On the Rebound ~ celebrating Spoleto’s prolonged shelf life (and a return from blog hiatus)


I wonder what Webb Woodrow from 706 Greene Avenue in Brooklyn is up to these days?

I wonder if he has any idea he’s part of one of the best art exhibits I’ve ever seen in Charleston, at Spoleto USA, or anywhere, for that matter? If he’s got a clue that his minuscule name and address info buried in the yellowed white pages entry (on same page as Weidman, Berta –  from 1150 Brighton Beach Ave, phone # 332-6799) from a discarded decades-old phone book (remember those?) is now part of a Buddha head? Meditate on that reincarnation, will ya?

Actually the whole mesmerizing REBOUND exhibit is meditation worthy, in my book. And in the hundreds of books, magazines, catalogues and printed bound materials that have been sculpted, sawed, dissected, meted out, meshed together, stacked, whacked, carved, glued, nailed, and gorgeously, evocatively, masterfully transformed into landscapes, busts, topo maps of language and image. This exhibit is a page turner in the most artistic sense, as the Halsey Institute and curator Karen Ann Meyers have brought together five contemporary mixed-media artists who re-envision and explore the meaning and value of books as cultural objects in the Halsey’s 2013 Spoleto exhibit. And even though Spoleto itself wrapped up weeks ago, REBOUND has an extended festival shelf life — on display through this Saturday, so hurry!



Though I didn’t make it to much else of Spoleto this year, I’ve been to this show twice now and have been blown away each time. I’m not the only one. At the one other official Spoleto event I went to, Compagnie Kafig’s kick-ass dance performance, I sat beside a discerning couple from Baltimore who have been coming to the Festival faithfully for 10 years — planning their trip months in advance and buying their desired tickets as soon as they go on sale. “But yesterday I saw the best thing I’ve ever seen at Spoleto, and it was free,” she told me. I guessed immediately that she’d been to the Halsey. She had.


I was particularly captivated by the meticulous and imaginative landscapes of Guy Laramee. They drew me in as if I was a hobbit off to explore the Shire or some mysterious corner of Middle Earth.

I loved the playful, re-contextualized art deco-like compositions of Francesca Pastine, as she X-Acto’ed the hell out of Artforum magazine, crafting it into another forum of art altogether. th_6192a65a51d89cebd1da65c58deb66f8_bookart1

But I was totally wowed by the larger constructions of Long-Bin Chen, who turns paper and pages into some other mysterious medium, more stone than fiber. His artist notes speak of reclaiming the “cultural debris from the information age.” He seems to be caring for, and loving, the non-digitized detritus that clutters my book shelves at home, and probably yours too, and bringing new life out of the raw material and imagination (or tedium) that some writer somewhere, or some godforsaken phone book creator, summoned at some point in the past.

2Nbm432otWQCkmGG3hgE2ixUJbmy7L3lDJzZT_DLuS4,WVgZ7342G3Kz-rONZ0XOoZri4TdAxyQlLe0qsQMsGDI lpEs6d0ca8auiSNW__NF-ZbFnMmA8z16UNVo08ZOxv8,ljezvhPO1E7tXNkQj-QGNlS9HWFM-kde-ucz54U0q-w


I urge you to go meet the Buddha, and other wondrous creations in this incredible remnant of Spoleto. And give kudos to Bibliolabs as presenting sponsor (more on them in a future post).

Gallery hours are 11 am to 4 pm Mon – Saturday, with extended hours till 7 pm on Tuesday.







Elements of Style: From Run-ons to Runways, The Strunk & White Guide to Charleston Fashion Week

TBahama0009 copy_0

Writers are, for the most part, a stylishly ho-hum, hunched-over lot, too much hovering over a desk, not much strutting around looking glam. Skinny jeans keep words from flowing; stilettos stifle the ability to go get another handful of Cheetos every time I get stuck on a phrase or waylaid by clunky transitions. Scarves and blingy bangle bracelets get in the way of typing. Yoga pants and sweatshirts are my professional attire – God forbid I have to go to a special event, like Charleston Fashion Week!


eudora-weltyjpg-37306da1bf4c6dfa_largeEvidently I’m not the only writer whose affinity for words is stronger than her (or his) fashion flare. The fabulous Eudora Welty was all tweed and neutrals – yet she gave us some of the world’s most evocative stories, without one bit of frill.



JK Rowling, bless her muggle heart, hit the red carpet wearing upholstery (perhaps a nod to the literary darling, Scarlett O’Hara?).











Tom Wolfe evidently has not spent his royalty checks on a diversified wardrobe.Writer Tom Wolfe600full-oscar-wilde

And Oscar Wilde had flare alright, but good style? Not so much.


