Sunday, May 1, 2011

Two Kisses for Maddy

In my junior seminar in college, I got into an argument with a guy named Steve Fletcher. He said he hated personal narratives and felt that a major fault of our American culture was that we don't see social problems as important until we have a face to represent the issue--that millions of people can die in the holocaust, but we only really care after we read the diary of Anne Frank. A huge champion of memoirs and personal narratives, I took offense, and we had a civilized, academic disagreement. I understood his point but didn't see this as a reason to criticize personal stories, nor did I see it fair to criticize people that come to represent larger problems.

Fast-forward. Over two years ago, I turned on an episode of Oprah and saw Matt Logelin. (Yes, there will be a connection. Stick with me.) I have followed his blog since then, even quoting an essay he wrote in one of my favorite posts. For those that don't know, Matt writes a famous blog about his family's story; his wife Liz gave birth to their daughter Madeline in March of 2008 and died suddenly 27 hours later. Matt continued to blog through the experience, and has since garnered a huge internet following and founded a foundation in his wife's honor to provide assistance for widows and widowers with children. About a year ago, Matt announced that he was going to be writing a book about his family's story. When he announced his upcoming book tour, I sent Matt an email asking him to come to Austin. I'm pretty sure I made a really audible noise when I got a reply from Matt telling me he would indeed be coming to read at BookPeople.

On Tuesday, Matt Logelin did a book reading and signing at BookPeople. Our good friend Elizabeth, official big deal at Book People (I'm pretty sure that's her job title), introduced Matt (seriously, she's cool) and totally blew my cover when she talked about how obsessed we both have been with his blog, so I will readily admit that when I spotted him the first time I geeked out in a way that may or may not have been similar to when I saw a pop group (read: boy band) my freshman year in college. My moment of no composure was witnessed by at least two people that are a very regular part of my life, and I'm pretty sure I will have a difficult time looking Brian Contine in the face for a long time.

Matt read from Two Kisses for Maddy, his memoir, and then spent a long time willingly answering questions from his audience. I was struck by how authentic and approachable he seemed. Over three years later, the journey Matt has walked with his daughter continues to amaze me, even moreso after I listened to him talk about his wife's death and his experience since then as a father, widow, and writer. New York Times bestselling author and guest of Oprah aside, Matt said some things that struck me as a parent--on how he has managed to maintain his sense of self while becoming a single parent, on how to talk to a three year old about death, and loving your child. As I told Matt in my original email, his story has made me a better parent and serves as a constant reminder that it is a privilege to be a mother. I feel so fortunate that he has continued to be willing to share his daughter and his former wife with me and thousands of other readers.

After Matt read, Jessica and I lined up to get our books signed. The line was long and Matt took the time to talk to everyone as he signed their book covers, posing for pictures, kissing babies, you know, the usual. (So maybe babies weren't actually kissed--but he definitely understood the importance of baby compliments.) Then comes the cool part: he asked everyone to join him for drinks. Now, this was a Tuesday, and I was not feeling well, plus I knew I would spend the next morning faking my way through a four-hour science review with a classroom of sophomores. Regardless, you know Jessica and I were on it. So yes, we headed to the Driskill and met up with a group of fellow blog readers to have drinks with Mr. Logelin.

It was awesome on so many levels. Obviously, a night out on a weekday with a new group of people is always appreciated for this mom/teacher. Also obviously, I pretty much idolize this guy. I know way more about him (from the blog of course) than makes me comfortable--I feel a bit creepy. Anyway, I adore his daughter, and I smiled every time he mentioned Maddy from the realization that it was the same Maddy I have grown to love through stories, pictures, and videos. Most importantly, though, Matt is incredibly real. He is kind, interested, and easy to talk to. He is exactly the person that comes through in his blog and book, and while he is incredibly self-deprecating and compares his writing to a third grader, I have spent five years attempting to get my students to convey themselves in writing the way that on Tuesday, I confirmed Matt does. (Matt, if you ever read this, I give As for authenticity. You get an A.)

Since Tuesday, I have been thinking a lot about Matt's story. I have revisited the early entries to his blog and started reading his book again. I have brought it to school and shared it with my students, telling them about my exciting moment as a reader when I was able to not only meet but share a drink with a writer that I have followed for years. (I told them food which isn't a lie. I shared a lamb slider at the Driskill.) As I have watched some of them embrace the story in the same way that I did two years ago, I have noticed my own reading change. Initially when we hear tragic, shocking stories, I think the normal thing for most of us to do is think, "What if that happened to me?" and two years ago, that's what I did.

I've realized that while I came to love Matt, Liz, and Maddy and cried for them over the past two years, I was thinking about myself a lot. What if I hadn't been able to mother Lydia over these past two years? What if Robin and Lydia were alone? I won't lie, the "What If"s are still there when I read, but now there is a person attached to the story that is not me. If only for an hour or so, I hung out with the guy that wrote about his wife collapsing in his arms, the guy who carried his daughter out of the hospital without her mother, the guy who, instead of laying down, allowed his love for his daughter to propel him forward and make him into a great father and an advocate for so many people in need. I won't lie, the story feels so different now and so much more important (and those that know me know it was really important to me before), and yes, there have been many more tears as I have revisited Two Kisses for Maddy, now for the guy across from me drinking a beer and all of the other people who find themselves in similar shoes--suddenly alone with children.

So back to Steve Fletcher and my argument years ago, I still feel like it would be ideal for people to understand a problem is a serious just by hearing about it in terms of statistics or in vague, general mention, but personal narratives are often the vehicle to an awareness and understanding of the larger issue. I still don't believe that people only care about the individual they come to know and love via a personal story. The connection between the individual and the larger issue is necessary to make, but as long as it happens, we're all okay. Yet again, Matt and his love for Liz and Maddy have allowed me some personal realizations. If that's not a testament to the power of a story, writing, and a person, I don't know what is. I will never not ask myself "What If" when reading stories--I teach my students that's what good readers do--but in the meantime, I will strive to allow for true, powerful narratives to pave the way to a better understanding of real life issues, and I think Matt, Liz, and their daughter's story, encapsulated in Two Kisses for Maddy, does that.

Thanks Matt, for the visit to Austin, for sharing a drink, for listening to me rant about standardized tests, and allowing us to share your story. It is a privilege.

1 comment:

  1. Laurie what an incredible experience! And thanks for sharing Matt and his story with us. Thanks to you, he has sold one more book. I'm hooked :)