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.


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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Matron, The Mood, The Upswing

The Matron was EXTREMELY annoyed this morning when the city of St. Paul set to work on new sidewalks up and down her block at 6:45 am!

Jackhammer play list, coming right up before coffee. Two agoniziing hours in, a staff person from St. Paul Public Art knocked on the door. He informed the Matron that the city wanted to inscribe a poem or two in the new cement on her block, and that he had been chatting with neighbors about who lived in her house and what sort of poem might fit. What sensibility would work for this house on Mound Street.

Here was his suggestion:

"She was the steward of the smallest things: a pair of dead bees in the windowsill.
Santa ring, cluster of elm seeds in their felted cells."

And this woman, who has been the steward of the smallest things for 18 years and 24 hours -- these babies, those children with their twigs and seeds, bugs, petals and trinkets, these teenagers, and this great big adult man standing before her ready to leave -- had to choke back tears before she could say: "Well, I think that would work just fine."

The poem is in. The cement is drying. Neighbors know her well. And yours truly, the same woman who was EXTREMELY annoyed at 6:45? Around 10:00 am, she brought out leftover birthday cake and cool drinks for all the workers.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Art of Disagreement and Art

While the Matron lives in fear of Harsh Word rendered upon her own writing, she is nonetheless deeply appreciative of  artful and intelligent critique.   The deft, heel-gouging that Astonish Me received in last week's New York Times Book Review so impressed her that she thought to share.   The essay is sharp at the sentence level, but notable for linking the novel's flaws to the larger difficulties of writing about a particular subject.   Astonish Me is about ballet.   The reviewer, Jennifer McDonald, faults the book for characters that too closely resemble fictional or real dance icons, resulting in precisely the soap opera sensibiltiy that too often trips up narratives about dance.   So not only does the reader learn about the successes (or in this case, failures) of a particular book, we learn about the challenges of a wider sort, the pitfalls and challenge that s dog an entire genre.

This reminded the Matron of the time she turned her own delicate hand to the task of an entire genre:  fiction and nonfiction books about anorexia.  Indeed!  She wrote an entire chapter of her dissertation on these narratives.  Largely, she felt (and still feels) that these fairly uninteresting and tediously similar books simply reproduce the ravages of disease -- the emaciated body and its bizaare behaviors -- and that's about it.  The reader's experience is  voyueristic; we watch  as pathology unfolds.   This empahsis on pathology--its specatcular presentation --  magnifies the line between the anorexic and everyone else.    Nothing like reading (over and over again) about behaviors like sucking on coffee grounds and chocolate chips from the garbage to make you feel pretty darn sane in comparison.   Then after all that detail on disease, these books inevitably end with a triumphant . .. . And Then I Got Better sentence or two.  The End.

This pattern has two troubling consequences.  First, there's that whole question of how one actually recovers.  This difficult, painful and highly personal part of the story may provide a roadmap or model for others, but that's not something we ever get.   For example, the crown jewel of this genre may be Marya Hornacher's Wasted, which spends nearly 300 pages on disease and ends on this note: "I want to write about how to Get Well, but I can’t. "      Here's the real waste -- the wisdom of one woman's journey and hard work, lost for the rest.   The dearth of anorexic recovery narratives (fiction or memoir) stands out among other depictions of disease.  No such shortage of 'recovery' narratives exist for those corking the bottle.  The newly sober will find legions sharing precisely that -- their recovery, tips and tools,  hard-learned lessons and experience.  Not so much for the anorexic.   She's left on her own -- right where she was in the first place.

The second part of the pattern that troubles is the line drawn between the 'disordered' eater and everybody else.  "Disease" is so spectacularly drawn  that the continuum between dangerous and normal  is rendered invisible.  In a culture where slenderness is deified, yet 35% of the adult population is obese, there is a sharp disconnect between ideal and  reality.  If -- as the Matron believes - the ideal of slenderness also holds within it discipline, health, and beauty - there are a whole lot of people perpetually, consistently disappointed, unable to hoist themselves up to the minimum bar of health, beauty, and discipline -- let alone their ideals.   Far easier to condemn the thinness of the anorexic as pathology than to ask larger questions about thinness and its pursuit.  

Of course when asking why America is fat (but doesn't want to be) also demands an interrogation of the economy, class, and food production but . . . well, that's another blog post.  But the Matron had to nod to Michael Pollan.  Because he's right.   If there is a serious critique of the 'anorexic literature' in the near future, the politics of food production and distribution must be considered.

The Matron, however, won't be writing that serious critique!!   No --she just temporarily hopped up on her own high horse for a few minutes, returned here thanks to a thoughtful and well-done book review.   Because artful and intelligent critique can do more than alert us to the pitfalls and foibles of a particular text, but hold up a mirror to some broader aspect of our lives, the larger culture.  She just loves it when that happens!  

'Astonish Me,' by Maggie Shipstead

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Matron and the Market

This is where yours truly is most at home -- her office.   Friends, this warm jewel of a room sits high above the city along the bluffs of the Mississippi River.  She and her dearest found the most fabulous of all fabulous homes in a neighborhood with a generally undesirable zip code.    But there are pockets of peace and prosperity in said zip code, and that's where they reside.   While the nature of online teaching and writing, generally, allow her to work in coffee shops and on-any-road, she is pretty darn happy in the homestead, working, writing or staring into the family calendar wishing she had a higher IQ or spreadsheet to figure out driving schedule.

Here is another comfortable domain:  the kitchen.   Some complexities and caveats exist here; while the Matron may be comfortable in the kitchen she is not necessarily consistently successful there.    Here is an attempt at a classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting -- and nobody bought it in a box, folks.   The Matron is a whiz with many things (spicy chicken wings, meats in general, veggies of all sorts) but she chugs along as a learner when it comes to baking.   Plus she makes a great big mess.   But the kitchen!  If the Matron isn't in her office, she's here.  Sometimes she brings her laptop to that very table and sort of runs the world from the kitchen.

Where the Matron is not yet very comfortable is in the land of commerce.   Now that she has a book to peddle, it would appear she is awash with uncertainty.

"You read the book?   OMIGOD I can't believe you READ THE BOOK!?   Should I pay you?"

"Oh no -- don't buy one!  Let me give you one!"

"Did it suck?"

"What are my hopes for the book?  Hmmm . . I guess that I don't embarrass myself??

The Matron's Emotional Intensity surrounding this project has surprised her.  She was unprepared.   Well, she was unprepared for the whole endeavor, but that was last week's blog post.   Still, when she learns that someone she considers a friend has not yet bought her book or appears to have no plans to do so, she doesn't shrug it off or think "he's not a reader" but instead, feels betrayed.

For the record, the Matron reads the books her friends write.  Or pretends to (a strategy that will work for friends who might be reading this without considering the book).

However, in the midst of this uncertainty and turmoil, she has made one key, important discovery.  The book itself, actually?  She just reread the whole darn thing -- first time in  years -- and had a few goose bump moments.   A few sentences sparkle and stand out, keepers.  The story has dimension, side-roads, strong characters.   It's a little simple, a little light.   It's not going to win any literary awards.

But those hopes for the book?  Realized.  She is decidedly not embarrassed by it.

So she's going to raise that bar higher and hope for more.  The Matron is going to work hard for that little book, even if it takes her out of the kitchen and the comfort zone.   Starting with:  if you have a blog and your'e reading this one, consider a Matronly guest post?  She's happy to come into your zone and pimp her book tell the sparkly, uplifting story of one son who published his mother's book.    If you're willing to host a guest or blog about the book yourself, let her know at mpetrie33 at gmail.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Matron Has News

Gentle Readers --

The Matron was just about to hoist up her support hose and roll that wheelchair into The Home.   Then something happened.


For quite some time, those dots connecting one Mary Petrie  with one Minnesota Matron have been flashing a neon, 1970s green:  she is here!  She is here!  She is here!    The Matron understands that it is indeed possible to keep one's identity more or less under wraps, but she was just never quite that careful.

Now she's just tossing the cat out of the bag.  Go.

But while they may be one and the same, Mary does not have permission to write on this blog:  the Matron lays claim to this creative space.   And one dutiful reader has put in a request. .. that yours truly reflect on -- no wait, make sense of, recent Supreme Court maneuvers.

It would appear that the Matron has a book to promote and a feminist health-care, human rights puzzle to unpack.    The latter would also involve understanding playground politics that we might call the Supreme Court.   Who's ball is it, anyway?    More on that later.

In the meantime, gentle reader, please know that the Matron has been wrung out.  Spent.  She has wept with joy and gratitude over her oldest.     And continues to do so.  That young man inquires about book sales daily.  He comes up with new marketing strategies.  Wonders how his mother is feeling.  Says things like "you deserve all the good things that come to you, Mom."

