Woe Is Me

I have struggled in the past year or so to reassess my apostasy from the Trial Lawyers' College in DuBois, Wyoming. I spent several years as a student and then tag-along faculty at the college. It was, for the most part, a good and powerful experience.

But it is fundamentally a charismatic institution, and the focal point of all that charisma is Gerry Spence. He's a great lawyer and a good human being. But it was too easy for me to lose my bearings in his shadows. The ranch, as the college is known to acolytes, is a powerful place. The curriculum revolves around the practice of psychodrama. Lawyers come to the various programs sponsored by the college each year to get psychic tune ups. In some cases, it is far easier to break a person down than it is to put them back together again.

The cult-like quality of the ranch frankly put me off. For a time, I enjoyed a certain cache there. I was perceived to be close to the master, and folks wanted things from me, too. But I have my own issues about authority figures. I cut the chord anchoring me to the place with a meat cleaver, leaving plenty of people, including Spence, hurt, and, in some cases angry. I didn't plan to look back.

But I could not resist taking a look at Spence in trial when he was representing Michigan's Geoffrey Fieger in Detroit a year or so ago. I flew out, watched for a couple of days, chatted with Spence, and came away chastened. Spence is good. I opened my mind to the possibility of a second fling. Since attending the Fieger trial I've been in touch with Spence. He is gracious, in a guarded sort of way, yet even as we play at intimacy, I sense wariness. He often speaks of what he calls the magic mirror, reflecting back the energy you receive from others. His communication with me is guarded; I cannot penetrate the mirror he has carefully erected and am saddened when I perceive what feels like little more than artful dodging.

But the man owes me nothing. He is 80, and this weekend will be celebrated by friends and admirers from the around the country who will flock to the ranch for a celebration noting both his birthday and the 15th anniversary of the college's founding. I was on the fence about attending, and was set to go as recently as last week.

This morning I opened my email and read something that pushed me further from going. There will be an auction of Spence memorabilia at the celebration, all proceeds, of course, to go to the trial lawyer's college. Here's part of the pitch for the event:


You Can Own a Piece from the
Gerry Spence
Memorabilia Collection

To all TLC Grads:
Imaging Spence has assembled a fascinating and unique collection of memorabilia from Gerry’s life to be auctioned at the 15th Anniversary Celebration at Thunderhead Ranch on August 22, 2009. You do not have to be at the ranch to participate. All Trial Lawyers College graduates have the opportunity to bid. This is a great opportunity to help the College, have some fun and you may end up with a unique piece of Gerry Spence memorabilia in the process. Some of the items are shown below but they will all be viewable at the following link by Wednesday.

Auction Items:
Three leather-fringed jackets worn by Gerry.
Framed signature ultra suede jacket made with love by Imaging, well-worn by Gerry complete with a hole in the pocket.
Three cowboy hats worn by Gerry.
Three ultra suede shirts by Spence Collections.
Black suede fringed shirt, silk lined with silver buttons.
Five shirts from Spence Collections, all colors, denim from 1978 – 1988. These were Gerry’s favorites for many years.
Swim trunks from 1970 found in an old armoire at the Ranch.
Cut-offs from 1970 and worn by Gerry.
Roll top desk from GLS ranch office (the cabin Gerry and Imaging live in now). It is from 1900 to 1920 and was purchased by the ranch in 1975.

I just don't know what to make of this. Would I like one of those jackets? You bethca! In 1997, I did an impersonation of Spence at the ranch at the farewell event. I would have liked to have a jacket then. And I love roll-top desks. One of my avocations is as a used and rare book dealers; I understand memorabilia.

But there is something off-putting about this event that I can't put my finger on. It feels like grave-robbing and the man is not yet dead. And the thought of disciples elbowing their way to the cave's opening in hopes of grabbing a memento saddens me.

Woe is me, much though I try to find my way back to simple admiration of the man, things keep getting in the way. I am, perhaps, much the poorer for it.

Comments: (10)

