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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

. . . And Justice For All (Whatever That Means)

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

This week, Moma Rock asked our thoughts on the following article:

                  The story involves a man in St. Louis who was found guilty of armed robbery in 2000 and sentenced to thirteen years in prison.  However, through some administrative oversight, Cornealious Anderson was never told when or where to report.  And, so, in no real hurry to get behind bars, Anderson went about his life.  He married, he began and grew businesses, he paid taxes.  Anderson never hid; he didn’t change his identity or even leave the area.  Fourteen years later, the State of Missouri realized its mistake.  It sent a SWAT team to his house and arrested him and threw him into prison, where he now sits.  Anderson has appealed to Missouri courts, asking to be released, but the Missouri Attorney General is opposing Anderson’s request, arguing Missouri is “justified” in now imprisoning Anderson – fourteen years after his conviction and a year after his original sentence would have ended (assuming he served 100 percent time, which seems unlikely; he probably would have served 50 or 85 percent time). 

                  At the heart of the Yahoo article, of course, is the question of whether Anderson “deserves” to serve his sentence now, all these years later.  The article assumes one of the aspects of a prison sentence is rehabilitation and suggests that because Anderson has lived a pretty clean, upstanding life in the past fourteen years, he doesn’t need additional rehabilitation and, as such, does not need to be imprisoned.     

                  But, sadly, although one of the goals of imprisonment is rehabilitation, prison isn’t really about that.  Prison is meant to punish.  It is meant to contain and to prevent.  Mostly, thought, it is meant to penalize.  While it is true some people leave prison rehabilitated (whatever that means), it is also true that more exit prison worse off.  Offenders learn things in prison.  Not good, helpful things.  Things like how to be a better criminal.  Of course, this isn’t universally true, but it’s true enough.  The people who want Mr. Anderson behind bars aren’t interested in rehabilitating him – they are interested in his pound of flesh.

                  Perhaps Mr. Anderson owes as much:  to society, to the person he robbed, to the Burger King franchise owner whose business was affected.  Perhaps Anderson’s neighbors – who only now know his past – will sleep better at night with him locked up.  Maybe the cashier who had a (BB) gun pulled on him will rest more easily, as well.  I don’t know.  No one does.  But Anderson committed a crime, and he received a sentence, one he never served through no fault of his own.  It seems “fair” (whatever that means) that Anderson at least see the inside of a prison. 

                  Indeed, this situation begs the question of fairness from so many angles.  Is it fair for Anderson’s good, decent life to now be upended because the State of Missouri messed up years ago?  Shouldn’t the State be subject to a sort of statute of limitations, one much shorter than a decade and a half?  Indeed, forcing Anderson to serve time now comes at a much higher price than had he served fourteen years ago, long before he formed a family and started a business and owned a home.   Through that lens, imprisoning Anderson just doesn’t seem right. 

                  Although I’m wired to be a defense attorney, I see both sides of this situation.  To me, the fairest solution is to have Mr. Anderson serve some time, but not the amount originally mandated by the court (which, by the way, seems pretty high considering the offense and Anderson’s minimal criminal record).  Anderson messed up – but so did the State of Missouri.  Both need to make the situation right. 

                  Of course, I expect nothing less than the State of Missouri to take a hard-ass approach.  Remember, we must be Tough on Crime!  But I truly don’t see the benefit of taking such a tack here.  As a lawyer, I’ve learned an important lesson over the years:  each case – each defendant – is different.  The facts matter; indeed, all a judge or jury has to work with is the facts and the law . . . which must be applied to those facts.  Often, this lesson is lost in the steamroller that is the criminal justice system.  Cases such as this one highlight the importance of looking beyond the offense but at other factors, too:  the defendant’s life, the context in which the crime was committed, even the timing. 

                  I hope Missouri finds a happy medium here, one that is “fair” both to society and to Mr. Anderson.  The defense attorney inside me is skeptical, of course, but I’d love to see the Show-Me State (whatever that means) get it right.  However, considering just yesterday Missouri executed a convict, I’m not super optimistic.  And so I will wish Mr. Anderson well, and I will wish for justice.

