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

September 22, 2009

Judgment of the Phasmatodea

Filed under: not writing,poetry,writer's life — cynthiaboiter @ 20:08
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I had a stretch-my-legs moment while working on the beer book today and wandered outside for some air and a dose of the mysteriously energizing vibe that always seems to emit from the woods we insensibly call our own.  (If anything, we belong to the forest — it certainly doesn’t belong to us.)  Earlier, Bob had noticed a walking stick bug on the porch screen and wondered aloud whether these amazing insects had come back to Muddy Ford this year. 

Sure enough, there were several to be seen.  And I pondered how funny it is that when we couldn’t see them, these brilliant mistresses and masters of camo, we assumed they were gone. 

They weren’t gone; they were successful. 

So a little ditty came to my head and, since I’m feeling a bit brave today, given my hefty helping of the Muddy Ford magical mystery woods, I guess I’ll share it with you.


Judgment of the Phasmatodea


I laughed at the walking sticks

at my house in the woods

noticeably hiding

their twiggish bodies

against the white fence post,

the back door screen.

I can see you,

I smiled quietly,

shaking my head

like an all-knowing god.

But it occurred to me

as the obvious does

and I had to laugh once more,

when from the woods

there came a knowing

of those more cunning

smiling just as silently

down upon me.

May 22, 2009

Rites of passage

It has been a while since I posted an entry on this blog, but personally, I’ve witnessed so much in the past few weeks — rites of passage, endings, beginnings — so much so that, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to reflect a bit.  Maybe something will strike a common chord with you or yours.  Please share if it does.

Within the past two weeks I’ve said goodbye to the 90 some odd students to whom I swore my allegiance for the fourteen weeks of the spring semester.  I’ve often described myself as an evangelical sociologist and instructor of women’s studies and I sincerely mean that.  (God knows that, as an adjunct, I don’t teach for the money or job security.)  But I am an absolute junkie for watching the lights flash on in a student’s eyes when she comes to understand that humanity has constructed the society in which we live — that it didn’t grow up from the ground and it wasn’t set in stone from above — it is not located within our DNA; or when she learns that she can proudly declare herself a feminist without also also being a lesbian or a hairy, army booted ball-buster.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian OR a hairy, army-booted ball-buster.)  I love my job and am always as sad as I am happy when the end of the semester comes.

The week before last was spent in a flurry of exercises and ceremonies as Annie and her Honors College classmates revocated and graduated.  During Revocation each Honors College student has the opportunity to address the audience with words sometimes witty, sometimes profound.  Annie did me proud by thanking me for raising her as a feminist and introducing her to women’s studies — she’d won the Arlie Childs award for Women’s Studies the week before.  Of course, I was the one who wanted to thank her — for embracing what matters so much to me rather than rejecting it, which she could easily have done in the name of stubbornness or autonomy.  Then she and all the other kids who, just four lightening fast years ago, had moved into and bonded in Maxcy — the same dorm her dad lived in during his time at Carolina, and the same dorm that Bonnie would move into a year later — walked across the stage at the Colonial Center, no longer kids, now graduates, now adults. 

No other image embodies optimism like that of a graduate in cap and gown. 

To see so many fresh young faces so pumped with pride and accomplishment — it was thrilling to me.  And to see my first born — a brilliant beauty — scooped up in the gowned arms of her beloved after the ceremony, was both thrilling and radicalizing.  I am now the mother of a grown woman.

Many of you were among the revelers at the Muddy Ford graduation celebration featuring  the musical stylings of the local Columbia band, American Gun.  It was such a joy to celebrate with the graduates and so many of their parents under the stars and in the glow of the tiki as the band played on our Gilligan’s Island stage.  Bob’s kolsch went down cool and sweet and delicious.   The boys in American Gun are not only talented but good and decent.  Sweet music for rowdy young turks and the awkward and discomfited parents they’ll grow into being.

The next afternoon we retreated to the primordial shores of South Carolina and spent the week licking the wounds of winter in the sand and under the partly cloudy skies of Hilton Head Island.  The sun finally came out on Saturday just in time for the momentous heart break of young love set asunder as Bonnie and her beau parted ways.  Tears washed us back to Muddy Ford on Sunday and have kept us under a steady but receding mist ever since.  Broken hearts heal but they do so far too slowly and the scars stay tender for life.  

All these experiences of the past few weeks — joy, pain, the bitter-sweet saying of goodbye, congratulations, you don’t need us anymore, you’re on your own, where did it go — these rites of passage have re-sensitized me to how precious our time is — and I mean this not in a syrupy, melodramatic way, but in a very literally precious — hold a bubble as it quivers in your hand — way.  Be still, hold it while you can because that very bubble will pop on your ass and then it is gone, just gone — and you’re done.

So tomorrow, Bob and I leave for 17 days in France as we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.  Thirty years ago we stupid and exceedingly lucky young lovers gambled it all — and it payed off in spades.  So much so that if it ended right now all we could say would be, “damn, what a run.”

