Friday, January 30, 2015

Ode to a morning commute

PANAMA CITY — She stretched out her arms like an osprey riding an updraft, and I wished I could have taken her photo.

I was topping the rise of the Hathaway Bridge earlier this week when it happened. Driving in the center lane, on my way in to the office on a cold morning. Listening to jazz on WKGC. Thinking about all of the things that needed to be done that day and in the days and weeks to come.

The water of St. Andrew Bay was dark, a bit choppy, but sunlight sparkled on the ripples. On warmer days, my morning crossing coincides with a handful of joggers, walkers and bikers using the bridge’s pedestrian lane. This morning, there was only one.

She was bundled up, with a black jacket and gloves, bicycling up the curve of the bridge. Dark hair whipped in the offshore wind. I spotted her just as she topped the rise — morning sun lighting the water beyond her, she became a silhouette. She sat up straight and raised her arms out to her side slowly, with the grace of a dancer prolonging the movement.

I couldn’t see her face, but I imagined her smiling at the sense of accomplishment, of freedom, of flight. The moment lasted only seconds, but the image remains.

The old Hathaway Bridge couldn’t have supplied that moment. It seemed more often like a barrier than a connector. Its narrow lanes and bottleneck approaches slowed traffic to such an extent that many people avoided crossing it unless absolutely necessary. There really was a “beach” and “town” separation then, based on accessibility, that doesn’t exist any more.

(Today’s “us” and “them” attitudes are based on other things, I think. Although, with construction on the east side flyover looming, that bottleneck is no doubt going to return until the work is done.)

We moved from the town side to the beach side in 2012, and the Hathaway has become part of the day. Depending on assignments, I may cross it multiple times in a day, and it seldom fails to give me an image to ponder.

Steam rising from the power plant to the north, or smoke from a controlled burn. Fishermen approaching as close as they dare to the Navy base. A paddlewheel cruise, or a line of personal watercraft to the south. Para-surfers and water-jet riders off Carl Gray Park.

My favorite memory of the old bridge dates from when my daughter was a toddler. Any time we crossed the Hathaway, she would try to hum along with the sound of our tires on the metal grating at the center of the strand. It never failed to make me smile, hearing that sound issue from the back seat.

My favorite memory (so far) of the new bridge is sighting a bald eagle perched on the southern rail, regarding the passing traffic with a wary eye. I also enjoy seeing the crowds line the span with U.S. flags to welcome the Wounded Warriors motorcade when they visit.

In 2011, I shot video of local musician JoshBrowning singing his original song, “The Hathaway,” at Beck’s Underground, a music venue in town that closed later that same year. Josh sang about leaving his troubles behind on one side of the bridge, and finding everything he loved on the other.

Like topping the rise on a cold morning and drifting into the updraft of a brand new day.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Artist's Touch: Embracing a natural humanity

Heather Clements at work.
What: Solo exhibit by artist Heather Clements (
Where: Amelia Center Main Gallery, Gulf Coast State College, 5230 West U.S. 98, Panama City
When: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday (regular gallery hours) through Feb. 14; Clements will present a lecture 1-2 p.m. Jan. 30; the gallery will have an opening reception 5-7 p.m. Jan. 30
Admission: Free to exhibit and events
Details: or 872-3886

PANAMA CITY — Heather Clements sat at a cafe table in CityArts Cooperative on a recent rainy morning to discuss the illusion of our place in the world and how she tries to express that through her art.

For several years, her focus has been on the intersection between humanity and the greater world — often depicted by melding the human form with trees, flowers and animals.

“The main concept is environmental, the blur between humans and the rest of Nature,” she said. “The idea of ‘Human vs. Nature’ is an inane statement. We are Nature.”

The Visual and Performing Arts Division of Gulf Coast State College is hosting “Human Nature,” an exhibition of Heather’s drawings, Jan. 26 through Feb. 14. The exhibit, including several new pieces never before shown to the public, will be on display in the Amelia Center Main Gallery (room 112) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday (regular gallery hours).

