Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain’

Robin Williams is dead. More importantly, he lived.

We often miss the deep back story if it has not been shared with us. Every person on earth has a back story.

“There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.” ~ Mark Twain

*****

“O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here captain! dear father!

This arm beneath your head;

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;

From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!

But I, with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.” ~ Walt Whitman

*****

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’ Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play ‘goes on” and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
~ Robin Williams as the character, John Keating in the movie: “Dead Poets Society”

*****

The Captain cannot now rise up.  But can he not?  Perhaps he learned things that could not be unlearned, thus taking him down a dark corridor previously traversed by Ernest Hemingway, whose death many have tried to explain, but most done with pathetic misunderstanding.  I cannot always fairly be the judge of what depression truth and knowledge will bring upon another.  I suspect Robin Williams had a profound understanding of things far more complex and much deeper than many people can even imagine.  Death is a part of life, and while death may end a life, it does not negate it.

I do feel Whitman’s poem (posted above) was used quite powerfully in “The Dead Poets Society”, a performance given by Williams, like so many of his other performances, so close to his awareness of circumstance.  In the story, he got through to a small group of young men, but in doing so, fell victim of the narrow-minded bullying hand of “status quo”.

In real life, Robin was loved by millions.  He was a masterful wit and performing artist.  But was he really only understood by few?  Some have said of genius that it is perhaps entirely understood by nobody else living.  While I can presume why it could be said, I do not entirely believe it so.

And to some degree, that is also fair to say there has been a great deal of misunderstanding about lots of bright people, particularly of the philosophers that gave birth toThe American Revolution.  In some ways, it was possibly often best to not expect the masses to grasp the depth of the tyrannies you oppose and why you opposed them, but to just listen enough to get a feel for what you’re about–that, at least for a bit, so that some of the good you intend to be a benefit to them might shine through.  But what is kept from them intentionally will not be heard.

The privacy desired by any man so much in the public eye is often filled with trouble, just as are the very reasons he would want to be allowed some private thought.  I will not likely to ever fully understand why Robin chose to end his story as he did, but it isn’t my place to know it.  Except for one thing, and that I can be brought face to face with the sobering concept that some things can seem insurmountable even at, and possibly because of, levels of extreme brilliance.  I do not necessarily always hold with Phil Donahue’s explanation that: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  While it is permanent, other than the permanence of it, no other solution may ever surface.

So often, Mr. Williams spoke out against tyrannies that suppressed the very thinking of people in such a way that it would suppress the right of self determination about ones own private life and behavior.  He was against suppressions that harmed people due to the power of largely accepted dogma and narrow-minded traditions.  And when he did so, he also felt the ridicule of the bullies who oppress others with their powerful myths.  So, we must suspect there were times, not at all unlike the times many of us feel so overwhelming, that we have to keep something inside sometimes that by being kept inside, makes us sick because of the poisons in it.  Perhaps he found something in common with another great wit and deep thinker:

“Death, the refuge, the solace, the best and kindliest and most prized friend and benefactor of the erring, the forsaken, the old, and weary, and broken of heart, whose burdens be heavy upon them, and who would lie down and be at rest.”  ~ Mark Twain

Robin Williams will be remembered for so many things he did, and for things he said.  But what we will not generally remember en masse will be the deep thoughts he held that remain now forever unsaid.  And some of those who remember, will from time to time…rise up.  If that is not true, it will be a pity.

“If a group of people hear a tree fall in a forest and nobody talks about it afterward, how do we know that anyone heard it?” ~ Matthew Stewart, p 34, “Nature’s God–The Heretical Origins of the American Republic”

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House Committee Says No Benghazi Coverup. Fox Immediately…Says Nothing.

“The most outrageous lies that can be invented will find believers if a man only tells them with all his might.” ~ Mark Twain, from a letter, 1867

*****

The House Intelligence Committee now says there was no Benghazi cover-up.  Fox News Network, which has aired hundreds of comments while the committee did it’s work, did not immediately respond at all.  Not a word.  Why do you think that a subject that was constantly on their agenda seems to have vanished so quickly?

The Australian Rupert Murdoch made a lot of money with a fake film about space aliens–even making part of it appear to be taken from old 16mm film stock to appear to have come from archives.  It’s an effects trick.  Evidently, his point was that you can sell anything to gullible people.  And, he did.  Lots of folks today still think it was a true story.