Clearly, I ain’t one to talk. I don’t quite understand fashion — it’s a foreign language to me. Like Calculus. I appreciate good clean lines and classic style; I vote for comfy over trendy any day, and frankly, I think that many of the get-ups I see strutting down the runway could use what every writer loves – a good editor. And who do you turn to for editing advice? Strunk & White, of course. So, in the spirit of Fashion Week, I offer my own makeover of the inimitable “Elements of Style” – E.B. White and Will Strunk’s timeless and flawless guide to good writing, to demonstrate that good prose can, in fact, make a good pose. (And if your wardrobe still suffers, at least your writing might improve.)


Strunk & White’s “Elementary Principles of Composition,” applied to the catwalk:


  1.  “Choose a suitable design and hold to it.”

“A basic structural design underlies every kind of writing…. A sonnet is built on a 14-line frame…The more clearly the writer perceives the shape, the better the chance of success.” In clothes-speak, I take this to mean find what styles and shapes work on your frame, and stick to it. Just because someone deems absurdly short bubble skirts to be “in” doesn’t mean you should wear one.


2.    “Make the paragraph the unit of composition.”

The paragraph is a convenient unit, it serves all forms of literary work….”  This, of course, translates to: Little Black Dress & Good Pair of Black Pants.  Will serve all forms of fashion needs.


3.    “Use the active voice.”

“The active voice is more direct and vigorous than the passive….’I shall always remember my first trip to Boston,’ is better than, ‘My first trip to Boston shall always be remembered by me.”  So, whether in Boston or elsewhere, dress vigorously and directly, don’t hide behind or under slouchy, passive clothes. Make an active statement, be bold, but be you.


4.    “Put statements in a positive form.”

“Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language…. As in, ‘She was not very often on time,’ becomes ‘She usually was late.’”  And yes, I am usually late because I’m usually dilly-dallying trying to decide between tame, noncommittal outfits that I should just toss. I’m not exactly sure how to dress in a more positive form, but I’m working on it.

5.    “Use definite, specific and concrete language.”

“Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract…. As in: ‘A period of unfavorable weather set in’ becomes ‘It rained every day for a week.’”   In fashion terms, maybe ditch the vague-ish oversized shirts that now parade as short, short, short dresses. Go on, wear a real dress. Cover one more inch of thigh – it won’t hurt you.

6.    “Omit needless words.” 

Need we say more? (They would be needless words, no doubt).  Over accessorizing is like a run-on sentence or a too-wordy blog post (watch it!). Err on the side of tastefulness. Any fool can put on ridiculously high heels and layer too many trendy layers in that mismatched mode that simply says “trying too hard.” But how many Jackie O’s are there? How many Audrey Hepburns? Edit, dear friend. Edit.

And if you’re feeling a little underdressed, come find me – I’ll be in the yoga paints and sweatshirt, taking notes.







Love Letters and Tongues Aflame


“We are animals of language. All the words that were, and all the words that will be, are asleep inside our bodies.”  

Artist Leslie Dill

If you are a lover of letters, of language, if you’ve got a thing for words, if you’re hot for font and a fool for the mesmerizing voluptuousness of phrases writ large and draped about, as if an old monkish scribe got manic, then get thee to the Halsey. thumbs_img_4256_g

Poetic Visions: From Shimmer to Sister Gertrude Morgan, Leslie Dill’s wordy and wondrous exhibition at the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art, is one good read. And its the perfect cheap date for Valentine’s Day, especially since Valentine’s falls right at the start of Lent. Dill conveys the spiritual mania of New Orleans street preacher, Sister Gertrude Morgan, with a hyper-graphia reminiscent of folk artist Howard Finster, but she also demonstrates tender and fierce reverence for the Word. This exhibit is a visual ode to the power of language. Dill revels in the graceful architecture of letters. She creates a wall of shimmering wire that all emanates from wire-scrolled words. I’m not even sure what they say, but maybe there’s meaning in that mystery alone. There’s a bride, too, if you want a little more Valentine’s tie-in.

