Friday, May 10, 2013

Going Down the Rabbit Hole with "Like Crazy"

I tend to over-analyze a lot of things if I allow myself to do it. I do this with movies sometimes. Generally I don't often allow myself to over-think a movie too far after I have seen it, but I do make exceptions. I saw the film "Like Crazy" probably a year or so ago. It was a good film and I would recommend it to people who enjoy this type of movie. It's not really a romantic comedy, mostly because it has a brain and doesn't try to oversimplify what the audience is seeing or try to explain to the audience what each character is thinking. At it's heart, it is a romantic movie though. The movie got me thinking a lot about life choices and how what you really believe you want isn't necessarily what you really want. You may wonder why a romantic movie led me to start doing some deep-thinking. Well, I do too, but here I am doing some deep-thinking about life and life decisions.

Here's a brief synopsis of the movie with major spoilers so you can understand exactly what I am talking about. An American boy played by Anton Yelchin playing "Jacob" (he's that guy you saw in "Star Trek" playing Chekov and was in "Alpha Dog" and the re-make of "Fright Night") and a British girl named "Anna" played by Felicity Jones. You will recognize her because she has teeth that look too big for her mouth and will have an as-to-be-determined part in "The Amazing Spiderman 2." These two young kids fall in love quickly as young folks are prone to do, Anna is in the United States on a student visa so the love is temporary, they try to postpone her eventual departure back to the United Kingdom, and finally she overstays her visa, is forced to leave, and can't get back into the United States until the United States government gives her permission. And no, the idea of smuggling her back into the United States was never broached in this movie. The rest of the movie consists of two events occurring over a few year time span:

1. Anna and Jacob both move on with their lives.

2. Anna and Jacob both try to get back with each other.

By the way, they are moving on while still trying to eventually build a future together at the same time. You can probably see where the act of moving on and still trying to be together could get cumbersome. They both want to, and do, get married to each other, but Jacob won't move to the United Kingdom and she can't move to the United States. Through the entire movie Jacob is kind of a dick in that he isn't willing to move to the United Kingdom, but that's beside the point of where I am eventually going with all of this. They both begin relationships with other people (while still married) and then become jealous of these relationships. Anna gets proposed to and gets a great job, while Jacob starts a relationship with a girl played by Jennifer Lawrence and spends most of his time waiting for his life to start, which would conceivably happen when Anna comes back to the United States. At the heart, they are two people married to each other (figuratively and literally) while also pursing other relationships.

Anna and Jacob have this mutual long-term goal of living a life together while living their life in the short-term. You get the feeling at no point do either of them sit back and wonder if they really want to be together anymore. Both Anna and Jacob know they are committed to spending their lives together. They are committed to each other because they committed to being together. The commitment to being together becomes the sole strand tying them together. After a few years, a friend of Anna's parents has worked hard enough to get her legally back into the United States. It's clear at this point she isn't entirely sure coming back to the United States is what she wants, but it's what she has committed to doing, so seemingly without thinking she leaves her boyfriend, quits her job, and leaves for the United States. Jacob is happy because he didn't have to leave the United States and Anna is coming to live with him. He picks her up at the airport, but at this point it is two strangers meeting with each other at an airport. It's kind of awkward.

They have both sacrificed a lot (well, mostly Anna sacrificed a lot if I am being honest) and now they got what they wanted. They should be happy, but they aren't. It's a very formal and professional reunion and as Jacob brings her back to his loft it seems like he is showing his new roommate around and not like he has just been reunited with the love of his life. It's still very awkward because neither really knows where to start because they barely feel like they know each other at his point. It had been a couple of years since they fell in love, and time, plus space, has seemed to change them both significantly. Finally, they decide to take a shower. Anna and Jacob step in the shower, hug, and both have very apprehensive looks on their face and the movie ends.

It's a frustrating, open-ended kind of ending that many movie watchers simply won't like. They may prefer resolution. I think there was resolution though. Anna and Jacob are committed to making it work out with each other, but at some point one of them will bow out of the relationship. It's over and neither person can admit to it quite yet. They had become two different people fighting for a cause that time and the natural change that comes with maturity has altered for them. They always planned and thought they wanted to be together, but didn't take the time to sit down and actually think about whether this is what both of them wanted. This fierce commitment over a long period of time to what you think you want without actually sitting back and thinking if you still want what you think you want is what got me thinking.

