“You do realize this is all your fault, don’t you?”
My sister laughs wryly from her Zoom box and tilts her half-full wine glass toward me. We’re toasting to better times ahead. Days when we can travel again. Reschedule our canceled 2020 trips to Nashville and St. Lucia. See our parents again. Hug.
“I know,” I smile back at her through the screen. I raise my glass – also half-full, and meet her toast with a wink.
I have spent the last five years – at writing conferences and Bar Association meetings and CLE classes, counseling would-be writers and transitioning attorneys that they can have the future they want if they only say it out loud. I talk boldly about the fierce, life-changing power – of words. I tell anyone this secret who asks for advice on using their JD for good, or on breaking into the elusive publishing industry, or on turning any far-fetched dream into a realistic goal. I lean in close. I tell them yes, you can do it. You just need to: Say. It. Out. Loud.
When I was a young litigator in New York, I had a mentor who taught me a strategy – a gimmick really – that we used often in closing arguments. As the civil defense attorney at trial, I got to go first with my closing argument. It was better to go last, of course. It was better to send the jury with your closing thoughts fresh in their mind as they took to deliberation. But I didn’t get to go last, so I had a different plan. I’d prop up a giant poster-sized legal pad on an easel in front of the jury, and I’d choose three key phrases I wanted them to remember from my closing. Phrases that would disrupt the case if only they’d keep them fresh in their brains when all the lawyer talking was done and it was time to deliberate.
I’d say those three key phrases out loud, and write them and repeat them and leave them there in my carefully scrawled Catholic School cursive penmanship, up on the easel when I was finished, facing the jury. When opposing counsel took the floor, he or she would have three options.
First, to decide whether to abandon their prepared closing, and address my 3 main (potentially) case-winning takeaways, resulting in a flustered and likely haphazard closing argument.
Second, to ignore my poster-sized legal pad, leaving the jury confused and probably glancing over at my words throughout the other side’s closing.
Or three – my favorite – my absolute favorite option – to remove the legal pad from the easel, and dramatically discard it, face down, off to the side of the courtroom, before delivering their previously prepared closing argument. When opposing counsel chose that option and dismissed my words violently in front of the jury, a few jurors would inevitably gasp out loud, and I’d already know I won.
Later as a published writer, I’d confirm the lessons I learned as a young litigator. That story is everything and that words have power. The universe hears you. And it’s not so easy to just delete words from the universe’s pages once they’re out there. This is the liberating magic of my advice to would-be writers and transitioning professionals. This too is the danger.
In early 2020, I told the universe I needed just a small break in the spring sports schedule. And then, one day when I was feeling particularly exhausted and heartbroken, I asked the universe for a late season snowstorm – “something, anything that will close the freaking world down until I can catch my breath.”
(I know. I’m sorry.)
All of this is to say that given the timing of the world shutting down, I leaned all the way in. I exhaled. I put my life back together. I healed my heart. I wrote a book. There were gruesome, life-altering consequences of all this saying it out loud for me and my family, just as there were for yours. I take none of it lightly. Please don’t think I take one moment of it lightly. My life and my home look completely different than they did a year ago.
And when my kids say now how much they miss their friends – how much they miss school – something I never thought I’d hear my kids say in my lifetime, I’m overcome with a sense of sadness.
When I think about how many people we are all missing this holiday season –those who have been claimed by the virus –and those we simply cannot see because we are trying to keep our healthy friends and family free from the virus – I’m overwhelmed with grief.
There is a part of me that clings to that reckless optimism grounded in the advice I’ve been sharing with disgruntled lawyers and aspiring writers for years. Change can be effected by that which is simply said out loud.
Because it’s clear that the universe has spoken loudly in 2020 and it is equally clear there is indeed a fierce, life-changing power in its words:
Nothing is promised. Appreciate every single moment. Be still. Be grateful.
I think I'm realizing that, at the end of the day, it’s time for me to stop talking so damn much and just listen.