Storyteller Jay O'Callahan - Home Page

About five years ago I was commissioned to create a story for NASA's 50th anniversary. NASA is a huge organization and this is not a story about a month, but it's about 50 years, so how could I do that and not make it a lecture? They don't want a lecture; they've had hundreds of documentaries and lectures. They want a story.


What do I know about storytelling and where did I first get a sense of what a dramatic story is? For me it was the Lone Ranger. I was seven or eight, the Lone Ranger was on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7:30. Often I would turn the light out and I would hear, "Hi oh, Silver, away!" I loved the freedom of the voice. Then there would be the sound of hoofbeats and then there would be music and I was free! I was free of being eight, I was free of being in my room, and I was there. I loved the size of the stallion and this word, Silver, was a mighty stallion. I didn't know what a stallion was, but the sound of the word and the sound of the word hoofbeats. And then there was the story. The story was about a man with a mask and there was a backstory, I didn't know that word then. He was a Texas Ranger with many other Texas Rangers. They were all shot down but he was still alive. An Indian came along and found him and nourished him back to health. He put on a mask. I loved that part of the story because it was mysterious. It made him more mysterious and he didn't have a name. He was the Lone Ranger and he had a companion, Tonto. I was unconsciously learning about the building of a story. There was a conflict, there were always bad guys and the Lone Ranger and Tonto would make things rights. They would commit themselves to whatever the problem was at the moment to defeat the bad and help the good. But the story would build and you weren't sure what was going to happen next and sometimes they were in terrible trouble. The Lone Ranger was with his horse, Silver and he was down in a cavern and Silver was hurt and the Lone Ranger's leg was broken and it looked hopeless. I was learning something about building and something about risk; these two people, the Lone Ranger and Tonto take risk week after week after week. I was learning unconsciously that there had to be a main character. There were supporting characters and they were very important, that was Tonto. I learned mostly it was fun. My imagination could simply translate the sounds and the words and the music into a place. So of course as a child I never wondered how is it possible that the mind can do this. It was there; I accepted it.


So I move forward in storytelling to being several years older and I had a little brother and sister. We'd be in the back of the car going to Maine, I would take their hands and look in the palms and I would take one of the lines and I would say, "Oh, Mickey, look, you're in a circus. Oh, you're way up high. This is the tightrope. Oh listen to the drums." And I would make up a story from their hands. That became something I did just the way a young person might play a flute or piano, but what I played was hand stories only for them.


Then comes college and I would tell hand stories only to children, never, never to adults. I think I knew instinctively that this is to be played, it's not someone to come along saying it could be much better if you did this. So it becomes just part of my being and I don't think seriously about it. But then in time I get married, have my children and come back to telling stories to my children, endless stories. I learned there's something important about trust. I trust the children and I trust they won't be like an adult saying, "That's boring" or "It would be much better if…" Because I was not ready for that, this was play. I had no intention of turning these stories into books or something, this was just intimate.


So there's something else I was learning unconsciously, intimacy. Storytelling and intimacy go together. Much later I learned you could be intimate with a thousand people. There's something of trust I'm learning.


Then I leave my ordinary work and I'm writing, thinking that's going to be my path. But as I'm writing I'm telling stories endlessly to my children and they take them out into schools. At a certain point I become a storyteller.


I want to skip ahead, thinking of NASA here. One day I make up a story about a grasshopper and I work on it and there is one fiery moment with two characters named Wiggums and Woggums. They're two huge, happy bears that spend their time pulling leaves off and pinning them all over one another as medals. The moment was alive; I loved those bears. So now here's something I'm learning: The moment's alive. Another part of me says, "But is this silly? Will people be as amused as you are?" But the fiery part says, "Go ahead. These bears are fun. Just go ahead."


