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Michael Gardon

  • Writer's pictureMichael Gardon

How A Laugh May Have Broken Mark Twain's Suicide Attempt, And What Happened Next- The Break Issue 52

Updated: Mar 13

Stories and actionable insights on breaking the scripts in your head so you can build the future you want.

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#52: Making Mark Twain

Mark Twain put a pistol to his head . . .

It was somewhere in 1865 or 1866. Samuel Clemens (his real name) was living paycheck to paycheck, writing 2,000 word pieces 6 days per week for $100 per month.

He badgered himself for not living up to the writer he wanted to be, and he was deeply in debt.

He was 30 years old and holding the future of American Literature at gunpoint.

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Back to Mark . . .

He wrote to his brother “If I do not get out of debt in three months — pistols or poison for one — exit me.”

The soon to be GREAT writer was at his breaking point.


He was stuck between his true calling and the the fear that comes from other people's labels.

Twain knew he wasn't meant to be a straight news reporter, but he was wary of pursuing his passion, humor writing, because it was considered a lowly form of writing. "He was reluctant to embrace what we see now as his inarguable talent as a writer of humor," Bob Hirst, editor of UC Berkeley's Mark Twain project

He made a purposeful typo in his first national byline for Harpers crediting the article to “Mike Swain” because the article was so atypical of the sort of writing he wanted to do in his life.

He didn’t know that he was months away from from having such a grand reception of his first public lecture that it turned into his first speaking tour.

He was stuck in the same identity crisis most of us feel.

Hadn’t embraced his true talent as a humor writer yet, just as so many of us hide in our cubicles afraid of what people might say.

He was living in that hopeless gap that I know well, and he thought his life was over.

But thankfully, he didn’t pull the trigger.

No one knows exactly what happened, but something changed inside him. Instead of exiting his story a broken man, he decided to be the BREAK, and take a different path.

If he was still here I’d want to interview him about this moment. That’s what my podcast is all about. The BREAK moments that change us forever.

We don’t know what happened in that room.

One account says he was staring at a bill and the stern language of the letter for the small amount of money he owed made him laugh and he put the pistol down.

Maybe this comedic relief in his own theatre of the absurd was enough to change his entire trajectory, and lead him on a journey to actualize his natural calm, witty and humorous writing style.

Or, perhaps, as is recounted in his autobiography released 100 years after his death (per his wishes): "I put the pistol to my head but wasn't man enough to pull the trigger. Many times I have been sorry I did not succeed, but I was never ashamed of having tried."

I choose to believe he laughed at the bill. I choose to believe this was the moment he truly embraced his talent and realized where his writing would cut through and connect.

Maybe it’s because I believe in the power of laughter to change our state, and the states of those around us who are suffering silently.

Or maybe I just want it to be true.

Whatever happened that fateful day:

A scared young man transformed into the greatest writer perhaps ever.

An indebted San Francisco yuppie was called to adventure & exploration.

Samuel Clemens transformed into Mark Twain.

The rest is history.

How many of us are living in that gap between who we are and who we think we should be?

How many of us have the guts to BREAK our path.

Are you one?

Here’s to breaking your old habits and becoming the best version of yourself!



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The Latest Conversation on THE BREAK Pod

Sometimes all it takes for a break moment is a conversation with an old friend.

Gabe Marusca, was born in Romainia, and started on a typical life. Low paying job, dreaming about doing something else. Then a friend shared his entrepreneurial knowledge and changed broke Gabe path and changed his life forever. Now Gabe is known as The Nomad Solopreneur, was a freelancer for nearly 6 years. In 2016, inspired by a new outlook, he started his solo web design business, Digital Finest, becoming a solopreneur.

For over 4 years, Gabe has managed his business while exploring the globe.

He has lived in 10 different countries and visited 26, giving him a unique perspective on remote work, which he believes is the future of work.

Gabe's mission is to help 10,000 freelancers escape the "time-for-money" trap. He shares actionable resources on that through his social media channels and weekly newsletter. In January 2023, he launched ​The Nomad Solopreneur Show​. A podcast where he challenges his guests to find solutions to freelancers' everyday challenges.

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