In addition, Heather will present a lecture from 1-2 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Amelia Tapper Center, room 128. An opening reception will be 5-7 p.m. the same day. Admission is free for the exhibit, lecture and reception.

“...Humans are not separate from Nature, but a part of Nature,” Heather said in promotional materials for the show. “I believe in order to have the motivation to innovate for a sustainable future, we not only need to understand the facts, but have a full perspective shift that embraces the awe-inspiring symbiosis we share with the rest of nature. My art explores how beautiful and euphoric it can be to reconnect with our natural world.”

Work by Heather Clements
Originally from northern Virginia, Heather attended art school in Baltimore, Md., graduating cum laude. But she had no idea what to do with her degree — “or my physical body,” she said.

“I didn’t want to go back home,” she said. “I wanted to move forward rather than backward.”

A friend was moving to Panama City, a place Heather said she’d never heard of before, and she joked about moving with her to be by the beach. Heather contacted several galleries in the area, and the owner of The Gallery Above on Harrison Avenue (now the A&M Theatre) offered her a solo show.

Shortly thereafter, he handed the whole gallery over to her. She ran it as a community arts hub from 2007 to mid-2009, with monthly exhibits, themed shows, open mic nights, touring bands, indie films, swing dance lessons, performance art events and much more.

“It has been a place for people to come with an open mind and experience unique and creative things,” Heather told me as the closing loomed that summer, adding that she was proud of the “real creativity and thoughts and emotion and feeling in the art.”

Heather went on to offer drawing classes at the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida, where she also served as the exhibitions manager and graphic designer. In 2010, she became a director at CityArts Cooperative, where her husband, Mat Wyble, now runs Mat’s Good Coffee. The changes in her life have reflected in her work.

“Before college, my art really wasn’t about anything. I was experimenting with light, color, texture. Honing my technical skills,” she said. “In college, I started to stretch and learn conceptually, how to make my art about something.”

But in her last years of college and immediately after, Heather’s art was about Heather.

“I was working through my issues,” she said. “Art would tell me what was going on in my head when I couldn’t figure it out for myself.”

In her time living in Panama City, Heather’s art has gone through definite periods of focus: portraits, octopi, and paper cuts, for example. For her new exhibition, she returned to her “first love” — drawing.

She works from reference photos, and she wants her human models to be completely natural (no makeup and no styled hair). She doesn’t draw them thinner than they are, and she doesn’t remove freckles or wrinkles.

“Ever since I was little, my art focused on the human figure,” she said. “Maybe it’s egotistical of us, to be a human and draw humans, but that’s what’s important to us — ourselves.”

But the most important reason Heather’s work forces viewers to examine their relationship with the natural world:

“There are a lot of things wrong in the world,” she said, “but none of them matter if we don’t have a world to live on.”

Book Review: 'Broken Music' by Sting

Though the pages are numbered/ I can't see where they lead/ For the end is a mystery/ No-one can read/ In the book of my life. 
-Sting, 'The Book of My Life' (Sacred Love)

"The Early Life and Misadventures of Gordon Sumner (Abridged)" would have sufficed for a title, but it would have been far too literal for the author of the engaging autobiography, Broken Music (352 pages; $26 Hardcover).

In this sometimes shocking self-portrait, the post-punk musician and poet known to the world as Sting first meets readers in the rainforests of South America in the 1990s, and takes them along on an hallucinatory semi-religious experience induced by ingesting a native plant — through time and memory — back into the life that molded him into a front man for The Police.

"It is a story very few people know," Sting writes in his introductory notes. "I had no interest in writing a traditional autobiographical recitation of everything that's ever happened to me. Instead I found myself drawn to exploring specific moments, certain people and relationships, and particular events which still resonate powerfully for me as I try to understand the child I was, and the man I became."

Often as eye-opening in its normalcy as it is in the offhand way it deals with what should have been outlandish, the narrative is always engrossing.

Here are unflinching examinations of young Gordon's family members, their hard lives, and the circumstances of his upbringing. In the process, those who know Sting's music and lyrics will find themselves recognizing the origins of his "summoner's tales" — the shipbuilders, the "Saint Agnes," the fortress round his heart.

