“I was in my late twenties and a litigation associate at Williams & Connolly in DC. I loved being in the courtroom but hated everything else—like, everything else—about practicing law. There was this one month that was the best: I had three trials in a row, all in an arbitration format. I got to do openings, crosses, and objections. I was second chair, and the first chair was wonderful, so by the third trial he let me do everything. I loved the experience, but I was exhausted.
“My boyfriend was giving a talk in San Francisco. He said, ‘Come with me—you deserve a break.’ I wanted to see the ocean, so I went to the Cliff House, and it was so blustery that nobody was there. I was by the window, and the waves were just awesome. Some people had told me about this Tim O’Brien book, In the Lake of the Woods. So I ordered a bottle of wine and just sat there reading it cover to cover.
“As a busy lawyer, I wasn’t really reading literary novels. I was reading quick, fun mysteries like Mary Higgins Clark. O’Brien’s book was just revelatory. It’s about a wife who’s gone missing, but structured as evidence and interview transcripts and then long narrative flashbacks. There were like six or seven hypotheses of what happened to her. I remember looking up every once in a while to ponder the evidence and the crashing waves and drinking this great wine. Then closing the book and feeling, I haven’t been this happy since I became a lawyer.
“I remember thinking: Okay, as much as I loved the trials, is that worth having just this five-hour period out of the last several years when I was so engrossed in something—the sensory details, the intellectual engagement with the text—and didn’t have in the back of my mind something I was stressed about? When I met my boyfriend for dinner, I said, ‘I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore.’ He said, ‘Okay. Sounds great.’ He wasn’t fazed—our friends were always griping about wanting to leave the law. The next day, we got engaged.
“After that, I went into management consulting. Later, I left with colleagues to start a dot-com. Then in 2001, the market bottomed out. I loved both those jobs.
“I had my first child in September 2001 and became a stay-at-home mom. I was in my forties when I took my first creative-writing class.”
This article appears in the February 2022 issue of Washingtonian.