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Law School Finals Are Over. Part II

Dixie continues her description of law school finals as Phase II continues.

Captain’s Log: Day 9 through 12

The days are blending. For the first time in half a decade, I haven’t worn anything other than jeans, a hoodie, and sneakers for almost two weeks. Unfortunately, this time I look less like a casual coed, more like a soccer mom. Each morning I endure a mental battle to convince myself to put in my contacts, not because I’m concerned about my appearance, but because my eyesight is poorer with my glasses and I don’t want to compromise the quality of my studying. It’s been so long since I’ve worn make-up I’m mildly afraid that I may end up wounding myself the next time I try.

Luckily, since I’m not entirely a cliché, I have been finding time to shower once a day. Sadly, I can’t say the same about brushing my hair. The knots are starting to become so matted that during the five minutes of downtime I have while walking to the library, I consider whether I’d rather solve the problem by pulling a Britney, or just go authentic and rock the dreads that are slowly forming. I realize that I find the first option strangely attractive.

Needless to say, I’m becoming genuinely concerned for my mental well-being.

Besides extreme hair care, I also use my walks to and from school to figure out why my previously complacent attitude had been replaced by misery. It isn’t that the material I was studying became harder (or was very difficult to begin with). It isn’t as if I had done no work during the semester and left it all for finals week, and now found myself overwhelmed while trying to catch up. It isn’t even as if I’d never had to study hard for a test before (there was this little thing called the LSAT that I took pretty seriously, once upon a time). So why, I wonder, is my little law school world becoming so dreary?

Then, somewhere around day ten, I figured it out. It’s the curve. The curve is the reason that my life was sucking so badly.

To explain, most law schools grade their 1Ls on a pretty strict curve, with the largest amount of students receiving a B/B+ (think, 70ish percent) and about 10% scoring lower and about 20% higher. So pretty much the 1L mantra becomes, “Don’t get a B-“. Sure you have the gunner types, who are determined to pull straight A’s, but most of us just want to avoid the shame of knowing we’re the very bottom of the pile. Which, at first glance, sounds like a pretty low-stress goal.

Except there’s a problem: you have no idea how your classmates are doing. So even a desire to out-perform one tenth of them plunges you into this frantic tundra of over-studying. Now, I know that many other tests are graded on a curve (again, a certain admissions test comes to mind), but those curves are predictable. By the time I was a week away from my LSAT test date, for example, I knew that as long as I avoided choking, I could count on a score in about a five-point window. So those last few days became less about cramming every single piece of knowledge that I could into my head, and more about fine-tuning my problem areas and lighting “calming” aromatherapy candles. (I realize that the LSAT doesn’t test any content, but you get the idea.)

Not so with my finals. Even though I know that, in an objective sense, I understand the material and my practice finals seem solid, it doesn’t really matter. Instead I have to hope that my real finals would be better than those of at least ten percent of my classmates’. And since I have no idea how they are doing, I just keep studying. And studying. And studying.

So while the rest of the city shops, has leisurely café lunches, cheers on their sports teams in the bars, goes ice skating, sees the tree and does everything else I love to do in December, I’ve locked myself in the library, and every time I want a break I see that B- flashing in front of my face and I go back to work. A week of that and even the sunniest personality is going to wither.

Now that the rosy outlook has faded, I’ve put the Flashdance soundtrack away, and “These Dreams” by Heart is on repeat on my iPod. I’m not exactly sure what the song is about, yet it leaves me with a vague sense of longing for something different, reflecting my current mental state perfectly.

Captain’s Log: Day 13

Another final finished. Let’s just say that it didn’t go as well as I would have liked.

I take the evening off to meet up with my best friend, who I haven’t even spoken to in two weeks, at our usual bar. I’m exhausted, I’m disappointed in myself, I’m acting like a complete bitch to her and our favorite bartender, and I end up going home angry.

I wonder if this is what they meant when they said law school would steal your soul.

Phase Three

Captain’s Log: Day 14

It’s back to studying, and I am not kidding when I say it is almost physically painful. After my poor showing the day before, I have to battle the overwhelming feeling that there is no point. I remind myself that even if I do end up with one dreaded B-, that doesn’t mean I can’t still do well on the other finals. But even that is only minimally motivating, and it’s only when I picture that little engine chugging up the side of a mountain do I hunker down and do what I have to do.

Of course, this engine isn’t thinking he can do much of anything, instead he’s chanting, “40K in debt, have no choice, 40K in debt, have no choice” over and over.

Still, of the five hours spent in the library, I’d be surprised if I was actually productive for more than two. My study group is no better, as I try to turn it into a pity party of whining and reverent prayer to the 1L Gods. Luckily, I have befriended patient people.

