Friday, February 27, 2015

In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy

Like so many others today, I am saddened by the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the actor best known for his portrayal of Spock in the classic television series Star Trek.

A friend of mine (who is the age of my son) asked which original series episodes would be best for Spock-watching this weekend, and I told him that just about any episode that was good for Spock was good for the whole series. However, these are the ones that immediately came to mind:

• In a Season 1 episode, The Naked Time, Spock is infected by the same germ that has affected the rest of the crew and begins to lose his inhibitions, releasing the emotions he has pent up throughout his life. He breaks down and cries, confessing to Kirk how he never even told his mother (a human woman living on a world where emotions were considered “bad taste”) how much he loved her — our first real glimpse behind his Vulcan facade.

• Later in the season, Galileo Seven gives us a “lifeboat episode,” with a small number of crew under Spock’s command trying to repair their crashed shuttle while under attack from giants on an uncharted, inhospitable planet. The crew soon turns on Spock, whose lack of emotional reaction to the stresses makes him a target of their fear and anger. However, it is Spock’s “hail Mary” at the end that saves them all.

• Another outstanding first-season episode, This Side of Paradise, again allows Spock a chance to lose his self-control, this time under the influence of alien spores. The hour gives Nimoy a chance to embrace his most naturalistic acting of the entire series as we see the first officer experiencing true bliss and true love, finally able to express himself freely. He then puts the mask back on, his “self-imposed purgatory” as he calls it, to help Kirk save his ship and crew.

Amok Time kicked off the second year with Spock going into his mating season, which required him to return home or die trying. His visible struggle to maintain dignity, his sadness when he believes he has killed his captain, and the brilliant smile that escapes from under his mask when the truth is revealed — these are truly great moments by Nimoy that made Spock so much more real to fans.

Other good Spock moments can be found in Journey to Babel, which introduces Spock’s mother and father; The Devil in the Dark, in which Spock mind-melds with a dangerous blob creature and experiences its physical and emotional pain; The City on the Edge of Forever, in which Spock is tasked with building a computer using “stone knives and bearskins” while Kirk falls into a doomed love; Mirror, Mirror, which shows us that even the Spock of a parallel “evil” timeline is subject to the demands of logic; Specter of the Gun, which finds Spock melding with the crew to save them from death in a manufactured OK Corral scenario; and All Our Yesterdays, which has Spock cast back in time on a frozen world and falling in love with Mariette Hartley, who is wearing little more than a stone knife and bearskins.

"I Reach."
I even have fondness for the two most-ridiculed episodes of the series because of their very fine Nimoy moments, which have to be seen to be believed. The Enterprise intercepts a bevy of space-hippies in The Way to Eden, and we learn how Spock “reaches”; he is not Herbert. And the Season 3 premiere, Spock’s Brain, which finds Kirk and Co. tracking Spock’s stolen brain across the galaxy with a remote-controlled Spock body along for the ride.

Nimoy, of course, was much more than Spock. To fans of his work, he was a photographer, poet, playwright, author, producer, director — and even singer. (Look up The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins for a lark.) He was a social philosopher, truly embracing the concepts of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations that surfaced on Star Trek.

And as such, he was, and always shall be, our friend.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Artist's Touch: Breathing Life into Feats of Clay

Meghan Sullivan at Floriopolis
PANAMA CITY — Meghan Sullivan says she has to stay in motion. A sculptor and potter, she works in terra cotta, making tiles, plates and figures. She also teaches drawing at Gulf Coast State College and the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida.

“I really like the tactility of making things,” she said during a conversation at the Floriopolis gallery in St. Andrews. “I don’t think I could sit in an office all day long and be happy.”

This year’s artist-in-residence at GCSC, Meghan grew up in Boston, the youngest of six children.

“My parents always had art around us,” she said, adding that her father worked for the city Arts Council. “We had these handmade plates, and we would fight over who got which one, because siblings fight about everything.”

Girl and Frog tile by Sullivan
Her older sister attended a free after-school arts program while in high school, and when Meghan was old enough, she joined the program because “I wanted to be like her.” She spent the four years of high school receiving six hours of art classes each week.

Meghan attended the Massachusetts College of Art, which was across an alley from her high school. It was affordable, and she could live at home. In her freshman year, she took a pottery class that changed her life.

“It was the most challenging class I had taken up to then, and I was compelled by it,” she said, and by graduation, she was creating ceramic figures.
She took a job working 40 hours a week throwing plates, bowls and cups, then got a residency just outside the city, teaching and doing figurative sculptures. She applied to the University of Florida and was accepted as a post-baccalaureate student.

“It was my first time away from Boston,” she said. “It was very hot, and the first time a lizard came into my house I freaked out. But I really liked living in Florida.”

