An Interview with Law Clerk for United States District Court Emma Bellamy
I met today’s bitch on my bike, like you do. We met on a Monday night ladies ride and then went on to join the same cycling team. We were around the same speed, so we went on a bunch of bike rides together. This was right before it became a trend to make fun of millennials. I’m a Gen X-er and Emma is a millennial. I remember how open she was about boundaries and mental health and couldn’t imagine being that open and honest at her age. Then when everyone started millennial-bashing, I was like, look, this is a generation of people in therapy and not ashamed of it. We’re going to be fine.
Pretty soon after meeting Emma, she took a job in Atlanta and moved to Georgia. So instead of shouting conversations across handlebars, we now communicate on Instagram, like all great friendships in 2019. I have a lot of friends in law and politically adjacent fields and I think you’ll really enjoy this interview. Meet today’s bitch, Emma Bellamy!
What is your job title and where do you work?
I am a Term Law Clerk at the chambers of a United States Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta division).
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
That you need to live alone at least once in your life. My mom told me this last year as I was about to move to Atlanta and, for the first time in my entire life, considered not living with a roommate, family, or significant other. It’s a luxury to be able to live alone, but I think, for women (and, me especially), there’s this tendency when we live with someone (regardless of who) to accommodate others in ways that we don’t even realize and that obscure what our authentic needs and wants are. The simple act of not needing to accommodate anyone between the hours of 6:30 pm and 8:30 am, got me much more attuned to the smallest things, like whether I was really hungry or thirsty or tired and whether that uncomfortable gut feeling was a warning I needed to heed or a false fear alarm. I live with my significant other now and, although we love each other and he does stuff like replace the AC filter and make sure we have coffee, living alone is the absolute best.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
In the words of Greg LeMonde, it doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger. I first heard it when I started biking. I assumed that I could stop pedaling at certain points and coast on momentum. That’s true on a major descent but, where there’s a downhill there’s an uphill and, inevitably, I was better off if I kept a little pedaling. Then I assumed it would be easier the more biking I did. But as I got fitter, the hills didn’t get easier, I just learned how to use my bike and body to more effectively climb them. This is a metaphor for life. I think people (especially Americans) are always hoping for a lucky break, like you’ll reach a point where you don’t have to try anymore or where some external force will act on your behalf. That’s bullshit. There are going to be tailwinds and descents but it’s never totally effortless. Yes, some people are born into money or with insane bodies or staggering intelligence, but the money came from someone’s effort and even the most athletic and brilliant people hone their gifts. Everything I’ve ever wanted required sacrifice and constant effort and the reward was not being able to give up; it’s having the strength to endure more sacrifices and efforts to maintain and grow whatever small measures of achievement I’ve reached.
What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?
I don’t consider myself particularly professionally successful. I do consider myself a successful human being. I’m proud that I support myself with a job where I don’t feel morally compromised or particularly exploited and that allows me to live a modest life. I’m proud that I make a lifelong and daily commitment to lessen my negative and increase my positive impact on the world by reducing my exploitation of the planet (not having children, not driving, using as few resources as possible) and others (supporting things like public radio and the park and businesses with good practices). I try to be honest and understanding in my interactions with others, while also being honest and understanding of my own boundaries. These are small and inconsequential things compared with career success. But think how much evil results when, on an individual level, people fail to do these things? I just try to live with the intention of not screwing the world up and, maybe making it a little better if I can.
How do you decompress at the end of the work day?
I always read on my public transit commute and before bed. Depending on what I have time for/did in the AM (I usually have some networking thing at least 1 night a week), I will go to a yoga class or for a run or a walk with a friend in Piedmont Park or on the Beltline. If I’m home for dinner, I’ll cook because it relaxes me. If it’s been a super shitty day I have a drink and take a bath with epsom salts and lavender.
What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?