The Matron, who has not been slipping benzos into his soup, remains a limp loving Mama-noodle.  She is happy to wait on that young man child until he heads off to college.

Of course, the young children claim their gift-giving lives -- among other things - have been utterly ruined.   "Not to be outdone" is a phrase that now gives each pause.   Really?  How to outdo making a dream come true?   Merrick is working on it but it involves a dog, gun and stick.  The Matron is dubious.

All will unfold and she will dutifully report here.  In the meantime. . . . tell her you don't hate it after you read it.  Buy the book!   That was Kindle.  Here is old-fashioned print.

Friday, April 4, 2014

When All Else Fails, Laundry Metaphor

Yes -- the blog was lost in life's rinse cycle.   The Matron actually forgot that she had an online life, so out of breath was she, keeping up with the calendar.

But now, she reminds herself that when she returned to the blog, she relieved herself from narrative perfection.  In other words, sometimes it might be okay to just ramble or vent - instead of perfected prose.

The reasons last week was a bust?

First:  three children in three different schools.  That would be enough to fell any parent, all that driving and scheduling.  But in this household, it meant two children on Spring Break.   Ah!  Spring Break in Minnesota!!   This basically was all about 20 degrees and an equal amount of snow.   Today?   10 inches.      So the Matron is navigating the psychological terrain of the high school senior on a 'vacation,' which meant for him boatloads of homework and as many job hours as possible; she is trying to entertain an 11 year old whose best friends are all on holiday somewhere warmer; she continues to rise at 5:30 am with the 15 year old whose break doesn't align; and she still has that pesky full-time job (er, 'career').

Financial aid packages arrived this week for the eldest.  Look for more upcoming in College Chronicles, but in sum, it means hard, hard and painful choices.  The Matron has baked a lot of cookies.

Wednesday, a cement truck tied itself to the Matron's limbs.  Somewhere, the Universe said:  let's give up, honey. Rest.    There is nothing like the bona fide, horrific flu to make a person appreciate waking up in the morning.  Yours truly might be on the tail end.  This is day three.  There is no fever but that pesky cement truck remains anchored.    At the moment, she is mindlessly watching Captain Phillips with Merrick and dear husband, a hint of the future to come (older two out, out, out, and living their own lives).

So a note as Horton and his Who.  Not very active, but "we're here, we're here, we're here."

Friday, March 21, 2014


The Matron  totally love the slightly older, 30-years sober, apparently unemployed, single man who not only goes to yoga as obsessively as she does, but is equally obsessive about his "spot." 

So is she.

Sot there they are, side by side, in the front row -- nervous about securing positions and discussing the heat with passion and critique (will it be hot enough? too hot for you? ). They are picky, needy people together commiserating with desire not to be so and weaknesses. Older Yoga Guy knows that it can't be hot ENOUGH for yours truly and makes recommendations regarding teachers, studios, wardrobe.   The Matron  knows Older Yoga Guy is looking for a cute girlfriend (preferably with money because he has none) in her late 40s or 50s, has a bum knee and is not on Facebook but also know him well enough now to know he would not only be okay with reading this but would say "sounds about right."     Matron and Older Yoga Guy are both ALWAYS at yoga early due to that neurotic need for the same spot (now side by side). Today she  realized that she is  100% herself with him.

Older Yoga Guy: "Mary - -remember that essay I'm writing? The long piece? I'm going to send it to you. I'd love to hear what you think about it."

Matron: "OMIGOD! Don't send me your writing! That's like telling a lawyer friend you're going to email that tiny contract for fun. Do you know how many people find out I'm a writer and say "I will send you . . "

Older Yoga Guy: "I'm still going to send it to you. It's okay that you feel that way."

Matron: "But I have to read student papers all day long. It's my job and the most agonizing part of it. Don't send me your essay -- especially if it's long. LONG!"

Older Yoga Guy: "I'm still going to send it."

Matron: "I won't read it. I will hit 'delete' the minute I see an email with an attachment. Unread."

Older Yoga Guy:" "I'm still going to send it to you. Are we done now?"

Matron: "I'm not going to read it you know."

Older Yoga Guy: "Yup I pretty much got that message. But I'm still going to send it anyway. You know. How about that new guy in the corner? Bets on how he'll do in toe stand?"

And she  realized -- with alarm and certainty - -that she did indeed find Her People in that little yoga studio.