Friday, July 29, 2011

Driving in the Dark

Several years ago, the Matron found herself doing a lot of late night driving. She was teaching a night class way out in the 'burbs. The class ended at 9:45 pm, just in time for her to make the forty minute drive to downtown Minneapolis to retrieve then 8 or 9 year old Scarlett from her stint at The Guthrie. Little did the Matron know that this was just the first of many late night runs she would be making to pick up her stage-minded daughter.

But the gift in the driving?

The Matron discovered The Story, American Public Media's late night devotion to the drama of real, non-celebrity lives. Each night during that drive to The Guthrie, the Matron was transformed. Hurtling through the darkness, in the midst of headlights and blinking city skies, a stranger shared his or her story -- heartache, surprise, tragedy, success, joy and pain. It was a strangely intimate experience, hearing these people pour out their hearts, yet also completely solitary. Just her, the van, the voice, the black outside her windows.

Yesterday, the Matron listened again as she drove home, late (no theater this time because Stagedoor Manor is just three days away and that's another blog post).

Her night class had been long and demanding, and had included the most cherubic, chunkiest, adorable five month old baby in the history of babies -- and she (the baby) wasn't even the Matron's!

You see, one of her students is a new mom, struggling with this little dumpling who needs to nurse every twenty-five seconds. The new mom's night class --the one the Matron teaches -- is three and a half hours long, three nights a week. The new father? Tearing out his hair and texting his wife throughout his own three and a half hours of torment, three nights a week.

Student: "This is so hard! She never sleeps! I'm trying to work and go to school, take care of my in-laws and I can't even go to the bathroom. My poor husband can't do anything to calm her. I don't know if I can finish this class -- I'm really sorry."

Let's just add that this student is an unusual person, someone who has endured hardships most of us cannot imagine (and is not quick to share these, but sometimes the teachers get a view) and has left her entire family half a world away so she could live in safety. This brave woman, felled by a five month old. This, the Matron could not stand.

Matron: "You can bring the baby to class if you need to."

Student (shocked): "Really?"

Matron: "Really."

She didn't. Until the next to the last day of class when her husband's psyche needed some rest and the baby needed her Mama. So last night, the Matron got to hold, cuddle and play with the beautiful K -- while her Mama worked on her papers. It was fun to realize one can lecture while holding a baby.

The entire class went "AAAH" and "OOooo" more than once.

Then, on the way home, tuning into The Story, she was treated to this: The Longest Shortest Time.

Her landing in the past was swift and bittersweet, remembering her firstborn and his demands --and how she struggled to meet them, railing against all she lost: freedom to move, an intellectual life, quiet evenings with her husband, a good book in a cafe. As a new mother, the Matron felt she had been given a life sentence of constant demand, need and feed.

Now of course, she realizes she had been given a life.

She finished the drive home, thinking of that baby and her own firstborn, far away in Chicago (summer camp -- debate institute) and a good foot taller than his mother. He's planning for college with an eagerness that doesn't escape anyone in the house.

And the sky drifted clouds and darkness as the voices of those new mothers traveled with her, women in a different place on the same journey, a journey that seems forever and an instant.

The fire fly lives we lead. Bright, rapid -- short.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Oh, That Matronly Eye

Today, the Matron was sitting in a community meeting, innocently minding her own business . . . well, not really. She was at a neighborhood meeting, after all, which means she was attending to the entire NEIGHBORHOOD'S business and somehow got a gold star for her control freak ways.

But that's another blog post.

At said meeting, a particular disturbing sight caught her delicate eye. Across the room sat a man -- sort of pudgy, late forties she guessed, dressed in a casual button down short-sleeve shirt and khaki shorts. Nothing too alarming, right? But this casual button down short-sleeve shirt was unbuttoned halfway down its owner's chest. The shirt fell open, to the breast bone. The owner of the offending attire was wearing a crisp white t-shirt underneath the unbuttoned, button-down short-sleeve shirt which was almost worse than a bare hairy chest. Worse because the gaping neckline (well, nipple line) screamed "trying to be HOT even though I'm nearly 50" and the white t-shirt underneath said "I am SO not hot and I'm nearly 50."

The mid-calf white athletic socks and green Crocs completed that sentence.

This garb unduly bothered the Matron. Instead of neighborhood concerns--whose trash was piling up, what to do for National Night Out, why a stop sign wasn't approved, etc. -- she fretted about her exposure to such a frightful outfit. Damage, being done! What if the image is permanently imprinted in her brain?!

Poor Matron!

Because then she remembered that earlier that day, she ran into a friend -- a woman in her fifties -- who spent actual money (the kind that goes into a bank and can pay the mortgage) to have tiny teeny little braids woven into the side of her otherwise long straight hair--just like her teenage daughter. That's right: matching mother/daughter braids, with feathers in them.

