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REJECTION Part III

So, poor me, I was rejected as a kid when I wanted so desperately to belong to a fraternity.  I was rejected from the legal fraternity when I failed the bar.  How about when I ran for Congress, and after that, when I tried to get a job as a law professor, and later, when I wanted to become a judge and was rejected for both of these positions by the structure in power?

I have never thought about this in this way before – but all of these were, in fact, clubs:  the fraternity, a club to be sure, the congressional and academic brotherhoods, and the political club that governs the judiciary.  You did not belong to the club, Mr. Spence.  You were an outsider.  You were not to be trusted, because you did not belong and we will not have you.

The result of not belonging has given me the greatest gift – the gift of rejection which demanded that I discover ways to be useful without belonging to the club.  I began the long inquiry into the self.  Who is this person, Gerry Spence?  What, if anything does he have to offer?  If I belonged to the club, any club, that club would set its rules and standards and make its judgments – for me.

By being rejected I became acquainted with the pain of the common man who also is not a member.  I learned to care.  I learned something about enduring loneliness. I learned to speak the language of the people and to feel the pain of powerlessness.  I sought associations with those who were creative – artists of various sorts, individuals who had something to offer because they were, themselves, pariahs and had experiences in living that the club members could never have.  That included mountain climbers, tramps, social outcasts, and beautiful people who lived quiet, gentle lives and were successful mothers and fathers and knew a great deal about love.

I attribute any important successes I may have enjoyed in my life to rejection.  If I had become a frat kid I would likely have developed skills that would have led me in a different direction.  I would have enjoyed golf and golfers and would have associated with a lot of bankers and business sorts.

Had I been elected to Congress I would have been ruined as a human being.  Had I gone to the University as a professor I would have stagnated in academia, or gotten into a lot of trouble.  The Dean was wise in not hiring me.  I wouldn’t have lasted as a judge.  I would have little patience for the phony, the incompetent, the cruel.  I would not have had enough respect for precedent or for the rule of law when these came slamming up against justice as they often do.

Rejection has been the greatest of all gifts I have received.  The power structure has it own wisdom.  I would not have been a good club member.

On the other hand, the power structure freed me to take them on.  Had I been a member of the club I would never have been free to fight for certain of the causes that have defined me.  As a result of these gifts over fifteen years ago I started Trial Lawyers’ College to teach lawyers how to beat the power structure, to win against large corporations and against the enslavement and injustices of government.  I tip my hat to the power structure.  You have given me much.  I have tried to give much in return, even when it includes the chance to beat you.

 

 

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Please skip the following Part II rejection which was posted by mistake.  The same post, properly edited, follows this one.

I should know better than to mess around with soft ware that is smarter than I.  A lot smarter.  There is even built-in laughter, and the damn thing is laughing at me.

Gerry

Part II Rejection.

