Thursday, May 21, 2009

You Too Can be a Community College Teacher

The Matron just HAD to share this with her readers!  This is one of her all time favorite John Cheever stories, read by the fabulous Richard Ford.  

Chills, girlfriends!  

Do you have a link to online literature you love--a story or reading or other experience?  The Matron is teaching Introduction to Literature, online.    She's open (uh, desperate?) for ideas to snazz up her class.

Enjoy the ice and rage that is John Cheever. . . . 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Like a true slave to the Word, the Matron was listening to talk radio on her morning run when she heard this father and son team.   Stephen and Isaac Yoder write about money--from angle of father and son, respectively, for The Wall Street Journal.

While listening to this very funny and astute duo, Idea dropped from the sky and knocked her over.  A really, really good idea.  You know, the kind that make your body light up and blood glow?  

The Matron would write write a book chronicling her son's thirteenth year -- with Stryker!   Together, they would offer their differeing perspectives on technology, screen time, privacy, dating, art, politics, religion, college -- the issues that engage and occupy that thirteenth year.  The book would consist largely of the Matron's essays, but these would frame Stryker's original thoughts on his mother's parenting, his life and life of a young person, in general.  

The Matron thought it a VERY fine idea!   Sort of like the blog, only longer!  And what a rich experience, mother and son, to delve into Philosophy and Prose so deeply.

The beauty of this idea allowed her to soar home, happy.  Even the four times she fell over Satan's Familiar didn't phase her (why does that damn dog just stop right in front of her for no reason at all?!).

She couldn't wait to tell - ask--Stryker.   Well, pitch the idea.  It all hinged on him.

That night, she plied him with pizza and extra time online.  When her child was sated and grateful, the wily Matron outlined her Plan.   Including the trump card.  If the book made any money?  They would split it down the middle.  Stryker would get half.  

Matron:  "Whaddya think!?"

Stryker:  "No way."   And then he laughed.  He would have none of it.   Indeed, he vehemently -- ardently -- deconstructed and destroyed the idea, right down to the very last chapter.  

That was six week ago.

Ever since, the Matron has been bringing up the subject of this book whenever she has the chance.  Particularly, she has found a way to introduce said project in front of the adults her son admires, like his algebra teacher.

Algebra teacher:  "Wow! That is a genius idea.  Stryker, man.   You're gonna be able to bankroll my comic book habit."

She is shameless.   In the face of an expensive electronic advertisement, she says:  "If we wrote that book there's the possibility that you'd have money for something like that."

Billboard with an airplane?  "Wouldn't a national book tour be incredible?"

After a steady diet of this pitch, on Monday, the Matron received this gift.

Stryker:  "Mom.  You know that book idea that you mentioned awhile back?  I've been thinkingi about it and I'm really willing to do it.  I think we absolutely should."


There is a Jesus!  He can join Allah-Buddha-Oprah-God-Universe on the list now! 

Yesterday, the Matrom emailed the idea to the literary agent she hopes will represent the book, just to make sure the idea wasn't Suckification, disguised.

It is not.  The agent approved the idea but warned that it's all in the delivery.   The writing itself.  So the already always anxious Matron is now Nerves Incarnate as she considers the start of this book.  

The agent wrote:  "Send me a few chapters as soon as you have them."

No problem?  Stryker turns thirteen on July 17th.  Today, she starts writing.  This will be her THIRD agented book (the other two, novels), friends, and nothing yet published.  

Third time's the charm?!

Monday, May 18, 2009

This is the Hand She's Dealt

Stryker has just one all consuming and urgent desire.  He brings up this all-consuming quest at breakfast and bedtime and, well, most moments in between. 

He wants to change his name to:  Stryker.   

No last name.  No middle name.  Just Stryker.

Stryker:  "Like God and Oprah, Mom.  Wouldn't it be amazing?"

The kicker is that she has no real good reason why not, except:  "Because I say so."  She sort of feels like this is practice for the first request for a tattoo?

Stryker.   God.   Oprah.   

Hmmm. . ..  it does have a steady beat, doesn't it?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday, Meditation

When the Matron was but a Wee Miss--9 or 10--a neighborhood Boy died.  This Boy had been routinely mean to Wee Miss, herself relatively new to the neighborhood, a locale decidedly on the 'wrong' side of the tracks.

The neighborhood was called The Prairie and kids who lived there, Rats.   Prairie Rats.   This would be why her very-fine-but-sadly-unpublished first novel is called Prairie Rat.  Lots stuff happened there, some of it bad.