Now let's skip to Nova Scotia. We're on vacation and we're meeting Maggie Thomas who looks to be in her late seventies. She's infirm, she's blind and she's the helper for Charlie Robinson who is almost ninety and close to his end. I'm a brand new storyteller and I sit down with them. They give us the key to the cottage we rented and say, "Maybe there's a story here." And they are so kind and fun that I take down notes. Now I'm learning something about the compost pile. To me the compost pile is you talk and you take down notes then you leave and go over the notes and you're gathering lots of information and you're gathering emotions and you're gathering questions. All of this heats up and suddenly there's this moment like Wiggums and Woggums, but I've never made a story for adults. Will this work? I don't know. Charlie and Maggie know little about me. This is at Charlie Robinson's house. Charlie Robinson was born in this house, his grandfather came from Scotland and built this house. Maggie came as a maid and stayed all her life because Charlie's wife was sick. So now the two of them are old and my intellectual mind says, "Well this story's got to be about Charlie Robinson. It's his house, Maggie's just the helper." We're there a month and about three weeks into the month I've got all this information. Maggie's blind. What is blindness? She's talking about World War II and Charlie's talking about World War II and their experience then. I'm thinking, well isn't that blindness, war? So I have time to reflect. Now this is unusual, I have time to reflect. I'm not going off performing, I'm there the whole month.


So one day we're driving into town and suddenly this rhythm comes into my mind. Maggie talked about being fourteen working in a herring shed. Suddenly I'm driving the car and I'm singing to myself,


            Thumb in the gill, open the mouth

            Slip it on the rod in the herring shed.


A whole series of lines and this is the story. And Maggie is going to be the central character. And I say, "Linda, let's shop fast so I can get back and record this." Now again this is a fiery moment and I'm learning something. These are extraordinary moments, people call them moments of inspiration and my intellectual mind says, "No, this should be about Charlie." But the fire is so clear this time, it's so clear that I say, "No, this is the story. This rhythm is the story. Charlie is going to be an important character but it's about Maggie Thomas and it's about Maggie when she is fourteen years old, when she knows because of the family history, she's going to go blind, but she's not now. It's set in a herring shed in World War II. She's told me about her work in a herring shed and how cold it is and she's told me about the death telegrams that come. So I've learned something.


I'll skip ahead to when I'm commissioned to do a story set in the steelmaking city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Now here's something new. I know nothing about steelmaking. I know very little about immigrants. I know nothing about this city. I feel awkward. I'm paid so I go wandering around interviewing people and I feel stupid. I'm the immigrant. And that's helpful. I interview managers and steelworkers and I interview executives and newspaper editors and policemen and people who worked in the restaurant, people who worked in the library, on and on and on. I finally say, "I can't do this. Steel is everywhere. It's too big." And I write the brilliant woman who got me going on this, got me the grant and say, "Bridgett, I can't do it. It's too big." And she writes back, "Jay, if you don't do it you'll break my heart." So back I go to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Now I've learned something huge, commitment. You have to commit, or at least I have to commit. When I went back I said, "I'm doing this story." Once I made the commitment, I go on with the interviews and then comes the fiery moment. I meet John Waldony, a retired steelworker. He's a very thoughtful man, he was a union leader, and he was a very brave man. I interview him. He says, "Now go to 721 Ridge Street and talk to my sister." So I drove up a steep hill and I'm looking down at the steel mills. I go into the kitchen and talk to his sister and she talks about their mother, Ludvika, long dead. Ludvika came in 1907, by herself, with a fourth grade education, she doesn't know English. That bravery stunned me. Suddenly there's this fiery moment, this story has got to be about Ludvika Waldony. Again there is this other logical mind that says, "No, this is a steelworker, put in the steel ." No," my brother says, "No you can't do it about a woman." But the fiery part of me says, "Ludvika came. She married a steelworker, she has her son growing up and working in the steel, her life is the life of immigrants there." So I've learned again to trust the fiery moment.


