Tuesday, September 1, 2020

A New Hope

My children are back home after spending most of the summer with my ex at his new place in the Midwest. It was a strange long ten weeks for everyone.

In the fifteen years since Eleanor was born, the kids and I had never been apart for that long. Our longest previous gap was the three weeks I spent in Europe in 2014. Seattle Men’s Chorus toured Germany, singing in Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Buchenwald, and Cologne. I tacked on solo trips to Rome and London before and afterwards, and used up all my air miles to fly Business Class on British Airways. I stopped missing the kids after I was upgraded to First Class.

That Europe trip was the longest vacation I ever took while working in private practice and at the ACLU. Litigation is all about juggling. In order to keep the balls in the air long enough to step away from your desk, you have prepare for weeks by flinging each deadline in every case as high up as you can possibly throw. By the time you return to the office, everything is right above your head and ready to crash all at once. Spending more than two weeks away isnt worth it.

For the last fifteen years, my primary identity has been Father, rather than Lawyer. It’s even harder to get away. When I was alternating kid weeks with the ex, quick getaways from parenthood were easy, but long breaks were impossible. Then when my ex moved away a year ago, we had to adjust to the reality of All Papa, All the Time. As I wrote last year in “Peak Parenting, “it’s exhausting and overwhelming and utterly ordinary. I love it.”

So ten weeks without kids this summer was a new experience for all of us. Instead of flinging the kids into the air, I catapulted myself into the furthest reaches of time and space, like Voyager passing each planet and heading into blackness. I stopped feeling the kids’ light and gravitational pull, and had to wait for their feeble texts to eventually arrive.

If anything went wrong, I would have sensed a disturbance in the force. Instead, I knew the kids were alright.

Ordinarily my children’s gravitational force, together with their overwhelming noise and light pollution, makes it impossible for me to focus on anything else for too long. 

Long ago I drove through Yellowstone National Park in the middle of a clear dark night. (I was speeding from BYU to Cowley, Wyoming, for my last missionary companion’s homecoming from Korea.) At midnight I parked my car, turned off the lights, and stood alone at the bottom of a wide volcanic bowl. There were more stars out than I’ve ever seen in my life. 

After a few weeks without the kids, I hoped I would see something similar. In particular, I was looking for a fresh creative vision – a glimpse into my writing mind without the immediate distractions, thrills, and burdens of Fatherhood. I’ve never managed to see the Northern Lights in person. But while the kids were away I was indeed blessed with similarly ethereal mental visions. 

Most of my insights were unexpected. Originally I’d hoped to use the summer break to finish my Mormon/gay rights lawyer/PTSD memoir. Instead my focus was drawn elsewhere, to visions I’ve barely begun writing about. Nevertheless, the story of my life quarantined alone in Bellingham with two dogs gave me the perfect framework for my memoirs blocked concluding chapter, “Times Like These.” I also made progress on several other tragicomic chapters about living through traumas, triggers, and recovery. Unfortunately, like Frodo, Gandalf, and Anakin, I seem to be bogged down somewhere in the middle of the story.

At least I finally figured out the right title for my book:  Anyone Can Whistle: A Memoir of Religion, Showtunes, and Mental Illness.

When all my Father projects went on hiatus at the beginning of the summer, I still couldn’t focus on being a Writer. I was too busy being a Lawyer. 

On June 9, the Washington Supreme Court heard argument in my lawsuit seeking damages from the sleazy lawyer-investigator firm that the State hired to illegally whitewash my discrimination complaints against my former employer, the Washington Attorney General’s Office. I can report that I survived my first ever Zoom Oral Argument.

The Supreme Court will likely issue their ruling sometime this fall. I’ll write about the appeal and my Zoom experience next week in “Good Friends.” Then I’ll wait for the Supreme Court’s opinion before commenting further about the case.

During my Covid-19 summer alone in Bellingham I took a break from blogging. Instead, I went back to look for patterns in my writing over the three years since May 2017, when I filed my original lawsuit and started this blog 300 posts and half a million words ago. 

In Phase I of blogging, covering posts in 2017 and 2018, I took advantage of my newfound freedom from thirty years of writer’s block by exploring a variety of topics and styles. My favorite essays about family were “I Come From Good People” and “Sure of You.” My favorite essay about brains was “Inside Out.” My favourite essay about Showtune Night in Canada was “Six Degrees of Kristin Chenowith.” Thanks to the mysteries of Google’s algorithm, the three most viewed blog posts in Phase I were “About My Yale Classmate Brett Kavanaugh,” “Thing 1 and Thing 2,” and “Fifty Shades of Green Gables.”