To further celebrate Dill’s artistic vision, for which, she says, poetry is the “touchstone” and language is “the pivot point”  the Halsey is hosting a poetry series throughout the exhibition (on display through March 9). Tomorrow night is the second in the “Tongues Aflame” series, and will feature the College of Charleston’s brightest talent.  Last week’s inaugural reading featured local poetry heavy-weights Marjory Wentworth, Katherine Williams, Richard Garcia, Kit Loney and Susan Finch Stevens, and it was as fabulous as the art surrounding it. For those who missed it, I’m pleased to share poet Susan Finch Steven’s prose poem, “How to See Visions at the Halsey.”

thumbs_all-seeing-eye-13337300How to See Visions at the Halsey

by Susan Finch Stevens

Enter the gallery as though entering a book. Come alone so as not to be distracted by someone reading over your shoulder. That shoulder, the one draped with the superfluous sweater, which will unravel here to hang from you like threads, like the words that habitually spin from the dark cave of your mouth. Books change. Marvel at the strange architecture of a child’s pop-up but prepare to be regaled by apocalypse. Turn to the page that shimmers, that becomes a wall like a waterfall, like strands of hair you long to run your fingers through, to braid, to be raised up by like the prince in another book you read long ago. Remain lucid here so you will resist the longing to touch out of fear of waking in a gallery. Perhaps you can stem the urge by becoming the maiden with no hands from that long-ago book. Turn a page with your stump and Allegorical Figures bring memories of the metal hands the king once made for you. Or were they made for someone else? You will not find THE END in this book. You will find an EXIT. And when you exit you will take something that gets lost inside you like your words that have not yet found air.  It is wise to remember that the maiden had to venture out on her own before her hands became flesh.


The Zine Zinesty


With CreateSpace in our backyard, Charleston is on the frontlines of the explosive self-publishing industry. It’s no secret that we are reading and writing in revolutionary times, Kindling our Nooks in new publishing cranies. But long before digital publishing and On Demand printing and companies like CreateSpace, Amazon, LuLu and many others dug under the fence to bypass the nearly impenetrable gates of traditional presses and New York publishing dynasties, there were…zines.

 Zines you say? Yep, zines. Radical rags, underground pubs, kitchen table presses putting out wildly creative and out-of-the box writing and graphic design. Think modern day evolution of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense – zines are typically photocopied, small-run (under 1000) hand-made magazines (get it?) that can be on any topic, but often tend toward the fringe. Feminist zines and political zines being prime examples.

 But don’t take my word for it. Zine experts and fans will hold court tomorrow (Saturday) at the Southeast Zine Fest right here at Redux in downtown Charleston. Why should you go? Skirt! magazine’s Margaret Pilarski, a fabulous editor and local zinester who’s behind the Fest, spells it out.

Literary Charleston: Why should literary Charlestonians care about zines?

Margaret: The independent record store 52.5 used to carry zines, but now there’s no local place to find them. When Susan and I started planning this, zinemakers were getting in touch saying they didn’t know anyone else here who made zines and they were so excited that we were going to bring folks together. Zines are such a really amazing old school media, it’s a shame more people in Charleston don’t know what zines are and make them – that’s the broader reason. There are tons of people whose zines Iwould love to read! Beyond words, zines can have drawings or collages, so they’re a fantastic means of expression when you want multiple ways to express yourself. Zines can also be anonymous, so you can be the ultimate you or an alternate you. Things you wouldn’t say in person or even blog about –you can put in a zine and hand out around town or send off in the mail! And a zine can be very personal, like a journal, or it could be a collection of stories, interviews, comics, poems, photos, etc.

Back to literary reasons, I think the best books introduce you to characters whom you wouldn’t be friends with in real life and you begin to empathize with them. Zines do that too – I want people to read zines about topics and they are unfamiliar with by people they don’t know, I want people’s minds to be blown by literary activism!


LC: What do you hope the Fest accomplishes?

MP: I hope more people get to know what zines are! That’s our primary goal — to get people to start looking for zines and appreciating them, and many more people making zines.  I’d love to build and support our zine community just like we do our creative community at large. I’m surprised Charleston doesn’t have a space where they are sold or even a zine library. The greatest city in the world (thanks Conde Nast!) deserves zines.

LC: Does the zine trend have staying power?

MP: Absolutely! Zines are ancient, they’re pre-internet and pre-Xerox. I’ve pointed a couple of people in the direction of the wikipedia entry on zines, which has a pretty good background of history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zine cool feminist mags Bust and Bitch (now both successfully in wide print circulation) began as zines and in a lot of ways, radical pamphlets throughout history could be compared to modern zines.

 LC: What makes you so hip, Ms. Pilarski, and how can other chicks be so cool too? 

MP: False! Other chicks should make zines! Actually Alison (Piepmeier)  wrote a book called “Girl Zines: Making Media and Doing Feminism” so she’s the expert on cool chicks. She’s talking at 1 p.m. on Saturday and she’ll be talking about the history of zines, which are “not just for hipsters” as she puts it. She’ll also have zines on hand by real-life young gals in Charleston. At 3 we’ll have a workshop at the fest, led by adorable Crosby Jack but all day long we’ll have markers and glue sticks and paper and magazine clippings available for you to get started on your zine. We’ll also be putting together an official Southeast Zine Fest Zine with contributions from everyone, so come out and get your zine on!


