Mary Beth Writes


Last Sunday 25-year-old Air Force serviceman Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire and then died in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. He said he was protesting "what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers." He declared he "will no longer be complicit in genocide."

I don’t even know where to go with this commemoration but this young person seems, to me, familiar and precious so I would like to say something.

He was raised in the cultic ‘Community of Jesus’ which exerted intimidating control over its members and their children. I recognize in Bushnell’s passion some of the craziness I held inside me as a young and idealistic person who had been raised in strict religion. Lessons and stories about the Glories of Self-Sacrifice are served to kids with milk and cookies. As the kid becomes an adult, those internalized structures of selflessness and martyrdom can and generally do become toxic.

From its first century much of the theology of Christianity was built on stories of torture and death. Show me a modern church that hangs a cross in front of the sanctuary but doesn’t preach Jesus’ Beatitudes to its congregants - and I will show you theology which teaches that the moment of death counts for more than a life of love, creativity, and service. Be careful out there.

Just as mind-blowingly true, until these past few months, how much did any of us know about life for Palestinian people? It galls me that we watch, listen to, read so much “news” and yet here we all are, ignorant of what has been the oppressive everyday life among Palestinians since 1948. An entire population of people have lost most of their land before our eyes. And I’m going to say right here that I am not anti-Jewish because we are so nervous about what we are seeing that we all have to keep saying this. We don’t even know how to say we are against two evils at the same time. Apparently most Israeli citizens are trying to say this same thing. Like the meme says, justice isn’t pie. Extending justice to others doesn’t mean there’s less for me.

So here we are. A young guy who seems almost familiar in his wholesomeness, his caring for others, his energy and passion – self-immolated last week. He tried to say with his very life that caring for each other is the point of our lives, not our pastime.

Rest in peace, beautiful young man.

These remembrances of his friends are lovely and thoughtful.

Several months ago I bought this scarf for myself at Goodwill. I planned to give it away but soon realized I couldn’t. It seemed unusually familiar to me, as if someone I knew and loved also had this scarf. I’ve had it on our sofa for months, I wear it when I get chilly reading or watching TV.

Does this ever happen to you? Do you know you love something quite ordinary and you don’t know why?

Well, this morning, while writing about sacrifice, Jewishness, and sorrow, I realized I recognize my scarf from this. I framed this poster of The Praying Jew by Marc Chagall when I was in college and it hung in my various homes nearly 30 years.

Quotes by Chagall:

If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.

Work isn't to make money; you work to justify life.

When I am finishing a picture, I hold some God-made object up to it - a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand - as a final test. If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there's a clash between the two, it's bad art.”

I’ve posted House in Blue River to appear tomorrow morning at

It’s a long story that I wrote twenty years ago but which I still think about often. I even tried to write more about Caddie, Tom, and Jack, but after a month of trying, I gave up.

It’s about what happens when the domineering leader of a family is shown for who they truly are.





Aaron Bushnell. May that young man rest in peace. I like that scarf - it’s plain and homey looking.

Much harm has been done in the name of religion throughout the millennia. Sadly, that applies to followers of ancient religions, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc.

Thank you.,

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Three Things / Story, Eclipse, Brando

1. I scheduled my Substack story to go out at 8AM this morning. I just looked to see why it didn’t show up and it says it is going to be sent at 8:49 tonight. I’m going to leave it like that. Maybe 9PM on a weekend night is a good time to send short fiction. Let me know if you have an opinion.

2. I read this quote by Marlon Brando who said this early in his career. “I’m not afraid of anything and I don’t love money.”

Even though this is probably not exactly true of me and you, I do love the bravado.

Peace Like a River / Book Report

4/3/2024 She Writes

I just finished reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and I am going to talk about it for a little bit before I forget how profoundly interesting and evocative this book was and is, at least to me.

I get emails from Boswell Bookstore (2559 N Downer Ave in Milwaukee). They host artist events pretty often and Monday evening, April 15th Len and I will be there for the Author Evening with Leif Enger. You can look up more of the details if you are interested. (Tickets are free but you need to reserve them.)

My Grandkids & 'Wandering Stars'


The past month has been jam-packed. The week in Mineral Point. Len’s two-day seminar in Chicago. Last week we had various grandkids here for three overnighters and yesterday our family came to Easter dinner here in our house which was clean after a week with grandkid overnighters so you know that was a piece of cake. Len smoked two hams (yes, hard to keep them lit) and I made the largest amounts of from-scratch scalloped potatoes plus macaroni and cheese that I have ever made. As in, I grated four pounds of cheese Saturday afternoon. “On Wisconsin.”

Ghost on a Post / Poetry with Third Graders


This is what I texted to Len this afternoon after I finished the poetry class with third graders. “I’m done and back. The kids were great and I’m a limp washrag, Teaching forty 8-year-olds for 90 minutes is way more energy than Everest.” I then drank half a beer (I NEVER drink in the afternoon) and fell asleep until the Mineral Point afternoon ‘change of shift siren’ shrieked for several minutes. It’s been a full day.

How 2 Write a Poem (3rd grade edition)


Next week is my Writers Week at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, WI. I won this when my story “How Crow Got Out of Jail” (Read Here) won first prize in the 2023 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest for short fiction.

Winning that contest motivated me to open my Substack account. So far I’ve published 17 stories and only published once twice. (Who noticed that?)

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