Ah, yes, the gift of rejection.  By the time I was nineteen I finally met a pretty girl who thought I was wonderful.  What she saw in me I have yet to discover. Perhaps it was that I thought she was quite wonderful too.  But there was something else there. There always is – the need to be respected, to be accepted — even loved.  Underneath all the noise and panting and craziness of first loves  there is often something that is trying to be born, that is struggling in the pain of birth.  I suspect that was true with me.  She must have understood that.  I have written about that phenomenon in a book called, “The Making of a Country Lawyer. I entered law school and graduated magnum cum laude which was only the result of being afraid I would fail and be kicked out.  I didn’t have enough money to rent a cap and gown so I never attended the graduation ceremonies.  I was married to that wonderful girl with our first child. Then I became the first honor graduate in the history of the law school to fail the bar.  A lawyer up north in Worland, Wyoming had offered me free office space and he would send me the leavings of his practice.  You know – the divorces in cases without much of a fee, and he would send me the fender-bender automobile accident cases.  I was excited, delighted, ecstatic.  But the offer was withdrawn when I failed the bar. When I passed the bar the second try I finally got a job for $200 a month in the small town of Riverton, Wyoming.  I have written about that on this blog recently.  I lost that job when my employer became the local judge.   I had to get another job.  I’ll admit: after a grueling door to door campaign for prosecutor that took me to the Indian reservation “teepee-tapping,” and after having knocked on every door in a county nearly as big as some of our smaller states, I was, at twenty-four, elected the youngest county attorney in the history of the state.  But my successes as a politician ended there. After two terms as prosecutors I wanted to go to Washington.   I ran as a Republican.  We have all sinned.  Democrats were suspected Commies in those days.  I ran against William Henry Harrison (the President’s grandson) in the Republican primary for Wyoming’s only seat in Congress, My campaign slogan was, “Let’s be heard in Washington.”  My opponent had been in Congress for years and wasn’t a ranking member of even the least important of the many committees of Congress.  I discovered that the people of Wyoming simply didn’t want to be heard.  They wanted to be left alone.  Even though I knocked on most of the doors in this sprawling state my defeat was massive and absolute.  I did carry one precinct, namely, Bill, Wyoming.  Three votes.  Somehow I managed to get two of them. I, an utterly provincial country boy, was desperately trying to escape the provincial town of Riverton.  I had four kids by this time, and by this time I had represented insurance companies, and also held the record for the largest personal injury verdicts for ordinary people in the state.  Moreover, I’d been a prosecutor. So I argued to the Wyoming law school dean that I could teach law students all about trial work.  I was rejected out of hand.  No way.  The dean wanted some young pointy head out of a big law school who had been in a big firm for a year or two.  That would add to the standing of U.W. Law School.  We do not want you. Then maybe I could become a judge.  I asked my Republican pal, Stan Hathaway, then the governor, to appoint me to a vacancy that had just arisen in my county.  He called me to his office in Cheyenne, there to show me a pile of letters he’d received from his Riverton constituents who were more than mildly opposing any such appointment.  He turned me down.  So, soundly rejected, I quit the law. Why is rejection such a glorious gift?  Hang on for Part III.

Part II

Rejection.

 

Ah, yes, the gift of rejection.  By the time I was nineteen I finally met a pretty girl who thought I was wonderful.  What she saw in me I have yet to discover. Perhaps it was that I thought she was quite wonderful too.  But there was something else there. There always is – the need to be respected, to be accepted — even loved.  Underneath all the noise and panting and craziness of first loves  there is often something that is trying to be born, that is struggling in the pain of birth.  I suspect that was true with me.  She must have understood that.  I have written about that phenomenon in a book called, “The Making of a Country Lawyer.

I entered law school and graduated magnum cum laude which was only the result of being afraid I would fail and be kicked out.  I didn’t have enough money to rent a cap and gown so I never attended the graduation ceremonies.  I was married to that wonderful girl with our first child.

Then I became the first honor graduate in the history of the law school to fail the bar.  A lawyer up north in Worland, Wyoming had offered me free office space and he would send me the leavings of his practice.  You know – the divorces in cases without much of a fee, and he would send me the fender-bender automobile accident cases.  I was excited, delighted, ecstatic.  But the offer was withdrawn when I failed the bar.

When I passed the bar the second try I finally got a job for $200 a month in the small town of Riverton, Wyoming.  I have written about that on this blog recently.  I lost that job when my employer became the local judge.   I had to get another job.  I’ll admit: after a grueling door to door campaign for prosecutor that took me to the Indian reservation “teepee-tapping,” and after having knocked on every door in a county nearly as big as some of our smaller states, I was, at twenty-four, elected the youngest county attorney in the history of the state.  But my successes as a politician ended there.

After two terms as prosecutors I wanted to go to Washington.   I ran as a Republican.  We have all sinned.  Democrats were suspected Commies in those days.  I ran against William Henry Harrison (the President’s grandson) in the Republican primary for Wyoming’s only seat in Congress,

My campaign slogan was, “Let’s be heard in Washington.”  My opponent had been in Congress for years and wasn’t a ranking member of even the least important of the many committees of Congress.  I discovered that the people of Wyoming simply didn’t want to be heard.  They wanted to be left alone.  Even though I knocked on most of the doors in this sprawling state my defeat was massive and absolute.  I did carry one precinct, namely, Bill, Wyoming.  Three votes.  Somehow I managed to get two of them.

