What Powerful Writing; I Just Read “Ulysses” by James Joyce

I enjoy my lawyer world in which words are extremely versatile, powerful, and often play out on the tipping scale of success or failure (both in litigation and non-litigation).

Compare, as a simple example, the two sentences: “The respondent’s assertions frustrate the permissive mandate of Code Section 2056″ versus “The respondent’s assertions obstruct the permissive mandate of Code Section 2056.”  I am not suggesting one sentence singled out alone necessarily makes a difference;  but the greater weight of an abundance of words used effectively in persuasive writing can, in my view, greatly help move the reader both intellectually and emotionally in your desired direction. Stop for a moment and ponder your own reaction to the above “frustrate” versus “obstruct” distinction, and how the words shade the nuance and impact of the sentence.

I also enjoy reading for pleasure and often react with virtual awe in response to certain writers’ use of words and language.  My recent reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses has stunned me with its powerful effect.  I don’t think “stunned” is an overstatement. I have had Ulysses on my tentative reading list for years;  but kept putting it off. I was aware from hearing and reading comments from others that Ulysses would not be an easy task to complete.  It was not easy.

For this brief blog post, I attempt below to state why I reacted so favorably to Ulysses. But, and this next point sounds like new-age mumble-jumble, my attempt below to express these reasons falls way short of my overall joy and reaction to Ulysses. Also, I fully admit I am no scholar or expert on Ulysses or James Joyce. I am merely a reader. One other preface point I make here is that the entire Ulysses novel takes place only within one day:  June 16, 1904, in Dublin.

Here are my eight brief points:

One. This also sounds new-age; but as I was reading Ulysses, and now after finishing it, I find myself in a kind of foggy, joyful awe. I tell my friends that Ulysses is a miraculous work. It has powerfully affected me in a way that I believe is a permanent, positive change.

Two.  This positive change is that Joyce, by depicting in Ulysses only one day in the life of his characters — June 16, 1904 — describes that life in a way that makes me now more aware of appreciating, and continuing to ponder, the vast richness that our daily lives make available to us. Each day is a tremendous event in life that, if we are attuned to life, has a depth and richness we tend to forget when we persistently ponder yesterday and tomorrow.

My above comment also is not along the line that we should be grateful for each day.  There is nothing necessarily wrong about the platitude of being grateful, but that is not my point. Rather, each day has its own richness and fullness that can contribute to our joyful experience of life, regardless of whether the day might appear quite mundane on its surface.

Three.  The way in which Joyce displays this one June 16th day is the miracle. To preface my point here, think for a moment about what happens when you attend a dinner party.

Sure, there are various objective visual and auditory activities going on around you. The plates and forks are clinking with a steady drone. The new Lady Gaga / Bradley Cooper music is loud. The speakers don’t have as much bass as you like. You hear the kids’ TV in the other room. Susan is drinking from her new wine glasses; John is ranting about some recent political event; Mary looks older and tired as though she possibly had a long sleepless night with her new baby, etc. The sauce has a too-strong butter odor. The napkins are too thick and too rough. The lighting is very pleasant.

But, in addition to these objective / auditory activities, we persistently have a lot of other stuff going on at the same time, such as our own internal dialogue; our self-talk; mental perceptions, unspoken criticisms, judgments and thoughts about what we are seeing and hearing; our interspersed dream-like visual imagery and sounds about the past and the future; our fantasy-day dreams connected at times to what we are seeing within our surroundings (that can veer off in any number of directions, with sudden starts, stops, changes in direction, etc.).

What Joyce does in Ulysses is capture all of the above in the one-day June 16 context of his characters. I am almost certain I will again be able to read other fiction; but, as of now, Joyce presented this Ulysses novel in what I believe is the fullest, most accurate and realistic depiction of our external and internal, meandering lives.  Other fiction I will later read, I anticipate, might seem too one dimensional.  I feel as though Joyce spoiled me for other novels.