It's little wonder that, reading Broken Music, I was repeatedly reminded of specific lines and images from Sting's albums — especially The Book of My Life, a track from his 2003 album, Sacred Love.

"Having been a songwriter most of my life, condensing my ideas and emotions into short rhyming couplets and setting them to music, I had never really considered writing a book," Sting writes in the book flap.

The title comes from a remembered moment when young Gordon, searching for an emotional outlet after realizing that his mother is having an affair, bangs on an old piano at his grandmother's house; the woman comes in and asks if he can't play something other than that "broken music."

And so he begins trying to use music to put things back together.

(This review originally appeared in The News Herald on Jan. 30, 2005.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Making time for the arts

Marjory Wentworth
Marjory Wentworth
Who: Poet Laureate of South Carolina
What: Featured presenter at Books Alive 2015
When: Feb. 7; two sessions
Where: Florida State University-Panama City, 4750 Collegiate Drive, Panama City
Cost: Free admission

PANAMA CITY — This may have slipped under your radar in recent weeks, but a longstanding tradition that celebrated the arts was dropped from the governor’s inauguration ceremony in South Carolina on Jan. 14, citing a lack of time.

At least South Carolina has a poet laureate. Florida has had three: Franklin N. Wood, appointed by Gov. John W. Martin in 1929; Vivian Laramore Rader, appointed by Gov. Doyle E. Carlton in 1931; and Dr. Edmund Skellings, appointed by Gov. Robert Graham in 1980. Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation establishing a state poet laureate in June 2014, but the nomination process is still in development.

South Carolina governor Nikki Haley was sworn in for her second term Jan. 14. When the state’s Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth inquired about the traditional reading of a new poem during the ceremony, the governor’s office informed her there was insufficient time in the ceremony schedule for her two-minute poem to be read.

Four years prior, Wentworth read her poem, “The Weight It Takes,” at Haley’s inauguration. It focused on natural images of rivers, rocks and fish, and it called on the new governor to “be the weight that grounds us through swirling hours of each day.”

Wentworth will be a featured author at Books Alive on Feb. 7 at Florida State University-Panama City. She will have two sessions: The News from Poems, and Creating a Sense of Place in Poetry and Fiction (with Mary Alice Monroe). She also will speak to my Education Encore class Feb. 6.

The same day as Haley’s inauguration, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) addressed the House floor and read Wentworth’s poem into the congressional record.

“We’ve seen many instances of arbitrary actions against the powerless by the powerful when words and actions threaten their comfort levels. Such actions should not be,” Clyburn said. “I applaud Ms. Wentworth for her touching words, and I am reading her poem today in hopes that the people of South Carolina, across the country, and peoples around the world are as touched by her words as I have been.”

In the summer of 2014, Wentworth wrote the New York Times, reacting to a report on the controversy surrounding the choice of North Carolina’s poet laureate, who had almost immediately resigned the position. In her letter, Wentworth noted “poetry is flourishing” in South Carolina, “home of the oldest poetry society in the United States.”

But she also notes that some in seats of power have little regard for the arts. During the previous governor’s term, $1,500 was earmarked to cover travel and accommodations for Wentworth to make appearances at schools and literary events around the state; Haley’s office has set aside nothing for her expenses.

In an NPR interview, Wentworth said she thought the new poem was cut from the schedule because she didn’t stick to “safe” topics, instead mentioning a former slave market at Gadsden’s Wharf, and the execution of a 14-year-old black boy convicted of murdering two white girls, who was exonerated 70 years later.

“I really believe that our history is part of what’s holding us back,” Wentworth told NPR. “It’s kind of an unhealed wound. And we’re all in this together. And I know that sounds a little like John Lennon, but I wanted people to think about some of those things.”


Friday, January 16, 2015

Back to school time for adult learners

Jim Barr, coordinator of Education Partnerships at Gulf Coast State College, poses with Barbara and Stan Guterman, who donated $1,000 to the Education Encore Scholarship Fund.

