Today I live in Phoenix, Arizona. I moved here from New York City, where I lived all 12 years after leaving Cambridge.
In New York I readily found new ideas, new cultures and peers to match my intellectual curiosity. Many of my classmates in law school had also spent time abroad, and understood how that experience transformed them – whether they had served in the Peace Corps, taught English in an Asian country, or worked abroad.
After law school I worked for leading New York law firms, filled with intellectuals. While our specific interests and knowledge might differ (having read history at Cambridge, I guffawed at the partner who thought the Irish were stupid for eating only potatoes during the famine, wholly ignoring the larger socio-economic and political factors that caused the Potato Famine), I mostly found my colleagues to be compelling.
In 2008 many things changed for me. My father died from complications of skin cancer, and although it was a year coming, it still felt abrupt. My mother had a massive stroke in 2007, and after a year of incomplete recovery, my siblings and I had to deal with her aphasia and new illiteracy. The market fell, and one prosperous New York firms worried about keeping clients. I was burned out in every way, and realized I would never make the ranks of partner.
So I tried another path.
I’ve spent a number of years re-thinking that path, but now I’m proud of the risks I took.
That was the best thing I got from my time at Cambridge. Certainly we specialized in our subjects, but we also experimented. While I was there I wrote short stories, took photographs (my favorite was a sunset photographed in the reflection of pools on water on the copper roof of the kitchen of Merton Hall – I crawled out onto the roof with a little fanfare from housemates), painted watercolors, and took entire days wandering along the Cam or the narrow coal-stained streets.
Without recipes, I innovated a shortbread crusted apple tart and dared to make baklava with my Lebanese housemate (phyllo is the most delicate dough on the planet).
Since 2008 my path has been full of risks, and some have resulted in success, but all have brought me wisdom. For a time in New York I worked for a law firm representing employees in lawsuits claiming sex or race discrimination. I then worked on a case against international banks who were alleged to have knowingly transferred funds to Hamas during the Second Intifada, thus creating liability for the violence. Two former colleagues and I created a plan to start our own law firm, which was ultimately aborted as too risky for the others, as they were young parents.
In 2011 I moved to Arizona. Now that I’ve been here three years, I realize that I’ve had similar cultural shocks as when I first went to Cambridge: different pedagogy, different humor, different point of view.
These days I rarely speak of my years in Cambridge, not because it is not one of my most precious experiences, but because I am limited in my own ability to express myself in such a way that talking about it will strengthen my connections with others.
Here in this young state (just over 100 years) fewer people have been to university out of state, fewer have traveled internationally, and the immigrant population (which is often quite separate from Anglo communities) is from Central America or Asia.
I have struggled to adapt, because Arizona is not cosmopolitan in the way that I have learned to be cosmopolitan. But it is that struggle that is worth everything, and it is that struggle that I first engaged in earnest in Cambrige.
Many of these photos are from Patricia’s recent travels around Phuket, taken to celebrate her birthday.