Robin DesCamp Talks Life, Relationships and How to Avoid the Trauma of Divorce with Style and Courtesy
Sometimes you’ll meet someone who thrives despite obstacles being thrown in their path, who then shares what they’ve learned along the way. It takes a pretty special person to discuss their own trials and tribulations to help others. This is a rare commodity in these days of social media postings designed to present the best of oneself to the outside world, rather than the reality of a life that isn’t always easy.
So, we’d like to introduce you to one of those pretty special people: Robin DesCamp.
We recently met Robin, a successful divorce lawyer who has herself been twice divorced, and were completely impressed by her drive, her knowledge, and her humor. What she shares comes from a well of experience that most of us don’t have. Neither of us have been married, and although we’ve each had our share of break ups, we’ve experience nothing like the trauma or pain of divorce. Despite that pain, Robin faces her own and her clients’ situations with a plethora of cheerful advice and determination. It’s refreshing. She asks questions, she listens intently, and she shares her own difficult, and often hilarious, stories.
Her perspective was molded as a child of multiple divorces, a divorce lawyer, and a divorced mother with a successful and amicable relationship with her first ex-husband.
Her second…? Well, she’ll tell you, if you’ve got the time..
Robin is a frequent guest blogger and columnist exploring and advising on subjects relating to life and relationships. Her own experiences have given her some surprising insights as to how to traverse the straits of divorce and come out ahead. In her blog posts on her website, her columns, and her appearances, Robin is willing to take on any questions. She invites her readers and listeners to engage, while encouraging lively conversation and debate. No topic is off-limits! Not only does she have an engaging website, but tweets frequently, and Facebooks (is that a verb? Sure, why not). She’s contributed a regular column on Venus Williams’ lifestyle blog and has been working on her own books as well. And from what we understand, she is challenging herself on a variety of levels.
P&P: Tell us about your book? We know you are in the process of getting publisher, but what is it about and how can it help people?
I have one completed book and have begun drafting a couple of others. The finished book is titled “Forget the Drama, Avoid the Trauma, Your How-to (and How-not-to) Guide to Divorce.” That’s the working title, anyway. A publisher may want to change it. The driving purpose of the book is actually twofold: 1) to educate the reader on very specific problems they can avoid in the divorce process, and 2) to entertain the reader with examples of where others have gone wrong during divorce, myself included.
P&P: How did you get started as a writer?
I had practiced law in-house for manufacturing companies for years, when I found myself between jobs. I never enjoyed my practice, but I just kept doing it because, well, that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. I always loved writing, so when I was looking for my next corporate gig, I started a little online advice column. It was then that I knew if I could make it happen, writing would be the most joyous career I could hope for.
P&P: How do you challenge yourself? How does this impact your writing?
Every day I challenge myself to be more honest, both in my interactions with others, and especially with myself. I wrote in my book that we all suffer from hypocrisy — it is truly the human condition. Hypocrisy is just one coping mechanism that gets us through the day, as we are often faced with competing truths and mores in different situations. I see hypocrisy as a spectrum. Some of us are rarely hypocritical, some of us are hypocritical in nearly every action we take in our lives. The challenge I issue to myself is to place myself on the “rarely hypocritical” end of the spectrum, and I hold other people to this challenge as well.
This impacts my writing because it compels me to be honest. I have never condescended to my readers, or ignored my own shortcomings. My readers deserve nothing but pure truth from me. Otherwise, why should they care what I put on the page?
P&P: Where are you most comfortable writing? What sparks your creativity?
That’s a great question, because there really is no right answer. While I do the majority of writing in my home office, I also scramble as quickly as I can to make written reflections in real time when I am inspired to do so. That really gets to your second question: what sparks my creativity? A few things strongly compel me to write. First, I am driven by an almost pathological loathing of injustice. That is what got me to write about how dirty the divorce industrial complex is — I had experienced it personally, watched many friends and family members go through it, and I was motivated by a desire to expose the most unethical practices of the worst of the lawyers in my city.
Second, I always feel an urge to write when I have learned something about myself, good or bad. Part of my journey to becoming the best person I can be is admitting when I have fallen down, or fallen short of my expectations of myself. Realizing those mistakes and committing them to paper in a public way helps me develop as a human being. My hope is that someone out there can learn from my mistakes, and perhaps see a little bit of themselves in my foibles, as well as my accomplishments.