Ever since I was 12 or 13 years old, I wanted to be an attorney. I read every John Grisham novel and I watched "The Practice." I loved the idea of being an attorney and couldn't wait to graduate college and go to law school. It's what I wanted at the age of 12-13 and I never really thought about whether this is really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life or not. I had no other ideas about what to do with my life, so screw it, I am going to stick to being an attorney. When people asked me what profession I wanted to pursue, I told them I wanted to be an attorney. It was my future profession. My neighbor told me I would never get in law school if I went to Appalachian State which only further fueled my desire to prove him wrong. I majored in Economics in college because my academic advisor told me law schools really look at the skill set that an Economics major can provide. I passed up interning at a law firm in my hometown during the summer because I already knew I wanted to be an attorney and the internship was unpaid. It was probably a bad move because I could have gotten an idea of what being an attorney actually entails if I had taken the internship. Still, I needed cash to pay for gas, food, and all the other shit that was important to a 18-21 year old college student. I worked during the summer to buy stuff. I didn't have time to work for no money.

My commitment to being an attorney never wavered. I got advice from other attorneys on what to put on my law school applications, earned good grades in college, and received a plan from my academic advisor on how to achieve my goal of going to law school. At no point did anyone ask me why I wanted to go to law school. Not "why" did I want to go. That's easy. I wanted to be an attorney. But "WHY" did I want to be an attorney and go to law school. Why is that what I wanted for my life? Don't get me wrong, I don't blame anyone for mistakes I've made in my life or where my life path has taken me. It's all on me, but I think the fact no one ever asked me or questioned WHY I was choosing that life path speaks to how the dream of a 13 year old boy can turn into the wrong career path for a 22 year man. I never had to explain exactly what kind of attorney I wanted to be or what it was about law that interested me. I probably should have sat down and thought about this, but never took the time. Going to law school became a commitment and I was committed to this commitment. It was happening whether I thought about whether I wanted it or not.

This is part of where "Like Crazy" took me. I saw myself in that movie. I saw myself living my short-term life heading in a completely different direction from where my supposed long-term goal was taking me. I took Economics classes and didn't particularly hate or enjoy them, but I really enjoyed the Political Science classes that I was taking. That didn't matter though. There was no money in Political Science, and remember, I was going to law school. I couldn't be bothered to take the LSAT not somewhat hungover, but I was very, very dedicated to this dream I had as a 13 year old. I wanted money and I wanted to be an attorney, even if I didn't seem to particularly enjoy the life path I had put myself on (which I didn't know at the time of course...this is all hindsight). I got into a law school I was less than enthused about attending and was my very last choice, but it was all a means to an end. It was a law school and I had gotten in, so I was going whether I liked the campus and school or not. In "Like Crazy," Anna and Jacob had a lot of signs along the way to their eventual reunion telling them maybe this wasn't the right path for them to be together. They never updated what their younger selves wanted or took enough time to seriously contemplate if they were making the right move to try and be together. They reminded me of me. There were small signs along the way I should have re-thought my goal. I didn't like the law school I was attending, which should have been a bright neon warning, but it wasn't. I was absolutely dreading going to law school, which isn't how it should feel. I think I didn't have enough resolve to look inside myself and ask myself what I truly wanted out of life. Maybe I had the resolve but couldn't be bothered to make a change so late in my college career.

I did end up getting into law school, though as previously stated, I attended the school I had the least interest in (after all, I wanted to be an attorney so I had to sacrifice). I stayed up at my undergraduate institution over the 2002 summer until I absolutely had to leave for law school and left as many weekends as possible from law school (maybe 1-2 weekends per month...a lot, but not more excessive than my fellow first year classmates) to go live the life that I had started living before I went to law school. I wasn't homesick or anything because I never wanted to go back and live in my hometown. My father was sick, so I wanted to be with him, and my close friends all lived in different areas of the state of North Carolina, so I wanted to hang out with them. It was about November 2002 when I realized it wasn't working for me. I wasn't happy. I hated law school and it was showing in my work. I was working as hard as everyone else and it wasn't showing in my grades (though I wasn't doing so badly I was failing classes), while I had no passion for what I was doing. The writing was on the wall and it was a shitty place to be in knowing you are probably just playing out the string until your first year is over. I knew I was not coming back for my second year of law school, but I had a few months to think about what I really wanted to do and hope maybe I would start to love learning about law.

The law classes were very dry and my cubicle was located in a depressing, dark basement where I felt like my life was rotting away while surrounded by law books. I was never good at sitting down for hours and studying and this had never betrayed me because I always attended class and learned the material when it was presented. That wasn't working for me in law school and even the outlines I created (basically a long list of everything learned in the course) as I learned the material weren't helping. I'm a pretty outspoken and not shy person, but the school used the Socratic Method of teaching, which completely did not work for me. Basically this method involves standing up and being quizzed by your professor about the material covered as homework, except the professor tries to confuse you.

