[Ed. Note: This is Part 2 of our interview with Elizabeth Wurtzel. Check out our Part 1 interview from yesterday where the Prozac Nation author talks about what inspired her to go to law school, her current job working for David Boies on the Proposition 8 case, and the embarrassment she feels when women “opt out” of their law careers. Today, Wurtzel reveals her soft spot for Sarah Palin, where she sees herself in ten years, and what she believes is the biggest misconception that exists about her.]
In Prozac Nation, you wrote a compelling memoir of your battles with depression. If you ever write a memoir of your time as a lawyer, what would you title the book?
I would probably call it Among The Maniacs. I’ve never seen people work so hard in my life. It’s quite amazing. There is an intensity level that is astonishing.
[Also], I always thought it would be fun to write a legal book and call it Intermediate Scrutiny. It sounds sort of like Medium Cool. I like that title. There’s something about [the idea of] “medium” that is interesting to me. I’ve been around people who have been thought of as crazy—like rock stars, for example. But lawyers are an intense bunch [too]. And I don’t mean that as an insult at all—it’s not an insult—but there is a manic intensity level [among lawyers in general] that is crazy when you think about it.
It sort of amazes me every day. The job of a lawyer is to worry. It’s sort of a refuge for worriers. And every so often, I feel like it’s a Don DeLillo novel. I got that feeling a lot in law school—the one where lawyers and law students would just worry about things that other people wouldn’t even think about. It’s weird because lawyers can be really straight arrows. But they’ve found a very acceptable way to channel all this anxiety.
I’ll give you a funny example from law school: My Contracts professor would frequently tell us to study science fiction. It sounds strange, but on one level, if you think about it, writing a clause in a contract is a lot like writing science fiction because in both cases you’re dreaming up possibilities that probably aren’t going to happen and maybe aren’t even possible.
Prozac Nation got made into a movie, but it didn’t have U.S. theatrical distribution. What did you think of the film? Is it a classic case of the movie not being nearly as good as the book?
It’s weird. I liked the movie when I saw [an early cut] with the soundtrack music. But you know, it looked good and had great music, so it was easy to like in retrospect. But they didn’t budget for music and none of [what I saw] made it into the final cut.
I was not overly fond of the [final version] movie. I think it had a terrible script. The director was good, and I thought the actors were terrific, but it turns out that the script matters.
There’s this perception [in Hollywood] that the screenwriter is one step below the janitor. But you need both obviously… You know what they say, you can’t work in a dirty office. Well, anyway, you can’t make good movie with a bad script. I don’t know how much they could have done with that screenplay. I would have found someone to write it who had more of my background. Instead, they had this guy who was Irish and living in Scotland, which is weird because it’s such an American story. I don’t know how well it could have come out in those circumstances. So to me, the movie was a missed opportunity.
But here’s the funny thing: A lot of people say they really like it, which surprises me. But depression is common, and I suppose that insofar as there is a generic depression story, it struck a cord, so maybe it shouldn’t surprise me that people liked the movie.
You wrote a fascinating essay for Elle [HERE] a few months back about the loss of your youthful beauty. Obviously, you’re more than your looks, but do you think fading beauty helps draw attention to your intellect, or do you have to work even harder to get what you want in this world?
There’s no question that being good-looking is an advantage, and nobody should complain about that. But your question makes me think of what’s going on with Sarah Palin right now.
I’ve been watching this reaction to Sarah Palin—and first, I guess, I should make clear that I don’t agree with her about anything. She goes against everything that I stand for and believe in. But I like her in a way. She’s very charismatic. And I think she’s a victim of a kind of sexism because she’s so pretty.
There have been a lot of inept presidents and vice presidents in our history. Plenty. The last president, for example. But the extent to which [Palin’s] unfitness for office and the fuss over her… it’s just so fascinating to watch, and I think a lot of it is because she’s pretty and charismatic. I mean, Dan Quayle was infinitely more idiotic than [Palin], and people just laughed about him. It was funny.
Don’t you think that’s at least in part because we live in more serious times now?
I suppose. I mean, I see what you’re saying. But I think something else is at work here. The level of hysteria about her is beyond sexism. I think it’s more about how we feel about beauty in general—and beauty pageants—and there’s obviously this well of animosity there. Sexism alone would affect Hillary [Clinton] too, and some of it does, but with Palin, it really goes beyond that. She’s just easier to dismiss, and I think that she is so easily dismissed because she’s pretty.
Have you thought about writing about her?
Maybe I should. It think what happened to her wasn’t fair. I mean, the attacks worked. She left office. People got what they wanted. Now she looks as nuts as they think she is.
When you were still a law student, you wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal [HERE] about AutoAdmit [HERE]. This is a quote from the article: “The flat, affectless sexual bravado of the trash-talk on AutoAdmit is also a bit of a shock, coming from allegedly intelligent legal minds.” That kind of trash-talk seems rather common on legal websites, and indeed elsewhere on the web. Is it the nature of the Internet that brings out this kind of trash-talking lawyer, or is there something about the legal profession that brings out the worst in many of us?
