Monday, June 1, 2020

Additional Actions

Art by Monyee Chau @monyeeart on Twitter (also on Instagram)

At this time, mine is not one of the voices that needs to be amplified or heard. Instead, the best thing I can do is to take action as an ally who stands against anti-Black racism and against police violence. Black lives matter. 

As someone with considerable financial privilege, one of the best ways I can take concrete action now is through monetary donations: In addition to donating to the Minnesota Freedom Fund last Friday (they raised $20 million over the weekend, which is extraordinary!), I have also donated to a NYC-based bail fund, via @FreeThemAll2020 on Twitter. I understand both bail funds have expressed that they currently have enough resources because of all the generous support they've recently received. Both groups now encourage donors to donate elsewhere. (There are other general NYC-based bail funds that are still seeking donations, though they are not focused specifically on the recent protests.) I have also donated to Black Visions Collective in Minnesota and to the Lake Street Council in Minneapolis. My donations to these groups currently total $154.30, and I commit to donating at least another $200 this month to related causes. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

In Light of Recent Events

I stand against anti-Black racism and police violence. In this, Asian-Americans from communities like mine (Taiwanese-Americans in the Bay Area who have generally attained substantial economic privilege) have a unique and particular responsibility to take action against the anti-Black racism that can be pervasive in their communities. I have donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund in support of the protestors in Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

I can recommend a few books that focus on American legal history and the lasting effects of slavery and segregation that continue to be felt in our society today. They can serve as a starting point in becoming educated about the importance of combatting racism: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; and The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. This is not a comprehensive list of resources, but a suggestion of possible places to begin in order to understand the historical context. 

For me personally, during my time in law school, I also found The Chosen by Jerome Karabel to be highly influential, given that my particular subset of the Asian-American community has a certain... preoccupation with affirmative action and a misplaced belief that it is a form of racism against us. (Gaining a fuller understanding of why that belief was wrong through learning the history of affirmative action was a crucial piece of my personal anti-racism education, though I'm not sure it'd be quite as important to someone from a different background.) 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Link List: Stuck at Home

I haven't done one of these "link list" posts in nearly six months!

This photograph, like others I've shared recently, was taken in more normal times. It's the red snapper with sea mustard pot at ON, which specializes in Korean-style hot pot dishes. I desperately yearn for the day we're finally able to safely eat in at restaurants again.

1. // Refinery29 recently posted a biglaw attorney money diary from someone who appears to be a seventh-year associate and who, based on her stated age, likely went straight from college to law school. Biglaw attorney money diaries probably aren't that interesting to anyone but me, but I can't get enough of them. 

Out of all the biglaw-ish money diaries over the years, this recent one and this 2018 one are the only ones I've thought especially representative of typical law school student loan repayment experiences. Many of the other biglaw diaries are from younger diarists who either claimed to have unusually generous law school scholarships (sizable scholarships like my 1/3 cost of attendance one are not uncommon, but true full-rides are rare) or who apparently finished paying off their loans within two or three years after law school. (Paying off a typical post-law school student loan balance - $160,000 on the low end - in that quick a timeframe is difficult, even for the especially frugal biglaw associate. Four to five years is more common amongst my peers.) This diarist reports that, at 32, she has fully paid off her law school loans, though their household is still paying off her spouse's student loans. 

What isn't as typical here is that the diarist normally lives in NYC (in a one-bedroom for $4,250/month, which is a fair bit more than K and I pay, but isn't too unusual for a one-bedroom in a newer "luxury" building), but has rented a house in the Connecticut suburbs to socially distance in. Based on my experience, that's an outlier choice for a NYC biglaw associate, whether they have a child or not. The only associates I know who left NYC due to COVID-19 - like this diarist, they generally departed well before March 12, more than a week before New York officially shut down - all moved in with their parents. Biglaw attorneys are well-compensated, but not enough to comfortably pay rent for two separate homes simultaneously over several months! 

2. // Apartment Therapy's YouTube channel has a series of videos touring various apartments and other small homes, many of them in NYC. I particularly loved this tour of Ashley Ford's (iSmashFizzle on Twitter) apartment in Brooklyn. She's so cool! And they're such a sweet, absolutely adorable couple.

A lot of the older videos in the series don't quite show the entire living space, particularly for the slightly larger homes. Many kitchens and bathrooms are omitted, or only a small slice of them are shown. But it's still interesting to look at the wide range of decor styles.

3. // I enjoyed the recent NPR Planet Money podcast episode, "J.Screwed" (hah!), about the J.Crew bankruptcy. They focus on the Jenna Lyons period at J.Crew, noting that the brand's profile and "cool factor" rose significantly after Michelle Obama wore J.Crew on The Tonight Show in 2008. That pretty much lines up exactly with when I first became aware of the brand. I found that late 2000s and early 2010s J.Crew aesthetic completely irresistible and super aspirational when I was in college.

