Groundhog Day, 1984
Hang onto your chairs, folks. This letter’s going to be different. And I do mean “different.” And I do mean “Hang onto your chairs.” Literally. (You may encounter a slight technical difficulty in the next few paragraphs since many of you will not have practiced reading with your eyes closed, but I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to overcome this; for maximum effect you should think of the handwritten (shown here in italics – ed.) section to follow as being intoned in a sing-song voice with pauses of ten to thirty seconds between phrases.)
Close your eyes … Relax … Relax …
Imagine a white light over your head …
Imagine that white light entering into your head …
Imagine that white light suffusing throughout your body … Imagine that white light growing brighter and brighter … Imagine rays of white light emanating from you … and illuminating your beliefs … Take one of your beliefs … Take your belief in the law of gravity … Hold that belief … Hold it … Hold tightly to it … Now, slowly … let it go … Let it go, slowly …
You are becoming lighter … You are no longer held down by gravity … If you let go of your chair you can float freely … You are free … Now take another belief …
Take a belief you don’t like … Hold it … Hold it … Now let it go … How do you feel? … Now take another belief … …
No, dear friends-and-relations, I have not flipp-ed my lid (For those of you that think I have (and if I weren’t writing this myself, I’d probably be one of you) you may skip to the bottom of page 3 for the latest poop on my family or to the Appendix to find out about (you guessed it) the Boston Marathon) but I am simply portraying for you the conditions under which Thea and I and some thirty other people were trying to learn how to “open up the channel between the super-conscious and the sub-conscious?”
Our group included two labor leaders, a state representative, a professor of economics, a couple of state employees, independent consultants, managers from industry, and assorted spouses thereof. And for three days we were sequestered in a Boston motel for a strenuous 40-hour course in “Leadership and Mastery.” And, although I can’t tell you why I was there in the first place, I can tell you that as of 7:30 p.m., Saturday, August 6, I feel that I am a full-fledged born-again capitalist.
Am I being unfair? Of course I am. It’s more fun that way. Actually, less than half the course was spent in a mystic mode — and some of that time was spent talking about results that had some value whether they came from pulsing white lights or from keen analytical minds. And I must admit that some of the 32 people there really seemed to dig the jargon. And I must even admit that some of the experiences quoted could hardly be explained on the basis of strict verbal communication and appeared to be outside of the realm of pure chance. And, after all, does it really matter a bit if they are explained by
Imagine the rays of white light leaving you and engulfing your partner … Imagine your partner’s white light engulfing you … Imagine moving yourself along the mingled white lights … until … you are your partner … Imagine you are in touch with your partner’s vision …
or by a combination of body language and other subvocal signals along with probability and selective data. Who cares? The chance to spend three intensive day getting to know myself — and my wife — all at company expense was a marvelous opportunity.
The other half of the course was concerned with dynamic structuring of systems, positive and negative feedback loops, principles of policy design, leverage points, a beer game, and other analytical tools for dealing with complex systems. Stuff that was new to me, but some of it sounded reasonable.
Indeed, putting the two parts of the course together in my own terms will probably be more valuable to me than if the instructors had done it that way from the start. I have every hope of coming up with some insights to share with you all — but that is another story.
On a quite different topic, one of the items under our Christmas tree was a video tape cassette with a Lewis Carroll type instruction, “play me.” So, we did, with increasing mystification as to why we were supposed to be that interested in details of an early December game of the Chicago Bears, along with lots of Chicago commercials. Suddenly we saw a familiar face peering between the girders of a pedestrian bridge, and Thea shrieked, “That’s our son!” And sure enough, we were now presented with a brief documentary on the completion of the ambitious project of the Illinois Prairie Path which our son Philip had been devoting himself to for the past year. It showed lots of shots of him and his friends at work, pointed out that with volunteer labor and donations they had done the job for a quarter of its normal cost, and included a nice little interview with Philip in which he said, “It’s a year out of my life. I’m glad I did it, and I’ll never do it again.”
The Illinois Prairie Path is a multi-hundred mile set of paths along abandoned railroad right-of-ways used for hiking, jogging, biking, and horses. At one point the original railroad bridge had been partly torn down, and path users had to detour along a busy street and over a narrow automobile bridge. Philip was instigator, design engineer, administrator, fund raiser, negotiator, builder, welder, welding instructor, photographer, coordinator, public relations department, etc. for rebuilding the old bridge across a railroad and a highway. In addition to path-user volunteers, he enlisted an entire class of a local vocational-technical school — and for some of the students it was the first real job they’d ever done that they could be proud of.
As his parents, we are basking in his reflected glory, even though our only contribution was letting him live during certain stages of his teen-age years when it was a strong temptation not to.
We actually saw the above-mentioned tape while visiting our younger daughter, Lisa, at her new home in Sunnyvale. Last summer she and friend Bill Kelly had just bought a house in Los Angeles when they both decided to accept tempting job offers near San Francisco. Lisa is now with a still different part of Control Data, and Bill is working with TDC, as a contractor to NASA to operate a Cray computer.
So, when Thea and Lisa and Bill get together they have a great time talking about things I wot not of and trying to be careful that they don’t give away company secrets to each other.
Speaking of Thea, she is still a Director in software for Cray Research. I offered her a chance to write her own page again this year, but she said she couldn’t think of anything to say. Actually, she’s been so busy travelling, meeting with people, and generally doing her thing, that she doesn’t have time to talk about it. But the company is certainly being successful — just check the stock market if you don’t believe me — and judging by her bonus this year they think she’s an important part of their success.
And then there’s my granddaughters (thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you). I visited them — and their parents who are both still Professors at UCLA and both considering other possibilities but so far the best match they’ve had is one in Washington, D.C., and one in Boston and they didn’t think much of my suggestion that they move to downtown New York and both commute — in December and they were both at their most delightful. April is almost 7 and beginning (just beginning) to comprehend that even a Grampa is a person and not just a bringer of gifts placed in the world exclusively for her enjoyment. As for 3+-year-old Miriam, I went to get her at nursery school the day of my arrival and she grabbed me by the hand and led me all around the school proclaiming in no uncertain tones, “that’s my Grampa!” Later on she wouldn’t let me push her in the stroller, saying disdainfully, “I don’t want to be pushed by a BOY.” Oh well, you win some and you lose some.
Here’s hoping that your wins far outnumber your losses in the coming year.
If you can’t read the appendix above, find it here.