Then we go forward to NASA. First of all, NASA is huge. Should I just say, "I can't do this story." But I don't say it because I've learned something there. I'm not terrified yet, I become terrified later. I say, "Sure, sure I can do a story," having no idea what the story might be. There is the commitment, there is the experience beginning with hand stories, there is this knowledge I'm not thinking about "trust those moments." If something's on fire, trust it. So I go off with my NASA boss. Dr. Ed Hoffman, and we go to the Johnson Space Center. I'm worried because we're going to interview engineers. We're going to interview physicists, managers. Now this again is an unknown world. This is a world that frightens me because I took physics in high school and I worked hard and got a C. Then I took it in college as a challenge, this was my big challenge, take it. There were only seven students and one of them has an enormous head, he's like Einstein. He helps me along and so does the very kind professor and I get a mighty C. Now I'm going to interview these physicists and these engineers. I know nothing about engineering; I hate mathematics. So what's going to happen? Plus when these people hear the word storytelling, they say, "This is a waste of my time."


Johnson Space Center, we're going to interview the Chief Engineer. I prefer to do the interviewing but three people are going to come with me and I protest and they are wise. They say, "No, we're doing it." That's good because they know NASA, they know how to ask questions that I might never think of. So I have to get over this and trust them. The chief engineer, he's forty-five years old, Steve Altemus, he says, "My great-great grandfather Bruger built Lehigh University with his hands." Now I’m very interested, he's talking like a storyteller not an engineer. Steve goes on to say, "That was the generation of Americans that built the scaffolding for this country." That means a lot to me because I have done a story about that generation in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania that built much of this country. So that goes to my heart. Then he says, "We are the generation building the scaffolding for space." This man is not talking in an engineering way, he's talking poetically, and he's talking with a great openness. So this intrigues me. Will some of this language be part of the story? Then I interview a manager, Judy Robinson. She talks about how most of her family was lost in the Holocaust but not her mother. Her mother, just a kid, gets to the U.S. and Judy says, "I got a PhD. I’m paying this country back." My expectations of a kind of dullness and arrogance are being pushed aside and I'm beginning to open. But what's the story?


I'm doing a lot of research. I hear a lot of people say to me, "Don't do the moon landing, that's been done. Everybody knows about Armstrong." So part of me writes that off. But I would love to talk to Armstrong. I interview a physicist, Dr. Ed Stone. He's in his seventies. He's at Caltech but he spent much of his life working for NASA on something called the Voyager Mission. There are two small spacecraft that leave the earth. They're launched in 1977 and as Dr. Stone and I are talking they are headed out of the solar system but that will take several years. This fascinates me and this brings up a story problem. I'm hired by NASA. The country was fascinated with the moon landing because those are people, human beings are landing. The country is not really drawn to robots but it's very clear I cannot leave robots out. That is a huge part of NASA. So the story part of me is saying, "How can I get this in?" But I'm captured by Dr. Ed Stone. There's something of a poet in him. Here is this man and in a sense part of him is leaving the solar system because when he was thirty-six he was the chief scientist for this mission. How unusual to meet someone who in a sense is leaving the solar system. So that's got to be part of the story.


Now I’m gathering a tremendous amount of information. I have sent out emails to my email list of a couple of thousand people saying, "Do you have any memory of the stars when you were a kid? Do you remember the first moon landing? Do you remember the Challenger explosion? Anything at all, send me." One woman said she's from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, I met her. She says, "Yes, when I was a little girl my dad and I were standing under the stars and my dad said to me, 'The blackness of the stars are all around us. The earth is just a ball moving.' " I was so moved by that. Then in the email she says, "For the rest of my life I've been fascinated with stars. And I've been fascinated with the NASA and the space exploration." Is that going to be part of the story? I got a couple a hundred emails. What's going to be part of the story? I'm getting overloaded. I'm getting almost too much scientific information and I'm getting worried because I'm thinking I have to squeeze all of this into the story. All of the scientific information, all of the engineering, all of the stories people are telling me.