This sent the poor fraught Matronly psyche hurtling back through time when her friends wore smocks -- one cannot rightfully call these creations dresses -- that matched their small daughters'. Grown women in apple green dresses with full skirts and pink etching on sleeves and scooped necks: just like their four -year olds!

Worse, somehow it was acceptable to be seen like this in public.

What about the man and woman she saw recently, walking side by side down an otherwise unobtrusive city street. The man wore a t-shirt with a big thumb pointing toward his female companion: "She's the Boss."

Hers? "Dealing in Dollars and Sex."

This nearly did the Matron in. Until she remembered the toddler with the mohawk. It was pink and stood about a foot off the little boy's head. The Matron's own far more perfect children didn't even have sufficient follicles to launch such head-gear at two, let alone the gumption to pull off pink.

At least the toddler wasn't wearing Crocs. If memory served, he had a runny nose, though, probably a result of the terrible tension caused by wearing one's hair straight up in spikes before you're old enough to say the word spike.

The images were bright, painful and unrelenting. Yours truly could simply not focus on whether or not the elm tree on the corner of 3rd street and Bates had succumbed to or conquered Dutch Elm Disease because she was awash in a psychological nightmare of polyester, large lace collars on grown women and butt cracks fighting jeans for air space. Things took a turn for the worse: the entire decade of the eighties descended. Growing Pains! Full House!

Gasping, she searched the room for relief. Not a Vogue in sight. The only magazine visible was a weathered copy of Redbook.

Of course, she survived to tell the tale. Otherwise she wouldn't be safely sitting here -- in the spare, well-balanced and carefully coordinated comfort of her office -- typing this late night blog post.

Wearing skinny jeans, a tank top without words or a four-year old matching side-kick and a smug little smile -- that disappeared when her husband walked in and said "why is your shirt on inside out?"

Of course, that was what she wore to the meeting.

Monday, July 25, 2011

She of Delicate Nature and Fierce Feminism

Now, it appears that SlutWalks are all the rage.

The Matron knows that some of her readers may not be up to speed with this latest feminist trend (mass demonstrations involving scanty dress). Go ahead and google "SlutWalk." She knows that there are dishes waiting, a work memo to write, and children who need baths or sedatives. Set your troubles aside, friends, and familiarize yourselves with the SlutWalk.

Now, these demonstrations are a reclamation of sorts. Women are attempting to 'take back' or 'reclaim' the word 'slut,' just as some feminists have done for the 'c' word and African Americans for the N-word. There is no end to debate about people without a history of traditional power reclaiming language once used to oppress and demean them.

The Matron cannot address the use of the 'n' word. She is of the school that, as a white person, this is a word she will never utter. As for the 'c' word, yours truly was raised in a household where the body was to be hidden as much as possible and any bodily functions? Denied. If there was a part that couldn't been seen through a Communion Viel, well, God didn't make that body part. Satan did. So there goes her ability to reclaim the 'c' word. Thanks, Mom.

But this new venture -- not only reclaiming language -- but embodying language and acting it out, holds new philosophical questions that the 'n' and 'c' words don't. You can't change the color of your skin or your female anatomy, but you can change your clothing. But that's precisely the point for the feminists involved in the SlutWalks. This is a choice. As one protester put it, she should be able to skip the underwear while wearing a skirt or sport a thong in public and not get raped.

Naturally, the Matron would agree with her on all points, wishing she herself were young and svelte enough to pull off a public thong, even.

Now, the Matron has enough semiotics bubbling about in her to understand that a word (any word, but let's say the 'n' word or the 'c' word or the other word in question) signifies a meaning. The precise meaning is in the hands of the person receiving the word. A feminist hears 'slut' and she emancipation rings through her ears; a sexist hears the word and a vision of moral collapse comes to mind.

Keeping the comparison going (makes you want to take that sedative yourself instead of giving it to the five year old, hmmm?), she wonders what would happen if thousands of people turned out to embody -- to create street theater about -- the 'n' and 'c' words. Just how would that scene play out? What would dressing, acting and parading about as embodying those words mean? Is it possible?

It's one thing to reclaim language but quite another to purposefully create one's self in an image that already exists in our culture -- a negative, even dangerous image. Yes, the negativity and danger are the very things that our feminists sisters are challenging -- laughing at, even.

"You can't get me!"

Ah, but they can.

Rape, isn't about clothing. Rape is about power, humiliation, violence and control. Male, female, straight or gay, we are each potential victims of sexual abuse. Nuns get raped. So do small boys.

So . . . perhaps she's still swamped in her preadolescent psyche where the body wasn't to be stripped and teased and presented. But, still. Embodying the very stereotype where the culture historically places its eyes on rape only keeps those eyes directed on the slut, the whore, the vamp. The Matron thinks that feminism shouldn't hone in with laser sharp focus precisely where our eyes have gone before, but in the dark areas of our psyches, homes and streets where the real problem -- and victims -- live.

Written in a record 15 minutes but she thinks the reasoning reflects years of wisdom. Maybe.