  • When: In-person registration is 8 a.m. Jan. 16; classes are six consecutive Fridays, Jan. 23 through Feb. 27
  • Where: Gulf Coast State College, 5230 U.S. 98, Panama City
  • What: Non-credit enrichment classes for adults
  • Cost: $88
  • Details: Online at; call 872-3823; or email Jim Barr at

PANAMA CITY — With Spring Break on the horizon, it’s time for the winter to start winding down — but that just means Education Encore is about to heat up. The winter session of Gulf Coast State College’s adult education program begins Jan. 23, with in-person registration taking place Friday, Jan. 16.

As I’ve noted in the past, I have had the pleasure — and the challenge — of teaching a writing course for the program, helping students ranging in age from 30 to 80 and ranging in experience from beginner to retired journalist. I have never yet met someone who is as bad a writer as they think they are, but I have met a few who were much better than they ever suspected.

The program, which meets on six consecutive Fridays, offers more than 80 non-credit classes, which are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors will open at 7 a.m., and the fee for Panama City participants is $88, which includes four classes on each of the six Fridays. (Classes offered at the GCSC Port St. Joe campus, at a fee of $66, meet each Wednesday for six weeks.)

For details on the program and to see a list of classes, visit, call   872-3823 or e-mail Jim Barr, coordinator of Education Partnerships, at

“The goal of Education Encore is to provide a learning environment that is fun, lively and offers diversity, insight and wisdom — in which adults explore new ideas,” Jim said in an email to participants. “If you have been to college, this is an opportunity to re-live the college experience. If you have not attended college, this is an opportunity to live the college experience. Just as exercising the body keeps one physically fit, exercising the mind keeps one mentally fit.”

The program’s motto is “No Stress, No Tests, No Grades, Just Fun,” though some classes (like mine) encourage participants to work on projects throughout the week. (All good writing is re-writing, you know.)

Established in 1991, originally designed for retired senior adults, the program and the courses offered have evolved over the years. All ages of adults are welcome, and many of the courses are the result of requests and suggestions from students.

Some of the winter courses offered include bridge, quilting, Digital Image Editing, drawing, Heritage Skills for Modern Times, jewelry, Spanish conversation, Birding for Beginners, civil law, Firearms Safety,  History and Training of Navy Seals, line dancing,  storytelling, Fishing Florida Waters, History of Seminole Tribes, financial planning, Understanding Islam, Zumba, acrylic painting, photography, sign language, gardening, musical theatre history, sea life, interior decorating, journaling, Tai Chi, aquatic exercise, car maintenance, astronomy, fitness, physics, a capella harmony, gourmet cooking, yoga and many more.

In fact, writing has been such a popular subject, this year the program will offer four different classes for students to explore. Sherry Anderson will teach Writing Memoirs and Creative Non-fiction; Pat Sabiston has Journaling: A Powerful Tool to Write a Life Story; Michael Brim offers Fear and Fun of Writing Fiction; and I will be discussing the intersection of Writing and Life.

Maybe I’ll see you there?


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Writer's Jargon: Freelance,Galley,Ghost Writer & Gutter

Writers have their own language. A shorthand, if you will. Outsiders (non-writers) think they know what most of these words and phrases mean. But they don't. Here, in a continuing series of posts, I will divulge the SECRET MEANINGS OF WRITERS' JARGON:

Freelance: (verb) The act of starving to death (or dying from lack of health insurance) while maintaining your own business.

Galley: (noun) Where you sit in your chains and row the boat. Also known as a “proof,” as in, “Here’s proof of your misery.”

Ghost writer: (noun) What you will be when you die of freelancing.

Gutter: (noun) Where they’ll find your body. be continued...

Artist's Touch: When art is life, ‘we are the plan’

Heather Parker
PANAMA CITY — Heather Parker relaxed on a couch Friday in the community gallery she founded last year, nursing an aching knee, and musing on the accomplishments of the year and the life that brought her to this place and time.

Floriopolis, which is referred to as an “arts and culture metropolis” in historic St. Andrews, opened Jan. 18, 2014, at 1125 Beck Ave. Heather and some of the 100-plus artists who have work in the gallery, as well as students, friends and family, will celebrate the anniversary 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday with free art projects for everyone, live music and a wine toast at 4 p.m.

