Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

Created universes

I love writing appeal briefs. Appeals feature a defined universe of facts. The evidence before the trial court is admitted or excluded. The finder of fact has spoken on the facts in a way which is to some extent binding. One writes a story about a world that is well-known and fully understood.

On appeal, the universe is created, and emanates into one's very way of thinking.
One has a record of hundreds or thousands of pages. That is reality as far as reality can be known. In most instances, the ability to ask for an alternative reality is limited indeed--usually to situations in which reality makes absolutely and positively no sense whatsoever.

That old-time justice Holmes said something gizmo like the way to understand law is not through logic but history. His reference was to "pure law", but it's also got a pull in an appeal. On appeal, one begins with the consciousness of what has been introduced at trial.

I have a biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, on my living room coffee table. The photo on the cover features Ms. Eddy as a widow in her late 20s, before she got absorbed into the fabric of destiny and began founding churches and healing the sick and dead. The woman in the photo is actually through the years rather appealing, if, like me, you find yourself drawn to intense, "stare into the camera", direct people who look what my mother calls "right thought-y". Although she was not reputed one way or the other as to whether she proved to be a particularly fun date, it's no surprise when one reads of her ideas and approach to life why she absorbed the interest of so many people.





One feature of her particular universe was her belief that thoughts can shape not only positive progress, but also that "malicious animal magnetism" enables one to introduce negative energy into the lives of others. I do not truly subscribe to this theory, although like every male who played junior high football, I know there is at least a kernel of truth to the idea that a malicious guide can instill in one the worst fortune.

I notice that when very young people come to my house, they always stray into my "art room" and find the dollar store play-dough I never put to any worthwhile use. I find their handiwork after the children in question leave, in the form of a sculpture which usually looks like a baseball stacked on top of a tea plate.
The colors are always blended into something that is no longer any one color, but just a mishmash. It's "non-malicious malleable magnetism".

We all travel on the Mars to Europa shuttle between the universe as we see it--a universe alterable by the force of our own mental energy--and the universe as it is, what we call in law "the record on appeal".

On Europa, the "record on appeal" is frozen solid between subsurface ice, and
nobody is quite sure if there is life down there. When I become frustrated with life as it is, I am apt to say things like "why are people so mean?".

On Mars, the volcanos and giant green multi-armed tharks riding thoats give the whole place a very dynamic air. The atmosphere is a bit rarified, and sometimes for want of imagination it seems as though it's almost a dying planet. But I find myself thinking to myself that if I just turn the key in my self-created prison planet, I can do wonders. I may even match the planet I see with the "record on appeal".

When I write an appeal brief, I can summarize the facts from a distinct and defined set of facts. There is no doubt which facts are in issue. It's not like, say, social interaction, in which one is never sure which part is the testimony, and which part is the closing statement. Sometimes I come to believe that the verdict is reached before the first question is even asked of the jury in jury selection.

An appeal is different. There are rules, and rules within rules. It's just a question of which set of rules more convincingly yet imperfectly answers the questions at hand. One writes a long essay about how one's position is supported by one set of precedents from the past, while one's opponent writes an opposing brief about how the position is addressed by a different set of precedents from the past. In rare but not uncommon cases, the precedents are the same--but what do they mean in this instance?

I read this morning of the early Christian Science follower who, prior to her somewhat overdue forced departure from the movement's practitioners, advised those around her that a conception derived of an extra-marital liaison was in fact immaculate. Although I have some sympathy that this was an indirect blow for the cause of ending outmoded "bastardy" laws, and that, indeed, every picture must tell a story (don't it?), I believe her goal was actually rather more temporal and less noble than that. The poor soul sued Ms. Eddy for libel later, but had her case collapse in open court on a technicality--the technicality being that every bad thing said about her was entirely true.

I'm always intrigued by those who alter the fabric of the universe for the sake of personal advantage. Today's morning paper featured a local young man who finished his senior year of high school as saluatarian of his high school class, but now, in his 21st year, is instead finishing the first part of a stint in a Leeds jail, as one of apparently a series of incarcerations he may undergo after a rather elaborate career in "internet information". I read this week about the AOL employee who determined to steal the personal information of millions of people to ensure that those folks got their fair share of "Hi, I'm Jenny" and "I wish to consult you about my purloined Nigerian millions" e mails. I cannot imagine why someone would bother to become a felon over a matter of a year or two's experience of huge sums of money.

I've written before, I'm sure, about how so often frauds are the nicest people. They can have incredible personal magnetism. I encounter them sometimes in a work setting, and they are curiously charming folks in many cases. Oddly, when they are not charming, they tend to be somewhat forceful and hectoring. What one can accomplish with honey, another can do with a flyswatter. But they all share that ability to create a universe in which lies are truth, at least for a moment.

