FAKING IT

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Even as a young girl eagerly devouring the “ladies” magazines my mother brought home from the corner newsstand, I thought the advice I found there about keeping a husband’s interest after marriage quite unfair. Especially the part about hurrying to the bathroom to apply makeup before he woke up and caught you with a nakedly unadorned face.  Although privately agreeing with the magazine beauty columnists that one looked much better enhanced by the sorcery of cosmetics than not, I did wonder how come the man didn’t have to do anything special to keep the marriage going.  Of course this was a long time ago, when in most marriages — as I realized long before I had finished high school — the man earned all or almost all the money and the woman’s job, if you could call it that, was to make sure he wanted to go on supporting her.

Whether a heavily made-up face was what a man fantasized about in the privacy of his side of the double bed is another question entirely, and not within the purview of this piece, wherever you thought its headline was leading.  But even if the magazine editors didn’t quite get the male psyche, they were right on the button with the then-economic interests of their readers. Keep yourself attractive, by whatever standards then obtained. Whether “attractiveness” also included faking pleasure between the sheets even where there really was none was probably determined privately by the woman on a case-by-case basis. In any event, back in those long-ago days when I was still living under my parents’ roof, I thought both parties simply exploded simultaneously with some kind of as yet unimaginable joy upon vaginal entry,  which meant that kind of fakery was not an issue.

When at last old enough actually to share a double bed with another, I never was able to force myself to reach for the cosmetic case before he opened his eyes.  However, time had marched on and that was no longer key.  What you were supposed to be was thin, or thinnish (even if “thin” didn’t come naturally); you also had to wear a panty girdle or girdle even if you were thin so nothing at all could possibly jiggle, so your behind was one unbifurcated cheek (preferably perky), and also so any bumps at the top of your thighs, however slender, wouldn’t show in a sheath dress or skirt. That was just to get to first base with a man — long before the necessity of having to keep his mind on you after marriage.

Ideally, you also had to be able to manage your hair, do without glasses in social situations, be a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom.  Of course plenty of women did get to first base without some or all of these qualities (myself certainly included), but most of us nevertheless hated one or more parts of our bodies because they didn’t look the way they were “supposed” to look and therefore struggled with as many fakeries as we could afford. (Hot rollers, padded bras, stilettos that improved the ankles but were killers to walk in, dieting in public but raiding the fridge once the girdle was off for the night; I’m sure every female reader of a certain age has her own list.)  I remember asking both a journal when I kept one, and a psychotherapist when I could pay one, “Why can’t I be loved just for me?”

Indeed, who doesn’t want to be loved just for being who they really are?  And yet long after marriage — or multiple marriages — most of us continue to play games with the truth. If we’re lucky, not so much on the domestic front as we and our men grow older and more realistic about what is important, and lovable. But almost always in the outside world, in order to survive. Although I haven’t worked for pay for over ten years,  I still keep a moralizing magnet on my refrigerator acquired during all those decades of having to market myself to successive employers, latterly at an age which on paper might have looked like the kiss of death: “Good clothes open all doors.”  They do, and they did.  Of course, once the door opens and you walk in, the clothes aren’t enough.  You’ve got to be up to scratch on all the multiple facets of the work you’re applying to do.  But you never get to that if the door never opens.

Bottom line: some form of fakery is probably necessary in a market economy for almost every kind of success.   For instance, as a new late-life lawyer in a large firm I soon learned my professional survival would likely depend on keeping to myself all real opinions about the value of what we were doing on behalf of our huge corporate clients.  Do I therefore owe my legal career, and consequent ability to achieve a modest retirement  before death, to the fact that I had little yellow stickies on my computer and inside my front desk drawer reminding me all day long to KYMS?  (My personal acronym for “Keep Your Mouth Shut.”) Not entirely. Good work was also involved.  But KYMS was an excellent start.

Which brings me to yet another example:  selling residential real estate, where the fakery is known in the trade as “staging.”  I learned all about staging in 2005 while selling the first property I had ever owned only in my own name: a two-bedroom, one-bath walk-up apartment on the second floor of a a semi-historic building in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The building may have been old, but it did have charm and a good address, and the floor-through apartment had “good bones.”  Moreover, I was basically neat, and didn’t own a lot of crap because I had left most of it in the marital home when I moved out six years before buying the Cambridge apartment.

Then I met Bill.  I had bought the apartment  without foreseeing a second occupant, especially one who collected “stuff.”  Bill brought his smaller possessions with him.  (The larger ones, I learned later, were in storage.) Where to put them?  There was one sizable locker unit two floors down in the basement of the building, but it was already fairly full of beloved old grade school math notebooks and incomplete sets of Clue and Monopoly belonging to my two adult but as yet unmarried sons.  Besides, Bill didn’t really want to be rummaging around in a dark basement locker every time he wanted something.  So any available surfaces of my previously uncluttered home began to look like this:

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Cambridge 2005: End table in den (aka second bedroom). Formerly holding only lamp.

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Cambridge 2005: Other table in den. (Formerly holding only lamp. Big pictures mine; small pictures his.)

Since I wasn’t blogging in those days, I have no photographs of his side of the bed with its cluttered bureau top and piles of books on the floor, or of the single bathroom after it had acquired his toiletries and nutritional supplements as well as mine. However I’m sure you can imagine. (Having the two photos above was dumb luck.) “Great apartment,” said the friendly realtor. “But you’ll have to clear all this stuff away.”

“Where shall I hide it?” I asked plaintively.

