Mary Beth Writes


I spent last week in Mineral Point, a small community of 2000 in southwest Wisconsin. The town is strenuously hilly, extremely charming, pearled with many Victorian gingerbread houses. There are also some early 18th century hand-hewn limestone and lumber cottages which look as if built and inhabited by Cornish elves. There are at least a dozen studios and galleries to peruse. There are posters in store windows about classes and gatherings you can attend. The bookstore has a cooking/craft teaching studio in the back of it. A child I don’t know wrote a poem for me. Mineral Point is pretty damn close to Brigadoon.

Why did I go there? Virginia Woolf said a woman should have “her own money and a room of her own.” Last year my story “How Crow Got Out of Jail” won first prize in the Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest. One of my prizes was some money and another was five days of lodgings donated by Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts. Ergo I stayed in “a room of my own” with some cold hard cash. (Actually, a room-temperature credit card.)

I lived on my own most of my twenties. My kids are grown so these days my husband and I (finally) have some time and space. So what was it like, here in retirement, to be on my own?

Two things.

First: My Mineral Point room came with good juju. Roland Sardeson, one of the patron saints of Mineral Point, was creative, generous, whimsical - and apparently one of his modes of transportation was a unicycle that he rode while wearing a top hat. That unicycle and hat hung on the wall in my room! He donated time, money, and his construction and artistic skills into the community and then, upon his death, he willed his building to Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts. I stayed in the upstairs studio. It was comfortable, light-filled, and mostly quiet. Mostly. There was a LOUD AND LONG shift-change siren on Tuesday (why only on Tuesdays?). And every emergency vehicle in the area turned on their sirens to cruise High Street pretty much right at me on Thursday morning because their high school basketball team was playing a big game that evening. I lived in Chicago twenty years so have some tolerance for blaring surprises, but boy, those were unexpected moments.

Second thing to say about ‘my own room’?

It was remarkable to take myself that seriously. Many of the people in my life have not paid a lot of attention to my writing. Len did (and look, I married him!). But last week was spent in a community where people related to me as a writer and that was powerful to experience. I wrote a few hours each morning, afternoon, and evening. My back would get sore, my head would run out of story juice, but because I went there to write, I wrote.

It’s easy in a busy life to put off doing the deep thing we care about most. Having some time to do and honor one’s own avocation was cool and I recommend it. We’re not getting any younger.

More about Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts.

What else did I do in Mineral Point?

I bought a lot of cheese at Five Points Cheese and Liquor. I bought some presents at a little import shop. I ate one meal from a Kwik Trip, breakfast at the Red Rooster, and a sandwich and a hot fudge sundae in Dodgeville (next town over). I brought some provisions with me and drank that wine but did not eat all the carrots.

I taught/led a so-called poetry writing class for third graders. (Read about it here!) 

Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts organizes a “winter writers reading series” so one evening I went to a poetry reading at The Republic of Letters (the bookstore with the kitchen). James Pollack read poems from his newest collect “Durable Goods” which toppled back and forth between exquisitely observed and funny. Such as “pencils - what keeps it sharp is what grinds it down.” Like that.

I bought his “Sailing to Babylon” for a friend. Back home I read it and was so fascinated I ordered another book for myself. I love the two poems about early English sailors who tried to find the northwest passage across Canada. His poems pull you into the little you already know about those old events and then he surprises you with searing images of the tragedy and ridiculousness of imperialism. The longest poem in the book is about a walk through Madison’s Quarry Park with his toddler son. How do I compel you to find and read this poem? I don’t know, but if you are a person who thinks about nature, geology, history, anthropology, and who lived where you live before you, and also, you are often amazed at how little children tumble themselves through our inexplicable world – obtain the book. Tell yourself you are giving it to a poetical friend and then later you can order another one for yourself. (His website) 

At the poetry reading I met Diana who felt like an old friend. She invited me to Brewery Pottery where she and her husband and their adult daughter create and sell pottery and art. They sell their own stuff plus arts and artistic crafts from around the country.

Brewery Pottery is a huge 1850’s building that was once, yes, a brewery. (Reminded me of D.P. Wigley in Racine.) I spent the afternoon watching Diana making bowls on the wheel, admiring beautifully displayed pottery, glassware, paintings, metal work, woven and felted items and probably more I’m forgetting. I also got to see some of their behind the scenes places. There’s a cooler room the size of a gym that they use for storage. Diana said there are caverns in the hill that the brewery is built into. They don’t use those caverns (the brewers did) but UW scientists come every year to study their bat colony!

More photos and their online shop here. 