I, an utterly provincial country boy, was desperately trying to escape the provincial town of Riverton.  I had four kids by this time, and by this time I had represented insurance companies, and also held the record for the largest personal injury verdicts for ordinary people in the state.  Moreover, I’d been a prosecutor.

So I argued to the Wyoming law school dean that I could teach law students all about trial work.  I was rejected out of hand.  No way.  The dean wanted some young pointy head out of a big law school who had been in a big firm for a year or two.  That would add to the standing of U.W. Law School.  We do not want you.

Then maybe I could become a judge.  I asked my Republican pal, Stan Hathaway, then the governor, to appoint me to a vacancy that had just arisen in my county.  He called me to his office in Cheyenne, there to show me a pile of letters he’d received from his Riverton constituents who were more than mildly opposing any such appointment.  He turned me down.  So, soundly rejected, I quit the law.

Why is rejection such a glorious gift?  Hang on for Part III.

 

 

The Glorious Gift of Rejection.

 

Part I

 

Early on, my mother told me I was a smart aleck and that no one would come to my party if I had one.  The ditty she recited was, “Smarty, Smarty, had a party and nobody came.”

Facing such a horror I never had a party, for, indeed, I knew what my mother said was true:  I was a smart aleck.  But we all crave acceptance, and a smart aleck has only one method — to try even harder and thereby to become an even more obnoxious smart ass.  In high school I wanted to be class president, but who would want a smart aleck representing them?  No one.

I couldn’t make the football team in high school and basketball was a pretend sport for me.  The only place I could shoot hoops was in my dreams.  I did, at least, develop a sort of “look-at-me” kind of walk, and I boxed a little.  But in my second fight I got knocked out on my feet by a big Swede with a big neck and a pin head.  The only sport I was good at was talking.  I was a champion big mouth.

I thought maybe I should go to the Naval Academy at West Point – be a big time sea captain or something.  But I was slightly red-green colorblind and couldn’t see the letters in that silly spot test, and I was rejected out of hand before I even sought an appointment from some Wyoming politician I didn’t know.

I went to the University of Wyoming located, as it was, in my hometown.  You had to belong to a fraternity in those days if you amounted to anything.  The frat boys got all the girls because they had a frat pin for “pinning” one of those cute little sweethearts.  No girl wanted to be seen with a guy who had no pin to pin, who lacked that sort of social genitalia.

At that time I was working on the railroad as a brakeman and I came to my eight o’clock class covered with coal dust and wearing bib overall work clothes.  I also was a night bellhop in the local hotel.  My parents were not bankers or business people, and only kids whose parents were, or who were athletes or who were very, very nice, or who had those towering grade averages – in short, only those who might amount to something someday and thereby bolster the reputation of the fraternity got rushed in rush week.   Besides, I had pimples.

Breathlessly all during Rush Week I waited for some sign from the frat boys.  I had no phone.  My folks had moved off to Bolivia where my father worked in the tin mines.   But surely they could leave a note or something at the basement room I rented for ten dollars a month with another kid, the room, one of those with the unfinished concrete walls next to the landlady’s laundry tubs.  But no.  Nothing from the frat boys.  Ugly silence.

And worse, one had to muster a response to the interminable, unrelenting painful inquiries from one’s peers, “What frat did you pledge?”  What was one supposed to say with an arrogant shake of the head?  “I’m independent.”  And that’s what I said.  What else was there to say – that I was such a repulsive cipher that even the several lower-rung fraternities that were begging for the leftovers wouldn’t have me?

That was my early introduction to those glorious gifts of rejection.  I’ll talk more about it, that is I will be asking, is rejection something to be longed for, coveted, fought for and adored?  Well, stay tuned.

