Slalom Knows No Season

This article was written for an audience familiar with lake living, but entirely unfamiliar with anyone skiing year-round.
As a writer, I focused on conveying warmth, familiarity and excitement in the subject matter while still maintaining the group’s privacy.

Slalom Knows No Season

The unlikely story of a group of fearless adrenaline junkies more in love with waterskiing than the weather.

by William Baker

Published in Chapin Magazine

Spanning four counties and nearly 50,000 acres in the center of our state, Lake Murray has formed the bedrock of what so many Midlands communities, families and businesses have come to proudly call home. For the better part of a century, the vast expanse of murky green water and its diverse shorelines have served as a blank canvas, ripe for the merriment of many. Put simply, everyone loves the lake, though for considerably different reasons. Scores of proud, secretive fishermen and women spend the early, sleeping-sun hours buying bait, finding fish and hiding their best spots. Families, athletes, friends and businesses pile onto the water in the hot-oven summer heat for the fun, excitement and competition of white-knuckled watersports. However casual or competitive the activity, whether airborne in a tube, inverted on a wakeboard, carving across the wake on a ski or cockeyed in a catamaran, Lake Murray has proudly hosted it all. For some people, though, the love goes a little deeper and lasts a lot longer than two or three months of the year.

Jim Parr is one of those people. For a few decades now, Jim, a Newberry native, has spent early mornings, full days and late nights on the Lake Murray water honing his craft and loving every minute of it, often coming back in long after the light had left the southern sky. There’s a reason for all the work.

Competitive slalom skiing is challenging. For those unfamiliar with skiing, slalom is the art of using only one ski to be as quick and agile as possible, darting back and forth across the boat’s wake or, in the world of competitive slalom skiing, from buoy to buoy. “Once you start skiing a course, it’s addictive, I think,” said Jim. “You start chasing buoys. It drives you to be better; you have to be better.” Of course, it’s also physically demanding. Each pass consists of six turns in a zigzag pattern. Age and sex determine the competitive division, with adult women competing at thirty-four miles per hour and adult men thirty-six miles per hour. “Once you get your tournament speed, you start making the line shorter in predetermined lengths,” Jim said. With each increment of shortening rope, the challenge drastically increases as skiers are forced to exploit every bit of their agility and momentum to push their bodies at greater speeds to successfully round each turn buoy.

Finding slalom courses on a public lake is rare. It’s easier to find commercial private ponds and other controllable bodies of water where the water is more easily kept at a consistent, placid state suitable for tournament-grade competition. Competition-grade slalom courses are meticulously planned and measured. “All ski courses should be the same to within two or three inches,” Jim said. The same minute precision also applies to competition boating. “Speed is critical. All the boats now have speed control which will pull you to within a hundredth of a second because there’s a big difference in one mile an hour.” Even with speed control, it takes at least two to ski. That’s where the group comes in.

Jim Parr skis the course with a committed group of friends and fellow slalom conspirators. While the tried-and-true group of regulars consists of about fifteen or so families and individuals, the larger hub of friends and ski enthusiasts envelops approximately thirty. “A lot of people plug in, plug out, come, have fun and ski hardcore year-round,” Jim laughed. He’s not lying. “We’ll generally try to get out, if we can, maybe five days a week in the summertime.” For Jim and his close friends, skiing is not confined to the summer months. “I tell all my friends I don’t have fall; I just have two seasons: winter and summer.” For them, summer truly begins on March 1st and winter around mid-November. Nothing in their routine changes except for the clothing to keep pace with the cooling weather. As the temperatures drop, they begin incorporating neoprene wetsuit tops, then dry suits with sweat pants and shirts and, finally, when the weather is just too bitter to handle, a nice warm beanie to keep their ears warm. One winter, Jim got a call during the weekday at his legal practice from his good buddy and skiing partner-in-crime, Jim Neely. It was effectively winter. “It was around fifty degrees and it was raining a light mist; it was just cold.” Jim Neely had called to ask if he wanted to ski. Not ones to miss an opportunity to go skiing, they headed out on the water. Mitigating the cold weather isn’t easy, but for Jim and Jim, it’s worth it. “If we get ten days of skiing in in December, January or February for the whole month, that’s good,” said Mr. Parr.

