Monthly Archives: April 2014

You say the words for me.

Sometimes I find a perfect piece of writing by someone else.  I envy the piece and its author, turning the rhythm of the words this way and that, admiring the glint of the emotion and the cadence of the language.  Then, I send the gem on its way — to the person for whom I need just that perfect pronouncement.  This could be a card, or a story, or an essay.  Sometimes, my own words just don’t say what I want.

Today, I awakened thinking of the lyrics to a song from “Carnival!”, written by Bob Merrill.  It is sung by the character Paul Barthelet, a lonely puppeteer, to his puppet Carrot Top:

Who can I be
Now that I can’t be me anymore?
Shall I be that sunny smiling fellow
Who won’t rock the boat
‘Cause he might splash the ocean
But sits there and cheerfully twitters?
Then people might say
See that man over there –
He’s bitter.
You’re a lucky fellow.
Such a lucky fellow.
The secret is your smile!
I ought to have a smile.
A smile takes quite a knack.
I ought to have a smile.
And who cares if it’s real
Or painted with shellack.
A smile full of theatrics
For easily agreeing.
Two eyes with acrobatics
To see the way you’re seeing.
So turnabout!
You say the words for me.
‘Cause everybody likes you.
Everybody likes you.
And no one — no one likes me.

So, those words say what I’m thinking today, when I see someone smiling, easily reaching to touch the hand of the person beside them.  You say the words for me.  At least until I find my own voice.


I sat on a bench in court yesterday and listened to the conversations of lawyers.  Partners who evidently had not seen each other for some time embraced and updated each other.  “Worked on landscaping til my fingers ached,” said the one, who had been vacationing around her home.  “Did you hear the news? Sheila got engaged,” said the other, the one left at the office.  Or maybe it was Sherry.  Smiles all around.  They obviously missed one another.

A gaggle of lawyers argued about a parenting schedule, standing by the jury box, waiting for the judge to emerge from his chambers.  The stocky lawyer who clearly had the role of guardian ad litem avoided my glance. He hasn’t spoken to me since he got fired by the wife of a client of mine, who finished the case pro se,  agreeing to the deal we had offered before her lawyer slogged us through several painful days of depositions.  The exes remain friendly; the lawyers, not so much.  I smiled at his discomfort.  Get over it, I thought.

On the bench beside me, another lawyer talked about how to fashion a parenting schedule with a traveling mother.  Every other weekend isn’t do-able, she surmised.  Her opposing counsel nodded in agreement.  Their faces tensed; they looked down at their files, pondering, wondering how to accommodate the career of a woman who seemed to them to be more interested in advancing herself than caring for her children.  I thought about all the fathers  who did just that without upsetting anyone.  The dads whom I represent complain about gender-bias in residential placement.  But a woman who wants to excel at her profession is seen as abandoning her children.  We expect so much of a mother; and give so little to a father.

At the table, a lawyer whom I know as a civil litigator chats on his cell phone.  I’ve greeted him; I admire his work, but don’t quite understand why he’s here on a domestic docket.  Are times so hard on the civil side that he moonlights as a divorce lawyer?  He shifts in his thousand-dollar suit as though he feels my eyes on his back.

I was in Independence, the other courthouse in Jackson County.  I don’t regularly practice there; and I feel the distance between me and the other lawyers.  I’m not one of them.  I’m not an Eastern Jackson County attorney.  I don’t kowtow to them if we have cases together; I don’t play by their rules.  When one Eastern Jack lawyer insisted on berating my client and calling a judge, I gently assured her that I had no problem defending my position on the record.  She blustered, and blew, and I could nearly see the steam come out of her ears.  But I admire her talent and tenacity; I just don’t fall to intimidation, or recognize the presumed superiority of those whose offices are east of the county divide.  They sometimes roll their eyes when they see me; they think I don’t notice, but I do.  It doesn’t persuade me to work less hard for my clients, though I’ve learned to do so quietly, calmly, and let them sputter if they will.  Most of them are good attorneys, whom I admire, though I doubt they’d suspect as much.

I had never met my opposing counsel on the case which brought me out to Independence yesterday, but I spotted him when he entered the courtroom.  I had no preconceived notion of his physical appearance, but I did not recognize his name, so I assumed that he was new and possibly, like me, that he interloped in the courtrooms of Independence. I watched for someone who would walk among the chatting attorneys without being greeted, perhaps giving a small nod to the ladies, a brief smile to the men.  I pegged him right.  When the judge called our case, I spoke kindly to him at the bench, civilly of him to the court, and even suggested that the judge might give him leave to file his answer out of time, since he had only recently entered his appearance.

After the judge had disposed of our case, I retrieved my bag, and exited, through the doors, back into the world from which I had come.  The murmurings stopped briefly as I passed the lawyers sitting on the bench that I had just vacated.  Only a few smiled.  Only my civil litigator friend spoke to me.

But I didn’t mind.  I took myself back downtown, to the city, where I belong.



Hope Floats

This started out to be a post about finding my lost ring.  But before I could start writing, I saw an email from a client whose wife took their daughter on the run for fifteen months.  He finally had a visit with the child yesterday, after much court machinations.  He reports, “there was no recognition in her eyes”.  His heart breaks.

