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

September 18, 2009

Joe Wilson Does Not Speak for This South Carolinian

Filed under: Joe Wilson — cynthiaboiter @ 15:41
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It almost seems like a daily ritual.  One of my students, a friend on Facebook, or someone writing to the editor of a South Carolina newspaper will complain about how unhappy they are with our state; how much they can’t wait to get away from South Carolina. 

I remember feeling that way.  As young adults when my husband and I finished our studies in South Carolina, having lived here since we were born, we were only too ready to leave the humid hypocrisy behind and move to a place with better restaurants, better art and better politics.  We thought Washington, DC would be that place.  Ha! 

I will never forget the waxy fresh scent of new leaves turning over in the wind as we headed our moving van north out of Columbia, leaving our tiny Blossom Street apartment behind; the door bolted and locked on oppressive childhoods, embarrassing statesmen, and a stuck-in-the-mud mentality we knew would never flourish closer to the Mason-Dixon Line.  Ha again!

It took only three authentic winters for us to come crawling home, as wondering Southerners are wont to do, back to the land of sweet tea, Gamecocks, and Jesus.  Safely in South Carolina, we consummated our love-hate relationship with a state most aptly epitomized by the term “bitter-sweet,” and ultimately bore and raised our children here.  Like eating the freshest fried produce, we learned to live with the mixture of pride and shame that comes from being South Carolinians. 

We are Democrats in a land still populated, to a some degree, by Dixiecrats. 

We are progressives in a place that oft thinks the past was just fine the way it was. 

We live in the land of beauty and the beast, with beauty being our luscious landscapes, pristine beaches, and mossy forests; the beast, the capitalist monster that wants to rape and dominate them.

We are constantly fighting against the current, all the while still defending the tide. 

Such is the life of the South Carolinian — if you aren’t blind as a bat or crazy as a loon, then you qualify as the adult in the room and the rest of the population are the children embarrassing you in the grocery store line.

Last week was one of those times when I was not proud of my homeland.  Joe Wilson made fools of us again just as the ugly limelight Governor Sanford had shined on us was beginning to fade.  He sat his haughty self in the Congressional chamber, fuming with a white man’s indignation at being lectured to by his uppity Black president, and just as the feeling that all the goodies to which his pale skin and testicles entitled him were slipping through his greedy fingers, he exploded.  And rather than a wave of snowy white, testosterone-tinged  bravura, what we saw was a desperate display by a scared little man – crossing his arms, stomping his foot, and trying to make the world stand still. 

Again. 

Wilson wasn’t the first South Carolinian to make a spectacle of himself in such an inappropriate place and manner. 

In 1856, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, alarmed by the abolitionist sympathies of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, took out his anger on Sumner by approaching him in the Senate chamber and beating him about the head and body with his Gutta-Percha walking cane.  Seconded by South Carolina Representative Laurence Keitt, who stood guard over the assault, lest a more able bodied or minded politician attempt to go to Sumner’s aid, Brooks successfully beat Sumner into an unconscious and bloody heap, only stopping when his gold-headed cane broke from the force of the battery.

Today, some of my fellow South Carolinians may have responded to Joe Wilson’s histrionic outburst with support, both verbal and financial – the equivalent of the dozens of shiny new canes sent to Mr. Brooks more than a century and a half before by seething Southerners unwilling to share their wealth of the world. 

But for every pat on the back that Wilson won, just as many of us shook our heads and sighed.  We were mortified.

We aren’t just disappointed with Representative Wilson; most of us know his MO whether we voted for him or not.  A protégé of Senator Strom Thurmond, Wilson has consistently favored the placement of the Confederate flag on our statehouse grounds and he accused Senator Thurmond’s African-American daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, of attempting to sully Thurmond’s reputation when she laid claim to her heritage even after his mentor admitted the truth of his paternity.     

More than being disappointed, we are embarrassed by Joe Wilson.  In the smallness of his act he cast dispersions on all of us, placing South Carolina once again as the butt of a joke we seem to have brought upon ourselves.  And the sad thing is, we did.  Because in South Carolina we have a tradition of letting those with the biggest mouths spouting the vilest sentiments represent us to the world. 

And it has to stop.

I challenge my South Carolina sisters and brothers to find amongst us, no matter what our political persuasion, politicians of intelligence and integrity; politicians who respect the role of civil discourse as a way to grow our culture and our minds; politicians who represent all of us from South Carolina – not just the angry white men in the suits.