I’ll try to write from the wine road, but in the meantime, here’s to the bitter and to the sweet.  Life — no regrets.  Au revoir.

May 3, 2009

Wine snobs not allowed

Filed under: aging,beer,beer book,not writing,wine,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 22:59
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Instead of writing yesterday, I spent most of the day working in what Bob and I surreptitiously call our “wine cellar.”  Don’t worry though, when we say it we look at each other and snicker like South Park characters.  What our “wine cellar” (nheh, heh, heh) consist of is several shelves in the pantry, a wooden wine box, a cardboard box and two wine fridges which we purchased from Lowe’s and stacked on top of one another in the mudroom.  So, though not technically a cellar — we don’t actually have to go down stairs or anything —  we do have to squat a lot to see what we’ve got in there, and that counts for something.

I’ve always wondered a lot about wine.  It’s fascinating to me how the taste of the earth and weather and fruit can be transformed into a liquid indulgence, and that people devote their lives to perfecting the ability to detect and evaluate these ingredients in a bottle of wine.  There’s also the cultural history that wine imbues, going back way beyond Jesus; wine has always been a lifesource, but only recently a source of controversy.  Both revered and reviled, wine has been a part of every known culture.  And then, of course, there’s the taste, the ritual, and the buzz — three of my favorite parts about being alive.  No wonder I’ve wondered about wine.

A few years ago, Bob and I decided that life was getting short, just as our parents had promised, and that if we were going to truly embrace and learn deeply about some of the things which we’d been yearning to learn, then we would need a plan.  Bob’s 50th birthday was approaching and, given that he has been both a beer aficionado and brewer for quite a while, we came up with the concept of the Year of Beer.  We would spend his 50th year reading about, traveling to, and tasting as many of the greatest beers in the world (and some not so great as well — see Lisbon, for example) as possible.  It is from this research that our upcoming book, Bob, Beer and Me, springs.  “The Year Of” was such a personal success that we decided to adopt the plan indefinitely.  So when I turned 50 this past November, we kicked off the Year of Wine.  (Future “Years Of” might include anything from castles to Dickens to Ireland — anything that we have an interest in and that allows us to learn and experience and travel.)

The economy being what it is, I’m not sure we’ll be able to travel quite as much for the wine year as we did for the beer year, but we have spent some time in Napa and Sonoma, (see my previous post on how to break your nose in wine country), and we’ll be leaving in a few weeks for a combination anniversary/wine trip to France.  And we’ve drank some wine. And bought some wine.  Hence our new wine cellar (nheh, heh, heh).  I just got up from the computer to get another Diet Pepsi, (coke is for dopes), and counted the bottles of wine that we have managed to purchase over the past few months, and it made me dizzier than if I had sucked down the whole bunch in a setting — there are one hundred and sixteen bottles of wine in there!  And that’s not counting the case of chard sitting in the corner of the kitchen for the graduation party next week.  

So if you’re out Muddy Ford way and feeling a little parched, please stop by and let me take you on a little tasting tour of our brand new wine cellar (nheh,heh, heh).  And if you have any empty cardboard boxes laying around, we’re taking contributions for the cause.

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, and


(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.)

Indier and grittier

Filed under: Columbia,films,not writing,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 18:27
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Starting in the summer of 2002 and continuing for the next four summers, our family took an apartment in Greenwich Village — once in the West Village near the meat packing district, but for the most part we were right on 5th Avenue, within a block of Washington Park.  (One year we sublet a townhouse on the historic Washington Mews while the owners spent their summer at their Tuscan villa.  Seriously — their Tuscan villa.)  

There’s something about living in New York that is so different from visiting it.  When we visit we hurry to get to our favorite bars and restaurants, see the shows and the galleries — suck in a huge hit of the city as fast and as furiously as possible.  But when you’re there for a while you can just sort of coast on the vibe and slowly soak it in.  Pretend you’re a New Yorker.  I loved pretending. 

One of my favorites of the penchants I adopted during my summers in NYC is a love for art house films.  Sweaty afternoons in the city would often find me chilling in the Angelica or huddled in a dark theatre on 12th Street munching on candy I’d smuggled in from the Chinese grocery. I was able to sustain my addiction to indie flicks during the three school years we spent in Winston-Salem, (the kids were attending NCSA and I taught Sociology and Women’s Studies at Salem College), by frequenting Fourth Street Films and the River Run film festival sponsored by the school of the arts.  Then, by the time we came back to SC full time, Larry Hembree had taken over at the Nick and I was thrilled to learn that I would never have to jones for any cinema of transgression again.  Life is good.

And then there is Indie Grits. 

Instead of writing over the past four days, I’ve spent as much time as my butt could take sitting in a dark theatre with a bunch of other local film junkies and dealers.  It’s been heaven.

There are a lot of things that we do stupidly in Columbia, SC — governors, quarterbacks, full parking lots at fast food chains, to name a few.  But the fact that Columbia is the home of the Indie Grits Film Festival is one of the things that we do so right, it almost makes up for the things that we do so dumb.

