I do it at the start of every new year; take a look at what I got done and end up noticing how much time got wasted. This happens so often I’ve been forced had to conclude that my efficiency rating is low. I then attempt to polyurethane over that with a little coat of forgiveness for being understandably human. But in the back of my head I recall the reports coming steadily from my schools back at a time when it was not thought permanently damaging to criticize a child. Sister Mary Patricia Storm Trooper was first to express my condition in a fine Palmer Hand: LAZY. Over the years other reports added “Wastes time,” “Needs to concentrate,” “Works below capacity;” all lengthier ways of saying what the Storm Trooper put with blunt accuracy in a single word. Seven decades in it is unlikely I’ll make many changes now. The dye is set, permanent.

Classroom Sisters like the Storm Trooper are essentially no more. They are replaced by Ms. Everything’s Sunshine Peachy who refuses to see the cunning malevolence of the child psyche and feeds it fattening doses of ego while warning the young eaters of the dangers of sugar and process in food. Sunshine Peachy ends up being relatively superficial and demonstrably banal in balmy basking of rays aplenty as if the application of a sugary smile was what it took to assure human success Sunshine Peachy would NEVER accept the above sentence. But she would NEVER admit the motive was disagreement with content. Sunshine Peaches know how to use objection to a run-on sentence to block critical shadows falling on the happy domain.

The Storm Trooper said I could do better. The Sunshine Peach seems to say I’m fine. Neither view is 100% but each surely has consequences. The Trooper continues to goad me on. The Sunshine Peach seems about OK for Grade Three, not a level at which I care to linger, but fine if your future has limited ends and can’t bear criticism. Whether you side with the Trooper or the Peach about social attitude you’ll know sure as a bridge beam an awful lot about a person if they stay on the walk or cut across the grass. Most learning comes outside school doesn’t it?

Ah well, when it comes to looking back for some useful and/or interesting perspective I like to peer back at Mr. Samuel Clemens. He’s known to most as Mark Twain. Frankly, as a child I held him in low regard because The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was held up so highly as something for a worthy child to enjoy. I hated it. The style (person) of telling and the overall content was not for me. I didn’t care for Tom or Becky. A few rungs further up the academic ladder they tried to suck me in with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I was prepared to ignore them in favor of Ray Bradbury or Asimov. I did my own thing and got a corresponding grade to prove it. This did not overly bother me because far as I knew the story in Finn was all things I could pretty much do (minus the Mississippi) in the flesh on my own where day-long fishing treks on a bike with breaks for jumping in the lake was being Huck Finn in my skin instead of his. I preferred it that way.

I was likely wrong to have turned my back on Twain when I did, but not many years later as a University Sophomore I stumbled onto The Innocents Abroad and was promptly pulled onboard. I liked that book so much I walked away with it without paying, an explanation Mark Twain might say was economical of the truth. I think Twain is for adults and it is just as well I spent my summer days living a version of Huck Finn rather than reading about him.

Below you’ll find a few Twainisms I find useful for looking forward back.

When in doubt tell the truth because then you don’t have to remember anything.
Truth can be stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense.
A lie can travel half around the world before truth puts on her boots.
Use of the right word can be effective, but no word can ever match the rightly timed pause.
Thunder is good. It is impressive. But it is lightning that does the work.
The difference between the right word and the wrong is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
Swedish massage is the best form of exercise because someone else does all the work.
I believe eating and resting to be adequate exercise.
A man can’t claim honesty if he needs witnesses to prove it.
I was happily able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.
“Be Yourself” is perhaps the worst advice you can give, unless you dislike the person.
Clothes make the man. Naked people have almost no influence on society.
Always put a good face on things as in the case of describing a man as “industrious, ambitious, experienced, and often quite picturesque” as a liar.
God made the idiot for practice. Then He made the School Board.
God made man after being disappointed by the monkey.
If God meant for us to be naked we’d be born that way.
I will set aside all other entertainment to attend his funeral.

The American brand of humor is pointy and not always sunshiny. The further away we get from that root the vaguer we become. Why, just the other day I was at a holiday gathering where we had to line up for our plate of victuals. Ambling ahead, sole point of silence in the small-talk line, I stood next a chair with a purse on it when a woman rushed forward to get her belonging. I assured her I wasn’t going to steal it because there were too many witnesses. Her expression was proof of not appreciating Twain. I wished her a Happy New Year as I wish to you!