Capturing a Moment in Time

Capturing a Moment in Time

2018.09.14

The Creative Soul

 

I remember my first grown-up present at Christmas.  It was a very inexpensive camera, but it was a gift that made me feel so grown-up at age seven and seemed to promise me the rest of my life would follow and be magical.  The art of photography continues to seem magical to me.  Photography is the taking of a picture of reality that somehow not only shows us the obvious but also the unseen, the possibilities of our imagination and beyond.

 

Photography not only can inspire us; it can improve our mental health.  IN a Dec 2017 article Danielle Hark wrote: “We all deal with mental or emotional struggles at one time or another in our lives. Whether it’s stress from work, situational depression or anxiety, or full-on mental illness, it helps to take time to refocus and gain perspective. One tool you can use may be right in your pocket attached to your phone… a camera.  It has been proven time and again that creativity and art therapy are valuable tools for emotional wellness. Photography is one such tool that you can utilize without going to art school or being professionally trained. Modern technology provides easy-to-use options including a variety of automatic modes on point-and-shoot cameras, digital SLRs (single-lens reflex cameras), and even camera phones. Now anyone can take photos — and just by taking a photo, you are taking a moment to stop and look at your environment through a new lens. This moment can be the moment that changes your day from a negative to a positive — or at least gives you a momentary distraction and calm.”

 

Photography is the act of taking pictures for sentimental reasons, as a hobby or keeping informed with new events. Similarly, taking pictures help us to stay in touch with past events, thereby enables one to appreciate history.  Most people use photography as a tool to keep in touch with past events. Looking at photographs taken in the past also helps to improve our knowledge on how we relate to past events.

 

Medically speaking, taking pictures can save a life.  The advancements made because of x-rays and modern photographic capabilities combines with nuclear medicine are truly life-saving tools.  There are other reasons for taking pictures, though.  Legally it is a good idea if ever in a traffic accident to quickly snap a picture of any damage done to your vehicle.  It is also a good idea to periodically take pictures of your home and its furnishings.  These can be used to document loss from theft or natural disasters.  Keeping hard copies of such pictures is also a good idea since digital photography is sometimes inadmissible in court.

 

What about the weekend photographer or the proud grandparent?  Are those being creative and are there health benefits?  Even the Centers for Disease Control recognize the advantages of taking pictures and the art of photography.  When community members photograph their daily lives, they may find that the bigger picture begins to emerge.  In young hands, a camera can be a gateway to healthy habits, life styles and communities.  Researchers gave cameras to teens in inner-city Baltimore and asked them to take pictures of positive activities that were alternatives to joining a gang. “The project gave participants courage to talk to adults about community issues,” says Seante Hatcher.  Ms Hatcher is the community relations coordinator for the Johns Hopkins University Prevention Research Center (PRC), one of 35 community-academic partners the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds to find innovative solutions to health challenges. The “Photovoice” technique shows that taking pictures can empower the photographers, document their perspectives and deliver their messages.

 

“Photovoice bridges age, race and gender. The pictures speak in a language common to everyone,” says Joyce Moon-Howard, DrPH, a researcher at the Columbia University PRC. The center has used Photovoice in interventions to promote healthy eating and in programs to encourage teenagers.  The process of taking photos can be used to involve young people in positive activities and engage policymakers in discussions about sensitive community issues. with HIV to share their feelings about living with the disease. “The project used both the lens of the camera and the lens of the HIV-positive young adult,” says Alwyn Cohall, M.D., director of the center. “Participation reduced the isolation and stigma of dealing with HIV and gave the teenagers a sense of belonging.” In a separate study, teens took and shared pictures of nutritious foods and were inspired to try more fruits and vegetables, he says. Dr. Moon-Howard identifies group discussion as a vital aspect of Photovoice. A set of photographs, she says, creates a “series of meaning” that helps a group identify issues of mutual concern and can motivate change.

 

By picking up a camera,, you are not only being present and creative, but you are actually practicing mindfulness, which reduces stress and helps leave you balanced and ready to take on the rest of your day.

