Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Old Dry Eyes

On occasion, people whom I don’t know post encouraging or helpful comments on this blawg. One recurrent voice that I have appreciated uses the moniker that provides the title for this post. His last comment made me think of a favorite sonnet, which resonates rather well with my mood of the moment: Sonnet 29. 

You know it even if the number “29” doesn’t exactly jog your memory. It begins “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes . . . .” Most obviously, both this first line and the commenter’s pseudonym include the word “eyes.” But that observation is about as keen as the strained associations to which I sometimes resort that then lead my husband to joke, “Yeah, that’s like saying that Hamlet and your patent law brief both have the word ‘the’ in them.” More significantly, “dry eyes” represent the opposite condition of the speaker in Sonnet 29.[1] The sonnet’s speaker admits that feelings of shame, bad luck, personal failure, professional disappointment prompt him to “trouble deaf heaven with [his] bootless cries/And look upon [him]self and curse [his] fate[.]” He is then wracked with envy—
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,

—and ennui:

With what I most enjoy contented least[.]

But he finds a way to snap out of this self-loathing pity-fest by thinking of the one he loves—and writing a nifty sonnet about it. In doing so, his despair is replaced (for the moment) by a euphoric sense of gratitude and equanimity: 

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
One could call this sonnet “Ode to Being Bipolar.” But today, I prefer to think of it as “The Lawyer’s Lubricant” or “Hymn to Work”—as in, “work as a response to dark moments of self-doubt” or “doubling-down against dark doubts about the insignificance of one’s work.” I am not suggesting that lawyers tend to be bipolar (although there is all that empirical data about high instances of depression, substance abuse, divorce, even suicide.) But being a lawyer, which starts with the affliction known as “being a law student,” can be quite a grind—even for the highly compensated strivers among us, which does not characterize most of us, by any stretch. And even among the highly compensated one certainly does not find a neat correspondence with the set of “happy lawyers”—although those three or four who nail the sweet spot in that Venn diagram illustrating “wealthy lawyers” and “happy lawyers” probably deserve universal awe.

But, seriously, every lawyer could use his or her own “Old Dry Eyes” now and then, providing a gratuitous kick-start, just as the voice behind Sonnet 29 needed the affection of a beautiful youth to help him shake off the shadows and refuel for another round.
So go on: think about some lawyer or law student you know who might be struggling with a bit of existential despair right now and throw them a random ray of sunshine. You will make their day—just as I hope this post makes a mysterious pair of dry eyes twinkle just a bit.

[1] From what I can glean, the actual personage behind the anonymous “Old Dry Eyes” is a rather sentiment fellow who appreciates poetry and, perhaps, blogs from a porch near Las Vegas.


  1. Nicely done! perceptive one. You know more of me than you may think you know. You should know though, it was less my intention to hide, and more just to stay more or less out of the way, and let your blog, and the insights within it, speak for themselves. But in the end I was too impressed to hold my tongue completely.

    So just as it was twenty-two/three years ago at UTD, where we shared a couple of grad courses, and an admiration for a certain brilliant professor with a "blessed rage for order," I meant "merely [to] think on thee [and thy mind at work], and then my state...From sullen earth, sings hymns at heavens gate."

    As it is now, you were the star student then and I the earnest observer. I share a vicarious pride in your work now as I did in your work then because your actual choices, your actual career path followed so closely my dream career path. You've pretty much accomplished all I ever saw myself doing (and I take my pride in knowing my dreams were worthwhile dreams to dream even though they were fulfilled in someone else's life). I doubt I was ever "in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes," but I certainly did aspire to emulate (envy) the brilliance I felt shinning all around me during those bright years in Dallas. Those were some really fun classes, were they not? (What was the Hungarian(?) Lit. Professor's name? We studied Brothers Karamazov and Unbearable Lightness of Being and Goethe...). Anyway, I stake no bipolar claims, but the moniker does derive from the conjunction of "Old Blue Eyes", a famous Las Vegas headliner, and my decision to bring an end to all the self-pity parties. I've come to understand that time and circumstances can be just as informative in one's life path as effort and attitude. It takes good fortune in all four phases to find the outcome one thinks she seeks in the beginning. So over the years I cried out all my tears and moved on: To Vegas (as you cleverly uncovered) with the career I have, such as it is, and my own beautiful fifth grade daughter who leans more toward Harry Potter than the old bard.

    And since our paths crossed again, here on the internet highway, I just had to congratulate and encourage you from my comfortable and familiar seat of anonymity (I mostly held my tongue in class too, you may recall, if you recall Andy Wigington at all). So keep up the splendid work, (for both of us!), and I'll do my best to appreciate and "lubricate" your efforts. Thanks for the acknowledgment and post. Many blessings to you and you know who (and tell him I said "hey").

    1. Hi, Andy! AA definitely remembers you and sends his regards. So funny how the layers of one's life loop back upon themselves and seap into one another. I guess this fun explains why everyone else on the planet is on Facebook. I'll get around to signing up once my daughter joins, and I need to spy on her. Meanwhile, I appreciate the incredibly kind words.
      P.S. Hungarian professor with great literary acumen = Zsuzsannah Ozsvath--still going strong at UTD as far as I know.

  2. Aah, yes! Professor Ozsvath; that's her exactly. I forgot about Rilke in my author's list; I think it was she who introduced us to Rilke. Do you still read him, or are you faithful only to Will?

    As you might imagine, facebook's not really my thing; the pace there is too quick and too incessant for me.

    I did however run across a sonnet on another writer's site, written by someone calling himself Dragonskulls, that I think you might appreciate. It may boost whatever arguments you must use to persuade your daughter of the value of the training she's receiving from you. Anyway, I liked it. It's titled, A Sonnet's Beauty:

    As elegant as jasmine on the wind
    Pure tenderness should mold a sonnet's poise
    Escaping from the lips as if we've sinned
    Partaking in the nectar of its joys

    So delicate as petals of a rose
    Caressing ev'ry line the sculptor made
    Enchanted by the splendor it bestows
    While basking in its precious serenade

    But has dear essence grievously expired
    For centuries have dulled what once was graced
    Now few possess the qualities required
    Exchanging what is felt for what is chased

    With loyalty until my life's fulfilled
    Extravagant will be each sonnet quilled