This year, we are celebrating the sixth annual Denver Lawyers’ Arts and Literature Contest. The Docket Committee would like to thank all of those who participated and the professional artists and writers who generously donated their time to critique each submission. The number of outstanding entries that we received made the judging process a particularly challenging endeavor.
DRAWING AND PAINTING: “DIA, Under the Tent”
Yvette L. Lewis-Molock (Assistant General Counsel, Xcel Energy)
My love for painting started when I attended a “Canvas and Wine” event with some fellow attorneys two years ago. As you might imagine, there was a lot of discussion about whether we were doing it right or getting it to look like the instructor’s painting. The instructor really got a workout with all of the questions that she had to answer. I was having so much fun. It was then that I realized that I really enjoyed creating something. All of our paintings looked different when we completed them. But that was the beauty of it: We were all on different artistic journeys.
So, I started getting books and watching shows (which of course included Bob Ross) to get ideas on what I should be doing. I experimented with oils, watercolors and ultimately settled on acrylics, as they are the easiest to clean up and are more forgiving with mistakes. I have tried painting everything from landscapes to people. I used to think that every painting had to be postcard perfect, but now I look at things differently. I think about what might look good on canvas and which hues I should mix to capture a particular color. I use “artist license” to make changes. DIA, Under the Tent is a prime example. I took several photographs on the day the trains first started running from DIA to Union Station. I liked the setting, colors and abstract elements that featured prominently in one of the photos that I took and decided to try to translate that composition on canvas.
I love that art offers endless possibilities and that there is always something new to learn and experience. It is easy to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day stresses and allow our careers to define us that we do not make time to do something that we enjoy. I do not get to paint as often as I would like, but when I do, it is like therapy or meditation, and the stress fades away. D
PHOTOGRAPHY: “Arapahoe Basin”
Reid Neureiter (Of Counsel, Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell)
I am a civil trial lawyer and have practiced law in Colorado since 1996. I have had an interest in photography, specifically sports photography, since high school. A college course in black-and-white darkroom photography reaffirmed this interest. Developments in digital photography over the past decade have made working with chemicals and physical enlargers a thing of the past, but the principles learned in the darkroom are just as applicable to the use of computer programs, such as Lightroom or Photoshop, in enhancing and editing photographs. My interest in photography has helped in my litigation practice, particularly in assessing the distorting effects of particular kinds of lenses.
My enthusiasm for sports photography expanded as my three children went through Denver’s youth sports programs and then on to Denver’s high schools. I became the unofficial team photographer for Denver East’s boys’ soccer, lacrosse and rugby teams and was fortunate enough to be on the sidelines for a soccer state championship match at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Our daughter played soccer and field hockey at Kent Denver and played in multiple state semifinal matches, which I had the pleasure of documenting. I also have a passion for cycling. Like skiing, cycling photography allows for images that combine beautiful landscapes with remarkable feats of athletic prowess. Using a motorcycle, I have provided rider support and photography services to the Triple By-Pass, Deer Creek Challenge and Mount Evans Hillclimb road races. One of my photographs combining cycling and skiing was used on the poster for a stage of the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge that finished at Arapahoe Basin ski area. My winning photo for this year’s Docket Arts & Literature Contest was taken this past spring on a particularly windy day after substantial snowfall. I was at the base of A-Basin’s East Wall, which skiers access by climbing a ridge that tops out at more than 13,000 feet. The wind was blowing the snow up and over the cliffs of the wall, making for a beautiful juxtaposition with the skier in the right-hand corner. D
FICTION: “Quantum Novel”
Maha Kamal (Attorney, Colorado Family Law Project)
I stumbled upon the sub-genre called “quantum fiction” a few years ago when I read Mark Alpert’s Final Theory. If you’re a science nerd like me, you’ll love this genre because it geeks out on all things science while providing a drama-packed story usually starring a somewhat-awkward scientist as the protagonist, terrorists as the antagonists and federal government agents as supporting characters. I also love South Asian fiction authors, including Mohsin Hamid (Mothsmoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Mohammed Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) and Jhumpa Lahiri (The Namesake).
My winning story was inspired by both types of fiction and reflects upon my identity as a Pakistani-American woman, as well as my interests. For me, writing is a form of healing. My quantum fiction story — the first chapter of which is featured here — blends my memories of my family with my current love for science, political affairs and writing. I started writing the story after I discovered Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver and began attending their “Friday 500” writing sessions. (They are incidentally located right around the corner from my law office, so I’ve been attending pretty regularly for almost a year now.)
This chapter suggests a level of estrangement between the protagonist and her mother. It’s an autobiographical note based on the fact that I was disowned by my parents at the age of 18 (during my first semester of college at the University of Colorado at Boulder). The disownment was due to pretty intense religious and cultural differences, both of which are very much intertwined in Pakistani culture. I haven’t had contact with my parents or my sister for 14 years now. There was obviously a lot of trauma involved with what I went through, and I credit a lot of therapy over the years for getting me to where I am now. (My personal experiences are also a big reason why I practice family law today.) This novel is intended to share my autobiography while also allowing me to explore my love for quantum fiction. D
“Quantum Teacup Entanglement”
A lukewarm cup of chai sits on her white kitchen counter. It’s in a cheap mug that she bought for a dollar during one of her many trips to IKEA.
She mixed it with cold milk again. You told her to stop doing that long ago but she’s mostly set in her ways now.
She brews black Lipton tea bags that she buys in bulk from the local grocery store. She has been buying them in bulk for over two decades now. Her addiction causes her to drink three, four, sometimes five cups of chai every day.
