Wednesday, June 12, 2002

things to do:
email the southern center for human rights. Page with addresses is here.
try emailing James Liebman.
try emailing Stephen P. Garvey and Sheri Lynn Johnson (Cornell):,
talk to Crime Communities and Culture people about volunteering/internship possibilities.
Guess I'll give this another shot tonight. Free writing. That was a sentence fragment.

Everything I've read about the personal statement says that it should be something that only you (me) could honestly write. Because the idea is to give the admissions officers a sense of precisely who I (you, one) am (are, is) and what sets me apart from others. I wonder whether what I came up with last night fits that description -- probably not. What does set me apart from others? Dear god, this looks like another recipe for depressing myself. But I better go ahead and face it: nothing. I am just like everybody else out there. I wouldn't make a better or worse lawyer or law student than anyone else. Okay, that's silliness. For real now, what does set me apart? I have long hair. I've had long hair since I was in eighth grade. No, no, for real now.... I am smart. That's probably the one quality I have that I can be (fairly) sure of. And I believe strongly that I have to use my life to make the world a better place. I really believe that that's what I was put here for. And I am skeptical of everything, including -- and this is important -- myself. I'm willing to hold myself to the same standards that I hold the rest of the world to, and I can see it when I don't meet those standards, and I'm willing to change so that I do.

Okay, I guess being smart won't really set me apart from the other applicants to Yale, NYU, Columbia, Cornell and Berkeley. Probably a real drive to contribute positively to the world is a good start, although there probably are plenty of other applicants with the same idea. But mine is probably realer, because I am probably older. So I think the story I tell should be one of a guy who set out to do something good for the world, and the discoveries along that path that led him to law. It should not be a meandering path, however, more of a zeroing in. Which is precisely what is going on. I think I may have hit upon something. The statement would start with something about the present, something about my interest in law or law school. Or maybe the death penalty. Then maybe it could go to the 'push-pull' thing I talked about last night. Which might lead me to my study of sociology -- where our story begins. From there it would be chronological, giving a sense of the refinements in my thinking that lead me from that point to my senior year, to my internet stuff, to my present situation, to law. Zeroing in on both my medium and my issue. Another thing that definitely will set me apart is my age. So I should try and convey a maturity in my personal statement. I should not write it like a kid addressing adults, which would be my inclination, believe it or not. I am an adult, and I am writing this for another adult to read. Just like at work -- I am an equal. I could sit in meetings with these people, I could probably tell them a lot of things they don't know.

I have been zeroing in on the study of law, and the pursuit of law in the public interest, for a long time. At the age of 29, I have been moved my entire life by two competing forces -- a pull, on the one hand, and a push, on the other. Settling into the valley between the two -- achieving a balance -- has been my task.

The "pull" I'm referring to is a natural drift on my part toward the realms of abstraction, the intellect, and theory. This is what I love: my mind naturally drifts toward playing with ideas, putting them together and seeing what comes out. The "push" is my strong desire to make an impact on people's lives, and change them for the better. I know beyond doubt that I must achieve this to consider myself a success, and I "push" myself to do so.