Meghan eventually got into grad school in Nebraska, earned her master’s degree, and joined the AmeriCorps to pay off some of her massive student debt. In that capacity, she worked with elementary schools in blighted neighborhoods, building community gardens with children and organizing big awareness campaigns and events.

She also did creative projects and volunteered as a bike mechanic at a co-op. Finally, she was offered a job with the city. “But I knew if I stayed there another year, I would end up living in Lincoln, Neb., for my entire life,” she said. “I really missed ceramics, and I was teaching but I wasn’t teaching art.”

Conversation by Sullivan
That’s when she learned about GCSC’s Artist in Residence program. She arrived in Panama City in time for the 2014 spring semester, and was invited to remain through the 2015 school year. She was already familiar with Tammy Marinuzzi and Pavel G. Amromin, assistant professors in the college’s Visual and Performing Arts Department, who were also in Gainesville when Meghan was a student there.

“We shared a car ride once,” she said. “I knew how they drove, but I didn’t know them that well. But I’m a figurative artist, they’re figurative artists, so we kind of feed off of each other.”
A solo show of her work will open at GCSC Feb. 27 and be on display through March. Meghan’s artwork is shaped by her personal experiences, according to a statement on her website ( — specifically, being part of a large family and growing up in an urban environment. She calls herself “a storyteller,” for whom the journey is as important as the destination.

“While my background has influenced the tone and content, it is not straightforward autobiography,” she said. “One specific instance in a larger experience is used and extrapolated from in order to create the final composition. ... While the conclusion may not be clear, the meaning of my work is found in the pondering of it.”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sampling singers at the Ghetto Palace

Sarah Moranville
SPRINGFIELD — It was a standing-room-only night at The Ghetto Palace, a venue opened by owners Crook and Victoria Stewart to support the area’s musicians and singers.

The crowd hovered in half of the converted church’s open area, sipping their favorite beverages. The stage took up the other side of the room, with guitars at the ready, mic stands, amps, stools, a full drum kit and other esoteric devices. Crook Stewart adjusted levels with a touch-screen tablet.

A sign-up sheet at the front door was full. Musicians got to play and sing two songs, tell a little about themselves and where else you could go to listen to them perform, then scoot out of the way for the next performer.

In between sets, Crook Stewart would remind patrons that the purpose of the show was to get out the word that “Music Matters,” that these performers were playing all over the county, and that we should go out to their venues to hear more and show our support.

It was all free, from entry to refreshments, and it was all for the sake of the musicians. In an hour’s time on Tuesday night, I heard covers of a Beatles song, an Elton John hit, and a Leonard Cohen standard, at least three original songs, two electric guitar solos by an 11-year-old, a rendition of “Stormy Weather,” and more. All genres, styles and levels of accomplishment were welcome, and the crowd was eager to applaud.

People swayed, tapped their feet, bobbed their heads. A few couples grabbed some floor space to dance. And everywhere I turned, I saw familiar faces — Scott Clemons, Pam Wiggins, John Russo, Bryan Taylor, Lauren DeGeorge, and more.

Crook Stewart, who has been a road manager for major musical acts including the Rolling Stones and Crosby, Stills and Nash, is a big supporter of local musicians. He promoted the downtown music scene, saying he hopes to see Panama City become known as “Music City F-L-A.” These open mic nights at his Ghetto Palace are one way he models how the rest of the community can get behind the music too.
The goal, Stewart said, is to offer an eclectic array of music at downtown shops and restaurants that would bring in more paying customers and revitalize the scene. Musicians play at no expense to the businesses, which would attract patrons, and in return musicians could collect tips, sell CDs, and build an audience for their music.

If it’s any indication of how badly people really want to hear live music: The street shoulders and parking lots for a block around the Ghetto Palace were packed with vehicles Tuesday.

“We had a feeling that it would be a good night, but even I was surprised when I stepped out to open doors and there was a line down the street,” Stewart said in a Facebook post. “We had some really great musical talent on stage, and we went past midnight to get everyone up to play. We had almost five hours of non-stop music.”


The Ghetto Palace
What: A gathering place to hang out and listen to or jam with musicians and singers
Where: 3128 E. Fifth St., Springfield
When: Check the Ghetto Palace Facebook page for open evenings
Who: Crook Stewart III and Victoria Ciccarelli Stewart
Details: (850) 481-0170 or email

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Books Alive 2015 Photo Blog 3

Finally, the big event itself.
Bill Curry speaks at the luncheon

Magic Time authors gathered for "family" photo

Olivia deBelle Byrd (Cooley) & her 11th grade English teacher

Mark Boss, Carole Lapensohn and me

Marjory Wentworth reads from one of her books

Michael Morris, left, and Olivia at right

Susan Boyer signs for a fan

Marjory greets a reader

Mary, Tony and Marjory

New friends saying goodbye.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Books Alive 2015 Photo Blog 2

Wentworth with my class
Friday, I had the pleasure of having Marjory Wentworth, the poet laureate of South Carolina, join me for the day. She led my class at Education Encore in an exercise that inspired me to write a new short story.