                  Whatever that means.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No More Mr. Nice Guy

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

This week’s topic comes from me and I asked, simply:  Can someone be too nice?  The subject grew out of a conversation I’d had with my friend, Molly (who believes the answer is a resounding “yes!”), and from a post on author Gretchen Rubin’s blog wherein she averred:  “being giving can be a form of neediness.”  (Her post can be found here:

                  In short, I agree with Molly:  people can be too nice.  And, as Rubin suggests, I believe this niceness reflects a state of neediness.  As Rubin states in her post, “when someone gives you something or does something for you, you feel you should reciprocate.”  For that reason, being the recipient of kindness often feels like manipulation.  And, often, that’s exactly the point.

                  When I think of “too nice,” I immediately picture three people; one is family, one is a friend, the other is me.  We are nice in different ways, but we are all nice for the same reason:  the desire to be liked and accepted, the desire to control the situation and receive something in return, be it something tangible or simple approval.
                  The Nice Family Member never misses a birthday/anniversary/holiday.  He likes to plan – everything.  For gifts, he requests a list of suggestions so he can get you exactly what you want.  His advice, though given with the utmost concern and a big, homey smile, sometimes feels more like direction.  Over the years, this person’s kindness has actually become stressful.  In part, the stress comes from the fact I simply can’t keep up.  I miss anniversaries.  I don’t always come up with great gifts.  I can plan an event, but it’s not really my thing.  I am just not wired that way.  But Nice Family Member’s behavior rattled me for other reasons, too, reasons I couldn’t immediately identify.  And then one day, after this person nicely attempted to direct me on how to throw a party by suggesting where to get the food, what food to get, how many chairs I’d need, did I remember the salad dressing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, I realized his kindness was, actually, an attempt to control the situation – and me – all wrapped up in syrupy sweetness.  Someone looking in might have thought, Wow, how nice of him to want to help!  But inside, that niceness felt anything but.  It felt stifling and heavy.  Smothering.  Controlling.  The opposite of nice.

                  Similarly, Nice Friend is always offering to help.  He’s great at connecting people and sharing contacts.  If I’m sick, he’s offering to bring Gatorade; if I’m moving, he’s ready to pack my stuff.  He rarely asks for anything in return, but I somehow cannot shake the feeling that I owe him . . . something.  Nor can I get past the sensation that unless I keep some boundaries, he will attempt to interject himself into every facet of my life, regardless of whether there’s actually room or whether I actually want him there.  And, so, I keep boundaries, rarely asking for help, rarely accepting his offers.  I keep an arm’s length between me and the overwhelming nice.

                  Of course, there’s another type of nice, as well:  the oh-so-polite person who will not or more likely cannot say no for fear of rejection, fear that someone might just not like her.  This is type of nice from which I sometimes suffer.  I’ll admit it:  I want people to like me.  I know not everyone will, but I sure give it the old college try.  (Funny thing, though, when I realize someone doesn’t, I simply don’t waste another moment trying.)  I’m always polite, but this goes beyond polite.  My need to be nice (and liked) has led me to stay in relationships too long and to exhibit a level of patience for drama far exceeding what any sane person would find acceptable.  If I find myself in a draining friendship, I don’t leave; I default to nice.  She just needs a friend, I’ll tell myself.  I can’t abandon her now.  I never try to fix anyone; it’s not a control issue.  I just hate letting anyone down. 

                  Sometimes, my “nice” state of being has led to other problems.  I once read a quote about how manners have become so eroded, common niceties are often mistaken for flirting.  A smile is no longer a smile; it’s a smile.  This leads to confusion.  This leads to misunderstandings. 
                  This leads to the Pie Guy.

                  A couple of years ago, on National Pi Day, I was listening to my favorite talk radio station as I drove to work.  The broadcaster hosted a guest:  a local pie maker attempting to revive his family’s struggling pie business.  Pie Guy brought piles of pies to the radio station and handed them out to people on the street and to callers.  I drove to work salivating, visions of tender, blueberry-filled crust filling my head.  (Hell if I didn’t think about pie the entire day.)  That night, I went on Facebook and stumbled across the broadcaster’s page, where several fans were discussing Pie Guy.  I joined in – as did Pie Guy himself.  I nicely asked where one might purchase his delicious pies, and he said he would message me about how I, too, could receive free pie!  Moments later, he posted again and said Facebook wouldn’t allow him to message me without us being friends.  Although I know this generally isn’t true, I also know the quirks of Facebook and thus wasn’t particularly suspicious.  Being nice (and trusting . . . and nice), I accepted his friend request.  And madness ensued. 

