Thursday, November 28, 2013

An adventure in mind

Me, shot by Andrew Wardlow
PANAMA CITY BEACH — It was a weird weekend, but that’s why I’m thankful for it.

Friday night, I enjoyed watching “An Adventure inSpace and Time,” the dramatic story of the creation and evolution of the British TV series, “Doctor Who.” That was followed on Saturday afternoon by joining the millions of viewers who tuned into the worldwide simulcast of the Doctor’s 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.”

(For those still in the dark, “Who” premiered on the BBC the night after JFK’s assassination and it has continued in one form or other ever since. I discovered the show in the early 1980s when WSRE in Pensacola ran episodes featuring Tom Baker as the Doctor.)

Kendra Wardlow
Saturday evening, I loaned my sonic screwdriver (the Doctor’s trusty all-purpose instrument) to a friend for a photo shoot focusing on some geek iconography, including “Who” and the late, lamented “Firefly.”

Just before that, I had participated in a photo shoot involving smoke, flames and a face-full of flour tossed with glee from off-camera by people I thought I could trust. In the background, a child ran around wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume.

All in all, a pretty fun way to spend an evening.

But it set me to thinking, as I am prone to attempt, about the connections. Buzz’s catchphrase — “To infinity and beyond!” — would not be out of place on “Doctor Who,” where the adventures break all the rules of time and space in service to a good story, and the Doctor is apt to shout “Geronimo!” before leaping into action.

Buzz, of course, was a hero of the “Toy Story” movies, and what were we doing with the sonic screwdriver and T-shirts sporting sci-fi and comic emblems but playing with toys and wearing costumes? (The subject — as you might recall if you’ve been paying attention recently — of my column that appeared in The News Herald only a day before this photo shoot took place.)

Brady with Sparkler
Projecting my thoughts into the near future using that timey-wimey device called imagination, I realized that one of the things I would be giving thanks for on Thursday was to have days like this one in my metaphorical pocket: Friends gathered around a fire pit, doing something creative and silly, sharing our geekdom in an explosion of flour and smoke.

It was a simple thing on the surface, ephemeral even, but I feel certain I will draw this one out like a holiday ornament in years to come and marvel that it actually occurred; I was there when this happened.

And a final thought that connects along the flimsiest of circumstances: While flicking a borrowed lighter to ignite some sparklers by the pit, I recalled the words of actor John Hurt; in the “Who” anniversary special, he plays an incarnation of the ever-changing Doctor and states that, “Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”

The words were fresh in my brain, and though the lighter sputtered and died in the night breeze, I thought, “My privilege, indeed.”

Happy Thanksgiving.


Friday, November 22, 2013

From cheesy toys and hobbies to cheese hats

Me and Jayson in his office/studio/play room.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — I have seen the arc of my life played out in a couple of encounters this week, from the cheesy toys in my “man cave” to the items in a friend’s home office to the laments of a newly minted Wisconsin resident visiting the beach this winter.

The upstairs bonus room in our house is filled with books, DVDs, graphic novels, records and CDs, as well as the toys of my childhood (and adulthood, such as it is) displayed on shelves and in shadow boxes. You’ll find items from 1960s Major Matt Mason and 1970s G.I. Joe astronaut figures to 1990s Starman and Doctor Strange, with more recent things like River Song’s sonic screwdriver from “Doctor Who,” Dumbledore’s wand from the “Harry Potter” films, and a “Firefly” flask.

It’s where I retreat to write in the late hours. I call it a library, or sometimes my lair. My wife calls it “a mess.”

This week I had the opportunity to gather in Lynn Haven with some friends and participate in the “Wannabe Podcast,” a look at “geek culture” created by graphic artist Jayson Kretzer as part of his Wannabe brand, which includes a web comic and a new series launching in print and digital formats.

Graphic Knowledge's Brady and Robert with Jayson
We talked about the creative work we’re involved in, joked a lot about comics and movies, and played a game in which we named the comic we’d most like to see adapted for television and who would play the main character.

To borrow an in-joke, we were like a group of trees falling together in the forest where only we could hear each other crash.

Jayson’s home office is full of the tools he needs for work, but it also includes comic-related posters, a shelf-size statuette and dozens of tiny figurines of comic book characters. I asked him if his wife, Heather, gives him the same kind of grief mine does for keeping all the “toys.”

The short answer was “not really,” though she did insist the statuette didn’t fit with the living room décor when he first brought it home.

The next morning, I visited the Ark in Panama City Beach, just at the right time to catch a handful of men (and one woman) having coffee and getting back to their woodwork projects. They weren’t really making toys, but they were clearly at play.

Buddy Dalluge showed me some of his creations, and he joked about having recently moved to Wisconsin from his native Minnesota at the behest of his wife.

“She expects me to wear a cheese hat,” he said with a mock look of disbelief.

I assured him that was deeply unfair. At least she still lets him share his toys with his friends.

