Thursday, November 27, 2008

So, putting the PhD on hold -- a year to reassess

At the start of this semester I had as my objective to figure out by December what I wanted to do next. Well, it's almost December and I have figured out many things, but not that. And it's official. I submitted my request for a leave of absence Monday, for spring through fall '09. My real projects for the next year are: figure out what I want to do next; take care of my mom and come to grips with what she is experiencing. Today is Thanksgiving and, among many other things for which I am extremely grateful, I am quite thankful to have more time to figure out what I want to do next.

So many times in my life I've thought I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, not just "next." I have been right in some ways, not always the ways I thought I was right, and I have been very, very wrong in some ways. The constant seems to be that I always ran through whatever it was that interested me about an endeavor, and soured on the realities of it, long before I thought I would or really wanted to. I always got to take comfort though, in being a member of the biggest generation ever, the boomers, because no matter what I was experiencing and no matter how different it was from my expectations built upon the experiences of my parents' and grandparents' generations, there were always lots of us having the same 'different experiences.' So we changed careers every 10 to 15 years. Well, that was just the new way it was. So we threw ourselves into our work and burned ourselves out in record time. Well, that was just the way we were. I now understand a bit more about statistics than I did before, thanks to my fabulous teacher, Tetyana, so I know that "we" could be a very small part of that 77 million, and still feel that we were in substantial good company. So I just didn't question whether it was really a good thing or a bad thing. This jumping from thing to thing just was.

Admittedly, when I cashed in my chips from my first career, teaching, and went off on a 2 year sailing adventure with my then boyfriend, now my husband, Dennis, I felt like I had "wasted" my 6 years of college education and my 8 years of building up expertise and confidence as a teacher of handicapped young adults and normal pre-schoolers. But staying on was not an option. Teaching had become torture. I remember my strongest aversion at that time: I didn't want to have to make anyone other than myself do anything, anymore. Compelling others to do things was at the heart of a teaching job, much to my surprise. Foolishly, I thought it was actually teaching. Instead it was police work. Apparently, without police work, one can't teach young children anything. Of course, that's ridiculous. Young children are learning machines like sharks are killing machines. It's the environment in which we want them to learn that makes the job a job at all. But, whatever. I quit and went off sailing and thinking and talking to everyone I met about what they did for a living and what it was like and how they liked it and what they didn't like about it and where the satisfaction lay, and on and on. I didn't want to "make the same mistake again" -- the mistake of spending all the time and money and effort to prepare for, learn and become good at a new profession only to abandon it after a few years and "waste" all that time, etc., again. Well, I learned a thing or two in the pursuit and accomplishment of my second career: my first career was far, far from over (I teach about copyright almost as much as I actually practice copyright law), and I would still run through the second before my productive life ended, whether I wanted to or not.

So, law became my second career. I had matched its characteristics as a profession to my own personal strengths and weaknesses, my desires to challenge myself in new ways and to earn enough to get beyond the marginal financial security that a teaching career offered. Sorry to say that money mattered, but it did. At least with a law career, there would be a clear relationship between effort, excellence and reward. After 3 years in the private sector, I moved to public service lawyering. And I was so lucky to have support from my four general counsels over the years to lecture, teach and write as well. But, though I didn't want it to, my law career came to that point where I no longer wanted it -- at least not full-time. The satisfaction from personal service to others has never flagged, ever, but the daily work of confronting the same issues, over and over and over, and recognizing that the dynamics that keep resolution from ever being possible are not going to change, that has gotten really old. Copyright law is held hostage to fear among those with something to lose if it changes. I just got weary of the insanity of it.

But there was something else too: As I began to see my mom's health deteriorate, and recognized what could happen in the last years of one's life, maybe of my life, I realized that in the grand scheme of things, copyright law really was not all that important. Fundamental creativity will survive the crippling effects of our current law whether it changes or not. The benefits of digital networked communication just become too obvious to deny at some point. And there are other things that matter a whole lot more to me.

So it was time to choose a third career. This hasn't been easy. At first it was just that I didn't actually have time to figure it out because I was still working full time. And then, things seemed to come together in January, 2006, when my friend Lolly suggested I get a Master's of Science in Information Studies and find an expanded role (beyond just lawyering) in libraries. Libraries and librarians had been my favorite clients, always, and it seemed like the perfect idea. Most importantly, it felt right. I applied to graduate school, just under the wire, got in, retired from OGC on August 31, 2006, and began classes on August 29. Yes, that's right. I started classes 2 days before I retired. Perfect.

So, I thought I had it figured out. And, indeed, I was on cloud nine, absolutely loved school, for about 20 months, right up until last April, when things came rather unceremonious crashing down. Two years after starting classes, in August of 2008, I came to a very tough conclusion. I was wrong. I didn't have it figured out. Researching the intersection of copyright and libraries is not it, as I have explained in other entries over this semester.

So for now I am certain of two things: I'm a teacher. So I'll teach something at some point. I just don't know what, where, when or how. And I'm a lawyer. Not in the same way that I'm a teacher, however. Teacher is who I am. Lawyer is what I do to earn money. I love the actual service of lawyering; I am very weary of the politics of copyright. You do what you can do (you know, "God give me the wisdom to know the difference..."). Thanks for insight.

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