How does the news industry–newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, make money?  They sell advertising to sponsors.  What do sponsors want?  From a business point of view, they want circulation or coverage to be large enough to be effective in selling their commercial messages; they want the target market to be made up largely of people who can and will buy, and particularly they want viewers and listeners who are eager and happy to believe messages brought to them by that media.  For example, a company that sells sporting goods is much more likely to place their ads in “Field & Stream” than in “People” magazine.  Another thing the sponsors also often want is to be able to “like” the kind of format, layout, or programming of the medium that carries their name with it.

Consider this:  If you wish to attract an audience eager to see pictures of motorcycle gear, place your ad with media that covers motorcycle stories.  If you know an audience that is traditionally superstitious and fearful, scare them, and point out to them hope: tell them where to run for safety.  If you know them to be dogmatic, sell them dogma.  If you know them to be gullible, oh please, please please hurry and get your message in front of them.

Rupert Murdoch had a plan to make lots of money.  He would get it from other people who had lots of money by selling them stories they liked, and making it appeal to the subset of those easily swayed to want to believe those kinds of stories.  So the people with money saw it as a win/win in advertising: get a format they liked, and get an audience eager to believe things they see and hear through that format’s presentation.  Bingo.

Rupert founded The Fox News Network in 1996.  He promised advertisers and sponsors their messages would go out to people that can buy, and that those people will be eager to believe ANY messages they see and hear on that medium.  That was eighteen years ago at this writing.  Since then, they have never broken a single news story.  No, not even one.  Try to find one if you wish.  It will be a futile effort.

Here’s a kicker.  Most of their audience is so loyal that not only do they watch them exclusively for “information”, but when a story gets busted as false or misleading (a normal everyday occurrence?), they STILL BELIEVE IT just like those gullible people that still believe Rupert’s space alien video was real.  Benghazi?  A terrible and sad situation.  Has Fox been honest about what they have chosen to broadcast on the subject?  No, they have not.  But what about their audience?  Even though the House Intelligence Committee now says there has been no coverup, what do you think Fox’s loyal audience will continue to believe?   Imagine that!

*****

“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.”
 ~ Mark Twain, ‘Pudd’nhead Wilson’

A Storm Passes

“It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms…” – Mark Twain

As I write this on March fourth, I am reminded that long before this day, many have marched forth before.  A lot has happened since the first of the year to keep me preoccupied, so there has not been a dawg letter now for three months.  But let’s not blame it on the dawgs, or at least on the ones in my backyard.

The other day, I noticed clouds moving in quickly, but that’s to be expected since we live at the bottom of a hill.  I’m sure the wind would travel slower if it were to turn around and go back uphill, but it didn’t.  The dawgs were being fairly still moving only slightly to grab small pieces of the passing breeze with their noses.  A nose is quite a remarkable tool for a dawg.  It’s how they read their newspaper.  It lets them know what has happened around here recently, and what is presently happening that might be of any interest to a dawg.

It also is used to predict the future.  A storm was brewing, and they both knew it.  I could see signs of clouds gathering to block the sunlight; the movement of branches in the trees, a noticeable drop in temperature, and feel the wind against my face.  But they could smell it.  My coming out onto the patio seemed not to disturb them, as they were able to ignore me as if I were just a speed limit.  Usually, they’d rush right over presuming my appearance might be connected with a treat or permission to engage in some kind of fun, but not today, or at least not at that moment.

The March wind was stripping pink blossoms from dancing plum trees ruining the chances of them becoming fruit.  It was just as well, as my small family wouldn’t be able to eat that many plums, anyway.

I lit my pipe, putting on quite a show considering how the wind was kicking up.  But the dawgs paid no mind of it even though I went through half a box of matches and a vocabulary list that would normally cause a sensible dawg to want to hide under a bed.  The matches were having trouble staying lit long enough to ignite the tobacco, but several of them flipped out of my hand quickly enough to  burn my face.  One landed with pin-point accuracy in the corner of my eye, causing a sermon to erupt.

Ashley Cooper and Cosmo Topper continued their vigilance with not so much as a nod or a tail-wag in my direction.  So with little else to entertain me, I just stood there looking out across the yard.  The clutter included bits and pieces of a fallen tree, some of last year’s leaves, sticks, the skeleton of a lawnmower that had been savagely stripped of dignity and any hope of revival by a couple of curious boys, what may have once been part of a magazine, and an old sock that would never again comfort a foot.

At the first clap of thunder, the dawgs shifted gears.  With no small sense of urgency, they both began to move towards the house.  As a finger of lightning switched on some unseen shower head, it began to sprinkle.  Topper and Ashley followed me into the den, and laid down without bothering to thank me for holding the door.  I’m sure they both thought my doing it would’ve been the only reason I’d come out there in the first place.

