The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

March 29, 2009

Home improvements

Filed under: Columbia,feminism,writer's life,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 14:49
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We’re in the process of having our house, a Queen Anne Victorian that looks more like it is 116 years old than the only 16 that it is, repaired and re-painted. Some of the wood has rotted and the once bold green and white paint has faded to dull and slightly yellowish.  Doing these home improvements brings to mind those times, almost 17 years ago, when we were building our dream home and our two little girls were playing in the sand along the foundation and standing in invisible rooms claiming the spaces that would one day be their own.  Too many cliches about the passage of time come to mind, but I find myself happily here and now witnessing the evidence of its passage when I look at my house, and my children.

Not for the first time, one of my kids has taken a hit or two because she has chosen to stay in South Caroline rather than venture into the big wide world to put down her roots.  (Which makes me question — from where did she recieve her nurtrients thus far, if not her roots?)  Both of mine & Bob’s kids, no credit to us, are bright and talented young women — they aren’t phenoms or Doogie Howsers or anything — but anyone who knows our daughters also knows that they are two of the world’s many, many young people who have something specific to offer and will likely leave the spaces that they occupy better than they found them.  Like we’re all supposed to do.

This specific woman-child has always been an idealist — always had a passion to change the world for the better. On the cusp of adulthood now, she, like her sister, has made choices that have pleased and surprised us along the way: coming back to undergraduate school in South Carolina after attending an amazing arts high school out of state was only one such decision that both of the girls made.  Their options were as wide then as Annie’s are now at the end of her successful undergraduate career.  (Bonnie has another year to go.) But again, Annie has decided to stay in South Carolina, this time to pursue a PhD from her home university — and to fulfill a commitment she made to her home, the state, a long time ago.  Rather than take her talents to another person’s home, she wants to practice them here; to make this world, the one she works and plays in on a daily basis, a better place to be.  Public service has always been a distinct possibility and dream for her and, though young, she is wise enough to know that South Carolina likes leaders who stay true to their school, as it were.

There have been nay-sayers.  She has been encouraged by many advisors to get out of Dodge while she can.  See the world.  Cut the apron strings.  Leave. 

The funny thing is that no one who really knows Annie has suggested this.  Because if you know Annie you know a few other things as well. 

First, seeing the world has been a part of her life since she was in the second grade and sat on her first windowsill in Paris observing students of the Sorbonne.  At 21, she has traveled to more than a dozen countries on many more than a dozen expeditions, both with her parents and without.  She embraced the lesson that travel is a sacred part of living life when she was a child.  She also embraced the idea that part of the joy of travel is the joy of coming home.  Home is a huge part of who Annie is.  It’s a concept to which she is stubbornly devoted.  Secondly, the child could be absolutely mummified in swaths of apron strings and neither her dad nor I could ever presume to tell her what to do.  She has always thought for herself and we learned a long time ago that the one sure way of getting her to dismiss our advice was to try to get it into her head. 

So here we all are, 16 years since we moved our young feminist daughters into their pretty pink rooms, assessing and re-assessing our homes.  It takes a lot of energy to truly live somewhere — as can be seen by both the work we’ve done and the work we need to do around our home.  Dedication, realism, sacrifice, joy. 

I don’t doubt Annie’s decision for a minute.  And it wouldn’t matter if I did.

March 28, 2009

Towelhead – this is not about race & ethnicity

Filed under: feminism,films,not writing,social constructionism,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 20:09
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I watched Alan Ball’s Towelhead last night and I’ve been wondering why I can’t get it out of my mind. 

If you haven’t seen it, Towelhead is the coming of age story of an adolescent girl (Jasira) who, though she is incidental to the lives of the people she is supposed to be important to, in the ways in which she is supposed to be important to them, is also their central focus as she embodies the female sexual power they all want to possess.  These people — her mother, father, mother’s boyfriend, her next door neighbor/pedophile/ letch, and her boyfriend — all attempt to expropriate her budding sexual agency.  They all represent the various ways in which women’s agency is stolen from them by patriarchal society — paternalism, forbidden fruit, the social construction of virginity, dirty sex, inter-gender sexual power threats, etc.   But ultimately, Jasira reappropriates her sexual vitality by recognizing that others have been naming her life for her and, in so doing, taking from her what is rightfully her own. 

The film was originally called Nothing is Private, even though it is based on the book Towelhead by Alicia Erian, and there was a good deal of controversy in the Middle Eastern community about the name of both the book and the film.  I haven’t read the book so can’t speak to it’s title, but for the film, I can’t help but think a title dealing with privacy issues might be more apropos.  The fact that there has been controversy about the naming of the film, rather than the content of the film, is ironic.  Race and ethnicity?  Touchy, touchy.  Patriarchal saturation and sexual subordination?  Whatever do you mean?  Funny, we can talk about racial inequality, but can’t even see the gender inequality when it hits us in the face, as it does in this film. 