For a person who loves chasing different strands of thought while writing, I have a very difficult time learning while chasing multiple strands. So when the professor would stand me up to recite a court case and discuss it with me, it became more of a verbal joust (this was the experience of pretty much everyone who got stood up to discuss a case) about the case and what the right "answer" may have been more than it was an exercise in learning about the subject at hand. I hated the Socratic Method. Stand me up and have me recite knowledge I already know or how it applies to the case and I am fine, but when I am stood up after reading a court case whose ramifications I am not supposed to be fully aware of yet didn't work for me. It seemed like a game of "gotcha" more than a learning environment. One day when my Contract teacher stood me up to recite and discuss a case, so I essentially waved my white flag. It wasn't my proudest or most memorable moment, though I do remember it fairly well.

My Contracts professor stood me up and asked about a case we had to read and write a brief on. I recited the facts of the case first, but the ruling and the reason for the ruling had absolutely baffled me the night before. Naturally, this is the case where I have to talk about it in front of the entire class. Naturally. So when I got past the facts of the case and to the part where he led me down the wrong path as to the reason for the ruling I stopped the conversation with my exasperation. This was the Spring semester and I had been stood up to recite a case enough to know I was fucked and I wasn't smart enough to understand the case until someone explained it to me. I don't remember the facts of the case or the ruling, but the exchange went something like this,

(Professor) "Tell me how we got the ruling and why this case was ruled the way it was." 

(Me) "I don't get how this ruling came about. It doesn't make sense to me."

(Professor) "Well there is a new precedent being set here. Explain to me about that precedent."

(Me) "I have no idea what the new precedent is, all I know is... (then I gave my takeaway from the case)"

(Professor) "So the conclusion you think we have reached is...

(Me getting flustered) Again, I have no idea. My conclusion is probably wrong (I give my takeaway again). That's just my takeaway from the case and why I think the judge ruled the way he did. Am I right?"

(Professor laughs at me) "You may be right. Why do you think the judge didn't rule in favor of the defendant?"

(Me) "Because my takeaway from the case says he ruled for the plaintiff because....I know what I know and I only know why I think know what I know (at this point the class is laughing pretty hard). Normally, I'm wrong though."

(Professor starts chuckling) "So are you right about the precedent this case set?"

(Me) "Isn't that supposed to be what you are telling me? I don't know if I am right if no one will tell me if I am right or not. Me continuing to babble without knowing if I am right or not does none of us any good (at this point, everyone, including the professor and myself are laughing)."

(Professor trying to regain his composure) "You are right, but not for the reasons you think you are right.

(Me) "Now there's a shock. I'm right, but don't even know why I am right. I'm too dumb to even know how smart I am."

(Professor continues) "This case eventually set a different precedent from what it intended to set. Do you know what precedent that was?"

(Me) "I barely understand the precedent I just was right about, how am I supposed to know the case set a precedent for a case we haven't even discussed yet?"

(Professor) "We are discussing the case today, actually. It's part of what we will discuss tomorrow."

(Me laughing along with everyone else) "I'm sorry, I can't tell you what new precedent was set in this case if we haven't even discussed the case where this current case became the new precedent. I'm really confused, sorry."

(Professor) "Have a seat."

(Me) "Thank God."

This conversation ended up lasting about 15 minutes, but these are the highlights and they speak to my confusion. I came to the conclusion I just wasn't smart enough for law school or the Socratic Method is only meant to weed out those who can't cut it. The latter is probably true. I guess I got weeded out. Eventually this professor gave me a very nice recommendation to the MBA program and we had several nice conversations after that. In a couple of the conversations he told me law isn't for everyone, but he and my other professors understand I'm smart...but it's just not translating. "You can't be good at everything," he told me. This came as a shock since I had only failed once in terms of academics over my entire educational career. I got a "B-" in Algebra II in 9th grade and that was with the help of a tutor (I was fortunate my high school offered statistics classes after that so I could avoid Calculus. I love statistics and didn't want to learn Calculus). I didn't know how it felt to fail in academics. I always said I wanted to be an attorney and now I was going to have to change course.

I was at that point in "Like Crazy" where I had finally gotten what I wanted, but just now realized it isn't what I wanted at all. That's what really resonated with me about the movie. Not the romantic part or the feeling of two lovers trying to live a life together, but the feeling of fighting so hard for something you want, but then find out it isn't what you want at all. I had gotten myself in a position where I was pursuing something I didn't care to pursue, but only for the reason I always said I wanted to pursue it. After all I had done to achieve my goal, I found out I didn't really want to attend law school anymore. It's really ridiculous sounding isn't it? I worked hard to achieve a goal it turns out I never even wanted to achieve. I'm kind of glad I couldn't catch on to the Socratic Method (though student loans had accumulated during my first year of law school, so I was not happy about that) because it forced me to make a change. I had never updated my feelings about being an attorney from the time I was 13 years old. I had made a decision as a middle-schooler and that decision was final.

