You remember inertia, right? Inertia is that property whereby an object at rest stays at rest. In real-world terms, a person who changes into sweatpants at the end of the day stays in sweatpants at the end of the day. Inertia is the thing that stops you from going out and interacting with real live human beings who aren’t related to you.
I’m as inert as the next guy. (In fact, in high school, I’m pretty sure that’s what they were calling me when they yelled out, “Murray is such inert!”) Normally, it would take me a lot to go to a community supper, and if I hadn’t been involved in this one as an emcee, I don’t know what force of physics would have compelled me to go. Which is too bad.
Bulwer is a tiny, tiny village about an hour’s drive from where I live. It used to be called William’s Corner but in 1840 or so, the villagers received a visit by train from the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, and so impressed were the Williams’ Cornerites that they changed the name of their village in his honour.
But Bulwer-Lytton is not famous merely for his locomotive layovers. He’s also the man who wrote what is considered to be the worst opening line in all of literature:
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
Poor Lord Bulwer-Lytton. It’s tough writing a good opening line because so many things can go wrong. For instance, Vladimir Nabokov began Lolita with “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins,” but what if he had written, “Lolita, light of my life, fire up the barbecue.”
Or if Herman Melville had opened Moby Dick with “Call me Ishmael Rabinowitz.”
Or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was Thursday.”
Thankfully, the goal of the Bulwer Purple Prose Contest was not to write a great opening line but a truly terrible one. And we got some doozies. (“Hey, baby, how about you and me have a locomotive layover?” Oh wait, not that kind of opening line.) Head on over to the site to read a few.
I had a ball emceeing the event and looked positively Lincolnesque in my top hat. (Lincoln’s so hot right now!) What I came away with, though, is the value of community suppers for, well, communities and the need to bust that sense of inertia. That’s the subject of my radio piece this week, which you can listen to below or over at CBC “Breakaway,” where it first aired April 9, 2013.