Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Image from Wikimedia.com

In my early 20s I moved to California to pursue a career in the film business. Within 8 months I was homeless, unkempt, disillusioned and deeply embarrassed by failure. By night I drove around the city of Los Angeles, all my possessions packed into my car. By day, I retreated to the mountains of Simi Valley where I had a cozy, shady, private cliff-cave within which I slept. I wore a sign that read: SLEEPING NOT DEAD.

It was around that time I began to read Shakespeare. Deciphering his archaic phrases and visualizing his characters helped me forget the tragic reality that was my life. I have since made a habit of reading Shakespeare during particularly stressful, life-changing events. I read “Othello” during the winter of 2004/2005 when a roommate abandoned me, leaving me unable to pay rent or heating bills. “Hamlet” and I became good friends when I dropped out of graduate school in 2006 and moved to another country on an errant search for love. I read “King Lear” when, in my late 20s, the newspaper for which I worked went out of business, exactly one day after my girlfriend Sonja and I discussed plans for our wedding. I read “Midsummer’s Night Dream” in 2012 when I should have been studying for my first Contracts exam.

This summer, Sonja (now my wife) gave birth to our third little boy, I took on a full-time internship, an Illinois Civil Procedure course and studied for the MPRE. So I bought tickets to see “A Winter’s Tale” performed live.

There is a line in “A Winter’s Tale” that is generally considered among the strangest of Shakespeare’s prose. According to The Royal Opera House, that line is a single, cryptic stage direction: [Exit, Pursued by a bear].

The Royal Opera’s Website does a good job of explaining the stage direction’s context, writing, “The character being pursued is Antigonus, a lord of Sicilia, who has been ordered to abandon the baby Princess Perdita. He is interrupted in his cruel errand by the arrival of the bear, an encounter that proves fatal for him – but not for the baby.”

The problem with the stage direction is that it exists in the middle of the play. The first half of the play is quite serious and dramatic, while the second half is a kind of silly comedy with an over the top, Disney-like happy ending. So the question exists: How should stage directors portray the scene? Is it funny when a bear chases a man? It is if the bear is an actor in a bear costume. Is it serious? Should it be scary? It will be if the bear is portrayed with shadows or dramatic lighting.

Which brings me to the topic of law school.

When I entered law school, I had serious debt from my undergrad and graduate school. That debt, combined with what I’ve accumulated during my time at John Marshall, is roughly the same amount of money needed to buy a small house in the suburbs or open a coffee shop. As of this writing, I have zero leads on a job. And once I graduate, I will need to pay the money back. The bear begins its pursuit.

Law school has consumed my life for the past three years. It has also transformed my family. My young children think it is normal that their father is not at home to kiss them goodnight most nights; my wife and I rarely see each other; any free time I have is spent studying, which means it is difficult for me to help do basic chores like laundry or mop the kitchen floor. My wife has spent the last 3 years leaving work early and rushing home so that I might be able to get to classes on time. I have not held a regular job since quitting my career as a journalist (I bartended for a bit but that did little to help pay the bills).

My point is not that law school is tough. Most reading this have first-hand knowledge of the stress, the occasional embarrassment and the lack of sleep. My point, is that I am finished; mentally and physically. I cannot do it anymore. In December, I will graduate. And after the ceremony I will pick up my oldest son, 4-year-old Bertie, and I will recall the afternoon I built Lego towers while struggling to study for my Torts final. I will try not to think about the crushing debt I have accumulated while I attempted to build a better life for him myself, and the rest of my family. I’m finished. I’m out of here John Marshall Law School and I’m not afraid of the debt. Let the bear come after me. I’m going to be a lawyer and I worked damn hard for it.

In “A Winter’s Tale,” Antigonus leaves the baby alone in the woods. The day turns dark and he senses a storm approaching. Feeling his heart bleed for the plight of the baby, he says the following words before being mauled to death by the bear:

“I never saw

The heavens so dim by day. A savage clamour!

Well may I get aboard! This is the chase:

I am gone for ever.”

[Exit, pursued by a bear]

By Nick Vogel

Posted in Law

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