Dream Weaver: Cynthia Hodell Dyer

By Connie Barnard

Dream Weaver: Cynthia Hodell Dyer

It’s a new year, a fresh start. Many of use are eager to wipe the slate clean and begin anew. Some are motivated by harsh economic realities of 2009, others by a deep persistent nudge to move in new directions, to re-invent or re-kindle inner spirits. For yet others, the tapestry of life has become so crowded that it may be time to step back and examine our lives more clearly.

Conway resident Cynthia Hodell Dyer’s life has been a living lesson of continuous reinvention. Referring to herself as a “serial re-newer,” Cynthia is first and foremost a seeker whose fine mind and lively spirit have constantly directed her down interconnected paths of learning. Over the last thirty years, she has been a social worker, a theatrical director, a college professor, an ordained minister, a wife and a mother. These days she is becoming a poet – and a weaver. While in Asheville last summer, Cynthia visited a loom shop and began the pursuit of a lifelong dream – to own a loom and learn to weave. She spent a day in Hendersonville with professional weaver Brenda Cameron where she learned to dress (load) a loom, then to weave – creating the long fringed shawl in rich jewel tones which she wore to her husband’s college reunion in October. More recently, Cynthia attended the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair in Asheville and came home with a supply of weaving tools and yarns she describes as scrumptious. “All of a sudden,” she says, “I am a weaver.”

Cynthia is a weaver in the literal as well as the metaphorical sense. “My mother testifies that I have always been interested in weaving,” she recalls. “Loved ones received my fledgling pot holders as gifts on many an occasion when I was small. During my nomadic years I wasn’t able to own a loom – both for financial and logistical reasons – so now and then I’d purchase a 6 x 8 foot length of burlap, hang it on a wall, and partially unweave it, leaving the open spaces. I loved seeing an open wall through the structure of the fabric. Five or six years ago I unwove a giant piece of black burlap on the living room wall in my home. Then, for a change, I picked up yarns in vivid colors and textures and wove them into the empty warp threads with a long needle.” In like manner, her life has followed a similar pattern of weaving, unweaving, savoring the blank spaces, adding vibrant color.

The daughter of an architect father, who is still working at age 88, and a creative, free-thinking mother, Cynthia grew up in Mariemont, Ohio, outside Cincinnati. Always encouraged to “look for the teacher,” Cynthia has continually moved in new directions, led by a deep and abiding hunger to seek, to learn and to share. Friend and fellow artist Sally Renata says of her: “Cynthia is unique in that while women tend to minister to others, few are in touch with their own needs, their strengths and weaknesses. She is one of the most active people I know, yet she takes time to reflect, to ‘take her temperature’ in route, to digest the world around her and go within…She is a wonderful example – not of reinventing, but of continually finding oneself.”

After graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in psychology, Cynthia headed west to Colorado where she tried her hand at a variety of jobs, including a two-year stint as a welfare case worker with D.S.S. in Colorado Springs. While there, she joined a church choir. The church, it turns out, had a very active drama group, and Cynthia suddenly found herself cast in the lead role of The Crucible. She fell in love with the theater and helped found an amateur repertory troupe around which she accommodated her paid employment for several years before moving east to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Theater from Boston University’s College of Fine Arts.

While teaching public speaking at a community college in Wellesley, Mass., Cynthia once again found herself feeding the hunger to explore new directions. In 1978, she accepted a position as Assistant Professor and Chair of the Department of Theater and Speech at Coastal Carolina College (now CCU) in Conway, S.C. At Coastal she met and fell in love with a young political science professor, Eddie Dyer, who now serves as the university’s Executive Vice President. They married, and this year celebrated their twenty-eighth anniversary. The Dyers have two grown children: son Emerson, a writer and grad student in Cincinnati, and Hilary, an admissions counselor and grad student at USC in Columbia.

While her children were young, to have flexible work hours, Cynthia spent several years as a self-employed creative dramatics teacher. Through a South Carolina Arts Commission’s Arts in Education grant, she became an artist-in-residence in schools in Horry and Georgetown Counties and a senior citizen’s program in Conway. She also returned to her liturgical roots, working in creative ministries through drama and liturgical dance programs and leading studies and services at Socastee United Methodist Church. “I quickly fell in love with studying the Bible,” she says.

As a result of these experiences, in 1991, Cynthia chose a new direction in her lifelong pattern of learning. On the day her daughter, Hilary, entered kindergarten, Cynthia began graduate studies at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia. For the next five years she commuted to Columbia while holding pastoral positions at Methodist churches in the greater Conway area. She received her Master of Divinity degree in 1996 and has served as pastor at Methodist churches in Conway, Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island.

After retiring from active ministry in 2003, Cynthia began to “look around for something new to learn,” something personally pleasing and less structured than a typical degree program. She chose creative writing and poetry classes with CCU professor and poet Dr. Dan Albergotti, and once again started down a new and exciting road. “These days,” she says, “I am describing myself as a poet, another lifelong dream. I try to write a few hours every day and am feeling more and more comfortable in my own voice and styles.” Cynthia has also shared her talents with a new community of associates in leadership roles with the S.C. Writer’s Workshop which convenes in Myrtle Beach each fall with 400-500 poets and writers participating. Through CCU’s Lifelong Learning Program, she has led classes based on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

Cynthia has been deeply influenced by the innovative writings of medical intuitive and best-selling author Caroline Myss, particularly her 2002 book, Sacred Contracts. This work deals with identifying spiritual energies or archetypes, the gatekeepers of an individual’s divine potential and unique purpose. “I am a spiritual seeker who has roamed through life. That is not the right path for everyone.” Dyer says. “However, when we sense it’s right to re-invent ourselves or to find a way to refresh what we continue doing, we can give ourselves the gift of permission to explore new avenues without fear of failure. We can listen to the intuitive part of us that sometimes flies in the face of logic.”

“Looking back over my lifetime, I see what effective metaphors unweaving and weaving are for the choices and changes I have made,” Cynthia says. “Over the years I have often found myself unweaving the fabric of my life – letting go of hobbies, jobs, careers, places and even people, as if tugging out old threads to make space for new hues and textures. Until now, as with my unweaving and reweaving projects, I have always kept most of the old fabric, almost as if I were clinging to the past. But, in this time of my life, post-career and empty-nested, I have the opportunity to start substantially from scratch. I am giving myself permission to choose a new yarn for the warp, the subtle, strong threads that form the underlying framework of my tapestry, as well as for the weft, the cross strands that add fanciful, surprising color. I can’t wait to live into the new life I am creating!”

Sometimes we have to unweave and weave again to create something new and exciting.

About this writer

  • Connie BarnardConnie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.

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