Wednesday, April 13, 1977
"I'm Sheila," she says as she opens the door. "Some people say I'm a witch." She's old, gaunt, with long straggly blond hair. (I'm young - 29 - skinny, with straggly brown hair.)
It's an aging house, not quite gothic, in disrepair. She says she hears mysterious gurgling. It's creepy in the middle of the night when she's alone. "If I were really a witch," she says, "maybe it wouldn't bother me."
I tighten a no-hub coupling, open her clean-out and listen, investigate her toilet, fix a leak in a faucet.
I like her. She likes me. We chat. She says she was an economist but now she's a therapist.
"What kind of therapist?"
"Hypnosis," she says. "I teach self-hypnosis."
"Wouldn't work on me. I never let myself lose self-control."
She laughs. "You don't lose self-control under hypnosis. You enhance it. That's what it's good for. You'd be a pushover. It's the physicists and engineers who have a hard time." She's having an open house that very evening at her office. She invites me to drop by.
That evening, I show up at a conventional office building in Menlo Park. Her therapy room looks like your basic business conference room - carpet, drapes, sterile smell - but no furniture.
We sit on the carpet. There are about half a dozen people in attendance, including one talkative couple: the woman is a nurse taking a course in business management, the man an engineer. Both of them seem to flit from fad to fad, transcendental meditation to auras to crystals - and now to hypnosis. They sound open-minded but seem to have no core. Maybe that's what they're seeking.
Sheila describes what she can and, mostly, what she cannot do. Hypnosis can't make you do something against your will. It can help you do what you really want to do. She's unpretentious and matter-of-fact. She says some people fall easily into a hypnotic state, others find it nearly impossible. Then she has each of us hold pendulums and concentrate on the motion - just like in old bad movies - and in good faith I give it a try.
I'm there. It's fascinating. Like a tunnel.
When she brings us out of it, the fad couple say how marvelous it was. "I'm not sure you got there," Sheila says.
Then Sheila turns to me. "You fell fast," she says.
"So that was hypnosis?" I ask.
It was such a familiar feeling. I go into that state - call it hypnotic, or not - whenever I write. It's the feeling of obsessed, shielded, narrow concentration. Sometimes with other craft work - carpentry, plumbing - I'm the same way.
"I haven't heard any creepy gurgling since you left this morning," Sheila tells me as I'm leaving. "It's like you cast a spell on the house."