Monday, 21 May 2012

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: Or the True Confessions of an (Ex?) Legal Aid Lawyer Laying Down in the Green Pastures of Academia

(a slightly self-indulgent blog post...)
You never stop being who you are. This perhaps obvious truism was explained to me by a friend some years ago and from time to time I am given pause to stop and reflect on this. I think about this while contemplating a suit of damp and itchy wool that from to time is brought out of the wardrobe (why are there no closets in houses in England? An abiding mystery with little satisfactory explanation...) and presented with a public face.

If you have ever smelled wet wool, you know it is not the most pleasant of smells. But it is certainly a pervasive one. And wool itches. It is uncomfortable. And it can from time to time constrain. But from time to time, it seems necessary to dress in sheep’s clothing when heading to the green pastures of academia.

What would happen if my inner wolf self revealed itself in the pasture? Pandemonium? Indifference? Acceptance?

From time to time aphorisms are trotted out to graze. Or perhaps, more accurately, they are instructions on how to graze. Even a discussion of indigenous issues comes with its own list of do’s and do-nots. Do not romanticise. Do not essentialise. Do not treat culture as being in a time-warp. Etc. On the other side of the coin however, what should be presented? There is some derision of the white-middle-class-woman-telling-about-herself-narrative so that should be avoided as well unless one wants to get lumped into the rescuer group. Which I do not. But perhaps the strongest aphorism is one where people are asked to line up on either side of a line: academic or activist. The not-so-hidden message is that no self-respecting academic sullies themselves with activism.

The most masterful exposition on academic life and this conundrum (among others) is the timeless Vampires Anonymous by Robert Williams. I would not even attempt anything along those lines. His article says it all, really, and draws some wry chuckles of recognition along the way.

So then I wonder—is it really necessary to put on an ill-fitting sheep suit in this pasture after all? I can never stop being who I am inside—a Legal Aid lawyer ( in the American sense of the institution, there is no direct or even close trans-Atlantic translation for this) who wandered off into the pastures of academia. Time to put the sheep suit aside and remember the things that used to be very meaningful in being involved with law. After all, you never stop being who you are.

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