 

 

My Neighbor’s Faith

My Neighbor’s Faith – A Collection of Essays on Diversity

2018.08.26

Literature and Life

 

We live in a diverse world.  That is a statement no one can refute.  It is a fact.  What is also true, sadly, is that many fear diversity.  Almost every single minute part of creation, of our world, is unique.  Diversity is not just a trendy term used about by politicians.  It is a fact.  No two snowflakes are exactly alike, no two roses, people, etc.  Recently I saw the word diversity explained this way:

Diversity means:

D – ifferent

I – ndividuals

V – aluing

E – achother

R – egardless of

S – kin

I – ntellect

T – alents or

Y – ears

 

Diversity leads to growth and a better world.  Instead, history has shown that it often leads to hatred and violence.  Writer and television executive Gene Roddenberry once said ““If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”

 

The featured book for today is “My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation”, edited by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley.  The book is a collection of fifty-three essays, divided as one might a travelogue.  I think this is fitting since these essays invite us to embark on self-exploration in celebrating diversity and our neighbor.

 

Dr. Thomas Szasz, doctor of psychiatry wrote “The Myth of Mental Illness” and he had some strong words about diversity.  ““The plague of mankind is the fear and rejection of diversity: monotheism, monarchy, monogamy and, in our age, monomedicine. The belief that there is only one right way to live, only one right way to regulate religious, political, sexual, medical affairs is the root cause of the greatest threat to man: members of his own species, bent on ensuring his salvation, security, and sanity. ”

 

I have written about this book over the past four years of this blog and I still read it at least once a year.  It encourages me to continue to encounter a new neighbor, look with fresh eyes upon my own home and those of others,  to consider redrawing the maps of my comfort zone, unpacking and trying on new beliefs and new ways to live my treasured tenets of faith and living, to step across the lines of my comfort zone, to seek out fellow travelers, and do whatever I can to repair the brokenness in our world.

 

At a university commencement speech in June of 1963, then President of the US John F. Kennedy spoke his truths on diversity.  “If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

 

This series has been more for the writer than the reader and how reading can broaden one’s knowledge and talent.  I seriously encourage all to read this book, published in 2012.  Perhaps essays are not quite your cup of tea.  I still encourage you to read this book.  Albert Einstein once remarked:  “Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else.”

 

 

 

 

Erik Larson

Erik Larson

2018.08.23

Literature and Life

 

Despite many attempts to make it so, life is not black and white.  We live in the shadows and no author portrays this so well than our featured author for today and his favorite author.  Erik Larson describes himself as a journalist who has also written nonfiction books.   Larson has written a number of books, mostly historical nonfiction. In a 2016 interview with the Knoxville Mercury, Larson stated he does all of his own research, asking, “Why should I let anybody else have that fun?” He also rejected the idea of trying to imagine or take factual liberties with scenes and conversations from the past, stating that in his work, “anything that appears in quote is something that came from a historical document.” He included among his literary inspirations David McCullough, Barbara Tuchman, David Halberstam, and Walter Lord.

 

Larson calls “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett his all-time favorite book.  “I love this book, all of it: the plot, the dialogue, much of which was lifted verbatim by John Huston for his screenplay for the beloved movie of the same name.  [The film was shot in film noir style – black and white.]  The single best monologue in fiction appears toward the end, when Sam Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy why he’s giving her to the police.”

 

Larson is also an avid reader.  “I’m very perverse.  If someone tells me I have to read a book, I’m instantly disinclined to do so…. Reading is such a personal thing to me.  I’d much rather give someone a gift certificate to a bookstore, and let that [person choose his or her own books.”  Larson says he never starts a book with great intentions but rather a blank slate.  The one difference might be his writings on H. H. Holmes, Chicago serial killer around the turn of the 20th century.

 

In an interview for Bookpage with Alden Mudge, Larson explained how he stumbled across the gruesome particulars of Chicago serial killer Herman W. Mudgett, alias Dr. H. H. Holmes.  “I was suitably horrified,” Larson recalls from the comfort and safety of his home in Seattle, where he lives with his wife, Christine Gleason, M.D., head of the neonatology department at the University of Washington medical school, and their three daughters. “I actually read a little more about Holmes,” Larson says, “and then decided that he was a kind of slasher and that I wasn’t that interested.”   Instead, Larson tracked another small detail that played a bit part in another Gilded Age murder mystery. [This] led him to begin reading about the big Galveston hurricane of 1900. [That] resulted in Larson’s thrilling 1999 best-selling narrative of that catastrophe, Isaac’s Storm, which proved to be a turning point.

