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Pine Nuts: One Nice Thing

May 7, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

People sometimes ask, “How have things changed for Mark Twain in the past 35 years?” (For the first-time reader I’m winding down a career of portraying Mark Twain for the past 35 years.) And I am happy to report, one thing has changed dramatically, and it is in fact, a pleasant thing.

Perfect strangers are more apt to skip small talk and enter into a meaningful conversation with today’s impressionists of historical characters. This is a good-natured transition, and how has it happened? Well, my guess is, it’s a backlash to a soul-searing internet, a scorched-earth political landscape, and the jarring arrival of artificial intelligence, all together creating a deep-seated desire for communications of the heart.

As an example, I had a couple approach me as Mark Twain in Genoa yesterday, and ask right off the top, about Mark Twain’s travels in the Holy Land. Thirty-five years ago my first question in Genoa more likely might have been, “Mark, who’s dead in the cemetery?”

People are interested today in discovering some secrets of the heart that Mark Twain might be holding. In truth, he uses his humor like the wheel on an opera glass, to focus our attentions on more serious matters at hand, so it is always a welcome moment when I am asked about matters of the heart. Twain’s kindness, for example, is couched in humor: “Always do right, this will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.”

One engaging couple invited Mark Twain to dinner yesterday in Genoa, to finish a conversation about Joan of Arc. That cordial invitation might not have been as forthcoming back in 1988. So, to my mind, it is a good sign for all Chautauquans, that people are becoming more eager to talk face to face, eye to eye, with living history characters about history, yes, and matters of the heart.

When I left the idyllic Hawaiian Islands after fifteen years of living in those restful Islands, I brought with me a promise gleaned from the Hawaiian natives, “Whenever possible, think with the heart.” This has served me well. I don’t suppose artificial intelligence will ever be able to accomplish that. Moreover, AI is a wide-open field where bad actors can have a field day. While we humans remain stuck in slow-motion evolution, AI isn’t, and could quickly pass us by. Hollywood writers are rightfully demanding protection against AI in their strike.

Personally, I have an easier time today getting to know such great characters of living history as One-Eyed Charley Parkhurst, and that angel of mercy, Julia Bulette, than I ever could have hoped for thirty-five years ago. (Thank you, Kim Harris.)

Close mental intimacy is the new gold standard in acquiring knowledge, understanding and compassion. I would rather get cussed-out by a man I admire, than blessed by artificial intelligence. Sorry AI, but if I have a question, I’m going to ask a librarian, or an octogenarian, or the first smart person I run into…

Audio: https://anchor.fm/mcavoy-layne

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