Friday, June 19, 2009

The Matron Does the Math

Remember the Matronly quest for success?

Attempting to climb that mountain, she's reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success.

From page 39:

"The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours."

According to Gladwell, from Bill Gates to Yo-Yo Ma, that's ten thousand hours of programming, practicing. . . . . writing?

Let's see. This is her 704th post. She mostly limits herself to half an hour per post, so that's about 352 hours of blogging since September 2007.

Wow. That's 352 hours she was mostly alone with a laptop. Not bad!

Now, there's her dissertation, weighing in (minus the bibliography) at 217 pages. Writing a good page ususally takes her about one hour. Let's add another hour for revision, bringing her another 434 hours of prose.

Using the same formula with the novels (274 pages and 334 pages), pile on 1216. Then she's going to just round up because she knows the two took more than two hours per page. Let's settle on 1250.

1250 + 434 + 352 = 2036

The Matron is pretty sure she logged a high number of hours pre-novel and dissertation, too. Let's stretch the possibilities and just double that number to 4072.

Nowhere near 10,000. Yet.

But if Gadwell is onto something, this might explain the observation that a very good literary agent once made to the Matron: for some reason, writers come to their own in their 40's.

Maybe they've finally logged enough hours at their craft

Just under 6000 hours to go for the Matron. Finally! A reason to spend more time BLOGGING!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Can We Be Done with This?

The Matron knows this book is a couple of years old; she picked it up anyway, wondering what in the world was left to say on this subject.

After reading several of these essays -- all penned by reporters or editors or novelists working for or in 'mom-retirement' from venues like Publisher's Weekly, The Washington Post, Time Magazine and The New York Times -- the Matron's previously vague analysis of "The Mommy Wars" has sharpened into something crystalline.

The wars between working and stay-at-home mothers is a completely fictive enterprise; it is a narrative created by self-reflective mothers who work in the media industry. Good for them! She bet this narrative has paid some hefty private tuition bills and funded good shoe shopping.

The truth? All mothers on this planet--let's get real, folks -- work and raise babies. And most of the 'work' she's talking about is back or heartbreaking: searching for food, raising food, hauling water, sewing, pushing down the lever in the factory, baking bread, mining, collecting firewood, waiting tables, washing dishes, loading garbage, collecting recycling, husking corn, picking apples or any of the truly endless tasks that constitute the lot of the worker.

There is a percentage of the global population -- and she's not sure what this number is, but she knows it's not the biggest slice of the populace pie -- who live from time to time (or permanently) without the economic imperative to earn money. These women who are mothers still labor and toil, but get to choose whether or not to take on one more job -- for pay.

So when the Matron reads a book about "The Mommy Wars" or hears media discussion about the dissent between the 'stay at home' (what? like in house arrest?) and 'working' mothers she wishes the narrative would clarify that this is a story about rifts between women who come from a specific shared demographic and has nothing to do with the majority of women, who (like many working class men she knows) would love to give up their day job: but can't. Even imagine. Because if they don't earn a paycheck, there's no food, rent or gas -- or even less, in some parts of the world.

She wishes twice as much attention were paid to the real problems faced by most mothers: food, shelter, water, safety, school. No dissent there, people. No royalty money, either.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Trite. Yet She Cannot Move Beyond This

Success has been dogging the Matron.

Not 'success' in and of itself - the actual Achievement, Arrival, The Big Deal Done. Indeed, she only WISHES some kind of success (as she might define this) would land on her doorstep and ring the damn bell. And she wishes she would be wise enough to recognize Success when it does arrive.

"Hello, Big Lifetime Achievement Award! You would definitely look better with a glass of something red and grape-ish in your hand!"

No, the Matron has been mulling over the definition of success -- in part, what kinds of successes does she need in order to lay claim to a successful life? Now, being the academic sort, she understands you can fault her immediately for all kinds of assumptions and fallacies, the first being that life SHOULD be 'successful.'

She gets it.

This is the appeal of Buddhism, the profound acceptance that all we have in life is the present moment. Last hour's contentment at the table has vanished; memory eventually erases most of what were peak emotional moments in our lives. Here, success is simply the ability to be in the moment - fully, consistently, richly, authentically.

Sometimes, the Matron visits that zone. It is a pleasant place but it does not yet sustain or keep her-- maybe she's just not ready for(read enlightened or mature enough for) a permanent residency with that kind of peace.

Instead, she is frequently driven by something else. Is it ego, the pull of personality? The weight of mortality or an old fashioned American narrative? Whatever is calling her, the battle cry is (OMIGOD here's where she's SO sorry) is sort of like a Wheatie's commercial -- or was this for the Army?: "Be the Best that you can Be!"

Or she's producing her own quiet version of American Beauty?

Because she longs for the extraordinary -- or at least to be as extraordinary as she's capable of being (and sometimes that bar appears to be sitting on the kitchen floor next to Satan's Familiar).

She often wonders what qualities superior people possess. Why can one person trek across Antarctica while another cannot say no to a piece of pie? Why will this person jet across the globe reporting on wars while that person is afraid to leave a hated tedious job of too many years?

