Mark Twain, Me, and Comets

‎”I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), 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.”  – Mark Twain

Mark Twain said he came in with  Halley’s Comet, and expected to go out with it.  I’m not so quick to be in awe of him as a prognosticator.  It’s easy to predict the storm when you can see the clouds rolling in.  And, you can set your clock by a train if you already see it coming into the station.  Sam Clemens knew his health was failing, and that time was running out.

At the advice of his doctor, he’d cut back to only ten cigars a day, which I’m sure Twain felt was hardly enough to sustain him for very long.  No doubt, these must’ve been much smaller and milder cigars than the one’s I’m using to orchestrate my suicide.  If I tried to smoke ten a day on any regular basis, I wouldn’t be able to talk by the end of a week.

My wife might see some benefit in that, but it would surely stink up the whole neighborhood.  Besides, I’m in no great hurry to attain progress in the matter of killing myself.  I’m sure the rate is slower than some friends might have predicted, and certainly slower than some enemies might have hoped for, but so be it.  As it is, ten cigars might last me a couple of months or longer, as long as February be one of them.

Twain’s comet was predictable, but mine so far has not been cooperative in that way.  It’s really hard for me to set my habits to a comet that is so wishy-washy, and refuses to be pinned down to an agenda, and considers uncertainty to be a moral principle.  I might as well speculate in the commodities market.  I was born with the Elipse Comet of 1948 (its proper name for tax purposes being C/1948 V1).

It just kind of showed up about the same as I did.  I have not been able to find any schedule of its return, and there is no promise that seats will be available for purchase this far in advance.  Well I hope it’s far in advance, but for all I know for sure, it could be just around the corner.

The prospects of it are not known and some think it has an orbit pattern of about eighty four thousand, eight hundred years.  If that is so, it’s possible that my calendar could run out first.  I’d certainly not try to amortize it, or buy an annuity on such terms.  I’ll leave such idiotic financial arrangements as that to The United States Congress.

One distinguishing feature of a comet over a lot of other cosmic objects is the presence of a tail.  Such a thing as that does not set either me or Mr. Twain apart from the rest of humanity, so I’ll not get carried away with details.  What might set us apart instead, would be the tales.  Without trying to compare them by quality, we’ve both been known to come up with them; his being different from mine, and mine different from his, and together not to be confused with anybody else’s, especially textbook authors.

What do people remember about Mark Twain?  For one thing, they remember the stories he told.  One that has stuck with me for a long time was about a boy faced with a conflict about doing the right thing.  The written rule was for Huck Finn to turn Jim in for being a runaway slave.  But as Huckleberry came to terms with Jim’s humanity same as his own, he found his salvation, even though he was certain he’d have to go to Hell for it.  Where do we ever see such integrity as that even among our bravest adults?

For half a century I’ve thought about that tale, and I could never separate it from Mark Twain himself.  So, it’s often the story that brands you, be it sad, funny, or frightful.  I’ve often told some of his other tales, but in order to be any good at it, I’ve had to become him on occasion.  I told a friend once that it is interesting sometimes, to be a caricature of a man who was often a caricature of himself.

So what story brands any of us?  What story brands you?  It isn’t always the easiest thing to know which story is the best one to tell.  But after years of looking at the evidence left all over the place by hundreds of wonderful writers, I think the best story is when nobody else but you could’ve told it.

That isn’t always the case with a song, is it?  Sometimes it will be sung much better by someone other than the composer.  Yet at other times, the ballad carries better in the arms of the one who knows the tale best.  And that is true with a lot of our stories.  In many cases, if they are to be told at all, we have to tell them.  Yet in spite of that, it sometimes amazes me how many folks wait their whole lives hoping someone else will tell their story for them.

There is nothing wrong with wanting others to tell your story.  To get them to want to do that, your story will have to connect with them in some way.  But it will have no chance unless you tell it to them, or show it to them.  If you don’t think you can put it into words, then put it into actions.

How does your story treat the folks who hear it; the folks who see it, or are otherwise effected by it?  Do they laugh or cry?  In what way are they to carry your story with them?  What will make it last?  The poet Maya Angelou is credited for saying:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Then if that’s the case, perhaps best way to tell your story might just be to live it.  But if you decide to tell it in words, be sincere about it.  If you don’t, the only thing folks will remember will be the insincerity.  A moving star with a tail on it might get their attention, but unless it makes them feel one way or another, they just might not remember it at all.