 

The Great Power of Ignorance

The Great Power of Ignorance

Some claim amazement that any lawyer could achieve national prominence after spending his first seventeen years of practice in the sticks of Wyoming – indeed, in Riverton, Wyoming, population something like five or six thousand people.  But the key to whatever success I now enjoy after nearly sixty years of practice is ignorance.

Ah, the power of ignorance!

I remember believing that if I could start a practice on my own and handle enough divorces at $150 and farm leases at $5.00 that someday I could own a small piece of land, build a modest home, and maybe even be elected to the legislature of Wyoming.

No one told me how powerless a young, inexperienced lawyer was supposed to be.  I didn’t know that big corporations, especially insurance companies, were supposed to be unbeatable.  I thought I could accomplish any goal.  My ambitions, as provincial as they were, were thankfully protected by ignorance.

I didn’t know you had to be a graduate of Yale or Harvard or Michigan or some other great university to have a shot at becoming a successful lawyer.  I didn’t even know where Yale or Harvard was.  Princeton was back East somewhere.  But where I couldn’t say.

I took on cases and attacked my opponents in court like a wild Comanche armed with only a bow and arrow.  I didn’t know you had to belong to certain clubs and golf with the bankers to get cases and to amount to something.  No one told me who to be like, because there were no great role models in Wyoming.  I thought lawyers were supposed to fight for their clients.  I thought judges were fair and honest.  I believed in the system – that there was justice for all out there if you wanted it bad enough and went after it.

I never had to make deals with the power structure because I didn’t understand their power.  They were afraid of me, because I was ignorant of their power, and powered with an innocent appreciation of my own.  No one is more powerful than the kid in the trenches who has no understanding of pain or death.  That’s why we send young men to war.

I remember the old boy from our largest city, the preeminent insurance lawyer in Wyoming, and, of course, Wyoming’s representative to the American Bar Association.  He wanted us to give twenty-five dollars each to help the national bar establish an advertising program for lawyers – to give us a better image he said.  That was nearly sixty years ago.  I got up in the county meeting of about five lawyers and ignorantly asked, “If we want to be seen better, why don’t we do better?”  That was real ignorance.

My opponents always thought I was brave.  But I was ignorant of the consequences of losing.  I won because I was innocent – a better word.  But if one is ignorant of what They can do to one, one has an indomitable power over them.  Their greatest power against the people, yes, against those who fight for the people, is Fear.  Fear is the controlling power of every society.  It is the foundation of religion.  You had better conform, you had better give away whatever power you have, or bad things will happen to you.   But I didn’t understand that rule.

I am put in mind of my nephew when he was about twelve and playing Little League baseball.  It was the last inning in the championship game – his team was two down, the other team was ahead by three, and when my nephew stepped up to bat the bases were loaded.  He hit a homer and won the game.  I said, “I bet you were afraid, weren’t you?  The whole game rested in your hands.”

“No,” he said.  “They were in trouble.”

The power of ignorance frees one of fear, frees one to rely on one’s native talents undiluted by the message of the power structure that one is a meaningless digit who can become successful only if one submits and follows the dictates of power.

I like to tell lawyers, and any others who will listen, that they are perfect – and their perfection is powerful.  We are each unique.  No one lives or has ever lived or will live in the future who is exactly like me, or like you.  This means one cannot be compared, because there is no one to compare one to.

But we have been educated otherwise.  We have been convinced from an early age that we are lacking in some way.  We are not as bright as our brother, or sister.  We are told by our teachers that we are not as talented as the others in the class so we are given lower marks.  But always, the greats of the species have somehow been ultimately saved from the debilitating judgments of others.

The lawyer I fear most is the young advocate, man or woman, who does not know that I am a more accomplished lawyer.  I fear an opponent who is protected by ignorance and who, therefore, is free to beat me.  I am afraid of those kind because of the great power of their ignorance that protects them and unleashes their own indomitable power.

Ah, the power of ignorance!


The Joy of Senility

The Joy of Senility

I am dealing with old age because it is smacking me in the face like a wet dishrag.  But I have choices:  I can ignore it, pretend it has not arrived, or I can get better acquainted with it, like becoming intimate with some repulsive trespasser who has moved into the neighborhood and now is getting overly friendly.