                  Pie Guy wanted to know where I lived.  I naively assumed this was relevant to me actually obtaining pie, so I gave the general area (no address – I’m not THAT nice).  Suddenly, the talk turned from the subject of luscious pie to my apparently beautiful smile and how much Pie Guy liked it.  He wanted to see it in person, when he personally delivered my pie.  I nicely and politely attempted to bring the subject back to pie – pie I was willing to purchase if he’d just tell me where – but Pie Guy wasn’t so easily swayed.  And, so, without any fanfare or the verbal slap (pie?) in the face Pie Guy so deserved, I nicely gave up.  I signed off Facebook and, later, when Pie Guy finally signed off (he spent hours on the site, likely trolling for other pie seekers with dazzling grins), I signed back on and unfriended Pie Guy. 

                  An awful lot of trouble for lemon meringue.  All because I was too trusting, too nice.

                  I truly and honestly had no idea Pie Guy had other intentions when we dialogued about pie.  I assumed – nicely, wrongly – he, too, was nice and was just nicely offering free pie in an attempt to promote his nice company.  It never, ever crossed my mind Pie Guy was using his baked goods to lure potential dates.  I took his niceness at face value, as I’d assumed he’d taken mine.  I was not-so-nicely mistaken.

                  Molly has nicely hinted I’d be well served at being a little less nice, and I must say I agree.  But it isn’t so easy for me.  I am able to be not nice if necessary; I once yelled so loudly at a rude air conditioning repairman who failed to show up for an appointment, my next-door neighbor heard me inside his house (in my defense, (a) the windows were open because WE HAD NO AIR and (b) our houses are super close together).  It’s easier for me to be not so nice to people close to me, probably because I know they love me, even if they don’t necessarily like me at that moment.  But, in general, nice is just my default.  I hope my niceness is never interpreted as manipulation, as that’s never my goal, and I don’t expect reciprocation beyond the extension of common courtesy.  I just want everyone to get along . . . and maybe enjoy a nice slice of pie together.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

May I Interest You in a Glass of White Whine?

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Last week’s topic comes from Merryland Girl, who asked us to write about First World Problems.  Here’s my take:

                  Ah, last week’s post is late.  And it’s oh so thick with irony.

                  Ever reliable and organized, Merryland Girl sent us last week’s topic in a timely manner.  Ever the procrastinator, I put off writing.  (Excuse #1:  I work best under a deadline.)  I’ve gotten into the ugly habit of writing my posts the night before they are due.  Generally, this works.  Last week, it did not.  My kids and I decided to tag along on my husband’s business trip to Nashville, which was originally set for Friday.  Then, on Tuesday, the plan changed, as the meeting was moved to Thursday.  Suddenly, instead of leaving on Friday (after my post would have been done), we were leaving on Wednesday, the day I write.  No biggie.

                  But then, the sudden change in plans left me two fewer days to pack.  (First World Problem #1.)  It created additional issues.  My husband needed his dry cleaning back – now.  (FWP #2.)  The hotel reservation had to be changed.  (FWP #3.)  I had to email/call friends and family to update them of the new plan and get the house key to the friend who’d be checking on the cats and the car key to the neighbor in charge of moving the car to the correct side of the street.  (FWP #4, 5, 6.)  Et cetera.  We left on Wednesday morning without a hitch, but when we arrived, I realized some items I’d forgotten in our haste:  cotton balls, a lint roller for my husband’s suit, my laptop.  (FWP #7-9.)  No laptop = no post.  (FWP #10; Excuse #2)

                  My fellow bloggers understood (and my inadvertence led to a message exchange about items we need when we travel and how often we forget them.  Froggie needs her hair dryer; Moma Rock needs a fan.  I cannot seem to remember a toothbrush.  (FWP #11.)  Merryland Girl apparently needs to pack for us all.).

