Try Not To Think About It

"Guess what, Frank?"

Franklin Smith looked his friend over carefully.

"Knowing you... I'd say that you've finally settled on your major."

Calvin's face fell. "You guessed!"

Franklin smiled. "You've been moaning about it for the past week. Now you're happy, and eager to tell me something. I figured that it had to be your major."

"Well, I'm no longer General Studies. I've found my niche at last."

Franklin smiled, but his smile held an element of irony in it. He had known Calvin for years, and he knew that Calvin was the sort of person who would enter into an idea in a blaze of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm that often faded into depression at the first major obstacle. At the ripe old age of twenty, he had already been engaged three times.

Franklin waited, while Calvin's impatience slowly grew. Finally, he gave in and said what Calvin had been waiting for. "All right," he said with mock resignation, "what is your new major?"

"Psychiatry!" beamed Calvin.

Franklin cocked an eyebrow. "You mean Psychology?"

"Yes, yes," Calvin said depreciatingly, "but I'm going to be a Psychiatrist!"

Franklin considered the image of Calvin, whom he had always considered a minor manic-depressive, as some poor fellow's only hope for mental health. He tried to choose his words carefully.

"It's... not what I expected."

"It's the right kind of work for me, you know? Helping people work out their problems and their frustrations. Curing their neuroses."

"Psychiatrists have an awfully high suicide rate, you know."

"So?" asked Calvin, as though that were the least important thing in the world.

"It's a very stressful occupation."

Calvin strutted. "You know me, Frank. I take to stress like a duck to water!"

Franklin suppressed a grimace. Calvin took to stress like a duck to an airplane engine, but there was no way to convince him of that.

He was about to say, "Well, I hope it works out for you," when inspiration struck. Instead, he said something else.

"I could never be a psychiatrist," he said and paused. "It's too dangerous."


"Sure... I mean, the whole point of psychiatry is figuring out how people think, right?"

"Of course," said Calvin proudly.

"And they do have a very high suicide rate... almost as though something about being a psychiatrist sometimes causes people to snap."

"Well, that's..."

"Oh, there's no proof, of course," Franklin interrupted. "But... if I told you to crumple up that napkin and toss it in that bin, could you do it?"

"Huh? Oh, sure." Calvin demonstrated, tossing his crumpled napkin cleanly into the nearby bin.

"Now," said Franklin, crumpling up his own, "take mine."

"This time," he continued, "I want you to pay close attention to how you're throwing it. Can you tell me which muscles you use?"

"Sure," said Calvin, looking at his arm carefully. He drew back and tossed the napkin. He let go of it too late, and it dropped clumsily from his hand and landed on the carpet, a couple of feet from the trash bin.

"Hmph," Calvin snorted, reaching to pick it up.

"Don't worry," said Franklin, "that was my point. You can't do something and think about how you're doing it at the same time, can you?"

"No, of course not," said Calvin, as though it went without saying. "Everyone knows that."

"So can you think about how you think without screwing that up too?"


"See? You can't do something right while you're thinking about it. If you think about how you're thinking, you might not be able to think right."

"Huh," said Calvin, trying to consider the ramifications.

After a moment, Franklin interjected. "You know, sometimes people just snap, for no good reason. Take an axe to their neighbors, or something.

"I wouldn't want to be a psychiatrist," he added. "The more you know about how you think, the harder it would be to avoid thinking about it... you see?"

"Yes," said Calvin, but his face still showed some confusion.

"Silly, of course. But I don't like to think about it too much. After all, psychiatrists know a lot about how people think, and they do have an awfully high suicide rate, you know?"

"It does kind of make sense," said Calvin slowly.

"I mean, what if I was right? It wouldn't do to think about it too much."

"But don't worry, you can still be a psychiatrist and be safe."

"Oh? How?"

Franklin smiled an evil smile.

"Just don't think about it."


Two days later, Calvin returned.

As an Elementary Education major.

Franklin tried to imagine Calvin, who had always hated small children, as a innocent kindergartener's only hope for a decent education. This was going to be a toughie.

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