Third, I am always moved to write about things that I find humorous. Growing up, the one thing I always had going for me was my sense of humor. I wasn’t cute, I was a terrible athlete, I had a tremendous unibrow, and I wasn’t all that popular. What I was, however, was funny. There is one sound that always warms my heart: the sound of laughter. When I am the one generating that laughter, I feel more confident and contributory as a human being.
P&P: What are you favorite types of books to read?
I wish I had more time to read. The past two years have been a whirlwind of trying to reinvent myself overnight and earn a living. When I do finally settle down with a good book, I often listen, rather than read, so I can multi-task and incorporate a book into my workout program, cleaning the house, driving to and fro, etc. I love historical biographies and I devoured “Hamilton” by Chernoff, then became an obsessed fan of the musical. I’m looking at what is on my nightstand now and I’ve got “The Prophet,” by Khalil Gibran, which I read from almost daily, “Angry Optimist,” by Jon Stewart, and “100 Deadly Skills: Survival Edition,” by retired Navy Seal Clint Emerson. I’m laughing because those three books summarize the approach I have had to take in my new life: to be reflective, thoughtful, and introspective, to be angry at the way the world is but optimistic enough to change it, and to be familiar with how to protect yourself and survive when the shit comes down. Imagine that!
P&P: Tell us 3 interesting or crazy things about you.
1. I can flip the bird on my right foot, but not my left.
2. My fingers are extremely double-jointed, but I never knew that until one day, when I was about 20 or so, someone looked at hands and said, “your fingers aren’t supposed to look like that.”
3. I took ukulele lessons this year. That’s neither interesting nor crazy, I suppose, but it is a little weird.
P&P: What is your favorite quote? Why?
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Good old Winston Churchill said that, of course. There are times I have felt I was unworthy of love or incapable of competence. Sometimes I’ll add to those feelings by screwing up a relationship or making a professional mistake. On the darkest days, it seems it would be easiest to just give up on everything: on my desire for love, on my work, on my friends. But I can’t — and I won’t. I’ll just keep stumbling along, enjoying the highlights, and experiencing the lowlights as a temporary blip on the screen in my journey to the best life I can create for myself.
P&P: What are the best and worst parts of being a writer and a lawyer?
The best of being a writer is telling my story, in all its raw ugliness, and hoping that in doing so, I might be able to help someone else. The worst part of being a writer is carpal tunnel.
The best part of being a lawyer is accomplishing a task for a client who needs me, who is gracious and grateful, and being able to use my wits and my sense of humor to achieve a client’s goals. The worst part of being a lawyer is dealing with the types of unethical and sleazy manipulators who would grind their own clients into dust, merely for the financial advantage. I was so overcome with disgust with another lawyer recently, when I realized he was attempting to enter falsified photos into the record at trial that I yelled at him and called him a “piece of shit.” It was definitely not my finest moment. I truly regret it. I wish I had called him a “moronic piece of shit with a weak chin and the most punchable face I’ve ever seen.”
P&P: What is your advice for other writers?
Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep trying. If something isn’t working, shift your energy in a new direction. For example, sometimes when I felt the advice blog was not what it could be, I would drop the advice angle for a while and focus on political commentary or essays about aging, love, and friendship. Sometimes I even dabbled in poetry. Don’t get me wrong — it was really bad poetry — but it helped me stretch my writing muscles beyond where they seemed stuck at the time.
Also, always carry a little notebook or digital recorder. You know how sometimes you can just be walking along, minding your own business, and you see something really moves you in some way? Write it down as soon as you can. I have written so many great jokes on the fly and forgotten them — they get lost in the wind when they leave my lips. Now, I try to write them down the minute I craft them in my head and say them out loud to others, so long as I get a good laugh. For example, I was at a cocktail party recently when a friend mentioned he had Greek food for lunch. I immediately asked him, “do you know what they call the garbage behind a Greek restaurant?” He looked at me blankly. “Nope.” “Gyrotrash!” I said, and upon getting a good reaction to the pun, I wrote it down so I could share it with you now.
P&P Tell us about your career trajectory? What have you liked most? And what have you liked least?
