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

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.

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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.

Cheers,

Cindi

April 1, 2009

Anne Boudreau and Jesus Bugs

Filed under: poetry,procrastination,SC Arts,writer's life — cynthiaboiter @ 19:21
Tags: , , ,

I’ve spent the day trying to write an article for Lake Murray Magazine about the artist, Anne Boudreau.  Anne is a glorious textile artist whose fabric sculptures mesmerize me.  Her abstract pieces are stimulating and intriguing — it’s hard to take your eyes away from them.  And her more expressionist pieces, the ones she is working on now for her exhibition opening in May at 701 CCA, seem to almost embody life.  I look forward to seeing them balanced, as they will be, in the air around them — moving with the environment, with the breeze.  Should be lovely.

But I write that I’ve been trying to write and I mean that literally. Today I have most certainly been the reluctant writer.  Spring, house painters, a noisy skill saw — all these distractions have championed me as I’ve tried to give Anne’s art the words it deserves.  At one point, I stopped and took a walk down the lane that leads to Muddy Ford.  I spent a few moments peering over the cedar fence Chuck built for us to bridge the small creek on the front of our property.  These are the words that came so easily then.

 

Jesus bugs walk across the water

of the creek below our house.

Yolk colored pollen drifts from a sky

the color of baby powder

and I raise my hands

like a supplicant

to feel on my fingertips

the sensation of talc.

 

The wisteria has been born again, I see.

And in the dogwood blossom

carmine corners remind me.

Miracle.

 

The article isn’t finished yet, but at least something is.

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

 

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.

February 10, 2009

Community arts as as family?

I shouldn’t be writing now, and I certainly shouldn’t be blogging — I should be grading papers.  That will come, of course, because it has to.   The students are waiting and they are expecting.  Just like stories I’m writing on deadline or contests I plan to enter.  Those things get done because of external parameters.  Such is the life of the soldier with little self discipline.  It doesn’t torture me anymore.  It just is.  Self disciplined people have their own demons with which to do battle and those of us with less strident crickets precariously perched on our shoulders have ours.  We know our demons — we may not love them or appreciate them, but they’re ours, and we accept them.

Which brings me tenuously to a look at the culture of the arts in Columbia, SC.  Having lived in the SC midlands for over 20 years now and always been a patron of the arts, I’ve been watching the culture for a while.  Though I am a student of the literary arts, dance is the point of departure for much of the art culture that I know intimately.  Our daughters started out as students and one of them became a serious dancer, who danced principal parts as a student at NCSA, then was lured back to USC by a juicy scholarship and the opportunity to learn under Stacey Calvert.  One or both of our girls have danced at some time or another in almost every studio in the city, as serious dancers are likely to do.  Their studies have given me some insight into what happens beyond the studio door.

Which brings me back to the culture of the arts in Columbia, SC and the concept of family.

Columbia has recently enjoyed a dance-happy period of arts opportunities with performances coming steadily for four weeks in a row — Life Chance, then USC Dance Company’s American Treasures, William Starrett’s Off the Wall, and this week, for the rambunctious amongst us, Riverdance is performing  on the same stage as all of the above in the weeks before.  In about a month, we’ll also have the chance to see Simone Cuttino’s staging of the Wizard of Oz for Radenko Pavlovich, followed by William’s full length Don Quixote, then USC’s presentation of the Ballet Stars of the NYC Ballet, dancing along with USC’s company.  I’m probably leaving something out — Carolina Ballet usually brings their group of talented and enthusiatic young dancers to the stage in the spring as well.

Clearly, despite being something less than a southern arts Mecca, Columbia is rich with chances to observe one of humanity’s purist exhibitions of angst and joy — dance.  And to the casual observer, this would be something to celebrate.  But for those of us who are saddened by the lack of comraderie among some of our local dance powers that be, there is often a little less spark to the spectacle due to the dulling nature of the politics that go on behind the scenes.  Grudges, old wounds, misrepresentations, rumours, insecurities and fears abound — less with the dancers themselves and moreso with the big guys, old timers and occasional patrons who must think that one day their loyalty will be rewarded — or maybe that negative energy is good for the soul?

Not me. I often have curious folks from one camp question why I continue to support the other camp despite all the flaws, real and imagined, the curious folks so easily see.

The reason is simple.  Like it or not, the Columbia arts community — particularly those who are, know or love dancers — is a family.  And not just a run of the mill family, but a Southern Family, at that.  All of our members are right out there on display, including extra helpings of crazy aunts who in any other part of the country might be hidden in the attic.

And just like a family, there is no getting away from those to whom you are related.  Everything that is done is done in the reflection of one another.   Sure, you can try to hide.  You can move to another state or studio; you can marry or change your name.  But every single person who has danced, will dance or watched dance in Columbia, SC is connected to one another through training, technique, history and experience.  We’ll all come together at the funerals in the end.

But why wait?  Why not adopt the policy of those competitive California wineries back in 1976 when Chateau Montelena slapped the French wine snobs in the face with the proverbial white glove and went on to win the Judgment of Paris?  Or similarly that of the Pacific Northwest craft beer breweries who, though actively competing for the price of the pint, are positively stoked by one another’s successes?  For those big fish, a win for any ONE in their small sea is worth a win for all.  How nice it would be to hear one Columbia dance artistic director compliment another, or cheer from the audience, or better, encourage his dancers and students to be both patrons and artists.

Because that is what we do when we’re family.  We know one another — we may not love or appreciate one another, but we belong, we accept — we’re family.

Now, I really have to get back to writing — grading.

February 3, 2009

I am a lemming, too.

