Sunday, May 29, 2011

very dull indeed

This is an old post that I started writing more than two years ago but never published because I decided it was stupid. However, in my efforts to update my blog more and to be less self-critical, I'll go ahead and publish it now.

Today I came across a quote which I think does a fantastic job of expressing a common-place idea. In discussing the problems of presuming that jury instructions will cure trial errors, the Fifth Circuit wrote: "[I]f you throw a skunk into the jury box, you can't instruct the jury not to smell it." Dunn v. United States, 307 F.2d 883, 886 (5th Cir. 1962). Vivid, to-the-point, and memorable.

It's brilliant writing like this that makes me feel all the inadequacies of my own writing. I may be able to string together a grammatically correct and logically sound sentence, but I don't feel like I've ever been good at conveying normal ideas in a vivid, interesting manner. That's not to say that I never find things I've written interesting -- I've been known to reread old journal entries for hours, after all -- but it's the subject matter, rather than the writing itself, that draws my attention. After all, it's hard to go wrong when you're writing about, say, the time you were car-shopping and drove the car into the wall at the dealership when you returned from your test drive.

Actually, on second thought, I take that back. I once had a roommate who could have made any story boring. She could have been telling you about how she walked on the moon, and you'd have been bored.

. . . So then we got onto the spaceship. It was a big spaceship. You might have seen the pictures of it. I said to John -- he was one of the astronauts, you know -- well, I said to him, "John, don't you think this is a big spaceship? I think it's a big spaceship." And he said, "You're right. It is a big spaceship. In fact, that's just what my wife told me when she dropped me off at the spaceship this morning. She said, 'John, this is a big spaceship.' And I agreed with her." Then I said to John, "Your wife is smart and observant. I'm so glad you married someone smart. Oh, weren't you telling me the other day that she was an accountant?" John said that she was, but she was between jobs at the moment. You know how the economy is these days. But she had had a good interview recently, and John really hopes she'll be getting that job. It would be so great for their family if she could. You don't know John, do you? Well, I guess you don't need to hear all the details of that, then. So, like I was saying, the spaceship was big. At least from the outside. When we got inside, we saw that it was smaller than it looked from the outside. I mentioned that to John, and he said, "I don't know about that. I think you just thought it was bigger than it was." And I said, "No John, you agreed that it was big. It looked bigger from the outside than it does on the inside. I don't know why you want to argue with me about this." You know, John is a nice enough fellow, bless his heart, but sometimes he doesn't observe things as well as he should. So anyway, the floors of the spaceship were gray. Not a really light gray though. It was sort of like a gray cellphone color, if that makes any sense. Not the color of your cellphone, though, so I guess that's not an accurate description. It was gray like the color of the TV, except maybe a little darker, so maybe it was closer to . . . ."

I'm not sure that I ever heard this roommate complete a story. I would make up an excuse to leave or tune her out long before she got to the part where anything started happening, if she ever did tell a story in which something happened.

So, I concede that my writing isn't as boring as it could be. However, I generally find it to be far from scintillating. For the most part, I don't get too hung up on this. Although a major portion of my job involves writing, it's much more important for this writing to be legally and analytically sound than for it to be interesting. I do sometimes think that my writing could stand a bit more color, but I usually decide that I'd rather just finish the work than try to make it all interesting and fancy-like. When I go to write on my blog, however, I really wish I could come up with something interesting to say, and an interesting way to say it. And that is why I have not updated my blog in some time. (Well, that and extreme laziness.)

"[J]udges are not like pigs, hunting for truffles buried in briefs." Gross v. Burgraff Constr. Co., 53 F.3d 1531, 1546 (10th Cir. 1995). Bloggers, however, are quite often like pigs hunting for the interesting tidbits buried in the woods of mundane every-day life. Whether they succeed, however, is left to the reader to decide.

Friday, May 27, 2011

something new

I feel like I've been doing a fairly good job in recent months of getting out of my comfort zone a little bit and doing things I've never done before.