There are times when I'm gathering – this is my compost pile I learned about with The Herring Shed. But this isn't just two people, this is a huge organization and there are times when my breath is taken away saying, "This must be part of the story." I sit down with Frank Buzzard. Frank Buzzard is retired from NASA and he tells me a short story that take three or four minutes. He was born in 1947 outside Pittsburgh. When he's ten, Sputnik is launched. He knows about it, he's ten years old, everybody knows about the Cold War. Everybody's scared of Russia and that helps get the space program going. Then a few years pass and Frank Buzzard, now a young man in the army in a helicopter in the Ashu Valley in Vietnam. He's in the helicopter, he's fiddling with the radio dial and he hears, "Houston, this is Snoopy, we's down among 'em." What in the world is this? He keeps listening and it takes him an hour to realize what he's hearing is Tom Stafford in a lunar module forty-five or fifty thousand feet above the moon. He is fascinated with this. How can this happen? So two months later Frank Buzzard who gets spare parts in Da Nang, makes sure to get to a little television and watch the moon landing, the first moon landing. He watches Armstrong step onto the moon. He is inspired! Army finishes, he's so inspired by what these people have done he goes to the University of Colorado, he studies aeronautical engineering and he works for NASA. This is his life and in time he becomes the chief engineer for the International Space Station. International – all these nations. I say, "What is the high point of your life working for NASA?" He says, "The high point in my life is 1995 I am standing in Red Square, it's night, it's snowing, I'm looking at the lights of the Kremlin and I'm realizing I'm here because not only is the Cold War over, but I am working with the Russians on the International Space Station." What a story! War to peace and cooperation. That's got to be part of the story.


So there are many moments like this and I'm beginning to feel I'm kind of a stuffed bear. Something else has been put into this stuffed bear but eventually the stuffed bear is going to explode. Then there is a fiery moment. I'm with two storytelling friends at my house in Marshfield, Massachusetts, Jim May and Beth Horner. Jim May says, "Let's do a timed writing. Fifteen minutes, we'll just write anything and read." So I start writing and what I'm thinking of in the back of my mind is the Voyager and I'm thinking of this spacecraft going beyond Jupiter and Saturn and beyond Pluto. What I write is, "The Berlin Wall falls and the Voyagers sail on. Nelson Mandela is released from prison after twenty-seven years and the Voyagers sail on." And I'm writing a riff and the riff gets at time, time passing in a way that events go on on earth but the Voyagers go on in a way nothing has ever gone on like this. So I do it and I'm moved to tears. Jim says, "Why are you crying?" I can't explain. This is a moment that has captured something that's very important to me. But can I put this in the story? Can I go in front of a NASA audience and start to sing, because I've written out some of the rhythm?


            Hello, hello, we want to say hello

            We want to say hello to you


Can I sing? Will they say, "We paid this guy. What's he doing up there singing? What is this crazy riff?" But it's on fire. It's like Wiggums and Woggums. It's like that moment in The Herring Shed. Trust it but where will it go? Where will it go in the story?


Now I'm going back and forth between the logical mind and the imaginative mind. And the logical mind doesn't know what in the world to do with this. I have no context. I have no shape. The logical mind says, "All right, then back up. Take people like Frank Buzzard and just say, 'Now I'm Frank Buzzard' and tell the audience four minutes. And 'Now I’m Edgar Mitchell. I was the sixth man to step on the moon. This is what happened to me, Edgar Mitchell as I went back to the earth. I had this transforming experience when everything was connected.' " Will that be the way I do the story?


One moment I’m mowing the lawn and as I push the lawn mower I'm thinking of some interns that I interviewed and I was sure they couldn't be part of the story. These are college students working at NASA, there were just three of them. One of them was an African American fellow, Cecil Shy, Jr. about twenty-one years old, maybe younger. He was alive and he said, "When I was a kid I made these toy cars." He was using his hands. "They had motors." Nrrr, he was making these sounds and he said when he went to a high school science fair there was a model of the Mars Rover and Cecil said, "I can do that, why not?" And then he said, "I think of the kids all over the world looking at the stars thinking, 'I want to go there.' " And Cecil says, "Why not?" That's an openness that just fascinates me. Only a young person can say that, "Why not?" because someone who's a physicist and knows a great deal would say, "No, you can never go to the stars. You can't do that because we can't go faster than light so we'll never get to the stars." But when you're young you just say, "Anything's possible."