  • Norm,
    Does Gerry want friends, or followers?
    Does Gerry want friends, or followers?
    Answer honestly,
    Posted on August 18, 2009 at 3:40 am by Mike
  • Mike
    Beats me; pribably both, but I suspect it is...
    Beats me; pribably both, but I suspect it is hard to sort that out.
    Posted on August 18, 2009 at 4:31 am by Norm Pattis
  • You worry too much. The worst regret you might fe...
    You worry too much. The worst regret you might feel for going is a lot smaller than the worst regret you might feel for not going.
    Time heals many wounds. Go. See your friends.
    Posted on August 18, 2009 at 11:07 am by Windypundit
  • ...revolves around the practice of psychodrama.
    ...revolves around the practice of psychodrama.
    Who owns the college? Can you bid on his garbage, too? How about used handkerchiefs and old shoes?
    You are smarter and more intuitive than you may realize, Norm.
    Why not donate all the proceeds to UNICEF or use them to start a fund for reconstructive surgeons who donate their services to give desperately poor children with marred visages from around the world a chance to make first impressions free from onlookers shocking gasps? Someone pays his or her airfare.
    Norm, I can't picture a time where people who admire you will debate the pros and cons of bidding on your ties and shirts, etc. with proceeds going to your bookstore.
    You are not a beloved figure among a cross-section of people because you feign divine status. You would never, ever, allow anyone to make a scene over you like this.
    Correct me if I'm wrong but psychodrama can be an extraordinary powerful therapy to enable healing of childhood trauma. Vulnerable, exposed and hurting people vomit psychic scars and wounds buried long ago, yet alive. The mere surfacing of these memories and the emotions trapped within them by itself is wonderfully carthartic. It is not an end in itself, but a beginning, really. Making mature, healthy decisions is key to protecting and preserving that healing process.
    Posted on August 19, 2009 at 4:32 pm by Anonymous
  • My main reaction was that, for a place that purpor...
    My main reaction was that, for a place that purports to give the message "Be Yourself," there's a whole lot of imitating going on. Wear a fringed jacket, sit at His desk, use his easel.
    My secondary reaction is that it so lends itself to parody. Bob Rose done in white chocolate. Gerry and Imaging salt and pepper shakers. "I [heart] psychodrama" bumper stickers.
    There is something discordant about the whole business. Those who imitate and those who either wish to be imitated or indulge it. And yet, I wish it were different.
    Posted on August 20, 2009 at 2:03 pm by Anonymous
  • Well, I went to the ranch for a few days. It was g...
    Well, I went to the ranch for a few days. It was good to see old friends and to wish a good man well. And I had the sense to stay away from a few bothersome souls. But as I await a flight home I am sad enough to weep and I don't know why? Is it that all things good and bad come to an end? I wish I had known better how to love
    Posted on August 23, 2009 at 11:31 am by Norm Pattis
  • I am convinced many share my disappointment in tha...
    I am convinced many share my disappointment in that nothing I say or do will bring healing or much comfort to you, Norm.
    Not to have had a dad for all practical purposes leaves a boy with painful, emptiness deep inside. A longing, a true craving for a dad figure is a hellish, constant gnawing at the psyche that does not magically disappear when we hit a certain age. We learn to bury awareness of it, to maneuver around it, to try to soothe its crippling ache, often in various, unhealthy, self-defeating ways.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your heart with us.
    "A problem shared is a problem halved and a joy shared is a joy doubled" has merit, I think. Perhaps sharing your guts with us helps a little bit.
    We hope so.
    Posted on August 24, 2009 at 5:08 pm by Anonymous
  • Who are you?
    Who are you?
    Posted on August 31, 2009 at 4:28 pm by Anonymous
  • Mike, why are you living your life through Spence,...
    Mike, why are you living your life through Spence, and egging Norm on ?(see above)
    Norm is searching.
    Spence had a father.
    The mother is as key as the father.
    Norm is searching, searching for something..
    You going to whip your Jesus thing on him like you do people you don't know ? Is that some TLC method, if it is it stinks.
    Kind of flip, Mike ?
    You might want to metacognitive backwards,/ words in view of your trails on this thing.
    Posted on October 18, 2009 at 6:52 pm by Anonymous
  • Norm, in my humble opinion, Mike sought to jack yo...
    Norm, in my humble opinion, Mike sought to jack you up.
    You seek to be candid, and so let it hang out.
    Gerry is not perfect, but it is not easy getting old.
    Many know you are an accomplished trial attorney, you were before you went to the TLC, you will be long after that.
    frienship is a rare thing in life, why throw it a way Norm, but that is your calls.
    Is it Mike saw some wedge, and has sought to exploit something in you for his own agenda.
    Gerry Spence is over 80 years old, like noted Norm, it is not easy getting old, you will learn in due time---too.
    This is no kool aid exercise, no worship of God, no tooting any horns.
    Simply, you don't need Gerry, you don't need his logo on WWW sites, you don't need to say you attended Spences TLC etc.
    You will make it just fine.
    But, look how many who actually exploit Gerry, using in their web marketing the Spence Name, that thing.(See examples)
    If anything it is Spence who has been badly exploited, he may not even see that, he is too wrapped up in wanting any who even attended his TLC thing to do well.
    Just attending TLC is not going to make someone a great trial attorney, there are so many other factors.
    You may know that better than most, Norm.
    You are the kind of guy who will be a excellent trial attorney, because it is something in you.
    Spence has no control over you, you are not under his wing, you flew on your own, long long ago
    Just 2 cents, from out, here, ..............!
    Posted on October 19, 2009 at 5:17 pm by Anonymous

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