As much as I'd like to have him around, it's probably a good thing James Thurber isn't alive today.
He'd undoubtedly lose his mind.
Back in 1935 Thurber wrote a book called "Let Your Mind Alone," which was a sort of antidote to the how-to-calm-your-mind, find-happiness, and get-rich books that were then streaming from the publishing towers of New York and making up for the losses incurred by first novels and books of history.
I don't know how many minds Thurber's book saved, but in the end it was no use. Today the stream of get-hold-of-yourself books has become a flood. Not a week goes by that several more don't come off the presses, and most of them seem to make money.
In the Feb. 2 issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Ann Rudy wrote delightfully about how she dealt with the avalanche of self-help books at her house:
"I'm so fed up with it," she said, "that last weekend I took 'The Winner's Notebook,' 'Will Power in One Minute,' 'Eat and Grow Thin,' 'Exercise Without Moving,' and 'Making Money at Home During the Dinner Hour' and set fire to them" (in her fireplace).
While most of these books are published in New York, Los Angeles seems to be the source of the self-help panaceas they preach. If I had any doubt that Los Angeles is the world capital of strange cults, it has been removed by the May issue of the Whole Person, a Calendar of Los Angeles Events, of which I have just received a complimentary copy.
This catalogue contains about 80 pages of announcements of classes, meetings, seances and various kinds of mystical and metaphysical gatherings and experiences such as the Crystal Bear Lodge Summer Solstic Full Moon Vision Quest, "Don't Ignore Your Gut Feelings," "Transformations Through Past Life Therapy," Spirit Guide Seance, Creative Visualization Workshop, "Free Lecture--Yes, You Are Psychic," "Would You Like to Experience Your Birth-Death Process?" and "We Can Impact World Affairs."
Those few titles do not begin to reflect the wealth of psychological and corporal fixes offered in these pages. Most are concerned with the achievement of self-esteem, good health, good sex, good nutrition, psychic power and the accumulation of money.
Many are described in large display ads with photographs of their practitioners, who range from pretty young women to aged gurus with beards and turbans.
"I am Reverend Dawn Christine and I am a Regressive Therapist," says a very pretty female who looks as if she might be one of Charlie's Angels.
Sant Thakar Singh, with beard and turban, offers to teach "The Connection With the Inner Light and Celestial Sound." A bearded H.D. Prakashanand Saraswati (no turban) announces immodestly that "once in hundreds of years a truly great Spiritual Master appears on Earth to guide those souls longing to become God Realized in this life. He reveals the Divine 'secret of secrets' which lies beyond the height of self-realization attained through yoga or transcendence."
Dr. Barbara De Angelis promises that "Making Love Work," a "personal growth seminar," will be "one weekend that can change your life."
Arthur Ford's academy, In-Depth Mediumship Training, offers nothing less than "healing, psi scan, photo reading, psychometry, psychic art, psi investigation, intuitive counseling, energy analysis, soul reading, past life regression and automatic writing," and you get a "Certificate of Mediumship."
(How to be a certified medium!)
Peter Moscow and Joyce Kovelman offer the Money Clinic, or "How to Create Your Own Prosperity!"
Next to all these mystic and ethereal approaches to nirvana, one called simply Colon Hydrotherapy sounds rather earthy, yet it promises to turn "constipation, headaches, fatigue, tension, backache, irritability, obesity, insomnia and depression into weight loss, increased stamina, clear complexion, better circulation, increased sex drive, lessened hypertension, good elimination and high energy." All with high colonics.
On they come, page after page, too numerous to list--the radiance technique, synergy, hypnotherapy, creative revitalization, psycho-structural balancing, postural integration, cosmic consciousness, reflexology and group meditation.
Thurber, depressed by such positive-thinking books as Walter B. Pitkin's "The Psychology of Happiness" and Dorothea Brande's "Wake Up and Live!" merely wrote a book challenging their lessons.
"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," he said in Chapter 1. "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. . . ."
Thurber noted that Miss Brande urged her readers to "Think one hour a day about one subject exclusively."
Thurber pointed out that this was impossible.
"I decide to think for a solid hour about General Grant's horse. The fact that it is General Grant's horse would remind me of General Grant's beard, and that would remind me of Charles Evans Hughes. . . ." And so on.
I don't know whether "Let Your Mind Alone" will do as much for you as a high colonic, but if you can find a copy of it anywhere, I guarantee it will do more for your mind than reflexology, meditation, cosmic consciousness, past life regression or any other of the exotic treatments advertised in the Whole Person.
My advice to Angelenos who want to get rid of psychic hang-ups is to buy a balloon for your kid, or maybe a "pre-owned" car.