Kate Luongo, Fiction Panelist
Mark Twain once said, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
Last summer, as a birthday gift from my mother, I received the opportunity to write in Mark Twain’s Library in Hartford.
Clutching a solid blue spiral notebook, , I started up the front walk. My mother chose a bench, and sat where she could draw the gardens in her sketchbook. I was hardly timid, not since the age of pigtail braids, but I felt somewhat meek in the presence of such profound literary creation.
At the entrance of the Mark Twain Museum, I joined a small group of other writers, some with laptops, others with paper-bound notebooks. A few had a serious manner, with spectacles and important briefcases, others were more giddy, wearing grins of wonderment. I fell somewhere in the middle, not sure of my place among the intelligent “grown-ups.” I was an adult, after all my 19th birthday had just passed, but I was new to the idea of the professional firmness that real adults seemed to possess. As if mocking my credibility, a lady with a pouf of silvery hair leaned in and whispered, “Now! You must be around the age of my granddaughter!”
I didn’t let the comment faze me, and instead sought strength from it to prove her wrong. When the guide asked what we would be working on, I raised my hand and declared, “I am writing a Novella.”
As we were led into Mark Twain’s Library, I noticed the mantle right away. It was the objects lined on this grand oak mantlepiece, the ones that Mr. Clemens himself used to tell stories to his young daughters, that caught my eye. Each story would begin with the small cat painting, “Cat in a Ruff.” I met eyes with the feline creature, wistfully imagining that she had voice to tell all that she had heard.
I chose a desk close to a velvet red chair, where I imagined Mark Twain had done some serious thinking. I had a lot to think about, so certainly this chair would provide me with proper inspiration.
I let my gaze fall to the Conservatory, overflowing with lush green life and water dancing in the fountain, contrasting greatly to the old, preserved room, where time held still.
We were encouraged to close our eyes, and breathe, before we began to write. To take in our surroundings, and feel the presence of great words around us.
I was eager to begin, the next chapter of my short book, which I had been working on since June,my own characters, alive as the plants, in my mind. Revealing the mind of a young woman striving for normalcy, as she struggled with anxiety.
However, I paused, once I turned to the blank page.
“Did my own thoughts deserve to be in the presence of such great ideas? Would my words ever find a place in the world? Could I even call myself a writer?”
This was hardly writer’s block, rather, a great tension between the pencil and paper, like two magnets repelling each other.
Our guide broke the momentary silence, with a reminder that we were free to get up, and roam around as we pleased.
I took this opportunity to clear my head.
As a struggling perfectionist, perhaps the fear of being “enough” is my greatest hurdle. But what if Mark Twain had stopped at such a thought? What if he too had doubt in his ability as a writer? Maybe it was the steady stream of water, trickling ever so quietly, but I regained composure.
This time, before I began, I wrote a letter at the top of the page:
Dear Mark Twain,
Thank you for letting me write in your library. I apologize, if I do not write with such prestige, but I will keep writing until I will be able to.
And with that,
I returned to my story.
For more information about visiting the Mark Twain House and Museum: https://marktwainhouse.org/