2011 in Review: Mr. T, Steve Urkel, and Me!

Just got my end-of-year stats report from WordPress. Here’s the part I found most interesting:

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding: Add Mr. T and Steve Urkel to any blog post, and you’re bound to get more hits. And try adding my name, too! What’s the worst that could happen?

Click here to see the complete report.

Talkin’ Billtown Blue Lit with April Line

Dateline: Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a.k.a. “Billtown.” Writer April Line has embarked on a mission to raise the profile of literature with Billtown Blue Lit. I recently caught up with April to talk about her progress with getting a reading series off the ground–and her dream of starting a writers’ retreat, scholarship fund, and online literary journal under the Billtown Blue Lit banner.

What is the project?

The project is Billtown Blue Lit.  We are an organization whose primary mission is to increase visibility and publicity for Literature.  In so doing, we will also promote local business, and foster writers.

What inspired this project?

My chronic desire to make my life look like it did when I was in college, where I read literary fiction all the time, got to go hear good writers read, and wrote.  Now that I’m a grown up, I also want to write about books, to give a bigger voice, and more venues to good fiction.

I was looking around this great town I’m lucky to have landed in, and all of its visual art, music, theater, and community activism, and I thought, “I want to contribute!”  I’m a writer and editor, and I have some contacts in the literary world, so the idea for a reading series was pretty organic.

 Are there others like it that you can compare it to?

There are all kinds of things that are sort of like this.  I’ve borrowed bits of other organizations I know about, like Tin House’s writers’ retreat, and Attic Institute, and Light House Writers Workshop.  And SCSU, my alma mater, hosts a reading series.  I’ll emulate that for the events. These organizations aspire to foster writers.  The biggest difference between these and Billtown Blue Lit is that Blue Lit wants to work toward a bigger readership for the fostered writers.

 How does your location play into the project?

I talk a little bit about how awesome Williamsport is over at the Start Some Good Project.  This town is unlike any other place I’ve lived in that it has the small town, blue-collar sensibility with which I grew up, but it also has this incredible and diverse cultural presence.  We still have a locally owned book shop.  We have no fewer than three visual-arts centered businesses downtown. We have The Pajama Factory. We have all kinds of musical oraganizations, like the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, the Williamsport Civic Chorus, the Uptown Music Collective.  We have two theaters: The Community Theater League, and The Community Arts Center.  Grey Gallery has started a spoken word/open mic night for poetry, and I want to bring great fiction writers.

Because of the general excellence of Williamsport (and North Central PA generally), one of the guiding principles for the Blue Lit project will be that we interface with regional business as exclusively as possible.  I want to form partnerships with regional businesses and organizations that do good in the community, and that make Williamsport what it is: a thriving, small town with an identity.  Sure, we have big box retailers and chain restaurants, but we are still distinct.  I want to preserve that distinctness.

 What are your long term goals?

A writers’ retreat, like Tin House’s. A scholarship fund for deserving young writers who are children of single moms.  An online literary journal.  Building a community of voices through the blog: readers, writers, authors, publishing industry professionals.  These are just a few.  I hope more people will join Billtown Blue Lit and have other ideas and energy for realizing them.

Your short term goals?

We’re trying to raise money so that we can host two bigger, well-marketed events.  I want the authors who come to read to get paid.  It’ll cost about $2500 to host a single event, not counting marketing so we’re trying to raise that for one event, plus marketing, plus some money to make the rewards for our donors (T-shirts, MP3s, DVDs, and books), and buy time so that we can write some grants and forage partnerships with other businesses and organizations.

Some of the businesses that are already on board and supporting us are the JV Brown Library, Otto Book Store, Wilcox Development Solutions, Gustonian Gifts, and Grey Art Gallery.

If we get funded, we will become a 501(c)3 by the end of 2012.

What events do you have planned for the coming year?

Just today I confirmed the venue for the pilot event.  Peter Damian Bellis will read from his newest project on January 20 or 21 in the evening at Grey Gallery.  The success of the fund raising campaign will dictate whether we can host additional events.  But Tim Parrish has agreed to read at some future, unnamed point, and you have, too, Marc, and I have some other authors in mind.

What challenges have you faced so far?

This is a huge project, and it’s spreading me pretty thin.  My main challenge has been making the time to get everything done.  So far, it’s rocking and rolling.  It’s also challenging to find folks who will volunteer their time to help, folks who are passionate about the project and its cause.

What have you learned?

That people and businesses in Williamsport, strangers who’ve come on board, and my personal friends are even more enthusiastic and supportive than I thought they would be (and I had a pretty high estimation of their enthusiasm).  I have also learned that asking people for donations of time, money, and resources for a nonprofit venture is a TON easier emotionally, and with a much, much higher success rate than selling things, which is what I spent about four years doing.  I stopped a bit under a year ago, but that skill set and ability to differentiate my self from my cause (or product) is massively helpful.

 How can people get involved or contribute?