And I can’t help but wonder how many people saw this film and immediately condemned Jasira for her normal, natural (and I mean natural in the correct use of the term, not a socially constructed use) sexual explorations.  How many people thought it was normal for the young boy to look at porn — actually just stare at porn, not old enough yet to know what to make of it — but abnormal (icky word) for Jasira to be intrigued and stimulated by it?  How many people blamed Jasira (you were right again, William Ryan) for just being sexual?  And how many of those people, including women — no, especially women — had the same feelings themselves when they were 13 years old?  Or had they been successfully indoctrinated enough into the good girl vs bad girl mentality to completely suppress those feelings and commit a little sexual agency hara-kiri on their own?  Do they resent Jasira for her lack of complacency and compliancy?

This is a film that I’d like to show in my women’s & gender studies classes, but I hesitate — it may be too graphic.  Is it?  Jasira is certainly an everyday she-ro.  What would her impact be on young women who are both thrilled and terrorized by their own emergent sexual energy?  I can only imagine empowerment. Maybe like Jasira they, too, could reclaim the blood they shed as their own.

See this film!  Do it for your daughters.  Do it for the girl you used to be.

Now, back to writing about beer …

March 26, 2009

On not leaving

Filed under: Columbia,poetry,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 04:24
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As it turns out, the Earth did not open up and swallow me when I posted a copy of one of my poems a few days ago.  So here I am, tempting fate once again, by posting another little concoction of mine, my heart thumping loudly at the very thought.

This piece deals with what has become a great mystery to me — the attempted migration of South Carolinians to the outer reaches of the world, only to find themselves (ourselves) drawn back to the Carolina shores like parturient loggerhead turtles.  So many of we native Sandlappers try to leave; fully intend to leave; leave and never, ever come back — only to find ourselves, back in that moving van, crossing into the land of sweet tea and frustration once again. 

I remember driving down Harden Street in 1982, all of my wordly possessions recently loaded from our apartment on Blossom Street into the back of a rented truck.  I looked around at the city I was leaving with relief. 

It took only three years and one master’s degree before I found myself crossing that state line once again, coming home, literally, to roost.  Two years plus two baby girls later, I never considered leaving again.

So, here’s to South Carolina — and to the dizzily befuddled people who for some mysterious reason continue to call her home.


On not leaving Carolina

By Cynthia Boiter


We try to leave Her

But she doesn’t let us go


Her soft moist mocha skin

from which we grew

like honeysuckle

like kudzu

           our roots stretching for miles and decades

           for generations


Our arms

reaching toward the mountains

           toward the clouds

           the moon


We set out


           on our journey


To see

what lay out there

           beyond the blue smoke

           across the green sea


           our backpacks full of

           peach fuzz and watermelon seeds

           invisible maps of pockmarked country roads that

                        lead nowhere

                        and everywhere we ever wanted to go



We gird ourselves

against harsh winters

            wrapping our shoulders in memories

            of sun soaked Januaries

            and summer mornings so hot

            they curl us into cocoons



            It is the humidity.




We sleep


stars pointing South

remembering the waltzing bob of the loblolly bough


Our bodies

             prickly and spiny

   like okra

             cozily mucilaginous inside


We wake

hungry for warm smells

            baking powder, flour, chicory

            grease that pops and hangs


Our ankles

            itch for dew


We crawl


            into our mother’s arms





with gifts from our travels abroad





March 24, 2009

Women and the Audacity to Age?

Bob and I arrived at the Nick Oscar party last month just in time to claim two seats together on the second row near the entrance to our tiny but ambitious and much loved theater.  We happily saw several new faces around us and were pleased that so many folks had left their cozy couches to come out and support a worthy and fun fund-raising event on a Sunday night that cried out, stay home and snuggle up.

It didn’t take us, or anyone, long to realize that one of the folks in the front row was already heavily celebrating the Oscar wins before the first statue had been awarded.  (Ironically, I mis-typed the word “wins” as “winos” in the first draft of the previous sentence — read on to see the irony!)   Don’t get me wrong — the wine was fundraiser cheap and I did my share of indulging as well.  I just like to think that I paced myself a little more efficiently.

In any case, our inebriated fellow viewer served as the source of almost as much humor as Patti O’Furniture, our emcee and queen of the night, and I enjoyed her silliness (Drunk Girl’s) just fine until a certain point.  Luckily, that point arrived only moments before she nodded off in her seat and slept for most of the remainder of the performance.

An attractive woman, no spring chicken but, at 50 I certainly have a few years on her, this woman seemed to have some kind of pet peeve with once young and beautiful actresses for whom the blossom had faded.  When the still-working-it Goldie Hawn was shown in all her cleavage and glory, Drunk Lady let out an audible “ugh!”  She reacted similarly when the camera panned to other older actresses like Meryl Streep, Sophia Loren and Eva Marie Saint.  Several times she patronizingly exclaimed to the sober amongst us, “What happened to fill-in-the-blank-of-the-aging-actress-of-your-choice?”  She showed no mercy in her disdain for the tragically mature!

And there again, as in so many times in my life before, I saw feminist theory in action.

Rather than admire and revere our aging women – rather than deem them distinguished and sophisticated, as we do our men – we, as a society, tend to punish them for having the audacity to age.  Why is this?

