Monday, January 24, 2011

On an Old Dead Writer

<--- See the picture of that fellow over there? That's who I'm going to write about today. No, I'm not going to rant about the controversy--you know, about that English professor who just published a version of Huck Finn free of all those nasty, demeaning words the original author believed were important enough to include in the story. I'm not going to address the question of whether "Native American Joe," "First Settler Joe" or "First Peoples Joe" are more appropriate than "Injun Joe." I'm not going to argue that folks used the term "half-breed" and not the term "half-blood" back in the day when the story took place. And I'm not going to argue that gutting the word "nigger" from the story and expecting it to read true makes about as much sense as castrating a bull and then telling it to go inseminate a cow. I'm not going to do or say any of that because, you know, this guy's a kolledge perfesser and I'm not.

What I am going to do is write about something that happened to me the other day.

Last Monday, I think it was, I took a book with me to lunch, as is my wont. Now, this book is a special book to me. It is the Autobiography of Mark Twain (volume 1) which was just published this year, one hundred years after Twain's death, as specified in his will. This is a big honker of a book, at about 800 pages, and weighing in at more than two or three Chihuahuas. I love Twain and I've been waiting for this book for some time. The young waitress who was assigned to my table asked me what I was reading, I closed the book and showed her the cover. The title of the book was plainly indicated there: Autobiography of Mark Twain (volume 1), and a large picture of him graced the front cover. She looked at it for a minute, glanced at me quizzically, then said, "Didn't he write books or something?"

I stared at her for a moment, unsure of what to say. Eventually I muttered, "A couple."

She went back to her other tables. I wept.

And I weep for the future. Please tell me your kids, grandkids or nieces and nephews would recognize a picture of Mark Twain and know who he was. And if they are yet too young, please tell me you'll read to them his stories AS WRITTEN, and promise me you'll use the uncomfortable parts as teachable moments. 'Cause that's why Sam Clemons put them there.


Thank you.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Beating the Reaper

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2011. It seems just like yesterday it was 2010. How time flies.

Another year has come and gone, and I've managed to cheat the Grim Reaper yet again. This gives me great pleasure even though, as the poet Thomas Lynch says:

Something's going to get you in the end.

The numbers are fairly convincing on this,
hovering, as they do, around a hundred

I know it will happen eventually, but in the meantime, I'll do what I can to stave off death for as long as possible. Which brings me to today's sermon: How to Keep Death at Bay.

If you read obituaries as religiously, as I do, you already know you'd be hard pressed to find a decedent who didn't pass, pass on or pass away "surrounded by his (her) loving family." In fact, this happens so often I'm convinced there must be a causal relationship between the two. Therefore, it seems pretty obvious to me that if you are an old and/or sick person, the last thing you'd want is a roomful of relatives surrounding your bed like Indians circling a wagon train or vultures circling a corpse. So you've got to take steps to avoid putting yourself in that situation.

When you're deathly ill and you figure your days might be winding down, the thing to do is avoid your relatives at all costs, and whatever you do, don't tell them about your illness. Even if it slips out accidentally, before you know it, Uncle Ted, Cousin May and Bob, the brother-in-law you could never stand will invade your bedroom and begin the death watch.

At this point, it's important to note that on occasion some people die, not surrounded by family members, but rather with their family members "by their side," although this is rare. Sadly, statistics do not tell us whether it is the left or the right side. Regardless, it is easily dealt with. If your relatives must be in the sickroom, make sure they stand together either at the head or at the foot of your bed. Not at the right side. Not at the left side. And for Dog's sake, never, ever let them begin circling.

So there you have it. My first post of 2011 has probably tacked on another ten years to your life.

No, don't thank me. It's the least I can do.

*from the title poem in Lynch's Walking Papers, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010