Poem written while in the San Diego County psychiatric ward for a 72-hour observation. The results of this observation period are recorded in a report comparing my pocket journal notes and the official nurse's station record, which was obtained years later by a psychiatrist friend [Allen Bates, M.D.] thinking it might be useful material for a play.
Walls and windows
Friends and faith
To change the scene
From mirror irony.
At first when low
And now when high
It is again—
Shows the purpose.
Are hid from view
Except to one who knows.
The work demands
A strict review.
Mercy cannot rob it.
Is quit this time
This one himself.
At last will come
The final meaning
Claims its own.
San Diego Country Psychiatric Ward
1 Sep 65
Commentary on INVERSION
[Written to son, Nick, at his request in 2003]
It was like being in Jack Nicholson’s cuckoo’s nest 10 years before the film. [One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest] What an experience! Wouldn’t change it for anything, though it probably wrecked my career. I was fortunate to keep my pocket journal and a pen to write with. The hospital attendants took everything else away.
I had volunteered to enter the San Diego County Psychiatric Ward on August 29, 1965 at the suggestion of Martin Nalder, an LDS psychiatrist whom I’d seen a year and a half earlier when I was in that post-doctoral depression. I had insisted on seeing Nalder after being put under house arrest at General Atomic when the company doctor had demanded I see a psychiatrist. The company drove me up to UCLA where Nalder was on staff. After hearing my story, Nalder said that it was fantastic, but had a 95% chance of being delusion. If he had some kind of evidence to back it up, even a little, he said, that would make a difference. For example, if he could read the revelation I claimed to have had. I told him the original was in the hands of the
stake president and there were no copies. He seemed to think that was further evidence of delusion. Then I sang him a song and that impressed him! San Diego
Then I told him about Newport Beach Stake President Ferren L. Christensen’s recent confirming witness to me, whereupon Nalder called FLC at his home in
. Laguna Beach
(Note: Ferren L. Christensen was the bishop of Laguna Beach Ward in 1957, the year you were born. Your mother and I were members of his ward while I was a student at
. Ferren was then the youngest bishop in the Church, and it was he who introduced me to President David O. McKay in Laguna that summer as “the young man I told you about who speaks Russian.” I remember that Pres. McKay shook my hand and then held it for a very long time, during which he closed his eyes and nodded his head slowly. Then he said, still holding my hand, “This is good. Don’t forget it. I have a strong feeling that that mission is about to open. Maybe we can use you.” That encounter with Pres. McKay was a turning point for me. I had been trying to leave the Church shortly before.) Orange Coast College
I don’t know what Ferren said to Nalder on the phone that day, as I sat in Nalder’s office, but apparently it was different from what I thought he had acknowledged to me weeks earlier. After their talk, Nalder suggested that if I would volunteer to be examined for the legally recommended 72 hours, it would relieve the anxiety of a lot of people. So, I agreed. His last words to me were, “You’re a very brave young man.” I wasn’t sure why he said that then, but I learned later.
Since the morning dream-like image of August 14 and the sighting of the Flying Saucer fleet that afternoon in the company of my worried mother***, I had been working night and day on the experiment. The lab was in an uproar. Some technicians, after hearing what I was up to, wanted to come work for me. Others thought I was nuts. Management was in a quandary. Dr. Alan Searcy, one of my
professors who had initially recommended me to General Atomic, called me, greatly concerned. My response to critics was, "Let me alone to do the experiment. If it works then it will speak for itself. If it doesn't work, then I'll know I'm either wrong or need to make adjustments. Research is always thus. Either way, I need time and space to work. Telling me I’m crazy doesn’t help.” I got only one opportunity to make the experiment work. It didn't. So, I needed to get away. However, as I was preparing to go out to the desert to rest and think, that’s when I got put under house arrest. Berkeley
[***Note. As you know in having talked to her yourself, every 5 to 10 years since that afternoon experience with Mother, I would ask her if she still remembered the event and if she had managed to rationalize herself out of it. She would always acknowledge its reality, but never offer any comment about its implications. At the very least, for me, that was important evidence to illustrate that our joint experience was not hallucination. For me, however, that experience turned my experience of the world upside down. As a scientist, I was trained never to ignore data. Just because a datum point did not square with current theory was no excuse to dismiss it. On the contrary, it demanded a re-examination or modification of the prevailing theory in such a way as to account for it.]
When I re-read my pocket journals these days, written during that period almost 40 years ago, I have mixed feelings. I cannot deny the reality of the bizarre experiences I had been having, but I am embarrassed at my reactionary behavior towards those who found it difficult to believe me. I had lots to learn about growing up spiritually and emotionally and controlling pride and “haughtiness.” I could not hear good friends such as Eugene England or Sherman Brown or even Bishop Reed Durham on that account. I was sometimes confrontational and combative--especially with some local Church leaders; fighting to save what I felt was my spiritual life.
Dear son, Nick, I envy you the opportunity you have had recently to prepare for your own evaluation for a similar emotional state that has concerned your family. The psychological intervention evaluation request made of you wasn’t the surprise for you as it was for me back then. I was put under house arrest at General Atomic and not permitted to take anything with me before being forced to see a psychiatrist. No doubt I’d brought it on myself with a polarizing attitude. I’d managed to put the Laboratory into an uproar with my excitement about intending to disprove the Universal Law of Gravitation--to say nothing about the earlier Psy-war project it had initially backed, but which I subsequently aborted. (Wow!) Then, I wasn’t making the local Mormon Church leadership very happy, having had a revelation on the Church’s most embarrassing issue. (Again, Wow!) Nor had I comforted my family in becoming involved with the issues of homosexuality and plural marriage. (Double Wow!) Too much was happening to me too fast, and I wasn’t making mature decisions in dealing with them. Incidentally, the last three of these four issues were left out of Dialogue editor Karl Keller’s “Journal of an Excommunicant”, written years later. He thought what he had extracted from my papers was hot enough to handle for Dialogue to illustrate the original point, let alone include those additional three zingers.