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June 11, 2009

Paris, Jules Verne, Obama and Us

As I mentioned last time, we began and ended our journey through France in Paris, flying in and out of the Jetsonian Charles de Gaulle Airport.  Visiting Paris is in so many ways like visiting New York City.  There’s a lot to see behind the doors of the cities’ museums and galleries — and we enjoy seeing it — but so much of the magic of both places happens on the sidewalks.  So we spent a lot of our time there — walking the sidewalks or sitting in their sprawling ribbons of cafes watching others do the walking.

 

It’s easy to over-do museums, particularly when you’re somewhere like Paris and almost every great known artist is represented.  Too many tours and eventually you may find yourself passing some of the world’s most stimulating works of art feeling a bit non-plussed.  Ho hum, another Van Gogh.  So we’ve learned to limit our exposure and only bite off small morsels at a time.  This trip we focused on The Picasso Museum, the newly re-opened L’Orangery featuring Monet’s water lilies, and the three big exhibits at the Pompidou — Calder, Kandinsky and Women in Art.  (The exhibition on Men in Art is at the Louvre — it is called, “The Louvre.”)

 

The Pompidou Centre is what it is.  What once seemed shiny and innovative now looks rusty and very much shat upon by arrogant Parisian pigeons.  (The Pompidou Centre was revolutionary when it debuted in 1977, with all the structural and  functional elements exposed rather than hidden behind walls and ceilings and floors, and color-coded as well:  the electrical casings are yellow, the plumbing pipes green, and the heating and air conditioning ducts are blue, for example.  Patrons enter the museum almost midway up the building via a series of clear escalators located on an exterior wall.)  Maybe premonitions of its current state help explain why the French hated the Pompidou so when it was first built. 

 

I entered the exhibition hall as a sort of double shot espresso fan of Kandinsky — liking his early work (especially) all the way into his Bauhaus period — but left feeling more like weak coffee toward the artist.  And though I admit to feeling a bit like a poser even saying this (who am I to criticize the museum’s curator?) I think it all had to do with the redundancy of the selected pieces.  Kandinsky was nothing if not prolific, but the sheer number of the pieces displayed detracted from the impact they had as a whole. 

 

