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Let Your Mind Alone! And Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces
Let Your Mind Alone! And Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces
Let Your Mind Alone! And Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces
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Let Your Mind Alone! And Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces

Автор James Thurber

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"Let Your Mind Alone! And Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces" by James Thurber. Published by Good Press. Good Press publishes a wide range of titles that encompasses every genre. From well-known classics & literary fiction and non-fiction to forgotten−or yet undiscovered gems−of world literature, we issue the books that need to be read. Each Good Press edition has been meticulously edited and formatted to boost readability for all e-readers and devices. Our goal is to produce eBooks that are user-friendly and accessible to everyone in a high-quality digital format.
ИздательGood Press
Дата выпуска30 авг. 2021 г.
Let Your Mind Alone! And Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces
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James Thurber

James Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1894. Famous for his humorous writings and illustrations, he was a staff member of The New Yorker for more than thirty years. He died in 1961.

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    Let Your Mind Alone! And Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces - James Thurber

    James Thurber

    Let Your Mind Alone! And Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces

    Published by Good Press, 2022


    EAN 4064066352707

    Table of Contents

    1. Pythagoras and the Ladder

    2. Destructive Forces in Life

    3. The Case for the Daydreamer

    4. A Dozen Disciplines

    5. How to Adjust Yourself to Your Work

    6. Anodynes for Anxieties

    7. The Conscious vs. The Unconscious

    8. Sex ex Machina

    9. Sample Intelligence Test

    10. Miscellaneous Mentation

    The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold

    And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,

    Where the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

    1. The Breaking Up of the Winships

    2. My Memories of D. H. Lawrence

    3. The Case Against Women

    4. No Standing Room Only

    5. Nine Needles

    6. A Couple of Hamburgers

    7. The Case of the Laughing Butler

    8. Bateman Comes Home

    10. Remembrance of Things Past

    11. Something About Polk

    12. Aisle Seats in the Mind

    A message for Captain Bligh,

    And a greeting to Franchot Tone.

    13. Suli Suli

    14. An Outline of Scientists

    15. Highball Flags

    16. Mrs. Phelps

    17. Guns and Game Calls

    18. The Hiding Generation

    19. Wild Bird Hickok and His Friends

    20. Doc Marlowe

    21. Food Fun for the Menfolk

    22. Goodbye, Mr. O. Charles Meyer!

    23. What Are the Leftists Saying?

    24. How to Write an Autobiography

    25. After the Steppe Cat, What?

    26. Women Go On Forever

    27. The Wood Duck

    28. The Admiral on the Wheel

    Part One

    Let your mind alone!

    1. Pythagoras and the Ladder

    Table of Contents

    It was in none other than the black, memorable year 1929 that the indefatigable Professor Walter B. Pitkin rose up with the announcement that for the first time in the career of mankind happiness is coming within the reach of millions of people. Happy living, he confidently asserted, could be attained by at least six or seven people out of every ten, but he figured that not more than one person in a thousand was actually attaining it. However, all the external conditions required for happy living were present, he said, just waiting to be used. The only obstacle was a psychological one. Figuring on a basis of 130,000,000 population in this country and reducing the Professor's estimates to round numbers, we find that in 1929 only 130,000 people were happy, but that between 78,000,000 and 91,000,000 could have been happy, leaving only 52,000,000, at the outside, doomed to discontent. The trouble with all the unhappy ones (except the 52,000,000) was that they didn't Know Themselves, they didn't understand the Science of Happiness, they had no Technique of Thinking. Professor Pitkin wrote a book on the subject; he is, in fact, always writing a book on the subject. So are a number of other people. I have devoted myself to a careful study of as many of these books as a man of my unsteady eyesight and wandering attention could be expected to encompass. And I decided to write a series of articles of my own on the subject, examining what the Success Experts have to say and offering some ideas of my own, the basic one of which is, I think, that man will be better off if he quits monkeying with his mind and just lets it alone. In this, the first of the series, I shall abandon Professor Pitkin to his percentages and his high hopes and consider the author of a best-seller published last summer (an alarming number of these books reach the best-seller list). Let us plunge right into Dr. James L. Mursell's Streamline Your Mind and see what he has to contribute to the New Happiness, as Professor Pitkin has called it.