Exhibit A: taking my first international trip (and to India, no less)
Exhibit B: going skeet shooting
Exhibit C: doing lifts while swing dancing. (Seriously, this one was a big deal for me. I have a phobia of falling backwards, and I've never even successfully done a dip before.)

The secretary at my work agrees that I've been leaving my comfort zone more than usual, and she's got a theory about what comes next. "Shooting last weekend, and swing dancing this weekend? Next thing I know, you're going to tell me that you've fallen in love!"

I'm not entirely sure I see the correlation, but I could go for that.

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

playing church

Some people in my family like to play volleyball. I am not one of those people. When we have family volleyball games, I prefer to look after my adorable nieces so their parents can play. I find this much more entertaining and far less traumatic.


Adorable nieces

When we stay around the house, it's easy enough to find something to do while the others play volleyball. When we all go over the church meeting house, however, we sometimes end up with limited entertainment options for the kids. And thus it was that I found myself "playing church" at our last family reunion.

Following a rousing rendition of "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes," my six-year old niece presented the lesson. Our lesson for the day, she told us, was going to be about waiting. It turns out that waiting isn't very fun, but we've got to do it anyway, and we shouldn't complain about it. My niece then illustrated her point with an example:
If you're at the restaurant and you're really hungry, you want to go back to the kitchen and yell, "Where's my food? I'm really hungry!" But you can't do that. You need to sit and wait and hope they bring you your food soon. That's better, because they might trip on you if you tried to go back into the kitchen.
Words to live by, my friends, words to live by. And if you've got a friend who doesn't blog very often, you might want to say, "Where's the blog? I want to read something funny!" But that might not help, and they might just trip over their writer's block. On the other hand, maybe they'd come up with something. Stranger things have happened.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

worth a thousand words

Although I've already posted hundreds of photos on facebook, there was one sequence of photos that was too awesome to be relegated to the depths of a facebook photo album. No, not our pictures of the Taj Mahal, not the beauties of Kerala, and definitely not the photos of our camel's backside in Rajasthan. This is something far more wonderful.

It all began when my mom decided to take a picture of my dad in front of a tree. Not a bad idea, although I don't know what was so special with this particular tree. Unfortunately, all did not go as planned.

Making lemonade out of the lemons, my mom decided to do a retake, this time with Becky added to the picture in more formal fashion. Unfortunately, Becky still hadn't quite reached formality when my mom snapped the photo.

My mom decided to make one more try. But she was again foiled, this time by me doing my best impression of an injured baby velociraptor. (That, or I was trying to fix my churidar in the most awkward fashion possible.)

I guess at this point my mom decided that it would be impossible to take a good photo with her ungainly children wandering into every shot, so she just gave up. Which is a real pity, since I would have liked to have seen what Rosie would have done in the way of an awkward entry.

I'm sure it would have been hilarious.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

in perspective

One of the great things about traveling to India is that it gives you greater tolerance for the dumb things about your own country. For instance, I think airport security in the US is frequently stupid, pointless, and needlessly violative of privacy. But when you compare it to being groped by a handsy Indian policewoman, well, it definitely could be worse.

(Now hopefully this post isn't giving TSA any ideas.)

Monday, May 09, 2011

commercial interruption

Ammo: $10
Gas to drive to the shooting range: $15*
Aloe vera gel to slather on my sunburned skin afterwards: $8
The look on my coworker's face when I told him I went skeet shooting this weekend: Priceless

*Okay, so I got a ride from someone and didn't actually pay for gas. But I needed a third item for my list.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Puttin' on the Ritz