I’ve spent a lot of time lamenting the terrible things that people do to one another.  I’ve yet to hear one legitimate reason for this woman to have taken their daughter from my client.  I’ve not heard reports of domestic violence or drug use.  Her lawyer has hinted at alcohol abuse but has offered no evidence that my client did anything but lovingly care for his daughter.  I’m sure there will be a “he said, she said” tone to the trial, with the judge glancing from one to another, trying to gauge credibility.

The loser in all this?  A five-year-old girl who no longer remembers her father.  I’ve got a legitimate beef about that; and a venue in which to make it with a raging fury that I intend to unleash with cold disdain for this mother, unless she’s got something more than vague accusations and innuendo.

But still:  I will tell my client not to despair, to keep coming to see his daughter, until the dawn of remembrance lights in her eyes. And not to forget:  Hope floats.


Taking stock

It has been three months since I started this journey, and I’ve been taking stock.

I have made a conscious decision to try to be more pleasant in my dealings with people. By and large, I’ve been successful.  I’ve had setbacks and unexpected validation alike.  I’ve been told by people who see me every day that my disposition has substantially improved.  When I find myself feeling angry, for the most part, I back down.  When I don’t back down, I try to find the calmest route to resolution.  When I lose my cool, I own the result; and move forward.

I started down this path to have a more peaceful existence and a smoother co-existence with my family, friends and colleagues.  I heard the words of Marshall Rosenberg:  Stop playing the game of “right and wrong”, and start playing the game of “have a wonderful life.”

Having a wonderful life does not mean being a doormat.  It means identifying my needs, making requests of people to behave in ways that meet those needs, and recognizing and identifying my emotional reaction to people’s behavior that does not meet my needs.  I didn’t make this up; I learned this from studying Nonviolent Communication.  NVC also involves recognizing other people’s needs, paying attention to the feelings that they have when their needs are not met, and considering the requests that they make of you to fulfill those needs.

This sounds a little idealistic, I know.  Many of us have been raised to believe that we must win; and we win by picking a loser.  We win; they lose.  We’re right; they’re wrong.  When the other person insists that their point of view be heard and considered, we loudly lament their voice.  That complaining undermines our having a wonderful life.

I read somewhere, before I even heard of Nonviolent Communication, that an important thing to recognize about interpersonal relationships is that It is not my job to persuade the other person to agree with my point of view.  It is okay for the other person to have a point of view different than mine.  I have thought about that a lot, and I think I understand and embrace this concept.

But I still have a problem.  The other person wants to persuade me to agree with them!!  So I find myself grousing about that.  “I stopped insisting I’m right; but now it’s like I’ve conceded that I’m WRONG!”  Not so — or, shall I say, that’s only true if I am still playing the game of right and wrong!  So, do I sit smiling, nodding, allowing the person to think I agree with them?  Do I say something bound to antagonize, like, “I see your point of view”, code for “but don’t agree”?

These are issues that have troubled me as I have tried to let go of complaining.  The big area of complaining for me is complaints about the behavior of  people close to me.  I need to learn to let people say their peace, listen, ask questions, and not worry about whether the speaker is judging me in any way.  Do they think I’m wrong?  Okay, I can live with that.  Do they think I’m stupid?  Okay, I can live with that too.  Both of those opinions are not really what they think.  What they think is that I disagree with them, and that if I don’t agree with them I think they are stupid!  

Their need to be valued and respected might lead them to judge you harshly, if they are afraid that  you don’t value them.

It can be a hopeless cycle.  But if you step off the merry-go-round of “right or wrong”, the cycle can be broken and you can find yourself having a wonderful life.


Girl, we’ve got our eyes on you

I backslid today.

I’d been doing so well that I hadn’t even felt the need to check in with my faithful followers.

Then, I encountered some critical misinformation on my account page with the website of an insurance company which shall go unnamed.  I spent a solid hour dealing with the lowest level of customer service, ten minutes on hold (listening to how much they valued me as a customer) waiting for a supervisor, and finally had to twist off to deal with one of MY clients. I resumed the calls; and an hour and a half later, no loser to resolution and still not having encountered anyone even remotefully helpful, I lost my temper.

Parenthetically, I’ll share that I did, finally, get someone with both the ability and willingness to help me.  How, you ask?  By calling the Media department and advising them that I was about to issue a press release on their company’s failure to help me, and did they wish to make a statement?  I had a supervisor (first AND last name, AND direct-dial number) in five minutes and a solution in 15.  Four hours after starting the process!!!!

For my purposes, here, though: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Why did I fall from grace?  Maybe the magnitude of their uncooperativeness.  Maybe the news, unrelated, that I need a root canal.  Maybe I shouldn’t have gone back to drinking coffee after a two-week hiatus.  Or maybe I just cracked.

So, my friends:  Eyes on me.  Keep me honest.  I’m adding a day to My Year Without Complaining, and taking it through to 01 January 2015, because I’m here to tell you, this day cannot by any stretch of the imagination count.

But there’s always tomorrow.