    Conducting a Lady to a Table in a Restaurant

    In Chapter VI, which is entitled Using What You've Got, Dr. Mursell deals with the problem of how to learn and how to make use of what you have learned. He believes, to begin with, that you should learn things by doing them, not by just reading up on them. In this connection he presents the case of a young man who wanted to find out how to conduct a lady to a table in a restaurant. Although I have been gored by a great many dilemmas in my time, that particular problem doesn't happen to have been one of them. I must have just stumbled onto the way to conduct a lady to a table in a restaurant. I don't remember, as a young man, ever having given the matter much thought, but I know that I frequently worried about whether I would have enough money to pay for the dinner and still tip the waiter. Dr. Mursell does not touch on the difficult problem of how to maintain your poise as you depart from a restaurant table on which you have left no tip. I constantly find these mental authorities avoiding the larger issues in favor of something which seems comparatively trivial. The plight of the Doctor's young man, for instance, is as nothing compared to my own plight one time in a restaurant in Columbus when I looked up to find my cousin Wilmer Thurber standing beside me flecked with buttermilk and making a sound which was something between the bay of a beagle and the cry of a large bird.

    I had been having lunch in the outer of two small rooms which comprised a quiet basement restaurant known as the Hole in the Wall, opposite the State House grounds, a place much frequented by elderly clerks and lady librarians, in spite of its raffish name. Wilmer, it came out, was in the other room; neither of us knew the other was there. The Hole in the Wall was perhaps the calmest restaurant I have ever known; the studious people who came there for lunch usually lunched alone; you rarely heard anybody talk. The aged proprietor of the place, because of some defect, spoke always in whispers, and this added to an effect of almost monasterial quiet. It was upon this quiet that there fell suddenly, that day, the most unearthly sound I have ever heard. My back was to the inner room and I was too disconcerted to look around. But from the astonished eyes of those who sat in front of me facing the doorway to that room I became aware that the Whatever-It-Was had entered our room and was approaching my table. It wasn't until a cold hand was laid on mine that I looked up and beheld Wilmer, who had, it came out, inhaled a draught of buttermilk as one might inhale cigarette smoke, and was choking. Having so fortunately found me, he looked at me with wide, stricken eyes and, still making that extraordinary sound, a low, canine how-ooo that rose to a high, birdlike yeee-eep, he pointed to the small of his back as who should say Hit me! There I was, faced with a restaurant problem which, as I have said, makes that of Dr. Mursell's young man seem very unimportant indeed. What I did finally, after an awful, frozen moment, was to get up and dash from the place, without even paying for my lunch. I sent the whispering old man a check, but I never went back to his restaurant. Many of our mental authorities, most of whom are psychologists of one school or another, will say that my dreadful experience must have implanted in me a fear of restaurants (Restauphobia). It did nothing of the sort; it simply implanted in me a wariness of Wilmer. I never went into a restaurant after that without first making sure that this inveterate buttermilk-drinker was not there.

    But let us get back to Dr. Mursell and his young man's peculiar quandary. I suppose this young man must have got to worrying about who went first, the lady or himself. These things, as we know, always work out; if the young man doesn't work them out, the lady will. (If she wants him to go first, she will say, You go first.) What I am interested in here is not the correct procedure but Dr. Mursell's advice to the young man in question. He writes, Do not merely learn it in words. Try it over with your sister. In that second sentence he reveals, it seems to me, what these inspirationalists so frequently reveal, a lack of understanding of people; in this case, brothers and sisters. Ninety-nine brothers out of a hundred who were worrying about how to conduct a lady to a table in a restaurant would starve before they would go to their sisters and ask them how the thing is done. They would as lief go to their mothers and have a good, frank talk about sex. But let us, for the sake of the argument, try Dr. Mursell's system.

