Archive | October, 2009

A Public Service Announcement, Courtesy of VS

31 Oct

There are few things that I am particularly avid about. I’m a believer in a lot of things–the good effects of red wine, for example. But I’m not about to push my enthusiasm for tannins on a teetotaler. I have faith in the positive effects of yoga and running, but I understand that some people think spiritual yoga practice is a crock and that running is bad for the joints, thus neutralizing any of its potential benefits. I have a basic respect for life of all forms, so animal cruelty bothers me, but I’m far from sending my dollars to PETA or other animal rights advocacy groups.

The one “cause” that gets me going, though, and that I will subject any and all of my acquaintances to lectures about, is HIV/AIDS prevention. When I was sixteen, I attended a leadership conference (up there as one of the worst weeks of my life) at which a woman infected with HIV gave a lecture. She didn’t speak about anything I didn’t already know, but for whatever reason, her story sparked an intense fear of HIV in me. Paranoia, even. I’ve spent enough of the last five years researching and studying HIV and new developments in treatment and prevention to consider myself an uninfected but very well-informed lay person. I also advocate strongly for HIV testing.

I have been tested for HIV three times. I don’t engage in particularly risky behaviors; I’m not one for intravenous drug use with shared needles or casual, unprotected sex. I have put myself at a slight chance of infection, though, and because I believe wholeheartedly in “being positive I’m negative,” as the tagline goes, I’ve dragged myself to free testing centers three times to find out for sure. 

And to be clear, being tested for HIV is distressing. Even more distressing is lying in bed imagining your life with HIV because you’ve put yourself in a risky situation but don’t have the nerve to be tested. If you may have been exposed to the virus through unprotected sex (including oral) with a person whose HIV status is unknown to you (or even to him or her), get tested. If you may have been exposed to the virus through shared needles, get tested. Get tested.

The test offered by most clinics and free testing sites is an oral swab that is completely painless and produces results within twenty minutes. This test reflects the presence of antibodies to the HIV virus, not the presence of the virus itself. What this means is that if your body hasn’t had time to produce the antibodies but is infected with the virus, you may receive a false negative result. The average length of time it takes for the body to produce these antibodies is two to eight weeks from the time of infection. Most people have antibodies by the three month mark, but in very rare cases antibodies may not be present until six months after infection. A good rule of thumb is to be tested three months after a possible exposure to the virus and again three months later.

I hope I’ve planted seeds of doubt in your mind regarding your own HIV status. If I have, run out and get tested. In the meantime, here are some helpful and informative websites you may want to explore.

The Mayo Clinic HIV/AIDS site

The Body

The CDC HIV/AIDS Fact Sheet

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..

30 Oct

People who share my academic focus (broadly, liberal arts and social sciences) know that a general rule floated about by academic advisors and career services employees to hand-wringing freshmen and despairing seniors is, “Well, Major X doesn’t specifically qualify you to do anything, but it does not disqualify you from doing most things. It is a very versatile degree.”

Ah, versatility. There’s nothing wrong with versatility. I like knowing that my “versatile” degrees (which have provided me with the following skills: writing.. and that’s all) certainly don’t preclude me from most industries. Most freshmen probably tout their future versatility to their skeptical parents, who rightly wonder how one might market a degree in Far Eastern Folklore to a potential employer.

If I and my fellow pie-in-the-sky liberal arts scholars are so marvelously versatile and primed for employment in any number of well-oiled industry machines, the number of us who feel compelled, usually in sophomore or junior year, to choose between a life in academia or a life in the law is curious. I challenge you to find an English major who is not planning to continue to graduate school or a professional program. 

Obviously, my choice was to parlay my degrees into one useful, socially meaningful professional certification. I am anxious about the state of the legal market and its implications for my employability in four years, but I have a strong conviction that I want to be a lawyer. In other words, I am not going to law school because I’m not sure what the hell else to do with my degrees. 

That seems to be the cardinal rule for making the decision whether or not to live in casebooks for three years: Don’t go just because you don’t know what else to do. Assuming that our Far Eastern Folklore and English majors do decide to heed this rule, and that they then decide to head into the rarified air of doctoral training programs, let’s consider their career prospects. (Remember that we are specifically addressing the concerns of PhD students in the liberal arts and social sciences.)