In the elementary caste system, Prairie Rats were the garbage scavengers, the lowest of the low. They were utterly dispensable.  

Wee Miss was just learning to lace up that boot when the Boy died.  He fell while riding his bike down a really big hill -- or something.  Nobody really talked much about him.

There was no funeral.  

He was a foster child.  

The family that housed him sort of cleaned out his stuff and ordered another.  That's the way they paid the rent.

Between her new low social status as a Rat, the move to Mankato and the permanent unarguable absence of her father, Wee Miss was in the throes of truly understanding just how expendable she herself was.   

Then she saw this Boy's life, tossed, and forgotten.  Like garbage.

A few days after the Boy died and any talk of a funeral had been thoroughly laughed off, Wee Miss stayed awake throughout much of the night.    Her bed jutted up against a second-floor window that opened right into the pop and mystery of an enormous weeping willow.  The branches swept againt the glass.  She could open the window--high!--and gather the wispy branches into her room. 

She did.  And it was black night, full of the secrets sounds--coming from houses, between blades of grass, on branches.

Wee Miss kept that window open to feel the cooling air and tried her hardest, for as many hours as her body would allow, to reproduce--to understand--what it felt like to not be.  To have no mind.  Death.

In solidarity and as experiment.

That night changed Wee Miss and really, set the Youngish Miss and the Matron herself into motion.  

Because Wee Miss could not imagine not thinking.  Could not reproduce not being.  And the thought of not being?  Made her feel like she needed to vomit.  That's the kind of night that ten-year old child had.

And she kept thinking of the Boy, sitting on the school bus, four seats back.   He would be staring out the window with a face that was always a little bit mad, a little bit sad, and surprised.  Wee Miss wondered what he had been thinking and was crippled with grief to know that he would never think again.

Wee Miss wanted God for the Boy and for her own frail self.

But God, as she had known Him, had died for her just two weeks prior.

Here's how.

Wee Miss:  "Mom?  Can I ask you something really important?"

Mother (who is now Grandma Mary):  "Uh-huh."

please forgive her un-PCness but this is how the words went down in the seventies-- Wee Miss:  "Okay.  If you're a pygmy and you're not a Catholic because you've never ever heard of Jesus or the Virgin Mary or anything like that - but if you're the BEST pygmy that's ever lived--wait!  You're the BEST person on the planet and the reason you're dying is that you have given all your food to the starving CHILDREN pygmies and then you die?  But you've also saved ten thousand lives and never committed a single sin?  If this pygmy dies, does he get to go to Heaven or because he's not Catholic -- and remember, he's never even HEARD of being Catholic but probably would be one once he knows it is the only one real and true religion -- okay, if all this happens, can he get to go to Heaven or is he in Purgatory or Limbo for all of eternity?"

Mother, without missing a beat:  "Limbo.   Not Heaven." 

Wee Miss:  "For sure really and truly?  Even though he was the perfect human being?"

"Limbo.  Not Heaven.  For absolute sure for Eternity."

Children have a fresh, nose-to-the-bone sense of Justice.    Wee Miss shrugged her shoulders and an entire world view fell off of them, just like that.

So that new nonbeliever sat up all night in mourning for the Boy whose life was so expendable that he didn't warrant a funeral.  Nobody wept over that child.   In fact, nobody even talked about the Boy.  Not at school, not at the bus stop where he used to stand, not in Wee Miss's own home--where he had lived about five doors down.

Poof.   It's as if he had never existed. 

Wee Miss vowed right then to never ever forget.    The one tiny shred of wisdom she took away from that dark, sleepless night?  Even if nobody really knows who--what, where--we are after death, memory is the toehold onto this planet.    The dead exist in the minds and hearts of people who love them, in their good work and lasting deeds in this fleeting temporal world.

So Wee Miss pledged to the brown-haired Boy who liked bicycles and carried a grease-stained brown lunch bag along with a yellow backpack--the Boy forever without a family, who spent his last year in a house where he was Rent and Grocery--the Boy who nobody cared enough about to honor and remember:  Wee Miss picked up that lost life and draped it over her shoulders.

Nearly every day, the Matron thinks of this child.  He was here.  He had long legs, tummy aches at night sometimes and a huge vast Universe inside his own soul and psyche--just like you and she.   She thinks of the Boy when she watches her own sons, and marvels that as strong and might as they are--and hope to be-- they are shaped by vulnerability and need.  

That's how she sees him.  Soft.

His name was Steve.  And now he has a Mama.