 

According to Larson, although he had always known he wanted to write books, he approached a book-writing career obliquely. After college he got a job as a gofer in a publishing house and “convinced myself that I was actually kind of writing because I was working in publishing.” Next he made the mistake of seeing the movie All the President’s Men and “decided that’s what I want to do: bring down a president.” Unsure of his exact course toward that end, he determined to let fate rule, so he applied to only one journalism school. He got in. Eventually, he took a job with the Wall Street Journal, reluctantly accepted a transfer to San Francisco, where he met the woman who would become his wife, then a day after marrying her, moved with her to Baltimore where she had been hired by Johns Hopkins University. “I was going to write novels,” Larson says, “but once again I took the oblique path and freelanced.”

 

Larson has taught non-fiction writing courses at San Francisco State University, Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, and the University of Oregon.  He work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, where he is still a contributing writer. His magazine stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and other publications. 

 

 

J K Rowling

J. K. Rowling

2018.08.22

Literature and Life

 

Joanne Rowling grew up in Gloucestershire in England and in Chepstow, Gwent, in south-east Wales.  Her father, Peter, was an aircraft engineer at the Rolls Royce factory in Bristol and her mother, Anne, was a science technician in a local school Jo attended.  The young girl grew up surrounded by books. “I lived for books,’’ she has said. “I was your basic common-or-garden bookworm, complete with freckles and National Health spectacles.”  wanted to be a writer from an early age. She wrote her first book at the age of six – a story about a rabbit, called ‘Rabbit’. At just eleven, she wrote her first novel – about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them.

 

She attended Exeter University and spent a great deal of her time there reading the classics from the college library.  Her studies also included a year abroad in Paris which Rowling calls “one of her most favorite places on earth”.  After her degree, she moved to London and worked in a series of jobs, including one as a researcher at Amnesty International.  “There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.”

 

According to her autobiography on her website:  “Taking her notes with her, [I] moved to northern Portugal to teach English as a foreign language, married Jorge Arantes in October 1992, and had a daughter, Jessica, in 1993. When the marriage ended later that year, [I] returned to the UK to live in Edinburgh, carrying not just Jessica but a suitcase containing the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”

 

Once in Edinburgh, Jo trained as a teacher and began teaching in the city’s schools, but she continued to write in every spare moment.  Having completed the full manuscript, she sent the first three chapters to a number of literary agents, one of whom wrote back asking to see the rest of it. She says it was “the best letter I had ever received in my life.”  At the publisher’s suggestion, Rowling published the novel using only initials instead of her name.  The “K” was taken from her grandmother’s name, Kathleen.

 

The first Harry Potter book was published in 1997; USA publishing was under a different title.  Other books followed as did the movies, all breaking records in succession.  The last movie based upon a full-length Harry potter book was released in 2011.  J.K. Rowling has also written two small volumes, which appear as the titles of Harry’s school books within the novels. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and “Quidditch Through The Ages” were published in March 2001 in aid of Comic Relief.  In December 2008, “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” was published in aid of her international children’s charity, Lumos.  In 2012, J.K. Rowling’s digital company Pottermore was launched, where fans can enjoy news, features and articles, as well as content by J.K. Rowling.  In the same year, J.K. Rowling published her first novel for adults, “The Casual Vacancy” (Little, Brown), which has now been translated into 44 languages and was adapted for TV by the BBC in 2015.

 

Rowling’s 2008 commencement speech at Harvard was also published as an illustrated book.  She was part of the collaboration that brought Harry Potter to the stage In 2016 she made her screenwriting debut  with the first of what will be five films, a prequel series to Harry Potter entitled the Magizoologist Newt Scamander series.  KR Rowling has been married since 2001 to a physician and continues to live in Edinburgh with two additional children, a son and second daughter.