Today marks the closing day of the 2009 Indie Grits Film Festival.  This was the third, and by far the best year of the festival and, based on its upward arc in terms of film quality and diversity, attendance, variation in venue and events, I’m already psyched for next year.  This year, festival director Andy Smith took us to four different venues and, in addition to live music, amazing food (including Mac’s peach cobbler), a guerilla filmmaking workshop and pretty decent party booze, he gave us a good three dozen films that proved to be either provocative/heartbreaking/gripping/depressing/weird/farcical/beautiful/creepy or fill-in-the-blank-with-what-you-look-for-in-a-film. 

All this, and Bubba Cromer, too. (I’ll be blogging about Bubba soon.)

There were films I hated and films I loved, but there were no truly bad films — basically, a working example of a successful film festival.

So, congratulations to Andy Smith and Tori Katherman, Larry Hembree, and all the participants and prize winners at the 2009 Indie Grits Film Festival.  And congrats to Columbia — Indie Grits is something to be proud of.

Check out the Indie Grits website at and winners of this year’s festival at

To visit the sites of two my three favorite films this year go to

To give Andy Smith the pat on the back that he deserves, write to him at

April 15, 2009

Welcome to new readers

Hey — welcome to my blog and thanks for stopping by. 

If this is your first visit, then scroll down to the  About Cynthia Boiter link in bold on the right side of this page and click on it to find out a bit about me.  It’s just below a bold Subscribe to the Reluctant Writer link that I hope you’ll click as well.

I call my blog The Reluctant Writer:  Things to Do When I Should Be Writing because I have found it serves as a stop-gap for me when I am avoiding my work (the beer book and various freelance assignments).  When procrastination takes hold, I can blog rather than goofing off by surfing through cyberland or playing inane word games in the hopes of one day fending off Alzheimer’s.  This way, at least I’m still writing.

 I blog quite a bit on the things I’m researching and writing about — primarily arts, travel and booze of one kind or another.  I also teach in the Women’s & Gender Studies Program at the University of South Carolina, so you’re likely to find a healthy dose of feminism located within as well, with a sprinkling of politics.  Yes, the bleeding heart liberal kind.

So, again, thanks for visiting — feel free to leave a comment — and I hope to see you again soon.



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 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.

February 24, 2009

Oscar’s Prisons

(Spoiler alert — if you haven’t seen Revolutionary Road or — god forbid — don’t know the important place of Harvey Milk in our culture’s history)

The Oscars were held last weekend which, for a lot of us, meant a scrambling race to the finish line to try to view all the major contenders before the ceremony Sunday night.  Something else to do when I should have been writing. I did pretty well though, missing only two of the upper tiered films, Happy Go Lucky and Frozen River.  This year’s batch of films was particularly stimulating, and I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else noticed an understated theme amongst many of the cinematic messages.  Prisons.

Whether the prison walls were made of flesh and failings, as were those for the characters played by Kate Winslett, Mickey Rourke and Brad Pitt in The Reader, The Wrestler and the Curious Case of Benjamen Button, respectively; or those built out of years of guilt, grief and blame, as were those that imprisoned the subjects of Anne Hathaway, Richard Jenkins and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performances in Rachel Getting Married, The Visitor and Doubt — the intensity of  the lack of freedom that all these characters suffered was staggering.

But probably the most difficult states of confinement to witness were those created solely by the  constructed standards of intolerant societies in the films Milk and Revolutionary Road.  In both these films, the leading characters battled defiantly against the essentialist gender roles their frighteningly patriarchal and heteronormative societies had assigned them.  Kate Winslett’s character in Revolutionary Road, and Sean Penn’s portrayal of the real crusader Harvey Milk, both bucked some of the most strident of those arbitrary norms that typically arise as antidotes for humanity’s fear of the uncategorizable.  Women who don’t know their place.  Men who are just a little too soft.  People who think and analyze and question and therefore, must be crazy.

Sadly, a happy ending is as rare for this type of character in fiction, and in real life, as it was for the writer Virginia Woolf who, in 1941 in the throes of depression and an ongoing frustration with a world in which she felt she didn’t neatly fit, finally filled her pockets with stones and walked slowly into the River Ouse.   Be it a botched home abortion or bullets fired by the hand of a homophobic man, the real cause of all these deaths, Woolf’s included, was a world too tiny for more than one type of woman or man — a world that forced those with the audacity to think outside the cells in which they were given to live to ultimately sacrifice their lives for their prison walls to fall.

Ironically, the big winner of Oscar night was Slumdog Millionaire, a film that celebrates a young man’s escape from the prison of poverty in India — a country far enough away from the western world for American viewers to safely criticize its culture.  Unfortunately, it is less ironic, and actually pretty typical, that the socially approved means of escape for this valiant and spirited young man was money.  A happy ending courtesy of both Holly- and Bollywood.

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