Skip to content

Back from the Trenches

To those of you who know me as a writer and wonder where I and my blog have been, I am returning from the trenches.

When I say “trenches” I am talking trial lawyer style. Not the trenches in which our fathers or grandfathers or great-grandfathers huddled during one of the World Wars, but the trenches of court where attorneys try cases. The word derives from the Old French verb, trencher, to carve or dig; trench as a noun being the end product. In a literal trench, you are isolated from all but your comrades.

In the trenches of trial, you are focused on the trial and that trial only.

Everything else falls away. Only the facts, the players and the problems of the case remain. Even the air feels different: thinner but invigorating.

We are speaking, of course, of adrenaline, the most seductive drug of all. It fuels warriors, lovers, athletes, firefighters, and it fuels attorneys who try cases. Maybe that is the reason for the war metaphors.

“Off to do battle,” you announce cheerfully, dragging your file-and-exhibit-laden carry-on behind you. “Gonna kick some_________ (fill in your favorite word).”

“Take no prisoners!” your paralegal yells, which is like telling an actor to break a leg.

“The jury is going to be out about five minutes,” a colleague mourns after a tough case. “But I had to try it. I fell on my sword.”

I fell in love with this lingo and lifestyle back in the mid-1980s when I was a law clerk for the public defender office. Many years have passed. I still love to go to trial, although trials are, to paraphrase Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times. The best means that all you can do is the trial—often a huge relief in our multitasking world. The worst is the same thing: trial trumps everything but family emergencies.

 When a trial ends, re-entry can be tough.

There is the adrenaline drop. You don’t know when it will happen, only that there is no way around it. Even as a young public defender I understood that. As soon as my jury retired to deliberate, I would go out for a double espresso and something chocolate. The combination would keep me revved until I was ready to come back to the normal world—cleaning off my desk, answering phone calls, excavating my kitchen, reconnecting with friends and family. Now in 2012, unanswered e-mails join the list.

In my current position, I do bench trials—i.e. before a judge or referee, not a jury. The biggest difference is that I no longer have to obsess over what the jury will think of a scuff in my shoe or a drop of coffee that fell on my shirt during a break.  But the preparation is the same, and so is the feeling that every cell in my body is engaged in this one thing.

During the past month I have tried a lot of cases, and it has been hard to come back to the writing table. Both require focus but of a very different kind. To write, I must limp off the battlefield (those war metaphors again), put down my spear, take off my shield and go sit under a tree to dream awhile.

My tree today is this gloriously cold and rainy day, which has me inside with a yellow cat purring on my desk. The suits and high heels are put away, and I’m in my favorite writing clothes: a leotard, T-shirt and bare feet.

Outside my window pale green leaves sprout, lilacs bloom and my mind is wending its way to characters, scenes and stories.

It’s good to be back.








One Comment Post a comment
  1. I think maybe I enjoy writing to get away from the adrenaline surge, but it makes doing readings kind of difficult; writing is supposed to be about that solitary space. I have enough adrenaline-laden moments, but when you have to be on stage, it seems in complete opposition to the intimate space in which the words were crated.

    For the reading, I have to act: I’m on! But, wait, isn’t that what writing was supposed to save me from? Last Tuesday, I joined seven other writers for a reading at Intermedia Arts, seven other Givens Foundation for African American Literature Emerging Writer Retreat Fellows. ( We did a run-through before the event. I was told that I “needed to practice” again before the show. No adrenaline. No, “your on.”

    I wrote these words so that I would not have to say them. Right? I guess that I had to be a little unsafe and emote. How could I do that to my words? Get a little nervous. Man. I guess you could say that we slay our readers/listeners.

    At any rate, welcome back to the world of beautiful words.

    April 29, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: