Wednesday, August 27, 2014

As the World Turns



Yesterday, the Matron moved her eldest into his dorm room.   Tears were shed and not just by her.   That young man may have experienced a moment of Sniffle himself.



At the University of Minnesota (ahem, BIG scholarship), he is close to home, but oh-so-far-away.   Yesterday was clearly a move out.   Away.  Into the new chapter. 

And this one, the girl?




Is now a young woman.   Happy birthday, Scarlett!!  The Matron's only daughter turned 16 today!   The Matron and her husband are parents of few rules and one of them is:  no dating until you're 16.  That's right.  Not a  peck, not a walk in the park, not a boyfriend-girlfriend.   Merrick asked Scarlett if she "plans to go crazy."  




But her mother isn't worried about that.   This child has been focused, disciplined and determined since birth. She continues to amaze and blaze onstage (The Cherry Orchard, coming up next) but has also shown up as her older brother's intellectual equal.   He was fourth in his graduating class.  She is rounding that corner at #7.   But 16!

Suddenly, Merrick isn't quite so much the baby anymore.   Not after pulling on that uniform and stepping into Middle School this morning.  He went in her little guy and emerged a middle-schooler.




She is certain that he will try to break that 'date at 16 rule.'    




The Matron feels like the real matronly deal -- the old lady sitting with her cronies in the church basement, watching the young people sing and dance after the wedding -- full of nostalgia, full of hope for the spectacular future in the youth before her, humbled by her own role in the universe. Her life! Tiny! Huge! Tiny by scale but enormous in terms of heart. The scope of history gives us just a firefly blip in its timeline, but each day shaped by love is as rich and dense as eternity.  

She is grateful for each and every one of those days she's given. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Future Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank?

The Matron, awash with maternal anticipation for Middle School, took Merrick to orientation for his academically rigorous new school. Incoming sixth-graders were given a piece of paper with five questions and ushered into the gym, where a teacher explained precisely what they were to do with that piece of paper over the next two hours. Students would be going to small classroom meetings, where they would hear school themes and messages that should be recorded onto that paper to answer the five questions. This went on, clearly and without deviation, for 15 minutes. Then the group disbanded for said small classroom meetings.

Merrick (waving paper): "Mom?!! What do I do with this?"

Matron: "We just spent the past half hour talking about this!"

Merrick: "We did?"

Matron: "You go room to room with your group, and the teachers will give you ideas about how to answer the questions on the paper. Does that make sense?"

Merrick: "Is this school now or something before that happens? And what did you say again about that paper?"

When she left him with group and home room teacher, all she  could do was shove him into the fold, look the teacher square in the eye and say: (with meaiing):  "Good luck."
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Moment with Merrick


There are times when the Matron simply cannot get over the absolute adorability of her youngest son!  

In the kitchen:

Matron: "What do you want for your snack at camp, Merrick? Carrots, sugar snap peas, apple?"

Merrick: "Beef jerky."

Matron: "Don't want something to go with that -- a vegetable, fruit, cracker?"

Merrick (totally taken aback): "Mom! This is SPORTS camp. I can't bring sugar snap peas to a sports camp. I need meat."

Matron: "Preferably raw, correct? A big hunk of raw meat?"

Merrick (joy!): "Do we have some!!?"

Speaking of adorability, just see that radiate when he was three!    That little man could move a Fisher Price.  And he did . . . endlessly. 




Eight years later . . . and back in that kitchen.

 Merrick inquired if child labor laws existed in Minnesota.

Matron: "Well, yes. Why do you ask that?"

Merrick: "That's private information for me and the police."

For the record . . this is not long after he helped his mother set the recycling at the curb.

So much for the yard work impulse, it would appear.  The Matron thinks Mr. Adorability won't need lawn skills or a well-developed palate to succeed in life, particularly with the ladies (or the men, should he swing in that direction).   

He just needs to bat those eyes.




Thursday, August 14, 2014

Linguistics R Us

The end at the beginning.   Ardis?  You win the draw!    Kicks Like a Girl is heading your way . . send details to mpetrie33 at gmail dot com.

Otherwise . .. .

The Matron is about to do a servere disservice to Complex Linguistic Theory.   If you have a PhD in English and are reading this, please forgive her.  You know who you are.

 In this theory, absence defines what is present.    Sounds like super-duper gibberish?  Absence defines what's present?

It goes like this:  part of the reason we know that "G" is "G" is because it is not A, B, C, or D and so on.   We understand "apple" as "apple," in part, because it is not this box of letters  -- "table"  or this box of letters "bed."  

Absence is important because there is no fixed meaning to any box of letters, to any word.  For example, if the Matron asks you to picture a "coat" in your mind, what do you see?  Give that coat a color, history, texture, length.   Picture it.

This whole blog post depends on the visual.  Get that coat in your head!

You can bet your coat was different than hers.   The Matron saw a red suede little number, with heavy stiching and a vintage edge.   Knee length. And she owns one.   Unless everyone reading this saw the same, it's clear that our understanding of '"coat" varies from person to person.  When we see the word "coat," we don't each see red, suede, and adorable.   But we can all know that "coat" is not "porch."   So even if we can't immediately see the same "coat," we know it's not "porch" or anything else, and can get to that general shared framework of "coat."

This, in short (and to summarize and bastardize LEGIONS of work and theory), this is why absence -- what a word is not -- is fundamental to what the word means.

Being the literary sort, the Matron has returned to Complex Literary Theory in the course of her everyday life.    The past few days have been spent entirely in service of --or defined by -- what is not.   What is absent.  The list?

  • He Who Cannot Be Named (HWCBN)'s wisdom teeth
  • John
  • Scarlett
  • Merrick

HWCBN had his wisdom teeth removed on Monday and, boy oh boy!  The Matron cannot remember a time when something that didn't exist caused her so much maternal headache and toil:  ice packs, pain medication, soft food, warm salt water, medicated rinse, etc.    This, folks, has not been a pain-free process.  The extraction went well but the young man in question?  Suffering.   But the Matron is running about, utterly defined by the absence of those damn teeth.

Complicating this is the fact that the rest of the household has departed -- absent, gone, poof!   Scarlett is doing a week-long theater residency in northern Minnesota; John and Merrick are camping.    Although the lack of people --and subsequent domestic mayhem -- has been conducive to HWCBN's recovery, it has also meant that there is nobody else here for HWCBN to talk to.   . . . . so not only is she hustling around meeting his medical needs, she must also pause and perch on a bedside (appearing as if she had all the time in the world!) to chat and otherwise entertain, unassisted.  The Matron is on solo social duty because of what she lacks, the absence:  everybody else.

While the Matron feigns Repose with her firstborn, her head is exploding with the list of Stuff that Must Get Done  -- from sabbatical project to book promotion to pain medication to malt-making to dog-walking.   That Stuff inserts itself into the Matronly mind to claw and carp:   wash me!  Walk me!  Write me!

The things taking up her brain space -- those chores, that Stuff, -- are also currently absent.   Here she is, sitting by the bedside, ministering to the ailing.   Her outside demeanor?  Well!  Florence Nightinggale could take a page!    Invisible to others, yet structuring the Matron's own experience of this moment,  is what she is not doing.  She is sitting here.  She is not writing.    She can only be sitting here because she is not writing.    Again, defined by what's absent.

These, friends, are the sorts of thoughts that currently clutter the Matronly mind and shape her experience.  Feel sorry for her.    She is not just caring for the ailing while unloading the dishwasher and every other damn thing, but she must do so while awash in semiotics.

Now, that's a tricky way to live.

Unloading the dishwasher, awash in semiotics.

And on another  -- more Reality Driven -- note entirely.

Kicks Like a Girl goes to Ardis.   Send details to mpetrie33 at gmail dot com.










Tuesday, August 5, 2014

From the Minivan

 .The Matron is driving her son.   Everywhere. 

Merrick: "Mom, when do you get paid?"

Matron: "Friday."

Merrick (SHOOTS UP, LIT): "FRIDAY! You get paid on FRIDAY?!! What are we going to DO! How are you going to spend that money?! Are we getting a new van finally?"

Matron: "Well, no. We're going to pay some bills and buy groceries. As usual. Why?"

Merrick: "But that's an AWFUL lot of money. Don't you get like $XX,XXX thousand dollars? On Friday?!!! We get $XX,XXX thousand dollars on FRIDAY!"

Matron: "Actually, honey, I don't get paid my entire year's salary all at once."

Merrick: "What!?!! You're kidding me."

Matron: "No. It gets spread out all year long. I get a little bit every two weeks."

Merrick: "Why does your college do that? Does the government know about this? That doesn't seem right."

Matron: "That's the way salaries work in America, Merrick. Everybody pretty much gets their money spread out over a year. Inver Hills is absolutely like every other college and company that way."

Merrick (shocked): "That is SUCH a strange system.It seems wrong.  I mean, if it's your money, why does someone else manage it?  And I was really happy about that $XX,XXX on Friday."

And so goes the slow slide into reality.  Sorry, Merrick.


Folks -- it's not $XX,XXX thousand dollars, but it's free.  And good!    Leave a comment and I'll randomly pick someone to receive a copy of Melissa Westemeier's Kicks Like a Girl.  




Perfect book to slip into a purse and pull out in a grocery line, on the beach, at the red light (okay, maybe not that).   But I kept reading, stayed up late to finish it, and laughed out loud -- a lot.    

Just like I often do in the minivan . . .



Thursday, July 31, 2014

At Bikram Yoga, every single day -- without variation -- the Matron practices yoga side by side, mat to mat, with a man somewhat older than she is.  Let's call him Dear Slightly Older Guy.   The Matron and DSOG have sweated together for nearly a year now.  They commiserate. They monitor the heat. They foster one another's bad habits. They groan and roll eyes in predictable ways. In sum, they have a relationship, cemented through this year of yoga, side-by-side.  DSOG is single, quirky.   He lives with his sister.   That phrase (he lives with his sister) says much when it applies to a 58 year old man.   He is retired from construction work and largely spends his time at yoga, doing odd jobs, pursuing the odd interest here and there.  He's pretty much broke.    In sum, he is not - as the ladies might put it -- a "CATCH."  But he has a good heart and the Matron adores him and their yoga chatter.

But today! The Matron moved her mat across the room!!! 

She has her reasons and shares them with him before the class starts.  Whispering.  Because they are not supposed to talk, but of course, they do.  Daily.

Matron: "I'm trying to be less rigid. More flexible."

DSOG: "Flexible up here. . . in the psyche, right?"

Matron: "Yes - I'm too stuck on routine."

DSOG: "You know what people are going to think, don't you?"

Matron: (having never considered that anyone was going to think anything about this at all): "No, what?"

DSOG: "That we're having an affair and we're fighting. Or broke up."

Matron: "You're insane. Nobody's thinking that."

DSOG: "Nope. That's what people are thinking. They are totally thinking we're having an affair. But there's trouble"

Matron: "I can tell you with absolute assurance that not one woman in that locker room --- not one -- thinks that we are having an affiar."

DSOG (disappointed): "Not one?   Maybe it's a guy thing?"

Matron: "I don't know. Shall we survey the locker rooms? Find out who thinks that the reason I MOVED MY MAT is because I'm having an affair.   First conclusion, obviously.

DSOG  (slight pause, consideration): "I think I'm good, Mary. No need for that survey thing."

Matron: "Just keep me posted on our relationship status, as other people perceive it."

DSOG: "You got it."

And they were good.

Monday, July 28, 2014

World Blog Tour


There they are!   Her lovelies -- At the End of Magic -- on an actual bona fide bookstore shelf!    One of the Matron's friends is, coincidentally and beautifully, the owner of a beloved St. Paul bookstore, the Red Balloon Bookshop.   Whereas other small, independent bookstore owners might balk at a self-published book on their shelves, this friend immediately offered:  "Mary!  I will stock your book!"

Gotta love the power of the female friendship-- power which extends to the Matron's online relationships.   She has met this blogger, Green Girl, in person.  That's right.  The Matron and Green Girl breathed actual air together.  Their children played.   Coffee was consumed.     It seems to the Matron, at the ripe old age of ( ) that all the good things in her life bloom out of relationships - not money, not accolades, not stuff.

