"What are you going to do with yourself after you graduate?" said, Christopher Ricks. We were on a lengthy walk through the streets of Bristol; Christopher walked very fast (he still does a quarter-century later) and I was struggling to keep up.

"Oh, I guess I'll just go to law school," I panted.

"Are you particularly interested in the law?"

"No, not at all. But it seems the easiest thing to do next."

"Have you ever thought of going to graduate school in English?"

"I've thought of it," I said, "but every time I'm in a roomful of academics, I can't picture myself turning out like that."

"Can you picture yourself turning out like a room full of lawyers?" he countered. He had me stumped, as my silence admitted.

Then he tried another approach. "Sometimes, if we have talents we choose not to explore-out of fear, or social distaste, or for some other reasons-its like leaving a room in a house closed off for years. It gets stuffy in there. Sometimes you need to open the door." (Most likely these are not his exact words; all I remember is the metaphor itself, which struck me vividly.) "And if you don't like the idea of graduate school in America, you could always try Oxford or Cambridge. They accept Americans for special degrees, and it might give you a chance to see whether you want to go on in English literature, without the same career pressure you'd find in a Harvard or Yale PhD program."

A month later, I filed my application to Cambridge University. And a year after that, in the fall of 1973, I found myself at King's College, Cambridge.


We called ourselves Lesser & Ogden Associates. Katherine's boyfriend called us the Rip-Off Sisters. This is not to say that we were bad consultants. I think we were probably among the more honest, useful (and certainly cheap) members of the consulting trade during the years that I have subsequently come to think of as the Golden Brown era-that bountiful period when Jerry Brown's governship, sandwiched between those of Reagan and Deukmejian, overlapped with Jimmy Carter's presidency to produce (in California, at least) a rich panoply of social services. Such services are the carrion on which "good" consultants feed. Too pure to sully ourselves with business dealings as such, we circled instead around the moribund carcass of American's concern for its own poor. My partner and I wanted to help people, however indirectly; we also wanted to make a living. Our backgrounds in English literature ensured that "indirectly" would be the operative word, since our only access to the social services lay through manipulation of language.

The Amateur by Wendy Lesser, Pantheon Books, 1999

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