizza night. Instead of pizza and a movie, we invite friends over for pizza and charades. My children don’t get me acting out “Harry Potter” even though I use ‘sounds like’ to get to “Hair-see Pot-fur” and draw a lightning bolt scar on my own forehead. Husband laughs. Later he refuses to shout out “Ice Age” from “Mice Rage”. He enjoys my silent depiction of rodent fury.

Saturday:  Rainy and cold. A day made for movies. Instead we did some grim DIY. Wonder about the anti-austerity protests in London.  Activist news is mostly found on social media. Today we felt a little deprived.

Sunday:   We have a BBQ in the evening to get through the home stretch. Weather good. Son helps with the strawberries. He and his friend develop a sort of cage fighting game on the trampoline and daughter improves on the slack line.   

Signed back on to Facebook today to see a torrent of postings about racism in wake of the shooting in Charleston. It seems oddly impotent to me. At the beginning of the screen free week, I felt like my being Administrator of Occupy Movement - Cambridge was  almost 'essential work' (permitted by the rules of screen free week).I guess by the end it didn't seem like that as much.  There are the people who get shot and the people on the streets and the people doing things and then there are the people on FB. FB seems impotent to make the changes we want to see in the world. It only gives a transitory satisfaction in that moment when you say what your friends knew what you were going to say anyway. In that blue square with the friendly f, everyone agrees with me about sexism, racism, consumerism, the human rights crisis and capitalism eating the rule of law and democracy. And you know what, that and $8.00 will get me a bagel at Newark Airport. It's nothing. It's not enough. And while I was tired after the weekend of high-octane fun, I missed the kids on Monday.