People.

So the Matron was thrilled when Melissa AKA Green Girl tapped her to participate in the World Blog Tour, a jaunt through women bloggers who also write books.  


Melissa Westemeier has a long list of publications, including the two novels Kicks Like a Girl and Whipped, not Beaten.    When she's not busy creating Art, Green Girl is busier creating Family -- she blogs about life with men (three sons, one husband), nature, writing, and work.     It's a spot on the internet not to be missed.


The World Blog Tour asks bloggers to reflect for a moment on writing.   Specifically:

       What are you working on now?
    How does your work differ from others in its genre?
    Why do you write what you do?

    How does your writing process work?

Like most academics, when faced with four simple questions that could be answered directly and in order, the Matron will most likely prove herself unable to do so.    So she will begin and end, instead, with Life Lessons Learned through Writing.

When the Matron was a Youngish Miss and had a 1 and 3 year old, time for her dissertation deceased.  Done.  She was ready to hang up her hat and slide out of graduate school, unfinished.  She called her academic advisor and reported her plans to NOT finish her dissertation.

Youngish Miss:  "I just can't do it with a 1 and 3 year old.  I'm going to drop out."

Dissertation Advisor:  "I won't let you."

That's right, folks.  The wise woman on the other end of the phone flatly refused to entertain Youngish Miss's very good reasons excuses for disregarding her own life'c calling.   Because they were excuses.   The dissertation advisor dryly observed that Youngish Miss ---with her great big brain and vast organizing skills -- was probably a kick-ass stay-at-home-mother squandering 8 years of graduate work because making lunches and doing laundry was EASIER than penning a 300 page dissertation, while also making lunches and doing laundry.

This unsympathetic, hard-line approach might not work for all women, but Youngish Miss understood the message.   Wise woman on the other end of the life was challenging YM to be the best person she could possibly be -- to do the most difficult work at hand, to complete the intellectual project already launched, despite the two obstacles she herself had created (those two damn children).  

Something clicked for Youngish Miss.  She wanted that better self.  She wanted that PhD, that "Dr" near her name.  She wanted to unpack some of the mysteries remaining in her dissertation.  She wanted to write. Desire for an intellectual and creative live was reignited in those few moments -- not that it would be easy, no.  But to deny this desire would be to set aside a vital part of herself.   

Fueled, Youngish Miss wrote that damn disseration (nearly 300 pages).    Immediately afterward, she finished her first novel, Prairie Rat, and landed a New York literary agent.   

 Sidenote:  here in the poor cousin Midwest, we are required to be put "New York" in front of anything art-related in order to make ourselves feel viable.  

At the End of Magic quickly followed Prairie Rat -- the fate of these books is a another story.  For today's purposes, it's the why and how these major pieces came to be.  In less than four years, the then Youngish Miss wrote a disseration and two novels while raising two babies and in the end, being pregnant with a third, moving into a new house, and teaching part-time.  

 Often, Youngish Miss declined social invitations.  She said no to a movie or a potluck.  Declined that afternoon walk.   She followed a dictate she once read, somewhere:  "Skip the party and write the poem.  Or you will run out of time."  She skipped parties.    When people marveled at her self-discipline -- and they did -- she could (and will now) honestly report that very little discipine was involved.   It was desire.  Desire to be her better self.  Desire to write, produce, create.  Desire to live the life of the mind.

Desire, not discipline, carries us.   

If you're able to skip the piece of cake or Snickers bar, it's most likely because you desire the end game (fewer calories, fewer pounds) MORE than you desire that candy bar.  Usually, it's the other way around. It's not lack of discipline that means we indulge, but desire for the enticement directly in front of us.  It's hard to focus on the desire for something far in the distance, when another type of desire is immediately at hand.  Yes - it was hard sometimes to say no to the immediate pay-off of the afternoon out, the trip to the mall with a girlfriend or second glass of wine.    But in the end, the Matron learned through these processes -- and largely remembers now -- that the pay-off for those big desires, those life dreams -- are the best ones. 

Desire describes the why and is the process, folks.  It feels GOOD.

Writerly words of wisdom from the Matron.

 Want it.  Whatever "it" is for you.