Mary Beth Writes

William Kent Krueger wrote (and is still writing) mystery novels about a guy who was once a cop, then a northern Minnesota county sheriff, and is now a private investigator.  There are (so far) 17 Cork O’Connor books. I first heard about them in January and right now I am reading the 17th.  I’ve spent a lot of time this winter canoeing the Boundary Waters looking for bad guys.

Every book is populated by the regular panoply of white people and as well by folks who are wholly or partly Ojibwe/Anishinaabe. The dynamic of white culture encountering Ojibwe culture is a huge part of why I love these books.

In each novel Cork (or some other character) will come to a point where they can’t figure out what to do next. Cork thinks Henry Meloux might have helpful clues since Henry is a nearly 100-year old Ojibwe ‘mide’ (healer) who knows everyone - and knew their parents - and knew their grandparents.  Cork will drive and hike out to Meloux’ isolated cabin. Cork asks Meloux pertinent questions. Cork needs to understand something right now. Henry inevitably answers deep doodoo answers such as, ‘The answer is already inside you” or “The woods know more than we can ever know” or “We will prepare a sweat for you.”  And then Cork or whomever has to spend hours in a sweat lodge with Henry singing Anishinaabe prayers and songs.

Like Cork, I want to get past this mystical obfuscation and hear (because generally we will hear towards the end of the novel) the actual story of what’s going on and why those people acted that way.

Just last night, reading yet again about a sweat that didn’t go well (the drunk guy threw up), suddenly I got it. Western culture says, “There’s this huge problem so lets’ put on our thinking caps and THINK! Let’s share information, work together, give it our all, figure this out. Let’s risk ourselves to save others. Let’s not hold back, let’s move ahead in this crisis.”

And fictional Henry is replying, “You need to close down your rattletrap mind. You need to put down what you think you know. You need to breathe and let go of your panic and ego. When done that, think again to see what’s what.”

This is, of course, impossible to write about. We are all so damn enculturated that we have categories in our brain for “Oh yeah, breathe deep; turn off our monkey brain; let the spirit move into us.” We know how to SAY this. We know people who DO this.  We are all about being Open to the Mystery and Spiritual Healing.

But few of us can pull off an empty mind for three minutes in a row before we are off and running with our solutions, anger, grief, cool ideas, and the latest idea we read or heard. (Raising my hand here.)

The coronavirus pandemic is pushing huge problems at us. Yes, we need N95-masks and ventilators and politicians who think about their constituents instead of their stock portfolios.

All of us are already living with dread, worry, and isolation. Some of us are living with symptoms or people we love are having symptoms. Some of us have lost people or we will. This is all true.

I am going to keep thinking about Henry Meloux, a fictional character who says what I might need to know and the strength I might need to have are already somewhere in the woods, the sky, the desert, the river, the lake, in me.

My niece Susan works as a speech therapist in the Los Angeles public school.  She is also a person who sometimes pushes things apart or, other times, pulls them back together. Hmmm, I’ve never described her this way before, but I know I am right.

In the past week she’s been making beautiful circles of flowers and petals. She posts them on Instagram; you are welcome to follow her at: Susanlawrence954

The violet-edged hankie on which Susan made one of the arrangements was “tatted” by my grandma who was Susan’s great-grandmother. (I never heard the word crochet until after Grandma passed away.)  

Esther Anderson would have laughed and shook her head to see her hankie honored this way. “I’ve heard you are running out of bathroom tissue.” (She would NEVER have said toilet paper aloud.) “Why aren’t you using all those hankies I made for your noses?”

(I just realized if one says, “the Los Angeles area” one has said “the The Angels’ area.”  Cute.)

We did our census today. What a pile of hooey.

It asks if we are male or female - with no other options. It asks what our ethnic background is. Our people arrived BEFORE 1900, what on earth can possibly be relevant about asking that now?

You know what it doesn’t ask? Our income or what government services we utilize. 

..

How are you doing?

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Hi MB—I wonder what Paulie would have thought about all of this...It is times like these that I really miss our conversations. Two things come to mind, the first is how excited he was to see how Y2K was going to go; and the second is something he would always say when there was no other answer but “what can they do to me now?” I know he wouldn’t have cared about hoarding toilet paper but I’m sure he would have stocked up on beer, hot dogs, Ruffles potato chips with the ridges, and Gatorade. There have been a few books that I have skipped to the back because I couldn’t read fast enough to get to the ending. I don’t know that this is one of those times. I’m enjoying life’s slower pace. What can they do to us now :)
Mary Beth's picture

Len and I have both passed the incubation period. Last time he and I were with other people was more than a week ago. So we are safe from getting it as long as we stay in our house, or we do things outside alone or with each other. This is not hard for us, we can miss this pandemic. Except - we love people. So even though many of us as individuals will be fine, the dread for what might happen to loved ones is a read dread. Hey, I didn't know my brother loved Ruffles! So do I!