The consistency of when, where and how long throughout the year the group meets up to ski and socialize has only served as a boon to their friendships, opportunities to meet new people and further relax the already casual nature of their time together. There wasn’t a group when Jim started skiing. Rather, the group began to form as strangers would stumble upon the course or see Jim and his friends in action on the lake and strike up conversations. “It’s just kind of a welcoming thing,” Jim said. Mutual appreciation of the sport forms the bond for friendships with strangers on the water; that’s what makes this group such a colorful family. “There’s a lot of varied personalities, income levels,” Jim said. They also come from near and far to be a part of the group and chase buoys. Group members come from as close as Chapin, Newberry and Lexington to the far-off rungs of northeast Columbia and the upstate. The distance doesn’t matter. “Everybody’s interested in having fun and everybody gets along great.”

One member of the group in particular has Jim’s attention: his twelve-year-old son, Aaron. The prized nature of their time together is not lost on Jim. “We get to spend time together in an awesome way. I can’t tell you how awesome it is to go out with your son.” That time is only sweetening as Aaron grows up. Last year, at the age of eleven, Aaron got his boater’s license. “He’s twelve now, but you go out with your eleven-year-old child and you pull him and he pulls you and that’s, from my standpoint, pretty cool.” Aaron thinks so too, even at seven o’clock in the morning, much to the chagrin of the lone, disgruntled fisherman. It’s time well spent. “It’s been a really bonding thing. I know Aaron’s challenged,” said Jim. “The speed is challenging, the technique… it’s pretty hard to do.”

While the group has grown and their friendships blossomed through the constancy of their near-sacred ritual in the quiet waters of Lake Murray, a local business has also enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with this cabal of watersport enthusiasts. “The preeminent inboard engine manufacturer in the world is in Little Mountain, South Carolina,” said Jim. Pleasurecraft Marine Engines is only eight miles away from the lake. “They build all of the motors that go in Ski Nautiques; they build a lot of motors that go in a lot of other competition ski boats.” Mutual interest in competitive watersports, affinity for the tools necessary to engage in it and their extremely close geographic proximity to each other made for fertile grounds of great, overlapping friendships. PCM Engines staff members Mark Schneider and Patrick Amann are also regulars within the ski group. “To be honest, they take care of their motors,” Jim Parr admitted. “They build the best motors in the industry.” Skiing year-round, Jim would know.

Lake Murray’s watersports reputation is also beginning to extend beyond the boats and their engines; the Midlands is fast becoming a bastion of champion and tournament contender water skiers. While the popularity of skiing may have lulled at the introduction and ensuing dominance of wakeboarding, competitive skiing hasn’t died out on Lake Murray. “I think, historically, Lake Murray has been a little underrepresented,” Jim said. “On a public lake, people don’t think you can ski seriously, but I don’t know. I think perception’s starting to change a little bit.” Recent state and regional tournament results suggest competitive skiing on Lake Murray is starting to grow again, especially with the younger generation. “We went to a tournament two years ago, a regional tournament, and we had more skiers there from Lake Murray than anywhere,” Jim said. “We go to the state tournament well represented.” Junior state and regional contenders and champions include group members Brooks and Gracie McCants, Aaron Parr, Ryan Pfister; member Travis Stuckey competes in the adult division across the country. “It’s exciting for me to see the kids coming up. We go to some of these tournaments around and there’s a good little nucleus of kids coming up and Aaron’s right in the middle of that.”

While the growth and success of individuals in and outside of their group show no signs of abating, nothing changes for Jim and the group. They’ll still meet up in some quiet finger of the lake to laugh and put their boats and bodies to the test for the sake of slalom skiing. “I’m having fun,” Jim said. “If nobody else in the world does it, then it’s not going to change that.” As group members have come and gone throughout the years, the ripe fruits of their labor and leisure will continue to manifest with wanton disregard for weather, temperature and the fabled existence of four seasons.

A Love Lost and Found on Oak Street

The following article is written for an audience with a very keen knowledge of local history, names and places.
As a writer, engaging this audience this means including anecdotal details and oddly specific descriptors.

A Love Lost and Found on Oak Street

by William Baker

Published in Newberry Magazine

For nearly half a century, a love story has been blossoming over on the corner of Oak Street and Birge Lane between Newberry native Sally Lister and her childhood home. Having spent her professional life teaching all around the state in the technical college system, prison system, Batesburg Leeseville and White Knoll, when it came time to retire, Ms. Lister knew it was time to come home to Newberry.

