Mary Beth Writes

Yesterday I walked in the Prairie Home cemetery (which is only a few blocks from here). Cemeteries are beautiful places to walk; green and quiet. Time to reflect if one is feeling reflective. Or if one is feeling uncentered (who, me?) a cemetery can pull one back to the middle of what to think about and care for and pursue.

I saw a tombstone with the names of three daughters who died. Sophronia. What a beautiful name. What would those parents have given for vaccines and antibiotics?

Les Paul is buried in this cemetery. Those dots are guitar picks.

The photo I didn’t take was of an old man sitting in his parked car. The car was shiny clean and he was dressed sharp; navy shirt with a collar, gold watch on his arm resting along his car’s opened window. It seemed as if he was just sitting there thinking about or talking to someone. I said good morning to him, he replied with a cheerful hello.

There are many reasons why a nicely dressed 80ish man might be parked in a cemetery at 8:30 on a Sunday morning. But the obvious reason is the one that broke my heart.

Loneliness is hard. Loneliness takes one’s breath away. It empties out the place where one’s spirit lives. Sometimes it is a headache, a backache, dry eyes that are not looking for anything.

I recently read a review about a graphic book that explores the theme of loneliness. The book is “Seeking You” by Kristin Radtke. I have it on order at the library so if it’s good, I will let you know after I read it.

One of Radtke’s observations is that our culture has themes for loneliness. There’s the powerful, lonely man (John Wayne) who rides alone, take care of everyone else, then goes home to his empty bunk.

For women we have “the lonely princess” stuck in her castle who needs a prince to awaken and rescue her. (Any movie with Julia Roberts, for example)

Manly loneliness is powerful. Female loneliness is powerless. Good Grief. How many widowed women do you know still grieving their loss who keep going, keep contributing to their community, keep hanging out with friends, keep cooking healthy meals for themselves and sometimes for others? (Some of you are that person.)

And then there was Len’s grandfather, who, when long-suffering Helen passed away, immediately stopped eating anything except salted walnuts and stopped drinking anything except no-name bourbon and 36-packs of beer. Good at loneliness?

We recognize these stereotypes and most of us see their emptiness. Well, probably. Len and I started watching Mr. Robot and Lord Love a Duck, it’s about our new American cowboy - the lonely computer genius. Here we go again.

This is the sentence in the interview that really caught my attention. “Stories are how we draw ourselves closer to one another, and how we remember, and sometimes how we reshape.”

Stories versus loneliness. Telling ourselves who we were, who we are now, what happened back then, how we used to interact with our loved ones. Deciding for ourselves how and who and what we choose to remember – and who we intentionally choose to forget. Shaping and reshaping our stories.

“You're both the fire and the water that extinguishes it. You're the narrator, the protagonist, and the sidekick. You're the storyteller and the story told. You are somebody's something, but you are also your you.” John Green, Turtles All the Way Down

How do you tell your story of being lonely? Are you a victim? Are you a person who fights through the brambles and thickets of loss to share, offer, laugh with, be kind to others? Are you a person in a relationship who often feels lonely? Do you look at your partner or kid or BFF and wonder if they even know who you are?

We are in a new and different quarantine. Until we know who is vulnerable, and how vulnerable, and until our kids are safe – here we mostly are. More alone than we expected to be. Still shaping and reshaping our stories.

...

This is the review.  

Comments

This is very good! Struck a nerve. The old man in the cemetery on an early Sunday morning brought tears to my eyes. Love the sentence about stories. I took a screen shot.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks so very much.

Ah, loneliness. She and I have been come quite familiar with each other. It has been a journey of reshaping, and learning, and coming into one's own; embracing the story of who I was, and moving forward with what is, and who I am. Thank you. Patricia

My grandmother was the widow you described. After my grandfather died at age 61(I remember thinking he was old...now I've outlived him by a year and oddly don't feel old myself) my grandmother just kept on keepin' on. She cried every year on the date of his death and often when she spoke of him. She never dated anyone again although by today's standards she was still quite young. The blessed recipients of her need to stay busy and not be alone were my sister and I. Her home cooked meals were phenomenal as were her desserts, mainly cookies. I spent most weekends at her house by choice. Although we did not attend the same church, I often accompanied her to events and potlucks at hers. She wisely took my sister and I separately on vacations to close or faraway destinations so we each had special time with her. My parents were divorced and my mother worked full time plus. She had a boyfriend who took up much of her attention on the weekends. Looking back I can see that my own house felt lonely much of the time. I thank God daily for my grandmother who gave so willingly and lovingly. An end note: I had the blessing of having my grandmother until I was 39 years old.
Mary Beth's picture

This is beautiful and powerful. thank you. We are just back from a surprise (other kid-watching entities fell through for two days) caring for our little grandkids. I thought about your letter, and how powerful accepting grandparents can be in kids' lives.

How wonderful! Grandchildren and grandparents gain so much from their relationships with each other.

I've got Seek You on my nightstand, ready to be my next read. Let's confer after. I'm extremely interested (invested?) in this topic. Side Note: we take our dogs to a nearby cemetery to run around because we can walk to it and it's fenced in. Some neighbors object--but I remember reading that cemeteries were originally designed to be almost like family parks. I think it's sad that the ONLY reason most people visit them is to grieve. We have great fun there and many special memories (our kids ride their bikes there too) despite not having a personal connection to anyone buried within.
Mary Beth's picture

When one of our kids turned four, we did half their birthday party at the cemetery very close to our house then. It had a pond with ducks and geese and the kids ran around like nuts in that pond area. No one was traumatized. One would think folks "resting in their eternal repose" in cemeteries might like to hear kids running around. Also - I have Seek You also! I've read half of it and it is really, really interesting and good!

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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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