    Sister, who is twenty-one, and who goes around with a number of young men whom her brother frankly regards as pussy-cats, is sitting by the fire one evening reading André Gide, or Photoplay, or something. Brother, who is eighteen, enters. Where's Mom? he asks. How should I know? she snaps. Thought you might know that, Stupid. Y'ought to know something, he snaps back. Sister continues to read, but she is obviously annoyed by the presence of her brother; he is chewing gum, making a strange, cracking noise every fifth chew, and this gets on her nerves. Why don't you spit out that damn gum? she asks, finally. Aw, nuts, says her brother, in a falsetto singsong. Nuts to you, Baby, nuts. There is a long, tense silence; he rustles and re-rustles the evening paper. Where's Itsy Bitsy Dicky tonight? he asks, suddenly. Ditch you for a live gal? By Itsy Bitsy Dicky, he refers to one Richard Warren, a beau of his sister's, whom he considers a hollyhock. Why don't you go to hell? asks his sister, coldly. Brother reads the sports page and begins to whistle Horses, a song which has annoyed his sister since she was ten and he was seven, and which he is whistling for that reason. "Stop that! she screams, at last. He stops for about five seconds and then bursts out, loudly, Cra-zy over hor-ses, hor-ses, hor-ses, she's a little wi-i-i-ld!" Here we have, I think, a typical meeting between brother and sister. Now, out of it, somehow, we have to arrive at a tableau vivant in which the brother asks the sister to show him how to conduct a lady to a table in a restaurant. Let us attempt to work that out. Oh, say, Sis, the brother begins, after a long pause. Shut up, you lout! she says. No, listen, I want to ask you a favor. He begins walking around the room, blushing. I've asked Greta Dearing out to dinner tomorrow night and I'm not sure how to get her to the table. I mean whether—I mean I don't know how we both get to the table. Come on out in the hall with me and we'll pretend this room is the restaurant. You show me how to get you over to that table in the corner. The note of falsity is so apparent in this that I need not carry out the embarrassing fiction any longer. Obviously the young man is going to have to read up on the subject or, what is much simpler, just take his girl to the restaurant. This acting-out of things falls down of its own stuffiness.

    There is a curious tendency on the part of the How-to-Live men to make things hard. It recurs time and again in the thought-technique books. In this same Chapter VI there is a classic example of it. Dr. Mursell recounts the remarkable experience of a professor and his family who were faced with the necessity of reroofing their country house. They decided, for some obscure reason, to do the work themselves, and they intended to order the materials from Sears, Roebuck. The first thing, of course, was to find out how much roofing material they needed. Here, writes Dr. Mursell, they struck a snag. They didn't, he points out, have a ladder, and since the roof was too steep to climb, they were at their wits' end as to how they were going to go about measuring it. You and I have this problem solved already: we would get a ladder. But not, it wonderfully turns out, Dr. Mursell's professor and his family. For several days, writes Dr. Mursell, they were completely stumped. Nobody thought of getting a ladder. It is impossible to say how they would have solved their problem had not a guest come finally to visit them. This guest noticed that the angle formed by the two sides of the roof (which were equal in length) was a right angle. Let Dr. Mursell go on, in his ecstatic way, from there. An isosceles right-angled triangle with the base of known length! Had nobody ever been told that the sum of the squares on the two sides of such a triangle was equal to the square of the hypotenuse? And couldn't anyone do a little arithmetic? How very simple! One could easily figure the measurements for the sides of the roof, and as the length of the house could be found without any climbing, the area could be discovered. The theorem of Pythagoras could be used in place of the ladder.

    I think this places Dr. James L. Mursell for you; at any rate it does for me: he is the man who would use the theorem of Pythagoras in place of a ladder. I keep wondering what would have happened if that guest hadn't turned up, or if he had remembered the theorem of Pythagoras the way many people do: the sum of the squares of the two sides of a right-angled triangle is equal to twice the sum of the hypotenuse, or some other such variant. Many a person, doing a little arithmetic in this case, would order enough material from Sears, Roebuck to roof seven houses. It seems to me that borrowing a ladder from next door, or buying one from a hardware store, is a much simpler way to go about measuring a roof than waiting for somebody to show up who knows the theorem of Pythagoras. Most people who show up at my house can't remember anything they learned in school except possibly the rule for compound Latin verbs that take the dative. My roof would never be fixed; it would rain in; probably I'd have to sell the house, at a great loss, to somebody who has a ladder. With a ladder of my own, and the old-fashioned technique of thinking, I could get the job done in no time. This seems to me the simplest way to live.

