Mary Beth Writes

Years ago Len took this photo of a lone coyote. 


I just finished rereading Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News. Boy oh boy do I love her writing.

The story asks this. How do people who were damaged by their childhoods find purpose, meaning, and love as adults? Good question, huh?

The story is set in Newfoundland and there is danger everywhere. High rocky cliffs, terrible weather, worse-than-terrible weather, slippery roads that occasionally have a surprise moose standing in them. People who drink too much who shouldn’t drink at all. The mighty, treacherous north Atlantic crisscrossed by currents that can pull a boat out to sea or crash it against submerged or barely submerged rocks or smash it into towering cliffs. Also, Newfoundland has close-to-shore icebergs sailing past Try not to run into them in the fog.

Quoyle, the main character, was raised in abuse. In his 20’s he married an awful woman who gave birth to two daughters whom Quoyle loves with every fiber of his being. Things happen, he ends up in Newfoundland. He encounters all of the above dangers and nearly lose his life. But the most dangerous thing of all is that he begins to love the community around him. He falls in love with a particular woman and her son. He has to change how he see the world and how he thinks about himself. He has to accept himself as a worthy person.

The book is not a romance novel. It is about what scares you and what doesn’t. It’s about danger and salvation and where you find each of those powerful and ephemeral realities.

Some of are drawn to danger. Some pay money to ride rollercoasters and ziplines.

Some of us (me) get nervous making a left-hand turn.

Many of us love shows where actors face bad guys, guns, disasters, and animals that growl in the night.

Some of us double knot our shoelaces and make dental appointments six months in advance.

Why are we drawn to pre-managed danger such as amusement parks and movies and willfully driving too fast for conditions? Why do we avoid actual (or imagined) danger it so energetically? Such as always walking in groups, or driving cars the size of tanks, or folks who swear they will never go alone into a forest or a city?

A-n-d … as I write this our kid who lives in a nice neighborhood in Chicago is in her apartment with the alarm on because a guy a block from where she lives just shot two dogs and then barricaded himself in his apartment and – she says – there are sooooo many cop cars. And a helicopter.

This is her cat Frank who is monitoring the situation.

Danger pulls us out of the fog we live in. We listen and see more than usual. Danger wakes us up. Danger blows the to-do lists out of our minds. Danger reminds us that we are vulnerable. Danger is a wakeup call.

Danger is exhausting. People who live in tents in refugee camps live in danger. Their adrenaline is always running. They are edgy, scared, tired, spent. So are medical care givers in hospitals and clinics overrun with need and criticism. So are teachers with needy kids and toxic citizens running their mouths, inventing requirements that take forever to comply with and make no sense. So are we when people we care about are at risk. When we can’t fix things we once could fix. When we are weary and spent.

Danger is everywhere. It can wake us up. It can empty us of our resources, energy, patience, and compassion.

But, danger we survive becomes our path forward.

(About the 2001 movie of The Shipping News. It was dumb. This is a powerful and visual story taking place against the gorgeous isolation of Newfoundland. Every character is memorable; some are still dealing with damage caused by abuse and sexual assault against them when they were kids. So, oh the irony! The lead actor was played by Kevin Spacey. Like they say, you can’t make this stuff up.)






I need to read this book you so beautifully described. I hope too your kiddie and her cat are feeling more secure tonight.
Mary Beth's picture

I have a text into her and will let you all know when the coast is clear! Thank you,
Mary Beth's picture

Note to Everybody: She says they got the guy and the neighborhood is quiet again.

Like you a have reread "the Shipping News.' Such a good book. For the past years, I have the feeling that Danger is lurking...hate it. Work hard to abate it. Enjoying your series. Take care. Patricia
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you, Patricia. I feel the danger lurking, Maybe it's because we've seen so much that we thought would turn around and get better .. not turn around. Kept sailing for the rocks. Last night I donated modestly to the White Helmets in Syria - and it will help them a tiny bit and helped me a lot. As you know, generosity seems to be the main way we can fight the danger that is out there.

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The Lies We Live By


Aristotle wrote a lot of important stuff, very little of which I’ve read. But this Aristotelian idea is cool and I don’t know why we are not taught this in high school. It helps untangle the importance of what we read and watch.

Fat Tuesday & Valentines Day & Ash Wednesday (says it all)


I think today has to be a Three Things. You probably don’t even know I have Three Things scaffolding in my secret writing toolbox of organizational tools, but I do. Sometimes it’s how thoughts present themselves, you know? Things to say, but not for too long.

(Now that I've finished and read what I wrote, I guess this is five things but some days, in our expanding universe, the math just works this way,)

Successful & Failed Artists


Last week I finished reading Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard. (I discovered this book via Librarian of Burgos Instagram because I am her fangirl now.)

If you like to read a book that has a recognizable plot of sympathetic characters moving forward through a problem to a solution– you will likely not enjoy this novel. Heck, I’m not sure if I ‘enjoyed’ it.

Animals of Winter


Last week I invited you to submit pictures of animals who are visiting your life these days.

The Republic of False Truths


I set a goal for this year to read one translated modern novel every month. I’ve been following ‘Librarian of Burgos’ on Instagram and this woman keeps hyping and explaining books I’ve never heard of, which intrigues me mightily. I think she might be a reader’s reader. Anyways, she is European, has transcendently luminous skin plus several master’s degrees and a doctorate in history. Sometimes she even recommends books that are not, sadly she says, not yet translated into English. Cracks me up.

Who's In Your Backyard?


It’s been a wowser of a wintery week. We had the deep and blowing snow last Friday which turned into the heavy-as-concrete snow on Saturday which turned into a deep and frozen crust on Sunday - and here we still are. Last week’s snow still limns the trees and branches. A foot of snow still covers every roof. When I walk (why yes, I’m still going out for strolls) it’s a matter of life and limb navigating the jagged piles between sidewalk and street. I do use my “Alpine” walking stick these days.

Change is coming but not today.

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