You are hired on as a summer substitute nurse at a mental hospital not for your vast experience, for you don’t necessarily have the first or even the tiniest clue about mental illness or how to nurse it, but for your clean clothes and newly (and quite nicely) cut hair—at least in my case. This is where the obligatory three-day mental-nursing crash course come into play.
I was one of perhaps a dozen substitute nurses hired on this summer—though it was almost fall—and all twelve or so of us, as requested, come the following Monday, reported for training in room so and so. Room so and so had been rearranged as a classroom (or perhaps it was a permanent classroom, hard to tell; looked like a large, regular room to me).
I parked myself as far back as I could (the harder to spot from the front, et cetera) but soon came to discover that my next-door neighbor was not peace and quiet but the very noisy slide projector the teacher used to indoctrinate us in the ins and outs of our temporary profession. And this particular projector was probably one of the first to roll off whatever assembly line that first rolled these things off of them—long way of saying that, yes, it was loud. No, louder than that. Really loud. Discovered that it was the fan the made all the ruckus, but knowing that did not shut it up. So, I suffered. In the late summer heat—no air conditioning and unusually warm for Sweden.
Heard not very much of what the instructor said, did not take notes. Instead I wrote entries in my daybook about sitting next to a loud slide projector writing in my daybook.
Looking back, it amazes me that—legally and professionally speaking—a three-day crash-course in mental health treatment would indeed qualify us (the motley dozen) to now stand in as mental health nurses.
Sitting by the projector, penning my thoughts, I asked Minta if she had any suggestions about how to get through three full days of this, but she must have been out of range (she’s out of range whenever she chooses not to hear, or deal) for I heard nothing back.
This is what I wrote in my daybook at the time (you can tell that my attention was riveted on the subject being taught):
August 2, 1968—Helsingborg
Now what do you do? Held captive in a much too warm a classroom, and with an harassing, completely impossible projection in my ear (the actual noise of the fan of a slide projector immediately to my right). No, I’m not kidding, or rather, I don’t want to kid, but is this really real? Is this really life or is it just that so many are living it this way?
And again, I ask myself about future. Yes, I cannot avoid the importance of a definitive stance as soon as possible. Do I see a future with Marie? She is overdue, and I fear that she might have changed. I fear that London might have corrupted her, and if that is the case, I will be forced to buttress my insights with conviction anyway. I must know, I must keep up. Yes, that’s the word: keep up, keep up. I don’t have the time to reflect. Only yesterday I lived with one reality and one play; today I seem to have two plays flickering before my logical thoughts.
For now everything seems artificial, unreal, but I know what I want, and I want to strive, fight, find. But what am I looking for? Am I striving? Will I have the strength? Oh, my highest dream, my living flame, my ideal self, wants to burn clear and undisturbed. Where am I then, and how?
Despite my soul’s vow to forego artificial means to happiness and harmony, I find myself encased in the heaviest and most massive of all atmospheres, the naturally artificial (hashish). There is my thought threshold. I stand there, stomping like a madman. Nothing moves, nothing flows in this thought vacuum. Time seems unbendable in the long run but yet so flowing, so ungraspable.
Time, oh my feelings about this beast cannot be captured in words. But when will I actually take a stance, decide? I do know how it should be, how I want it to be. But at the same time, it seems like I don’t want to let go of my past, and is not that the big knot? The need to deny your past.
I’m sure it’s like that for most people: one would often want to, and sometimes is maybe forced to—for one’s well-being—forced to erase or forget one’s past. But how hard, how frightening, is not this torture? To forget, to forgive oneself, is to deny an earlier way of life, and one must, to and for oneself admit one’s own errors. To decide that the past was wasted and should be thrown away as meaningless can be the cruelest of all fates: disgusting, bizarre days that clump together to form a period, a phase of life, void of meaning.
No, I think that many, maybe unconsciously, refuse to deny their past selves this way, but rather continue along the current path, an often-incorrect path, hoping that somehow, at some point, they’ll be able to prove to themselves that they were right in the first place and all along.
I do know what I believe in, I do know what I want. Must then the thought of denial be my big problem? No, at the same time I can see the logic in the thought about myself. And I know that I have to take a position. A firm one, a path I must stick to.
Is there then no compromise? No, I doubt that.
Idiocy? That’s the product of teaching institutions without guidance in the ability to think.
Why is the act of making love holy in my thoughts about love?
That you can perceive something and make it mean a little more, that’s what I do.
Philosophy, yes, philosophy. Are not all people, more or less against their will, or at least unbeknownst to them, in possession of a philosophy of sorts, their personal philosophy? Even if, as I said, and which I believe, hardly anyone is aware of this. What I mean is that their way of life, how they live it, whether well or not, in my eyes comprise a personal philosophy with them—at least with the fed, that is, not starving, reflecting, part of the world. For all these people have an established path, or established norms for their forward motion, even if some people don’t give a damn, which, of course, is just another philosophy.
The problem I have set out to solve, however, is to not affirm existence but to ascertain the source of thinking, the source of my thoughts—what makes me think? I once wrote that, in my eyes, the impressions influenced and directed the individual in a fateful way; that nobody knows what time has to give, and what it will demand in return. No one believes he can master fate.
But as I wrote that, didn’t I do that just then? Were my thoughts not balancing on the all-powerful point of zero then? Was I not choosing my impressions? In that regard time is etching its question marks, for I truly don’t know. Am I a product of time and fate like everyone else, or do I have the right to judge people, to penetrate individual phases with my siblings, the human race?
Neither do I know, or don’t know yet, if I’m propelled by self-suggestion or by conviction. Anyway, right now I’m living by my own erected norms, which is my personal philosophy.
As I said, you can tell that I was not paying the instructor the attention he (or she, don’t remember) deserved. These three days of indoctrination were three warm days that I spent with my daybook, musing about life in general and mine in particular.
And then we were done. I don’t remember whether we got a certificate or not—it didn’t feel like graduating. What we did get was an introduction to the ward we had been assigned to: here’s your locker, here’s your white coat (yes, we had to wear white coats), here’s your boss—hi boss, nice to meet you. And we got our marching orders: report here at 8 am tomorrow morning.