Four.  I admit I almost quit reading Ulysses at about the half-way mark. But, many readers who had already made the journey (that I found on Google book sites) recommended readers stick with the book to its end. It will be worth it, they all said.  I almost quit because briefly I felt (prematurely) like the novel was not headed in a direction that struck me;  no story;  no plot.  I could not keep up with all the details.  But, then, almost by an imperceptible degree, I began having a great feeling in general about life and about the characters in Ulysses.  Simple, daily life.  I told my wife that this feeling hit me about half-way through the book, and has stayed with me ever since.

Five.  Go back to the dinner party example above. There is a lot of stuff going on externally and internally. There is no way you can fully take all of it in. You will listen and observe only some of the external and internal stimuli. At most any dinner party you will not pay close attention to some of the activity. It is impossible to take it all in. You and the other dinner party guests will tune into some subjects and comments; you also effectively will simply let other items go by with a bare hearing or perception of the content.

Because Ulysses includes a similar vast litany of external and internal stimuli during the course of one single day, don’t expect that you will take in or be perceptive to each and every detail you read.  Rather, take it in as you would at the above dinner party.  Some items will stand out during your reading; some will not.  This is how life runs its course; in this case life on June 16, 1904. Straining to retain and digest every facet of Ulysses will ruin the reading experience. You do not need to retain and digest every facet of the day in Ulysses.

Six.  Joyce is a master with words. His writing and crafting of Ulysses strikes me as pure genius. If I had to recommend to someone a portion of Ulysses merely as one small sample of Joyce’s fine writing, it might be the start of the beach scene in Chapter 13. The intro section stopped me in my tracks. The writing is so good that I had to return and reread the opening section of Chapter 13 twice before I could move on to the end of the chapter. Click here for a Google link to Chapter 13.

Seven.  At the halfway point of reading the hard copy of Ulysses, I purchased the audible.com audio version. I continued to read some hard-copy portions, but also used this great audio version. The audio narration is superlative. Click here for this audible.com version of Ulysses. I also googled Cliff Notes for a couple of the chapters that gave me a good background understanding of those particularly difficult chapters. Three or so of the chapters I reread twice before moving on due to the powerful, weighty effect those chapters had on me.

Eight.  Reading Ulysses is worth it. I am more than delighted I completed this laborious reading journey.  My life (again, this sounds new-age-like) has been permanently changed for the better, and I have a much greater appreciation for the miraculous nuance of each single day.

2018 Father’s Day; WWII; 1942; Courage

I assume it is universal that every son who is now a father contemplates what he both learned and did not learn from his own father, and what he (the son) will pass on to his children. This post is for my two daughters (I have no son).

My late father, while in 1942 a law partner with the then-Atlanta law firm Sutherland, Tuttle & Brennan, was drafted to serve in WWII. Shortly after his induction into Ft. Bragg (N.C.) boot camp, my father received the officer’s commission he had sought prior to his induction; but, he decidedly and purposely turned down the commission.

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The image above is the 1942 letter from my father’s then-law partner Bill Sutherland to the Army Signal Corps passing along my father’s non-acceptance of the commission   

My father later told me and my brothers that while at Ft. Bragg he concluded it was inequitable that he could avoid the hardship of WWII simply because he was a lawyer and entitled to the safehaven of a stateside lawyer-officer position.

He remained in the U.S. Army 78th infantry division and rose among the non-commissioned ranks to a captain in his field artillery battalion. His 78th infantry division was among the first allied divisions to cross east into Germany over the Rhine River. He received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. My father in 1946 returned to Atlanta and practiced law for the remainder of his career.

My father rarely spoke of his war days; however, relevant to my post today, he did mention a 1945 Germany battlefield incident in which the commanding officer began to “run scared” and who informed his group of soldiers (including my father who was a Lieutenant at the time) that they needed to surrender. My father had the officer restrained and commanded the soldiers to a successful standoff. No surrender.

In a journal he maintained for several years after his return from WWII, my father in 1950 wrote:

“Aggressiveness! Somehow I feel that the great problem [in life] centers around aggressiveness. To start with we were animals and had to fight for survival. And we may still have to fight – – that is I don’t mind so much as if it is a fight for life or death. But not this petty pushing, this daily gnawing uneasiness lest someone pass us on the road [etc.]  .   .   . In the Army I should have known better than ever to push or fret about little things like a wait in line for chow, but I should have been ready – – as I was – – to take [I delete this name purposely for this blog post] place with the infantry when the chips were down.   .   .   .”