12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tim Teasley on October 4, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    Good thoughts, as usual, Dr. Brown!


  2. Posted by Shirley Cockrum on October 4, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    Loved this. You write well!
    Love & Peace,
    Shirley Cockrum


  3. Posted by Betty on October 4, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    You always make me feel good, So, I guess you are my good story !!!


  4. Entering the world, Exiting the World, Comets, Feelings…I do love a good story and you are one to tell a tall tale. Thanks Dr. Brown for always making me think beyond my realm.


  5. Posted by Steve on October 5, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Well done, as usual.


  6. …you had me up to the inclusion of the ‘quote’ by the unabashed racist angelou. the pantheon of legitimate poets is brimming over with erudite sentiments that would have easily conveyed the spirit of that thought..hell, a little research would have easily turned up some pithy and relevant quip by twain himself that spelled out the exact intent. whenever i see her name in print i am reminded that up to this very day, a fourth rate scriber of insipid racist drivel has been elevated to near mythic status by legions of white-guilt ridden folk that were easily swayed by by their misguided ‘feelings’… here’s a ‘quote’ by angelou that i think perfectly explains my disdain for this disgusting hack. “We are the victims of the world’s most comprehensive robbery..Life demands a balance..It’s alright if we do a little robbing now.” …other than that, nice stuff, my friend.


  7. Well said!


  8. So far the only comets I could find for the Year of my Birth were Bill Haley And His Comets 1959!


  9. Posted by Marlene Humberd on October 5, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    I think one reason we can all relate to your tales , Van , is they are about real people in a real family doing ” everyday ” stuff . Things , that most of the time we don’t even notice ,or we ignore,or take for granted ,in our own lives, are brought to our attention , play with our imagination , tickle our” funny bone” , and most of the time ,teach us a wise lesson in life . I am sincere when I say this …and that’s the honest truff !! ; )


  10. Posted by little d on October 6, 2012 at 12:18 am

    VanTwain, Yup, you’ve quashed another good’n here. As far as I can tell, the regular ole good guy that did everything normal so to speak, will be forgotten by all but a very few quicker than a couple of Harvest Moons can make their rounds. My Grand Daddy makes such an example as told to me by my Dad. Accordingly, he was a very important man in his small community, so much so that my Dad always thought a day would never come when one wouldn’t hear his name or character referenced to in conversation surrounding what we call home.

    After Grand Daddy died, and a few Harvest Moons came and went, Daddy said he couldn’t have been more wrong about what folks would remember about his Father.
    Grand Momma became worried, that with Grand Daddy gone, none of the children would return home to visit from time to time, so she insisted to Dad and others in the family that a yearly reunion should be organized.

    The effort to organize a yearly reunion was a huge success, and fifty plus years later its still in effect along with the intended results she had hoped for. Grand Mothers wish had come true, but it was the fear of time and forgetfulness, coupled with the fresh grave nearby that had influenced her to action.

    On the other hand, the notorious drunks, crooks, killers and womanizers that lived during the same times are the topic of conversations even to this day around what survives of this community. When folks start telling stories about the old days, they tell the ones about the guy getting caught with the goat, or so on, you get the picture.

    Headlines anywhere has got to be about what has happened worst. When the real news is that the majority of everyone had a good day, but that won’t sell papers, or get the most attention at a story telling, yep, its telling I tell ya, telling you what I’m sure of, but that story won’t stick either.

    good stuff VT

    little d


  11. Loved this Van thanks! Was there really a Halley’s Comet in 1948?? The year of my birth as well but I don’t think they happened at the same time! I will check via Google … I saw the comet in 1985 that I do recall when we were on a long road trip to get down to a part of our country to walk the Otter Trail …
    Our own story – only we can tell it … though you do Mark Twain well and his story is required for ongoing living.


    • Posted by thevanbrown on October 5, 2015 at 12:47 pm

      Wasn’t Halley’s comet that year, but a different one: C/1948 V1, called Elipse Comet of 1948. Still no report of when it will return, so I’ll wait.


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