Visit www.billtownbluelit.wordpress.com, or go to the StartSomeGood campaign.  If they have ideas or have written books and would like to come read, or if they want to contribute to the blog, or if they are interested in a marketing internship, they can also email me at AprilLineWriting@gmail.com

The Love Song of Jemaine Alfred Prufrock – or, For Want of a Wing Man

Anyone who’s read Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” knows that it’s a poem about a hopelessly awkward guy at a party who’s thinking about asking a girl on a date — or at least to meet him for coffee sometime. Sure, Prufrock imagines it as “tea and cakes and ices,” but, for all practical purposes, it serves the same point as coffee. And, of course, as Eddie Izzard says, if you can get someone to agree to coffee, then “sex is on — that’s the unwritten rule”:

The only problem for Prufrock is that he can’t quite make it past the speculation phase of the relationship. Instead, he just keeps staring at the (latest) woman of his dreams and imagining all of the clever pickup lines he might use to get her attention.

To start, Prufrock digs deep and comes up with a real humdinger: “Let us go then, you and I,/When the evening is spread out against the sky.” And, okay, it’s a little over the top, but it beats the hell out of something lame like, “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven? Because you must be an angel.” But then Prufrock blows the whole game with line three of the poem: “Like a patient etherized on a table.” Of course, he hasn’t actually said this yet — it’s all still a matter of speculation, he’s still working out the details, and, as he himself puts it, there’s still plenty of time for “a hundred visions and revisions” — but it’s hard to imagine anyone but a borderline necrophiliac getting turned on by the thought of the evening spread out against the sky like a patient etherized on a table.

Which isn’t to say that Prufrock still can’t get the girl. Loads of guys screw up the first line when they’re trying to meet women. If I remember correctly, that’s half the fun of the whole endeavor. Consider, for example, Jemaine Clement’s imagined overture to a beautiful woman in the first episode of Flight of the Conchords:

As with Prufrock, Jemaine’s best lines — e.g., “When you’re on the street/Depending on the street/I’ll bet you are definitely in the top three/Good lookin’ girls on the street” — are more likely to send the woman running for the hills than to charm her, and a subsequent encounter with the same woman doesn’t put him on any better footing:

Yet even if Jemaine’s pickup lines are completely hopeless, he does what Prufrock can never bring himself to do, which is to go down swinging. Where Prufrock paints himself into a corner with his obsessive “indecisions,” Jemaine gets in the game and goes for the girl.* One reason he can do this is that he lacks the crippling degree of circumspection that locks Prufrock in a debilitating state of paralysis. (Actually, he probably lacks any circumspection at all.) But the bigger reason, I would argue, is that Jemaine has a wing man in his good friend and band mate Bret Mackenzie.

Throughout the videos for both “Part Time Model” and “Business Time,” Brett shows up at key moments — either to join in the chorus of the songs or to play a few licks on his guitar — and it’s his presence that gives Jemaine the extra push he needs to bust a move. Indeed, the fact that the entire series is, in many ways, a paean to the finer points of wingmannery is underscored by its penultimate episode, “Wingmen,” in which Jemaine attempts, with questionable results, to help Bret meet a woman. Once again, the point isn’t whether or not Bret gets the girl. It’s that he tries. And it’s his wing man who gives him the confidence to do it.

The trouble with Prufrock, of course, is that he doesn’t have a wing man. That is, he doesn’t have someone to say, “Hey! That line about the patient etherized on a table? That is so totally awesome! You gotta do it, man! You gotta use that!” And that is exactly what a wing man is supposed to do — no matter how bad the pickup line, the wing man needs to say it’s awesome. Because the wing man knows that all pickup lines are crap, but also that that’s how the game works: You dig yourself into a hole with the bad pickup line, then you spend the rest of the night trying to dig your way out. If you’re witty, charming, self-effacing, and/or funny, you might actually get somewhere. If you lack any of these qualities, then you might not. But the one thing a wing man knows is that you definitely won’t get anywhere if you don’t try.

Beyond demonstrating the value of a good wing man, all of this also helps to explain why TS Eliot and Groucho Marx became pen pals. Though it’s generally not a good idea to conflate poets and their poems, in the case of “Prufrock,” it’s hard not to, especially since Eliot slips so easily into the obsessive voice of his narrator.** And if we accept this conflation, we can see why Eliot might have been so drawn to Marx. Marx, like Jemaine Clement, knew how to talk to the ladies:

Although Eliot was happily married to his second wife by the time he and Marx started corresponding, chances are good that Prufrock was still foundering in his efforts at wooing the opposite sex. What’s more, given the rumor that Eliot was working on a sequel to “Prufrock” at the time of his death (allegedly titled “Prufrock Goes and Gets Some”), we can be fairly certain that the Marx-Eliot partnership would have born spectacular fruit had Eliot survived.*** As it stands, however, we are left with the image of Prufrock lacking a wing man and lingering “in the chambers of the sea/ By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown /Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”

* Actually, he probably doesn’t. Most of the musical interludes on Flight of the Conchords are framed in a way that renders them fantasy sequences rather than part of the events unfolding in the show’s reality. But just work with me on this one.

** Just like I slip so easily into the voice of a drug-addled divorced mother of two in The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl, thus proving my point.

*** Note to high school English teachers: You have to admit that it would be hilarious if your students plagiarized this information without bothering to check the footnote.