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The Undeniable Ruth

Positive Thoughts for Bar Exam Domination

During my first week of studying for the California Bar Exam with Barbri, I went to a valuable seminar called The Zen of Passing the Bar Exam taught by Chad Noreuil.

Reminder: Rob-tastic and I teamed up with Barbri to document and share our stories from studying for the July 2017 California Bar Exam. Back to the story . . .

Noreuil’s pretty awesome. He’s a Barbri instructor (Criminal Law and Procedure), and he teaches legal writing at Arizona State University. I had the privilege of taking his class my 1L year.

I should have asked Noreuil to take a selfie with me.

Lessons from The Zen of Passing the Bar Exam
Since Noreuil wrote the book, The Zen of Passing the Bar Exam, I figured this seminar would be a good way to prime my brain for the marathon of bar studying – and it was! He shared three lists of top ten tips: for bar exam essays, for the MBE (multiple choice), and for the MPT (performance test). While this information is useful, the best advice I got at this seminar came from his reminders about how humans get their energy. We can get energy from four sources:

  1. Diet – food is fuel.
  2. Exercise – simple walking or stretching makes a difference.
  3. Sleep.
  4. Thoughts – even if you have bad diet, exercise habits, and sleep, your thoughts can carry you through challenges.

One of the biggest challenges I have during bar prep is managing stress. Noreuil reminded us that it takes discipline to keep out negative thoughts. Whenever I start feeling stressed about studying, I force myself to take a deep breath, sit up tall and confidently think, “I’m going to kick this bar’s ass.” I’m also trying to avoid negative energy – including listening to the news too much and sad or degrading music. Happy ’80’s dance music is my friend right now.

Setting up the coffee at Castle Carter before bed.

Decreasing Caffeine
You might think I’d be increasing my caffeine these days, but here’s another take-away I got from this seminar: caffeine has a six-hour half-life, and if you have more than 15mg of caffeine in your system, it can prevent deep REM sleep. I immediately started crunching the numbers on my coffee habit. I usually drink two or three cups (200-300mg) a day. (I also have a history with insomnia.)

Let’s do the math: If I drink 250mg of caffeine by 6am, I’ll have 125mg in my system at noon, 63mg at 6pm, and 32mg at midnight. My levels won’t drop low enough to achieve deep REM sleep until the next morning when I’m up again and already re-caffeinating.

After this seminar, I completely changed my caffeine intake. Each morning, I pour myself 8oz of coffee (using a measuring cup), add 6oz of cashew milk, and a spoonful of sugar. Since making this change, it’s been easier to fall asleep, stay asleep most of the night, and I don’t have any more problems than usual feeling alert during the day.

Where’s Rob?
No, that this Rob, our Rob. As far as I know, Rob-tastic is at the INTA conference in Barcelona. I sent him a note asking how things were going and I didn’t hear back – but I know he has a full schedule there, and he’s allegedly been in contact with some of our co-workers about client cases. If he doesn’t resurface in Budapest next week, then I’ll worry.

Getting Ahead on Barbri Studying

Rob-tastic and I teamed up with Barbri to study for the July 2017 California Bar Exam in exchange for sharing our story. He’s taking the attorney’s course and I’m doing the regular version of the course. My Barbri schedule doesn’t have me starting until May 22nd, but I’m busy and I don’t always have time (or mental stamina) to watch 3-6 hours of Barbri videos after a day at the office. Instead, I started early so I have more flexibility with my study schedule.

Her and His Study Schedules – According to Barbri

Two Lawyers – Two Approaches to Barbri
Rob and I have vastly different approaches to our Barbri schedules. I look at my schedule as a guide and recommended order of lectures. When I tweak it, I do things like take 4 days to complete the MBE Immersion instead of 2. I may not do everything on the exact day, but I presume the order was intentional, so I’m following it.

And then there’s Rob. He’s basically ignoring the Barbri schedule and doing topics in the order he wants, and selecting what to study each day based on what seems interesting in the moment. He spent part of the weekend watching the Essay Workshop and reviewing Professional Responsibility. (In case you were wondering, the rule for CA and AZ are the same: You can’t bang your client unless you were banging them before they became your client.)