Heather said the past year has been a learning experience. Some plans remain unfulfilled, but many projects reached fruition and paid off in spectacular ways.

“We know what we’re doing now,” she said. “The mission is very solid, the role we’re playing in the community is solid. It didn’t take as long to fine-tune as I thought. ... What has been great is, people cry when they come in — there’s so much self expression. I’m personally still coming to terms with that.”

The gallery’s new exhibit, “Glow,” will be in place through March. Then Floriopolis will host an ongoing project through September called “The Space Between Words,” which will include a short story contest. The winning 2,000-word story will be tattooed on 2,000 people — each receiving one word from the tale.

October through December, the exhibit will be “Life on the Water,” with an eye toward work the public will want for Christmas gift shopping.

“We had great traffic and super sales for the holidays,” Heather said.

'Charlotte,' by Heather Parker
Heather’s favorite medium is acrylic painting on wood. It has required her to learn about absorption rates, how paint will spread or bleed. The wood grain always becomes part of the work, as she finds hidden shapes in the swirls of dark and light.

“I’ve barely painted anything this year, though,” she said. “That’s why I started painting little blocks of wood, something to do first thing in the morning before I’m even really awake yet.”

She “always loved art,” Heather said, but she wasn’t much of a student in her youth, graduating high school only because an administrator liked her. She moved out to live with other students when she was in 10th grade, and paid her portion of rent by selling artwork door to door.

“I only went to art classes and on test days,” she said.

Later, she worked at the education department of a children’s museum in Virginia. But when her work and her daughter Megan’s kindergarten schedules couldn’t be reconciled, Heather quit and began homeschooling. Selling art to make up for the loss of income led to a position at the Suffolk Museum of Art.

“You can use art to teach almost anything,” Heather said.

The family moved to Bay County from Virginia in 2000.

“We had been doing trade shows a couple of years,” Heather said. “We were tired, we ran out of gas, and our trailer was damaged as we crossed the bridge. ... We sold the trailer and stayed.”

Heather has worked for the Junior Museum of Bay County, the YMCA, and the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida. Then she and a fellow artist, Xan Miller, opened the CityArts Cooperative downtown. Heather is still involved there via her connection to the Chautauqua Learn & Serve School, where she is the artist in residence.

“My time at the Coop helped me figure out what I wanted to do as a person to contribute to the world,” she said, adding that the reactions of people who visit Floriopolis are always positive and personally satisfying. “That might be the best thing that happened to them today.”

(Heather will teach art classes at the Panama City Beach Senior Center on Jan. 20, Feb. 17 and March 17.)

Heather’s husband, John, doesn’t like attention, she said, but she credits him with keeping her on track. Not only does he do a lot of the heavy lifting around Floriopolis, as owner of Patriot Tax Solutions he does the books. John’s “a numbers guy,” and each time Heather comes up with another event, project or mission to tackle, John asks her what the plan is.

“I know how far out of his comfort zone I push him,” Heather said, such as when she decided to “bomb” downtown with 500 Styrofoam monkeys, or create a transparent plastic giraffe and photograph it visiting locations all over town.

Okay, he’d say, what’s the plan?

“We are the plan,” she said. “As we do it, the next step will reveal itself.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Station Identification 2015

The net is a big place. Here are most of the places you can find me:

tweet about anything I see that interests me here:

I have a tumblr here that sees irregular use, but I still like it.

And if you want to know about me? See my About Me page.

This bad boy is my Amazon Author page. I sure could use some reviews. If you've read one of my books, please take a moment to give it a star or 5 and a word or two.

Facebook will be getting a lot more attention from me this year, as I plan to launch a sequence of novels, including the first in a series that will be, and has been, my life's obsession.
- Find me at
- Check out my Tales of the Awakening Dead Facebook, which will soon have new info as a new "tale" is published.
- Here's the Facebook page for my slowly developing series The Shadow War.
- And here's the Facebook page for Graphic Knowledge, where we share geek culture.

