Auri felt small. Not the smallness that she strove for every day. Not the smallness of a tree among trees. Of a shadow underground. And not just small of body either…
She felt… less. She felt tamped down. Dim. More faint. Feint. Feigned. Fain.
– Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things
‘Fain’ is one of those interesting contronyms which has two completely opposite meanings. Like ‘cleave’, which can mean to separate or can also mean to join. Or ‘sanction’, which can mean to officially approve or to impose a punishment. ‘Fain’ means to be willing and pleased under the circumstances; it can also mean to be compelled by the circumstances.
I am fain to work, fain to be a lawyer, fain to be a commercial litigator.
A couple of weeks ago, I thought to myself that I could see myself staying in this firm, and growing with the firm. The MD has a crazy-scary-shit temper and throws files at people, but he was a good person at heart. And the firm had this familial culture; the MD’s youngest son’s favourite person in the firm was also the most senior associate of the firm.
The next day, I discovered that that associate was tendering his resignation. About a week later, a secretary who buys random food and drinks for everyone and refuses to tell us that she used her own money and/or how much it cost also told the MD she wanted to leave. She later told me she felt like a coward because she was not able to tell the MD she had wanted to quit because of him. I replied her that kindness is not cowardice.
Their (impending) departures shattered my illusions, or at least forced me to re-evaluate my ideals.
In my first ever post about work, I told God that I would not cease before I excelled. For the first time, Boss properly praised me for a piece of work I did two weeks ago. He told me my Letter of Demand (which I had written under the extremely pressuring circumstance of being alone with Boss’ important client) was “good”, and that I was ready to move on to the next stage of drafting pleadings. Just last Thursday, Boss thanked N and I and told us we were doing an excellent job.
The next day, I messed up so badly that I choked up.
When I went back to work the following Labour Day, I choked up again. I was frustrated with my inability to clear my to-do list even after working weekends. I disdained capitulating simply because I was struggling. I did not want to disappoint my boss and (certain) clients. I dismayed at my limits despite my desperate reliance on God. I desired more fulfilling work. I refused to let work overwhelm the other aspects of my life. I maintained that I would not make decisions in desolation.
And I was so torn between all these things.
A few nights ago, ON told me about the trade offs he was considering making in deciding what firm to apply to, and his fears of making a bad decision. I felt guilty. In another life, I would have been him, and he would have been me. He would be the well-to-do one, and I would be the one having to be concerned about money. I would be the sportsman and the extrovert, and he would be the bookworm and the introvert. We have such similar interests and lead such parallel lives.
At that moment, I wanted to do something for him. I wanted to write a letter to him, as a kindred soul who could never fully understand what he is going through, to dream on and to hold on to the things that were truly important to both of us. Barely had the thought passed when I realised that I would forget and/or forgo all my grand romantic ideas the instant I reached office the next morning and began my routine of writing angrier, longer, and emptier letters.
These are the fleeting moments in between the stress and the rush, when I ask myself if this is all there is to my law degree. I do not chafe at these moments; I treasure them, even if they remain weakly forever as mere velleities. They are pearls in a churning ocean of documents and demands, the tears of a disordered life, the refined scum from the conflicts and commerces of others. And perhaps, if I collect enough of them, their beauty will move me to action one day.
And then there are also the rare moments that I take a step back and relish this life on edge. The day before I messed up, as the clock ticked to 6PM, I sent 4 letters in quick succession to the same law firm, in real time epistolary negotiation. I do not know if this is masochism or grace. I know that I thought that it was thrilling.
I have spiralled back down to my angsty state (if not angstier) when I first began work. But on another axis, I have also spiralled forward in my maturity and understanding of work. I do not know how Monday will go when I tell Boss about my mistake, and how next week will pass when I have 5 affidavits to draft. Nor do I know where the road will lead (or end) as I continue to trudge (and occasionally, may it be more often than not, to skip) along.