I once saw a funny ecard that said, “If you go to law school, you will probably have to become a lawyer.” (Har, har, har). This is very, painfully (if you don’t want to actually be a lawyer) true. The same could be said about PhD programs: “If you get a PhD in English, you will probably have to become a professor.” Because once you get that PhD, you’re an expert. An expert in a mind-numbingly narrow field. An expert who is expected to conduct research in that narrow field, publish works, and impart your expertise to sprightly eighteen-year-old minds. An expert who is vastly overqualified to do a lot of other jobs, like teaching The Great Gatsby in a public high school.

For all the crying we future attorneys do over the state of the legal market, we have nothing on our peers who are attempting to break into the academic job market, those students we brushed shoulders with in Literary Critical Practices until our paths diverged, some of us pursuing the path toward social and monetary capital and the rest of us surging forth to the stacks and the beginnings of a six hundred page dissertation. The sacred cow of the academic world is the tenured teaching position. For reasons I won’t go into but that you can check out here, tenure in academia is critical. It also creates a world in which academics stick around because they’re so damn hard to get rid of and turnover is so small as to be negligible. It’s like the Supreme Court: They ain’t goin’ anywhere until they kick it, and your chances of filling one of those seats when it does become vacant is basically nil, statistically speaking.

So if tenured positions aren’t opening, and new ones aren’t being created due to budget cuts like this one happening at schools across the country, a pretty picture is not being painted for future academics. The possibility of funding for doctoral candidates makes such a program slightly less scary than the six figures of debt many law school students saddle themselves with, but, again, that kind of funding is disappearing for PhD programs. I think I can confidently say that I would prefer spending three years and $150,000 pursuing a career path that may not be as plush as it was before September 2008 to spending eight years conducting research that no one will ever read only to find myself overqualified for everything but positions in academia that no longer exist.

In other words, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and instead of taking the one less traveled by and spending the rest of my life in my parents’ basement alternately mourning and cursing the demise of the academic job market, I took the road well traveled by, which included a calculated risk, six figures of debt, and the hope of being employed before I am thirty.”

Ethical Relativism

28 Oct

Sometimes I wish this was the truth:

Interviewer: I see that you worked at Public Interest Organization X. We, on occasion, represent clients who are directly opposed to the interests of Public Interest Organization X’s clients. Do you anticipate that presenting an ethical conflict?

VS: Ethical conflict? Nah, that requires a sense of ethics. 


Raising the Bar

27 Oct

As with so many of my fellow Children of the Digital Age, I have a self-diagnosed case of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, known colloquially as “I was raised in a world with eight hundred plus television channels, live streaming video feeds, and mp3 file sharing and thus I have not developed, or I have allowed to stagnate, skills of the concentration and focus variety.”

I’ve noticed in the last few years that my interest and attention is held by ideas and activities for a much shorter span of time than when I was twelve. This bothers me. A lot. It is not unlike realizing that your hey-day of physical attractiveness began and ended five years earlier. Fortunately, intellectual curiosity and commitment to intrepid thoughtfulness, or even just a commitment to anything requiring extended contemplation, need not decay irreversibly, a la the collagen supporting a wrinkle-free complexion. With that hopeful belief, I am committing myself to blogging about something thoughtful every day for the next month.

I expect this journey to be fairly bumpy, and I know not what the next thirty days of blogging may bring. I appreciate any and all support as I attempt to resurrect the critical thinking and practical application skills that have been eroded by three years of training in the liberal arts and social sciences  during which I have discovered the secrets to getting As in college without learning a damn thing besides how to conduct research without setting foot in a library most efficiently use an online research database.

Please note that this does not preclude any entries that may fit into the Vain Girly Things header. I am still vain. I am still a girl. I am simply attempting to be a smart(er), vain girl.

Ethics. Diamonds. Mutually exclusive?

21 Oct

Generalization: 0Ls think about a lot of things. 

Broad generalization: 0Ls think about a lot of things law school-related.

Over-reaching generalization that perhaps applies to no one but this 0L: 0Ls think about a lot of things law school-related but perhaps never seriously consider what type of day-to-day life awaits in their lawyer-ific future.

In the past few weeks, I have been seriously considering my future beyond law school. Not the abstract “Hm, I hope the economy picks up before long so I will be employed doing something that pays six figures and keeps the creditors at bay” type of considering, but the moderately researched, soul-searching, “Will I be able to sleep at night if I do that type of work with my waking hours? And what do my damned bleeding heart politics and ethical compass mean for my ability to make money?” type of considering.