Time Management with Meal Prep
The other thing Rob and I both did this weekend (completely independent of each other) was meal prep. He made himself a batch of jambalaya and I made myself lentil soup with spinach and a big tray of roasted veggies. It’s so much easier to work long hours and be healthy when you don’t have to worry about preparing food. Often times, I even portion mine out into meals using Tupperware so lunch and dinner are a heat-and-eat process.

Rosie the Pirate Basset Commandeered a Barbri Book

Rob is Hitting the Road
Bon voyage Rob! He’ll be checking in from the road for the next three weeks while he’s over in Europe for the INTA Conference and then going on vacation. Rob promised to send photos from the various coffeeshops when he’s studying.

I asked Rob about his strategy for studying on the road. He said his schedule for INTA is too demanding to allow for any time to effectively study, but he’ll study in Budapest and St. Petersburg. Rob said, due to constraints of space and weight, he’s only taking one of the Barbri books of outlines on this trip, and will rely on the Barbri online materials for everything else. I think that’s a gutsy move – I don’t think I would want to travel without the hardcopy of the lecture handouts. He promised to check in from the road.

So that’s what’s going on in world of Rob-tastic and Undeniable. Thanks for following our journey. If you have any questions about what we’re doing, please leave them below as comments. And head’s up: studying for the bar exam is a bitch, so I suspect in the coming weeks I’m going to ask to get postcards in the mail to give us reasons to smile when where in the thick of studying.

Testing the Sweat-Proof Tee

A few weeks ago, I was watching a video on Real Men Real Style (I’m interested in having more masculine options for work clothes), and I learned about the Thompson Tee. They claim their patent technology “stops 100% of underarm sweat.” This sounded too good to be true. I sweat constantly, even when doing mundane things like eating a warm meal and walking my basset hound.

I reached out to Thompson Tee and asked to test their shirt. They sent me the shirt of my choice to put through the ringer of my life and share how it did. I selected the men’s slim fit v-neck undershirt in black, size small. The fabric is super soft and you can tell by the seams in the shirt and how the shirt fits that there is padding through the armpit. It was super comfortable to wear, but I had to see how it would hold up in sweaty situations.

Photo by Jay Chatzkel Photography
Used with permission

Test #1 – Modeling
People who aren’t involved in modeling or photography may not know that modeling makes you sweat, between the lights and having to hold awkward poses. This shoot was my first time doing male modeling. I wore a chest binder, my Thompson Tee, and a dress shirt and tie for most of the shoot. Towards the end, I did a few shots in just my Thompson tee and slacks. I was pleased that at the end of the night, there was no sweat on my dress shirt.

Test #2 – Phoenix Driving
In case you didn’t know, it gets hot in Phoenix. During the day, our cars turn into ovens under the sun. When I first get in my car on a warm day, I often blast the A/C, or risk sweating buckets. I tested my Thompson Tee while wearing it with a dress shirt, and driving around with a friend visiting from out of town. After I dropped him off, I even turned off the A/C just see how the shirt would hold up while I was baking. Even after driving on a sunny day in Phoenix in a closed car with no A/C for 10 minutes, my dress shirt was still dry, even though I was definitely not dry inside my Thompson Tee.

Photo by Leslie Easton Photography
Used with permission

Test #3 – Mid-day Love Rally
The ultimate Thompson Tee test was Improv AZ’s Love and Complements Rally – standing at an sunny intersection (without shade) while holding a happy sign for 45 minutes in at least 95-degree heat. I could feel sweat sliding down my skin inside the shirt, but on the outside, I was completely dry. I even had friends touch my armpit to verify it. (They said I didn’t smell either – and these aren’t people who would be shy about that.)

Does the Thompson Tee work for containing armpit sweat? Yes.

Is it comfortable? Very. (And their sizing chart made it easy to discern which size I wear)

Thanks Thompson Tee for sending me a shirt and letting me test it out. It has definitely become part of my wardrobe (and that’s saying something given that I’m a minimalist).