The prompt: Describe a building from the point of view of a person who has lost a child in a war. Do not mention the child, or the war.

Second prompt: Describe the same building from the point of view of a happy lover. Do not mention the loved one.

Then we went to the St. Andrew Bay Yacht Club for a luncheon where Mary Alice Monroe spoke, and we shared a table with Kathie Bennett and Patricia Moore-Pastides. They all made a fuss over my new book launching that weekend.

Moore-Pastides, Wentworth, Simmons & Monroe

Mary Alice Monroe

Bill Husfelt with Carolyn and Bill Curry

Mary Alice beams as Marjory checks out Patricia's locket

Then, in the evening, the volunteers and staff gathered with the featured authors for a party to get acquainted at the home of Frank Walker in Panama City Beach. It was a great day.
Janice Lucas, Marty Sirmons, Carole Lapensohn & Ruth Corley

Mike and Jan Waddy

Me with Bettina Mead

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Books Alive 2015 Photo Blog: 1

Our first visitor for Books Alive 2015 was Kwame Alexander, who had just the same week won the Newbery Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Children's Literature. He gave a free talk at the Bay County Public Library. Here are photos from the evening, along with my article advancing his appearance, as it appeared at and in The News Herald:

Alexander greets a fan at the library
 PANAMA CITY — Fresh off winning the Newbery Medal for outstanding contribution to children’s literature, poet and author Kwame Alexander will speak at a free event hosted by the Bay County Public Library.

“I am so excited and elated,” said Sandra Pierce, head of Youth Services for the library. “We are so blessed to have an author of his caliber visiting our library and our schools.”

Alexander, whose novel-in-verse “The Crossover” was named a Newbery winner Monday, will visit with Hiland Park Elementary School third-graders and Bay High School freshmen Thursday morning. That afternoon, he will address a group of students from the After-School Assistance Program and Girls Inc.

“Generally I like to inspire kids to read and write,” Alexander said by phone Tuesday. “I use poetry to do that. We are immersed in poetry, and often kids will leave saying, ‘I had no idea this was poetry.’ ”

Kathie Bennett & Marjory Wentworth
Alexander will then speak at the Bay County Public Library, 898 W. 11th St. in Panama City, at 7 p.m. Thursday. The event is free and open to the public. The BHS jazz band, Bay Blast, will play music during the event, and BHS cadets will act as door greeters and ushers. Representatives from the Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta sororities will provide refreshments.

“This is an excellent opportunity to see a children’s author in our community share his knowledge and some poetry,” Pierce said. She also called “The Crossover” a powerful book. “It reads with such rhythm. It’s about the family life and relationships of two teenage boys, it’s about character building.”

In the book, 12-year-old narrator Josh Bell uses the rhythms of a poetry jam to emulate the “moving and grooving/popping and rocking” of life on the basketball court with his twin brother, J.B.
“I wanted to write a book boys would pick up,” Alexander said, noting evidence boys are hesitant to spend time reading rather than in physical activities. “They want books that are exciting to them, so I framed it in things boys are interested in. It’s about friendship, family and love, couched in terms of basketball.”

Pierce speaks to BHS band
Alexander addresses the audience at the library.

 The founder of two literacy organizations — Book-in-a-Day and LEAP for Ghana — Alexander conducts writing and publishing workshops at schools and conferences throughout the nation. He has owned publishing companies and has written for the stage and television (including TLC’s “Hip Hop Harry”). He recorded a CD, performed around the world, produced jazz and book festivals, hosted a radio show, worked for the U.S. government and taught high school. He will serve as the Bank Street College of Education's first writer-in-residence this year.

“I just finished a novel about a boy who loves soccer but hates books,” he said of his next project. “It’s inspired by boys I met on this book tour. I wanted to explore that transformation.”

Alexander is the author of 18 books, including “The Crossover,” which received its honor from the American Library Association on Monday. It also was chosen as a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and was called “a beautifully measured novel” by The New York Times.

“You can’t get better than that,” Pierce said of the honors the book received. “I was so excited I couldn’t catch my breath.”

The Newbery Medal was named for the 18th-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the year’s most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Alexander’s visit is part of the library’s annual BooksAlive festival, which brings nationally-known authors to Panama City for free workshops and speaking sessions. The main event will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Florida State University Panama City. For details, visit