The yellow paper pouch surrounding each tea bag brings with it a sense of home.
A pouch lay ripped at the flap next to the electric tea kettle. You notice it’s also slightly crumpled. Ammi stopped boiling water on the stove a few years ago after you bought her the kettle. She isn’t entirely set in her ways.
You wonder if there’s sugar in the chai already. After all these years, you still don’t know. So you risk adding a teaspoon without checking it first. You draw the plum-colored mug towards you and gently pick it up. A sip confirms that she already added a half teaspoon. It wouldn’t have been enough, so you’re safe. Ammi only puts a half teaspoon because she had a diabetes scare a year ago and cut everyone’s sugar intake in the house. She prides herself in her daily stair exercises. “I exercised every morning for three months,” she recalls. “And the diabetes went away.”
You sip your tea, dismissing her innocent but faulty medical conclusions.
Chai is a sipping affair. A remnant of the British colonization of the Indian subcontinent, it is nothing but black tea with milk. However, it is improper to gulp, slurp, or otherwise drink it in a rushed manner. The sipping, in part, is supposed to offset the heat of the drink. But since Ammi’s chai is lukewarm, it’s difficult to drink as the British do. Out of habit, you sip it anyway.
Your Ammi is not in the kitchen. She is not in the living room. She is not on her stairs, exercising. You are unsure of where she is, but assume she must be in her bedroom praying.
She knows that you don’t believe. You smile and sip your tea. You’re reminded of the joke you always tell her when she does finally appear in the kitchen, from wherever she was hiding. “Ma, if you are in another room and I can’t hear you, or see you, or touch you, are you both in that room and not in that room?”
She always laughs even though she doesn’t get the reference to quantum superposition. Throwing her dubatta back around her neck, she looks at you half-seriously and replies, “I am in the room, inshallah. I do not want to be in another room.”
Inshallah. God willing.
God, the observer who collapses the wave functions of life into a single possibility.
Years later your Ammi will cry herself to sleep at night in her old age, asking God why He willed you to never be in the same room as her again.
POETRY: “Flying Ground”
Andrew J. Felser (Felser, P.C.)
Law and poetry dwell in separate worlds. In the realm of poetry, where the law of gravity is suspended, one never needs purpose, structure, proof or precision. Poetry is meant to induce feelings instead of findings. It inhales air from the soul and exhales an elixir of ambiguity. In the world of poetry, the performance of a contract may be contingent upon “a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens,” as in William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Even a poem that is literal on the surface can be loaded with explosive symbolic power: “They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes” (from Langston Hughes’s “I, Too”). Logic, a currency of the legal realm, has no value in the land of poetry. By the same token, a brief that features “[t]he sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the eddies of the wind” will fail its purpose (Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”).
It is little wonder that many lawyers, who tend to be creative anyway, flee from one world to the other, to absorb or to create. Yet the same trance-like, free-associative state of mind that serves the poet so well also works for solving legal problems. A well-known Denver judge once mused that a lawyer’s time is often better spent staring out the window thinking about a case than taking depositions.
I got hooked on the visceral rewards of creative writing at an early age. Two of my favorite poets are James Dickey and Dylan Thomas. Their influence is evident in the poem published here. “Flying Ground” is an amalgam of childhood memories reawakened by the infancy of my own son who, now a teenager, offers this enthusiastic review: “Not bad.” D
Cast your eyes on that ridge, son, down along the county line
The earth is cleaved and hoisted up on jacks for the mucking with.
I do recall the leathery skin of that ground,
prickly to the palm but soft to the belly of my shoe
where once the wind raised high my frame and fabric
and my fists bruised the air as I boxed my hopes
up to the castled clouds.
It was enough that day to be borne aloft on string,
my father distant, leaning cross-armed like corn against the hood of a ’64 Falcon,
to arch my neck with hawks in my eyes
and plant myself unbroken
as the high cross trembled,
the tail bone hissed,
and missing and correcting
I raked that fossil across the sky.
Now too much seems crude relentless, boy.
I get tangled in cell towers,
wrecked on terraced timber that primps in neighbors’ windows,
die hard and quick against leaded glass like a sparrow.
The air is diabolic,
fat with shouting;
I’d spit it out sooner than climb it.
After his flying ground was spaded,
upturned and shoveled into the mouth of a shopping mall,
my father told me of
the cloth-winged Curtiss
on the airfield by the woods,
the corrugated nests where eagles yawned for
the golden bug that kissed the clouds in his day.
And now I hear his voice in my voice, and see my fists in all your
Go now to your flying ground.
Find your shapes and shadows.
Quick to the breeze and light on the tops of stems,
laugh toothless against the short and plentiful bees that sting your brow.
Too soon the sun will make your shadow long and lean and flickering.
Visual Arts: Barbara A. Lewis — Art Consultant, Lewis Art Consulting; Mike McClung — Gallery Director, Michael Warren Contemporary; Amy Metier — Artist; Marianne Mitchell — Artist; Brendan Picker — Public Art Program Administrator, Denver Arts & Venues; and Kate Schuster — Colorado and Denver Bar Associations.
Literature: Kaelyn Gustafson and Paul Miller — Docket Committee Co-Chairs; Jessica A. Volz — Editor, The Docket and Colorado Lawyer; author of Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney (London and New York: Anthem Press, 2017).
A special thanks goes to Colorado Attorneys for the Arts for their assistance in coordinating the judging of the art entries.