Monday, March 19, 2018


There are some books, masterpieces as they may be, that one simply is not ready to read. For me, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby comes to mind. Trudging through it as assigned reading for my highschool English class, I could not fathom why anyone would celebrate this blather about the antics of a bunch of silly people! Zoom ahead a decade and a half, and then rereading it, however, I was in awe-- at once, continually, and sledding into that elegy of a last line-- of its majesty, its poetry, its utterly American genius (although indeed, it is about a bunch of silly people). I say the same about Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.

Are you ready to read Four Arguments? Or have you already? It's an old book, originally published in the late 1970s. For me to read Mander's masterpiece in this Age of the Smombies has been one of the most astonishing reads in my life. Yet I do not believe that I could have read it any earlier. Or, perhaps, I should say: would that I had read it earlier.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Nancy Peacock comments:

"I read this book many, many years ago, first as a series of excerpts published in the Mother Earth News, and later, I purchased it and read it again. It is profound. I have told so many people about this book, and yet my recommendation always falls on deaf ears. The fact that is was published in the '70s does not make it any less profound today. In fact in my opinion, given the technologies its author likely did not imagine and how they have taken over so many lives, it is even more profound. Thank you for posting this." Nancy Peacock

Sunday, March 11, 2018

For the Writing Workshop: John Oliver Simon and Nicanor Parra; Margaret Dulaney's "The Child Door"; Latest Stance on Twitter; Ten Hands

This year I continue to post on Mondays, the second Monday of the month being dedicated to a post for my writing workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing. 

# # #


John Oliver Simon has passed away, a great loss to the translation and poetry community in California and abroad, especially Mexico. Read his obituary here.

Back in 2008, for Tameme, I published John Oliver Simon's translation of a chapbook by Mexican poet Jorge Fernández Granados, Los fantasmas del Palacio de los Azulejos / Ghosts of the Palace of the Blue Tiles. Read an interview with him about that here.

And over at her blog, Holding the Light, poet and translator Patricia Dubrava remembers Chilean poet Nicanor Parra.

# # #

Some questions for you, dear creative writer:
How would you want your obituary to read?
What creative works would you be most proud of, and why?
Which ones would you not want to leave unfinished, no matter what?

# # #


Playwright, essayist and mystic Margaret Dulaney's monthly podcast, Listen Well, offers her beautifully written and beautifully read personal essays. (Check out her book, To Hear the Forest Sing: Musings on the Divine.) Dulaney's latest offering, "The Child Door," should be of special interest for anyone who might need a nudge for their creative process.

> Click here to listen to Margaret Dulaney's essay, "The Child Door."

# # #


For those looking to publish, I warmly recommend signing up for Jane Friedman's free and choc-packed-with-valuable information newsletter, Electric Speed.

You can follow her blog, too.

Her new book, The Business of Being a Writer, will be published this month by University of Chicago Press.

# # #


See "Twitter Is" by C.M. Mayo
As I slog through the backlog of email and, concurrently, contemplate the transcendent role of technology in Far West Texas and American and Mexican culture and my life (e.g., last week's post, Notes on Stephen Talbott's The Future Does Not Compute), I've been noodling about social media, Twitter in particular.

Back in 2009 when it was sparkly new, I wrote a celebratory essay about Twitter for Literal. I stand by what I said; Twitter has its creative possibilities. But then as now, to quote myself:
Fster than a wlnut cn roll dwn t roof of a hen house, were gng 2 see t nd of cvlizatn
It has become increasingly clear to me that, considering Twitter's attention-fracturing, addictive qualities, and general yuckiness (hashtag mobs, trolls, etc), on balance, it's not for me.

In fact, I sincerely wish that I had never bothered setting up an account with Twitter in the first place.

But I have not deleted my account, cmmayo1, because, after all, I have a goodly number of followers and therefore, when I run a guest blog, book review, or Q & A, I will tweet the URL to that post as a courtesy to the author. And I know that there are still a few thoughtful, readerly and writerly souls out there, checking in on their Twitter feed, now and then, who may see such tweets and find them of interest and value. You know who you are.