 

While the world of Harry Potter is now a major part of Universal Studios, Orlando (FL), Rowling encourages us all to live not in a magical, make-believe world but in the real world.  “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

 

Rowling lists two books as her favorites.  The first is “Emma” written by Jane Austen.  “Virginia Woolf said of Austen, ‘For a great writer, she was the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness’, which is a fantastic line.”  Rowling explains:  “You’re drawn into the story and you come out the other end, and you know you’ve seen something great in action.  But you can’t see the pyrotechnics; there’s nothing flashy.”  Another beloved book as a child was “The Story of the Treasure Seekers” by E. Nesbit, whom Rowling considers “the children’s writer with whom I most identify.  “Oswald is such a very real narrator, at a time when most people were writing morality plays for children.”

 

Today she is a successful author, having sold more books than anyone else in the history of Great Britain.  However, she is quick to offer these words of encouragement.  “As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.  You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.  The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”

Miller-Hemingway

Arthur Miller

Ernest Hemingway

2018.08.13-14

 

Today we are focusing on two authors who might well be called the “bad boys of literature”.  I am posting their favorite books together because, although they both lived somewhat of a rebellious life and rebelled against some of the confines of literature, they both share some favorite books. 

 

Henry Miller is not an author for whom it is difficult to list favorite books.  He did, in fact, write an entire book about the subject.  Entitled “The Books in My Life”, Miller described these books as “a vital experience”.  What a glorious critique for any author to receive! 

 

Ernest Hemingway once proclaimed “There is no friend as loyal as a book!”  It was said that he would, on occasion, send a list to select friends of those books he would “rather read again for the first time… than have an assured income of a million dollars a year.”

 

One of the favorite books of both of these acclaimed writers was written by a writer we’ve already discussed – Mark Twain.  The book is “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.  This novel by Mark Twain was first published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885. Commonly named among the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written throughout in vernacular English, characterized by local color regionalism.  I will note here and now that it is often on lists of books to be banned or censored because of the language. 

 

Sometimes listed as “Adventures of…” and other times “The Adventures of …”, this book is unusual for its beginning.  It opens with a “notice” from a character named G.G., identified as “the Chief of Ordnance.”  G.G. demands that no one approach the novel with intent to find morality and/or seriousness. In its declaration that anyone looking for motive, plot, or moral will be prosecuted, banished, or shot, the Notice establishes a sense of blustery comedy that pervades the rest of the novel.  This is followed by an insert from the author himself called “the explanatory”.  The Explanatory takes on a slightly different tone, still full of a general good-naturedness but also brimming with authority.  In the final paragraph, Twain essentially dares the reader to believe that he might know or understand more about the dialects of the South, and, by extension, the South itself.  Twain’s good nature stems in part from his sense of assurance that, should anyone dare to challenge him, Twain would certainly prove victorious.

 

Those wishing to have this book banned object to the language of the period.  To be sure, the language was inflammatory, not in intent perhaps but in usage.  In his book, Twain accurately portrayed the period historically as well as the absurdity and lack of humanity in assuming people should be valued by the hue of their skin.  It also portrayed the class structure and how those caught in the middle might object, seeking a better form of humanity.

 

One might say that the yearnings of Huckleberry Finn are reflected in the lives of Arthur Miller and Ernest Hemingway.  Both men engaged in adventures trying to find themselves and a better version of man.  “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is a serious novel, and Twain’s note on dialogue speaks for the authority and experience of the author and establishes the novel’s anti-romantic, realistic stance. In short, the Notice and Explanatory, which at first glance appear to be disposable jokes, link the novel’s sense of fun and lightheartedness with its deeper moral concerns. This coupling continues throughout Huckleberry Finn and remains one of its greatest triumphs.  It is the approach I feel that Miller and Hemingway also sought in their own works. 

 

This series is about more than just favorite books.  It is about how those books have influenced not only the lives of writers but also our world.  “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” asks a very important question – What is freedom?  Huckleberry Finn presents two main visions of freedom in exploring questions about the meaning of liberty and at what price, if any, a person is truly free. Both Huck, an abused, neglected young boy, and Jim, a black slave, seek freedom, though they have very different ideas about what freedom means.  Both seek that freedom by running away from their life situation and the Mississippi River becomes their avenue to freedom.