I am seriously questioning my desire to reach for Big Law. Maybe I am just not corporate. How does one decide she is corporate, anyway? What motivation is there besides mountains of money and relentless pressure? I like money, and I like pressure. No problem, there. But I don’t know a damn thing about business or finance or stocks or mergers or taxes. I’m in the process of educating myself in the basics of the world I may be entering in a few short years, and I’m not sure I like what I’m learning. I don’t know that I can reconcile myself to providing legal advice to companies and individuals that offend my deepest political and ethical convictions in return for lots and lots of cash.


I do know that I want a Rolex. 

Is there a compromise to be made somewhere in there?

The Resume, Continued

11 Oct

Now that the law school applications are in, it’s time to begin resurrecting my “Pick Me, Pick Me!” essay writing skills and tweaking my law school application resume to apply for a summer internship. 

In a particular application package, I am instructed to include on my resume a description of relevant coursework and my SAT Math and Verbal scores.

Two things:

1. Relevant coursework? Relevant to what? Abstract theorizing about the nature of God? Explanations of voter behavior and patterns à la What’s the Matter with Kansas? No? Ahhh, I think I get it. They mean coursework relevant to this position, and by extension, useful in the real world. Yeah, I have none of that. Moving on..

2. SAT Math and Verbal? Joy! I haven’t had the chance to brag about this in years. I feel like Christmas came early.

This doesn’t bode well for my checking account.

5 Oct

My applications are finished, and because I’m not planning on doing much else with my semester, I’ve been spending a lot of time online window shopping. 

I’m currently in the market for a tiered, flouncy skirt to wear with the following things  that I already own:

I’ve been looking really hard for a flounced or tiered white and black mini skirt with lace. I realize that is very particular, and I probably won’t end up finding one. I’ll settle for flouncy or tiered in any color, lacy or not. (I’ve tried the tights and boots on with the denim mini skirts I already own, and I look like a prostitute. As mentioned before, I am making a concerted effort not to look like a whore when I leave the house. )

Breathing? Overrated.

4 Oct

My madre is coming into town to take me shopping today. On my list of things that I need for the coming holiday season is shapewear. (And those grommet-studded BCBG peep-toes I referenced in a previous post, of course.)

I’ve struggled with this decision for a long time, but I think now is the time to make a commitment to accepting reality and making the best of what I have. I work out (a combination of running, elliptical training, stationary rowing, and yoga) at least five times a week. I eat my vegetables, fruit, and lean or healthy fatty protein (salmon for the win!), and I rarely, rarely eat highly processed carbs. I try not to binge drink too much. Despite my generally healthy lifestyle, I do enjoy food, and by food I mean college town pizza and breadsticks.

If I gave up all of the bad-for-me foods that I eat on occasion as well as the sometimes-after-dinner glass of red wine and every-other-weekend tequila shots, I could probably lose those last five pounds. But I like pizza, and I like red wine, and I like shooters. (I also like coffee flavored ice cream.) I don’t believe in sacrificing an otherwise happy (and healthy!) life to lose five pounds. Even more relevant to this shapewear discussion is that even if I did give up all of the things that I like, I’d still have an annoying tummy pooch thanks to the genetically predetermined way that my body stores fat. (Thanks, Mom.)

So. Shapewear. 

My best friend first started experimenting with shapewear in high school. At 5’5”, she is two inches taller than me yet still floats somewhere in my weight range  of 125-130 pounds. In high school, she was probably closer to 120 pounds. She is phenomenally long-torsoed and lean.  She did not, and does not, in any way need shapewear. (She is also blonde, blue-eyed, and the most genuinely kind and funny person I have ever met. She is the girl of your dreams. If I was a lesbian, she would be the girl of my dreams.) If she can justify buying and wearing the modern-day version of a corset, I can, too. 

I’m leaning toward Spanx, but I’ll have to try all of this fun stuff on and see which inhibits my breathing the least while still holding everything in. (Seriously, this is why girls have so many shoes. Nothing needs to be sucked in to try on shoes. I have never felt fat while shoe shopping.)

Who said the South couldn’t negotiate?

2 Oct

Yesterday, the University of Alabama School of Law invited me to apply for admission. They offered to waive the forty dollar application fee.

They also offered me twenty dollars in iTunes downloads.


You drive a hard bargain, Alabama. Look for my application in the quite near future.