I moved. This two word sentence does not begin to describe what actually happened, which included engaging a real estate agent, buying a house, brush-hogging the associated five acres of property, refurbishing the barn, moving all of my worldly goods into the house, retaining an attorney, attending the closing (I should probably not mention that the attorney for the seller, who has worked with another attorney whom I have known since the mid-’70s, thought I was a therapist, not a lawyer), taking my horses and their voluminous accoutrements from their former lodgings to my new barn, holding a tag sale, putting the old house on the market, acquiring a willing buyer, negotiating, capitulating, repairing some ancient electrical wiring, procuring a dumpster, filling the dumpster, assailing portions of the house and some horrifying furniture with a sledgehammer, going to the dump, and finally attending a second closing.
This all took place in October and November, months which are reminiscent to me as a lawyer assailed by post-traumatic anniversary phenomenon. In this case, the events in question were receiving the results of the bar exam and starting to practice law.
Back then (fossilized copies of the edition of the Blue Book that I used have been found under a landfill in Minnesota) any event was cause for alarm. In the beginning, I was so afraid to make a misstep that I remained in a perpetual state of spiking anxiety interspersed with troughs of bewilderment and despair. Unfamiliar pleadings, threatened defaults, court appearances, researching new points of law, meetings with clients, and worst of all, the prospect of trial, sent my cortisol level into the stratosphere.
My mother, who was given to making peculiar pronouncements, had a few sayings which she repeated ad infinitum during my formative years. One of them was, “Americans always overcook lamb,” but I digress. The pertinent thing she used to say was this: “When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.” Perhaps this is where I learned to respond to perceived crises as I did. For years, I ran around with my hair on fire until, one day … I stopped. Suddenly, work had, in fact, become business as usual. I realized belatedly that I knew what I was doing. That feeling of relaxation may have been connected to consumption of some particularly effective chocolate. Regardless, I can reliably testify that I had learned not to panic.
Recently, I had to apply this lesson to another context.
My first act as a new homeowner was to light myself on fire. New to using a gas stove, I was making coffee. Without turning down the flame, when the espresso pot was due to be turned over, I used a dish towel in place of a potholder. I still have not found where I packed the potholders, but, oh well. The dishtowel promptly caught fire. Unperturbed, I dumped the flaming mess into the sink, ran some water, and extinguished the gas. I resumed unpacking. My kitchen still smells charred.
The second week of my horse husbandry extravaganza, while two house guests from New Jersey were staying at my hastily assembled home, one of them came down the stairs, and asked sleepily whose horses were on the front lawn. They were mine. They had, for no known reason, charged the electric fence, and taken it down. The tape was strewn across the paddock. The plastic fence posts were in smithereens. On the lawn: the culprits. The lead ropes were a hundred yards away. The road was only a little further. The horses, who were then grazing placidly can run a lot faster than I can, especially when they are fueled by grass pasture.
Luckily, I remembered: Don’t panic.
I retrieved them without difficulty. Zack looked guilty. Timmy looked disappointed.
They were placed on house arrest until I could fix the fence. Neither will admit who started it. As the parade marshal in “Animal House” shouted madly while tripping on thousands of marbles, I leave you with this: “All is well! Remain calm.” •