Pondering a career–another memoir episode

The first week I was assigned to the local news desk as a reporter for The Boston Globe, my city editor asked me to make a list of a dozen stories I’d like to explore. I came up with about 15 projects and eventually wrote news or feature stories on four or five of them.

One of those stories began with an interview at Harvard with the semi-retired B. F. Skinner, the icon of behaviorist psychology (he preferred his field be called operant learning). My story on Skinner ran in a weekend edition and also ran later in The Los Angeles Times.

It was a memorable opportunity for me as a young reporter. On the phone when I called to try to set up the interview, Skinner asked about my background and was pleased and much more cordial and open upon learning that I’d been an undergraduate psychology major.

We met in Skinner’s office/lab on the Cambridge campus, and during my time with him, he was visited by a daughter and grandchild. It became an insightful human and relaxed time for me to be with him as his doting-grandfather personality leaped to life.

At the time, Skinner battled cancer of the saliva gland. He carried a roll of toilet paper with him wherever he moved about the room, frequently wiping his mouth and lips, and he spent several minutes expounding the practical benefit of his toilet paper over a box of tissues in dealing with his symptoms.

During our discussion, I learned he had graduated from Hamilton College in New York and dreamed of becoming a writer. As an undergraduate, he attended the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Middlebury, Vermont.

Of course, Skinner became a best-selling author, first with his fictional technological vision called Walden II, and later with Beyond Freedom and Dignity, a treatise on the application of deterministic behaviorism to social and political issues.

Did his career determination fulfill his collegiate writing dream?

Why didn’t I ask him that question?


My published story is among several collected at: 
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