Among many people I was calling at all hours of the day and night in late August 1965, was Eugene England, whom I called just past midnight on August 23. He called me back that evening, warning me of “righteous pride.” I called Sherman Brown at 01:30, just after calling
. Brown said he had written a letter to me earlier the previous day, but had torn it up because it didn’t make sense. He said in the letter he’d had the impression that I was not aware of certain dangers, that I was blind to traps being laid to “thwart” me and that I ought to lie “fallow” for a few months. Don’t abandon, he said, just lie fallow. The dangers are those things that will ruin. One of the traps would be my complete undoing from within, akin to possession. The very gates of hell would open up to receive me. The only path of safety: lie fallow--cool off over a period of months. Do this, he said, and then look back and proceed with safety. (Incidentally, this is the same guy that called me here at home in England Los Alamos on Thanksgiving, 2001, after over 35 years of silence between us. You, Jim and Johnny were visiting with me then in our living room and I had just been talking of the experience of having successfully defended my doctoral dissertation in the midst of a depression in early 1964. Remember? When I told you three who, of all people, had just called out of the blue, you exclaimed, “You see, Dad, it’s not over yet!” Sherman Brown had been a member of my faculty thesis committee and was present at my miraculous dissertation defense). It is too bad that I didn’t register seriously enough the warnings of these guys at the time. I’m not sure I would or could have done things any differently if I had. At least I wrote them down!
On August 26, 1965, I called my friend David Brewer, who was then professor of sociology at
. He sat down and wrote me a long letter immediately after our conversation. I’m attaching it to this message. I didn’t receive Dave’s letter until the day after my release from the hospital, but I carried it around with me in my wallet for years afterwards. It was Dave’s letter that allowed me to begin to differentiate between the functions of prophet and president. To me, having grown up in the Mormon Church, “The Prophet” and “The President” were different terms for the same thing. I was soon to learn different. Fresno State
In the fall of 1967, two years later, I visited Professor Calvin Taylor, an educational specialist on creativity at the
. From him I learned more about the creative process in history from recent proceedings held at the University in a workshop on creativity with historian Arnold Toynbee. But that is for later. (See Commentary on poem 28, Forest Dream Remembered.) University of Utah
I ought to say something about what went on in that psycho ward. It was actually a fabulous experience. The inmates almost immediately started following me around and we talked constantly about all kinds of things. I listened to their stories, even though many had difficulty making sense or speaking coherently. To me they sounded reasonable and my validation gave them comfort. Some began to speak rationally for the first time since being admitted. I recall telling one young man to forget expecting the hospital people to understand him. “Can you speak their language?” I asked. “Yes”, he said. “Then do it and don’t speak yours”, I challenged. Simple. He did that and was released soon after.
I enjoyed singing to both the men and the women (who were in a next cage). Even the orderlies came in and sat down for impromptu concerts.
I had predicted I’d be out of the hospital after the mandatory 72 hours evaluation period, even though I know bets had been made that I’d be put away for a long time. But I was out in the three days, despite the fact that my wife, your mother, had come to sign commitment papers for me to be sent to the
. But, at the very moment she was about to do just that, she hesitated and changed her mind. “I can’t do this to him, I believe him,” Dr. Wallace, the chief psychiatrist told me she said, just before he released me. State Hospital
A few minutes earlier he’d called me into his office to say, “I don’t know what’s going on here. Your wife won’t sign, and I can’t hold you. Besides, there’s not a judge in the country that would put you away. And you are wrecking our place here. (The inmates had stopped talking to the doctors.) You are going to be in trouble all your life. There was another guy in history like you. He wrote a book called Mein Kampf!”
Smiling, I said, “Dr. Wallace, my ideas aren’t like his,” and turned to leave. But before going he asked me to stay a little longer and got up to close his office door. First, he asked me to see one of the inmates who he learned had a fork in his possession. Could I coax it away from him before I left. I agreed to do that. Second, he sat down and beckoned me to sit, also. Then he proceeded to tell me about his problems as head of the ward. Who did I think he talked to about decisions he had to make in his capacity as the chief? Nobody. He felt isolated and often alone. So, he asked if he could unload for while. He was confident I wouldn’t tell anybody. Besides, who would believe me? I sat and listened for a long time while he unburdened himself of both personal and professional stuff. Again: Wow! But he said he felt better and shook my hand.
After I was out, I returned to General Atomic. Most were surprised to see me, some embarrassed. I began looking for a new work situation at the Laboratory. I had quit my immediate boss for failing to support me and undermining me with other opportunities at GA. There seemed to be some alternatives possible. I had negotiations ahead of me to keep rights to my anti-gravity findings. These looked promising for a short while, but then they took a turn for the worse.
David Brewer’s letter was waiting for me in my office.
And then I went home. Not all was well. But that is for another chapter, the next poem: Posterity.
[Note: journal fragment to be added to commentary regarding my first impression of the inmates in the psycho ward: “People virtually thrown away by a society that didn't know what else to do with them.”]