The movie "Like Crazy" didn't change my life, but it did affect me in a way. It was a film where I could see myself in the struggle contained in it. I saw where two people wanted something because they claim to have wanted something at a point in the past. They never updated or discussed any changing wants or needs with each other. Any attempted variation on being together forever was seen as a mere bump in the road rather than a giant red flag warning them they were on the wrong course. In that movie, I don't recall any other character asking Anna or Jacob if they had really thought about whether they wanted to be together or not. I had a habit as a younger person of not evaluating my decisions and asking myself if those decisions are really what I wanted out of life, which is not a good habit to have.

So after my first year of law school, I decided I wasn't going to attend law school anymore and was going to pursue an MBA. This was a more logical move since I was more interested in opening up a business that happened to be a law office than I was interested in opening a law office that happened to be a business. My roommate at the time was still in law school, so I got the perks of going to law school parties but not having to deal with the work I hated so much. That was fantastic. My roommate and I threw combined MBA-law school parties at the house we rented (where we destroyed the men's basketball team at beer pong and taunted them for their lack of skill...that's always fun) and I finally got to learn about topics I understood and enjoyed discussing.

So that's why the movie resonated with me. It's the absurdity of these two people doing so much work to accomplish something they aren't entirely sure they believe in anymore, but never questioning whether they believe in that something or not. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate the phrase "It was meant to be" because I dislike the idea of anything but my free will and own decisions affecting how my life plays out. So when people say something "just isn't meant to be," I cringe because it seems like a lazy way of not taking responsibility for a decision that was made. It's not that I wasn't meant to be an attorney, I just never updated the expectations I had for my own life and how I wanted to live my life.

A lot of good things came out of my year at law school. I met people who became good friends, I got to spend a couple of summers alone (the school I went to was a ghost town during the summer and my roommate went home for the summer, while I was taking summer classes to graduate from the MBA program in a little over a year) with myself and my thoughts and I learned to rely on discovering what I really wanted out of life to make decisions for myself. This process got started at least. I'm not entirely sure this lesson effectively took hold in the form of actions until I was a little older, but that's beside the point.

I had people tell me it wasn't meant to be for me to be an attorney, which is what I heard a lot of. This made me cringe. It seems like a passive reason to explain it. I wasn't very good at it and I didn't have the passion to become an attorney. That's how I explain it.

Another good thing that came out of law school is that my roommate when I was pursuing my MBA had a college buddy who I was casual friends with and this college buddy eventually moved to Greensboro, North Carolina the same time I moved there. We became great friends and roommates. Then my roommate started dating a girl who had a good friend that she introduced me to at a bar (I know, a bar...I hate it too). This girl was double-fisting beer, which I immediately took as a good sign. She eventually became my wife. So basically if I had never made the bad decision to go to law school I never would have met my law school roommate who never would have introduced me to his college friend who ended up dating a girl who introduced me to my wife. Some people would start screaming "That's fate!," but I chose to go to law school remember, so I like to think it was all my doing. At least something good came from that bad decision.


  1. Great post, Ben. Again, very relateable to us oldish mid-30s types :) I felt some genuine empathy here as I still don't know why I went to business school, and now that I've whipped myself into shape I feel I'd be better off being some type of healthy chef or fitness instructor...certainly way more happy...and it's so hard to make those career changes once already established with a marriage and kids. All we can do is teach the next generation to actually pursue dreams and engage them a bit more in what they'd like to do, instead of scaring them with "you'll never amount to anything without a four year degree from a law or business or liberal arts school".

    1. I went to get my MBA for three reasons:

      1. I wanted to eventually get my MBA and figured I wouldn't go back if I didn't go right then.

      2. I had a house with a year lease that I was too lazy to break...not the best of reasons, I admit.

      3. I had no idea what I wanted to do in terms of jobs, so I thought I would give myself time to think about it.

      It's hard to say if it was the right decision or not. I lost a lot of jobs initially because they thought my salary expectations would be too high, but then I got jobs because of the degree.

      My biggest lesson from all this is to sit down and really think what I want rather than mindlessly pursue a goal without thinking through whether it is a goal I really want to accomplish or not. It's sounds bizarre but I really saw myself in the two characters at the end of the movie. I had achieved my dream of going to law school, but this made me more unhappy.

      That neighbor who told me I wouldn't get in law school if I went to my undergraduate university wanted me to go to UNC-Chapel Hill. He was a UNC fan. He's a dick and not just because of where he went to school.