MB—They had to have the ridges and he ate them everyday for lunch with his two hotdogs and Gatorade. He was such a creature of habit!

If they don't know those things they can keep their heads in the sand because those things don't exist... And if they don't exist they don't have or won't do anything they don't want to do...
Mary Beth's picture

Exactly. To not see the people in front and next to us - is evil.

Thank you for your posts especially during these hard times!!!!
Mary Beth's picture

I appreciate your words. I really do. Thanks.

Love Susan’s flower arrangements AND you just reminded me - I need to download the second Cork O’Connor book!
Mary Beth's picture

I plan on including Susan's flowers for a while. Aren't they calming? Like remembering to take a deep breath, And yeah - download Krueger! All the libraries have him - he's a staple!

I'm reading your quarantine posts out of order, I guess, but did notice and really like the flower arrangements and I did wonder about them. When I was about 5 years old, in the early 1960s, I remember doing something like this with other girls this on the ground in our yard or neighborhood. We were creating beauty and order with what we had. I feel the need to create beauty and order right now, but I do not like doing "real" arts and crafts of any kind. Now, THIS I can do!
Mary Beth's picture

There are quite a few more on Susan's IG. I think she is doing about one per day while she is not at work with the kids. Although she was saying she begins doing speech therapy - this with grammar school aged kids - this week via their iPads. She was as curious as they rest of us about how this is going to go...

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Quarantine Diary #17 3/30/2020

Why are people (lots of them) on Facebook posting photos of landscapes? The instructions say one should post a picture of a landscape one took somewhere, one should not say where that place is, and no people should be included, especially not the posting-person.  

Why? I don’t get it. I don’t mind but I really don’t get how this connects to anything.

A friend’s husband’s company had a virtual meeting this morning about the future of their company. Things are changing but not shutting down. They will still have income and insurance.  Thought you might like to know.  

Quarantine Diary #16 3/29/2020

I’ve been busy today so I’m a little late getting to this diary. Doing what, you ask? Oh, brilliant things like washing the bathroom and doing laundry and going for a blustery walk. Took the plastic off the particular windows we wrap in the fall.

Spent a chunk of the morning reading about the lead-up to the Revolutionary War battles at Saratoga. More about that later.  Reading about brave and canny, stupid and ego-centric politicians of an entirely different era is part of my coping strategy for life in the US. We aren’t the first to live in fraught times. Not by a long shot.

Quarantine Diary #15 3/28/2020

The Long-Awaited Groceries (The hymn “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is in my brain right now) came last night at 9PM – when it was raining. A woman named Sarah, late 30’s, brown ponytail, not-posh sweatpants and hoodie – carried ALL our groceries across the street from her car to our porch. This included 8-packs of Gatorade plus boxes of seltzer water, plus lots of other heavy stuff. Did I mention it was raining?

Quarantine #14 3/27/2020

Last night we did another wild and crazy thing. We got in our car and went for a drive! The first thing we remarked to each other was that we had not been in the car together in weeks.  It felt a little odd to be in there, next to each other, about to GO SOMEPLACE! Maybe this is the way it feels to be the family dog when they let you sit in the front seat and EVERYTHING IS SO AMAZING!

We drove west into the rosy sunset, filled with excitement to, um, see the sky.  Quarantines are easiest on people who have a low bar for excitement.

Quarantine Diary #13 3/26/2020

What do you miss?  What, in our new pandemical world do you miss most from our pre-pandemical world?You know, the one we lived in till two weeks ago?

I don’t mean the heartbreaking realities such as safe medical care providers and enough places to go should one become ill and the loved ones that we are losing.

I just mean, what are we getting used to? Or trying to get used to. What might we never go back to?

Quarantine Diary #12 3/25/2020

Right now it is 11:00AM.  Got up this morning at the regular time. Did regular things. Came to the office to write. Worked (hardly at all) on a project, wrapped an item for eBay. Announced to Len at 10:30 that I was sleepy and going to take a nap.

You know what he said?  He said, “Me, too.”

The following half hour he took the sofa and I took our bed and both of us slept like toddlers on cots.

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