Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunset Moonrise Run

This afternoon I worked on our bills and taxes far longer than I should have. It was a beautiful day, for the first time in a very long time. 40 degrees and sunny. Not the day to sit at the dining room table and sort through the bills.

At 4:00, I slipped on my running shoes and salvaged the tail end of the glorious weather. We had to be at my parents' house to celebrate my grandmother's 91st (!) birthday at 5:00, so Nathan suggested that I just run to my parents. A quick look a google revealed that it would be about a 5.5 mile run. And it was perfect. The sun was setting behind me. A clear full moon was rising in front of me. And I felt like I could run forever.


I do not generally follow this blog, but a few months ago, I happened upon it at one point and read this post. And then this week I lived through nearly the same thing that Emily describes in that post.

There are some differences. Our client was at an earlier stage in the process. She was applying for an affirmative grant of asylum by appearing at an asylum interview. We were not in court, but rather in a cramped, nondescript interview room in the JFK Federal Building when the fabric of our case began to unravel. The asylum officer was kind but firm, and he was visibly disappointed when my client told her first lie.

Here's the thing. The US government has computers. They have databases. When you ask for a visa, they save the answers you give into those databases on those computers. We cannot read what is in those databases ahead of time, but the government will read them and check the answers you give at your asylum interview against the answers you gave back then. If you lied to get a visa, that's probably ok, but you'll have to explain that you lied and why you lied to get out of your country and save your own life. If you did not lie to get a visa, you certainly cannot start lying now.

We stared in disbelief as our client repeatedly denied the veracity of the facts that the asylum officer had printed out in front of him. And then, the next morning, as we regrouped and tried to figure out how to dig out of the credibility hole we were in, we used google searches to try to figure out what the government knew about her family. We found that it was surprisingly easy to find these answers, once we knew the questions. And yet, our client came at us with at least three different versions of the "truth."

We spent dozens of hours on the case this week, meeting with our client three additional times for more than two hours each time. We prepared an affidavit and an amendment to her asylum application and did our best to pin down her explanation of why she had lied about things that were completely immaterial to her asylum application. We listened to her as, through tears, she declared that if she is returned to her home country, she will never reach her house. She told us that she would prefer to be killed here, where at least her daughter would be able to bury her body.

And all week I lingered between heartbroken, angry, confused, incredulous, and exhausted. In the end, I think I have arrived at disappointed. I am disappointed that I did not explain about government databases ahead of time. I am disappointed that my client did not trust me enough to tell me the truth and ask what to do about it. I am disappointed that, in all likelihood, I will not be able to secure asylum for this client.

And it's not over. As Emily's subsequent posts here and here demonstrate, there will be more chapters in my representation of this client, even though the ultimate outcome is perhaps 90% certain. I'll fight like hell for the 10% chance that we can rehabilitate her credibility.

The worst part: there is a beautiful, shy seven-year-old girl who did not lie about anything. I will fight for her.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Like Beating a Dead Horse

In my new profession, perhaps more than most, there is much discussion of "work-life balance." The rhetoric conjures, for me at least, the image of a balance scale, with work weighing down one tray and another tray for the "everything else" that apparently constitutes "life." This image worries me greatly. It is static. It makes me want to hold my breath so as not to upset some delicate constructive equilibrium. It doesn't look like much fun either -- this old fashioned balancing act. Isn't life (even "work/life") supposed to be fun? And yet, there is something to it, this notion of balance.

I have been searching for a metaphor to describe the whole balance idea a lot better than those old fashioned scales. And I think I finally came up with one a couple months ago. It's like riding a bicycle. I can imagine that the wheels might be the "work" and the "life" piles, if we have to bifurcate things in those terms. But the bike is no good without both of its wheels and one doesn't really move without the other. And if they aren't both moving, you're gonna fall over. And it's probably going to hurt. (As Mr. Sweenford will attest, I have tested this theory for myself -- at a stop sign at the corner of Lambert Street and Washington Avenue on my first long ride with clipless pedals. There was blood.)

Sometimes, you have to pedal like hell and the bike just barely inches up the hill. If you shift to the wrong gear, accidentally, on the way up, the pedals jam, the wheels stop, and you fall. (I have tested this one too -- on Mountain Road.) Other times, you just cruise along on dry, flat pavement and feel like you could turn that middle gear for hours. Occasionally, you get to fly down hill with no pedaling at all, but still a little apprehension that you might be going just a bit faster than is comfortable.

Riding a bike is a relatively easy skill -- a five-year-old can learn to do it (although mine hasn't). But learning to ride confidently only comes with an enormous amount of practice and more than a few scrapes and scratches. Learning to ride fast requires both courage and perseverance.

I got a new bike in August and have been slowly trying to master the art of riding it, maybe even daring to hope that one day I will ride it fast and confidently.

I got a new job and, in a way, a new life in September. I'm working on mastering that too. Just like riding a bicycle.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Year, New Blog

It's been a long time since I posted anything on the internet other than the one-liners required for facebook and gchat status updates. As a blogger I admire a lot recently observed, there is something really satisfying about sending a little one-liner out into the world a few moments after you think of it. Sometimes, usually when I'm running, I come up with a whole series of status messages in my head. One line after another just comes to mind. After I'm done with my workout, I post the last one that stuck with me, and there it sits for a few hours or a few days. Other times, the status message is just a little inside joke. Occasionally, the status update is a very public declaration that is, in actuality, a hidden, private prayer that only one or two other folks will understand. I like the genre a lot.

But a blog is different. It's a chance to actually process some little part of the world. Cut it into little bits and stick them into the brain blender and see what comes out. I miss it a little -- the chance to write a few paragraphs rather than a few words. But I've grown apart from my old blog. I don't know if it's because I've grown up a little or because of my radical shift in routine or maybe just the writer's strike last year. In any case, the old blog just won't work for me any more and I need a new place to send my few paragraphs out into the world now and then.

I've been thinking about this new blog for a long time, trying to find just the right moniker -- a theme, a handle, a metaphor -- something that fits with where my brain is at in this new era of my life. I think I finally found it, but I'm having trouble explaining the six or seven different ways that "like riding a bicycle" seems like the perfect phrase to put at the top of the page. I'll save the explanation for the next post.

Like Fibby, I'm resolved to post here about once a week, maybe more often if the spirit moves me. I hope you'll come along for the ride.