Teaming Up with Barbri for Bar Prep

I’ve already shared that I’m taking the California Bar Exam this July (July 25-26, 2017). What I didn’t share is that I’m not doing it alone. My colleague and fellow Venjuris attorney, Robert McGee (aka Rob-tastic – no idea why I call him that), is taking it too – and we’ve teamed up with Barbri to share our journey!

Partnering with Barbri
Rob and I both used Barbri to study for and pass the Arizona Bar Exam in 2014 and 2011, respectively. When we told them that we were taking another bar exam, they offered us a discount in exchange for sharing our experience studying for a bar exam while practicing law.

Done!

Rob and Ruth aka Rob-tastic and Undeniable

His and Her Bar Preps
Even though were taking the bar exam in the same state, we’re going to have substantially different prep and test experiences.

First, we’re taking different tests. Since I’ve been practicing law for more than four years, I only have to do the essay day of the exam. Rob’s only been in practice since late 2014, so he has to take the full bar exam: one day of essays, one day of multiple choice.

Second, we’re taking different Barbri programs. Rob is taking Barbri’s new Attorney Course. This is geared towards people who have recently taken another bar exam and likely remember a substantial portion of the information. Each subject has an assessment to gauge what you already know so you only have to focus on what you don’t remember. I’m taking the traditional Barbri course, because after being out six years, we assume I don’t remember much about the subject areas that are outside the scope of law I currently practice.

Third, we’re going to be traveling, especially Rob! I will be speaking at BlogHer17 in Florida for a few days in June, but Rob will be doing a 3-week trip to Barcelona for the INTA Conference followed by some much-deserved down time in Budapest and St. Petersburg. He’ll send photos letting us see where he’s studying.

Our boxes containing our Barbri workbooks arrived a few weeks ago. To celebrate the beginning of this adventures, we decided to bench press them:

Why Take Another Bar Exam? Why Now?
Almost everyone who hears that  I’m taking the California Bar asks if I’m moving. My usual response is, “I’m just expanding the kingdom, not moving the castle.”

California has strict rules about out of state lawyers taking on clients there, even for simple consults or transactional matters. I got tired of having to turn down opportunities for representation there, so when California announced that they were shortening their exam from three days to two, I decided to take it.

I asked Rob why he was subjecting himself to torture of another bar exam. He said, “Because I have the time to do it now. Five years from now, family or business obligations may be eating up most of my free time. Thinking long-term, you won’t get far in life thinking ‘I’ll just take the next opportunity to do stuff.’”

Last Hurrahs
Rob and I spent time with friends last weekend, knowing we won’t have time to see most of them until after the bar exam. Rob went camping with his friends and I did a Love and Complements Rally with Improv AZ.

According to our Barbri schedules, we don’t have to start studying until May 22nd, but we both want to get a jump on our work because we’re both going to be practicing law while we’re studying. I’m grateful to all my legal eagles who shared their tips for handling the daunting task of studying while working.

Follow our crazy journey! I’ll post an update every week through the bar exam. If you have any questions about what we’re doing, please leave it as a comment.

Stocking Up for the Apocalypse – I mean Bar Prep

A few weeks ago, I announced that I’m taking the California Bar Exam in July. One of the biggest challenges from the last time I studied for a bar exam was dealing with every day errands like laundry and grocery shopping. They’re not hard tasks, but some days, anything that takes me away from studying feels like a burden.

My plan for this bar prep is to stock up on the basics so when I have to go to the store, I won’t need much. Here’s part of my list:

Some of the things currently in my pantry

  • Canned beans
  • Canned pineapple
  • Cereal
  • Brown rice
  • Lentils
  • Tuna
  • Peanut butter
  • Frozen fruit and veggies
  • Toothpaste
  • Face soap
  • Rosie’s treats

I have two trips planned during bar prep – Orlando for BlogHer and then California for the Bar Exam itself. When I stock up on my toiletries, I’m going to make sure I have the travel-size toiletries I’ll need for these trips too – one less thing to worry about.

