Mary Beth Writes

This week I requested books from the library, picked them up, walked back home, and started reading.

One book is a lawyer/detective book that is 850 pages long. It’s a great read in that American gum-cracking, fast-talking, everyone has an angle kind of way. I was 150 pages in before I accepted I don’t even like gum and I quit it.

Next I started The Women of Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell.  

Russell is an amazing writer who does an extraordinary amount of research and then writes historical fiction around real characters who lived through a real time. (She’s also done a science fiction series that I could not wrap my head around but maybe you could.)

I loved A Thread of Grace. It’s about northern Italians saving European Jews at the end of WWII. My dad was in the American Army slowly battling its way up the Italian peninsula, characters in this novel are waiting for Americans and allies to get there to finish the war. The Nazis know they are coming and are using those last months to exterminate Jews and their allies. It’s a harrowing, amazing story based on the real exploits of real heroes.

Russell writes brilliantly about people in fraught historical moments. The Women of Copper Country is about unionizing the copper mines of the Upper Peninsula, circa 1913-1915. That struggle was led by women and is an under-known piece of powerful American history. The book is excellent but at a hundred pages in, I see the violence and loss that is coming and last night - I just couldn’t. I put the book down and went out to the porch to watch lightning.

So that’s where I am. I don’t have the patience for page-turners. I don’t have the courage for real literature about real events.

Do you know what I mean?

I bet you do.

The beginning of Quarantine was Friday, March 13th which was the second Friday of that month. Today is the second Friday of this month. We are four full months into this heartbreaking, tedious, mean-spirited, chaotic catastrophe.

We can’t bear to pay any more attention. We can’t turn away. Many of us are fine because we’ve been cautious since the beginning. We have enough imagination and resources to take care of ourselves and to watch out for family and friends. We also realize we are okay due to the diligence of “essential workers” and a $5 tip truly isn’t enough to pay back for what so many are doing for us.

Then, just this week, we learned how much federal aid went to Trump, his family and cronies, to massive corporations, and to mega-churches.

The Catholic church received 3.5 Billion which they can now use to cover shortfalls from paying pedophile victims. 

As a person rich in friends who are Catholic, this is just one more reality I cannot comprehend – how a institution will wrap itself in the loving, generous, giving, prophetic reputation earned for it by people who have no say in this sinful boondoggle. Obviously, there’s plenty of this kind of greed masquerading as religion to go around.

Last night while watching the news I just kept muttering, “Shame on you.” Shame on the privileged, arrogant people who, in the name of fake patriotism, set us against each other. Shame on those who did nothing or worse to manage this fierce and dangerous societal crisis. Shame on ‘leaders’ who use their positions to make them selves richer than they already were.

A crisis is when the reality we were counting on … breaks. A crisis is upheaval and loss. A crisis is the thing we don’t want, that we now have.

But here is the other thing a crisis is.

It is a mandate and an opportunity to do things different. To learn new stuff (sourdough!). To protest and lobby for something better, more just, and stronger. To endure, know ourselves better, become tougher on our own behalf and for others.

I keep thinking about how Pearl Harbor stunned and broke us.  Yet by the end of WWII we knew enough to offer free college education to our vets and that powerful investment made us so strong and so rich for so long.

This is a time to learn new stuff. To share resources. To build new things.  Read better books. Cook better suppers. Walk longer walks. Bring the weird neighbor cookies. Sign up for a YouTube tutorial in something we always wanted to know. Give a senator hell.

It won’t ever go back to what it was. Those who insist on learning and building  and sharing add to what is next.




Leonard's picture

1) I understand that there are fewer animals being killed on the roads because we're traveling less. 2) We are appreciating that some of the new things we're trying out are actually better. I hope that we come out of this with more lanes for bicycles, and better vegetable gardens.