 

I use the above example for this Father’s Day post as an illustration of what, I conclude, was the most important characteristic my father sought to pass along to me and my brothers. That is, courage. And, not just simple courage such as if scared in the dark, etc.

But more specifically, the courage to accept where the chips ultimately fall, as to work, family, money, health, what others may think about you, etc. This also is not merely stoic, passive courage.

Rather, it means responding as honestly, directly, aggressively, and as fully as may be warranted in a situation. But, without fretting or over-worrying about the resulting outcome. Accept with courage that the chips will fall where they fall, with each of us possessing the strength and capacity to handle and deal with whatever that outcome produces. Good or bad.

Happy Father’s Day to each of you.

“It’s Tough to Be Better.” Here is a Great Podcast.

I am a big fan of podcasts. They offer the best of new, cutting edge ideas that I might otherwise not stumble across. Among my favorites: The TED Radio Hour.  Click here. The Tim Ferris Show. Click here. RadioLab. Click here.

This past weekend I listened to a Tim Ferris Show podcast with 62-year old trainer / weightlifter Jerzy Gregorek.  Without boring you in this blog post with details of my own observations, I will say Jerzy’s commentary was compelling. I plan to listen again to the entire podcast.  I am also motivated (somewhat officiously?) to suggest that every person I know listen to this podcast.

Jerzy’s comments go well beyond weightlifting. He more broadly touches on the universal notion of what it takes to get better at something, whether weightlifting, exercise, diet, work, or music, and so forth. Jerzy uses the phrase:  Easy Choices-Hard Life;  and Hard Choices-Easy Life.  He also uses the phrase I added to the title of this blog: “It’s tough to be better.”

Here is the link to this podcast:  Click here. It is:  “The Lion of Olympic Weightlifting, 62-Year-Old Jerzy Gregorek (Also Featuring: Naval Ravikant)”.

We all have a tendency in areas of life to get no further than imagining our goals or improvement. In essence, we simply daydream away our present opportunity and never face taking actual steps forward toward goals we truly desire.

Spend some time with this podcast.  I hope you find it also compelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Wedding Anniversary Blog Post for my Wife Today 10-11-16 (it is not easy being married to a lawyer).

We were looking at old family videos last night.  Below is a screenshot.  I am very fortunate to have my wonderful wife Andrea. It is not easy for her (or anyone) being married to a lawyer, a notion I try and keep in mind as much as possible with my family and friends. That is all I say in this post, so as not to take away from this blog-post anniversary wish for my wife Andrea.   All my love from James.

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Time is Not Money (BTW, I am reading Middlemarch by George Eliot)

The above title is both hopefully to bait the reader with interest in this blog post, and is a fundamental theme underpinning my view of clients and lawyering. That is, the value a client can obtain from getting good legal advice for preventive protection from otherwise losing valuable time. Time wasted dealing with legal issues, litigation, and the broad array of problems that in large part can be prevented. One can accumulate more money and stuff. But, universally, no one can get back lost time. Time is our only finite asset.

Now, why Middlemarch?

This novel powerfully reminds me to be aware of the passing time of life.  In a good way. Attentive to the interesting and worthwhile nuance of daily life. Not burdened with problems requiring costly legal help and wasted time.

Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life by English writer George Eliot.  She wrote this in 1870 or thereabouts.  Frankly, I expected this novel to be a dull Victorian era read, with my interest lasting possibly only a chapter or so.

To my pleasant surprise, I cannot wait each evening to get back to this novel. I am captivated by Eliot’s powerfully understated and astute commentary about the nuance of everyday life.

My next comment about Middlemarch touches on primary character Dorethea Brooke who has agreed to marry the much older Rev. Edward Casaubon.  Casaubon is a long-time, studious bachelor.

As merely one brief, fine example of George Eliot’s astute observations, Casaubon’s anticipation of marriage to Dorethea far outweighs his diminished actual response.  He can, however, vaguely only admit this to himself.

