Waiting for Eileen

As follow up to my post on our storytelling session at AAM, here’s the first of the stories that were told.

Waiting for Eileen by Judy Rand


It was SO cold that winter. Drafty apartment. Wind blowing in from the bay.


Time to light the heater.

The open-flame gas heater.


I had a diagram from the gas company: “How to Light Your Old Heater.”


 It doesn’t look anything like MY old heater.

Turn valve A to B.
Wait, there is no B. There’s some loopdeloop thing here.
Push down on lever C. I don’t see a C.

I know GAS is going to come RUSHING out of this pipe at me—here? Here? !!!


This isn’t gonna work.
If I light this match, I’ll blow us all up.

And by us, I meant…me.

Two-bedroom apartment, but I was living alone.
Just me and my secret.
Nobody at work knew it, but I. Was shy.

Too shy to knock on a neighbor’s door to ask for help.

I was terrified of parties.
When I go….IF I go…to a party, I hide in the bathroom.
(Luckily, I don’t get invited to many.)

I look at the heater.

                   (What could I do?)

I put my parka on.


And I wait.
I am waiting for Eileen.


Eileen was a science writer who lived two hours north, in San Francisco.
She’d come down for meetings at the aquarium. We worked together.
When meetings ran late, she’d stay over at my place. (Why not? I had a spare room.)


Eileen was amazing. She knew how to fix things. She knew how things work. She fixed my kitchen faucet. She fixed my clock!


She LOVED figuring things out. (Best of all: I wouldn’t even have to ask.)


“Gee, it’s getting cold,” she said when she arrived that evening. “Would you like me to light the heater?”


                                  Yes! Thank you! I am so grateful.


I sound like an idiot, right?Actually, I’m pretty good at my job.
I’m not shy at work. I have great ideas. I’m a PASSIONATE visitor advocate. I speak right up. And I have to!

“It’s this new TEAM,” I tell Eileen.

The Designer and I don’t see eye-to-eye.

I want visitors to FEEL the ocean.
What’s it really LIKE down there?


The Designer’s  in a whole ‘nother world.
Circles, systems, networks. Stuff you can’t see.
He keeps shooting down my ideas.

– The Fish Person is quiet. Very quiet.
Fish people are like that. They go diving in the kelp forest, it’s quiet.
Nobody talking.
They’re like that in meetings. Nobody talking.
(What are they thinking?)

The 3 of us are deadlocked. We can’t agree.


 “Too bad there’s no way to fix that,says Eileen. “A workshop maybe.”


WORKSHOP! I’ve got one next week!

Not about teams. About visitors’ learning.

But maybe I can bring back some proof.
Convince these guys to see things my way.



I fly off to DC.

Dr. Bernice McCarthy. Learning Styles in Museums, at the Smithsonian.
(I know it’s probably gonna be participatory. That’s the new thing.
                                          That’s OK. I’m gonna sit in the back and take notes.)


Bernice jumps right in.

There are 4 learning styles, says Bernice. They’re actually steps, or stages, on a learning cycle that all of us go through when we learn something new.
But each of us has our own favorite place we like to dwell on the cycle.


Each person has their own favorite learning style.

#1s   Imaginative Learners

(1s are immersive. They seek personal relevance.
They’re people people, says Bernice.)

#2s   Analytic Learners want the facts.

Lots of curators are #2s, Bernice tells us.


#3s are Common Sense Learners.

They ask “How does it work?”
They’re the engineers of the world, says Bernice.
(Sounds like my friend Eileen!)


  #4s, the Dynamic Learners

ask “What if I try it?” They like to jump in and do it.


Bernice divides us into groups.

#1s over here.      #2s here.     #3s there.      #4s—yep, already there.


Each team’s going to come up with an exhibit scheme.

 I look at my worksheet: points on a graph. I’m a 1.

Imaginative. Yes. Immersive. Yes.

Wait a minute…did she say “People People?”


I look at the #1s. The People People.

They’re waving to me, warmly.
This is going to be awful.

Three minutes in, I am happier than I have ever been.


The #1s love every idea I have. I get them, they get me.
These people are brilliant! (Where did they come from?)


Bernice calls “Time!” Each group presents. “How did it feel?” she asks.
Everyone from every group says “Amazing. Great! Not like my team back home.”

Then Bernice scrambles us. This time we’re mixed.

1,2,3,4.  1,2,3,4.   1,2,3,4.

“Same activity,” she says. “Come up with an exhibit scheme.”


Three minutes in—crap! This is just like my team back home!


Crazy Designer Person killing my ideas. SHE wants cladistics.
Systems! Stuff you can’t see. I do my best to keep it real.

Bernice calls “Time! “How did it feel?” she asks.
Everyone from every group says “A LOT more conflict. Just like my team back home.”


Then each group presents its scheme.
They’re better.Markedly better.
                                More vibrant in every way.

Bernice says it’s proof.
When a 1 works with a 3…when a 2 works with a 4…your opposite learning styles ensure the strongest results.Your strongest collaborator is your opposite number.


If, Bernice says, you can manage not to kill each other.


Ohhhh. Oh!
Is that why my Designer drives me crazy? (I must drive him crazy too.)
                        We’re opposite numbers?
But wait. Eileen is a 3—I’m sure of it! I love Eileen!


WHAT IF…what if…the next time the Designer comes up with a crazy idea,
a how-does-it-work idea, I look at him….and imagine it’s Eileen.
Imagine Eileen’s head on Designer Person’s body.


This could work!

What we’d do together WOULD be better if we didn’t kill each other.


This one idea—‘opposite learning styles’—changes my work-life. Forever.



BACK HOME Friday, the apartment’s warm.  
Team meeting is good.  


One problem.
I’ve been invited to a party.

The Fish People party.
It’s going to be quiet.
Everybody standing there holding their beers. Noooobody talking. They’re waiting for their one talkative guy—John O’Sullivan—to arrive.
Shark collector, big, fun-loving guy. Got a story for everyone.
Until John-O gets there, it’s going to be QUIET.
(Makes it hard for me to hide.)

End of the year. I have to go.
I drag myself over to Gil’s house. (Yes, a Fish Person named Gil. This is a true story.)


Gil answers the door. He looks morose.
“Gil, what’s wrong?” I ask, stepping inside.
“John-O can’t make it,” Gil says. (Oh no!)
                                                             Everyone’s quiet.


I’m ready to retreat—but then I feel this strange….warmth…come over me.
Like I felt surrounded by my #1s.


I say to myself, “You. Are. A. PEOPLE person.”
“Gil needs warmth. Help Gil out.”


I start telling Gil a penguin story. (It’s funny.)
I see Freya smile. And Peter.
The party warms up. I tell another story.


And THAT moment changes my life-life. Forever.
I DO care about people—not just visitors.
I DO have love to share.
I don’t have to hide in the bathroom, scared.

Thanks for coming to the party. It’s great to see you all here.

© Judy Rand, 2014


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