Twain, The Muse, and Hannibal


twain

It had been a difficult week, and lining up to be a difficult month.  I didn’t want it to continue to a year.  Rejection is part of a writer’s career, but six rejections in one day were too much.  The strain of rejection flowed into the strained relationship with my muse.  No matter how I begged and pleaded, she remained silently aloof, watching me flounder.

            After several days of writing and rewriting the same chapter to the same book I’d been working on for over a year, I reached an epiphany.  Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this writing thing after all and my delusions of grandeur were as much fantasy as those published writings I’d been reading.

            Mom was right after all.  I was just wasting time daydreaming and avoiding responsibility.  My muse must have had her ears attuned to the despair and negative vibes that surrounded me.  The fickle minx chose that as a cue for her departure.

            I knew the moment she had abandoned me, it was for someone whose talent was providing them with a generous income; an income that would keep the traitorous muse in chocolate, silk, and pearls.  I could see her in my mind’s eye lounging on a chase in a tropical location inspiring one of my favorite authors.  She stared back at me in a familiar smugness, lowered her sunglasses and smirked.  She lifted her glass of champagne to me as a sun-bronzed server named Javier brought her a sumptuous platter of crab legs and assorted tropical fruits.  I stared at the tuna salad sandwich on my plate and lost my appetite.

            Feeling like a miserable failure, I’d lost my appetite for just about everything in my life.  Not being prone to depression, my mental state obviously showed.  My husband decided we needed a change of scenery for the weekend.  Money is tight as always but sanity is worth the investment.

            We found ourselves in Hannibal, Missouri.  The term quaint was coined for this small town that is approximately one hundred miles north of St. Louis.  I wanted to be on a beach somewhere tropical–sticking my tongue out at Ms. Fickle Muse – not on the banks of the muddy Mississippi River.  I could hear her riotous laughter at my expense. Inwardly I pouted at the unfairness of the whole situation.

            Best known as the birth place of Mark Twain, this riverfront town has definitely retained the charm of history.  There is a nearly palpable sense of the slower, peaceful pace that is so foreign in our high tech instant world today.  A welcomed sense of lazy summer days offered retreat to the stressful state of mind I had been caught up in.

            A dinner cruise on the Mark Twain riverboat eased us into the relaxed atmosphere of Hannibal.  The soothing rumble of the engine as the boat chugged slowly over the water worked like a massage for our minds.  The spectacular sunset viewed from the top deck with a gentle breeze coming off the water offered the perfect sigh of relaxation to end the day.

Mark Twain riverboat            Back at our hotel, the hot tub offered further relaxation and real conversation, something we hadn’t actually engaged in for some time.  We discussed our job frustrations, family troubles, our growing teenagers, and our future.  It had been so long since we had considered, much less actually talk about our dreams for the future, it seemed strained at first.  It didn’t take long for us to look past the current circumstances to find hope again.

            As I reconnected with my soul-mate, it occurred to me that I hadn’t realized how disconnected we had become.  The busy state in which we lived, the stress we accepted as part of everyday life, and the pressure we were both feeling had been robbing us of enjoying life.  How did we get so caught up in the mess that we forgot to live?

            The next day we visited the Mark Twain museum, Samuel Clemens boyhood home, and Mark Twain Cave.  There was a walking tour of numerous Victorian homes which cost nothing, except a bucket of sweat from the sweltering July temperatures. Ironically the walking tour was far more satisfying than the other tours.

            Over cold drinks and hot pizza, we talked about Twain. I was reminded in the museum that Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first book  I had read voluntarily.  I became fascinated by the adventure of the book.  A whole new world was opened to me through literature.  That book sparked a life long passion of reading, which led to a passion for writing.

            I contemplated this on a deep intimate level, suddenly aware that Ms. Fickle Muse was nowhere to be found when inspiration struck in my childhood.  Multiple notebooks filled with the tales of dragons, knights, monsters, and ordinary people that turned out to be heroes and heroines popped into my mind.  There was certainly not a lack of imagination on my part, so when did she (the muse) show up?

            We discussed the difficulties of Twain’s life.  The adversity that Mark Twain went through in his life could have easily been overwhelming to most people.  Yet, through all of it he managed a certain sagacious wit that is distinctly Twain.

All copyrights to this photo belong to Rockcliff Mansion management.

All copyrights to this photo belong to Rockcliff Mansion management.

            The final day we visited a turn of the century manor called Rockcliffe Mansion. Although renovations were going on in parts of the manor, the tour was well worth it.  It was full of lavish furnishings that were original to the home.  There were crystal chandeliers in numerous rooms.  A very large stained glass window on the landing of the stairwell was designed by Tiffany.  The servants’ quarters were more spacious than the master bedroom of our modest home.  Rockcliffe is a 13,500 square foot American Castle built to showcase Mr. John J. Cruikshank’s wealth.

All rights reserved to management of Rockcliffe mansion.

All rights reserved to management of Rockcliffe mansion.

            The millionaire lumber baron and his wife had four daughters that they raised in this mansion.  There were handles on the fireplace for the girls to hold while their corsets were being tightened by their attendants.  It was a lavish contrast to the austere home that Samuel Clemens lived in as a boy and not five miles separated the two homes.

