Saturday, October 3, 2009
Mark Twain Redux
I'm a huge fan of Mark Twain. I've read everything by, and about, him that I can get my hands on, so when I found out that Ron Powers, who helped write Senator Kennedy's last tome, had written an earlier book on Twain, I ordered it.
Like the Kennedy book, it's massive. It was quite an eye-opener, too. I'd read earlier Twain biographies, but this one was written with the "blinders off"; that is, Twain's considerable warts were exposed and detailed. Can't say I liked that part; can't say it didn't smart, but once again it just proved to me that when we put people on pedestals and try to sanitize and sanctify them, it's a mistake... just as it's a mistake to vilify and condemn those with whom we disagree or whose paths we don't share or concur with. As Mark Twain said (and I'll paraphrase): "I'm not a racist. All I need to know is that a human being is a human being. That's enough for me. He can't be any worse." That always gets a grin, as was intended. But it also gets a grimace, as was intended.
Mark Twain was a master of pointing out our warts and still making us seem somehow salvageable. At the end of his life, after he had lost his entire family to disease and/or accidents and he was utterly alone (even when surrounded by adoring crowds of fans), he began to allow his crustiness to take the fore. One who noticed and spoke about it publicly called Twain a pessimist. Twain responded, "People call me a pessimist in my old age, but I'm not. I am an optimist (long Twainian pause) who did not arrive."
I "get" that. I totally understand what he was saying. That was one of the most remarkable things about him: you "got" what he was saying, maybe not every last shred of onion skin, but most of the way down to the onion.
Anyway, reading the book and having him die (again, for about the seventh time during my lifetime as I've read biographies about him) made me cry. I'm sorry that a man who gave so much to the world ended up lonely and bereft. I'm sorry he lost his faith --although I'm not completely certain he really did. As Powers states, Twain felt like a jilted lover of God's; felt that it wasn't he who left, but God who left him. Faithful people feel this way sometimes, but I wonder if they feel this way every moment for the rest of their lives. I would think that would be impossible. Even Jesus said (on the cross), "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" There are times when you think you've been dumped and discarded, but I doubt if many people feel the same way lying on their death beds. Only those who truly don't believe, to the core of their beings, are terrified or depressed lying there. The rest of us have a hope and a future lying there...
Another thing that occurred to me is that when I was in high school I wrote a story in Twain's style and vernacular. My English teacher thought it was inspired; she said she couldn't see any differences between Twain's style and mine. That was a major compliment to me, as crazy as I was about Twain. I haven't used it much since then.
And when I was writing De and Carolyn all those hundreds of mostly-humorous letters, I once sent them a Dave Barry column that I thought was particularly hysterical, about sharks giving birth while idiot, apparently unprotected researchers looked on. De called me and said, "We read Dave Barry in the paper and always enjoy him. But you're every bit as good [as a humorist]. In fact, I see a lot of Barry's style in you."
All this leads me to believe that I have become far too serious of late. I've been thinking about resurrecting my latent talent in this area. One of my books, Floating Around Hollywood, is a book of humor, and I enjoy reading it from time to time. It's fun -- but it's not Twain and it's not Barry, and it's not even me at my absolute best.
Just thinking about "going for it" again has kicked my hormones into gear and made me feel a little giddy and like "all things are possible." So in addition to writing for clients at Elance, I'm going to see what I can come up with personally again.
God didn't bequeath this passion and encourage its development because He wanted me to sit on it. The world needs humor -- especially right now!!!
I need to stop being so serious so much of the time, or I may end up like Twain: an optimist who never arrives!
I'm still an optimist. I still believe we're "improvable" as long as we keep at it, something Twain gave up on after a lifetime of observing humans and the depths of depravity to which we can sink. I never want to reach the conclusions he did. I want to believe that someday all the world will recognize that we're image-bearers of an Almighty God and, as such, there should be an aura about us that signals to those near us and around the world, "You are Beloved of God. You are better than you think. Believe it and receive it. You can love as I love."
I still believe that. I probably always will. When we do, we'll see commonalities with our "enemies" (all sides will) and realize that we're all in this together. Our fate is wrapped up in "IDIC" (infinite diversity in infinite combinations); in honoring our differences and embracing our commonalities.
There I go again, getting all Trek-kie!
It sure beats jihad and White Aryan Nation. Amen and amen!