Traveling for work, I end up staying in much more high-end hotels than I would pick out on my own. I don't dislike the experience, but I've decided that the marginal difference in quality is, for me, definitely not worth the marginal difference in price between a place like the Ritz and a budget hotel. I know some people would love it, but the experience is really wasted on me. For example:
  • Every night, I walk past the swanky hotel restaurant with my bag of take-out Subway or McDonald's food in hand.
  • I only ask for the turndown service so I can get my chocolates. Otherwise, I think it's a waste of the maid's time to come "refresh" the room before I go to bed.
  • As soon as the maid leaves after doing the turndown service, I strip all the bedding off the bed so I can get rid of the annoying feather padding. The bed is still far too soft with just the mattress, but it's more tolerable this way. (True story: the first night of my hotel stay at the Ritz, I ended up sleeping on the floor because the softness of the bed was bugging me so much.)
  • I never use the large flat-screen TV, since I'd rather just watch Indian films on my laptop. (Of course, I'd prefer to watch movies on the TV, but the powers that be don't see fit to equip rooms with DVD players. At least, not the cheaper rooms I usually end up in.)
  • I've never even seen the purportedly great fitness center, with its climbing wall and salt-water lap pools and other extravagencies.
  • I shove the exorbitantly priced mini-bar items out of the way to make room in the fridge for the carton of chocolate milk I bought at the corner convenience store.
  • I walk through the hotel lobby in my faded blue jeans and tennis shoes, in direct defiance of the hotel's snooty dress code. (I don't wear business casual at work, for heaven's sake. I'm not going to wear business casual clothes just to walk through the hotel lobby on my way to the homeless people's McDonald's.)
  • I always wish there were an alternate way out of the hotel where you could open your own door and not have people constantly bowing at you and saying polite things to you. (I always feel compelled to say polite things back, which is really tiring at 8 in the morning.)
  • I find it annoying that they leave the radio on in your room, apparently to make it feel more home-like when you get there. This wouldn't be so annoying if their radios had an on/off switch, but they're far too fancy for such a utilitarian feature.
Okay, now I'm feeling kind of bad for bashing the Ritz, so let me finish up by listing all the ways in which the Ritz is better than my true Denver nemesis, the dreaded Hotel Monaco:
  • Peace and quiet! This difference alone is enough to make the Ritz a million times better than the Monaco. At the Monaco, you've got drunken guests talking in the halls and banging their doors at all hours of the night. And, if you're me, you always get put in the room that wraps around the elevator shaft, so you can hear obnoxious pinging all night, or the room that's directly over the supply docks, so you can hear trucks driving up and dropping off provisions all night, or the room that's over the dumpsters, so you can hear glass bottles being thrown around all night. I've spent many nights at the Monaco, and most of them have been sleepless ones. Both times I've stayed at the Ritz, by contrast, my room has been very quiet, even if the softness of the bed did hamper my sleep a bit.
  • Along the same lines, the Ritz's refrigerators are very quiet. The fridges at the Monaco kick on every few hours throughout the night, and they always wake me up if I've forgotten to turn them off or unplug them before going to bed (assuming I was able to fall asleep in the first place, between the elevator pinging and the drunken guests and all of that). Sometimes I've even been woken up by the fridge in the next-door room.
  • Although I don't like the Ritz's pretentious snootiness, I'll take it any day over the Monaco's tacky trashiness (see, e.g., the icky faux fur throw at the foot of the bed, the sleazy animal-print lingerie for sale in the closets, etc.)
  • At the Ritz, I'm not afraid that I'll contract some terrible disease if I let any bit of my skin come into contact with the carpets. I'm not saying that I have any facts to base this opinion on -- I'm just saying this is how I feel.
  • At least the Ritz gives you chocolates, even if you have to accept an unnecessary turndown service to get them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

inconsequential details

As many of you may know, I recently got back from a month-long vacation in India. That's a long vacation, especially in such an overwhelming country as India. And yet, when people ask to hear my stories about India, I never really have any. After all, saying, "I rode an elephant" isn't particularly exciting, even though it was a very fun experience.

