Mary Beth Writes

The photo is from Barnados, a childrens charity in London in the 19th century. 


Argh! I have a new phone because the old one stopped staying charged plus a few more foibles. My phone cost $400 five years ago so it makes sense that it stopped working reliably, right? If an appliance worked like this we would burn that manufacturer to the ground.

Okay, Nice new phone. Then one of our kids asked if we were free to meet on a particular day next week. I blithely opened my phone and tapped the calendar and … nope. Must sign in with my Google password. Google password of yore no longer works because Microsoft hiccupped in the past year or two. So now Len is upstairs, we have two laptops and two phones open, and there is a list of Magical Codes that Len has pulled up from God Knows Where and he has entered one but then he had to find a leprechaun on the phone in the Philippines and talk for a while, but by then the first Magical Code had expired so he read the next code to me and I entered it and now, yes, I am free on the 19th.

Did I unattractively through this? You betcha. I hate systems which make me feel inept. All those years ago I was the youngest kid in my family but those old ghosts of “you’re so dumb” still haunt. Right?

Last week I read Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist. It was the only Dickens the local library had in large print and when one is reading 750 pages, that’s my first criteria.

I hadn’t read Dickens since Great Expectations in 9th grade. I was curious, why is he still so highly regarded? I didn’t read critiques or Spark Notes, just the book. So what I have to say is just me.

First, Dickens is verbose and I don’t mean this in a good way. There was never a line or passage that caught my ear. The guy plows through words, a haystack at a time, piling up characters and plot. Much of his writing appeared in serial form in daily newspapers and it feels like that. He’s describing memorable characters doing angelic or dastardly things. He’s getting the job done. You read one short chapter; you want to know what comes next. That’s his job and that’s what he's doing. There are no subtleties or nuances.

Like watching TV. Larger-than-life characters in larger-than-life plots. If you give yourself over to it, it keeps your attention. If you crave something that actually touches your own experience of life, this is not it.

Secondly. There are writers and there are people who can sell themselves. Ex: I write better than many best-selling authors. They crank out a plot with the same stable of characters each time, just different names. BUT - those writers worked pretty hard to submit their early writing to powerful people and agents and publishers. The went to lunch with folks who could promote their writing. They worked hard, and probably still do, at networking and they succeed that way.

Dickens reads like that. He came from his own hard story, he was determined to succeed, and he did. There were WAY better writers than him, but he is the one who got his stuff into newspapers and into people’s imaginations.

Third and I think most interestingly, Dickens was one of the first writers to pull in SO MANY CHARACTERS from SO MANY WALKS OF LIFE. He has uber-rich people, orphans (so many orphans!), scammers, hypocritical religious types, nice servants, stupid crooks, smart crooks, and psychopaths. (Looking at you Bill Sykes.)  Dickens blew open the reading class of London to the inhumane prejudices of their time. He lampooned the ‘social services’ of his era, which were funded by charities and skimmed by the so-called providers of services.

Last. Dickens loves and perpetuates stereotypes. Heck, he probably invented stereotypes. Nancy, who is Bill Sykes abused GF, feels compassion for Oliver Twist. She risks her safety and will eventually be killed for trying to connect Oliver back to the people who were good to him. Why would Nancy be so good? We learn nothing of her backstory. How, in her poor, rough, exploitive London slum, did she learn compassion. Why does she risk herself on behalf of others? His view of women is, ahem, patriarchal and uncurious.

Horrible Fagin is “the Jew.” I guess even Jewish people at the time protested the racism of Fagin as a monstrously greedy guy. About halfway through the book, Dickens starts referring to him mostly as Fagin and not as the Jew.

Bad people are always bad. Good people are always good and usually clueless. If a woman is good, she’s too good. But at least in Dickens, you get Jews and women (and others) who are acting, and not side props.


I don’t know why we still ask high school kids to read Dickens. I spent yesterday with my young friends; the older one said her 8th grade teacher was very enthusiastic that they should read Dickens.

Dickens had awesome soap opera plots. He portrays characters who are too good or too evil. Plus the solution to injustice is for nice rich people to act well.

In Dickens, systems never change.

I guess Dickens is a writer for our times, too.

Grrrr …




I sympathize with the new phone trauma. It’s been a long, long time since I read Dickens!

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What Now, US Constitution?


Not sure if I wrote this post for you or for me.

I was close to the end of my volunteer shift at the Food Pantry yesterday. The morning had been tougher than usual (see the upended boxes we didn’t have time to flatten) and I was tired. Then I got this text from Len, “Don’t look at the news.”

I’ve never received anything this cryptic from Len in my life. I told my co-worker Nancy I needed to look at the news because something weird was going on.

She replied, “The Supreme Court.”

Hot Weather Diary #4


Guess what amazing thing is happening at my house right now? This has not happened in, I think, two weeks…


Yesterday evening the heat index was 100 degrees. Tonight the temperature is 70, low humidity, breezes wafting in the windows like angels’ breath.

Hot Weather Diary #3


Today was another hot one and right now, it’s still 93 degrees in my backyard.

Hot Weather Diary #2


“Time wasted at a lake is time well spent.”  (I tried to learn who wrote this; it seems to have arisen spontaneously on a Pinterest plaque for your cabin.)

There is an argument that civilization started on the banks of rivers, the oceans, and along the shores of the hundreds and thousands of lakes on our earth. Waterfront is where people and animals gather to drink, eat, cool off, and watch the youngsters while they play. Also, it’s where adults gather to chat, fish, breathe in beauty, and sometimes swim far out there where joints don’t ache and its quiet.

Hot Weather Diary #1


We all knew it was coming and here it is. A Hot Week! We are in the news! We are important! Humans around the nation, especially in the East and Midwest, will be living through a week with temps in the 80’s, 90’s and worse.

Swan Story


I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s writing lately and I have decided there is too much to read. Much of it is very good but there is JUST TOO MUCH!

So my goal going forward is to write shorter posts, more often, that might remind you of the glory, power, and goofiness of your life as well as mine.

So, let me say again what’s always very true. Thank you for reading what I write.


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