 Southeast Zine Fest 2012 Schedule, Saturday October 20:

12pm – Doors open and AutoBahn will be there, so come hungry!

1pm – Alison Piepmeier, author of Girl Zines: Making Media & Doing Feminism will lead a discussion about the history of zines and why they rock. (Hint: they’re not just for hipsters!) And she’ll also have some cool zines by young local gals to show off.

2pm – Live music by Stereofly! Hang out, make some zine doodles.

3pm – Zine-making demo by Crosby Jack.

4pm and on – More live music! You’re free to hang, visit with zine-makers, finish creating your submission to the Southeast Zine Fest Zine or make your own entire zine.






A Sunday Steal

Because it’s a day of rest and reheating left-overs.

Because I still haven’t read the last three New York Times Sunday Magazines and another blue plastic bag taunts at the end of my driveway this morning.

Because sometimes, though you’ve got a misguided, overinflated-enough ego to think you can just borrow another writer’s brilliant idea and twist it some to make it your own and improve on it, you really shouldn’t even try.

Because sometimes copying and pasting is a blogger’s best friend, especially on a damp Sunday morning in the mountains, with fall crispness cuddling you and birds chiming in as a makeshift Sunday choir….

I borrow this and bring it to you, my contribution to this morning’s offering, straight from someone else’s pocket (McSweeney’s) into the offering plate:




Writing is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring and slightly bigger than a bicep, and it needs to be exercised to get stronger. Think of your words as reps, your paragraphs as sets, your pages as daily workouts. Think of your laptop as a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals. Because that is what writing is all about.


Procrastination is an alluring siren taunting you to Google the country where Balki from Perfect Strangers was from, and to arrange sticky notes on your dog in the shape of hilarious dog shorts. A wicked temptress beckoning you to watch your children, and take showers. Well, it’s time to look procrastination in the eye and tell that seafaring wench, “Sorry not today, today I write.”


The blank white page. El Diablo Blanco. El Pollo Loco. Whatever you choose to call it, staring into the abyss in search of an idea can be terrifying. But ask yourself this; was Picasso intimidated by the blank canvas? Was Mozart intimidated by the blank sheet music? Was Edison intimidated by the blank lightbulb? If you’re still blocked up, ask yourself more questions, like; Why did I quit my job at TJ Maxx to write full-time? Can/should I eat this entire box of Apple Jacks? Is The Price is Right on at 10 or 11?


Mark Twain once said, “Show, don’t tell.” This is an incredibly important lesson for writers to remember; never get such a giant head that you feel entitled to throw around obscure phrases like “Show, don’t tell.” Thanks for nothing, Mr. Cryptic.


Finding a really good muse these days isn’t easy, so plan on going through quite a few before landing on a winner. Beware of muses who promise unrealistic timelines for your projects or who wear wizard clothes. When honing in on a promising new muse, also be on the lookout for other writers attempting to swoop in and muse-block you. Just be patient in your search, because the right muse/human relationship can last a lifetime.


There are two things more difficult than writing. The first is editing, the second is expert level Sudoku where there’s literally two goddamned squares filled in. While editing is a grueling process, if you really work hard at it, in the end you may find that your piece has fewer words than it did before. Which, is great. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw said it best when upon sending a letter to a close friend, he wrote, “I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” No quote better illustrates the point that writers are very busy.


It’s so easy to hide in your little bubble, typing your little words with your little fingers on your little laptop from the comfort of your tiny chair in your miniature little house. I’m taking this tone to illustrate the importance of developing a thick skin. Remember, the only kind of criticism that doesn’t make you a better writer is dishonest criticism. That, and someone telling you that you have weird shoulders.


It’s no secret that great writers are great readers, and that if you can’t read, your writing will often suffer. Similarly, if you can read but have to move your lips to get through the longer words, you’ll still be a pretty bad writer. Also, if you pronounce “espresso” like “expresso.”


Part of finding your own voice as a writer is finding your own grammar. Don’t spend your career lost in a sea of copycats when you can establish your own set of rules. If everyone’s putting periods at the end of their sentences, put yours in the middle of words. Will it be incredibly difficult to read? Yes it will. Will it set you on the path to becoming a literary pioneer? Tough to say, but you’re kind of out of options at this point.


A writer’s brain is full of little gifts, like a piñata at a birthday party. It’s also full of demons, like a piñata at a birthday party in a mental hospital. The truth is, it’s demons that keep a tortured writer’s spirit alive, not Tootsie Rolls. Sure they’ll give you a tiny burst of energy, but they won’t do squat for your writing. So treat your demons with the respect they deserve, and with enough prescriptions to keep you wearing pants.