The Calder exhibition was completely opposite.  Selected pieces demonstrated both his tendency toward whimsy (Alexander Calder was the Texas born inventor of the mobile with a fascination for the circus) and his prowess at sculpture of literally monumental proportions.  (His piece installed at the World Trade Center — “Bent Propeller” — you may remember, was destroyed in the attack on 9/11.

~~~~~~~

Two of the highlights of our stays in Paris sort of overlap, despite having taken place on opposite ends of our trip. 

 

Bob and I decided to bite the bullet and celebrate our anniversary in style this year by having a once-in-a-lifetime dinner at the Jules Verne Restaurant atop the Eiffle Tower.  What can I say?  The food wasn’t as good as the view, but the view was as astronomical as the check!  This we did on the 25th of May.  Upon returning for our last weekend in Paris, we noticed on Saturday that one of the streets in the Latin Quarter leading to the Notre Dame was cordoned off and lined with French police.  After considerable multi-lingual eavesdropping we deduced that President Obama (pronounced OH – BA – MA, with equal inflection on each syllable in France) would soon be passing through.  Being above neither gawking nor stalking, we scored ourselves two primo spots on the curb and cheered along with all the French fans as his iron-clad motorcade sped by.  Twice. 

 

The cool part to me though was finding out that the president and first lady would be dining that night at the very same restaurant where we had celebrated our anniversary two weeks before.  I wonder if they sat at our table? 

 

What I didn’t know then was that the whole Obama clan would also be visiting the Pompidou on Sunday, the same day as us. 

 

Somehow we missed them in the crowd.

April 19, 2009

Lost news? Try a cyber-cure.

Feeling a little brain dull lately? 

Missing your daily dose of acumen, humor and critical appraisal?  Like you know something must be stimulating or waggish or stupid, but you just can’t seem to put your thoughts into words or pictures? 

You may be suffering from State-Poor Blood. 

But don’t worry — you’re not alone. Since the recent axe-waving at The State s’News, a veritable epidemic of lackadaisy has spread across our fine state with the virulence of a pox and the veracity of a Pickens County STD.

But all is not lost.

Through the miracle of modern technology you can regain the crisp edge to your thoughts that can only be cultivated by an erudite commentary, a clever caricature or an artistic assessment that basically just pisses you off.  Why suffer smudged fingers when, with the click of a button, you can avail yourself of all the news that is fit to be blogged.  Brad Warthen, Robert Airial and Jeffery Day are the antidotes to local intellectual dotage, and they are conveniently available in child-proof packages located at http://bradwarthen.com/, http://robertariail.com/ and http://carolinaculturebyjeffreyday.blogspot.com/

 

(Check with your doctor before beginning this program.  Side effects may include enlightenment, informed decisions, chuckling, a smart-ass grin and the ability to speak intelligently on a variety of subjects including, but not limited to, sports.  If you have an erection that lasts longer than three hours, you may have clicked on the wrong blog.)

February 5, 2009

Northern Exposure?

I was writing in the beer book today about a place we visited during the Portland expedition on one of our ventures out into the magnificent highs and lows of Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.  Mount Hood Brewery is located just south of Mount Hood and north of Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain (seriously) in a little community called Government Camp.  The commercial part of the community is pretty tiny, consisting of little more than the Ice Axe Grill where the brewery is housed.  As indicated by the multiple layers of snow still visible on the Sunday we visited in June, there may be more money in skiing in Government Camp than there is in beer.  Ski resorts are nestled around the pristine mountains and valleys, hidden from view, as is the Timberland Lodge, a WPA construction that we’ve all seen at least once in the opening scenes of The Shining. 

We parked in a rutted parking lot and hopped over puddles of melty snow to get to the Ice Axe Grill where we would belly up to the bar and begin sampling from the Mount Hood Brewery’s finest. 

As much a part of the beer book as the beer are the people we’ve encountered on our quest.  Looking around the Ice Axe Grill I was pleased to find many of the typical characters one might expect to see on a snowy day in June when you’re almost 6000 feet above sea level.  A sedentary balding guy who seemed to have gathered dust around the perimeter of his mug while he nursed his beer.  A lost looking tattooed girl whose eyes betrayed the innocence of the story she wanted to tell.  A trio of large bearded men dressed in flannel and gathered into a covy — or should I say den?  And us. 

Recalling this today put me in mind of one of my favorite fantasy destinations — Cicely, Alaska.  Home of Joel Fleischman, Holling Vincoeur, Mourice Minnifield and Chris in the Morning.  I’m the kind of person who claims to not watch a lot of television (de rigeur, right?), but will often fall in love with one or two specific series.  Right now it’s True Blood and Weeds; in the past it’s been Boston Legal, West Wing, Six Feet Under, St. Elsewhere and MASH.  I always inevitably fall for shows that are destined to be canceled, too — think Sports Night and Studio 60.  But I never loved a show like I loved Northern Exposure.  The theme song was my ring tone for a while.

I loved the purity of those characters — how they all seemed to know and own themselves and their eccentricities outright.  Mourice knew he was a puffed up, patronizing asshole and he reveled in it.  Maggie O’Connell loved being the bush-pilot bitch that she was.  Joel was prepared to take his particularly Jewish neurosies to the grave.  But mostly, I loved the idea that somewhere up north, if there wasn’t a Santa Claus, then at least there was a place where people lived an honestly thinking life; freed of the harsh boundaries of the suburbs and car pools and the daily commute.  I thought the characters were unique, diverse, intelligent and purposeful.  And, as humans are wont to do, I based all my assumptions about the real Alaska and its inhabitants on the characters in this TV show.  It was a lovely fantasy.

But on August 29th, 2008, that pleasant fantasy was ripped from my head like a scalp full of hair when presidential candidate John McCain approached a lecturn in Dayton, Ohio and announced that  Sarah Louise Heath Palin would join him on the Republican ticket.  For the next two and one half months I was reminded daily that not only is Alaska not the diversity heavy, cerebral haven I had hoped for, but that the residents of said state were thick enough to elect a hollow-headed Caribou Barbie as their governor.

There are a lot of things I will forever hate John McCain for.  Race-baiting and re-raising the Red Scare as he accused Barack Obama of being a Socialist notwithstanding.  But forevermore he will remain the lone individual who tore a big moose-shaped hole in my fantasy world by taking away my dreams of a better place on earth — a place like Cicely, Alaska.

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