Although the sites keep changing, you can currently see my columns and random blogs for The News Herald here<< (Some of these are rewritten/repurposed items from this blog, or vice versa.)

My Instagram account is MidnightOnMars also.

I'm on Foursquare, but seldom try to use it since the latest updates require an additional app to do what you used to do on Foursquare.

I still have a MySpace, though I seldom even visit there.

I'm also on Google Plus, but not sure why.

You can check out my self-published stuff in my "author spotlight" page at Lulu. (While you're there, click some review buttons. I'd appreciate it.)

I have a YouTube account as well. There's no telling what you'll find there, as it has been used for News Herald work, home videos, short films and so forth.

This is me at Linked In. I have no idea what use this place is, and I haven't updated it in a while.

I'm probably other places online also, but just can't recall it right now.
If you can recall, please remind me.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Artist's Touch: Stress relief becomes way of life

Don Taylor and work-in-progress.
PANAMA CITY — Touring Don Taylor’s home off State 390 is a lesson in local history and art, as he and his wife, Louisa, recount the house’s former occupants and location while showing their collection of works from across the world.

Art has been in Don’s life since his childhood, growing up in St. Augustine.

“My father went to art school and did metal crafting,” Don said. “He turned down an animation job offer from Disney in 1930. He painted as a hobby and gave the paintings away to friends.”

Reaching his upstairs studio and classroom space, Don held up a work-in-progress showing three cooks busy in a kitchen. He photographed the men through a large plate glass window using a telephoto lens, then combined his favorite poses into a single composition.

“You’ll never get a photograph that’s got everything you want in the right places,” he said. “Don’t try to copy the photograph. Pick what you want out of it and recompose.”

(One of the day-classes he’s teaching at the Panama City Beach Senior Center this month covers sketching designs based on a favorite photo.)

“The thing I really enjoy, probably more than anything else,” Don said, is sketching and painting from real life. He’s filled books with sketches and watercolors of sites he’s visited in his travels, and he said every detail of that day is imprinted in his memory when he does so.

“I can take thousands of photos (on a trip) and six months later I’m hard pressed to tell your where in the world I was,” he said. “But with these (sketches) I become totally absorbed in it. I can tell you everything — where I was, what was going on around me.”

Sample from Taylor's sketchbooks.
Don had never heard of Panama City before he attended veterinarian school at Auburn University. His next-door neighbor had lived here though, and, “I came down and spent Christmas with them here, and when I finished school I moved here in 1972,” he said.

He established a veterinary practice, Gulf Coast Animal Hospital, which he sold 15 years ago to spend more time painting. Now, he only works relief days at the practice. Don is also a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, where he served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Don started painting as a form of stress relief, and found he loved doing it.

“You forget all your problems and worries,” he said. “It’s not like work, it’s something I totally enjoy.”

Don began teaching painting “a number of years ago,” and has a waiting list for new students. He teaches in his upstairs classroom space, as well as local galleries and recreation centers, and far-flung workshops, such as one scheduled at Blue Ridge, Ga., in June.

He began entering shows almost as soon as he started painting fulltime, about 15 years ago, and has won numerous awards and recognitions across the country. Most recently, Don was recognized by the American Artists Professional League for his watercolor painting “Heaven’s Glow.”

“We are extremely proud to recognize some of America’s finest artists, and our award winners’ work epitomizes the quality of art that our organization strives to support,” said Peter Rossi, AAPL president, in remarks at the 86th annual Grand National Exhibition held in November 2014 in New York City.

Don also has served on many art association boards; he is a past president of the Southern Watercolor Society and past member of the Board of Directors at the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida.

“We have a wonderful local group of artists,” he said. “A lot of them have been painting 20 or 30 years, and still have a good time.”

In the artist’s statement on his website,, Don said he hopes his art will evoke the same feelings in the viewer that he experienced when first seeing the subject — “the sense that there is more to the subject than mere rendering. ... I attempt to apply the illusion of detail in many works so that viewers can use their imagination to complete the image. Sometimes less is more.”