My goal is to have to run as few errands as possible while I’m working and studying between May and July. The more stressors I can wipe off my radar, the better. I want my life during bar prep to be as simple as possible, almost systematic so most of my energy can be used to focus on work and studying.

Don’t worry, I’m still going to enjoy myself when I can during this process. But those of you who have studied for a bar exam know how stressful it can be. Anything that can make the process easier makes a big difference.

Giving Myself Permission to be First

Making myself a priority is not an area where I excel. I put my work first. I put my goals first. I put other people ahead of taking care of myself. I didn’t want to be in a position where I felt like I was letting people down, especially when it seems like everyone around me is doing so much more than me.

I know, quit comparing my insides to their outsides.

The Road Not Taken by Greg Westfall from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Lately, I’ve felt like a typical lawyer: I get up; I go to the office; I do client work; I go home; I wake up the next day and do it all again. This isn’t what I wanted for my life. I’m so drained by the time I leave the office, I barely have enough energy to work on my blogs, let alone new projects.

I’ve been working on my first online course, but it’s been a much slower process than I envisioned. As long as I need sleep to function, I don’t have enough energy or bandwidth to just work on this just in the evening and on weekends and expect to bring it to market. It needs substantial blocks of uninterrupted time. The hackathon method has been effective so far, when I do it.

Yesterday, I decided the right thing to do to get this course done is to take one weekday every week to stay home and crank on this project. I think this is the only way to give myself the time and space I need for this creative endeavor.

Yeah, that’s me with fire breathers. 
Photo by Annie Christodoulou

So that’s my plan – I’m going back on the road less traveled and clearing my calendar one day a week until this course is done. I hope once I re-dedicate substantial time to this project, that it will have a snowball effect and I’ll be even more jazzed about it instead of being crippled by the fear of failure.

I’m reminded of the Beverly Sill’s saying: “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” One step at a time, one component at a time, this is going to get done. And likewise, if I want a lifestyle that works for me, I have to make it happen.

Footnote: I have no plans to leave my firm. I love working at Venjuris, but I need to balance client work (which is so satisfying to help people in a way that they can’t do for themselves) with speaking, writing, and other projects. It’s just who I am. I’ve never been normal, and I’m not going to start now.

My Disease is Always with Me

My disease is a bitch. Even in recovery, there isn’t a day that I’m not aware that I have an eating disorder.

The best way I can describe my disease is it’s the Fast-Eddie-used-car-salesman-older-cousin of The Oatmeal’s The Blerch. It feels like it’s floating next to me, everywhere I go, and I can’t shut him up. For St. Patrick’s Day, I had a constant barrage of thoughts about binging and purging. I felt like my Blerch was hovering next to me saying:

Back to My Old Life: Alone by Rachmanuddin Chair Yahya from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

“Check out all the St. Patrick’s Day goodies. You can have an entire tray of cupcakes with green sugary buttercream frosting. Oh – and a Shamrock shake. You’ve never had one of those. You can eat all the things, and don’t worry about the calories – because you won’t keep it down. It’s win-win. It’ll be great.”

Reality check: When I was in my active disease, forcing myself to binge and purge was not great. It hurt – a lot. Eating that much hurt my stomach, and then forcing it to contract to vomit really hurt. It’s violent, and when it’s over, my head throbbed, I had no energy, and I felt like shit.

Ugh. I wanted to growl, “Shut up shut up shut up. Shut the fuck up!” My disease tried to convince me that it’s not dangerous, that all the literature that binging and purging is hard on your heart and rips your esophagus apart was written by neurotic doctors. My disease said those are rare instances. It wouldn’t happen to me. Reality check: Eating disorders have the highest morbidity rate of any mental illness.

I dragged my fingers through my hair in frustration, then grabbed my phone and sent a single request to two of my confidants: “Tell me again why it’s bad to eat all the things and puke my guts out. My disease is messing with my head.” They both reminded me of the myriad of ways this disease can destroy my health. One of my confidants is also in recovery from an eating disorder. He reminded me of the powerlessness that comes with this disease. Giving in once makes it that much harder not to give in next time (and the next time, and the next).