 

One of the unforeseen effects of this book was the opening of a youth crisis shelter eighty years after the book’s publication named Huckleberry House.  A shelter for runaway and homeless youth located in San Francisco by Larry Beggs, this shelter offers counseling, food, shelter, and medical attention as needed.  Today Huckleberry Youth Programs also sponsor Huckleberry Youth Health Center, Huckleberry’s Community Assessment and Resource Center, both in San Francisco as well as the Huckleberry Teen Health Program in San Rafael, CA.  Huckleberry’s for Runaways opened its door on June 18, 1967.  Their efforts helped change being a runaway from a criminal offense to the concerned social problem it is.  Today the justice system is able to encourage voluntary communication with parent and child using family therapy and other helpful tools instead of merely incarcerating the child.

 

Mark Twain, Arthur Miller, and Ernest Hemingway all sought to reflect the times in which they wrote of but also to illustrate the idiosyncrasies that humans often portray in their living.  Often humankind seeks to emancipate itself from itself.  We create the very constrains within which find ourselves bound and then rebel against.  In their writing, they all asked us to take a good look at ourselves and then, if possible, make tomorrow a better day and create a better world. 

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett

2018.08.11

Literature and Life

 

“Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! … What are we doing here, that is the question.”

 

It is my personal belief that these words, written by today’s featured author reflect the thinking of many writers at some point in their careers.  It is also excellent advice for everyone else – “Let us do something while we have the chance!”  Samuel Beckett was a Nobel Prize winning author who was born on Good Friday.  Perhaps it is not surprising then that his writings are often described as offering a bleak, tragi-comic outlook on human existence. 

 

Born in Dublin right after the start of the twentieth century, Samuel Beckett led a rather typical life and played first-class cricket.  He briefly held a position in academia but then spent some years traveling and writing.  Beckett was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his writing, which—in new forms for the novel and drama—in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation.”  He is credited with developing the literary movement called the “Theatre of the Absurd”. 

 

The Theatre of the Absurd is a post–World War II designation for particular plays of absurdist fiction written by a number of primarily European playwrights in the late 1950s, as well as one for the style of theatre which has evolved from their work. Their work focused largely on the idea of existentialism and expressed what happens when human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence. 

 

Critic Martin Esslin coined the term in his 1960 essay “Theatre of the Absurd.”  He related these plays based on a broad theme of the Absurd, similar to the way Albert Camus uses the term in his 1942 essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus”.  The Absurd in these plays takes the form of man’s reaction to a world apparently without meaning, and/or man as a puppet controlled or menaced by invisible outside forces.

 

This style of writing was first popularized by the 1953 Samuel Beckett play “Waiting for Godot”. Though the term is applied to a wide range of plays, some characteristics coincide in many of the plays: broad comedy, often similar to vaudeville, mixed with horrific or tragic images; characters caught in hopeless situations forced to do repetitive or meaningless actions; dialogue full of clichés, wordplay, and nonsense; plots that are cyclical or absurdly expansive; either a parody or dismissal of realism and the concept of the “well-made play”. These plays were shaped by the political turmoil, scientific breakthrough, and social upheaval going on in the world around the playwrights during these times.  While absurdists believed that life is absurd, they also believed that death and the “after life” were equally absurd if not more, and that whether people live or not all of their actions are pointless and everything will lead to the same end (hence the repetitiveness in many absurdist plays).

 

In his 1965 book, Absurd Drama, Esslin wrote:   “The Theatre of the Absurd attacks the comfortable certainties of religious or political orthodoxy. It aims to shock its audience out of complacency, to bring it face to face with the harsh facts of the human situation as these writers see it. But the challenge behind this message is anything but one of despair. It is a challenge to accept the human condition as it is, in all its mystery and absurdity, and to bear it with dignity, nobly, responsibly; precisely because there are no easy solutions to the mysteries of existence, because ultimately man is alone in a meaningless world. The shedding of easy solutions, of comforting illusions, may be painful, but it leaves behind it a sense of freedom and relief. And that is why, in the last resort, the Theatre of the Absurd does not provoke tears of despair but the laughter of liberation.” 