I think it's important, by the way, not to mistake one's own insufficiencies for genuine fraud. I do not condone hypocrisy, and some people do commit petty wrongs.
But a world in which one posits that "everyone is a fraud" actually leaves one less protected from real frauds, and not more. A real fraud can exploit "everyone's a fraud" as well as any other attitude. Of course, I do like the phrase "NTA", by which I mean Never Trust Anyone. But I don't mean it literally.

I was thinking with dismay today about my own flaws, which, fortunately, do not run into the fraud line. I thought, though, how much power I have to choose the things I say and do, and yet do not exercise that power, as they say, "for good".

If I took my life as an appellate record, and wrote a brief to defend it, I'd like to think that I would not merely become an Albert Brooks movie. But instead of "defending my life", I'd rather learn from what I have done so far how to write a "better record". I sometimes in my childhood heard this dilemma expressed as "faith versus works", because I grew up in a culture which had read a great deal of St. Paul's letter to the Romans and the letter called the epistle of James.
But I'm not sure I want to express my dilemma quite that way. The terms both seem so stark.

Today after we went to see the masterful new Harry Potter movie, my wife I stopped by the little Thai Pan place near our house. A group of twentysomething kids were sitting at a corner table, lamenting Michael Moore's new anti-Bush film. I do not often listen into conversations, but I must admit that that part in which someone assured the table that only Fox News could be trusted amused me. But the thing that struck me was how the debate was the mirror image of other debates I heard and read, in reverse, when the movie "The Passion of the Christ" came out a few months ago.

I must admit that I have not seen either film. I am not sure when I will see either film, although when I do, I somehow believe I will in the same day see both films.
I wonder if I'll bother, though. I know the gospel story well enough to be willing to be spared a cinematic bloodbath to see it, while I know already I am voting Democratic, and do not need a political polemic to tell me so. I have nothing against either film, but I don't need my gospel story given the Braveheart treatment, and I don't need Mr. Moore's journalistic whimsy to tell me we have a problem when one of our "allies" treats women as fourteenth rate citizens. We live in a polarized time, although I almost wrote the phrase "polaroid" time, which sounds good, too.

I'd like to self-create a world in which things were not so polarized. I think we are at a crossroads, and the next way forward will be a different way than either camp. But that's just my belief. I'm going to spectate more than anything else.

My friend asphalteden said astutely in response to a recent post that one problem today is that people don't realize how "minor" their lives truly prove to be. I'm not saying that people can't make a difference, because I believe individual people truly can make a difference. But I do think that it's so easy to see oneself as the principal player in an elaborate Tokyo kabuki, when one is in fact merely one of thousands of shadow puppets displayed on market racks all over Java. It's okay to be a bit player in a traveling dusty road tent drama, and not the prima donna doing an opera in Vienna.

I think that self-acceptance comes in part from accepting that it's okay to have a little life, and to carve out from it what meaning is before one. So many times, people have themselves on trial, because they have not done great things. I find, curiously, that some people who have done some really cool things derive no real satisfaction from them, as if the trial does not end even when the favorable verdict is received. I'm all in favor of striving and effort and hard work and suffering for a goal. I'm all for sacrificing for people you love, and approaching one's life with a new resolve to be just a bit more generous and a bit less self-destructive. I find those things empowering and ennobling.

But really, that old saw fits--the past is only prologue. It's a set of cards that the universe and oneself have conspired together to deal. So many times one just needs to leave that prologue unread, and just breathe.

That fellow Harry Potter waves a wand, and things get created or expelled or frozen or altered. I can't do any of those things, though I know a few people who believe they can. Rather, external change is more incremental--I believe, for instance, that the internet in general and weblogs in particular are manifestations of sci fi novels written in the 1950s--the Word become flesh and dwelling among persons.

But internal change? That's what I'm working on. I thought about a goal I have yesterday, and then recognized that it is a really cool goal, but somehow I have set up inner preconditions that I should not have to make any effort to achieve it.
I want to change that kind of thinking.

I want, most of all, to apply my thoughts less to my frustrations with my universe, and more to changing myself to deal with my universe. I am not quite a creator, and I have very little of any kind of magnetism. But I'm trying the case now, and I want to keep building a record for appeal. It's not a "roll is called up yonder" Court of Appeal I fear, but the part of my mind that I call a "heart". I want that heart to feel alive and unsullied, dangerous and free. I want it to be true and strong and a lot of other positive words that sound goopy to write.

But when you try a case, you introduce one exhibit at a time. When you write an appeal brief, you construct it carefully, to fit the universe of the appellate record and the things the precedents actually show.

Sometimes I want to move from theoretical physics into the laboratory of hands-on science. Sometimes I want to cast my thoughts at myself, as if they were spells to make me kinder and wiser. Sometimes I want the candle to flash against the fabric, and see my shadow-play played just so.

But you write an appeal brief one paragraph at a time. I'm working on another page each day.
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