Today, I had a moment. It was not so much an “Aha!” moment as it was an “Oh…that sucks” moment. But the real moment – THE moment – was when I told myself that I can and will do something about it.
Today I took a call from a person who received a letter from me. Me, the lawyer doing my job representing someone. It took me a matter of seconds to realize that the perspective of the gentleman on the other end of the line was that he received a letter from Me, The Bad Guy.
This gentleman – who I think is more aptly referred to as a kid (since I’m twice his age) – sounded about twenty years old, maybe a couple of years older. His voice was shaking. He stammered through his first two sentences, broken and painful, just trying to identify himself to me. The poor kid was such a nervous wreck he could barely get through the introductions.
Doing what I do best when I have my lawyer hat on, I recognized what was happening on the other end of the phone and tried to diffuse the unnecessary anguish this kid was experiencing. I calmly stopped him and told him that before he continued, I should give him some background for the letter I sent him. I could almost hear his sphincter shrivel up to the size of a poppy seed as he waited for me to continue, probably imagining that I had a SWAT team outside his door ready to cuff him and take him into “headquarters” for questioning.
I explained to him that my client – a much older gentleman (an art collector) who had done business with the kid’s mother (a gallery owner) – intended only to find out the location of some valuable paintings he owned. My letter was sent from a place of curiosity, not accusation. Art Collector was not angry or seeking retribution. You see, Gallery Owner Mom had passed away a few months ago, and some of Art Collector’s paintings were missing. He simply wanted them back. Art Collector lives very far away and asked me to do some investigative work to locate and contact the kid and his brother to find the paintings, which I did. Hence, the letter.
Unfortunately, the kid was absolutely petrified on the other end of the phone. So much so, I actually felt bad for him. Luckily, I had also heard from his (much calmer) older brother a couple of hours before – also in response to my letter – and Older Brother was handling Gallery Owner Mom’s estate and was willing to cooperate and make efforts to locate the paintings.
The kid stammered on that he had nothing to do with the paintings, he had only helped out in his mom’s gallery on occasion as a volunteer, and although he knew my client he had no idea about where the paintings might be. “I’m just a college kid,” he stuttered to me in a shaky voice, sounding like he was on the verge of tears. Because I had spoken to his older brother and knew he was cooperating, I quickly told the kid, “Please don’t fret about this another second – you are off the hook. I’m sure the paintings will be located soon.” He exhaled in relief and proceeded to tell me that he suffers from an anxiety disorder and PTSD, and when he opened my letter the day before he went into a tailspin of anxiety and fear and literally could not sleep or eat last night, and could not go to his three college classes today, because he was “sick” about the letter from me.
Enter Me, The Bad Guy, feeling truly like The Bad Guy. “Oh…that sucks,” I thought. But it gets worse. Or better. I’m not quite certain.
First, let me explain a little. This kind of reaction from people, perhaps not to the extreme of this kid, is common. People are sometimes intimidated if not even a little scared of me. I do not enjoy causing people to feel this way. Some people – who don’t know me at all except as someone else’s lawyer – even hate me. When I think about it, lots of people consider me The Bad Guy, just because of what I do for a living. That’s a title I’d rather not have, really. Because 1) I’m actually a really nice, compassionate person; and 2) because I’m a mother of three great kids who I hope never have to hear their mom referred to as The Bad Guy (or more likely something much worse) by people who do not even know me.
“Oh…that sucks.” Yes, it does.
So here I was on the phone with a young man having a strong and rather unpleasant reaction to me, The Bad Guy. I started to feel like a pariah. I listened while this kid continued to talk to me, nervously spilling his guts like a witness on the stand, telling me how he was nothing like his mother and had no interest in artwork or her gallery. He was in college. He was going to school to be A WRITER. The sound of heavenly chimes rang in my ears. Right away, I liked this kid and wanted him to think of me as someone other than The Bad Guy.
After I reassured him (maybe three more times) that we now knew we had no reason to pursue him, and that we were optimistic that his brother would be able to locate the paintings in the art community, I told him he could go back to focusing on school. I wished him the best of luck in his studies to be a writer. And then I added, “I’m a writer too.”
His voice changed instantly. He perked right up and responded, his voice finally steady and strong, “Really? What do you write?” I explained that I write fiction mostly, and have been working on a couple of novels that really haven’t gotten anywhere…but I’m still working on them…they’re just works in progress, I guess…and you know…someday maybe…I hope to publish something worthwhile.
Who was the kid with the shaky voice now?
I went on to say that whether I just write for myself or write to be published someday, it doesn’t really matter because I’m just going to keep writing. (Blechhh, that was such a non-published writer thing to say.) To which he responded, “They should be one and the same. Writing for yourself and writing to be published are the same thing.”
Here I was, the lawyer who terrified this kid to the verge of tears and he was giving me advice about writing. GOOD advice. With a smile on my face, I agreed and wished him good luck as we hung up. The best part? I was no longer The Bad Guy.
Enter Me, The Writer, shattering The Bad Guy perception.
It was that easy. Which made me realize that I can and will do something about it. I don’t want to be the person who intimidates someone the point of him not being able to eat, sleep or attend his normal activities. I don’t want to be the person whose kids hear people call their mom horrible names just because she is a lawyer. I want to be the person who is excited to talk about what she is working on, what her latest project is turning out to be, what good she hopes to share with the world through her writing.
Enter Me, The Writer.