Mark Twain and Me
Until he was 28 years young, Mark Twain was Samuel Clemens, a boy and young man far afield from that Manhattanite who helped create my still thriving Lotos Club. Why all this travel late in life, and in fame? Well, to pay off his late life debts from a rather fancy free and witty All-American life.
Twain had the journalist’s instinct to travel for field notes. Until 40, he was childless, yet you remember his cigars, expensive ventures with printing for President Grant, and all that Tom Wolfe influencing Flamboyance, with a capital F. Mark Twain was what my high school basketball coach called “an authentic pisser.”
With this all in mind, I am going to give myself a new nickname “Old Thunder,” as I’ve lasted so long being exactly like myself.
Until about 50 years old, Mark Twain had the image of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer still mostly churning within his brilliant skull. Yet he had discipline, despite the booze and the cigars, and he got in right in a number of mid-life books. Until his world travels starting in the final six years of his 70s, Mark Twain was restricted to American readers, and a few from England. The rest is history, literary and world history.
Witty, warm, humanitarian, condemning, clever, Mark Twain remains a global all-American force in culture, reminding us of why Black Lives Matter, and why Democracy is of the people and for the world.
Why did this happen to the big HIM, and why do we need to read him (in his lasting classics), and his warm charm, even more during these dire days of Putin befriended by a crazed Donald Trump!
First, a PERSONAL aside:
I love Mark Twain like the father I never knew.
I am him in a swifter and more severe world, although not as witty. I was recently a guest on Mia Funk’s The Creative Process podcast where we explored my beginnings with an interracial single mom family. In that Podcast, which can be found on all streaming services such as Google Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music, I failed to reflect on the influence of Mark Twain.
Funk asked brilliant, informed questions about the origins of the creative process in life. I spoke of the immediate value the books by Marcu Aurelius and Benjamin Franklin brought as mentors to my aspiring self. Those were the authors that helped me escape socioeconomic constraints, but it was Twain that taught me how to write.
- I owe my readers more on Mark Twain and me.
- I would not be able to write books that last past fad sales on business and society were it not for this love of studying the style and force of Twain.
- You can see it more prominent in my later creative books like Missing Persons, the Memoir, and now the 2040: A Fable, but this love of Twain was always saturating my prose style, like flies coming to morning honey and jam. It is what enabled me to befriend Tom Wolfe, and vice versa.
- From ages 15 to now 67, you could not walk outside into the bright frightening light of America these last years since Vietnam without thinking of Twain, his lovely warm characters, and their natural charm. Otherwise, everydayness like a napalm would have melted me.
A NOW CLOSER TO THE END-OF-LIFE MYSELF I CELEBRATE TWAIN
After the Lotos Club asked me to apply for membership (right after Tom Wolfe noted my NYTimes and WSJ bestseller Doing More with Less in 2014), I spent a year dilly dallying in Europe, mostly, pursuing client income, and some readers. But then someone told me Twain was an early force in the creation of this Literary and Science Club, and that they had only one member that they had roasted for an annual dinner three times: the one and only Mark Twain.
This intrigued me, maybe they were not only going after only wealthy high horses, but maybe this specific beautiful club on 5 East 66th could allow someone as low brow as Mark Twain as an originating force.
I applied, with the encouragement of Tom Wolfe. Yet I never really feel at home there, except when I recall the sportive support Wolfe gave me, and the lasting sportiveness you find in Twain’s work itself. As you enter the Club, you see a statue of Mark Twain, and a big proud painting of his direct descendent Tom Wolfe. The people are overdressed, with some pretense, in general, but they have a contribution to make, or had made them earlier in their careers.
Here is what Mark Twain said in his 70th birthday dinner:
“I have had a great many birthdays in my time. I remember the first one very well (laughter), and I always think of it with indignation (renewed laughter). Everything that day was so crude, unaesthetic, primeval. Nothing like this now before me (more laughter.) No proper appreciated preparations made for my birth, nothing really ready (prolonger laughter).
Now for a person born with high and delicate instincts this mattered — why, even the cradle wasn’t whitewashed — nothing really at all. I hadn’t any hair. I hadn’t any teeth. I hadn’t any clothes, even. I had to go to my first banquet just like that!”
He does get more serious, but remains sportive as the speech matures:
“I have achieved my seventy years in the usual way: by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else. It sounds like an exaggeration, but that is really the common rule for attaining old age. For we cannot reach old age by another man’s road…I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time.”
Elitism has never lasted long in the American grain. Folks like Franklin and Lincoln and Twain and Wolfe are actually rather down to earth, while their clubs of fame might make something else of their hard work.
In the meantime, everyday I write the book…