Author Archives: Michael Davis

About Michael Davis

Writer. Reader. Appreciator of corgis.

Law School and Self-Worth

Years ago, when I was in law school, I had a curious experience, one that has recently echoed back to me from the son of a friend coming to the end of his 1L.  I would attend classes for about 5-6 hours a day, then spend 8-10 more studying in the library. I was wired pretty tightly, well on my way to developing a host of stress- and anxiety-driven illnesses, a drinking habit, anger management problems, and a degree of generalized hatred for myself and all humanity. And I was one of the relatively soulful, philosophically minded, well-adjusted ones.  You wouldn’t have wanted to spend 10 minutes in my presence.

The substance abuse in my first and second years was incredible to behold. It was comparable to the level of fear sustained in the students by the policies of the school, the economy, and their own Type-A personalities. At this time, jobs in law were just starting to become scarce. People were deeply in debt, had sacrificed everything to get there, and were obsessively, neurotically, pathologically motivated to succeed. The most popular directions were intellectual property, cyber law, and various other strains of corporate or business-oriented practice. Those interested in criminal law were viewed with a mix of wonder and contempt. The poverty law clinic people were considered idealistic rubes destined to live on ramen and hot dogs for the rest of their miserable lives.

And so it went. There was a suicide at the end of 1L, a hushed-up sexual harassment scandal involving a star professor, a few students dropped out, one to get married and become a suburban housewife, another due to undisclosed health problems, another after an in-class meltdown. The rest of us soldiered on because we had to. What else did we have? We were children who’d practiced the tuba for hours and hours and now we were in Advanced Tuba School. Take our tubas away and, we felt, we’d have to go sleep in the park.

I was no exception to any of this. The only thing that I had going for me was a tiny secret flame of creativity that I kept lit. Every Sunday morning, like a religious ritual, I took an hour out to read a short story. That was my church and my scripture. It was also another source of pain because it reminded me that somewhere someone not in law had written those words.  My fellow students fantasized about opening surf shops, being school custodians, managing bowling alleys. The escape fantasies came thick and fast, especially around exams when the law library mostly reeked of coffee and body odor. I fantasized about these things, too, about being a writer custodian or a writer surf shop cashier.

One afternoon, sitting in a fern-laden restaurant I couldn’t afford with a drug lawyer who had become a mentor of sorts, I came to a realization. She was on her third glass of wine, telling me that I needed to love law school because it was only going to get worse afterward. She said, “When I was in law school, I got to the point where I thought that I might be able to get hit by a car and live. If my legs were broken, no one could blame me for quitting.” I walked out of that lunch feeling like I’d just visited the crossroads and the devil had handed me some solid advice: you can sell your soul, but why don’t you go home and think it over first?

In the grand synchronicity of all things magical, I’d gotten an email that day from a writer I admired. I’d sent him a few old short stories and asked the most annoying question a young writer can ask: “Am I any good?” But he was kind and honest. He wrote back and said, “Yes, in my opinion, you are. But the life of a writer is not easy and you should know what you’re getting into. If you want to come study with me, you’re invited.” Warnings and dire pronouncements were nothing new. I heard them every day. So the caveat made absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. His opinion about my writing did. Shortly thereafter, I left law school to study creative writing and subsequently get a PhD in English.

Still, you don’t just walk away from that life. Law school makes a deep impression. It made me strong in certain ways, forced me to stop seeing success in law as a grand test of self-worth. Law school isn’t an IQ test; it’s not a metric for willpower, character, cleverness, or discipline; though, it draws on all of those things (like anything made artificially difficult). Law is generally taught poorly, often emotionally brutalizes students, and is unforgiving of human frailty in totally unnecessary ways. It’s also idealized when it should be analyzed. People worship law education because succeeding there is held up as an objective way to know one’s worth, which is tragic.

I want to say these things to my friend’s son. But I know I can’t because I see in him all the masochistic investment that I saw when I was back in law school. Instead, I will say it here and add: someone who seems stupid and unsuccessful in one respect will be smart and successful in another. Often these things will not be superficially evident. Until you can accept this—that there is no way to judge your worth apart from looking for it inside yourself—you will always be sad, scared, and beholden to the social power of others.

Be free. Let it go. Try to experience love. Try to discover small things that make you happy and look for ways to share those things with others. That’s when life really gets good. When you see someone who appears to be the smartest or most powerful person in the room, take a step back and widen your perspective until that feeling of being impressed and intimidated passes. Then look again.


