Archive: 2013

The Pitch

September 29, 2013

I wrote a book. It was released this week. I feel like I’ve traveled to another country. Except for brief stints as a waitress, housepainter, office temp, and counselor at a battered women’s shelter, I’ve been a lawyer my whole working life. I have a vocabulary and a rhythm and a way I do things, moving from phone to computer to client to opposing counsel to conference room to court and back again. I have the ease and skill of a person who has practiced her profession for the better part of a lifetime; I am comfortable in my lawyer skin.

Now I don’t know what to expect. I don’t understand the lexicon. My publicist talks about press packets and I have no idea what such a thing looks like. I am scheduled to do a radio satellite tour but no one really explains what that is and for some reason I’m embarrassed to ask. There are new players in my world: Amazon author rankings, Goodreads giveaways, bookstore signings, sales numbers, and everywhere, this concept which runs through it all: the pitch. Apparently, it’s all about the pitch. My publisher is pitching my book to booksellers (who in turn pitch it to bookstores), to radio hosts, to print and digital media, and to that Holy Grail, the recipient of the mother of all pitches, TV.

Part of me is standing on the sidelines, watching all this unfold. And that part is thinking: I don’t pitch! People call me and make appointments! And then I remember: in this new country, I’m a writer. No one calls to make appointments. We call them and hope we get appointments; we wait in line. People need, sometimes desperately, my services as a lawyer. No one desperately needs to read my book. I need to tell them why they should read it. I need to grow a writer’s skin.

In case you need to be pitched, I will say that the book – KEEPING IT CIVIL: The Case of the Pre-Nup and the Porsche & Other True Accounts from the Files of a Family Lawyer – is off to a good start. People seem to really like it, it’s getting great reviews, it’s been excerpted in Salon and Time, and there’s a lot of – here comes the other word I’ve learned – buzz. If you like my blog, I’m sure you’ll really enjoy it.

I would say more, but I have to go tweet.


August 17, 2013

I’m a closet country music fan.  No one suspects me.  I’m thoroughly urban, born and raised in Manhattan, transplanted to Philly.  I’m not religious.  I’ve never driven a pick-up truck.  Or worn cowboy boots.  But ever since my husband put Ricky Skaggs’ Highways and Heartaches in the tape deck (remember those?) in our beat-up Datsun (and remember those?) on a cross-country trip decades ago – causing me to sing along with Ricky at the top of my lungs as we barreled across Wyoming – I’ve loved it.

As I was listening to Ricky recently, reunited through the magic of Spotify, I was thinking about why.  A good part of it has got to be the content.  Even as a twenty-something, themes of teenage angst wore thin.  Country music is about the trials and tribulations of being an adult.  The mundane details of married life, the joys of parenthood, common hardships like fighting with the boss, being late on the rent, and drinking too much, to name a few.  And then there’s that mega-hardship: divorce.  Lots of divorce.  How many heavy metal songs can you name which cover this topic?  Or hip-hop?  Or singer/songwriter?  Not many.  But country music is full of them.  Given my line of work, that’s got to be a reason I’m so taken with the genre.

We’re all familiar with the incomparable Tammy Wynette, telling us that the D-I-V-O-R-C-E will be final – tomorrow.  But what about her lesser known classic tale of domestic discord, Kids Say the Darndest Things (Last night while I watched TV, one rushed through the door/’Mommy, Daddy’s telling someone on the phone/Don’t call me here no more’).  Or a new discovery from Buck Owens and Rose Maddox, Mental Cruelty, which actually contains a courtroom scene (Mental cruelty, that’s what I heard her say/Mental cruelty, to the judge that day/I sat there in silence so she could be free/And listened to her lyin’ words/Mental cru-el-ty.)  And I’ve got to include Tim McGraw’s Do You Want Fries With That?, a contemporary rant directed at the man who stole his wife, delivered from the drive-in window of a fast-food joint.  The lyrics are so excellent they require a longer excerpt:

I thought that was your voice/I thought that was my car/Now we ain’t ever met before/But I know who you are

You’re living in my house/And I’m living in a tent/And don’t laugh, this second job of mine/Is paying both our rent

You’re out here buying Happy Meals/And I’m eating rice and pintos/You so much as crack a smile at me, man/I’ll come through this here window

Well you took my wife/And you took my kids/And you took that life/That I used to live/My pride, the pool, the boat, my tools, my dreams, the dog, the cat

Yeah I think that’s just about everything/Oh I almost forgot/Do you want fries with that?

These songs and others in the genre are tongue-in-cheek but somehow comforting at the same time.  We recognize our lives in the lyrics; we feel camaraderie in the shared mess of human experience.  And we laugh at ourselves, which sets this genre apart from so much popular music where songwriters take themselves and their problems so very very seriously.

If you have suggestions to add to my country/divorce playlist, please let me know.  In the meantime, if I ever start to take my profession too seriously, I’ll just sit down and listen to Arty Hill’s courtroom drama, told from the bar stool: I Might Have Been a Lawyer (But I Couldn’t Pass the Bar).

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

May 3, 2013

What makes a parent? Should the answer be determined by biology or nurture? And what about the overlay of race or ethnicity–should that play into the mix?  The U.S. Supreme Court is tussling with these thorny questions in a case involving the adoption of a little girl and the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law enacted by Congress 35 years ago which was intended to halt the inexcusably high rates of removal of  Native American children from their families in favor of placement with white adoptive and foster parents.

As in all adoption disputes, the facts in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, argued before the Supreme Court on April 16th, are heart-wrenching.  The father, who has some Cherokee heritage but does not live on a reservation, broke off his engagement to a non-Indian woman after she became pregnant. Following his daughter’s birth, he refused to provide any support for her, and eventually texted the mom (texted!) that he wanted to give up his parental rights.  She then put the baby up for adoption. After learning about it, the father filed an action challenging the adoption–he said he thought he had only given up his rights to the mother–and seeking custody of the child.

Based on the ICWA, a family court in South Carolina ordered the adoptive parents, who had raised the girl, now known as Veronica, from birth until she was 27 months old, to transfer custody to the father.  This decision was upheld by the South Carolina Supreme Court on the grounds that, once established as the biological father, the ICWA gives preference to the Indian parent.

The adoptive parents’ lawyer argued that applying ICWA to this case would amount to “conscripting other people’s children to grow the tribal population based solely on a biological link.”  And furthermore, she pointed out, such a ruling will apply to other absentee Indian fathers who have impregnated non-Indian women, rendering those women second-class citizens with inferior rights and “basically relegating the child … to a piece of property with a sign that says ‘Indian, keep off, do not disturb.’ ”

The father’s lawyer simply argued the statute, saying that under the ICWA an adoption cannot go forward if a biological parent wants custody and is not a threat to the emotional or physical safety of the child. In other words, the “best interest of the child” analysis does not apply; rather, if there’s no risk of harm, the Indian parent will prevail.

Seems to me that accepting the father’s arguments in this case does create a class of people who have superior rights to custody of children based solely on their race. And while I am mindful of the shameful history of destruction of the Indian family and the corresponding loss of tribal culture and identity, I really cannot get past this.  Using race as the trump card in adoption–rather than as one factor among many to be considered–is a problem, both conceptually and constitutionally. Interestingly, it also bucks the contemporary trend in family law, which is moving away from the primacy of biology in favor of legal recognition of the important bonds that form between children and the adults who are actually taking care of them despite the absence of a genetic link – such as the the same-sex partner or the step-parent.

That’s the legal dilemma.  But what about Baby Girl Veronica? Now that she’s been removed from her adoptive parents into her biological father’s family, even if we think that was a bad call, should she be moved back? That might bring justice to the grieving adoptive parents, but is it fair to Veronica?

During oral argument, Justice Kennedy apparently wished for the wisdom of King Solomon. Not a surprising request, under the circumstances.  Let’s hope The Nine receive it during their deliberations.

What’s in a Name

March 8, 2013

During a recent trip to Europe, German friends who have a new baby made reference to the fact that gender-ambiguous names are “not allowed” in Germany unless a second name is added which clarifies the gender.  What do you mean “not allowed,” I asked?  You know, the government won’t permit it, they said.  My husband and I were incredulous.  Turns out that in Germany, you have to submit the name you want to use for your baby to the local office of vital statistics for approval.  And if they don’t like it, you can’t use it.  Which means there are no little Moon Units, Rolexes, Whoopis or Honey Boo Boos in Munich. And Germany is far from alone in this – a quick Google search reveals that many other countries also have rules governing name choice.   Even in Denmark–that cradle of fabulous modern design and progressive thinking–you must pick from a list of 7,000 pre-approved names.

Who’s being protected by these laws?  Kids, from their parents’ stupidity? Or unconventionality? Or creativity?  Seems like a pretty dull world if everyone can only be named what people have been named before.  Much as I envy so many (like, almost all) of the perks of life in the social democracies of Europe, this issue brought some deeply buried libertarian streak I didn’t even know I had screaming to the surface. The idea that government should be involved in the decision about what to name your child seems outrageous.  As would laws about what people should do with their last names when they marry.  Or divorce. Or transition to the opposite gender.  Or when they simply don’t like their given names and want to choose their own.

Our German friends were puzzled by our horrified reaction.  But if you could just pick any word you wanted for a name, the baby’s mom said, you could name your child something like– she paused for a moment, clearly trying to summon up the most ridiculous example she could of what notto name a baby– “Porsche”!  We were silenced. We didn’t have the heart to tell her how many Porsches and Lexuses and Infinitis were probably riding the school buses right then back home in Philadelphia.