Filed under: not writing,procrastination,Uncategorized,writer's life,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 20:38

I really never thought I would do this.  Blog.  Just what cyberspace needs — another self-important blogger who thinks the world is interested in what she thinks.  Classic.  But here I am, staring at the screen — as usual — when I should be writing something constructive.  I’m working on a book, you know.  I’d like to get it done by the end of the summer, too.  We’ve been researching it for 17 months now and are just about finished.  I’ve written about 100 pages and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve written.  So, why am I not writing page 101 or page 102?  Or doing that continuous self-editing thing that I love to do and that one is never supposed to do when you’re trying to get your words on a page.  You know what I mean, going back and re-reading everything you’ve written so far and tweaking words and phrases here and there,  fact checking, rearranging — that kind of thing.  That’s the kind of thing that keeps you at 100 pages for months at a time.  I wish I wouldn’t do it.  But I love it.  I think part of the reason I love it is because it reminds me that I can write at times when I’m feeling not so sure that I can.  Which is how I’ve spent too many minutes of my life.  Questioning.  Second-guessing.  Stupid.

I’ve been writing creatively since I was a little southern girl in a poor Spartanburg County elementary school surrounded by kids who couldn’t imagine writing anything they weren’t required to.  I wish I remembered who first indicated to me that what I wrote wasn’t garbage — if there was anyone.  I’d like to both hug and wring the neck of that person.

But I remember as early as the third grade saying I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.  I mostly wrote poems then.  And when I moved on to junior high (before it was called “middle school”) and then high school, I always either wrote for or edited the school newspapers and literary magazines.  I think I won my first award in elementary school though.  I think this because I have a tiny bronze (colored) charm, shaped like a miniature scroll, in a box in the attic with the words “READ Magazine” on one side and, if I’m not mistaken, where I placed in the competition (cannot remember this for the life of me) on the other side.  Third grade?  Fifth?  I’m not sure.

In high school I was one of three self-acknowledged poets in my class.  Me, Frederick Tucker and Suzie Something.  I started winning awards freshman year for my poetry.  The University of South Carolina – Spartanburg held an annual literary contest and published the results in a fairly nice literary magazine called “Maggie’s Drawers.”    In the four years I was in high school I placed or won every year.  For poetry.  Which I rarely write anymore.  Me, Arnold Kimmons and Barry Bridwell.  Arnold and Barry were in my future husband Bob’s class — two years ahead of me.  I considered their company validating.

 

At this point I should mention the things I have done while trying to write this blog entry.

got another Diet Coke

re-stacked the books on my window shelf so the new kitten, Jimmy Carter, wouldn’t knock them over when he climbed over them

409’d my desk

scootched one of my printers over so Zora the cat would have a larger spot to lie on her Heineken towel in the sun

looked out the window into the woods for deer

popped my knuckles

checked my email three times

purposefully stretched

made a list of possible blog topics in one of my new Urban Outfitter’s notebooks — the green one with the cuckoo clocks on it

tried again to get the cuckoo clock we bought in Rothenburg summer before last while researching beer to work

self edited four times

got another Diet Coke and restocked the fridge with more Diet Cokes

noticed that my stomach was growling and tried to ignore it

 

I didn’t win any writing awards when I was in college because I was in love.  It was much easier to write poetry in high school because of broken hearts and insecurities and general adolescent angst and malaise.  In college I was preparing to be married and then being married.  I wrote for myself only occasionally.

In graduate school I wrote all the time, of course, but rarely for myself.  My mentor, Tom Dietz, sent one of my papers in — can’t remember what it was about — to the Irene B. Tauber competition for Sociology Graduate Students and I won.  That helped me remember the pleasure of accolades for my words.  But I finished my masters, moved back to SC, bought a house, had a baby and began my doctoral work and taught my first adjunct classes in sociology and women’s studies all within the next year.  I wrote constantly about the South and even wrote a chapter for a book my mentor in the history department, Dr. Tom Connelly, was writing about the South.  He died before it was published. 

I had another baby 16 months after the first and decided to stay home and try my hand at freelance writing.  Made the decision in April and had my first piece accepted in a national publication in June.  Took that to be a sign.  For 10 good years I wrote constantly for local magazines as well as national and international women’s and parenting magazines like Family circle, Parents, Parenting, American Baby, Expecting, Woman’s Day, Brides, Southern Living — mostly writing about women’s and children’s health.  I loved it.  Pretty soon I started writing fiction — short stories actually.  And sometimes I finished them. 

My first biggish award came the year we built our house on Muddy Ford — almost 16 years ago now. I had written a story about the night my dad asked my mother to marry him.  It’s better than it sounds.  I entered it into the South Carolina Fiction Project – something I had revered ever since I’d  heard of it – and it won.  The next year I entered another – and it won, too.  Then the powers that be (cliche — pardons) decided that once a person wins, she or he has to skip a year before entering again.  I skipped a year, then won again.  I did that a couple more times until I had won five times.  In the meantime, The Proposal, the story I’d written about my parents, took the Porter Fleming Prize as well as a prize from Rock Hill, and was published in an anthology that Hub City Writers put out and was edited by Janette Turner Hospital.  She had some nice things to say about me, both in the forward to the anthology and in an article on southern writers in which she was quoted.  She grouped me with people like Sue Monk Kidd.  It felt good.  I was writing and raising kids and a pretty happy camper.  Then came the year of death.  I’ll write about that soon. 

 

In the meantime you should know that while I was writing this I took time to …

snuggle Uncle Joe the kitten

 have a green tea instead of a diet coke

pee

get myself a couple of chunks of cheddar

check my email twice

check Facebook (damn addiction)

pop my knuckles

add to my blog list

check the cuckoo clock – still not working

check for deer

twist my hair into a bun

and self edit again

 

This is why my blog is called the Reluctant Writer.

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