                  I must admit, though, I stressed about missing my deadline.  The journalist-turned-attorney in me does not like turning work in late.  I knew the world wouldn’t end.  I don’t get paid for doing this, so I wouldn’t lose pay.  But it bothered me.

                  Yes, I see the irony.

                  I know I am fortunate to own a laptop, to be able to take a trip to Nashville, to have a need for cotton balls and the means to drive to a Middle Tennessee Wal-Mart and purchase a fresh bag.  My hotel had running water and a pool and a soft, warm bed; my healthy, happy children and a seemingly content husband surrounded me.  And, yet, I felt stressed I’d forgotten a handful of First World items.  (And I didn’t hesitate to complain to my blogger girls about how the hotel hair dryer was so weak, the kids could blow on my head and dry my hair just as quickly.)

                  Truth is, I allow myself to get caught up in FWPs because I rarely think of them that way, and because they cause me stress.  Stress is stress, regardless of the source.  Sure, it comes in degrees – I’d much rather deal with changing a hotel reservation than an ill relative – but even little stressors can combine to wear someone out.  Or, at least, wear me out.  Could it be worse?  Of course.  But in the moment, that doesn’t necessarily matter.

                  In truth, I don’t think it’s realistic or even healthy to walk around saying, “It could be worse – I could be living in [insert name of Third World country] without [running water/food/roof over my head/freedom].  This doesn’t work because I can just as easily say, “It could be better – I could be living in [a mansion/a villa/Paris] with unlimited [money/gourmet food/household help].  Generally speaking, most humans (or at least most Americans) seem wired to want more, not less, and this desire drives us to work harder to achieve more.  Without this drive, we’d still be living in caves.  Of course, what that “more” looks like depends on the person, and by choice, many are ok with a more simple life.  But every lifestyle – from the most quiet, rural existence through the most sophisticated, urban way – comes with its issues.  (Modern plumbing is First World, but hell if it doesn’t suck when a pipe breaks.)

                  I live in the First World.  As such, I use the tools of that world:  a smart phone, a computer, a car, cotton balls.  I depend on those things.  And when those items break or malfunction or I forget them, the error causes stress . . . because I depend on those things.  So when I drop my iPhone in the toilet (again!), I’m going to be upset.  First World Problem?  Perhaps.  But a problem nonetheless.

                  It may seem tough or even counterintuitive to feel badly for someone whose Rolls Royce breaks down (oh poor baby!), but if the Rolls is that person’s means of transportation, his problem is no less a problem than the tire rolling off your Subaru or an Amish farmer losing a wagon wheel.  A hole in a thatched roof in Africa causes the same issues as a hole in the roof of a mansion in Bel Air.  Importantly, both cause stress.

So the next time you find yourself stressed because your DVR didn’t record your favorite show or it rained most of your Caribbean vacation or you chipped a newly manicured hand, take heart.  Yes, it could be worse.  But it’s ok if, in the moment, it doesn’t feel that way.  And so I won’t apologize for being upset that I forgot my laptop, or that my hotel blow dryer was lame.  Instead, I’ll stress eat some M&Ms and watch some Property Brothers on my DVR and I will remind myself it could be worse . . . but it also could be better.


You Don't Know Me! (Or Maybe You Do . . . )

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

This week’s topic comes from Froggie, who asked us to write about something no one would ever guess about you.  Here’s my take:

                   I thought a lot about Froggie’s topic over this past week.  I struggled because I don’t have a hidden talent or super power or even a deep, dark secret.  I would not say I am an open book, but it seems to me although no one person knows everything about me, cumulatively everyone in my life knows everything about me.  What one person doesn’t know, someone else does.  I had a hard time imagining one “thing” that no one would guess about me. 

                  And then I remembered a Facebook post I put up a week ago and the comments that flowed from the post.  The post was a link to a Salon article discussing out-of-body experiences (OBEs).  (Here’s a link to the article:  The article interested me because I’d had an OBE many years ago, during oral surgery, and I said as much when I shared the story.  A good friend of mine commented and said, “How did I not know this about you??”  I laughed and wrote, “I don’t ever really think about it!”  As such, I don’t ever really talk about it. 