I confess, although much of my attorney work experience is focused on complex commercial transactions, I don't actually understand this story very well. I gather that the relevant business story begins with a leveraged buyout of J.Crew by a private equity firm back in 2011, something to that effect, but that's about it. (Attorneys are trained not to claim claim a full understanding of anything until they've analyzed the relevant contracts and other documents, which are typically voluminous and dense reading when it comes to complex commercial matters.)

4. // I also enjoyed Anne Helen Petersen's recent piece about the potential impact of COVID-19 economic disruptions on American consumer culture and about the role of consumer spending in the American economy at large.

Part of why I'm so attached to Marie Kondo's first book is that I credit it with being the primary factor that allowed me to reevaluate my personal relationship with consumerism. I had many other influences in that "journey," but in the end, the biggest single thing that made the change stick was using KonMari method to see that, no, I never again want to accumulate so much stuff I didn't even actually want, or even particularly like, in the first place. This paragraph from Petersen's recent article is a pretty accurate description of how I used to acquire things unthinkingly:
We’re trained to buy often, buy cheap, and buy a lot. And I’m not just talking about food, which everyone has to acquire in some capacity, or clothes. I mean all the other small purchases of daily life: a new face lotion, a houseplant holder, a wine glass name trinket, an office supply organizer, a vegetable spiralizer, a cute set of hand towels, a pair of nicer sunglasses, a pair of sports sunglasses, a pair of throwaway sunglasses. The stuff, in other words, that you don’t even know that you want until it somehow finds its way to your cart at Target or T.J. Maxx.
Up through 2015, I was definitely no stranger to the random T.J.Maxx knickknacks that somehow got added to the shopping basket, in addition to the towels or cutting board I was actually looking for.

And that's it for today's link list post. Have you been reading any particularly good online articles or watching any interesting YouTube videos recently? 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Social Distancing Life Lately: 10 Weeks

Beef shank tomato noodle soup from a local company, Eat Nomz. They sell frozen soups, with noodles on the side,  for ~$10 to $12/serving, roughly the price of my Sweetgreen lunches. They ship by courier within Manhattan and also ship soups (but no noodles) to a few nearby states. We tried pork and lotus root, beef shank tomato, and brisket radish, and enjoyed all three. I first heard about them years ago from Eva Chen.

How are you doing? Has your state or local government started lifting COVID-19 restrictions? I hope that you and your families are well. K and I are doing just fine, and our families continue to be in good health. Starting next month, I might start feeling nervous about potential salary cuts or furloughs at my workplace, because it's becoming clear that we probably can't return to "business as usual" anytime this summer. Still, I've been extremely fortunate that I've yet to see any disruptions to my job security or income.

This month, I made $350 in total donations to the Food Bank for New York City and World Central Kitchen. I plan to continue making some donations until NYC is fully reopened, or until I see large disruptions to my income (whichever comes first). Though as I start getting nervous about possible salary cuts or furloughs and whether I need to further adjust my money management to account for that, I might no longer commit to donating the same amount every month.

I also expect to start shopping less. After a handful of impulsive "last hurrah" purchases between when I drafted my previous monthly shopping post (a few days ahead of posting) and the first week of May - including an additional Elizabeth Suzann item when they announced the closing of this iteration of the company - I've been much better about not shopping. It's hard for me to absolutely guarantee I'll stay away, given the sheer number of unpredictable mood swings I've had about all kinds of things during this time of fairly strict social distancing. But I seem to be getting to a point where online window-shopping is no longer able to make me feel better - even temporarily - about the pandemic, the way it used to. 

Reopening in New York

New York has laid out a fairly detailed phased reopening plan. A few regions of the state have hit the metrics required to begin Phase One of reopening, but NYC is - unsurprisingly - not among them. Phase One only allows limited industries to reopen: construction, manufacturing, wholesale, and select retail for curbside pickup. (Though I should note that "essential" construction - including several residential construction projects in my neighborhood - had previously remained open under the On PAUSE shutdown orders.) 

Professional services, including legal services, are not slated for partial reopening until Phase Two, so the absolute earliest I could start returning to the office - likely on a limited basis - is probably late June. (Though honestly, I'd be surprised if NYC was allowed to proceed to Phase Two by then.) Any initial reopening would not be a full one, it would involve many precautions and new policies to facilitate social distancing, likely including having a large percentage of the workforce working from home at any given time. Anecdotally, many biglaw firms in NYC have given employees indications that the firms don't expect a significant number of attorneys and staff to return to the office anytime this summer.