And that brings back a second moment when I'm mowing my lawn, that Ed, my boss from NASA, had said, "Jay, write a love letter to NASA." I dismissed that, that's nice, but that has nothing to do with my work. But as I'm mowing the lawn suddenly I say, "The way to do this story is to invent two characters who tell true stories of NASA." Now that's put everything together, true stories about NASA. And as long as the audience knows, now, this is a true story of NASA and they're clear, it can work. This is just like the moment when I knew The Herring Shed is a story about Maggie, but I've had some experience with trusting these fiery moments. Now there's a huge logical mind saying, "No, you can't do this. You can't invent two characters who are struggling with being in love, then not in love, because it doesn't make sense." But on the other hand I know this is the way that I can do this story, I know it, I know it.


Now I've got a context. Certain things really pulled me. I interviewed a Native American in Oklahoma, J.C. High Eagle. It was the first interview I did and I had to fight for it. I said to NASA, "I want to start by going out to Oklahoma." And they said, "Why? We can't pay you to go out there unless you give us a good reason." I said, "J.C. High Eagle, Native American, Cherokee, worked as an engineer for forty years at NASA. Somehow this is important to hear his story." So they said, "All right, we'll pay. Go ahead." J.C. High Eagle's story was so compelling I thought that should be there. Now here my logical mind and my imaginative mind might come together. We, particularly NASA, putting a man on the moon, this has never been done, we are exploring Mars, this has never been done. We are sending two Voyagers, small spacecraft, and ideally they're going to leave the solar system, this has never been done. So to have a Native American, native, someone who was part of this earth long before the white came from Europe, somehow that seems right. When I interview him not only is his story full of risk and courage and struggle and also prejudice, there's terrific prejudice against a Native American – but he is a dreamer. He says, "I like this dream and I like being part of this dream." And then he says, "Part of our story, the Osage people, is that we came from the stars." This puts engineering, dreaming, stars all together so I want him to be in the story. Now I've found a context where that can be one of the true stories these two people tell.


Then I discover how difficult the first moon landing was and then I say, "This has got to be part of the story. I don't care that people say that it's been done." Actually they don't know how difficult this has been and this tells a lot about NASA, a lot about courage, a lot about coolness, a lot about competence. That can be part of the story. The riff can somehow be part of the story, I don't know how but it can be part of the story.


I, as a person have always been moved by Christa McAuliffe's death and the death of the crew of the Challenger. That brings me to another part of the story that I learned as a child. In the Lone Ranger you have someone you trust and he never breaks the trust. But I get to be a little older and I am struck by the story of Sampson and Delilah and Sampson is betrayed and somehow that almost rips something inside me. In my boy's mind of nine or ten, I see Sampson, his hair cut off and he's pushing these pillars, and he dies and his enemies die, but it was the betrayal that was very upsetting. Then I read about King Arthur and Lancelot and Lancelot betrays. He's a wonderful man, he's like the Lone Ranger, but he betrays and that's painful. I see edges of it in our greater family growing up. Is there a dark side that's got to be part of this story? Yes. If I look into the Challenger, in a sense NASA betrays themselves. NASA goes ahead with a launch, January 28th. It's cold, it's below freezing down in Florida for the launch and people at NASA know or should know you cannot launch because you've never done it in the cold because O-rings, these are rubber rings, if they don't expand there can be an explosion. Well, they say go ahead and seven people die. Can a dark part be put in the story? In a sense they're like the bad guys in the Lone Ranger, you can't trust them. Well there was that moment of making a terrible decision where the pressure of the launching became more important than the lives of those people.