                  Molly’s reaction amused me.  It also endeared her to me (not that she needed help in that area).  Molly and I met last summer at a writing workshop, and we became fast friends.  In the nine months we’ve known each other, we’ve talked a lot – on the phone, over email – and we’ve shared quite a bit about ourselves with the other (she’s also one of the only people who has read the entire draft manuscript of the book I’ve been writing, which supplied a LOT of personal info).  To Molly, an OBE is a bit of a big deal, and so she wondered how, as good friends, we’d never discussed it.  On one level, her reaction made sense; on another, so did my answer.

                  People take one of two actions with “big” pieces of information:  they share them, or they hide them for dear life.  I’d never mentioned the OBE because I hadn’t thought about it in years.  In all honesty, I don’t know that I’ve ever told anyone about it, other than maybe my Mom way back when it happened in 4th Grade.  It’s not that I hid the event, it’s more that OBEs don’t regularly come up in my conversations; the memory was nudged only because of the Salon article.  To me, the OBE wasn’t a big deal.  It didn’t change my life or my perception (it just made me never again want to have teeth pulled . . . ).  Because it did not seem important, I had never thought to share it.

                  Froggie’s topic suggestion seems simple on its face:  offer a piece of information about yourself others don’t know and likely wouldn’t guess.  But, in reality, her topic implicates a whole host of subtleties.  It calls into question the basic nature of relationships:  whom do we trust and what do we share?  It also implicates the context in which the relationships are formed and grow.  For example, on the schoolyard when I pick up my kids, more than one parent has seemed surprised when learning I’m an attorney.  Conversely, a similar shock has been sparked in co-workers when they discovered that I’m the mother of three kids – one of whom is essentially grown.  Their surprise is contextual; the moms and dads know me as a mom, not a lawyer, and the lawyers know me as a peer, and not a mom.  (And standing on the playground in my jeans holding my kid’s backpack, I don’t exactly scream “licensed professional”!) 

                  Similarly, the friends I’ve known forever, with whom I attended years of Catholic school, might be surprised to learn I no longer practice any religion and that I didn’t marry in church or baptize my kids.  Of course, their surprise comes from knowing me as a practicing Catholic.  My “newer” friends wouldn’t be surprised; they all know I don’t practice anything.  But would those friends ever be able to guess that every Easter season, I go out of my way to watch Godspell on television – and that I have a copy of the soundtrack in my car?  Maybe.

                  In my heart, I don’t believe there is one thing about me that others could not guess or would be surprised to learn.  I’m just not that interesting.  But I do know that there are many things about me that some people wouldn’t guess but that would not surprise a bunch of other people.  I could list many:  I avoid caffeine; I am fascinated by the Amish; I get night terrors; I lived through the Northridge earthquake (seven miles from the epicenter); I don’t know how to swim; I am afraid of amusement parks when they are closed for the season (stupid Scooby-Doo); I’m a whiz at legal research but hate going to court; I’m not really a blond.  But I believe this is how it is supposed to be.  Part of growing a relationship includes the gradual back and forth, the give and the take, the well-paced exchange of information.  How strange would it be to meet someone and tell them everything – not to mention how impossible?  Isn’t half the fun of a relationship learning new bits about each other, of finding out how much you have in common, how alike you are in ways you couldn’t have possibly known?

                  Which brings me back to Molly.  As I mentioned, we met at a writing workshop, an event that spanned from Thursday night through Sunday.  The first night, at dinner, we sat across from each other and quickly discovered we are both attorneys and both have young kids close in age.  It was enough to keep us talking through the meal, and to lead us to sit near each other the next morning.  At that meal, Molly began telling a story about two former co-workers whom she helped set up and who are now married.  Half way through her story, I realized she was talking about a good friend of mine from law school – someone who had spoken to me about Molly many, many times.  Right then, I suddenly knew a bunch more about Molly . . .  and she didn’t have to say another word.  But she did.  And I’m glad. 

                  And so, Molly, I swear I didn’t not tell you about the OBE.  It just didn’t occur to me.  But any time you’d like to discuss my fear of abandoned roller coasters or my favorite episode of Amish Mafia, you just give me a call.