I asked my therapist if my Blerch will ever go away. He said it might not, but it can get quieter. I likened that idea to Russell Crowe as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind making the decision to ignore his hallucinations, though they seem to always be lurking in the shadows. As he said, “I’ve gotten used to ignoring them and I think, as a result, they’ve kind of given up on me. I think that’s what it’s like with all our dreams and our nightmares . . . we’ve got to keep feeding them for them to stay alive.”

I’m not fond of the idea of living with my Blerch for the rest of my life, but that may not be something I can control. The disease of addiction never goes away. My default setting may always be to self-medicate and self-destruct, but choosing recovery means I don’t have the luxury of indulging these thoughts. Perhaps if I ignore it long enough, my Blerch will finally shut up.

Not Running is Not an Option

I’m at a point in my life where not getting a workout every day is not an option. Getting up early to go for a run at sunrise helps me feel calm and focused throughout the day. It’s so peaceful to start my day pounding pavement by myself with music or podcasts in my ears. Starting my day with a run helps with my entire demeanor.

Arizona Cactus Sunrise by WillHolmes from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

And have you seen a sunrise in the desert? It’s gorgeous!

I know I have no sense of moderation, so I have to be careful not to over train and take out my shins or my feet. As an act of self-care, I skipped running on Tuesday this week and went to the office early instead. By 10:30am, I hated everyone on the planet.

Lesson Learned:
Skipping Workout = Bad Idea

I know some people who run every day, no matter what, but I was pretty sure that’s not a good idea for me, even if I’m only doing 4-6 miles/day and 20 minutes of yoga for runners. I reached out to triathlon coach David Roher for his recommendation. (He wrote my training schedule for my last half marathon.) He suggested running no more than two days in a row and biking on my off days.

Based on David’s advice, I think this will be my workout schedule for a typical week:

  • Day 1: Run and yoga
  • Day 2: Run and yoga
  • Day 3: Bike
  • Day 4: Run and yoga
  • Day 5: Run and yoga
  • Day 6: Bike
  • Day 7: Fun Workout

I want to use my fun workouts to get my sweat on by doing things besides running. It could be walking around a museum or street fair, hiking, rock climbing, going to the ropes course, horseback riding, step aerobics – really anything goes as long as it’s a workout.

With all the client work, speaking engagements, new projects, and the California bar exam on my plate this year, taking time every day to move my muscles and clear my head is going to be essential for my sanity.

Suicide or Homicide

Every person, when pushed to their limit, is a Suicide or a Homicide. The Homicides are people who take their stress and frustration out on other people who don’t deserve it and blame others for their misfortune. These are people who scream at wait staff, key your car, engage in road rage, and get referred for anger management training. In the worst-case scenario, these are also the people who “go postal” and physically attack others.

Image by eflon (Creative Commons License)

The Suicides are the opposite. When they reach their breaking point, they self-destruct and vent their emotions against themselves. A Suicide who acts out will berate themselves, engage in self-injury or eating disorders, self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, and possibly attempt suicide (accidentally or intentionally). The Suicides are sly because a lot of what they do happens behind closed doors or only in their minds. Outsiders often only get to hear about a Suicide’s process after it’s over. It’s not a public display like a Homicide.

I’m a total Suicide – always have been, probably always will be. I remember being self-destructive when I was just 8 years old. One day, I was really angry about something, and I decided the best way to deal with it was to cross the monkey bars in the backyard 100 times. Don’t ask – it made sense at the time. Around pass 65, my hand started to feel weird but I didn’t stop. Finally, after pass 88 I took my hand down from the bar and saw I had a huge blister that covered my palm that had popped.

Even as an adult, I’m a Suicide. Early on in my relationship with my current therapist, he started to confront me by saying, “Don’t throw the pillow me, but . . .” When I see my therapist, the first thing I do when I get into his office is take off my shoes and make myself comfortable on his couch, usually with a pillow under my head and another one my knees. I started laughing and said, “You know I’m only a threat to myself.” I’m such a non-threat, it would never cross my mind to do such a thing.