Now if I do this story to a NASA audience, are they going to be just furious? Are they going to walk out or are they going to say, "This man was commissioned and he has to bring this back up and something in me knows this story will not have integrity unless that's there." It's got to be there and if they say they don't like it, let's face that later. But the story will not have integrity. It will never fly.


During all of this time these two fictional characters are becoming completely real to me and I'm realizing one of the reasons they are important is because they emphasize all of the threads I discovered interviewing people in NASA. One of the threads is risk, just going to the moon was a risk. It had never been done and scientists didn't know how to do it and they didn't know what would happen when you land on the moon. When you send a craft to Mars, it's a risk. You spend years; it's a risk and if it fails you feel awful and your neighbors feel awful. It's a risk. Another thread was mathematics, another thread was dream, another thread was failure, another thread was communication. These two fictional characters, they're struggling with all of this. They were in love and it's broken off. They don't dare, particularly the woman, doesn't dare take the risk to be married. We find out why later. So communication is a problem. They have a problem communicating, they have a problem making a commitment, they have problems even though they're on their way, they have problems dreaming, really dreaming about what they want in life. Both of them are good at mathematics. One of them is in astrophysics at MIT, one of them, the woman, is at Northeastern, mathematics, engineering, that's just second nature to them. If they can communicate then you begin to feel some of the struggle at NASA. If they take a risk you feel some of the risk of NASA. I work with a number of people, maybe twenty people. Jessica Fox who was working at NASA and was part of the interviews, she comes and says to me at one point, "Jay, you have the science, let it go. You've got it, you've got to pay attention to these two characters." And these two characters which fascinate me looking back, they meet in a kitchen. When I interviewed Mary Soltysiak, I was in the kitchen where the main character used to cook and brought up her family. When I interviewed Charlie and Maggie it was in their kitchen. There is something about that intimacy, coming back. And this is fascinating because the last thing NASA is is intimate. It took 600,000 people to put a man on the moon but somehow setting the story, these two people and setting their stories in the kitchen is right. It captures intimacy, captures a warmth so that you're not lecturing when they tell their story. Somehow you're drawn into their stories.


So it's beginning to take some shape. And part of me has learned there's got to be one central character. It can be the Lone Ranger, it can be Hamlet, it can be Ludvika but not two, one. So the woman, Kate DeCordova becomes the central character. The other character, Jack Carver is very important but she is the center. You keep her in center and you can go forward in the story. Through her you really care about Jack but she is the center. She is the dreamer and she tells the audience about being five years old and her dad - this is fictional but I'm using information – her dad in Oklahoma says the blackness and the stars are not just above us. So a thread is in the story very early, the thread of dreaming. Then risk comes in and through their lives you're feeling what you hear in the NASA story. So you get risk twice, through their lives, through NASA.


Now I've finally got a shape. Will it work? I don't know. I almost give up several times saying I should not have these two people and Linda, my wife says, "Trust." My friend, Doug Lipman who's coached with me for years, listens and says to himself, this is stupid. This is not going to work, but he's wise enough to say nothing and he does that at a time when I'm wondering. It's very early in the story and had he said no, I think I may have dropped it because it's so tender.


One of the things is coming back to these fiery moments and I do that to encourage anyone listening to this talk. We live in a world that's logical and it's logical to the point that any dreamer could be laughed away. It's logical to the point that a five, four, three year old is a dreamer, wide open. Then six, seven, eight, nine the dream begins to disappear and that child who becomes now a college student, an adult, has often learned not to dream. You don't trust that. You trust the logical world. You deal with difficulties. You solve problems and you get on with life. Well I was learning something different. I was learning, no, this is my way. I've got to trust these moments and as an artist I'm learning to shape them. But what am I shaping? I'm shaping with this fire, these moments are leading the story. What leads the NASA story? It's the relationship of two fictional people and one of them takes a risk early in the story, a simple risk. She leaps up for a leaf. It's a risk because she's going to miss the trolley and be late for an engineering class and no one is ever late for that class. She takes a risk and that lights up the entire story, that moment. That's something else I've learned. You look for one image that lights up the whole story, or like in The Herring Shed, Thumb in the gill, open the mouth – one rhythm. And everything is lit up from that one moment.