Still, I find old age fascinating.  Where I was totally surefooted at 79 plus 364 days, the next day, on my 80th birthday, people began helping me down the steps and warning me of obvious dangers.   They started to regularly inspect my shirtfront to make sure I wasn’t drooling my food, and on occasion when they found the spots they seemed elated – as if they saved the old man from terminal embarrassment.  The year before, the droppings were merely the tracks of a sloppy man whose habits they had silently endured all those years like bird spatters on the window.

And I provide people with advantages they never had before I became senile.  My memory has never been good.  Like a tiny closet in which to store all of one’s old clothes.  Now those around me can, with solid assurance, insist they told me something that they, themselves forgot to tell me.  “You know how your memory is,” they say with raised eyebrows and a sort of patient solicitness.

Another thing:  they expect wisdom where none exists.  They demand it.  The only reason they can respect an old person is because he is supposed to be wise.  He is no longer attractive physically.  He can no longer perform all those physical things that were once his duties.   He can now be tolerated only if he is wise.  But Wisdom — why have you forsaken me?

I feel harassed by time.  There is only so much of it.  I don’t want to waste it, yet I have no sure measure by which to properly make my decisions.  I think, well, I could be dead in the morning, so I better eat the ice cream with that hot apple pie tonight.  Hate to be on my deathbed wishing I had and all they give me is weak chicken broth.

I need to attend to certain chores I must attend to before I die.  I have put them off all these years, like cleaning out the drawers of all the junk I have accumulated – thoughtless to leave such a mess for others to deal with.  I can hear them now:  God, he was a sloppy old bastard.  You’d think he could have gotten rid of this stuff and not left it for us to haul off.

And there’s my failure to gather that which needs to be put in places where my family can find them, things I have written, poems, clever letters, and pretended insights, and I also need to discard things I wish I hadn’t written – you know – just cleaning things up a bit like you do for strangers who read you – why not for the family?  But is that the way one should be spending one’s priceless last days?

No, the odds for an unexpected death in the next day or two, next week, even next year are not staggering.  I will probably live a while yet.  I have a lot of things to do – like writing another memoir about cases thought to be important.  Or making the perfect photograph.  Truth is, in a decade or less those cases will be forgotten and new important cases will appear along with new heroes who will be soon forgotten as well, which brings back the vision of hot apple pie and ice cream that should be approached and attacked and destroyed, bite at a time — the only justifiable warfare I know.  Hot fudge sundaes will also do.

I look back on a long life.  Thankfully I have forgotten much of it.  Sometimes fleeting bits and pieces slip into consciousness just as I am going to sleep or waking up.  I made a lot of mistakes, grew from them, hurt others in the making, tried to rectify my wrongs with service to still others, and, in the end, fell vastly short of my potential.  But I had just as well be satisfied with what my whole life looks like, as altered to fit my comfort level.  Had I been a better man, a more generous person, a more productive human being, a better father and husband, well, I couldn’t have kept abreast of that.  One needs a little sin in one’s life to understand virtue.

What would I do if somehow I were able to come back?  I think I would become a bank robber, a poet and a painter.  Bank robbing is the ultimate virtue.  Banks rob the poor and the powerless, throw old ladies out of their homes in winter and leave endless hordes of innocent children homeless.  Bankers are the elite of the criminal element in this country.  They are usurious and heartless, empty-souled and play golf.  And they measure all worth in money.

A good bank robber who could rob back for the poor would be a major saint – except that the banks also own the churches who bestow sainthood.  I should call the new order of bank robbers the Brotherhood (and Sisterhood – we will need a good female accomplice to drive the getaway car) of the Best of the Worst Bank Robbers, or B&SBWBR for short.  Such a saint would live forever because infinite joy is an infinite extender of life.

Now to quote the most important of my role models, Sitting Bull, who, after he laid an invaluable hunk of wisdom on the tribe mumbled:  “I have spoken.”