Monday, May 27, 2013

Tom Shillue's "Halfway There"

Sure, “Halfway There” refers to the fact that Tom Shillue is six months into his year-long promise of one new project a month, but it also speaks of who Shillue is as a person. As he reveals pretty early on (and in past installments of the “12 in 12” series), he’s always thought of himself as a cool guy and wants other people to share the same sentiment. Who doesn’t want that? He usually ends up getting the attention he craves, but what Shillue thought would win him the Joe Cool rep only provided others with ammunition to see him as a dork. I can relate. Wearing skinny leather ties to high school one day and Weird Al-style Hawaiian shirts the next certainly didn’t win me any cool points as a teenager and dressing like a hip Christopher Robin didn’t do it for Shillue. When he relates the story of his failed plea for votes while running for class president (an announcement over the high school PA system complete with backup singers) I was immediately reminded of my own failed attempt in a lip synch contest, complete with backup singers who also had puppets. Our high school personas both possessed a self-confidence that, even when things didn’t work out as planned, would not be deterred. I think we were both self-aware enough to know when our schemes didn’t work, but not because our ideas weren’t cool. The audience just didn’t get it.

That was high school and hindsight is 20/20. Shillue now knows that people in high school - himself included - are just stupid. There’s no grasp of the big picture and the only world that matters is the one within a 5-foot radius of ourselves. To further prove how much of a dork Shillue now admits he was, he reads from a diary he kept as a teen. I never kept a diary but if I did, I don’t know if I would now be brave enough to read from it in a public forum. I lived in my head, I know how much of a pretentious idiot I was. Shillue, on the other hand, says what the hell, and I’m glad he did. 

High School Shillue pines for romance, an attribute that’s held over into his adult life, and hearing him recite what I’m sure he thought at the time he wrote it was nothing short of poetic beauty is a real treat. He proudly states his intentional decision to “non-conform” to anything and he sidetracks himself as his self-analyzing turns into a rant on why he loves being a liberal. As an adult, the charm of Shillue’s storytelling is the way he digresses, humorously skipping from one bunny trail to the next, and it’s quite revealing to see that’s always been part of his writing process. It’s an aspect I’m glad he hasn’t left behind.

Shillue is a master at conjuring up the spirit of what it is to be young and his attention to detail (Marathon bars! The tragedy of getting a “flat tire” in the school hall. Riding in the rear window of a car) is just as strong as a scent that takes you back to a precise moment of your youth. It’s because of his knack for transporting you back in time that Shillue’s tales consistently work so well.

Halfway there. Already? Time flies when you’re having fun, re-living both your past and the past of a comedian you don’t know. Here’s to the rest of the journey. I know it’ll be a good one.

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