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September 11, 2007

Lost in Law School: Keeping Your Perspective and Finding Your Way

"Save Yourself: A Semester-Long Exercise in Perspective"
By Liz Polizzi

I have a confession to make. On several occasions over the past year, I’ve found myself looking with deep appreciation at bad landscape paintings.

It all started during OCI last year. I was standing in the kitschy hallways of the Holiday Inn, listening through the door as the interviewee ahead of me guffawed with the interviewer. Sure that my own chances of success must be shot – how could I possibly follow such an act? – I began to scan the halls for something to take my mind off of my misfortune. That’s when I beheld it.

The color scheme of the painting involved teal, purple, and a sort of beige-ish pink, in a swirl of pastels that somehow gave the impression of a landscape involving water. It was the sort of painting you’d expect to see in a Holiday Inn – nothing more, nothing less – but it captivated me, it soothed me. It took me to a faraway place, a distant land where I was free to sit on the blurry riverbank and watch the garish teal water reflect the purplish-beige trees. I imagined a breeze. The air smelled somehow fruity.

Since that moment, I’ve spent a great deal of time rationalizing and making excuses for my obviously horrendous taste in art, evidenced not only on that occasion but on countless others. I love bad landscape paintings, and that’s all there is to it. But why?

This fall marked the fifth occasion on which I have enjoyed the almost-but-not-entirely-unpleasant queasiness of returning to Ann Arbor after a long absence. Every time I reenter the city limits, get stuck in student pedestrian traffic, catch a first glimpse of the Law School, I have the same thought: “This time will be different. I have perspective now. Armed with fresh memories of the world outside of law school, I hereby banish all the ‘scary law student’ thoughts I had before. I will remain a level-headed, good-natured human being throughout the whole semester. Yes, this atmosphere and period of life are unique, but life is still composed of days and minutes, which I hereby promise to enjoy and live well, as a human being.”

Sadly (and this is a heart-wrenching personal admission, so I expect the reader to feel at least a little pang of sympathy), it usually only takes a week or two before I’ve gotten myself twisted back into such a state that a purple-tinged pastoral scene is required to facilitate anything resembling a state of calm.

I am egomorphic enough to assume that I am not alone in this, and thus we come to the point of this column. I have a fabulous friend, whom I was lucky enough to meet at the beginning of law school, who is fond of putting her face inches away from mine and screaming “Snap out of it!” But sometimes that’s not enough – just like it isn’t enough merely to know about the world outside and how little it really cares about or even understands most of the things that plague the average law student. In order to overcome a negative, you need a positive, like kite-flying or jumping rope – only more suitable to our positions as the future leaders of the free world and all that.

The key, in the end, is to maintain connections with the things that make us who we are – or, at least, who we were before law school. The things that make us unique, and not just another notch on the grade curve. I know many people who have done a much better job of this than I have. They remember what they used to like to do, or what they always wanted to learn how to do, and make a little time each week to pursue things totally unrelated to law school. Although I always intended to follow suit, I just never found the time ... until now.

From now until the end of the semester, I promise to explore in each issue of the RG a new way of leaving the Law School campus and embarking on a human adventure entirely unencumbered by the laws of Civil Procedure or the Uniform Commercial Code – and I’m taking you with me. I’ll be delving headlong into perspective-enhancing adventure – from art and music, to yoga and volunteer work, from philosophy, music, and religion, to adventures in food. Along the way I hope to take my cues from other law students who have done this sort of thing all along and thus theoretically kept a heightened degree of perspective (although I suppose that question must be examined as well). To that end, I hope my loyal readership will not hesitate to write in with their own personal methods for maintaining sanity in a not-so-sane place.

For the time being, let’s all just take a moment to find our own peaceful place and meditate upon the notion that it’s never too late to begin the process of reintroducing simple human pleasures into the maelstrom of our to-do lists, to rediscover the versions of ourselves that made Dean Zearfoss invite us to come here in the first place, or to reacquaint ourselves with our own truly sophisticated taste in art.

Liz Polizzi is a 3L and Managing Editor of Res Gestae. Comments, suggestions, and treasure maps should be e-mailed to epolizzi@umich.edu.