Built in the mid-19th century, Sally Lister’s childhood home featured a stout, traditional design. Originally, the home consisted of a straight four-by-four layout, with two rooms on each side of the house and two more rooms in the middle. The four exterior walls were four bricks thick slimming into three. The interior walls, also brick, were two layers thick. Three more rooms would be added to the rear of the house between 1880 and 1950, likely at the request of a new bride not willing to reside at the home without some new work being done.

There was much to love about growing up in the Lister home on Oak Street. “The reason I wanted this house was because I was living in high school here and I really enjoyed it thoroughly,” Sally said. “I can’t tell you how cool it is. We watched the first Sputnik go; just laid down and watched it go across the sky.” “There was a bear wallow over here and we’d go down and play in the creek. It was just a wild childhood that you could have.” In addition, being in high school and living on a quiet, empty street afforded Sally the luxury to learn how to drive without worrying about traffic on the road.

The house’s various quirks became the unique threading that would bring their family closer together and leave them all with a lifetime of vivid memories and outrageous stories. “Because of the layout of the house,” Sally said, “you had to go through three bedrooms to get to the fourth one, so we all got along real well.” The Lister family home also originated in an era before the advent of insulation. “When we lived here, this was the coldest place in God’s earth in wintertime,” chuckled Ms. Lister. “The back bathroom—I kid you not—the water froze in the toilet, so we’re talking ‘Jiminy Cricket, it’s cold in this house!’” However, when it came to the warmer months, the Lister family had it made. “It was the greatest place on earth in the summer because the windows were up and it was cool. Everybody else would be sweltering and we’d just be happy as pigs in swill. But, oh my gosh, it was cold in the winter.”

Unfortunately for Sally, the Lister family would have to make the tough decision to leave the idyllic, utopian residency of her youth. Due to the layout of the rooms in the house, Sally’s mother couldn’t quite figure out a functioning remedy for the aged home; the Lister family would instead purchase a lot on Mower Street to build their new home. Still, the old home on Oak Street never left their thoughts. “They had been over there a while and mother said, ‘I know what we should’ve done.’ But she never told me,” Sally said. The question of what could have been done would echo in the back of Sally’s mind for decades as she taught around the state. She would eventually retire and return to Newberry to be close to her father, Bob Lister, a former Esso dealership owner and longtime State Farm Insurance agent in town. While house hunting, her lifelong affinity for her childhood home was given free rein to be freshly stoked with curious possibility.

During the house hunting process, Sally Lister decided to pass by her old home to show a friend; a “For Sale” sign was out front. Ms. Lister promptly called her real estate agent, Sinclair Talbot, and took a look at the house. “I knew I wanted it,” Sally admitted. After not being able to reach a price resolution with the seller, Ms. Lister ended up buying a home on Pinewood Court in Forest Ridge. “I went to sign the papers and Sinclair said, ‘Are you sure that’s the house you want?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not.’” However, with no more flex available in the price negotiation, she ended up on Pinewood Court. Nearly a decade later, an almost identical series of events started to unfold. Ms. Lister went to show a friend the home on Oak Street and saw another “For Sale” sign in the yard. Not being seriously interested in purchasing the home, Ms. Lister still inquired with her new real estate agent, Anne Kirkland. More work had been done to the house and the price had dropped significantly. Recognizing the curious series of events, Ms. Lister made an offer. “I bought it that day,” Sally said with a proud smile. “I don’t even buy shoes like that and I bought a house. I never do anything without deliberating on it a zillion years and so forth, so I bought it and sold over on Pinewood Court.”

As with any long-enduring relationship, love is not without its challenges. “When I bought the house, it was my firm intention to go up,” said Sally. “I thought, ‘Okay, mama, that’s what you figured out. You could go up.’” After consulting with her brother, Hugh Lister, a retired veteran of general contracting firm Cannon Associates, and an architect from Greenwood, they determined there was no way to build upward. Instead, inspiration came from another piece of her family. “My niece and her husband were in here one day looking at it and they said, ‘Well, everybody else is opening walls. Why don’t you open some walls?’” The architect developed a plan that would allow for four interior walls to be taken down. Other walls were closed in to fix the original issue of interconnected rooms.