... is this good so far? It's a little corny. I'm sure I'll read it tomorrow and realize that it's unbelievably corny. And I'm afraid it sounds like a college student wrote it. Also I fear it's probably a whole lot like most other personal statements. Should I put my age in the first sentence? To grab the reader. There's a danger, though -- the reader can either say "oh, he's a little more mature than our other applicants, maybe he's got something interesting to say," or they can say "oh, this is just some loser who's decided to try his hand at law school." Shit, and what about the web stuff? When I talk about the web stuff they'll be like, "oh, he's just like all those other failed dot-commers who have been applying here lately." The difference there is that I am still employed and have never lost a job -- but will they see that? Maybe I should explicitly address that issue? Say "Yes, I am an internet person. I'm sure you have had applications from thousands of other internet people who have decided to move on to law school. But let me point out, I'm not a casualty of the dot-com fallout who is searching for the next thing. I have never been without a job, and my current job is not in any danger. My entire carreer has been leading me to this point. I am not a dot-commer, I'm a dot-orger, and there's a big difference." Maybe I should write the whole thing as an address to the reader, using the word "you" a lot. Maybe, but that might be a little passe these days. Also, it's kind of tough -- seems like you either have to come off sounding defensive or cocky. Either "I imagine you look over my transcripts and LSAT, flip through my resume, and say to yourself, 'what's this guy got to offer that our other applicants don't?'" ... or "I imagine that when you see my LSAT and transcripts and take a look at what I've done with my life so far, you begin to think, 'this looks like a pretty good candidate for my school.'" Know what I mean? Well, I think I'll sleep on that one. There may be other, better approaches. Anyway, I think I'm beginning to get somewhere.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Okay, here's the idea right now: I am applying to law schools, and most -- probably all, actually, but I don't know for sure -- law schools require a "personal statement" from their applicants. I guess I have a decent idea of what this is supposed to be, but I desperately need to figure out what I'm going to say in mine. I think my first step will be to do some "free writing" here: just writing whatever the fuck I think of. Which is what I'm doing right now. Problem is, whenever I do this I start doing this -- talking about what I'm doing, which inevitably leads to talking about talking about what I'm doing (like right now), and then talking about talking about what I'm doing (like right now) and like that. So I'll make a rule that I try and avoid that. I will also make a rule that I don't curse too much or use too many sentence fragments, and I try to punctuate everything properly, so I can get the hang of trying to sound professional again. It's been a long time since I've had to write anything decent (I'm 29 years old). This will be my first attempt in -- well, a long freakin time (note avoidance of the 'f' word). I think my next step will be to talk to people that know me and respect me and that I respect -- probably this will turn out to be my Mom, Dad, brother and girlfriend -- about what they think I should put in the personal statement. Alright, let's see. What should I say.

Well, first of all I know a couple things about what led me to my decision to go to law school. Those things are that 1) I realized that I had to do something, and that law school is as good as anything else; probably shouldn't put that in the personal statement. 2) That I am basically a lover of academic pursuits -- I love to think about things, analyse things, study things, read about things, write about things (well, I'm starting to write about things right now -- oops, I said I wasn't going to do that -- or that -- or that), develop ideas about things -- but I don't want to spend my life and my brain power just tossing ideas back and forth with other academics. I know that some intellectuals are talented and lucky enough to pursue their abstract and theoretical ideas and simultaneously engage the world outside of the academy, but I'm not sure I'm that person. Or now, that's not it -- the problem isn't that I'm not that person, the problem is that I want to be even more in the world, having a day-to-day effect on things, and hopefully daily making it a better place. It seems to me that law is the perfect intersection of those two ambitions. It is an intellectual pursuit but it acts on and in the world of people and things instead of the world of ideas. Pretty fantastic, really (that was a sentence fragment). A guy named Kenneth Anderson says "The study of law is the best way I know to unite the intellectual and the activist," which is pretty much what I'm trying to get at here. And I think, when it comes down to it, I am an intellectual by disposition and an activist by ambition. That is to say, my natural state is that of an intellectual, but what I most want to be is an activist. Of course, that "natural state" comment needs some clarification, doesn't it? Let's see. Well, I already said that "I am a lover of academic pursuits," which is certainly part of it... I love the intellectual stuff. Another part of it is that I'm good at it. Maybe that's the real point. When I asked myself "what am I best at?" the answer was thinking abstractly, taking ideas and putting them together to see what you get. So, to explain the "natural state" remark, we have a) I love the intellectual stuff and b) I'm good at the intellectual stuff. And I am just naturally drawn to the intellectual stuff. I'm always coming up with ideas and theories and shit like that. That was a curse word, and plus that last sentence was really truly idiotic. That is certainly not something I want to tell law schools. I think, generally, I will want to frame everything in terms of my drives -- I am driven to think abstractly about things, on the one hand, and I am driven to activism, on the other. I don't want to give them the impression that I am lost and just trying to figure out what would be the best match for my personality (which is, of course, the truth). It's kind of interesting, though... In a sense, these two things could be taken to be opposites -- theory and abstraction on the one hand, and activism and practice on the other. And yet I'm driven to them both. Also interesting is the two different kinds of drives that are leading me in each direction: leading me to abstraction is a sort of natural pull, like a magnet or a car that pulls to the left (or right, if you like that better); leading me to activism is a desire and a self-requirement. In other words, a pull ... and a push. I naturally fall toward one side, and I consciously ask myself to go to the other. Something that would satisfy both would be a dream.