We might grow older, but there’s no reason that has to equate with growing bored or losing our sense of play.

(My Undercurrents column for and The News Herald for Nov. 22.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Something Like a Dream I Had...

PANAMA CITY — The stage goes dark and a spotlight picks out the lone figure bending under the weight of her despair. She begins, quietly at first but with growing intensity, to sing about a dream of a life worth living.

Susan Boyle famously leaped from obscurity to international renown in 2009 for her rendition of the song “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables.” It’s a song of desolation and hopelessness, sung as the character Fantine loses her job and drifts into prostitution, illness and death.

In the Gulf Coast State College production of the musical, opening Friday to a sold-out theater, the role and the song is performed by GCSC student Leeah Taunton.

“Fantine is a tragic character,” Taunton said. “She’s iconic for the women in poverty back then and the things they had to go through. She dreams of a life that she has always wanted and longed for, but unfortunately she doesn’t get that.”

As Clinton McCormick explains, that’s because people couldn’t change their stations in life in the days before the French Revolution. McCormick, as Jean Valjean, stands taller than just about anyone else on the stage — and it’s a suitable visual metaphor.

“Jean Valjean is the ultimate underdog,” McCormick said. “He got sent to prison just for stealing food to feed his family. … He’s given this chance by God to make something better out of himself. Back in this time period, this never happened. If you were poor, you stayed poor.”

McCormick said playing Valjean was the chance of a lifetime because he’s a symbol of hope and endurance, the struggle to make a better world one soul at a time: “It shows the goodness a man has in his heart. You hope to be this man in your own personal life. It inspires me to be a better person.”

(Which makes his struggle also, if you consider it, a fitting metaphor for the community college experience as well.)

Valjean’s nemesis is the police officer Javert, whom we first meet as the overseer of a group of convicts. Javert gives Valjean his parole papers and sends him off into the world, warning Valjean that he will always be a criminal in the eyes of the law and society.

“He’s often villainized, but he’s not a bad guy,” said Stephen DeVillers, who portrays Javert. “He is a good guy, he’s just strict to the letter of the law.”

DeVillers has played the lead in a number of productions at Gulf Coast, but he said “Les Mis” is like no other show he’s done: “It’s the biggest show we’ll ever see, probably, here — probably the biggest show I’ll ever do. It’s just been awesome doing this show.”

Taunton echoed his experience, saying her favorite thing about the production is the complexity and challenge: “It’s the most difficult show I’ve ever been in. The challenge every day — it’s very rewarding.”

Not everyone lives the dream they dreamed. Not all can change their station. But that doesn’t make the challenge less rewarding. It’s the journey, after all, and not the destination.


(My Undercurrents column this week for and The News Herald.)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Finding Redemption Through Art

Holly Scoggins' 'Light From Its Load, The Spirit Flies'
PANAMA CITY — Redemption is more than just a counter where you turn over your collection of tickets from the arcade games in exchange for cheap plastic trinkets.

Or at least, it should be.

The Visual & Performing Arts Division of Gulf Coast State College will allow visitors to explore artists’ interpretations of “Redemption” through the remainder of the semester. An art exhibit on this subject opens next Friday, Nov. 15, in conjunction with the premiere of the college’s stage production of “Les Miserables.”

Victor Hugo, writing about his novel on which the musical is based, said “Les Misérables” is about “a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life; from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God.”

He continues: “The starting point: matter; destination: the soul. The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end.”

(Which is, in my opinion, just as good a description of the artist’s visceral drive to create art as it is of one’s attempt to redeem one’s soul.)

Throughout the story, characters struggle with their perceptions of themselves and the most extreme of circumstances, and they pray to be redeemed from the lives and choices they have made for themselves and those closest to them.

“Redemption” will feature work by seven artists from across the United States who have, according to promotional materials, “contemplated the idea of redemption through painting with results as diverse as the people who made them.” Participating artists are Dina Brodsky, Gary Chapman, Megan Ewert, Richard Heipp, Logan Marconi, Kymia Nawabi and Holly Scoggins.

“While some address redemption in its most literal, theological meaning, others take a broader approach and focus on the idea of a journey, transformation, or self-actualization and self-perception,” according to a description of the show prepared by GCSC.

The exhibit will open with a reception, free and open to the public, from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 15. The work will be on display in the Amelia Center Main Gallery (Room 112) until Dec. 5. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and admission is free. For more details, email professor and ceramics artist Pavel Amromin at

In some views, redemption must be earned through self-sacrifice. Others see it as a gift freely given to those who truly seek it — redeemed by grace, not works, as the Good Book says.

However, these particular works promise a wealth of redeeming value. Give them a look, and let me know if they transport you to a better place.



Friday, November 01, 2013

Zombie Interview

My friend and fellow author, Mark Boss, interviewed me this week about "Tales of the Awakening Dead," my new collection of zombie short stories (which is currently FREE on Kindle). >>He just posted the interview at his website<<

Thanks, Mark!