I don’t like conflict. I never have. I probably never will.
Except…I remember my father saying I should be an attorney because I liked to argue. But I don’t remember liking to argue. Perhaps what he was referring to were my adolescent years–the not-liking-anyone-telling-me-what-to-do rubbing up against parental authority. In those years, arguing was merely instinct.
In “Going It Alone,” an essay I recommend in the current issue of Harper’s, Fenton Johnson writes about solitude. Toward the end of the essay, he lists what he misses as a solitary:
I miss even the arguments, because underlying the bickering was always this taken-for-granted certainty: How much I must matter to this person that I rouse him to such anger!
Still, I would rather avoid conflict. In the midst of conflict, my brain freezes. (Not a good trait for a lawyer, but my practice was in trusts and estates.) I will argue, but I don’t like it, and I will do almost anything to avoid it.
I just want everyone to play nice.
That is why I find raising older children so exhausting!! The mental and verbal challenges!!
That’s true, Chris!
I want everyone to play nice too, but they usually don’t. In which case the best strategy is to bow out, if one can. (In other words, seek solitude.) That said, my practice was civil litigation — by definition dispute! Go figure. [I had no interest in business (i.e. corporate law and real estate) and thought Trusts and Estates (which was called Probate Department in Massachusetts law firms) would be all thoughts of death and comforting the bereaved. Also there were all those tax considerations. (Yuck!)] My life as a lawyer was therefore doubly stressful — first by definition, second because what I had to do professionally ran so counter to my private temperament. One good thing about retirement I hadn’t thought of. Thank you, Cynthia, for bringing it to my attention!
From writing ad copy to civil litigation–you’ve led an interesting life, Nina. It sounds like you might miss the law, despite its dispute-oriented world. How long did you practice? My life as a lawyer lasted a mere six years. And my practice was mostly drafting wills–so using language skills.
I sat for the bar (and passed) in 1985 and officially retired from practice (after an unpaid “sabbatical” to see how it would be) at the end of 2005. So about nineteen years officially, eighteen years actually. What I miss about the law, which I suppose I should blog about sometime, was not the working in a huge firm but what “the law” did for me. I was 51 when I enrolled in law school on federally funded student loans (again for financial reasons) and was therefore a late middle-aged woman, soon to be divorced again, when I began to practice. The law gave me money, independence, put both sons through Yale and gave me a sense of how the world worked that I likely did not have before. It also gave me social status in and around Boston that I wouldn’t have had as an aging divorced ex-housewife. Those were good things. I liked doing a good job on briefs and motions (language skills!) and, despite being dispute-averse in my personal life, loved winning. (But hated going to court. I was once so nervous driving to argue a summary judgment motion I ran a red light, got smashed in the side and totaled the car. After dealing with the cops, I hailed a cab and made it to court just in time. I would have much preferred to have a calmer work life!)
Wow, this story is fascinating, Nina. Hats off to you heading into law school at such a, relatively speaking, late age. And yes, I agree, you should write a post about it. I love this: “The law gave me money, independence, put both sons through Yale and gave me a sense of how the world worked that I likely did not have before. It also gave me social status in and around Boston that I wouldn’t have had as an aging divorced ex-housewife.” (Ironic that you mention money). And I also agree, winning does feel pretty good. The story about how nervous you were and that in spite of the wreck you made it to court is priceless. Good for you!
I believe a standing ovation is in order! xxx
Actually, Cynthia, I did write a post which summarizes the gist of my going to law school at 51 and what happened as a result. Moreover, you read it and “liked” it. The post was about a speech I gave to the Senior Lawyers’ Division of the Boston Bar Association in 1997, and was called “‘Enjoying Older Age’ Revisited.” The post date was December 6, 2013. You can find it again (if so inclined) through the Search function on my blog. The car wreck isn’t in it, though. That wasn’t part of “enjoying older age.” 🙂
Nina, I have to admit I have no memory of reading that post from Dec of 2013, but I found it and reread it. I STILL like it and was glad I reread it. Here’s the link in case anyone else would like it: http://ninamishkin.com/2013/12/06/enjoying-older-age-revisited/. But really here, I was just agreeing with your desire (in your comment from the 24th) to write about what you miss about the law, which was what the law did for you. In any event, no matter how many times I have to be reminded about it, starting law school at 51 takes a lot of guts and reminds me of what my father always said–that I could do anything I set my mind too. But thank heavens, I have already gone to law school.
Wow! I officially very much dislike it when people say to me, in response to an anecdote I’ve just relayed, “You should write a story/essay/book about that!” What I always want to say, is, NO, if you find it so fascinating, YOU should write a story/essay/book about that. And yet here I go: I would dearly love to read a memoir about a woman enrolling in law school at 51 as a way to transcend divorce and manage the coming challenges. Anyway, it was lovely to read that comment and to know that someone has lived that story. Applause.
Applause? Really? (She asked modestly.) I’m now taking a bow.
As I mentioned in response to Cynthia’s comment, there is a post, Claire — if not a story/essay/book — about going to law school at 51; the post was about a short speech I gave to a division of the Boston Bar Association in 1997 on an assigned topic: “Enjoying Older Age.” However, my entry into law was not really the fulfillment of some lifelong dream. Absent a rather Puritan upbringing, I would probably have elected the life of a kept woman if an attractive someone of means had elected to keep me. But you do what you have to do in life. And as I explained in the post, I finally realized that you’re never “too old” to do something because you’re never going to be any younger.
“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.”
I knew this sounded familiar to me!
It was my childhood refrain…
being the eldest of five! xxx
Today… that refrain would read:
I want everyone to own up to
their part in the ‘conflict’.
Playing nice is all too Canadian (lol)
With five kids, we did all have to play nice, didn’t we???
Did it work… for you five???
Helena, I don’t remember…augh!!!!
I am laughing out loud!!!
I too… figuratively speaking…
left the house… at age 10!!!
Ha : )
Ha, yes, good advice, Helena.
Me too – .
I think my life would have been different if I’d like to argue; I don’t know if it would be a good thing, but I do know my need for peace and tranquility affects many of my choices.
Sigrun, I can’t imagine arguing being a good way to exist in the world and I can’t imagine you arguing–you seem the essence of peaceful : )
Same for me.
you are the essence of nice and were always trying to keep the peace : )
To me, there’s nothing about conflict that feels good. It would be so much better if everyone really could “play nice,” but life is so imperfect, and opinions and feelings can differ so much, it’s almost impossible to avoid completely *sigh*
true, true, true, Donna.
I get it. I don’t love to argue, I simply MUST argue. I can’t hear something I think is unjust, or, sometimes just inaccurate, and not reply. Well, I can, I have learned how to manage it in rare cases when it would be extremely foolish or unkind to speak. But mostly I have to open my mouth. But I don’t like it. I have NEVER liked it, especially if I know I’m going to get tension or anger or abuse in response. And when I think I’m just engaging and suddenly there’s tension or anger my stomach drops. Being willing to take on conflict but hating it is an unfortunate mix of traits. Good to know I’m not the only one to suffer from that combo.
yes, yes, yes, well said.