I am with you in the inability to stomach violence in books or any additional sadness. It is all just too much! I have a son on furlough who wonders what work will be like for him and his wife when they are called back; three very young grandchildren with parents who are concerned about taking them out in public; neighbors who are suffering now, unable to pay their mortgage. Most nights I watch an English murder mystery, gory but civilized in that droll English way. If it involves children, I find another. I feel many of us are suffering from PTSD. One of our villagers here is a trauma therapist, maybe we can all get together and hire him. I need a comfortable chair, and a new coffee table and other stuff but do not shop for anything other than groceries and I buy a ton of those and eat them. I have become vegetarian, I do not participate in my church’s zoom services. I do not see things going back to normal for a long while. I laugh aloud at the pundits on public radio who just now are figuring out what I’ve known about the economy for a long while. If folks are scared, they are not spending. The “ Market” is completely divorced from the man-in-the-street’s reality. Once we get a handle on Covid ( next year) we need a public works program, like in the 1930’s. We all need to participate, maybe childcare, maybe making sandwiches. Give this nation a goal...we can do it! Ramble over. Have a creative and peaceful weekend.
Mary Beth's picture

You are a thoughtful person. I'm on my second glass of wine (no dinner yet, we're waiting on a daughter...) I'm slightly loopy ... but Len and I have been discussing that "the answer" to what we all need as we reinvent whatever comes next somehow lies in "neighborhood." There is power in small groups of people who know each other face-to-face. How do we do this? How do we provide childcare, and schools, and care for fragile/older folks, and cooking, and creativity, and art and music and work - how do we do this by neighborhoods?

You can bring this weird neighbor cookies, anytime! :)
Mary Beth's picture

I need to find a goofy recipe for you blessed and humorous friends..

Mary Beth's picture

Now that I know (I think) that you live in my neighborhood - reveal yourself and I'll make cookies for you, too! Thank you for your support. It make a huge difference to me.

Sorry Len but the doe I hit on the 2nd might beg to differ on that first one... A crisis is learning a new way to do old things in a way that makes you believe there's a purpose for the crisis after all... I'm still NOT sure what the collective WE are supposed to learn from this one... Perhaps we are supposed to learn human kindness or that no matter how much or little we have in our bank account's none of us are beyond getting hit by this thing... I have learned that patients really is a vertue in more ways than one... I have learned that if you really truly believe something good can come from waiting for the right time( no matter how long )to take the plunge you might be rewarded with something wonderful... I've learned that anything or anyone worth having is worth waiting, and waiting, and waiting for... It worked out that way for Mr. "B"and Myself... Monday the 6th was my B-Day and Mr. "B" wanted us to spend my day together and so we did, there where cards from both he and his sister, a roast sitting out for dinner with the promise of good things to come, and I cake that brought tears to my eyes because of the long story behind it that HE remembered from an earlier discussion about my childhood... I couldn't read his card because of this and the tears in my eyes so he read it to me while holding me close... In that card he used the ( L ) word for the first time in this long Covid courtship/relationship. It was good to know that this unplanned relationship between us was going in the direction we had both been hoping for... I believe that we both were feeling the same way about each other but niether one had planned on saying it until the card made taking that next step easier to do so... And with that this Covid adventure continues... IT'S BEEN A GOOD WEEK... I hope that joy continues to spread through this world we all share... Fingers crossed...

Mary Beth, you have been a rich resource to my energy and a source of nourishment for my soul for so many years. Keep quenching my thirst, stoking my fires of generosity and gratitude, and KEEP WRITING! Love to you and Len!
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you so much for saying this. I do wonder, pretty often, what I'm doing here. But then folks respond and a conversation happens that I think we need.

