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 4, 2009

Flash Fiction — Releasing Raylene

I was recently honored to be the inaugural winner for fiction in the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Quill Contest.  I submitted a short, short piece — typically termed “flash fiction” and was awarded a small but thoughtful prize.  It was a fun little piece that, like Dobie, another flash fiction winner in a Women on Writing contest sponsored by WW Norton, seemed to flow fairly effortlessly — very much the way you might tell a story or share an anecdote.  The lightness of this piece is a bit of a departure for me and, since it’s short, I thought my astute readers my get a kick out of it.  Here is Releasing Raylene.

Releasing Raylene

By Cynthia Boiter

 

The idea that anything Lula said could be something other than a hoot had never crossed Raylene’s mind.  She loved going to the little mill village beauty shop for the banter and the foolishness as much as she did for the attention Lula gave to the top of her head.  She had tried to convince herself that the conceit of an occasional shampoo and set was something she did more for her husband than for herself.  But when Dewey got the call from the Lord to become the associate pastor of the Church of the Beloved Body of Christ the same week that a Saturday morning slot opened miraculously at Lula’s shop, Raylene was convinced it was the Lord’s will her hair be pretty.  So she booked herself in perpetuity.  In some ways she did it for Dewey; in others, she did it for the Lord.

            Lula had a knack for working people up.  She would read a story about a half baby – half alien in The National Enquirer, or see a segment on 60 Minutes about a campground full of bigamists, then relay a portion of the information she had learned to the women in her shop, embellishing the parts she could not recall.  Raylene would hear snippets of Lula’s latest broadcast in line at the A & P, or catch a familiar phrase before the chatter died down in Sunday school, and know what was on everyone’s mind.  Always on her best behavior, Raylene rarely took part in any discourse that teetered near the theatric.  Even as a grown woman, there was enough little lady in her to know when to best look at her feet and smile.   

But on the rare morning when business at the shop was slow, or if Lula wasn’t feeling hoarse from a hard week’s work, she would occasionally engage Raylene as her private audience.  No stranger to the shortfalls of humanity, Lula could be counted on to apply pristine judgment to the workings of the world.  It was with this prudence that she introduced Raylene to the concept of the women’s libber.

            “Right there in the road with both Bert Parks and God looking on,” Lula rasped, her voice hardly a whisper but the certainty of scandal in her eyes.  “Hairspray, curlers, make-up, what have you, right into a fifty-five gallon drum.  Some even threw in their bras and girdles, if you can believe that!  Stripped ‘em right off their bodies, tossed ‘em in, and – whoosh!  Up in flames!”

            It wasn’t that Raylene was insensitive to Lula’s distress at the destruction of articles of beauty.  In fact, the very idea of throwing away a perfectly good lipstick made her gasp.  But the thought of summarily dispensing with a bra struck a tender nerve somewhere near her breastbone and she felt herself squirm beneath the elastic, lace and wire.  The kind of woman who wore her brassier like a second layer of skin, the concept of not wearing it was as foreign to Raylene as going barefoot in the rain or dancing in the street.  She wore her bra like she wore her own smell.  The only thing she took off her body less than her bra was her wedding band – because it needn’t be laundered or changed.  Raylene wore her bra to shop in, to clean in, and to sleep in.  It was the last thing she took off before bathing and the first thing she put back on.  It wasn’t that she wanted to wear it, or that she even liked wearing it.  She had made no conscious decision in the matter.  She wore her bra because that was what women did, which was all she thought she needed to know.

            Raylene left Lula’s shop that Saturday morning with an uneasy feeling swimming about her head.  Try as she might she couldn’t shake Lula’s story and, throughout her walk home, she revisited the idea with a guilty sense of confusion.  Never one to notice her own body, much less that of another woman, Raylene began to let her eyes slide down the faces of  the women she encountered to the area below their chins and, finally, to their breasts.  Aware that God could read her every thought she quickly reassured both Him, and herself, that she had no untoward interests in the women; their brassieres were where her interests lie.

But once the day’s duties were done and she found herself alone in the little tile bathroom where she freshened and changed her clothes, her own image in the mirror caught her eye.  Raylene couldn’t remember the last time she had looked at her body; it was as much a stranger to her as it was to Dewey, who sought only specific parts and then in the quiet ambiguity of the dark.  The woman in the mirror wore white cotton panties below a sturdy brassiere that crossed her heart neatly, leaving a narrow ribbon of flesh in between.  Eyes closed, Raylene slid the fingers of one hand down her neck, across her shoulder and under the strap. The cool touch of her hand gave way to a deep and glowing warmth.  She took a breath and let her palm move further down, across skin that felt sumptuous – like peach fuzz.  There was a roundness below she could sense as much as feel – a whole, satisfying, centering roundness that took Raylene’s thoughts out of the bathroom and into her summer garden where she cupped her palm around the imperfect sphere of a ripe tomato, full and warmed by morning sun.  It took her into the sweet smells of her morning kitchen, where a raised mound of dough was firm, living, ready to reinvent itself as hot buttered biscuits.  It took her to the furry belly of a childhood pup – round and wonderful and sated with absolute trust.

The grind of gravel in the driveway told her that Dewey was home from the church.  Out the window she could see the splat of fresh spring rain dot the windshield of his car.  His keys jingled in the back door then, slam, and all the air in the house pushed through the doorways and walls.

“I’m home,” he called as he sifted the mail in his hands.  He could hear the pat of Raylene’s feet down the hallway and through the kitchen, then away toward the back porch and door.  He looked up into the emptiness of the kitchen and realized she was gone. 

The rain, no longer a drizzle, ran in sleek rivulets down the window panes that looked out Raylene’s kitchen onto the street and the houses and shops and churches beyond.

“Raylene?” Dewey called, wiping the fog from the window.  “Good God, Raylene, where are you?”

And in the middle of the tar and gravel road that took the woman everywhere she went in the world in which she lived, Raylene stood, feet bare, face raised to heaven, arms extended like a wind mill in the steady rain that streamed and puddled in a tender valley between her breasts, separated from the world by nothing more than a thin layer of cotton and the unmistakable veil of joy.  

 

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.

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