I've been thinking about this a fair amount recently, since I finally caved in to popular demand and invited several friends to come over on Sunday for dinner and a vacation report. Thinking about which pictures to show and what to say about them has make me reflect on the vacation reports I used to endure as a child. It's not that I minded hearing about other countries or seeing pictures of other places. In fact, I quite enjoyed my dad's pictures and stories of Italy.

It was my grandparents' (bless their hearts) vacation reports that were so painful. Their pictures were fine, but you'd have to sit looking at the same picture for five minutes while they argued about inconsequential details that no one except them cared about.

"So, this is a picture of a large tree we saw in SomeRandomVillage."

"No, dear. I believe you're mistaken. That's actually a tree we saw in SomeOtherPlace."

"No, that's not correct. SomeOtherPlace is where we visited that nice church, and we didn't see the tree there. We saw the tree at SomeRandomVillage, where we also were shown that one well."

"No, dear. The well was at YetAnotherPlace, the church was at SomeRandomVillage, and the tree was at SomeOtherPlace."

"I'm sure you're mistaken. YetAnotherPlace is where we met that one guy who told us that one story. The church was definitely at SomeOtherPlace. We visited there on August 15, and that's when we saw the church."

"No, dear. We were in YetAnotherPlace on August 15. We visited SomeOtherPlace on the 14th. You should remember that. It was right after we celebrated the village festival at SomeRandomVillage on the 13th."

By this point, I would no longer be paying attention. I'd be vowing yet again that I would never get argue about inconsequential details, at least in front of other people who didn't care about them.

I made this promise to myself several times in my childhood, and I feel I've done a fairly good job of keeping it. (My family can feel free to disagree with this statement, if they want.)

The trick, of course, is deciding which details are really inconsequential. For instance, sometimes I decide that my name isn't all that important, so I won't bother correcting the people who call me Christie or Sarah instead of Cindy. But this has sometimes resulted in confusion when these people have turned around and introduced me as Christie to people who already know my real name.

Or, there was always the time that some girl called my apartment and said something that made me think she was one of my roommates' friends. As our conversation continued, I began to have my doubts, but I didn't realize for sure that she wasn't who I thought she was (and I wasn't who she thought I was) until a few minutes into the conversation. She had apparently dialed the wrong number, although her imbecilic identification of herself only as "me" at the beginning of her conversation had not given me enough information to figure this out from the onset. It seemed, though, that it would probably be easier to just go along with it than to correct her misapprehension at this advanced stage in our conversation. So, I just gave what seemed like reasonable but short responses to everything she said, hoping that she'd hang up the phone soon and I could get back to my studying.

It soon became clear, however, that the minor detail of misidentification might not be so inconsequential after all. She began asking about some planned "grocery store scheme" that she herself described as "sketchy," and she wanted to know whether I was having second thoughts about doing it. I was beginning to feel rather more uncomfortable with my inadvertent deception, but it seemed that telling her she had the wrong number at this point might introduce more problems than it would solve. Not wanting to condone any sketchy behavior, I simply told her that I'd decided that we'd better not do it -- I thought it would be best to avoid anything bordering on sketchiness. (Perhaps a rather ironic statement considering my situation at the moment.) Fortunately, the conversation ended soon after this, although the awkward feeling lingered a little longer.

So, perhaps the goal to avoid correcting people's errors can be taken to an extreme. And sometimes those details really do turn out to be important.

I've also realized that details can turn a dreary story into an interesting one. I think I finally told the elephant story right on Monday. Not that there is much of a story to it, but almost anything is an improvement over "I rode an elephant and it was fun."

On Monday, I realized that my audience was interested, so I described the scene for them -- the lush jungle, the quiet elephants, the mahouts in their brightly colored shirts and dhotis walking alongside and taking pictures with tourists' cameras in exchange for modest tips, and, in particular, our mahout,who walked along beside us reading his newspaper and drinking his cup of tea, while occasionally yelling out commands or singing softly to the elephant.

Rather than being inconsequential, those details really convey the essence of the story. But if my sisters want to correct me about any of the details, I won't disagree (even if I think they're wrong).