 

It should note that William Shakespeare is the first playwright to use this combination of tragedy and comedy together.  Samuel Beckett himself spoke often about books he liked and disliked.  He dismissed Agatha Christie’s “Crooked House” as ‘very tired Christie’ but praised Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days” saying ‘It is lively stuff’.  There were some that he read more than once:  “Andromaque” by Jean Racine: “I read Andromaque again with greater admiration than ever and I think more understanding, at least more understanding of the chances of the theatre today.”  Theodor Fontane’s “Effi Briest” was clearly a favorite read – “I read it for the fourth time the other day with the same old tears in the same old places.”

 

Samuel Beckett knew the value of words.  Indeed, it is man’s ability to use words and understand their meaning that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom (although we are slowly learning the language of other animals and their ability to communicate).  Beckett knew the power of the single word. The strengths and weaknesses we portray, illustrate, and create by our use of them.  His approach to life was simple:  ““Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” A writer’s best tool is a single word or as Beckett once said:  “Words are all we have.”  That is truth, not absurdity.

 

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

2018.08.06

Literature and Life

 

Few writers have failed on so many things and yet made all those failures successful as Mark Twain did.  He apprenticed as a typesetter and printer and then turned to mining.  He penned a story he heard in a California bar with the unlikely name of “The Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County”.  It became a worldwide sensation, published in both English and French.  Mark Twain became known for his wit and his satire in prose and in public speaking gained him the friendship and support of American presidents, European royalty, fellow artists and writers, as well as industrialists.  He would earn a fortune and then just as easily lose it.

 

Mark Twain is perhaps best known for his “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” so no one should be surprised that among his favorite books he listed “Le Morte d’ Arthur” by Sir Thomas Mallory.  Twain took the tales of King Arthur and spun them into the story of an American lad with a little of his second favorite book, “The Arabian Knights” thrown in for good measure.  Another successful and noted American author, William Faulkner< called Mark Twain “the father of American literature” while many others consider him the greatest humorist the United States has ever had.

 

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835 and his life was not an easy one.  Three of his siblings died before reaching the age of twelve and when Twain was eleven years old, his father also died.  He himself dropped out of school at age twelve to work, later educating himself at the public libraries he would frequent.  His one goal in life was to become a steamboatman.  “Pilot was the grandest position of all. The pilot, even in those days of trivial wages, had a princely salary – from a hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty dollars a month, and no board to pay.”  Twain considered the pilot’s job the most important of all as  the pilot had to “get up a warm personal acquaintanceship with every old snag and one-limbed cottonwood and every obscure wood pile that ornaments the banks of this river for twelve hundred miles; and more than that, must… actually know where these things are in the dark.”

 

Mark Twain did become a steamboat pilot although it took him two years to earn his pilot license.  His pen name came from the leadsman’s cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms (12 feet), which was safe water for a steamboat.  Twain worked as a pilot on the Mississippi River until the second year of the War Between the States and then joined his brother in the Nevada Territory.  In 1867, a local newspaper funded his trip to the Mediterranean aboard the Quaker City, including a tour of Europe and the Middle East.  It was on this trip that he met a young man and, upon seeing a picture of his sister, fell in love at first sight.  He later married the man’s sister.  The lived in New York state, Connecticut, and then Europe.  Mark Twain died in New York City after the death of two of his daughters and his beloved wife. 

 

Twain was born two weeks after Halley’s Comet’s closest approach in 1835.  In 1909 he remarked upon this:  “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together’.”  Twain was a great friend of Nikolas Tesla and the only surviving film of Twain was taken by another scientist, Thomas Edison.  Twain also financed a girls’ science club in NYC. 

 

In recent years the works of Mark Twain have been subject to censorship for his brilliant use of the colloquialisms of the period.  I understand how several derogatory terms would be painful but I personally feel that serve to further educate us and exemplify the inequities that existed.  Such knowledge could, if utilized, prevent future discrimination and continued politics that encourage such. 

 

Upon hearing of Twain’s death, President William Howard Taft said: “Mark Twain gave pleasure – real intellectual enjoyment – to millions, and his works will continue to give such pleasure to millions yet to come … His humor was American, but he was nearly as much appreciated by Englishmen and people of other countries as by his own countrymen. He has made an enduring part of American literature.”  He wrote of the common man, used humor to unite the different social classes, and through it all, was as much a knight of the round table of the world as any that ever graced the world in literature and in life.