Lawyers are famously risk-averse. So many people go to law school because they don’t know what else to do. It’s an interesting kind of intelligence that they have. But it’s a very well behaved [kind of intelligence]. Most careers that attract people this bright have a rebel element to them, including Wall Street. But the law has managed to find people who want to work within the system. Most lawyers are really smart, and very few want to rebel and change the core of things. That’s kind of unusual.
There must be this pent-up rage from living like that. And then there’s the rage from being an associate at a law factory and working long hours on matters that probably aren’t that important to the final outcome of a case or an issue. And even once you make partner, you work really hard. It’s a hardworking gig. It can be crazy-making, and, I suppose, those are the things that drive some anonymous comments like the ones I wrote about.
It’s strange though because some of these comments on legal websites run so contrary to the public perception of lawyers. It’s almost like there’s this seething underbelly of bile when it comes to lawyers on the web. Why is that?
The really nice thing about this firm is that we are leanly staffed, so nobody is wasting there time. I think that’s a big factor that often gets overlooked when you talk about this stuff because a lot of firms have too many smart people working on things that may not really matter.
When I was at Yale, I was always struck by the fact that we had some of the smartest people around being marshaled for a rather typical purpose. Okay, they’re really smart, but do you need that kind of brilliance to write a contract? It just seemed like there was more that they could be doing. But a lot of them end up at a law factory, and lawyers aren’t the sort of people who yell out a window, “I’m mad as heck and I’m not going to take it anymore!” They post anonymously on websites, and they can be pretty mean.
I think that comes from the fact that a lot of the people who go to law school aren’t there because they failed at a dream. [Instead], they go because they don’t have a dream at all, and that’s a sad, desperate way to live. [Being a lawyer] is such an interesting job, if you’re interested in it. But if you’re not interested in the law, I can imagine that it’s quite awful.
Is there a blog, legal or otherwise, that is on your must-read list?
I’m not a big blog reader. People around here read Above The Law, but I can’t get into it. It’s all gossip and layoffs, but not much else. People keep sending me links to The Huffington Post, and I guess you can’t avoid it if you’ve got a liberal friend, but it’s all just so much opinion I can’t quite get my head around why everyone is reading it. So I suppose I’m still a newspaper person because I’m not sure if blogs are that great. There are people who spend their whole day reading them; I guess that’s a good sign for reading, but it’s a bad sign for outdoors.
When you started as a writer, you were a pop culture critic. What is a pop culture critic?
I’m not sure that’s what I was. I don’t really know what that is. I was always very practical about my writing. I didn’t come from money, so I knew I had to make a career of it. I wasn’t going to just sit there and write a novel.
I did some reporting, and that’s interesting, but I guess I wrote a lot about pop culture and music. I firmly believe that your musical tastes stop evolving when you’re 26, so I don’t think anyone over that age should be allowed to write about music.
So what’s on your iPod right now?
I have a lot of Nirvana. I’ve got a lot of Hole and L7. I guess you can say I’m stuck in the ‘90s. But I also have a lot of Bob Dylan and some Velvet Underground. And I’m a huge punk fan. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen and that Loretta Lynn album that Jack White produced. You should get that even if you don’t like Loretta Lynn or Jack White because it’s amazing and really different. And I find Radiohead’s In Rainbows album to be shockingly good.
Do you listen to music when you write legal briefs?
No. It’s too distracting.
Over the years, you’ve written a lot about yourself, and you’ve been a favorite topic for a lot of journalists. What’s the biggest misconception about you?
Every so often, someone gets it right, and I’m always amazed [when that happens]. The thing that most people don’t realize about me is that my life is really normal and my habits are normal. It’s kind of funny that anyone is interested [in me] at all. I have to take the trash out, walk the dog, go to work, etc.
I sometimes think that when I see [myself written about], especially when it’s not nice, they must assume that I’m on top of the world or something. That’s the weird thing when you’re written about: For the most part, you’re just like everyone else, except that because you’re the subject of a story, people assume you’re not like them.
That’s not to say that you can’t get so famous that you cease to be like everyone else. I don’t think Tom Cruise, for example, is like everyone else. He’s probably gotten to a level of fame that’s affected him and made him truly different. But my fame isn’t that big. I have a modest amount of literary fame, that’s all.
I have a sense of humor about everything about myself. The thing that’s funny is that people don’t get that I’m in on the joke; I think all of this can be a little silly. I’m kind of your basic person. It’s weird when things get distorted. Nobody is as horrible [as some articles suggest]. I try to say “please” and “thank you.” I really don’t have a terribly glamorous life. It would be nice if it were that glamorous, I guess. But it’s not like that.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I’m not sure. I hope I’m still doing this. I also I hope that I’ve written a couple more books. That’s the nice thing about Prozac Nation’s success. I think people are often afraid to ask me if it’s all in the past.
No. I just feel lucky it happened once. Now I don’t have to wait around for something like that to happen again. Now that I’ve had some literary success, I can just enjoy what I like doing.
CLICK HERE for Part 1 of our interview with Elizabeth Wurtzel .
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