I began my legal career at a manufacturing company, working in the in-house legal department. That unusual beginning to my career guided me along that same path for almost 20 years. I hated nearly every moment of it. I hated the lack of creativity in the jobs, and the internecine fighting in the office. I despised the corporate hierarchy and the feeling that I would never grow beyond pushing paper around for a multi-national company. It wasn’t my employers’ fault. I worked for some really great companies. But I wasn’t cut out for that work. The only time I really enjoyed it was the employment matters. Those are juicy as hell. Give me a sexual harassment allegation that involves alcohol and an out-of-town conference any day, baby.
My goal is that the writing will become my new career, and I can leave the law behind. Until then, Mama has to pay the bills.
P&P: What is the first book that made you cry?
Charlotte’s Web. One of my best character traits is my intense loyalty towards those I love. That is also a poor character trait, because I am consistently disappointed when I do not receive the same level of dedication from others. It’s sort of a running theme in my life. But Charlotte — Charlotte! She was such a good friend to Wilbur. She loved him so much. She was like a mother to him, and when she (spoiler alert!) died at the end, I can remember crying my little brown eyes out.
P&P: Does writing energize or exhaust you? How do you manage a kid, a legal career and writing?
Writing does both. Legal writing is more exhausting than the fun stuff, but both are simultaneously exhilarating and draining at the same time. I manage my time the same as everyone else: I do the best I can. My son’s father and I share him 50/50, so half the time I do not have mothering duties, except to my two dogs. The problem is, during those times when I have less to do, I am actually less productive. Nothing makes me more capable at creating words on a page or dealing with a legal matter than a busy schedule.
P&P: Have you ever gotten reader’s block, when you couldn’t read anyone else’s writing? Who couldn’t you read?
I can’t read David Sedaris right now because every time I do, I hate my own work. Every time I pick up one of his books, I decide that I am neither smart nor funny, and should probably just go sell cars or groom dogs for a living.
P&P: Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Absolutely! They just won’t be a good writer! Well, I suppose one could be unemotional and be a technical writer, so I take it back. It just depends on the style of writing. I know brilliant lawyers who write very well, but let’s just say they don’t feel things as deeply as your average neurotic like me.
P&P: How did publishing your first non-legal writing change your process of writing?
I’ll assume you mean my blog, since I am still waiting to hear on some publishers reviewing my first book. The blog pushed me to create a significant amount of entertaining content in a VERY short period of time. I often churned out 1200 words or more five days a week. That’s a lot of work. The more people liked it, the harder I had to work to churn it out, which was both a blessing and a curse.
P&P: What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
This is not something I have experienced. I generally like authors or don’t like them, and my first impressions don’t usually change. After all, if I don’t like a writer, I am not likely to read another piece of their work. Maybe I should. Well, shit, now you made me feel bad. Perhaps I should give that 50 Shades of Gray thing another go.
P&P: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
The first time I can remember another girl at school telling me I was fat and ugly, and that everyone thought so. I think I was in the third or fourth grade. Why did that teach me language has power? Because first, I believed it, and it began an unhealthy relationship I had with my body and food for decades. Second, I know where that bitch lives, and someday, I’ll get my revenge with a flaming bag of dog poop on her front porch. It’s a dish best served both hot and cold, you know.
Now that we’ve done with these questions, we’d like to pose the Proust Questionnaire to you. It’s 35 wide ranging questions that were answered by Marcel Proust in the late 19th Century, but still reveal an awful lot about you.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I cannot have an idea of something that doesn’t exist. As close as I can imagine, though, it would be an afternoon in bed with a man who can make me laugh.
What is your greatest fear?
That something will happen to my son. He is my strongest tether to the earth and the best work I have ever done.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My neediness and my temper.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Disloyalty, dishonesty, and greed.
Which living person do you most admire?
Keith Richards. He’s the Energizer Bunny of human beings.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Clothes and David Yurman. And orchids. I love orchids.
What is your current state of mind?
Contemplative and hopeful, but give me five minutes; it’s sure to change.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
On what occasion do you lie?
If anyone is foolish enough to ask me how much I weigh or whether I’ve “had work done.”
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Fat around my upper back and arms, plus a wacky little skin condition that leaves me with rings on my feet, legs and arms from time to time.
Which living person do you most despise?