    2. Destructive Forces in Life

    Table of Contents

    The mental efficiency books go into elaborate detail about how to attain Masterful Adjustment, as one of them calls it, but it seems to me that the problems they set up, and knock down, are in the main unimaginative and pedestrian: the little fusses at the breakfast table, the routine troubles at the office, the familiar anxieties over money and health—the welter of workaday annoyances which all of us meet with and usually conquer without extravagant wear and tear. Let us examine, as a typical instance, a brief case history presented by the learned Mr. David Seabury, author of What Makes Us Seem So Queer, Unmasking Our Minds, Keep Your Wits, Growing Into Life, and How to Worry Successfully. I select it at random. Frank Fulsome, writes Mr. Seabury, flung down the book with disgust and growled an insult at his wife. That little lady put her hands to her face and fled from the room. She was sure Frank must hate her to speak so cruelly. Had she known it, he was not really speaking to her at all. The occasion merely gave vent to a pent-up desire to 'punch his fool boss in the jaw.' This is, I believe, a characteristic Seabury situation. Many of the women in his treatises remind you of nobody so much as Ben Bolt's Alice, who wept with delight when you gave her a smile, and trembled with fear at your frown. The little ladies most of us know would, instead of putting their hands to their faces and fleeing from the room, come right back at Frank Fulsome. Frank would perhaps be lucky if he didn't get a punch in the jaw himself. In any case, the situation would be cleared up in approximately three minutes. This had she known business is not as common among wives today as Mr. Seabury seems to think it is. The Latent Content (as the psychologists call it) of a husband's mind is usually as clear to the wife as the Manifest Content, frequently much clearer.

    A Mentally Disciplined Husband with Mentally Undisciplined Wife

    I could cite a dozen major handicaps to Masterful Adjustment which the thought technicians never touch upon, a dozen situations not so easy of analysis and solution as most of theirs. I will, however, content myself with one. Let us consider the case of a man of my acquaintance who had accomplished Discipline of Mind, overcome the Will to Fail, mastered the Technique of Living—had, in a word, practically attained Masterful Adjustment—when he was called on the phone one afternoon about five o'clock by a man named Bert Scursey. The other man, whom I shall call Harry Conner, did not answer the phone, however; his wife answered it. As Scursey told me the story later, he had no intention when he dialled the Conners' apartment at the Hotel Graydon of doing more than talk with Harry. But, for some strange reason, when Louise Conner answered, Bert Scursey found himself pretending to be, and imitating the voice of, a colored woman. This Scursey is by way of being an excellent mimic, and a colored woman is one of the best things he does.

    Hello, said Mrs. Conner. In a plaintive voice, Scursey said, Is dis heah Miz Commah? Yes, this is Mrs. Conner, said Louise. Who is speaking? Dis heah's Edith Rummum, said Scursey. Ah used wuck fo yo frens was nex doah yo place a Sou Norwuck. Naturally, Mrs. Conner did not follow this, and demanded rather sharply to know who was calling and what she wanted. Scursey, his voice soft with feigned tears, finally got it over to his friend's wife that he was one Edith Rummum, a colored maid who had once worked for some friends of the Conners' in South Norwalk, where they had lived some years before. What is it you want, Edith? asked Mrs. Conner, who was completely taken in by the imposter (she could not catch the name of the South Norwalk friends, but let that go). Scursey—or Edith, rather—explained in a pitiable, hesitant way that she was without work or money and that she didn't know what she was going to do; Rummum, she said, was in the jailhouse because of a cutting scrape on a roller-coaster. Now, Louise Conner happened to be a most kind-hearted person, as Scursey well knew, so she said that she could perhaps find some laundry work for Edith to do. Yessum, said Edith. Ah laundas. At this point, Harry Conner's voice, raised in the room behind his wife, came clearly to Scursey, saying, Now, for God's sake, Louise, don't go giving our clothes out to somebody you never saw or heard of in your life. This interjection of Conner's was in firm keeping with a theory of logical behavior which he had got out of the Mind and Personality books. There was no Will to Weakness here, no Desire to Have His Shirts Ruined, no False Sympathy for the

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