It was about two hours to drive from here (Waukesha) to Mineral Point on expressways. Friday morning I drove home on smaller highways and back roads. It took three hours and was incredibly beautiful. Coming up over a ridge to a long valley threaded with mist. Rolling hills. So many barns. I waved at a cow who didn’t wave back, though she looked curious. I stopped in New Glarus; asked my phone for “breakfast near me” and my phone replied, “Hey, lady, look up!”  I was 36 feet from Fat Cat Coffee Works. I went in, hesitantly asked if they might have anything gluten free, and the woman pointed to a case half-filled (!) with GF pastries and desserts. Plus the menu had several (!) choices. In the two years since my misadventures with antibiotics, this was the first place where there were actual choices and yes, I had my wicked way with them.

I’ve been thinking a long time about taking a little getaway by myself. Now I’ve done it and I will do it again. Mineral Point was close, yet it’s in the driftless area so it looks almost Appalachian. It’s not expensive. There were things to see, beautiful places to walk and shop. There are close state and local parks. I will go again though next time I’m making it a reading and hiking retreat.

I have one more curious thing to say:

I’ve been working on stories about Minnie, an older women who is not in crisis. Why are so many stories about people falling apart? Aren’t contentment and generosity also interesting? Anyways, nothing is wrong in Minnie’s life. Her kids and grandkids are fine. Her nice husband is out of the country for a few months. But she’s on her own for the first time in fifty years.

There are parts of her life she hasn’t revisited in decades. She’s not sure if there are things she still wants to do. She knows she’s not done figuring out her life so she leaves home to experience what’s “out there.”

Two of my Minnie stories are already published at my Substack account. (Link to read my stories is here) The first is “Blue” and the second is “Thistles in the Field”. I’m working on a third.

Did I name Minnie for Mineral Point? No, never dawned on me. But being on my own last week was powerful and I’m thinking.



2 thoughts; last year, I spent 10 days walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. By myself. Some of us had to wait for that "room", until the time was right. Then we savored it greatly. And, we take you seriously a writer. That's why we are here! Thank you.
Mary Beth's picture

Yes you DO take me seriously and its why I keep writing. We have to do what we came here to do... And I have another friend who walked the Camino last year! I think he was there in September.. I have interesting friends..

This is a beautiful piece of writing, Mary Beth. Although you wanted to be alone, your words made me feel I was there too. Larry and I stayed overnight in Mineral Point years ago. I remembered that when I read about waving the white hankerchieves.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks. Yes, it's a beautiful get-away kind of place.

I enjoyed reading about your week - some of it I already knew! I also enjoy reading about Minnie!
Mary Beth's picture


The Mineral Point area is a very beautiful place. I spent some time there in the late 1980s and still have a shiny piece of lead that I brought home as a souvenir. I very much enjoyed reading about your experience there. Of course you are a serious writer and one of my favorites.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks again. It was at WAUCC where people first addressed me as a writer and gave me opportunities to do so. And then said wonderfully supportive things to me. Another essay anther day, about those beginnings!

What a neat experience! So glad all went well!

I'm happy for you that your week was such a success. It takes some bravery to get away on your own, even if you are offered the opportunity. Sounds like you really made the best of it.
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you! At first it took a bit of nerve to move out of my comfort zone, but then my comfort zone just got bigger, I guess.

How lovely, and well deserved. Patricia

Love Mineral point. Been there many times. Thank you

What a beautiful piece! I so enjoyed our visits together during your time in Mineral Point. Thanks so much for your lovely writing. I look forward to our next visit.

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About My Memorial Day Story


Today my story ‘Memorial Day’ is posted at Substack. Read it here. 

Courage, Big & Little



I’m writing fiction this week. I started a story in December that, along the way, turned into a Memorial Day story. It will be my Substack story this Saturday.

This morning I looked for an old newspaper column to rerun and found this one about a time when one of our kids needed to have four teeth pulled.

Cholesterol Numbers & Squirrels


Years ago I was out to dinner with friends. We were all just entering our 40’s and thus were all beginning to get the fun medical tests about this and that and cholesterol. I said, to a friend next to me, that I’d started eating oatmeal everyday for breakfast and my cholesterol had dropped …..

The room went silent.

Everyone heard “cholesterol dropped” and stopped speaking. Everyone wanted to hear how much it had dropped – which was about 8 points. In our twenties the conversation stopper was gossip about sex. Now the secret sauce was HDL and LDL

Hum & Read


First of all, the Cute and Curious. Apparently we humans can’t worry while we hum - because humming requires too much bandwidth. When we hum, we don’t have enough power left in our head engines to think about other stuff. I don’t know if I believe this is always true but I’m sharing it in case it is.

I read a lot this week. It’s what I do when there is way to much to think about and I don’t know where to start. Read or eat. I haven’t gained any weight so you know it was a heavy reading week.

The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Mahsood 

Three Things


Three Things except it’s really more than that.

1. Earlier this year I read these two books by Palestinian writers and I recommend both. If you’ve read good books by Palestinian writers, maybe tell us about them in the comments?

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