Can I combine this answer into several people? Every lawyer at the Stahancyk, Kent & Hook firm here in Portland, Oregon, most especially their founder, Jody Stahancyk, and her mini-me Brad Miller. These people will stop at nothing to destroy not only the other side in a divorce, but their own clients, the kids, and the client’s finances as well. If you make me answer this with one person’s name I’ll give you Donald Trump.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Fuck” “shit” and “unethical piece of human garbage.”
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I can’t answer that today. It would make my life more complicated than it needs to be.
When and where were you happiest?
That’s a big question — too big for a life-long analysis. Certainly the day my son was born ranks at the top, although I had a c-section so I was REALLY high at the time. Most recently, at dinner when my dining companion made a tasteless and rude joke that made me spit out my drink. He’s in the top two of the smartest men I know with a wicked sense of humor like mine. Being with friends who make me laugh and who “get” me gives me the most joy.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Guitar and a better singing voice.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My man-picker. It seems to be off. Also, how sensitive I am. Don’t make me pick just one or two — I am a seriously flawed individual! Maybe I would change how much I want to change about myself. Yes, that is what I would change.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My son, except he isn’t really “my achievement” as much as he is his own. So I guess for now I would say writing this book.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
George Clooney’s underwear.
Where would you most like to live?
Outside of my own head. Also, the French Riviera. Also, New York. I really don’t like these questions!
What is your most treasured possession?
A watch I lifted off a man I love.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Hurting others in an attempt to raise yourself up.
What is your favorite occupation?
Of mine? Writer. To observe? Fireman. Yummmmmy. I mean look, I don’t want to see someone lose their home in a tragic conflagration, but if it has to happen, I want to witness the firemen doing their job.
What is your most marked characteristic?
The lack of a filter between my brain and my mouth.
What do you most value in your friends?
Loyalty. Also, if you have a boat or a beach house, that’s pretty great.
Who are your favorite writers?
Maugham, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Sedaris.
Who is your hero of fiction?
Wonder Woman. She did great things, and had that tiny little waist and great hair at the same time! Also, she had a truth lasso. Man, what I wouldn’t give for one of those in a deposition!
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Alexander Hamilton. He had a big mouth and could be obnoxious at times, but he fought very hard for what he believed in. And he was poly-amorous, too.
Who are your heroes in real life?
My son, my parents, and a man I know who has been put through more shit in the past few years than anyone should go through in a lifetime, but every morning, he wakes up committed to having a great day.
What are your favorite names?
Jake, Margot, and Archie.
What is it that you most dislike?
Hypocrisy. And that back fat I mentioned above.
What is your greatest regret?
I’m still working on that. Please get back to me, I’m pretty sure I am nailing this one down in the next few week.
How would you like to die?
I wouldn’t. But since I must, I would like to die in the middle of the most amazing sex of my life, when I experience an orgasm so intense that it causes my brain to liquefy and run out my ears and nose. Apologies to housekeeping at the Hotel du Cap, where this event will take place.
What is your motto?
Don’t be an asshole in a small town.
Excerpt from her forthcoming book:
He cowered like a coward in the camellias, scooting backward into the bushes as I came into view, like Sean Spicer used to do when avoiding reporters during a difficult news cycle. “So, it’s come to this,” I sighed, and cursed silently as both my dogs approached the man who used to raise them with me, but had now moved on to the ugly mutt next door. “How in the world did I get here?”
How, indeed? How did I get to a place where I was divorced for a second time, something I swore I would never allow to happen? How did I get to a place where I found myself, unbelievably, living immediately next-door to my second husband and his new girlfriend and just months after he ended our marriage? To a place where my ex, rather than risk an encounter with me, had taken to hiding in the flower gardens? In the camellias, no less!
How did I get to a place where my son, having lived with “the stranger next door” for ten years, now had to worry about running into the man he used to call his stepfather, a man now shacking up with the aunt of a good friend of his? How did I get to a place where even my two dogs expressed unease and confusion, when they heard my former husband’s car and voice next door, or saw him walking on the street? “He never used to walk us,” I could imagine them grumbling, as they wondered how they’d been so easily replaced by another four-legged furry friend.
The question is: how did I get here? And just as importantly: how did you?
Robin is represented by Linda Langton of Langton’s International Agency for her book Forget the Drama, Avoid the Trauma: Your How-to and How-not-to Guide to Divorce