The world I left when I retired is that of the law firm and the practice of law. In litigation, the kind of law I practiced, it was a world of massive war, campaigns, battles, skirmishes, and preparation for all of the above. It was a war of dueling, lawyer against lawyer in the courtroom, slashing, head-butting, eluding, persuading, keeping alert at all times, and intuiting the best time for each maneuver. Object too soon, and the point may be dulled or disappear. Object too late, and the damage to one’s side becomes irreparable. Ask one question too few, and the point is not driven home. Ask one question too many, and hear the worst possible answer. It was all about leading the team, learning how to marshal troops, and having everyone in the ranks marching to the same beat and with the highest morale. It’s a career requiring calmness in the midst of turmoil. You trial lawyers out there know exactly what I mean.
The world I’m approaching is that of the graduate program in creative writing at American University, a world I know so far only through its website and my imagination. I am still nine days away from starting this new life. But – because of the writing conferences I’ve attended and the workshops in which I’ve participated – I can anticipate much of what’s coming: reading until my eyes pop out of head; thinking about literature in a way I haven’t thought about it since college, if ever; writing and more writing to try to improve my ability; and taking criticism of the highest level I will ever receive. To have ended my first career in search of the benefits of this second life was no haphazard decision. I will likely not know until the passage of three academic years if my full expectations have been satisfied. But I can see many parallels: preparation, adjustment, persuasion, story-telling.
Between these worlds – the first ending months ago for all practical purposes and the second still ahead – lies limbo. Or maybe a better analogy is Janus, in Roman mythology the god of beginnings and transition. He has one head that faces the past and one head that faces the future. I have just one head, period, so must twist my neck 180 degrees to achieve the same effect.