In the past couple of weeks I have received a plethora of deeply personal, generic "holiday letters." The adjective "holiday" is a euphemism for "Christmas" to avoid offending Jews, Muslims, atheists, Druids, and other nonsubscribers. Oh dear, I fear the preceding sentence may offend my many Christian friends. To you, please substitute the word "substitute" for the word "euphemism." And if that preceding sentence is confusing (two "substitutes" in the same sentence), we could substitute the first "substitute" with the word "replace." But then we have to recast the sentence. "To you, please replace the word "euphemism" with the word "substitute."
There now, I think that is a bit clearer. Yes, I quite understand. It would have been easier to simply edit the original sentence and substitute or replace it with the new sentence; also delete the word "quite." But because (not "since"; "since" should not be used to mean "because") most of you who read this column must write (or is it draft?) letters, proposals, contracts, briefs, and resumes occasioned by partnership dissolutions, I thought the foregoing would be useful, despite the ungainly length of the sentence.
In the beginning of the New Year, we writers can take a moment to commiserate with one another over the pain that accompanies our endeavors. Our New Year's resolution is to do what we must to acknowledge that we are good writers only if we acknowledge that we are re-writers.
And that takes us back to the writing of the oxymoronic "personal, generic" holiday letter. These letters, particularly those from family members of lawyers, if not the lawyers themselves, are posted to hundreds of their intimate friends. I have been a recipient of many such letters from people I am not sure I know. They relate in self-congratulatory detail the wondrous events that have happened to them and their families and firms during the past year.
Here are some passages from one I received last month from attorney Frank's wife, Gladys:
"In June, our son, the genius Marvin, graduated top of his class at Harvard and has been made managing partner of an international tax firm at a starting salary of $2 million bitcoins.
Our daughter, the Yale physics professor, just published her fourth award winning book in which she describes her discovery of the unified field theory. And, can you believe it, in February, she ran her 46th marathon and, in September, climbed Mount Everest where she saved five Sherpa guides from an avalanche and was awarded the Medal of Freedom.
Frank just landed two major clients for the firm, China and The European Union.
The villa in Paris is not quite finished so the kids joined us for a family reunion at the Palace Versailles. I had quite a dilemma. How many heads of state could we invite for our family holiday dinner? Frank said '"the more the merrier,'" but I wanted something more intimate. The Obamas couldn't make it, so we just invited the premier of Poland. He is a kick with a wicked sense of humor.
On a sad note, in November, our beloved Cocker Spaniel Corky died peacefully in his sleep and now is in dog heaven. But he lived for 34 years and is in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest living Cocker Spaniel in recorded history. Frank's client, an internationally famous veterinarian, was able to extract blood cells from Corky a month before his passing (Corky's passing, not the veterinarian). He developed a formula that allows dogs to double their life expectancy. We are so proud of Corky's contribution.
As for me, I intend to continue my work as financial consultant to the top ten firms on the New York Stock Exchange. Whether or not I will accept the offer of Chair of Alibaba remains to be seen.
We wish you all a Joyful and Happy Holiday season and urge you to join us in prayer for the betterment of those who have not had the drive or connections to be as fortunate as we have."
Are there generic holiday letters that speak of the misery of the past year? You are not likely to read: "Tom was disbarred last year. Pete went AWOL in drug rehab. Flossie choked 'till she was blue in the face on profiteroles at Starbucks last month." Holiday letters are smug advertisements touting the accomplishments of the sender and her or his family to a mass audience. I admit my response runs the gamut from envy to resentment.
So no generic holiday letter to you, my readers. You will not receive a self-congratulatory holiday missive reporting my monumental accomplishments this past year. That there are not any to report is beside the point. And you will not read from me saccharine, cloying, paeans of hope for your happiness and good fortune in the coming year. You are in charge of that. My good wishes will not make an iota of difference.
I write letters directly to a particular person. So if you will permit a change in tone, I write to my friend Judge Ruggero Aldisert, who passed away last week. I was about to scuttle the column and write a eulogy, but he spoke to me and said, "I will permit a paragraph or two about me, but stay with the column. Perhaps someone's writing will improve." I think he was referring to me. He does not mind my sharing this letter with you.
"Dear Rugi, We established a personal relationship a mere five or six years ago, but during that short period of time you enriched me for years to come. I did not imagine that at my age I could have a mentor, but in fact you had been my mentor for years before we met. Your articles and books on judging and the legal profession showed me and others in our profession how to analyze issues, how to structure and write our opinions with clarity and insight, how to do our job in the best possible way. There they are on my shelf: The Judicial Process: Text, Materials and Cases (2d ed. 1996) West Publishing Co.; Logic for Lawyers: A Guide to Clear Legal Thinking (3d ed. 1997) National Institute for Trial Advocacy; Winning on Appeal: Better Briefs and Oral Argument (2d ed. 2003) National Institute for Trial Advocacy; Road to the Robes: A Federal Judge Recollects Young Years & Early Times (2005) AuthorHouse; A Judge’s Advice: 50 Years on the Bench (2011) Carolina Academic Press; Opinion Writing (3d ed. 2012) Carolina Academic Press; and your novel Almost the Truth, A Novel of the Forties and the Sixties, published last year. Unfortunately, my shelf could not hold the more than 50 law review articles you authored.
After your retirement, following a mere 52 years as judge, you and I had planned on having some extended visits with our spouses. What a profound disappointment these meetings will not happen. But we will continue to have our conversations and you will always be my mentor. Goodbye dear friend."