Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Review - 100 Words Per Minute

100 Words Per Minute: Tales from Behind Law Office Doors
a collection of essays and poems by Adina Sara
2006: Regent Press

There are some who believe that the best way to ennoble the people who do the real work is to render them heroic. There is nothing heroic about the portrayal of workers behind the desks in 100 Words Per Minute: Tales from Behind Law Office Doors, a collection of essays and poetry by Adina Sara (Regent Press, 2006). Rather, the author's strategy is to individualize, humanize and illuminate.

As we accompany the author through her unintentional thirty-year stint as a legal worker bee, we are introduced with equanimity to gentle souls, brilliant minds, abusive monsters, and lone wolves. There are no easy paradigms here, no Boss = Bad/Worker = Good, no Temps = Slackers/Administrators = Sell Outs. There are only people -- individuals -- depicted in deft, memorable, portraits. You won't find recognizable affinities either, no office romances or coup d`├ętats; the subject here is work. Sometimes it involves supporting the honest efforts of people seeking to better the world, and sometimes it means assisting those who seek to enrich themselves through exploitation and chicanery. And sometimes it's just about putting in the time and moving on.

Like so many clerical workers, Sara never stops wondering how she got there. As a successful singer-songwriter and gardening columnist, her passions always lay elsewhere. Yet these passions were never acknowledged or even noticed by the people with whom she spent most of her daylight hours. She, along with a veritable army of support workers, are not just overlooked by the attorneys or administrators, but by each other. In one essay, Sara describes the sad little lunch celebration of one "Secretaries Day," an uncomfortable gathering of people who had never taken the time to get to know one another seated about a perfectly round table. In another essay, she finds herself stunned to be receiving make-up tips from a flamboyant litigation assistant. The humor of these encounters underscores the isolation, lack of community, and repression inherent in the label "clerical worker".

Interspersed between the essays are poems which testify to Sara's skill as a songwriter. These accessible ballads are reminiscent of the work of Jim Daniels -- immediate, honest, and affecting. As someone unfamiliar with the milieu of attorneys, I found myself astonished by the shear variety of backgrounds and backdrops. Sara shows us everything from literal fly-by-night operations to antiseptic aisles of corporate cubicles.

Yet for all of it, Sara in no way becomes cynical. Though she never does invest emotionally in her work, she remains curious about those around her and ever hopeful that she will be treated with dignity, paid reasonably, and dealt with fairly. And, in time, she grows into acceptance and the satisfaction of a job well done.

This touching, unpretentious examination of a lifetime of work would make a meaningful gift to anyone doing clerical work, whether from their supervisor or from a peer. It would open the eyes of management as well. Paced appropriately for the coffee break, denizens of cubicles everywhere will recognize themselves and know that they are not alone in their isolation. Readers who are contemplating a life in any aspect of the legal profession can consider this a Baedeker. And finally, readers who are indefatigable in their belief that every individual deserves to be encountered without preconception, will find in Adina Sara a kindred spirit.

Tracy Koretsky


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