Thursday, February 11, 2010

Going To The Mountain

There was this movie not so long ago staring Val Kilmer. He played an FBI agent with Native American roots that he wasn't so proud of. He was assigned to investigate a murder on a reservation and had regular run-ins with the local reservation cop, played by Graham Greene (not the author).

In the movie, Greene's character tells the young, brash FBI agent that he needs to go to the mountain and get re-focused. For some reason that sentiment has stuck with me since I first saw the movie over 15 years ago.

I love mountains. Period. And the thought of sitting on a mountain somewhere enjoying the view and breathing the clean air appeals to me. The inner me. Now add some psyche self-administration to the scene, and I am there. 

When I was in college I went to Colorado a couple of times in late summer. I didn't really do much but hang out and hike up and down mountains. I was normally enrolled in summer terms every year, so my time in Colorado was usually the only time I got away. I loved sleeping outside and hearing the wind move through the mountains. Some of those nights produced, without a doubt, the best sleep I have ever had.

I slept on a beach in Hawaii once. That was good sleep too.

I find it odd that I can remember specific nights of sleep. And I can even remember specific naps that went very well too. The best nap I ever had was in 1990 on a hill overlooking Turtle Bay, Hawaii after playing Army all night and early morning. When I got to the top of that hill, I did the rucksack flop, lit a Marlboro light, and just took in the scene. I wish I was an artist so I could paint what I saw. I can still see it like it was a minute ago.

Where is this post going?

As of today, I have 5 jury trials set. I intend on answering ready for all 5. In March I have a murder (my first) on March 8, an attempted murder on March 15, and then another murder on March 23. All 3 of these can be won. I have good facts. 

I wouldn't say I am scared. I am not overwhelmed with fear and an impending sense of doom. Too much fear and you can't function. But just a little can heighten the senses.  I am acutely aware of what I am about to go through. I know I won't be perfect. I know I will make mistakes. But I know my cases front and back, cold.

The way I feel now is not entirely unfamiliar. 

Leading up to my first triathlon in 1997, I thought I was pretty cool training in 3 sports. I was a pretty fast runner, in comparison to other amateurs my age. My legs took to cycling immediately. But I wasn't a great swimmer.

When I up and decided to start doing triathlons, I realized I needed to learn how to swim. I could swim to keep from drowning. But I had never done laps in a pool. I bought a swimsuit and goggles one day and jumped in the pool. And I sucked. I could make it barely 25 yards without having to stop. Houston, we have a problem.

My first triathlon was about 30 days away and had a 1500 meter open water swim. If you really know me, you would say this was a typical Marcus move. Jump right in and figure it out as I go. Pretty much everything I have achieved in life worth mentioning was done this way. All guts and glory.

I started watching other people swim and quickly realized my biggest problem was breathing. I didn't know I had to put my face in the water and exhale. Once I saw it, I tried to mimic it. And I did. Eventually.

Within a couple of weeks I was swimming for real. It was slow, inefficient, and ugly. But I could keep going. Flip-turns were out of the question, however.

The day of the big race came. I drove to Indianapolis with two friends that had a few years of triathlon experience. The swim was in a reservoir. The water was dirty. I was so pumped up. I had everything ready. When the volunteer wrote my official race number on my skin with a huge black marker, I felt like I had arrived. After all, I was a triathlete. Sort of.

When my wave was called into the water I went in. Swim cap on. Goggles positioned. A few minutes later we were launched. I was surrounded by people, even though I purposely positioned myself in the back. I tried to relax and remember the mechanics I had been practicing.

But when I put my face in the water, something happened to me. I freaked out. I panicked. Completely. I couldn't see through the water like in the pool. There was no line at the bottom for me to follow. And I started to hyperventilate.

Then I rolled over and tried to backstroke a bit. That at least slowed my breathing down but I quickly realized I didn't know how to backstroke very well. I found a floating buoy in the water and grabbed it. I sat there in the water watching my wave swim way, way past where I was docked.

For a second I thought I had made a huge mistake. Maybe I wasn't cut out to be a triathlete. Damn. I wanted to be a triathlete though. Really bad. A canoe with a couple of lifeguards paddled up to me. "Are you ok? Do you want to quit?"

