Law in Contemporary Society

A Tale of Three Cities

-- By ZachBlumy - 1 Jun 2017

Note: The headings for this essay's sections link to songs that should be played while one reads.


Lincolnshire, Illinois is the Platonic form of American suburban comfort—spacious homes with wooded backyards, at least two cars in every garage, and neighbors who mind their own business unless they happen to become your friends. It’s a village of cordiality, not of community; of complacency, not of creativity. In other words, it’s no place for a restless, culture-hungry twenty-something.

And yet after graduating college, I returned to Lincolnshire to live with my parents. They insisted that I not spend my meager tutoring earnings on rent while I figured out my next move—at that point, freelance writing—and I agreed with them. They also insisted that I apply to law school, because a J.D. is versatile and would likely ensure my lifelong financial security. Again, I agreed. I wrote my personal statement about wanting to “help creative people create,” which was part-truth and part-cover-up. Law schools, I imagine, don’t admit students who are honest enough to say they want to be comfortable.

The ruse worked. I got into a great law school and left Lincolnshire, never to return. By July, my parents will have done the same, flocking to the warmer climes of San Diego.

To say that I hate my hometown would be easy—but also dishonest. It’s inexorably welded to my history, and whenever I remove the rust-colored lenses, part of me will always be attracted to it. I like the personality roots I laid in Lincolnshire: thoughtfulness, loyalty, respect, the core values of Midwestern decency. And even after spending days in Chicago, the beautiful city of humble pride and brutal American honesty, I always relished the retreat to the quiet streets and forested expanse of my happy place.

"New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down"

My happy place in Manhattan is the roof of my building. I discovered it in a moment of nerve—I called the door’s bluff that “alarm will sound”—and then I bought a reclining lawn chair so I could better enjoy the unobstructed view of the Midtown skyline. It’s especially beautiful at sunset, when Riverside Church becomes a silhouette and the Empire State Building glows orange-gold.

I hated New York when I arrived last August. Chicago’s big shoulders already carry a New York-sized chip, and the oppressive Atlantic humidity and ubiquitous stench of roasting garbage didn’t help matters. But as the weather cooled and I began to explore the city’s cultural landscape, my stance softened. The density I once saw as crushing morphed into vibrancy. The urban bustle that once overwhelmed me now felt exhilarating. By May, something incredible had happened: I actually meant what I had written in my law school personal statement so long before. My friends and teachers at Columbia deserve much credit for that epiphany, but the New York atmosphere, saturated with meaningful creativity, played a necessary role in setting the stage.

And yet I still prefer to take it all in from my rooftop in tranquil Morningside Heights. New York and I have a healthy relationship for now, but were we to marry, we’d be destined for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences: she’s too clingy—inescapable, even—and she thinks she’s all that matters in the world. My Midwestern pride and craving for space will not abide it.

That goes double for New York’s legal community. Larry Joseph paints an intricate picture of it in Lawyerland, and of all his colorful characters, the one that most struck me was the city itself—a vast, oppressive pressure cooker. Carl Wylie might be an asshole anywhere, but spending his entire career in such an environment probably brought out the worst in him. Given that my goals likely involve me beginning in transactional law, I’d like to minimize my chances of slipping down his path.

Instead, give me mountains I can climb and oceans I can surf on the same day when I need room to breathe. Give me an entertainment hub that won’t suffocate my body. Give me a city with Lincolnshirian space that also boasts a network I can tap to help artists who believe in more than wealth and fame, be it via my own boutique law firm or independent film production house. Give me Los Angeles.

"Lost in Hollywood?"

“No!” cries the Greek chorus. Hollywood will wither your soul, your naïveté, your resolve, it chants. After a few years sitting in traffic and hobnobbing with self-obsessed primadonnas and their parasitic, obsequious attendants, it urges, you'll be in it for money and thrills, not for justice, not even for art. This is how Los Angeles invariably preys on its immigrés, I’m warned, because they lack a sense of place. And into that void step their materialistic, complacent tendencies—tendencies to which I will never be immune.

I can’t call Lincolnshire home. I won’t call New York home. But I can take the best aspects of each—the values I built in Lincolnshire, the purpose I built in New York—and deliberately construct a sense of place in Los Angeles that shelters my soul from the blistering Santa Ana winds of superficiality.

I take heart in knowing that like-minded people battle the same stiff wind. LA’s animation community manifests a powerful hatred of injustice posing as innocuous cartoons. Its rap scene draws millions of well-off white kids’ attention to the ugly reality of institutional racism. Its independent filmmakers and distributors relate bold stories, and their successes renew my faith in the American viewing public. I won’t be creating alongside them, but I will allow their passion to guide my own legal practice and ambitions.

A question remains: if I falter, if I wake up one day and realize I’m on the path toward suburban complacency or Wylian hedonism or Kardashian fakeness, will I have the courage to leave? I’ve glimpsed an unhappy Hollywood ending, and it terrifies me. But I trust in the voice that compelled me from Lincolnshire, the same voice that now compels me to leave New York and go West in search of the perfect spiritual place I haven’t yet found.


Webs Webs

r3 - 01 Jun 2017 - 05:21:40 - ZachBlumy
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