Mary Beth Writes

I woke up this morning feeling wistful. It’s the third week of August. Where did this summer go?

I have not ridden my bike even once (there are giant construction trucks all over my favorite route). We’ve hardly entertained friends at our Bistro (the apron of the garage that I painted last year). We’ve not traveled other than to see our kids. My six tomato plants are producing an unenergetic number of tomatoes. Didn’t see the Perseids. Didn’t serve umbrella drinks by our pool. Oh wait, we don’t have a pool.

Unvaccinated people (by which I mean people who COULD be vaccinated but haven’t yet) made being out and about a lot harder for the rest of us who are rationally nervous about getting or transmitting Covid. It’s been hot and humid since May; Mark Baden (local weather guy) said we have had 35 days in the 80’s and 17 days in the 90’s. We aren’t making our whininess up; it’s been hot and we are not ferns. (Except for Franc, who’s heritage is Puerto Rican, who says this weather is fine, just fine.)

Still, I feel guilty and wistful, as if I have not lived up to the promise of summer.

I blame the media and my gullibility. I’ve absorbed too many marketing campaigns of people jumping in pools, wearing sleeveless dresses on party boats, eating ribs at a party. Too many messages about happy people being happy because they are doing happy summer things.

I decided, just this morning, that the proper response to my wistfulness is not to scurry around and do stuff and check things off a “Do This This Summer” list. No, the proper response is to keep living my life.

Because frankly, I’m pretty happy. Sometimes one needs to remind themselves that life feels good even if we don’t have a speed boat or flowy sundresses or matching plastic outdoor platters.

Air conditioning and books and streaming shows and two lazy cats and family in the house can make a fine season … as long as I define it instead of marketing campaigns.

Speaking of Book and Movies

Two years ago I started reading mysteries and I now love the genre when written by good writers. I especially love the library because I can try any writer and if I don’t enjoy the book – this happens plenty – I just return it. But when I find a good author a path opens and I go down it as far as it will go.

I’ve previously mentioned William Kent Krueger. I read all seventeen of his Cork O’Connor novels; all set in Up North Minnesota and Wisconsin and Michigan. Pretty much everything I now know about Anishinaabe culture I learned in those books, or I looked up later because I became curious. I’m not all that crazy about Krueger’s not-Cork books, but he has a new mystery in that series coming out this fall and I already have it on order at the library.

I read three Abir Mukherjee novels in about five minutes and, why yes, I have a library hold on his next still-unpublished one. One of the two detectives is a white British guy who is a WWI vet with PTSD and an opium addiction. The other detective is a brilliant young Indian man who works hard to straddle his own culture while learning and moving in 1920’s Colonial British India. There’s a lot going on in these novels, I respect that racism is addressed in non-sentimental ways.

I just discovered Andrew Taylor, who has written a bazillion books so basically, I shouldn’t need to come out of my house til Christmas. Curiously, I tried one of his first books and couldn’t get past the first couple of chapters, but the Marwood and Lovett series I’m in now has me hooked; the mise-en-scene is the Great London Fire of 1666. I like when characters who pursue honest answers become, almost against their will, become more open minded and accepting. I like living in a world where smarts and reluctant kindness carry the plot.

Which also explains why I like S.J. Sansom so much. Sharklake is a 16th century lawyer with a humpback so much of his society either patronizes or ignores him. I love a well written, well researched novel where the character talks with Elizabeth the (probably not so much) Virgin Queen from time to time.

S.J. Parris is a woman who writes in the first-person guise of Giordono Bruno, a 16th century Italian monk kicked out of his order for reading too much and too widely. Bruno has to live by his wits after that and ends up living in and operating from the French embassy in London. I’ve only read ‘Sacrilege’ so far, but I will be reading more.

This past week Len and I got around to watching 2012 movie, Searching for Sugar Land. The movie revolves around Sixto Rodriguez, a poet and musician in Detroit in the 1970’s. None of us ever heard about him, but a pirated copy of his album mushroomed in South Africa, where to this day his music is popular and loved. I won’t tell you more, because if you don’t happen to know this film – watch it. It was so amazingly good on so many levels and it made my whole week better. Powerful story.


And that brings me to Seeking You, a Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke. This is the book I mentioned when I was writing about loneliness last week.

This is a nonfiction graphic book. Graphic books are new to me (since Archie comix books, anyways) It’s powerful to read one or two strong thoughts on a page, the background being a dark drawing of people, or headlines, or buildings, or paths. She surrounds her thoughts with the mood she wants to impart to the reader, the background is half the message.

Radtke starts by explaining the title, Seek You. “In amateur radio, operators call out across frequencies with a series of punctuated monotone beeps known as “CQ call.” .. over time English speakers took it to stand for “Seek You.” A C.Q. call is a reaching outward, an attempt to make a connection with someone you’ve never met.”

The book asks us to consider American loneliness and our loneliness. It is so brilliant that occasionally I spoke out loud to the book. She did research, she considered her own life and that of others of her generation and ours.

Loneliness is so unwelcome to humans that we have made it our enemy. We are afraid of it, sometimes disgusted by it, we regard it as a sign of failure. We have learned how to arrange our lives and our thoughts and our sense of who we are and how we think – in order to be able to tell others and ourselves that we are not lonely.

We have made loneliness the pariah state of unsuccessful humans – instead of acknowledging that being alone is our first truth and will be our last.

If you read this book (it only takes a few hours) and then watch Search for Sugar Land, I almost guarantee you will have to go away for a few hours or days on a retreat just to put yourself back together.

That’s all I have today.

I didn’t go on any picnics this summer. I didn’t win any tennis matches (I don’t know how to play tennis). I have a mild tan from walking to the Y and back just to keep my muscles from seizing up.