It’s also not helping that the weather is freezing, as it appears that 2009 is the first December in a decade not to be affected by global warming. Instead of taking heart in the possibility that not all of the ozone layer is gone, I wish that Gore had spent less time penning poetry and saving the environment, and more time getting into sex scandals as politicians are supposed to. Then maybe it’d be a little warmer in my personal hell.

Captain’s Log: Day 15

It appears I have contracted the Black Plague. Awesome.

Captain’s Log: Day 16

Alarm goes off at 7 AM. It’s the goddamn Christmas Shoes song. I’m not sure who decided it would be great to write a Christmas song that combines all five of my least favorite things; poverty, fashion, death, Christianity and children who run about unsupervised—but I fervently wish him pain and suffering. Hit snooze. Alarm. Snooze. Alarm. The station is on a break from the Christmas songs to bring me tidings of a blizzard that is supposed to dump between one and two feet of snow on the city. Fuck you God.

Get out of bed and get ready, dressing in full snow regalia. Stumble across street to get morning coffee. Walk into café and note with astonishment that the little man who looks like a hobbit is working. I am astounded because I’m pretty sure he only works weekends. I wonder why he’s working during the week, unless…

“Oh my God is it Saturday?” I stand frozen, one glove on, one glove off, and stare at him.

“Uh, yeah?” My complete surprise seems to have made him uncertain, and he takes out his phone and presumably checks the calendar. “Yes,” he repeats more confidently, “it is Saturday.”

On one hand I am impressed that my insanity had progressed so far that I could make strangers doubt relatively concrete facts like the current calendar day, but on the other hand I am pretty sure this is rock bottom. Even taking into account some rather extended fiestas in my wayward days of youth, I had never actually forgotten what day it was before. For the first time in my life I literally lost one of the most basic connections with the outside world. For over two weeks I had been studying everyday, with nothing other than a sporadic final to mark the passing of time. I hadn’t made it to the gym, I hadn’t gone out to dinner, and I hadn’t done any Christmas shopping. And now, while the rest of the world sleeps off their Friday night holiday party hangovers, I am once again awake and headed to the library to cram more basic legal ideas into my head.

Finals have not only ruined Christmas, but now they are taking over my weekends. I want to take back every good thing I have ever said about law school. It’s terrible.

Captain’s Log: Day 17

Instead of Christmas music, the radio awakens me with a droning talk special about the link between depression and drug addictions. Confused, I check to make sure I didn’t accidently switch the station to NPR. Nope. Figure it’ll be done soon enough, and hit snooze.

Fifteen minutes later, the alarm goes off again and it’s still talk. They are discussing the fact that many depressed people smoke cigarettes as a method of self-medication. I wonder if the world is trying to send me a sign, and consider stealing one of my roommate’s smokes to experiment. Just then the plague reminds me that it’s using my body to incubate the germs that will likely end all of civilization and I spend three minutes in a coughing/sneezing fit. I decide that inhaling arsenic may not be the best choice right now.

On my way to the library, I realize it is the last study day, and decide to pull out the big guns. It is a well-known fact that, when you want to hate the world, nothing compares to listening to Sinead. So, I put the song on repeat and tolerate the wintery morning. I schlep through my snow-covered city, full of excited children and slush that keeps getting in my boots. Although I’m not enjoying the winter grossness, I take comfort that this is the last study day, and only one more final until I’ll have my life back.

But for today at least, it’s back to the library. And, is it just me, or is that freaking buzzing noise louder than ever?

Captain’s Log: Day 18

Done. Done. Done.

I honestly have no idea how the last final went. Technically I don’t know how any of the finals went. All I know is that they are over. Finally.

I wish that I could now promise you the crazy post finals story of how we all got trashed and made horrific choices and partied till the cows came home. But I can’t, because at least in my world, it did not happen like that. Sure, we had a few drinks, but the end didn’t feel much like a crazy celebration. For me, at least, I was just too tired to be wild. So instead we exchanged a few stories, made a few toasts and then faded off to our individual holiday plans.

I would like to make one last note in parting. Despite my feelings around Day 16, I’m pretty sure I’m still going to like law school next semester. First off, I’m really looking forward to my classes, even more than the ones I just finished, so the actual semester should be even better. Plus, once I actually get some grades I’ll know better where I stand. Sure, I may be in the bottom ten percent of the class, but there will at least be something comforting in knowing that, and not just studying blindly and as much as possible for nearly three weeks. And who knows, maybe I’ll even do ok. Either way, with some interesting classes and an idea of what to expect, I think everything is going to work out just fine.

Here’s to 2010.