Naomi Wolf gave us some good ideas as to why almost two decades ago when she wrote The Beauty Myth, and her theories have stood the test of time.  For one thing, Wolf told us that we don’t like the look of wisdom on our women — unfortunately, we tend to equate aging with wisdom which works out fine for men, to whom we look for wisdom, but makes women, as we age, basically shit out of luck.

Conversely, the look of youth is the look of inexperience — no worries about the youthful being smarter than the person in power, so yay for young women and their lack of threat to the status quo.  As for young men looking youthful and inexperienced, well, that’s okay because they’ll be gray about the temples soon enough.  But how do we feel about our women showing their gray?  Well, they’ve just let themselves go then, haven’t they?

Perhaps the most disturbing observation that Wolf made when it comes to women and aging, and the one that hit home so closely on Oscar night, is the way that the idea of aging affects all women — no matter their age.  Two words:  fear and resentment.  According to Wolf, older women may resent younger women because the beauty they possess represents the social power the older women can no longer claim.  Whereas younger women, (not as vacuous as society may perceive them to be), may fear older women because by their very visual existence the older women are reminders that beauty is just as fleeting as the slight allocation of power that accompanies it. 

Maybe this was why Drunk Lady was so disturbed by the grandmotherly Goldie?

March 23, 2009

Selfish poet

Those of you who know me know how reluctant I am to share my poetry.  That’s because I’ve learned that, just as it is with wine, the more one knows about poetry, the more one knows there is a lot more to learn.  This, however, is a habit I’m trying to break — if for no other reason than to set an example. 

I’ve always felt an almost physical pain at the thought of anyone hiding their words — I think it goes back to what Alice Walker taught me years ago in In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.  Too many women throughout time have had neither the resources nor the confidence nor the support to put their words out there; too few have believed their words were worthy of being committed to paper or sound.  Not all those lost words came from great writers of poetry or prose.  But that doesn’t decrease their value.  I’m the person who usually tries to convince others to share their work —  for the sake of sharing it, and out of simple respect for the creative process.  There is no wrong way to be creative.

So, here I am talking to myself.  

Selfish Poet

By Cynthia Boiter



What are you saving them for


                those pennies in your pocket


                those poems in your chest


A better man, a better day, a better buy?



You can feel them there


                how they rub together


                so tense to jingle


                to make sound


                make song


If not for you, then whom?



No, let them be


                Let them rust


                lose their value


Lose the economic context of their worth



Keep them there


                near the linty tissue


                no holes for escape, sewn tight


Keep them there with your greed



Nothing saved, nothing earned


March 19, 2009

A reason to whine in wine country

Filed under: not writing,writer's life,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 02:53
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And there you have it — precisely the reason my blog is called The Reluctant Writer — I haven’t written for it in weeks and, truth be known, haven’t written much of anything during that time other than lectures and exams.  Most of my creative energy was spent during the end of February and beginning of March preparing for a much awaited wine trip to California.  This being my year of wine (as in wine and whine) in celebration of my 50th birthday, Bob and I decided to kick the season off with an intense study and tasting of California’s wine country.  Eight days criss-crossing Napa and Sonoma as we sipped our way both to Nirvana and, hopefully, a working knowledge of what has become one of the finest wine regions in the world.   Sounds great, huh?  The weather was perfect, the prices were low, the mustard was fully in bloom.  What could go wrong?  

I could take one wayward step off a curb and end up in a Napa Valley ER with both a broken toe (the big one) and a broken nose, is all.  Poor Bob — he was trying to get a break from the ER!

I can’t complain much though — I’ve been blessed in life with good health and no prior broken bones other than the occasional pinky toe.  But fighting the damper these injuries  placed on our plans took a lot of energy.  My silly tumble took place the second day of our trip.  We’d had a glorious day which started off with a couples mud bath in a Calistoga spa, and was followed by visits to Schramsberg (awesome bubbles) and Krug before we checked into our B & B, an old Queen Anne Victorian called the McClellan – Priest House in downtown Napa.  We had made dinner reservations to eat at Angele before leaving SC, having heard that the food was amazing — and we weren’t disappointed.  The best scallops I’ve ever tasted, not to mention their Thursday night policy of making every bottle of wine on the menu half price!  We chose a Rubicon 2005 Cask Cab and enjoyed every drop of it at the reduced rate of $60.

I know what you’re thinking — but no, the Rubicon was enjoyed slowly over the course of a meal which lasted several hours.  So by the time I took my tumble, I barely had enough buzz on board to even help dull the pain.

Having been pronounced broken, I spent the next week negotiating the wineries with a face that looked like a bi-polar mood ring as my bruises morphed through the colors of the rainbow, and a big toe that was suddenly enormous.  I wore one shoe and one flip flop and tried my best to blend in with the bottles of wine.  Since I knew no one other than Bob, it wouldn’t seem that I would need to make many excuses for my appearance.  But that assumption proved unfounded.  Everywhere I went people asked me what happened, and they did so with what impressed me as genuine concern.  It felt nice.

Which makes me remember that I did do a little writing while flying back from San Francisco — I wrote an essay about the experience of having a broken nose in wine country.  I guess even a broken nose is good for something.

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