Phase II covered posts in 2019 and the first half of 2020. I got more ambitious about extended storytelling and the craft of writing. I published a week of “Rock Bottom Stories,” as well as other connected essays about topics like my dramatically improved mental health, various besetting plagues, and the comforts of dog ownership. For the first time I confronted my experiences as a gay man coming out of the closet at the height of the AIDS epidemic. And I wrote about the traumas and triggers I’d experienced while trying to shine a spotlight on dishonest government lawyers. 

Frankly I got carried away with that last topic. Sleazy lawyer stories were taking over the blog, like an oversized moon whose gravitational pull turns ordinary tides into tsunamis. When I looked at the statistics for 2020 I was aghast. I vowed I wouldnt start Phase III until I freed myself from the power of the Lawyer dark side. 

It gets worse. 

Once I broke free from the gravity of oral argument, I was looking forward to a few months of non-Lawyer peace while we all waited for the Supreme Court’s decision. Instead, just as my trajectory back to the kids catapulted me past the bloated lawyer moon, I encountered a new battery of sleazy tractor beams and blasters on the other side, all aimed right at me. Apparently after getting fed up with my various public criticisms, someone at the Attorney General’s Office got the bright idea of removing all of my claims against State employees to federal court, then filing a quick motion to dismiss. 

As usual it was impossible to separate my former colleagues incompetence from their lies. Responding to the State’s opening brief was one of my most harrowing experiences in years. For every ten minutes I spent working on my response brief, I had to spend at least an hour on soothing activities like talking with my children, walking the dogs, meditating, exercising, etc. The kids arrived home just in time for my last weekend of brief writing. The presence of other observers in the house made my PTSD symptoms even more noticeable. Over and over as I was forced to confront the State’s misrepresentations and unfounded personal attacks, I would read or write a single sentence. Then I would compulsively leap out of my chair and pace ten or twenty laps around the house, grinding my teeth from bruxism and rubbing my scalp raw from trichotillomania. When my teenaged daughter who wants to go to medical school heard my involuntary wheezes and groans, she thought I was having a heart attack. 

These excruciating and debilitating symptoms were not the inevitable consequence of living with mental illness. As I’ve repeatedly explained to the State to no avail, the nature of my youthful traumas makes me particularly vulnerable to dishonest and abusive exercises of authority – such as the taxpayer-funded triggers I continue to endure from Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s minions. Including the State’s most recent misrepresentations, exaggerations, and defamatory statements to the Court and to me. 

The kids have been home for three weeks now. Each Leishman planet has settled into its ideal orbital equilibrium. Fatherhood is complicated but rewarding, like juggling cuddly chainsaws. I’m nervous about starting full time Zoom School next week. But we’ll manage somehow. 

After various summer distractions and diversions, the Writer in me is back on track as well. Future blog posts are filing up the queue; only a few unfinished chapters remain in my draft memoir; and several new book projects are busily competing for my attention. Just like the dogs. 

Even the Lawyer has found his place in our little galaxy. While I wait for the Washington Supreme Court to rule on my “real” case, I’m bringing a healthy balance to my current litigation efforts – including directly confronting each new lie from my ethically-challenged former colleagues at Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office. I’m still not being paid by the hour for my legal work yet. But I expect to obtain reasonable compensation from the State eventually. For now, I’ve been practicing for appearing in federal court again by keeping track of my billable hours, as if I was back the law firm. Strangely, the whole lawyer timekeeping habit came right back to me. It’s like riding an uncomfortable but expensive bicycle.   

More importantly, I’m learning how to prevent the good Lawyer from interfering with the better Father and Writer. As soon as I find the perfect photos of Thurgood Marshall, Edie Windsor, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I’ll post one last blog essay about litigating against corrupt Washington state officials: “Who Made a Federal Case out of It?

In the meantime, The Kids Are Alright.®  And the dogs. And my parents and nephew across town. We’re all glad to be home, even though the Canadian border and so much else remains closed. Despite the various plagues besetting everyone, I’m as happy and healthy as I’ve ever been in my life. All is well.

No comments:

Post a Comment