More insights and commentary from Mark Twain to give you a lift during challenging times. The great humorist left us 100 years this month, unsure as to where he wanted to end up as he famously wrote “Heaven for climate and Hell for society.”
I thought of Twain when I revisited (do you remember when you just “watched again”?) one of my favorite movies, My Cousin Vinny, a few days back. It is a very funny movie containing – shall we say – quite a bit of profanity which is impossible to take offense at.
It reminded me of an autobiographical piece that Mark Twain wrote About the Effect of Intemperate Language which I think you might enjoy. Don’t worry, no profanities included, even though Twain was an inveterate swearer. His experiences included being a Mississippi river-boat pilot and mining, so he had plenty of education and time to practice. Twain said “"If I cannot swear in heaven I shall not stay there."
Here’s an autobiographical piece from 1906, that might put a smile on your face, a dance in your step and ultimately encourage you to make that next phone call that you have been putting off.
About the Effect of Intemperate Language
All through the first ten years of my married life I kept a constant and discreet watch upon my tongue while in the house, and went outside and to a distance when circumstances were too much for me and I was obliged to seek relief.
I prized my wife`s respect and approval above all the rest of the human race`s respect and approval. I dreaded the day when she should discover that I was but a whited sepulchre partly freighted with suppressed language. I was so careful, during ten years, that I had not a doubt that my suppressions had been successful. Therefore I was quite as happy in my guilt as I could have been if I had been innocent.
But at last an accident exposed me. I went into the bath-room one morning to make my toilet, and carelessly left the door two or three inches ajar. It was the first time that I had ever failed to take the precaution of closing it tightly. I knew the necessity of being particular about this, because shaving was always a trying ordeal for me, and I could seldom carry it through to a finish without verbal helps. Now this time I was unprotected, but did not suspect it.
I had no extraordinary trouble with my razor on this occasion, and was able to worry through with mere mutterings and growlings of an improper sort, but with nothing noisy or emphatic about them - no snapping and barking.
Then I put on a shirt. My shirts are an invention of my own. They open in the back, and are buttoned there - when there are buttons. This time the button was missing. My temper jumped up several degrees in a moment, and my remarks rose accordingly, both in loudness and vigor of expression. But I was not troubled, for the bath-room door was a solid one and I supposed it was firmly closed.
I flung up the window and threw the shirt out. It fell upon the shrubbery where the people on their way to church could admire it if they wanted to, there was merely fifty feet of grass between the shirt and the passer-by. Still rumbling and thundering distantly, I put on another shirt. Again the button was absent.
I augmented my language to meet the emergency, and threw that shirt out of the window. I was too angry -too insane - to examine the third shirt, but put it furiously on. Again the button was absent, and that shirt followed its comrades out of the window. Then I straightened up, gathered my reserves, and let myself go like a cavalry charge. In the midst of that great assault, my eye fell upon that gaping door, and I was paralyzed.
It took me a good while to finish my toilet. I extended the time unnecessarily in trying to make up my mind as to what I would best do in the circumstances. I tried to hope that Mrs. Clemens was asleep, but I knew better. I could not escape by the window. It was narrow, and suited only to shirts. At last I made up my mind to boldly loaf through the bedroom with the air of a person who had not been doing anything. I made half the journey successfully. I did not turn my eyes in her direction, because that would not be safe.
It is very difficult to look as if you have not been doing anything when the facts are the other way, and my confidence in my performance oozed steadily out of me as I went along. I was aiming for the left-hand door because it was furthest from my wife. It had never been opened from the day that the house was built, but it seemed a blessed refuge for me now.
The bed was this one, wherein I am lying now, and dictating these histories morning after morning with so much serenity. It was this same old elaborately carved black Venetian bedstead - the most comfortable bedstead that ever was, with space enough in it for a family, and carved angels enough surmounting its twisted columns and its headboard and footboard to bring peace to the sleepers, and pleasant dreams. I had to stop in the middle of the room. I hadn’t the strength to go on. I believed that I was under accusing eyes - that even the carved angels were inspecting me with an unfriendly gaze.
You know how it is when you are convinced that somebody behind you is looking steadily at you. You have to turn your face - you can`t help it. I turned mine. The bed was placed as it is now, with the foot where the head ought to be. If it had been placed as it should have been, the high headboard would have sheltered me. But the footboard was no sufficient protection, for I could be seen over it. I was exposed. I was wholly without protection. I turned, because I couldn`t help it - and my memory of what I saw is still vivid, after all these years.
Against the white pillows I saw the black head - I saw that young and beautiful face; and I saw the gracious eyes with a something in them which I had never seen there before. They were snapping and flashing with indignation. I felt myself crumbling, I felt myself shrinking away to nothing under that accusing gaze. I stood silent under that desolating fire for as much as a minute, I should say, it seemed a very, very long time.
Then my wife`s lips parted, and from them issued --- my latest bath-room remark. The language perfect, but the expression velvety, unpractical, apprentice like, ignorant, inexperienced, comically inadequate, absurdly weak and unsuited to the great language. In my lifetime I had never heard anything so out of tune, so inharmonious, so incongruous, so ill-suited to each other as were those mighty words set to that feeble music. I tried to keep from laughing, for I was a guilty person in deep need of charity and mercy. I tried to keep from bursting, and I succeeded - until she gravely said, "There, now you know how it sounds."
Then I exploded; the air was filled with my fragments, and you could hear them whiz. I said, "Oh Livy, if it sounds like that I will never do it again!"
Then she had to laugh herself. Both of us broke into convulsions, and went on laughing until we were physically exhausted and spiritually reconciled.
The children were present at breakfast, Clara aged six and Susy eight, and the mother made a guarded remark about strong language; guarded because she did not wish the children to suspect anything -- a guarded remark which censured strong language.
Both children broke out in one voice with this comment, "Why, mamma, papa uses it!"
Busted! I know you know someone who has been there. Not you or me, mind, but someone else!
Now. Go on. Hopefully, you have that smile on your face and a dance in your step. Make the phone call. Get the business or your interview.
SHEIFGAB the World
Other Mark Twain material at my website IrishmanSpeaks