Once upstairs, I went back to my television.  Some things in the news had taken over a part of me, and I couldn’t let it go, no matter what time of the day or night it happened to be.  Saddam Hussein of Iraq had ordered the invasion of Kuwait late last summer.  It didn’t make sense.  Watching the television didn’t help it make sense.

At the beginning during a news conference, General Colin Powell was asked about his strategy.  He said:

“First we’re going to cut it off, then we’re going to kill it.”

The strategic would position itself for what would become tactical.  The coalition forces moved quickly to do just that.  But as they moved closer to Bagdad, a good bit of the Iraqi army laid down their guns and disappeared.  I watched little else on television for a while, then it was over.  And for some folks, I’m sure it was.  But for others, it might go on a spell.  Some children live and die never knowing much else, but there is nothing new about that to the human race.

A good bit of the news had been about how the coalition against Iraq would fall apart if Israel was brought into the conflict.  The Americans and British had to convince Israel to stay neutral, and that they guaranteed their defense.  The agreement seemed made with the contingency that all bets were off if Israel was attacked.  Such prospects as that appeared to be requisition for a real mess.

On the evening of January seventeenth, I was backstage preparing to address an audience as Mark Twain.  I had intended to close with the prose/poem piece Samuel Langhorne Clemens had written in protest of American military intervention in the Philippines.  It had been turned down for publication, and never made it into print in his own lifetime.  But with some effort, I’d decided to keep it alive during mine.

Right before I walked on, the stage manager, who’d been listening to a radio with headphones, told me Iraq had just launched missiles against Israel.  She knew how my speech was to end, and wanted me to consider how an anti-war piece might be received at this time.  It was hard news.  With great misgivings,  I decided not to delete it, even if they would lynch me afterwards.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, with the precedent of all the brilliant decisions I’ve witnessed by people wrapped in their emotions, it did seem like a possibility.

I stepped in front of the audience with a heavy heart, not so much about how I would be received,  but with thoughts about three young sons in a world rolling out of control towards chaos.  I had a memory of another war not so long ago, and remembered how all that I thought it would be could not match up to the ugly face it wore when I saw it up close.  If I had a prayer left in me, it was for my children to never have to see it.

But that night I had to move my mind quickly back to over a century ago, and wrap myself in the persona of a man of letters.  In his image and person, I had to be witty, to be thought provoking, and be entertaining.  Somehow it wasn’t about me at all, but about the people out front and what they’d paid to come to see.  When it came time for the last story, there was a lump in my throat so big I thought it would choke me to death.  Later on, I was pleased to find out the audience didn’t see it, so some credit was due to the large tie I wore, or perhaps to my former acting teachers.  It was a huge lump, so it had to be something other than my own doing to cause it to go unnoticed.

The audience was kind to me that night.  The next day, the kindest thing was a phone call from a teacher who’d been in the auditorium the night before, and wanted to know if I knew about the missile attack before going on stage.  I said I did, expecting to be chastised for my undiplomatic decision.  Instead, the teacher said:

“Good.  I think that took courage, and I’m glad you went ahead with your program.”

A day or so later, I received a note from another teacher who’d attended the performance.  It read:

“If every student I teach could spend time with your Mark Twain, I believe that they would understand the beauty and depth of Twain’s words.  How lucky you are to be Mark Twain for an hour or so; I envy you.  Thank you for a wonderful evening.”

That note was the best thing that could have happened to me, and the flavor of it took away the bitter taste of self doubt that was dissolving my soul.  Is it normal for folks who say they pray for peace to feel guilty when they speak against war?  Less than a month before that program, people far and wide were singing songs of “Peace on Earth, good will towards men” all over the place.  But right then I feared a desire for such as that in the face of “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” was about to be seen as an awful thing, and it worried me.  So being fearful of condemnation, this is not the confessions of a brave man.

Until getting that nice note, I thought perhaps it would’ve been more courageous to consider the feelings of the people in that town, and conjure up other material to end the program.  Though I had lots of other stories and material in the pigeon holes of my mind, maybe going on as rehearsed was just the easy way out.  Because of the news received just moments before walking on stage, it wasn’t my decision to go ahead and deliver “The War Prayer” that was so hard, but just staying in character.  It became one of the more difficult things I’ve done in a long time.

When arriving home that night, my dawgs were glad to see me.  They of course had no idea where I’d been, or of the concerns I may have had, and they had no idea about war.  They could hold their noses into the air to tell if a rain storm was coming, but other storms far away caused by a different kind of cloud wouldn’t make any sense to a dawg.  And I suppose it is no grand compliment to the human race that it should claim to make sense of it, either.

http://warprayer.org/