I think people have a glorified notion that the judicial system has power to fix things that other systems don’t. That’s not really true. Most of the time the actions before judges - whether an arrest for drug trafficking, an employment discrimination lawsuit, or an appeal of a denial of Social Security disability benefits - would be more effectively (in terms of time, money, and expertise) addressed by other means, whether that’s increasing peoples’ minimum wage, providing them with universal healthcare, or ensuring that they are educated with skills that translate into gainful employment. As much as I would personally like to, these are not things a court can fix. Courts are constrained by very narrow parameters when determining if people can get the relief they request and the formulas for deciding the who, what, and how of that relief are super technical. Probably more than half of the cases I see do not result in the outcomes the people bringing them hoped for and, in some cases, may lead to worse outcomes (if, for example, the person spends time and money to file and prosecute a case that fails). That doesn’t mean that we should discourage people from using our judicial system, but it does mean the system is crushed under the the same dysfunctions as the others. Most of the time I feel frustrated by systemic injustices that the court system is not designed to (and cannot) fix.
PSA: If you want to see real change you need to vote, regularly pressure your representatives, and be involved in politics/civics at the local level stuff like the school board or neighborhood council.
What does self care look like in your life?
I have a (largely female) tendency to try to fix everything for everyone which: (1) rarely fixes anything because I am not god and you can’t help people who won’t help themselves; and (2) exhausts and frustrates me. So I’ve become a firm subscriber to the put your own oxygen masks on first philosophy. This means that, as much as we may be upset at the state of the world, we need to compartmentalize what we want to fix and prioritize what we can control. So I prioritize caring for myself on the most basic level: sleep 7-8 hours a night; eat three meals a day; get regular checkups (gyno, dental, vision, GP); go to a therapist every other week; and try to walk at least 10,000 steps, read, and get at least 30 minutes of cardio or strength exercise everyday. I used to go to church and have regular massages but haven’t found ones in my new home that meet my needs. Then I limit my involvement with non-essential things that don’t bring me joy, whether that’s a volunteer activity I feel resentful doing, listening to a family member gripe about the same thing over and over again, or hanging out with the friend who never accommodates your schedule. The older I’ve gotten, the more I think establishing boundaries (and, in some circumstances, ghosting) is a totally valid alternative to confronting human interactions that drain you.
How do you feel about social media?
I think if you use it as an information and connection source it can be an immensely beneficial thing. Actually, it’s how I realized that you, Kim, were really cool after I met you on a TWCP ladies night ride. When I moved to Atlanta last year, Facebook allowed me to reconnect or connect with new friends and contacts who greatly eased my transition and, when I was doing a round the world trip, it helped me meet friends of friends who showed me their cities/allowed me to crash with them. I use it in my daily life to find out happenings in my town like free yoga, workouts, races, and festivals. I actually go to free yoga 1-3 times a week and free bootcamp 1-2 days a week that I learned about on Facebook.
I think where social media gets negative is when it’s used as a persuasive device. My job actually has really strict guidelines for how I can use it (i.e. no political viewpoints or things that could be construed as legal viewpoints). I’m grateful for those constraints in these times of partisanship and hacking because it saves me from the dangerous impulse to engage in online arguments with people I will never know IRL. But, even when I’m using a more innocuous social media platform, like Instagram, I feel like the curated nature of it necessarily invites comparisons that can make me feel simultaneously judgmental and inadequate. So sometimes self care looks like a social media hiatus.
Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?
The women on my mom’s side of the family (my grandma, aunt, and mom) taught me that bitches get shit done. Although my grandma came from humble beginnings and didn’t finish college or work, she taught herself a lot about antiques, renovations, gardening, investing, and did a lot to support causes she cared about (whether it was having my mom wear black armbands to high school in civil rights solidarity or sponsoring Vietnamese boat people or Fresh Air Kids when they lived in Detroit or being on the neighborhood board making people clean up after their dogs in her neighborhood park). My aunt and mom, in turn, went on to get masters degrees and work as international public servants. More concretely, I’ve benefited from financial assets my grandparents and mom worked for and maintained over decades that helped pay for my education and first home. To the extent that I’m not a failure, it’s only because of them modeling an ethos of civil responsibility and giving me the resources to do the same.
Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite podcast and snack?
I consider myself a snackmaster™. Right now, I’m really into my homemade popcorn topped with garlic powder, salt, chili powder and nutritional yeast.
I just started listening to S-town on a drive through Alabama and omfg is it good.