I have spent so much time in 16th century London that I sort of know what the Thames smells like when the tide goes out. Particularly if a dead body is revealed.

And I am once again rearranging how I think about what it means to have love, Len, my family, friends, a community. When they are balm and when I am just play-acting for the sake of what we do when we are not intentional.




I’m a big fan of Kreuger, too. (Read them all - no loving his other novels.) Also, Tony Hillerman, Donna Leon, Robert B. Parker and Louise Penny, to name a few. All have continuing characters and setting is a character, too. My latest favorite - Paul Doiron set in Maine.
Mary Beth's picture

I just put all those names on my list. Thanks! Though so many people have recommended Louise Penny to me, and whatever book I brought home from the library just didn't work for me. Do you have a title or two of your favs?

I wouldn’t make too much of an effort to like Louise Penny books- the books are quaint and old-timely in some sense. I enjoy them because I like the good character of the protagonist and again, the setting is a character.

This made me feel warm and fuzzy. Added the books to my reading list. I’ve been saying for the last couple of weeks , every time I go outside -it feels and sounds and smells like fall. I’m ok with that. I want this humidity gone. But —— I am not ready for winter.
Mary Beth's picture

I don't know how 'born and raised in Indiana' can be as disheartened by winter as you are.... Hah.

I saw "Searching for Sugar Man" back around 2013; I second your recommendation to check this film out. It is interesting and inspiring.
Mary Beth's picture

Karen wrote more wonderful and very cool things abut this movie - but in case you haven't seen it and might - I omitted her comments. The surprise inside the movie was so awesome! Thanks Karen!

No MB you are not a fern, and yes I’m loving this weather… I Read TJ Klune’s The House on the Cerulean Sea twice last week, once wasn’t enough… just finished his teen stories about super heroes, The Extraordinaries and Flash Fire just for the fun of it, it’s summer people let’s not be so serious, we have fall and winter for that…
Mary Beth's picture

Speaking of YA books that change the way the world feels - have you (yet) read Lev Grossman's THE SILVER ARROW?

PLast year, the Chicago Public Library had a “Summer Reading Challenge” for us grown ups. It included reading a graphic novel. Well, I never! I tackled “Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant” a memoir about caring for aging parents. Bolstered by that, I moved on to “The Best We Could Do”, about an adult child, looking back at her immigrant parents. Both, incredible! So grateful to have been challenged to try something different. And thanks for your movie reviews, too. Good finds!
Mary Beth's picture

Well, I just put those two on my list. Do you live in Chicago now? Still?
Leonard's picture

It taught me more about Viet Nam that I ever heard, and gave me a better understanding of the very complex thinking that many immigrants (from all places) must have about leaving unfinished business. I also loved "My Favorite Thing is Monsters" which is a beautifully-illustrated novel about Chicago, and "Night Fisher" which is about a young person who is a native Hawaiian Islander, and has trouble adapting to life in the mainland. Did you know that Las Vegas has the highest number of Hawaiian Islanders of any city in the 48 states?

I will add these books/authors to my list. Did you read: Ordinary Grace by Krueger. This book was my first introduction to him. I was overwhelmed by some of his writing...I was knee deep in loss, he was good company. Patricia
Mary Beth's picture

I did read ordinary Grace. I liked it fine but did not get as hooked as I did in his Cork O'Connor books..

Love the Louise Penny series.. Last one coming out in a week. Lots of research involved in her writings..

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Happy Birthday to Len


Today is Len’s birthday. I told him this morning I might write about him but I would let him read whatever I said first. He said not to run it past him, he’d like the surprise of reading it when you all do. Let’s see what I come up with.

1. This is cute. Len was born in Chicago’s Passavant Memorial Hospital which was the grandparent hospital to Northwestern’s Prentice Women’s Hospital - where two of our grandkids were born.

Stories, Q Club, Us

The photo is not by Len or me, its from I Love Canada on FB. I've seen a sky like that just once. 


Last week I read two books about young people who left their homes. They experienced some good and too many rough experiences and they couldn’t go back until they figured out how to not be who they used to be. Both novels knocked my socks off.

The People You Keep by Allison Larkin

Covid Diary #979 - Still Paying Attention?


Yes, it’s been 979 days since Friday the 13th, March 2020, when everything changed.

Last Saturday one of our kids visited for several hours with their kids. It was fun though our kid looked tired. They said they’d taken a Covid test that morning and it was negative. They figured it was the wine and rich foods they’d shared the evening before with friends at the end of a very busy week.

Next Day - What Are You Seeing?


It was a late night last night, wasn’t it? Len worked at a polling place 6:30 AM until 10:30 PM. He said the actual experience is a lot like working retail (which he has not done since he was 22). Stand up most of the time, pleasantly say the same thing over and over. Wonder if lunch is soon.  

Professional reporters and pundits are talking a lot about “what just happened”, but heck, we are noticing interesting things, too.  Let’s talk about what We The People saw and heard and are watching now.

Here are some things catching my attention.

Election Day


So many times I’ve thought things were going to be okay, and then they weren’t. My dad had that heart attack and the kid who was MB back then told herself to not overthink the drama because things always turn out more or less okay. Then the next day he died.

We lost a pregnancy far enough along that we had a name picked out and a crib in which to put that child. For a week I had all the misery and cramps that go with miscarrying and I still thought somehow it was going to work out okay.

That Beep-Beep-Beeping Moment.

In spring Len got a $100 traffic ticket when he turned right at a corner we’ve been turning right at for seven years. However, construction had started and there were orange barrels and cones everywhere – plus a small sign NOT facing the street Len was on, telling drivers to not turn there.

Len went back later that day and took photos. Len called the city to mention that if they posted a sign that actually faced the traffic, the city could save the cost of the cop parked there ticketing drivers.

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