Now I have a shape, I have odd stories, J.C. High Eagle. NASA people don't know that story. People in the outside world don't know anything about J.C. High Eagle but it's an inspiring story. A story of pain and risk and vision. They don't know everything that goes into the Christa McAuliffe story and that terrible failure. They don't know how difficult the moon landing was and for the most part people don't know of the Voyager moving on as the Berlin Wall falls, moving on as Nelson Mandela gets out of prison, moving on as the Hubble Telescope is launched then the blurred vision is corrected. They don't know. And the riff tries to give you a sense of time, time, time. This continues. We go on with our daily life, the Voyager moves on. This has never happened and to capture it you need something wild like a riff and it means a lot because when that character, Jack Carver, sings that riff he has changed. He has made a difficult decision and he is saying in his way, "I love you, Kate." And he is breaking through something in her, they are communicating now. They are in love and that's another thread that ran all through the interviews. Person after person would say to me, "I love this work. I don't know why I got so lucky. I love mathematics," they would say. "We have this dream."


So now after rehearsing it twenty times and rehearsing it because I want it to work but I want the facts, I don't want to tell it to engineers and physicists and they're pulled out because a fact is wrong. When I rehearse it someone would come up and say, "No I think that's wrong" and I check and I realize it is wrong. So now I am to tell it two times, once in Washington DC to my NASA boss. He's given me no guidelines, just make a love letter and when you're ready tell me the story." He's been in on tons of interviews but he doesn't know what I'm going to do with them. So I go down to Washington DC, NASA Headquarters, we go up to a huge auditorium. It's empty except for fifteen people he's gathered. So we go to a corner of this vast room and I've tried to get some storytellers to come and only one was able to come, Noa Baum. So I tell the story and they look at me as if I'm a frog, no smiles. Noa Baum, she's a storyteller so she laughs at the funny parts. Just one person laughing. At the end they politely clap and leave. I don't know, has it worked? Is it awful? I go downstairs and talk to Ed Hoffman, my boss and he says, "That's the best thing I've done in twenty-five years." Boy does that lift my spirits. But now I’m to go to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and these are scientists and engineers who design, build robots. Will this story interest them? I go to the auditorium the day before and see the auditorium and I'm told the way we do this is at noon. People come in, they bring their lunch and usually when they finish their lunch they leave. I say, "You mean they leave during the middle of the lecture?" "Yes, yes, they leave." And they also tell me, "We don't know if anybody will show up." Oh, this is great, this is my debut. Nobody is going to show up! So this is the first official time. So that night I can barely sleep and I’m thinking of Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, the first time they lifted off. I'm sure they couldn't have slept. They're lifting off to see if two of them can step on the moon. Well that's the way I felt. So I go the next day, probably at eleven, by noon there are maybe a quarter, maybe a half, then at noon they flood in. They fill the auditorium. I begin the story and in minutes I realize they are there, they are really listening. I finish and I stand on stage long enough to make sure they stand for a standing ovation. Afterwards several of them stayed. To my right as I performed, there was a huge model of the Voyager and the Voyager has something called the Golden Record on it with songs and music from people all over the earth. They have just heard this riff and they say, "You can press this button and you can hear some of the songs. You can press this button and you can hear some of the voices." So they were as excited as kids. What's exciting for me is they know they have been part of a dream. But they work hard and you forget the dream and you don't have a perspective anymore. I do have a perspective, I'm an outsider. I've seen what they've done and I'm fascinated with the dream and that they have accomplished so much. Then they realize, "Yes, we have. Yes we have."


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