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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Y is for Yellowstone


Back in February I asked you to give me topics to write about that would correspond to the alphabet. Sometimes several of you sent ideas for one letter and sometimes I wrote about all of them (I’s and S’s) Here we are at letter Y for which your suggestions are Yummy Food and Yawns. The word yawn absolutely makes me yawn; no way I could write about that - I would yawn for hours. I worked on Yummy Food but could only find a scolding voice about Americans eating too much sugar. Bah. True but not interesting.

So, I gave Y a go again. Y is for?

"I was Scott Simon's teller."


First of all - Thank you to those of you who came to the Wisconsin Writers Association zoom gala last night. I HAD received an email a week ago which said I would be reading my whole story. Cutting it in half while I was reading was awkward! It was still a happy event for me and the other writers. Thanks for being there! 

X is for Xeriscape


Xeriscape is pronounced ‘zeer-eh-scape’ and it means landscaping with little to no irrigated water. Readers in the west already know about this. Those of us who don’t live in arid or desert places need to wake up to the incredible resource that water is - then begin to accommodate ourselves to “water all around and beneath us all the time” is no longer our reality. Nor is it our right. We’ve got to get smarter and do better.

W is for Wonder


To whomever suggested Wonder - Thank You!  ‘Wonder’ has been bobbing in my mind like a frog in a pond.

However, I have FOUR suggestions from you guys for X - but I do not want to write four X essays. These are the suggestions:

1.) X signature substitution

2.) xylophone on a string pulled by a toddler

3.) xenophobia

4.) Xmas. 

If you have an opinion respond with the one you would like me to attempt. I will choose whichever X gets the most comments.

There will be no gerrymandering in this election.



Grownups Noticing Their Lives


Most of you know about my former weird and lovely job of coordinating an employability skills program for Huber-qualified inmates in the Racine County Jail (that’s a mouthful). Early on I realized that most of the people I would work with were people with 1.) huge addiction problems, and 2.) underlying and over-the-top and to-the-side just lying around mental health issues.

V is for Vocabulary


For those who are new here - This year I am writing about topics, in alphabetical order, that were suggested to me by readers. Sometimes this is hard! 


My cousin-in-law Dave has some powerfully thorough avocations (for fun and profit he earned a PhD in biochemistry; you will notice this in his list). This year, among other pursuits, he has been collecting words which have appeared in our culture since 1945, which was the year he also appeared in our culture.

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books boy scout Bread BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola groceries Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing ThreeThings Three Things TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone
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