Removing portions of interior brick walls can be tricky business in regard to load bearing structures, so seriously extensive, complex work was done on the part of Hugh Lister and general contractor Thadd Mays to ensure the foundation regained its stability and rigidity. “It was the middle of the summer and those guys were under there working, putting in footers, putting in stabilizers and they ran a steel cable from one end of the house to the other and pulled it back in,” said Ms. Lister. “It was unbelievable. I know what they did was not something I would have ever asked anybody to do, much less a friend, and nobody would have done it for me if it hadn’t been a friend.”

In the midst of the literal balancing act and whirlwind of work being done to the home, Ms. Lister endured a miraculous brush with death involving a tumor in her lung. Being largely incapacitated, Ms. Lister’s affairs were handled by Hugh and his wife, Pam, and the rest of the Lister family. With the help of her family and reliable laborers, the work that began in late 2014 could be finished up before Christmas in 2015, allowing Ms. Lister to move in and begin her new life in her childhood home before the end of the year.

Ms. Lister’s longtime love is dressed in beautiful wood floors, wonderfully high ceilings and adorned with the precious, meaningful familial items kept safe over the years and now proudly displayed. The broad, restored porch is perched next to the quiet of a green yard once overtaken by wisteria and now reclaimed with camellias. Ms. Lister shares her refreshed, peaceful abode with her rescued pets. With tears, she expresses the deepest appreciation for the people who worked so painstakingly to accomplish her dream. What was once a love lost has become a love again and anew.

The Nuances of Copyediting Poetry for Film

Copyediting is fun! Every project has its own challenges, intended media format, platform and audience. One such project I worked on was “I Spy I Spy,” a Dutch experimental documentary about a unique neighborhood in Utrecht. The filmmaker contacted me for assistance creating accurate subtitles.

Subtitles, eh? What’s so special about that? The content.
As an experimental documentary, this film utilizes spoken word from a Dutch poet. Simple, literal translation of all the text and audio was not applicable. Instead, the director needed someone who could artfully match the feel and intention of the spoken word. As with any cross-lingual work, we often have complex overlaps of synonyms, meanings and implied nuances.

The beauty of poetry is how abstract, malleable it can be; it can be overt or subtle, even within the same line. As a copyeditor, my job was to correct any translational errors and simultaneously find the best possible English words to match the poet’s crafted intent and convey an aesthetic conducive to the director’s carefully layered film and score.

Have a project with unusual challenges?
I’m your copyeditor.

Writing for Video

As a writer, my job is to understand a topic, know the audience and craft the content in unique, compelling ways that invoke a desired response. I love a creative challenge, so I met with the director and pastoral team to understand the tone, dynamic and response they desired. Much like an investigative journalist, I ask questions from many different angles to better understand the bigger picture and the parameters in which I can create.

My favorite part of writing for diverse clients is taking abstractions like feelings, sounds, concepts, desires or goals and, with my creativity, find ways to carefully craft something beautiful, purposeful and effective.

Every client is different. Every project is different.
Consistent success requires a multifaceted, capable writer.
I’m that wordsmith.

How can I help you?

Artist Profile: Denise Waldrep

by William Baker

Published in Greenwood Magazine

Great art captures more than the obvious. True artistry captures, conveys, and creates far more than the immediately on-hand. Much like the tip of an iceberg, art reaches beyond a subject and displays the hidden, subtle intimations of the infinitely wondrous world to the carefully observant artist. As much as the blank canvas is ripe for creative expression, so, too, is an artist’s eyes mind, and heart excitedly waiting to receive the world around him or her. Greenwood artist Denise Waldrep is one such iceberg.

While most Greenwood residents recognize Denise Waldrep as a science teacher from her many years teaching at Southside Middle School and Greenwood School District 50, her accreditation and experience both as an artist and an art educator are quite extensive. Having degrees in both Fine Arts and Biological Illustration and also studied under several widely acclaimed artists, Ms. Waldrep worked extensively as a freelance artist and scientific illustrator for several higher education institutes. Denise taught art at Greenwood Christian School and has served as an adjunct art professor at Lander University, Piedmont Technical College and Erskine University. In addition to her professional experience as an educator, Denise’s artistry in scientific illustration has seen wide exposure, with various works exhibited in the National Academy of Sciences, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Bell Museum of Natural History and numerous higher education institutions and festivals. Still, even with all her work in art, most only know her as a science teacher.