I have started and put down several novels in the pasts month. I am an avid reader and this is unusual. My spirit can't seem to focus, unless the theme is frugality, and simple living. Those are the only books I seem to finish. Same goes for certain movies and shows, except for British Crime Shows. I started marathon watching them 4 years ago as I adjusted to the loss of my beloved, and they continue to provide respite through the quarantine. Oh, how I love thee, VERA, or Shetland, or Hinterland, or Endeavour...etc I hope we well be better, after ...whatever after looks like. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Stay safe, and well. Patricia/Fl
Mary Beth's picture

I just read this to Len and we both raised our eyebrows. Can't concentrate on novels? Need to watch British crime series? Bingo. Bingo. We just finished ALL the Endeavor shows. Must check out the series you mentioned. And then, more interestingly, must consider why so many of us desire British crime shows (not American ones, I don't know why)! And cooking shows. I have been watching this travel documentary about the Silk Road. This is some info about the series. Alfred de Montesquiou (I bet he had a hard time learning to spell his name in Kindergarten) is the host.

Mary Beth: I am wondering if our fascination with British Crime Shows is that although many can be violent, the fact that the police officers do not carry guns, we know we will not be exposed to gratuitous violence? The shows then, need to depend on the writing, and characters? Just a thought. Patricia/Fl
Mary Beth's picture

That is absolutely a part of it. Gun battles and car crashes don't do much for many of us who are not teenagers. Len and I have been talking about the diff between American and British crime shows. If I can get my thoughts organized, I will write about it this week. It's fascinating that in this time of Covid so many of us are turning to exactly those shows. Something is happening inside our attitudes about what is and isn't interesting.

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Quarantine Diary #312

“You know me, I think there ought to be a big old tree right there. And let's give him a friend. Everybody needs a friend.” ― Bob Ross

This tree lives in Waukesha and stopped me in my tracks when I was out for a walk.


 When will this Quarantine Diary end? When Len and I drive out not wearing masks to go to a place where we will stay overnight. Just letting you know. FYI we started last year on Friday the 13th of March.


Quarantine Diary #308 1/15/2021

My life is pretty fine, and I bet yours is, too. Warm place to live. Food to eat. Friends to share and laugh with - even if we have to do it via Zoom.

At the same time, who isn’t feeling anxiety and dread? Will the white supremacist insurrectionist knobs attack the inaugural? Will they screw up state capitols and infrastructure? One lone guy blew up Nashville a mere three weeks ago. What the hell is going on?

Quarantine Diary #307 Brain Names

Remember when there was no autism? Sure, there were kids in our schools who were weirdly able to remember stuff, or were hard to control, or whose emotions triggered at the oddest time. We generally ignored those kids. Those of us who were kind did, anyways. Others bullied. 

Remember the mopey kids in high school who knew too much about depressing art and angsty music and sometimes killed themselves?

Quarantine Diary #306 Hunched Over & Paying Attention

I am going to write some Quarantine Diary entries again. There’s a lot going on and sometimes it helps to hear a small voice as well as the big voices of journalists, pundits, networks, the other public media we follow.

I have had a small headache off and on for days. I worried that I might have contracted Covid, except dang it, I haven’t gone anywhere! And then, thinking about it, I realized I am hunched over my phone much more than usual. These mild on-again, off-again headaches are from eyestrain and weird posture.

Rime and Treason

These photos were taken by Len on Monday in that other time and world that existed before the Trump gorgons mobbed the Capitol. (Gorgons existed in Greek literature. Gorgons are the poisonous siblings with hair of living snakes. Those who beheld them face-to-face turned to stone. Or were killed by being beaten by a fire extinguisher.)

I have been trying to write about that but it is too hard. There is so much that is clear and is informative. You are reading it as much as I am. Blessed be the journalists, right? 

Quarantine Diary #292 New Year's Eve

Many of us feel as if we are in limbo until Biden takes office. I don’t think you need me to say a lot about how long and hard this year has been; we’ve been in this dentist’s chair together.


Did you see how many days quarantine has lasted? 292 days.

So far.

This week I read a remarkable essay. On Natural Landscapes, Metaphorical Living, and Warlpiri Identity, by Barry Lopez. Life is weird. The day after I read it, Mr. Lopez died.

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