Here are a couple of Eliot’s observations about this situation that, to me, demonstrate her wonderful ability to convey these subtle nuances:

“He (Casaubon) did not confess to himself, still less could he have breathed to another, his surprise that though he had won a lovely and noble-hearted girl he had not won delight, — which he had also regarded as an object to be found by search.”

“Poor Mr. Casaubon had imagined that his long studious bachelorhood had stored up for him a compound interest of enjoyment, and that large drafts of his affections would not fail to be honored. Fully all of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act faithfully on the strength of them.”

Also, here is how I stumbled recently across reading this novel.   A woman Rosa Lyster recently wrote a web piece on Medium about her father rediscovering fiction when he read Middlemarch. He was an avid non-fiction-only reader.   She writes, in part:

I was visiting my parents for the weekend when he (her father) was about halfway through (Middlemarch), and he walked around the house like a man in a trance. His eyes were all misty, and he kept raising his hands to his head.”

I don’t take Ms. Lyster’s comment as an overstatement.  Check out her web piece.   It is worth the time.  Click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Underhand Free-Throws (basketball): Your Threshold?

In short, the key point of this blog post is about the “threshold” of your own lawyer.  Is he or she too overly concerned about what others think? Is your lawyer too much a people-pleaser?  Simply a salesman?  Or, on the other hand, is your lawyer so blind to others that he is a sloppy, shoot-from-the-hip gunslinger?

My related basketball discussion below helps illustrate the point that we generally each have our own threshold level. Make sure you think about this when you choose a lawyer.

Now, more about this threshold.  I listen frequently to podcasts. They provide an enjoyable, easy, brief glimpse at some of the most cutting edge and progressive thinkers. These podcasts help expand my understanding of where our world is, and where it is heading. I find this extremely exciting, for lack of a better word. And, informative in ways that I try to adapt to my personal and lawyering life.

Now, what about basketball?  A recent This American Life podcast, called “Choosing Wrong”, includes a striking discussion about the underhand free-throw in basketball. It includes a great interview with former NBA star Rick Barry, who holds the best free-throw percentage in NBA history. He used an underhand free-throw style. Click here for the podcast.

But, the broader point of this podcast goes beyond basketball. The podcast addresses the notion of each person’s own threshold. That is, in general terms, how many other people does it take for a person to cave-in and follow the crowd, contrary to their own personal preference?

In other words, how confident and independent is a person and what is that person’s threshold for sticking to his or her own ideas, choices, preferences, etc.?

This podcast, better than any other method I have heard, poignantly lays this question fundamentally before the listener.

 

 

 

Young, New Lawyers: Get Rid of “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am”

Every summer I make my personal suggestion to our younger, summer law student associates that they stop using “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am”, etc.   In most cases their response is that it is a learned habit showing respect.   This is not a surprise.  And, BTW, this blog post is solely my own personal view.  I speak for no one else.

But, my long-held personal perspective is that “Yes Sir / Ma’am” is appropriate only in situations where one’s role is purposely ranked and subordinate as part of the job.   And, the only situation I think that fits this role is the military.   I have no opposition to “Yes Sir / Ma’am” in that case.

But, I oppose its use in virtually all other cases.   I do not see other relationships as a purposeful subordination, such as, merely for examples, adult-child, teacher-student, lawyer-assistant, boss-employee, office worker-janitorial staff, dinner customer-server, and so forth.

Here is a thought.  And, some readers will likely disagree.  The idea that “respect” is the basis for “Yes Sir / Yes Ma’am” is a red-herring. Only those already in a dominant position of power (or at least they think so of themselves) get hung-up on others showing respect.   By contrast, my view is that respect means equality.  And, under that notion I owe no one a “Yes Sir” and they owe me no “Yes Sir”.  We are equals.

Finally, I end this blog with a legal point readers might find interesting.  The State of Louisiana has a state law that mandates its schools require the use by students of “Yes Sir / Yes Ma’am” when any public school student is speaking with any public school system employee while on school property or at a school-sponsored event.  Click here for the law.