Twenty-five years ago, Denise Waldrep moved to Greenwood; art was not what brought her. Rather, Denise came to Greenwood to be a science teacher. “I was getting into teaching full-time,” said Denise. “I was a single mom, so this was a place to begin a career and get established. At that point, I was doing a lot more teaching, so people in Greenwood whose children I’ve taught think of me as a science teacher. They never knew that I could teach science and art and do all this too.”

No longer in a classroom, Ms. Waldrep currently splits her time as an artist between her two studios in Greenville and Greenwood. In Greenwood, Denise’s creative workspace can be found uptown at Studio One School of Ballet, where she is the Artist-in-Residence; there, she is able to freely observe and capture the grace and intimacy that accompanies a ballet school incorporating and teaching professionally proven techniques. Tucked neatly beyond the interior walls of the ballet studio are canvases cultivated with carefully blooming colors and shades of oils, acrylics, pastels, charcoal and graphite, evidence of Denise’s eyes, heart, mind and soul at work. “I really like figurative work,” Denise said. “Working with portraits and dancers is my first love. There’s such a beauty in nature. I just want to try and share with other people this vision that I have of what’s in front of me. The vibrancy and the beauty of the form, that’s what I want to share.” Capturing this beauty doesn’t have to happen in a studio either. “I’m either working with the dancers and the portraits or plein air,” Denise said. Plein air is a French expression referring to the act of painting outdoors or on site to capture the three-dimensional essences of a landscape or subject such as movement and natural lighting. “It’s not just sitting down and doing a landscape. What drives me is the desire to work directly from life; that would include dancers, portraits and landscapes.”

Artistic expression falls into three categories for Denise. “Trying to portray beauty in a form that I see. I want to share that vision. I want to celebrate it. That’s one,” Denise said. Secondly, “it could be a horribly ugly subject matter, but that’s the energy you want to capture.” Lastly, it could be “to make a comment about current events or something that’s going on,” said Denise. “I have works throughout the years that have been motivated by politics or economics.” This includes recent events like the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in in 2012. “Being a teacher and working with young people, that just struck me to the innermost part of my being. The only way I could deal with that was to do their portraits,” Denise said. With permission, she sent her portraits of the children to their families. By being an artist, Denise is able to more fully express the complex nature of who she is as a silent observer, contemplative expressionist and compassionate individual.

“I do feel like our artwork is that we provide opportunities for things greater than us to be manifested in this world,” Denise said. In a way, it’s about capturing the essence of something, recognizing those impalpable, ethereal elements discernable to sensitive souls. In particular, sharing her artwork with others is what truly encourages her. The brightest moment in her creativity, Denise confessed, “happens over and over again. It is connecting with people while doing their portraits. It is when I do a portrait of somebody. It’s when I finish that portrait and I give the portrait to the people and they cry. That makes me cry. That ­­is sublime in the truest sense of the word.”

For a lifetime of creating, Denise’s enthusiasm for her work is perpetual. “My favorite moment is the one I’m in now. The artwork that I’m doing now. I’m about to launch a new series of dancers. These are very classical and feature modern dancers. It’s a piece called “Alice in Wonderland.” It’s going to be a little surreal. I’m just really looking forward to that. Whatever I’m working on now. That’s my favorite and that’s my best.” Denise’s attitude is exactly as it should be: an excited, blank canvas with hungry eyes in awe of the world around her and wholly ready to share with others.

Denise’s work is on exhibition and can be purchased at Main & Maxwell Gallery. Visitors can stop by her Greenwood studio at the Studio One School of Ballet or in Greenville, where she maintains a studio with her mentor, Dabney Mahanes, at the “Dabney Mahanes and Denise Waldrep Studio.” Ms. Waldrep can also be found online at

Copyediting for Film

Part of being a copyeditor is using your craft to help other artists make better art. One huge area of my work involves video. Whether it’s for a film, commercial, art project or something else, I’m here to help clients take full advantage of the language and enhance their art.

Whether it’s polishing a script for a film, assisting with subtitle translations or writing a synopsis, words matter. That’s why I’m here to help.

Take a look at some of the projects I’ve helped:

A voice in David Brown’s head left him with an ultimatum: kill his brother or jump from the fourth floor. David chose to plummet and, consequently, spends his life between countless psychiatric facilities. From an ultra-subjective perspective, Asylum depicts David’s hospitalization and his attempts to climb out of his depression using his musicality and enduring humor.