Mary Beth Writes

12/23/2021

This photo is by my friend Jennifer Beiriger. (I don’t think Jennifer knows this but I can’t spell her name. My brain will not learn and keep the correct spelling of Beiriger so I have it on a post-it note next to my desk. It’s been there a couple years.)

Ebbing late afternoon light can break your heart.

The first thing a newborn sees is light. The last thing a dying person seems to see is a glorious rosy light opening in their brain as they leave. 

Robert Frost’s “Choose Something Like a Star”

This is the whole poem:  Click here. 

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud –
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.

--
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

This poem, set to beautiful music by Randall Thompson: Click here.

 

Joan Didion died today.

Len and I were beginning to date by which I mean we were beginning to realize there was another person in the world who “got” us.  I was interested in his stories; he was interested in mine.  It’s pretty heady, those early days of finding your person.

Len would stop after work on Thursdays to buy and then bring to me the NYT because on Thursdays they featured their “Hers” columns; essays written by women. Maybe some of you remember it.

One of the first “Hers” columns I read was by Joan Didion. Everything she said was, to me, like someone giving me the words for my own life. She cared about things. She was often depressed. She noticed details. She despised hypocrisy even as she recognized it in herself. She managed the looming grief and overwhelmingness of life by writing about it.

Joan Didion was the first woman to show me that a woman could write about what she thought about. That saying things aloud in an essay gives a person a path into and through their life.

I have not read her "Year of Living Magically." I'm not brave enough yet to read about losing her daughter and her husband. Have you read it?

Quotes by Joan Didion:

“I don't know what I think until I write it down.”

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

“I'm not telling you to make the world better, because I don't think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I'm just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that's what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”

“You have to pick the places you don't walk away from.”

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

Since I wrote yesterday that we are not getting together with our family on Christmas, we've heard from two more families who’ve made the same decision.

One of my daughters works in downtown Chicago. She just sent this photo taken from her office window. “This is why omicron is spreading.”

 

How are you doing? 

Comments

Thanks for sharing the poem and the music. I’d never heard of it and really enjoyed listening to it just now. Merry Christmas anyway!!!
Mary Beth's picture

I learned this song as the quietest alto in the high school choir - but all these years later these words and phrases till come back to me. What inspires us when we are young often inspires us all our lives.

My niece and I made cinnamon rolls today. I told her about the special times that you made and delivered them for a very modest fee. She said she would charge $25. For a pan. After cleaning up the kitchen I didn’t think that would be enough. I read The Year of Magical Thinking. I thought it was hard to believe, but after speaking to my mom and some others that had experienced a sudden death of a love one, I changed my mind. It was worth reading. I think you could handle it.
Mary Beth's picture

If anyone wants a dozen cinnamon rolls for $50 that we will give to refugees, I'm in - in January. Thanks for telling her about them. those were busy days!

Thank you for sharing this poem. I will share it with my family . such a perfect sentiment for these times.
Mary Beth's picture

You could probably get the music on the internet and play it on the piano. It's haunting.

I have not read "The year of Living Magically." I feel I'm ready now. My daughter however, read it, and other of Didion's books as a way to cope with the grief of loosing her dad. Didion is one of her heroes. She was grief stricken yesterday. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Thank you always, Patricia
Mary Beth's picture

Its remark-able how we warn each other of beautiful artworks that might trigger each other. Wishing you a sweet day.

"Ebbing late afternoon light can break your heart." I read that and felt like I've known that in my soul forever but have never formed the thoughts or words to convey it. Thank you.
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you. Len and I were super tempted to buy a house once that was $50,000 more than we wanted to pay, and 30 miles from anything, because the late afternoon light from the upstairs window was that beautiful.

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Three Things / Story, Eclipse, Brando

1. I scheduled my Substack story to go out at 8AM this morning. I just looked to see why it didn’t show up and it says it is going to be sent at 8:49 tonight. I’m going to leave it like that. Maybe 9PM on a weekend night is a good time to send short fiction. Let me know if you have an opinion.

2. I read this quote by Marlon Brando who said this early in his career. “I’m not afraid of anything and I don’t love money.”

Even though this is probably not exactly true of me and you, I do love the bravado.

Peace Like a River / Book Report

4/3/2024 She Writes

I just finished reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and I am going to talk about it for a little bit before I forget how profoundly interesting and evocative this book was and is, at least to me.

I get emails from Boswell Bookstore (2559 N Downer Ave in Milwaukee). They host artist events pretty often and Monday evening, April 15th Len and I will be there for the Author Evening with Leif Enger. You can look up more of the details if you are interested. (Tickets are free but you need to reserve them.)

My Grandkids & 'Wandering Stars'

4/1/2024

The past month has been jam-packed. The week in Mineral Point. Len’s two-day seminar in Chicago. Last week we had various grandkids here for three overnighters and yesterday our family came to Easter dinner here in our house which was clean after a week with grandkid overnighters so you know that was a piece of cake. Len smoked two hams (yes, hard to keep them lit) and I made the largest amounts of from-scratch scalloped potatoes plus macaroni and cheese that I have ever made. As in, I grated four pounds of cheese Saturday afternoon. “On Wisconsin.”

Ghost on a Post / Poetry with Third Graders

3/12/2024

This is what I texted to Len this afternoon after I finished the poetry class with third graders. “I’m done and back. The kids were great and I’m a limp washrag, Teaching forty 8-year-olds for 90 minutes is way more energy than Everest.” I then drank half a beer (I NEVER drink in the afternoon) and fell asleep until the Mineral Point afternoon ‘change of shift siren’ shrieked for several minutes. It’s been a full day.

How 2 Write a Poem (3rd grade edition)

3/7/2024

Next week is my Writers Week at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, WI. I won this when my story “How Crow Got Out of Jail” (Read Here) won first prize in the 2023 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest for short fiction.

Winning that contest motivated me to open my Substack account. So far I’ve published 17 stories and only published once twice. (Who noticed that?)

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