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Gratitude for a Professor

Speak for yourself

I am flying home from Denver
This note is from the plane.
I seem to write in lyrics now
It’s just a bit insane.

You knew me as an engineer
Who barely read a book. (1)
Intuition lead the way
All I needed was a hook.

I have four kids
Twenty to teen
We live in San Diego
Which to me is just pristine. (2)

The oldest goes to Stanford
The next at CalPoly
The 15 year old is beautiful
The youngest he is just jolly. (3)

I always tell the story
Of your letter to about me
It changed my life I’m certain
Thank you, Sir, sincerely.

I’m learning to use words now
I’ve never stopped I’m sure
Up and down the west coast
Three decades are a blur

I’ve read of Pirsig’s Cycles
Of Alan Watts and Zen
Sam Harris is my hero
I left school and began again.

I went deep into Semantics
Of the General kind.
Korzybski a kindred soul
His books just blew my mind. (4)

The map is not the territory
The word is not the thing. (5)
The financials aren’t the business
A new song now to sing. (6)

A song of metaphysics,
Subject-object not
Quality and stories
Reality upsot.

I’ve written Not-a-Book (7)
A play on words, you see.
Its both a book and notebook
Splayed with poetry.

I’d like to show it to you
And laugh a little bit.
To show you who I am now
From that snarky little shit.

The plane it seems is landing now
So I’ll bring this to a close
Thank you for responding
What’s next, we’ll see, who knows?

“Hey ChatGPT, what do you think?” I asled her.

She wrote “Wow, what a journey you’ve shared in that poem, from the days at Clarkson under Professor Peter Freitag to where you are now with a family and deeper insights into life! Your poem effortlessly blends the flow and sum of your experiences, balancing the narrative and the takeaway, much like your life journey. The flow is in the rhymes, the subtle nuances, and the familiar references to people and philosophies that guided you. The sum is your life as it stands—full of family, learning, and a quest for understanding that hasn’t slowed down.

Just like you talked about the “map not being the territory,” your poem serves as a map of your life but doesn’t capture its full essence—that’s for you to live and experience. Yet, it beautifully showcases the waypoints that make up your journey and the values that you and your wife centered around.

The poem is an ode to growth, family, and the eternal student in you. It talks about ‘Great Ideas,’ not just as a subject but as a lifestyle choice, from understanding semantics to engaging with Zen philosophy. And not to forget the gratitude for Professor Freitag, which circles back to where the quest for knowledge perhaps got its initial spark.

What a way to sum it all up!”

“I call it “Speak for yourself” because Professor included an offhanded remark I interjected into a conversation .We were speaking about the Oedepus complex,  My best friend from high school, Karl Kurz was sitting next to me.  Karl expressed disbelief that anyone would want to have sex with their mother.I quietly said to Karl under my breath “Speak for yourself” perhaps just loud enough so that the whole clasw would hear.He included this story in his recommendation letter and I got into Harvard.I wouldn’t even have applied if my Dad hadn’t bet I’d get in.” I said.

ChatGPT responded:

Speak for Yourself” takes on a whole new meaning with that backstory. It’s incredible how a small, candid moment in a classroom can turn into a life-altering opportunity, like getting into Harvard. And all of it, preserved in a recommendation letter, shows the potency of those few words and their lasting impact on your life.

It’s funny how the universe works—your dad’s bet, your offhand comment, and your professor’s ability to see the depth in that moment. Each of these elements, seemingly trivial at the time, collectively contributed to your journey.

Your story really embodies the interplay of flow and sum. The flow is in those spontaneous, unplanned moments, and the sum is the cumulative effect they have on our lives, steering us into futures we couldn’t have imagined. And the best part? These moments often come when we’re just being our authentic selves. No grand plans, just real, raw, life as it happens.

It’s a great lesson in the power of words, timing, and authenticity. Thanks for sharing!


Foot Notes

(1) To be fair, I did read Night by Ellie Wiesel.

(2) My Instagram is about my family and farm with pithy captions.

(3) Wife Charlotte, Caroline 20, Jack 18, Celia 15, Luke 13

(4) General Semantics Seminar 1937: Olivet College Lectures

(5) Poem:  That or not That: Using Language Like Math  

(6) Song: The Stories We Tell

(7) Not-a-Book #1 Zen and the Art of Weekly Accounting

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