Mark Twain’s Measles Story: Wednesday, April 29th

Mark Twain attributes his literary career to an incident that happened when he was 12 years old.

He tells the story in his essay, “The Turning-Point of My Life.”

An measles epidemic swept through his village and everyone was paralyzed with fright. Young Mark Twain was so tired of being cooped up indoors that he snuck out and joined his friends without his mother knowing. Sure enough, he got the disease. After two weeks of lying on his deathbed, the young boy miraculously recovered.

His mother was fed up with his antics. She pulled him out of school and apprenticed him to a printer, as Twain said, “to put me into more masterful hands than hers.”

He goes on to say that our lives are ruled by a combination of “circumstance” and “temperament.” He doesn’t seem to think that people have much say at all in the direction of their own lives.

I agree that circumstance rules my fate to a much greater degree than I’d like to admit. But I would argue that our “temperament”s are more malleable than Twain gives them credit for. He believes you are born with your character, like your height or your hair, and you have no choice in the matter. I like to think that we can alter our personalities along the spectrum of “weak” and “strong,” where the weaker versions of ourselves act mostly out of fear, and the stronger versions of ourselves radiate from a center of joy and creativity.

In other words, sure I can’t change to a Banana if I was born an Apple, but it’s up to me whether I’ll be a gooey rotten apple or a crispy, shiny, golden delicious.

But I know Twain doesn’t care about the Free Will debate. He just means to tell a story – a story about how he came into his profession.

I write a lot on this blog about viewing your life as a story. I don’t know why exactly. Probably because it inspires me. Because it fills the future with surprises and excitement, instead of the usual boredom of growing older and safer and more responsible.

Somehow I’m convinced that telling a good story and living one have something to do with one another.


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