Mary Beth Writes

 I wrote this in 2008 when I was the coordinator of the Jail Employment Program in the Racine County Jail.


Dear Pals,

Tuesday morning the four women in my current Jail Employment Program group went out from my office, per usual, to look for work.

Several hours later one came back with an ear-to-ear grin.  She’d been hired at a good company where she will earn decent money, get benefits, have a future. Of course, I would have to call one guy at the company to ask details, then another to get them to send the fax to another number to confirm all this, and the middle guy won’t be back till tomorrow. Typical. Sometimes when I pick up my phone, it’s still hot from the last call.

Another woman had a promising conversation at a place completely different from any place she’s ever been employed, but where she would love to work if they offered.  I hope they do.

The third woman walked into my office just as a temp service was calling to hire her.  Not much money, not much future, but a job - a real job.  If she does well - and I can tell you right now this woman will - the agency will keep working with her.  She’s a sweet person with a loving face.

The fourth woman, in her 20’s, was sitting at my desk listening to all the commotion.  I glanced up at her while waiting for someone to answer a call I was making.

Her brown eyes were almost in tears. I put the phone back in its cradle.

She started talking.  “I’m so frustrated.  I went everywhere I could and I did everything I could think to do. I just about begged a lady at one employment company to hire me.  But here I am, with no job yet. This is so hard.”

She is so right.

Isn’t life hard? This week, working with these women, listening to on-going trials in the lives of friends, putting up with this interminable winter -- I wonder if we have any idea how hard we are working.  I don’t mean how much credit we should get, or how admirable we are, or whether we are winning the Pulitzer (sigh) or not.  I’m not talking about judging our mettle and discipline. I’m just saying that sometimes it really is a lot of work, isn’t it?

Do we ever stand back and look at how hard we work in a day, how many things we get done (at least halfway right)?  Do we tally up how much frustration and uncertainty we put up with as we try to figure out and do the next thing that needs to be done?  The roads traveled in slip-sliding cars, diapers changed, figures tallied, students taught, homework done, driveways shoveled, machines operated and material handled?

I gave the young woman in front of me the only pep talk I know.

“If this was easy, they’d call it job-getting, not job-searching.  Being frustrated is a sign that you are trying to do something important.  If you can understand that feeling weary, confused, and frustrated means you ARE working at something – then you will have gained something more valuable than your next job. You will have figured out that enduring and pushing and keeping on keeping on are the only sure way to get where you need to go.”

So that’s all I have to say.  Just because life’s hard doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong.  It might mean that you are tilting at exactly the right windmill. 

PS:  The young woman went back to the Huber dorm of the jail.  Ten minutes later the woman at the temp agency, the very woman with whom she had pled for a job, called to offer her one. I heard today she’s doing very well. It didn’t have to end this way, but isn’t it cool that it did?



I love reading your stuff. It's always uplifting or funny, and often both......thank you dear Marybeth.

I didn’t get to read this in 2008. Just as good (and pertinent) now.

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A-Z M is for Aunts


Reprint of old column from 5/22/2004 

Happy Mother's Day to all the women who raised us! 

This was my all-time favorite moment from the "Friends" TV show. It's a few hours after the birth of Ross's son (not with Rachel) and all the friends are meeting the baby for the first time. Monica, Ross's sister, holds her newborn nephew tenderly, tears in her eyes with awe for this new life in her family.


This was first published May 10, 2002

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were talking with our kids about the best and worst jobs we have had. I said picking asparagus was pretty boring. My husband didn't like the day he was a taxi driver. We both love writing when it goes well, we get a lot done, people tell us what clever people we are, and we earn lots of money from it. These aspects of writing come together about once a, well … I'm sure it's right around the corner.

My daughter prodded, "Come on, Mom. What's the best job of your life?"

Dark River

The photo is the Platte River in Nebraska. This post was a newspaper column for the Racine Journal Times in 2003.


Dark River

"I think us here to wonder."  (From "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker.)

The day was one of those glorious October days when the sun blazed through gold and crimson trees; the incense of burning leaves perfumed the air. It seemed a shame to go inside simply because night was coming on.

"Let's take the canoe out on the river tonight."

Where Heritage is Found

Last week I spoke with a woman who  is working to support MayaWorks.

I sent her this writing I did back in 2006.


I stayed several days with the Sepet family, a very cash-poor Maya family that lives in the altiplano, the mountains of Guatemala.  These people were so intelligent, gracious, strong, and hospitable.  

This adventure happened during my second day with them.

Quarantine Dairy #669 A Rerun


I have a lot of projects to get through today. I wrote this in 2006 when I worked at Target for six months. I still like it.


This week I saw an inspiring sight.  I saw a little kid completely lost in his imagination. 

Car Accident & Not Buying the Farm Today

My friend Karen texted last night that she is okay but she had been in a car accident in the afternoon. A driver had not stopped at a stop sign, thus plowing into Karen’s rear driver-side door.

Her accident reminded me of one I was in with my son years ago. This is the newspaper column I wrote about the event.

Hold a good thought for Karen today, okay?  She texted this morning, rather poetically, “I feel like I’ve been dragged through a knothole.”


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