Tonight, she really has no answers. She's had her turns both eating the pie and staking out the dream, not always in equal measures. She just started reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" and the first few pages ( success is all connection, context and synergy) has not been all that encouraging, at least as it relates to Instant Change for the Matron. Not that she's impatient.

She's just not currently residing in the the moment. ( Please, Lord, if she stands up and slings another commercial slogan---tomorrow is the first day of the rest of her life?-- it is all right to strike her down and leave the children mother-less. They'd be better off. )

Sometimes things would be SO much easier if she could just live through her children like the rest of the Little League parents. . . .

Monday, June 15, 2009

In Honor of Her 700th Post

Every hundred posts or so, the Matron rolls out an early blog entry -- written before her third person persona was fully realized. This is an actual by Buddha conversation that took place between the deeply self-involved Matron and one of her best friends. She knows most of you have seen this, but every 100 posts or so she needs to put her feet up and gasp.

700th Post!


I had lunch with a friend yesterday.

As in a member of the Top Five Friends, the first you call on the days corporeal punishment sounds, well, reasonable or when you buy that $188 purse at ValuThrift for $7.49.

Me: "Tomorrow will be my 200th post."

Friend: "What?"

Me: "Blog post. I started with four weenie ones in September and I'm up to 200."

Friend: "I always forget about that blog."

Me (!): "You're kidding. I thought you read every day."

Friend: "Actually, I talk to you every day. Why would I read the blog?"

Me: "Because I'm writing it? It's good?"

Friend: "Actually, I like you better in real life."

Me (umbrage, taken!): "How could you! No you don't."

Friend: "Yes, I really do."

Me: "You can't possibly."

Friend: "You're wrong. I like you better, here."

Me: "But I'm funny on the blog."

Friend: "You're funny in real life, too."

Me: "I am not!."

Friend (sigh): "Yes, you are."

Me: "But I'm funny in a more thoughtful, well-done way on the blog."

Friend: "Actually, you're quick as a whip in real life. "

Me: "Now you're hurting my feelings."

Friend: "Sorry, but I prefer the real deal to the blog."

Me: "But I offer interesting political commentary on the blog. Gender stuff, too."

Friend: "Mary, you are Commentary, incarnate. In real life. You're just like that."

Me: "Oh my God. I can't believe you're saying this about my blog."

Friend: "I'm saying this about you."

Me: "But my blog is climbing in numbers! In just four months of steady postings I havehundreds of readers!

Friend: "Do they pay you?"

Me: "Of course not!"

Friend: "Are these relationships? If their kids showed up at your doorstep, do you know what to feed them? Tampax or Kotex? Which bathroom in their house is for public use and which strictlyoff limits?"

Me: "I know them through comments. There are kids' names involved, like Nature Girl and Boy G. Mr. T and Mr. G. Wild Child. See?"

Friend: "Hmmmm."

Me: "They put my name on their blogrolls: Minnesota Matron."

Friend: "That's not your name."

Me: "Yes, it is. And it looks good sitting up there for everyone to see, all shiny and taut: Minnesota Matron."

Friend: "You like being the center of attention."

Me: "I do not!"

Friend: "Who are we talking about?"

Me: "But I wish you preferred the blog."

Friend: "Center. Of. Attention."

Me: "Oh my God. I'm so sorry! Let's talk about you."

Friend: "Sweetie, you're always the center of attention. That's okay."

Me: "Thank God. I was getting worried, you hating my blog and all."

Friend: "Mary, the internet was created specifically for your blog. Online creativity can now take a rest. Can we order now?"

Me: "You like the blog--better? Prefer it to me in real life?"

Friend: "At this moment, yes. Very much so."

Me: "Thank you. Lemon grass soup?"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday, Meditation

The garden -- at 6 pm.

The weekend? Magic. The children weren't just hers: they were universal, timeless. During the course of an hour, Merrick sang on a skateboard, hunted frogs, built a stick fort and questioned death. They were all limb, mystery and joy. She marveled at their existence -- and the expanse open to them ahead, the large unknown life that is only beginning.

The Matron enjoyed every minute of her children. She applied bandaids, squeezed lemons, combed hair, brokered deals, sliced cheese, washed dishes and set tables without complaint.


Because for some reason (thank you God-Buddha-Oprah-Allah-Universe), the Matron woke to a sun-washed, stunning summer June day, fully - viscerally -- grounded in the reality of a recently experienced late afternoon in December, which looked like this:

That's right after dinner. Night, by 6 pm!

And for some reason, the Matron carried Night with her this weekend. June ends. Childhood passes. Her house is nearly 100 years old. A century ago, another family's stories shaped the same hallways and arches that she walks through today; those people are gone - forever. She will be, too. The children will soon be different people. One day they'll be adults, old, and facing their own demise.

She guesses it's possible to appreciate this differently

knowing this is right around the corner.

Like life. Not that there isn't beauty in Night. It's possible. But the beauty and grace night holds -- old age, death, change, seperation -- is hard-won and self-reflective, quite unlike the abandon of children in the summer time.

She's grateful for today's gift, knowing how quickly it passes.