Mary Beth Writes

 I wrote this in 2008 when I was the coordinator of the Jail Employment Program in the Racine County Jail.


Dear Pals,

Tuesday morning the four women in my current Jail Employment Program group went out from my office, per usual, to look for work.

Several hours later one came back with an ear-to-ear grin.  She’d been hired at a good company where she will earn decent money, get benefits, have a future. Of course, I would have to call one guy at the company to ask details, then another to get them to send the fax to another number to confirm all this, and the middle guy won’t be back till tomorrow. Typical. Sometimes when I pick up my phone, it’s still hot from the last call.

Another woman had a promising conversation at a place completely different from any place she’s ever been employed, but where she would love to work if they offered.  I hope they do.

The third woman walked into my office just as a temp service was calling to hire her.  Not much money, not much future, but a job - a real job.  If she does well - and I can tell you right now this woman will - the agency will keep working with her.  She’s a sweet person with a loving face.

The fourth woman, in her 20’s, was sitting at my desk listening to all the commotion.  I glanced up at her while waiting for someone to answer a call I was making.

Her brown eyes were almost in tears. I put the phone back in its cradle.

She started talking.  “I’m so frustrated.  I went everywhere I could and I did everything I could think to do. I just about begged a lady at one employment company to hire me.  But here I am, with no job yet. This is so hard.”

She is so right.

Isn’t life hard? This week, working with these women, listening to on-going trials in the lives of friends, putting up with this interminable winter -- I wonder if we have any idea how hard we are working.  I don’t mean how much credit we should get, or how admirable we are, or whether we are winning the Pulitzer (sigh) or not.  I’m not talking about judging our mettle and discipline. I’m just saying that sometimes it really is a lot of work, isn’t it?

Do we ever stand back and look at how hard we work in a day, how many things we get done (at least halfway right)?  Do we tally up how much frustration and uncertainty we put up with as we try to figure out and do the next thing that needs to be done?  The roads traveled in slip-sliding cars, diapers changed, figures tallied, students taught, homework done, driveways shoveled, machines operated and material handled?

I gave the young woman in front of me the only pep talk I know.

“If this was easy, they’d call it job-getting, not job-searching.  Being frustrated is a sign that you are trying to do something important.  If you can understand that feeling weary, confused, and frustrated means you ARE working at something – then you will have gained something more valuable than your next job. You will have figured out that enduring and pushing and keeping on keeping on are the only sure way to get where you need to go.”

So that’s all I have to say.  Just because life’s hard doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong.  It might mean that you are tilting at exactly the right windmill. 

PS:  The young woman went back to the Huber dorm of the jail.  Ten minutes later the woman at the temp agency, the very woman with whom she had pled for a job, called to offer her one. I heard today she’s doing very well. It didn’t have to end this way, but isn’t it cool that it did?



I love reading your stuff. It's always uplifting or funny, and often both......thank you dear Marybeth.

I didn’t get to read this in 2008. Just as good (and pertinent) now.

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Car Accident & Not Buying the Farm Today

My friend Karen texted last night that she is okay but she had been in a car accident in the afternoon. A driver had not stopped at a stop sign, thus plowing into Karen’s rear driver-side door.

Her accident reminded me of one I was in with my son years ago. This is the newspaper column I wrote about the event.

Hold a good thought for Karen today, okay?  She texted this morning, rather poetically, “I feel like I’ve been dragged through a knothole.”


When History isn't in Museums

I stayed twice for several days with a Maya family in Guatemala’s altiplano. This adventure happened during my second day of my second stay with them.

Senor Jorge, the 50ish father of the family, asked if I would like to take a walk to see a Mayan antiquity. It took a minute to understand his question since my high school Spanish was a long time ago.

Yes, I would!

Genealogy, Comets, and Pedigree Collapse

 We are still able to see NEOWISE in the evening. 

More info about how to see it here: 

Len took this photo a few nights ago. The white stripes in the foreground are lightning bugs!

I wrote this column in 1997 and remembered it this morning.       


"Broken Days"

If you type my name into the Internet this quote pops up; "If growing up is the process of creating ideas and dreams of what life should be, maturity is letting go again."  

The line is from this essay, Broken Days, published in Mothering magazine in 1987.

Later it was published in the Utne Reader.


Hurricane Charley, 2004 "Why yes, we were there."

 I went back in my file of old writing and found these two columns I wrote in August of 2004. This was the FIRST time we had a vacation sidetracked by a hurricane…


Hurricane Charley

Part I

For our family vacation, we'd made reservations at a resort in the Florida Keys.  We thought a week to swim, read, explore a little, eat great seafood, and just generally kick back to enjoy each other -- would be wonderful. 

I still bet it would. 

We sure don't know.

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