Mary Beth Writes


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 

This novel amazed me. I’d never heard of it before; it was on no list of “important books you should read right now:. I just picked it off a display table at the library and brought it home.

A (fairly) functional Pakistani family emigrates to California. A young Pakistani woman’s existence is horrendously scarred and marred by Muslim extremist theology. She also ends up in California. The novel is a page turner and at the same time, I didn’t see cheap shots or easy plot twists.

This novel rests on the toxic irony of right-wing Christians despising all Muslims and right-wing Muslims hating all Christians. 

Mahsood laments how difficult it is to be a modern young adult Muslim from an observant Muslim immigrant family.  He says one is always throwing away parts of their heritage and sometimes one throws away what they ought to keep. So they backtrack to get that practice or belief, but now something else makes no sense. They are not comfortable as young American adults. Neither are they comfortable as young Muslim adults. They are always pinning and unpinning their faith and practices.

Reminded me of how impossible it felt, when I was young, to leave my faith to find my faith.

I’m rereading A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee. On one hand, it’s a detective novel. On the other hand, it’s moving to Calcutta in 1919. There’s the white English guy with PTSD from WWI. There’s the brilliant, highly educated Bengali guy. The two of them are delving into why a powerful British “fixer” (think Michael Cohen) is dead. All the white cops and military want to pin this murder on a particular Indian revolutionary. How will Sam Wyndham and Surendranath Bannerjee pursue this case? If they don’t assume they know the answer, what will they uncover?

This first time I read this book I just wanted to see ‘whodunnit’. This time I’m reading more slowly so when Mukherjee mentions a new-to-me place, practice, or famous person - I Wikipedia that. I also sometimes save internet photos while I’m looking around. Suddenly my phone’s photo album looks like I’ve been traveling in colonial Calcutta.

This: Kolkata, as Calcutta is now spelled, is not an ancient city - the Brits started building it 1690 to facilitate exports of Indian products and the import of stuff from everywhere else. To this day most big municipal buildings are the architecture of colonial England. Kolkata is built on greed, commerce, racism. and a swamp. There are thousands of tangled miles of mighty rivers in that northeast part of the Asian sub-continent. The melting snow of the Himalayas outflow to the ocean there. It’s the land of monsoons. Then the English cut through all that topography with unending train tracks that slow down and often block the drainage of a significant percentage of all the water on earth. We can’t blame flooding in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India solely on the English Empire, but it was certainly part of that. 

I wrote Two Handsome Farmers twenty years ago, back when I was selling bread and stories. I just posted it at my substack account where it will show up tomorrow morning.

I still think of this story each time I drive by the actual country bar where fictional Tim and Glenn hang out. Tim and Glenn are brothers in their 20’s. There’s a scene, early on, where they wrestle in rain and mud.

When I first wrote this story, an elderly retired doctor in Racine who knew me, called to say how much he loved that scene. It made him think of his brother, long gone, whom he still missed. He also told me that when he was growing up as one of many kids in a poor family during the Depression, “The first one of us up was the best dressed.”  And “If you don’t like oatmeal, breakfast is over.”

Have a good weekend. Don’t colonialize anything.



My Dad would hum almost constantly when he developed dementia. I believe it was his way of self calming.
Mary Beth's picture

That's both sad and sweet. I've heard of other people who, when frightened, sing or hum by themselves or with others and it helps. I wonder if it's why teenagers and churches have the most singing?

My book of the week is “I will always write back” by Caitlyn Alifirenka and Martin Ganda. A true story of pen pals (he in Zimbabwe and she in the US) and how their lives were changed forever
Mary Beth's picture


I will probably never live in a country whose major religion is not Christianity. Nevertheless, it has to be extremely challenging and frustrating to try to maintain one's childhood religion in a place where it is not fully appreciated. It is the responsibility of all of us in the immigrant's new country to learn from a culture we do not know. Let's all keep an open mind and keep violence out of our reaction to those who differ from us.
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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

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?

The Confluence


(I’ve written about this trip before but it’s been a long time.)

In 2000 we did a wilderness canoe/kayak trip on Utah’s Green River. We did this with our three kids plus friends and their two sons. Our youngest was nine, the oldest was 16, and our combined three boys were slapdash goofballs.

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