Of course, if I'm going to tell law schools that I am driven toward activism, I'll have to back that up with something, which is a little tough. I'm driven by a sense that I should be doing something in the world, but I don't have a lot to show for that... one thing I really should do is get involved in something now. Maybe I could lie on my application? I can't think of an excellent reason not to. Actually, my current job gives me a little of that kind of satisfaction -- I am using my abstract thinking skills to further a worthwhile cause in the world. But if I talk about my current job in my application, they'll say 'so why is he leaving? he should keep being the webmaster for .orgs.' Well, I suppose that's something I should address myself. Why am I leaving? I like my job a lot, and it does give me that kind of satisfaction. Uh-oh, don't talk yourself into staying by working on your personal statement for law school. Well, there are a few things. One thing is that I'm not completely convinced that what I do is really helping that much. Another thing is that, if it is helping, I obviously don't see it -- if I did, I would be convinced. Another thing is that it doesn't give me enough mental exercise. A majority of my time is spent on work that requires very little thought for me; a minority is spent doing stuff that's actually interesting. And yet another reason that I am ready to leave is that there are issues that I care about more, and feel closer to personally, than those with which my current job is concerned.

Okay, all of this bullshit is good and fine, but I don't know that any of it will really get and hold the attention of an admissions officer. It's pretty silly-seeming, even though it is meaningful to me. I could touch on it all and then go on to something else. The other thing that most naturally would fit into a personal statement is my very strong opposition to the death penalty. Of course, this is a little risky as well, because it's a political position, and what if the person reading the application is for the death penalty? Further, I don't want to appear to preachy or self-righteous (which I am). But I am strongly opposed to the death penalty, and that is a major reason that I want to go to law school. So shouldn't it appear in my personal statement? I do want them to know that I have specific goals, particularly because I'm likely to appear pretty lost if I don't.

I want to tell a story of what led me to law school, and to explain why it took me so long. Can I paint a picture that goes like this:

I am pulled and pushed, respectively, to theory and practice.

My education in sociology convinced me that I wanted to be involved in human rights advocacy.

It was the mid-nineties, and I developed internet skills so that I could work on websites that dealt with those issues.

I worked on these websites, both of which dealt with human rights.

The foci of the two sites, combined with my own thinking, led me closer and closer to the death penalty as the most important human rights question for me.

I concluded that I could no longer adequately address the question from my position as a webmaster and had to take a more ambitious and active role.

That would be a story. I think I need to play down the webmaster stuff though. More useful would be to say that I worked with these organizations -- I was brought there by my web skills, and I worked with them and went from there. But I really have to figure out a way to play up any connection to the legal profession that I can think of -- any reason for them to believe that I would be good at it. I mean, this story sort of talks about why I want to do it, but they need to have some reason to think their investment in me will pay off. Of course, I can't think of any connection at all.

Okay, so the weaknesses of what I've come up with so far are: I) need to come up with reasons why I'd be a good lawyer; II) need to back up my claims to a drive for activism with something; III) need to make it interesting and lively, so it will hold the reader's attention. Also there's the concern about taking a semi-controversial political stand in the personal statement. Although that's probably not a concern with NYU and almost definitely not with Columbia or Cornell. Probably same goes for Berkeley. Yale is different, as is Georgetown (I think), but who cares about those two schools anyway. Also, whatever safety schools I come up with will probably be different.

Guess I'll sign off now. Let's see what this looks like up on my Johnson.