Writing, Creativity and Soul, Part 2


Novelist Josephine Humphreys, left, and writer Debra Moffitt

Nobel prize winner Thomas Mann once said, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”


I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, but I have an idea he is suggesting more than simply stating the obvious—that writing is hard. The meat of Mann’s quote, I believe, is the “for other people” part. The comparison.


Writing is indeed a solitary endeavor, but it’s also a curiously communal effort. Not only are writers trying to make connection with their readers, most writers I know are insanely curious about how other writers work. We’re looking over others’ shoulders, making comparisons, which ain’t healthy but it is a job hazard, at least in my experience. We need the support, insight, how-to tips, criticism and encouragement from other writers. It’s like bumming a cigarette from a friend, back when people smoked cigarettes.


And it’s why workshops like the Sophia Institutes’ Writing, Creativity and Soul gathering this weekend are so necessary—kind of like going to a revival. It’s the power of numbers, a communal celebration and recognition that writing is difficult but rewarding—even soul-nourishing—creative work, and affirmation that if others can do it, then dang it, I can too.


“The program looks like one that will be helpful to writers of all kinds, including those of us who’re speaking,” says keynoter Josephine Humphreys, a Penn Faulkner award winning novelist and author ofNowhere Else on Earth. “I always learn something from the give and take, and I’m reminded that we’re all in this together.”


Joining Humphreys for the Friday night session will be novelist Mary Alice Monroe and nonfiction writer Debra Moffitt, author of the award-winning Awake in the World. Saturday’s program includes genre-specific breakout sessions led by poets Susan Meyers and Susan Finch Stevens, Moffitt on writing memoir, me on writing personal essay and blogs, and Nina Bruhns on self-publishing.


“For me writing is a spiritual practice and a way to share, connect, and be of service. In the workshop, I’d like for people to become aware of their own motives for writing as well. We’ll explore expression and giving voice to the deeper self that yearns to express and create,” says Moffitt.


In that spirit of sharing, I invite and encourage all of you for whom writing is difficult to register and come join the club.

Writing, Creativity and Soul, Part 1

A Macintosh specialty. Not exactly what’s on the menu at the Sophia Institute’s writers retreat, but close.

It may be Restaurant Week, but Charleston’s dining establishments aren’t the only decadent deal in town this weekend.

On Friday and Saturday, the Sophia Institute serves up a low-fat, high-fiber, and definitely heart healthy smorgasbord of local writing talent for its annual Writing, Creativity and Soul workshop. Soul work is at the core of almost all Sophia Institute programs, and it’s also at the core of good writing—in my opinion at least. Gifted writers illuminate the nuances and mysteries of the human spirit through poetry or prose.  The opportunity to hear how they do it, how they take raw ingredients of daily life and simmer them into chapter and verse, is like sampling Jeremiah Bacon’s latest pork-inspired entrée. It’s good stuff.  Chew on it, be fueled for your own writing practice, then go get dessert somewhere.

Sue Monk Kidd, Natalie Goldberg and Josephine Humphreys have been Writing, Creativity and Soul keynoters in the past, and this year Jo Humphreys returns along with best-selling novelist Mary Alice Monroe and writer Debra Moffitt, who will share insight on The Writer’s Life: Creativity, Soul and Survival on Friday night.

Then on Saturday, feast on several courses: Mary Alice leads a morning session on structure and tools for would-be novelists, a midday reflective repast with Jo on “How Writing Transforms the Novelist”, a lunch chat on e-publishing by Nina Bruhns, then afternoon breakout sessions on various genres with yours truly and poets Susan Meyers and Susan Finch Stevens.

Mary Alice Monroe, fitting in some writerly reflection while on turtle watch duty, on IOP.

“I’m always curious about how other writers meet the demands of their career–time management, edits, inspiration, and burn out. It’s such an ever changing, evolving career,” says Mary Alice Monroe, who just finished her most recent manuscript – a novel about dolphins – last week. “We’ll open up with reflections on personal aspects of a writer’s career in an honest discussion on Friday night.  My teaching session on Saturday is strictly about craft.  No fooling around here; I plan to share solid tips that writers can take home and bring to their work.”

“I do hope local writers who need that extra something to help them either begin the project that’s been in their mind, or finish that project that is stalled, will come and avail themselves to this intimate and intense weekend,” Monroe adds.

And I hope to see you as well. You can get full workshop details and register here.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear from award-winning novelist, Jo Humphreys.