Rambler's Life: Bluffton writer documents her travels, publishes a zine

July 15, 2011 

  • Copies of Michele Roldan-Shaw’s book are available at ARTworks, 2127 Boundary St., Beaufort.

    From 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Roldan-Shaw will hold a book reading and signing at Picture This gallery on Arrow Road on Hilton Head Island. This event is free.

'I don't have time for a publisher to approve of me," Michele Roldan-Shaw told more than two-dozen people gathered at ARTworks in Beaufort recently.

Shaw, a sometime resident of Bluffton, was reading from the first volume of her new zine "Ain't A Rambler's Life Fine: The South." The semi-glossy, do-it-yourself, photocopied publication was the culmination of travels across the Southeast over the past few months. The project was partially funded through a grant from the Beaufort County Arts Council with funds from the City of Beaufort and S.C. Arts Commission through the National Endowment for the Arts.

Shaw had finished the publication only two days earlier, an effort she estimates took her more than 1,000 hours of writing, formatting, cutting, pasting and copying.

"I folded over a thousand pages today because I was trying to get copies ready for this evening," Shaw said as she looked down at her hands before the reading.

Each zine cost $9 to make and are on sale for $20, Shaw said. The markup, she said, accounts for the time and effort she put into making each copy, but probably won't account also for the number she will give away to people who housed, fed or encouraged her during traveling and writing.

"And that is why I am broke," Shaw said with a smile.

Shaw was born in Bogota, Colombia, but moved as an infant to Washington state. After learning the art of the zine at a summer arts school in Oakland, Calif., before her high school senior year and self-publishing her own work during her senior year, Shaw said she finally grew sick of the rain and decided to leave the Northwest.

Shaw said her great aunt in Colombia was in contact with a nephew who lived in Bluffton, so when he called Shaw in 2004, "I was bored to death, I saved up enough money for a one-way ticket and I came here."

Shaw moved in into her second cousin Henry's house and even started a job he arranged for her as a security officer at a local gated-retirement community. The fabric of her uniform bothered her skin so she replaced the pants with a similar looking pair, she said. Her refusal to wear the provided pair of pants (along with her insistence on bringing a laptop to write during some of her double shifts) resulted in her quitting, she said.

"A woman has to have her principles, and I draw the line at polyester," she wrote of the experience in Volume 19/September 2010 issue of her "Mescolanza" zine. (Mescolanza is Spanish for "jumble, mess or mixture.")

Shaw said she was asked to leave by Henry and then several other landlords in cost-effective rentals over the next few years. She said after several relocations, she decided her inspiration for writing required no lease -- traveling could move her closer to her writing and farther from the "man."

"Rambling is very much about learning," said Shaw of nights spent on friends' couches or her truck's bench seat. "The best lessons really come through hardship, but that isn't really the right word, they aren't setbacks but nudges or a kick in pants."

Almost all volumes of "Mescolanza" and the first issue of "Rambling" were dedicated to friends and family who have housed and fed Shaw. Even when told that she would be staying without actively looking for somewhere else to live, Shaw said many friends offered exemplary hospitality.

"If I knew someone ... great," Shaw said. "If not, I would get my dog and hop in the truck and end up in the coolest situations and write about it until people would be like, 'We know you are writing stuff, where is it?'"

By the end of the month, Shaw said, her travels will continue. With family and friends in Louisiana's Cajun country, Denver, Lake Tahoe, and a camping trip to the Ozarks planned, she has an idea where the next zine will be generated.

"I have hated to see talented people construct an ugly world. Forget harsh realities that others would have you subject yourself to. I want the reader to feel fearless, inspired as crazy as I feel," she writes in the foreword to "Ain't A Rambler's Life Fine."

"I left my personal wasteland and was cast adrift as a rambler. Now the journey begins ..."

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