More Than Just a Familiar Formula—a review of Netflix’s Mute on Splice Today

Read it here:

STEM, Scientism, and the Decline of the Humanities – my latest on Splice Today

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My latest on the school shooting in Florida on Splice Today . . .

Read it at:


I review Netflix’s recent series, Altered Carbon, on Splice Today . . .





Where is my mind?

For the last 27 years, I’ve kept a diary in which I’ve made entries three to five times a week in a ritualistic obsession to document my life.  To be honest, I’ve also kept the diary to have someone to whom I can talk.  No one but a blank page would ever care to listen to all my complaints and worries (given their number and variety) and no one should have to.  When I was a child, it was my mother who listened.  Now Microsoft Word is my mother.

Many of the entries are short.  Some go on like essays.  But no matter how voluble or terse, joyful or upset I was when I wrote, I’ve been able to use the entries to bend time—essentially to bring my past more vividly into my present.  As a result, I believe that who I am now is more meaningfully informed by who I have been at various other points in my history, affecting the way I view my present place in the world and my sense of momentum through life.

Bending time is one of the most outstanding benefits to keeping a diary, maybe the only real benefit.  It may sound like a kind of hell, endlessly ruminating over people, places, events, and feelings long gone.  And one does pay a price.  I’d be lying if I said my diaristic habit hadn’t aged me in certain ways while keeping me young in others. 

In one sense, I carry a unique emotional weight.  Some things that happened decades ago may seem like they went down yesterday.  And what is happening right now may resonate in idiosyncratic ways, causing me to react unpredictably.  Why am I so angry?  Why did I find that so funny?  Well, you see, back in 1997 . . . I don’t heal very well from past wounds.  Some things I just can’t let go or forgive.  I wouldn’t even say I hold grudges because that would imply an unnatural or inappropriate degree of ill will or resentment over time.  My ill will and resentment are perfectly natural and appropriate, given my perspective.

I’ve also seen personal themes emerge, but I can’t say whether it’s because of character, destiny, or maybe just selective attention.  I only know that I’ve noticed cycles, repetitions, even echoes across the years.  Situations will happen over and over.  Similar personality types will appear and be magnetized to me or repulsed by me or both in their seasons.  People will say the same things.  Headlines will look the same.  I’ll often (though thankfully not always) make the same stupid mistakes. 

I’ll even have dreamlike moments of déjà vu in which I won’t be sure whether I imagined something, saw it in my sleep, or actually experienced it.  But I think I’ve reached the point where I care a lot less about the distinction between daydreams, actual dreams, misremembered dreams, and lived dreams.  Life really is but a dream and, if I experienced something, it was undeniably an experience. 

Ironically, my compulsive documentarianism has made everything seem a bit relative.  I celebrate many anniversaries, births, deaths, resurrections, departures, (not so) sudden arrivals, accomplishments, magical epiphanies, failures, desperate heartaches, humiliations, dignities, and small quiet moments.  I remember a red leaf from a chestnut tree that I picked up while standing in the German WWII graveyard outside Tallinn; walking behind an NYU undergrad through old town in Prague, how his T-shirt had male and female restroom icons made to look like they were at a wedding and the words GAME OVER underneath; dancing with a girl who’d driven down that night from the Flathead Indian Reservation at a bar called the Iron Horse in Missoula, Montana, the same night a friend of mine got high and chased two fraternity brothers through the frozen streets with a razor sharp hunting knife. 

I remember the night I met the woman who’d become my wife; the moment I learned that my father had been abusing my mother right up to the day she went into cancer hospice; holding my first book of stories when it finally arrived; the day I spent acting in a TV commercial; standing in the ruins of the Hell Fire Club on Montpelier Hill overlooking Dublin on a rainy day; lying down on a grave in Savannah, Georgia, and staring up at the night sky through the branches of a willow tree.

I’ve already lived multiple lives, died and been reborn multiple times.  And I feel this has modified the way I see everything, the way I write, how I speak, probably even the structures in my brain.  In a moment of absolute strangeness and synchronicity—not to be believed but true nonetheless—my neighbor is playing the Pixies’ Where is my mind? (poorly) on the piano.  Good question.


How I’ve been feeling lately (as expressed by good old Henry Chinaski).

At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves. I had no interests. I had no interest in anything. I had no idea how I was going to escape. At least the others had some taste for life. They seemed to understand something that I didn’t understand. Maybe I was lacking. It was possible. I often felt inferior. I just wanted to get away from them. But there was no place to go.

– Charles Bukowski