"Hell no" I barked. I pushed off from that buoy, put my face in the water, thought of that hill in Hawaii, and swam. I made it. All the way. I was never so happy to see the muddy edge of a body of water in my life. I spent the rest of the race passing people and saying "good morning" to every damn one of them. I was so happy.

6 days later, I did a 1/2 Ironman (1.2 mi swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) in Muncie, IN. The swim went much better. And finally in 1999 I did the full Ironman in Florida. I spent the entire summer and early fall  of 1999 in Austin, Texas training for that race. It was so damn hot. By then I was a pretty good swimmer.

Every Saturday morning for about 5 months, I went on a 100 mile bike ride through the Texas hill country. And I did every ride alone. On Sunday mornings, I did a 20 mile run at Town Lake, also alone. During the week, I swam 3 times, rode 2 more times, and ran 3. I was in summer school and working part time.

What I remember from that summer was taking a lot of naps and eating constantly. I didn't train on Fridays but rather went to the movies and loaded up on popcorn and Coke. That was my rest day.

A decade later, I am in the same position looking a massive event in the face. Only this time, it's not one event, it's several. And this time, it's not ok for me to just be a competitive amateur. Professional triathletes make their money racing and doing well. That's their job. 

I was admitted to the Illinois Bar. I am now a professional of a different kind. This is what I do for a living. I spent almost 10 years in school to get here and a few years in the Army to help finance it all. The stakes are much higher now. People's liberty are in question. My performance and skill might well determine whether someone goes home, or goes to prison for the rest of their meaningful life.

I wanted to be a trial attorney. And I got what I wanted. Maybe. I am not yet a for real trial attorney. I have to answer the begging question of whether I have the stomach for it. I won that big (I thought big) jury trial in December but haven't tried a case since. I learned so much but there is so much more. Decades worth. A career's worth.

But secretly I have wanted nothing more than to be in front of another jury. It feels awesome! There is nothing in the world like standing right in front of 12 people and telling them a story. Your story. The client's story. Making eye contact with them all and engaging them individually.

It's an adrenaline rush. But also incredibly intimate. No other speech in life is like talking to a jury. Nothing compares. And you can't teach it. There are tons of books about how to cross-examine, how to argue, how to construct an opening and closing, and use persuasion.

I have yet to find a book that can really instruct one how to be in front of a jury. I can find no law review article where methods are listed for getting the jury to like you. And there is no seminar on how to make the jury want to give you the verdict you seek.

Charisma cannot be taught. And it cannot be bought. You either have it and know how to use it, or you don't. I have been told my entire adult life I have my father's charisma. My dad could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo and a space heater in hell. He's that good and impossible not to like. He can also be quite the b.s. er too. Again, hard not to like.

If any part of me is like my father, I hope it's the charismatic part. He's also extremely handsome too. I will gladly take looks from him too. Charismatic and good looking can be quite the combination.

Much like in 1999, I have been tirelessly preparing. Everyday. Reading. Watching. Studying. Practicing. Writing. Drilling. Only these days I don't sleep so well or eat that much.

In a few hours I am getting on an airplane to go back to the mountain. Well, technically it's a beach but there are mountains nearby. The next 4 days will be spent preparing myself mentally for what's to come.

And while preparing, I will keep the following clearly in mind:

"The key to a speaker's impact on his audience is sincerity. Before he can inspire them with any emotion, he must be swayed by it himself. Before he can move their tears, his own must flow. To convince them, he must himself believe. If the speaker grasps this, his is the most precious of gifts. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king. He is an independent force in the world. Whoever can command this power is formidable."
Winston Churchill, 1897

I know I can do this.



  1. Marcus,

    Another inspiring blog!! I wish you the best of luck, but I don't think you need it. If your speaking skills are even half as good as your writing skills, the jury will be completely engaged and waiting to hear the next segment of your story, as I was in reading this post. Just thinking about a murder trial makes me nervous. I really wish I could be there to observe. REST, RELAX, and REMEMBER: "In playing ball, and in life, a person occasionally gets the opportunity to do something great. When that time comes, only two things matter: being prepared to seize the moment and having the courage to take your best swing." (Author Unknown)This is literally a chance to save someones life, and not everyone gets that kind of opportunity. You've prepared and probably prepared again. Now all that is left is to "take your best swing" and to be at peace when the jury has reached a verdict, knowing you did everything you could!!

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