“Wherever.” She waved her hand blithely.  “I’m sure you’ll find a place.”

[To be concluded in next post.]

 

 

 

 

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LESSON FROM LAW SCHOOL

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In England I believe it’s called “reading law.” Here in the United States, it’s just “going to law school.” But you need four years of college and an undergraduate degree in order to apply.

However, unlike most other graduate programs, and contrary to what you may have thought, law school is much more a glorified trade school than an immersion in complex higher thought.  It’s true that the J.D. (juris doctor),  when finally acquired after three years of supposedly learning how to practice law, does not yet entitle you actually to practice it.  (Except in one state — Wyoming or Montana, I forget which.)  There’s another hurdle ahead: you must take and pass one last big test in a state or states of your choosing.  And that’s what you really need the J.D. for.  It’s your entry ticket for “sitting for the bar.”

“Sitting for the bar” means you register to take, and then actually take, a two-day examination (three-day if you’re doing two states at the same time) — each day’s part being six hours in length, with an hour’s break for lunch and for standing in long bathroom lines. It’s administered in a huge aerodrome or covered stadium designated by the state in question as the place where its bloodless torture takes place twice a year.  [The size of the venue is driven by the fact that as many as 1500 newly minted J.D.s may be taking the exam at the same time. Plus the ones who failed their first or second try and have to try again.]

Only when you’ve at last “passed the bar” may you finally proceed to practice law (and find out how little you really learned about it in school) either by (1) becoming an associate at a private law firm; (2) finding a municipal, state or federal government job as a lawyer; (3) going “in-house” as a member of the legal staff of a corporation; or  (4) “hanging up your own shingle” (quaint phrase), usually because the other three possibilities didn’t pan out.

But let’s back up. I don’t know what’s involved in learning how to be a plumber or electrician, but I imagine the subject matter to be mastered for those trades must be broken down into manageable bits. So it is in law school.  Allegedly learning how to be a lawyer is broken down into various subject matters to be mastered, most of them in year-long courses.  Although the specific choice of first-year course work may vary from law school to law school, during my first year we took four courses that ran from September through May — Property Law, Contract Law, Tort Law, Civil Procedure — plus a fifth, Criminal Law, that was tested at the end of the first semester and replaced in the spring by Constitutional Law, which was tested at the end of May together with the four that had run for the whole academic year.

That’s right, five examinations at the end of the first year — and  the first and only examinations we would have on those five subjects. Each exam lasted three hours, and consisted of three complicated hypothetical situations which between them raised every possible issue that had arisen in any case discussed or even mentioned in that course since September.  We were advised to write for an hour on each hypothetical, but for no more than an hour, quickly identifying and explaining every issue we had spotted. [Bathroom break? Take it at your peril!  Leaving the room meant less time to write, fewer issues spotted.]  Brilliance on one hypothetical did not compensate for ignorance on another. Failing an exam meant having to repeat the course.  Doing poorly in any exam adversely affected one’s class rank — an extremely important consideration in securing a first job.

Understandably, there was much growing tension in the classroom as the weeks of May rolled by.  Many of us were there on federally funded student loans, which would need to be repaid irrespective of the outcome on these exams.  Others were the first in their families to go to graduate school.  Not making it would mean not making a family’s dream come true. The school had thoughtfully provided a ten-day study period following the end of classes before the first exams were scheduled to take place.  But how do you study when you’re too nervous to focus on anything except the possibility of impending doom?

The youngest of our professors was an attractive woman who was a bit past thirty but certainly no more than thirty-five.  This was only her second year as a member of the law faculty.  She had taught fourth grade for a few years before going to law school, and brought a touch of the kindly and patient manner with which one instructs young children to teaching us, which was perhaps an error of style when addressing a roomful of twenty-somethings, plus me.  What’s more, although she taught Civil Procedure, she had never actually practiced law.  She may not have even sat for a bar. She was slender, shapely, had great legs, and wore high heels to show them off — which was much appreciated by the young men in the class but did nothing to enhance her reputation as a professor to be respected for her knowledge.

On the final day she met with us, she did a quick review of what we might anticipate could be on the Civil Prodedure exam.  At last she put down her pointer and her chalk, turned to us and said she knew we were all very nervous.  She had been through it herself not so long before, so she understood completely.

And then this pretty woman with the gorgeous gams said something so important, and so applicable to every other aspect of life that I’ve never forgotten it, although by now I’ve forgotten almost everything else I memorized that year.  “You may be so nervous,” she said, “that you’re too nervous to study.  So this is what to do.”

Now no one was looking at her legs.  We were all listening very carefully.

What you should do when you’re too nervous to study,” she said, “is study. And then the nervousness will go away.”

I was nearly fifty-two, hadn’t taken an exam (except the one in Criminal Law) for twenty-seven years, and “nervous” doesn’t begin to describe my state of mind.  My husband was out of work, I had two adolescent children, I had done this all on loans.  But I took her advice.  And studied. And studied. And studied some more.  And the nervousness did go away.

When the class rankings were posted that summer after the grades were in on all five exams, I found myself tied for first in a class of 345.  That rank opened doors for interviews in major Boston law firms, despite my age. One of those interviews led to a job that brought money into our family again, paid for braces, good private schools, music lessons.

That’s why what I heard on the last day of the Civil Procedure class in May 1983 was the most useful lesson I learned in law school.  Try it yourself.

When you’re too nervous to do something, do it.  And the nervousness will go away.

And then who knows what good things will happen next?