            Twain came from very humble beginnings and a life of tragedy yet he became one of America’s most loved and recognized authors.  Very few people remember the millionaire lumber baron Cruikshank.

            I’ve heard it said that tough circumstances don’t last, but tough people do.  I’ve also heard the saying “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”  Winston Churchill stated “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”     These are statements made by men who have succeeded in their lives.  These were men who overcame adversity in their own life by applying diligence and following their moral convictions to achieve success.

            It struck me like a wrecking ball upside my head that success is achieved, achieved being an action word.  It seemed so simple, so obvious, that I began to laugh.  The tension began to uncoil as I laughed at my own foolish behavior, my own deceptions and frustrations.  It was at that moment my husband chose to return.  The timing was so imperfect, I laughed harder, realizing he must think I’m as crazy as a loon.

            Such is my life. A series of unfortunate and inconvenient incidences, the worst timing, and a knack for outbursts of laughter at the wrong moment that could either cause constant embarrassment or the source of great writing material.  Who needed a muse when I was comedy central-live, twenty four/ seven? What I needed was to slow down and relax.

            I had a goldmine inside me!  I already had the mining tools and the raw material.  I just needed to start the mining process.  Being abandoned by my muse turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened.  When left to my own devices I was faced with the reality that finding out whether I am made of the right stuff is totally up to me and no one else.

            This modest weekend getaway wasn’t at a tropical resort, or even anywhere I would have chosen.  It was in fact exactly where I needed to be to get myself straightened out mentally and emotionally.  After reading about the adversities that Twain overcame in his own life, I felt embarrassed with myself for the pity party I had been indulging in.

            I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and quit, and I had yet to begin  singing.  The secret to Twain’s success was an old tried and true method.  He didn’t wait for a muse to inspire him. Twain worked many varied jobs.  He worked and he kept at it, never giving up.  He wrote at every opportunity provided and created a few for himself.  “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.” (Winston Churchill)

            Zig Ziglar, a well known motivational speaker, states that success is made of the following characteristics:  conviction, commitment, hard work, love for what you do, integrity, character, consistency, persistence, discipline, heredity, environment, humor, luck, faith, passion, and connections.

            Mark Twain had commitment; he kept at it when people told him he couldn’t or that he was a hack.  Yes, even Mark Twain had to deal with rejection.  Twain has been quoted as saying: “There are basically two types of people; people who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things.  The first group is less crowded.”

            As I went through the list checking all the facets that Mark Twain had, I realized that not one of them was having a muse.  Luck didn’t count in his life, unless you counted bad luck. Overcoming adversity provides confidence that the next adversity may be conquered as well.

            That fact had me wondering how my husband and I lined up against the list.  We had lengthy discussions.  We evaluated our strengths, our weaknesses, areas that we needed to improve, and realized there were things we had no control over.  We also realized that there were many more things we could do to achieve our own goals.

            “Do the thing you fear the most and the death of fear is certain.” This quote by Mark Twain is one of my favorites.  It now held new meaning for me.

            Our circumstances do not define who we are.  What we do with those circumstances determines where we end up.  Armed with that bit of information, I made a new plan.  The drive home was enjoyable with real conversation, laughter, smiles (something neither of us had done in a while) and the sense that we were going to get through this mess that we called our lives.  We decided we need to laugh more often and seek the brighter side.  After all, sometimes it comes down to whether you laugh or cry and laughing is much more enjoyable.  The choice is ours.

            That is the whole key.  It is our choice how we handle adversity. Even though Mom always said I was a dreamer, she also took every opportunity to remind me I came from strong stock.  We are stronger than we think we are and able to do much more than we think we can.  It was time to revisit my dreams, and apply myself to achieving them.  Those dreams became a vision.  The vision became a plan to which I added the determination and perseverance.  I made up my mind to pursue those dreams, and not let anything stop me.

           I posted the words of Winston Churchill next to my desk: “Never, never, never give up.” 

            Less than a week later that fickle muse returned in her lazy manner.  She made a grand entrance.  The large brimmed white sun hat tossed on the sofa, she sank into the easy chair with a resolved sigh.  I ignored her.  She brushed an imaginary piece of fuzz from her gloriously tanned arm, then smoothed her designer dress over her flawless figure.  I continued to work.  There was a great deal of gesticulations and posturing before the slightest whisper of exhaled breath as she stated “Well, I’m here.  I guess we can get started now.”

            I mentally told her to go back to where she’d been.  I politely stated there were other writer’s who were waiting for her and she was wasting her time with me.  That mischievous smirk of hers appeared.  She was rather dense and didn’t catch on for a few minutes.  Never looking away from my screen as my fingers flew fast and furious trying to keep up with my brain, I reassured her she could go.

            Several minutes later she sidled up beside me to critique whatever tripe I had been working on while she’d been away.  That was when I had to be blunt.  “This just isn’t working out.  It’s me, not you. You’re fired.  You can let yourself out.”

            As I continued working on the scene that played out on the screen before me, a sense of achievement and a new-found freedom settled in.  Even if I fail, I’ll give it my best efforts.  It won’t be for lack of trying, or from fear of failure.  My conviction is that I will succeed; it’s only a matter of time.

            “History is” as Churchill stated, “written by the victors”.

Write on my friends – I know I will!

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