One of the ways I knew I was getting healthier in early recovery was when I started to shift from being a Suicide to having appropriate angry thoughts against other when warranted. Such as, when a person cuts me off in traffic, puts pressure on me, or says something rude, instead of wanting to take the negativity out of myself, I had fleeting non-serious thoughts like, “You’re an asshole,” “I’m going to kill you for this,” and “I hope you get crabs.” Remember, I said they were fleeting thoughts and I’m still inherently a Suicide. I don’t actually wish ill-will on others. These thoughts mean I can direct my anger at the appropriate target instead of myself and in a way that validates my feelings and without causing harm. I don’t always deal with my emotions in an appropriate manner, but I’m getting better.

Author’s Note: Using “suicide” and “homicide” in this post may be crass, but I assure you, it’s not meant to be offensive or minimize the experience of anyone who has been truly suicidal or homicidal. It’s just how my mind works – I process ideas best in unambiguous forms so I can’t overthink them. I think I picked up this idiom from someone else in the recovery community. When I first heard this idea, it made perfect sense to me. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it. If you feel suicidal or homicidal, please seek help.

Mulling Over my Gender Identity

It’s been about three months since I came out about questioning my gender. For now, I’m most comfortable identifying as non-gendered. I don’t feel like I fit with the concept of being a woman or a man. This is quite freeing, and a source of insecurity. It’s also exhausting.

Self Portrait at Dawn by Jörg Reuter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve been paying more attention to my physical body – how I wish it looked, and how these thoughts fit into my gender identity. For the most part, I’m not a fan of my feminine curves. I’d rather see myself with muscle definition – especially vertical lines on my abs and striations on my shoulders – but still maintain a thigh gap. I’ve never been a fan of my own boobs. They serve no purpose and I wish they would shrink. I’d rather have muscular pecs than tits.

I wish I could pass as male or female and/or be so androgynous that strangers aren’t sure how to interact with me because of my unknown gender. It would give me a “blank slate” to play with. As it is, my dress varies widely day-to-day. In one week I wore a feminine top with a bound chest, a shirt and tie, and a dress and heels. I was also giddy when my new Starfleet uniform arrived – the red mini dress from the Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Despite my desire to have an androgynous shape, I think my hips will disclose my biological sex. Even before puberty, my hip bones stuck out, and now, I have curves that I fear can’t be slimmed through diet and exercise. And while I know I have a “good butt,” I prefer to keep it smaller, firmer, and lifted. Being curvaceous does nothing for me.

Note: these are my thoughts about myself. I feel no animosity towards the female shape on other people and U.S. standards for beauty.

Image from Last Year’s Junkyard Photoshoot by Devon Christopher Adams (Used with Permission)

It became obvious that I want to be more androgynous when I was invited to the annual Junkyard Photoshoot. I went last year and had a blast. And I enjoy being a model – getting to show different emotions and aspects of my personality. When I model, I always want to feel my inner strength.

But this year, I declined the invitation. This is an open photoshoot where models and photographers get to show up, have fun reign of the junkyard to do almost anything we want. Most of the models are women, and many of them use the setting to pose in lingerie or less – very over-the-top sexy. (And a lot of female models do this type of modeling. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not for me.) I’d rather be in jeans and a tank top, feeling more like Wolverine than a centerfold.

I decided not to go for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. Questioning my gender and other events exacerbated my depression, so I didn’t feel strong and confident. It wasn’t a good space to be in for going into an artistic setting where there would be lots of people I’d never met before.
  2. I was afraid of feeling rejected by photographers who wouldn’t want to work with me. (I know, they can go fornicate with themselves, but easier said than done when I’m feeling vulnerable.)

I’m still mulling over lots of different thoughts about gender identity and how I interact with a mostly two-gendered society. The more I learn about myself, the more I realize that many social norms don’t apply to me.