P.S. Everything I have to say about Facebook I said here.

P.P. S. Nicholas Carr has two extra-extra-crunchily crunchy pieces on Twitter in Politico, this one in 2015 and this one in January 2018.

# # #


Today's 5 minute writing exercise is "Ten Hands":

Describe five different pairs of hands. (Some things to consider might be color; texture; shape; symmetry; condition; scars; tattoos; jewelry; etc.) For each pair of hands assign a name and a profession.

> Help yourself to 364 more free five minute writing exercises on my workshop page here.

P.S. As ever, you can find many more resources for writers here, and recommended reading on the creative process here.

# # #

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Notes on Stephen L. Talbott's THE FUTURE DOES NOT COMPUTE

Get it in paperback from
The Seminary Co-op
Dense yet elegantly lucid, Stephen L. Talbott's The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst was published by O'Reilly Associates in 1995, on the eve of the explosion of email, well before that of social media. Astonishingly, it delineates the nature of our now King Kong-sized challenges with technology, when those challenges were, so it now seems, but embryonic. And Talbott writes with unusual authority, grounded in both philosophy and his many years of writing and editing for O'Reilly Media, a prime mover in the economic / cultural juggernaut of a complex, increasingly dispersed from its origin in California's Santa Clara Valley, that has become known as "Silicon Valley."

> Talbott offers the entire text of The Future Does Not Compute for free on his website at this link, along with an annotated table of contents. You can also find a paperback edition from your go-to online bookseller.

From the catalog copy:

"Many pundits tell you that the computer is ushering us toward a new Golden Age of Information. A few tell you that the computer is destroying everything worthwhile in our culture. But almost no one tells you what Stephen L. Talbott shows in this surprising book: the intelligent machine gathers its menacing powers from hidden places within you and me. It does so, that is, as long as we gaze into our screens and tap on our keyboards while less than fully conscious of the subtle influences passing through the interface... 
"The Net is the most powerful invitation to remain asleep we have ever faced. Contrary to the usual view, it dwarfs television in its power to induce passivity, to scatter our minds, to destroy our imaginations, and to make us forget our humanity. And yet -- for these very reasons -- the Net may also be an opportunity to enter into our fullest humanity with a self-awareness never yet achieved. But few even seem aware of the challenge, and without awareness we will certainly fail."

For me Talbott's work was a wondrous but belated find, given my focus on the conundrums of technology in my book-in-progress on Far West Texas (which also, on few occasions, ranges as far west as Silicon Valley, for reasons which will be clear in the book itself).

Tops on my reading pile is Talbott's more recent book (2007), Devices of the Soul: Battling for Ourselves in the Age of Machines.

> Visit Talbott's home page and guide to his writings here.

> See also a 1999 New York Times article on Talbott's work, "Editor Explores Unintended, and Negative Side of Technology."


Owen Barfield
"Our destiny is to
become conscious and free"

In his acknowledgements Talbott writes that he is "indebted above all to a man I have met only though his published writings: Owen Barfield." Barfield (1898-1987) was an English philosopher, author of Worlds Apart and Saving the Appearances, among many other works, and part of the Oxford literary circle that included C.S. Lewis and J.R. R. Tolkein. Writes Talbott:
"The core insights underlying all [Barfield's] work remain among the most original scholarly achievements of this century. So original, in fact, that these insights are impossible to accept-- even impossible to think."

 > See Owen Barfield's official webpage, main quote: "Our destiny is to become conscious and free."
Timeline of Barfield's friendship with C.S. Lewis

Romanticism Comes of Age
by Owen Barfield
> See Worlds Apart by Owen Barfield
> See Saving the Appearances by Owen Barfield
> See link to a short documentary, "Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning"
Notes on that: Barfield is mainly about "thinking about thinking." His key work is Saving the Appearances.

> See the authorized biography by fellow Anthroposophist Simon Blaxland-de Lange, Owen Barfield: Romanticism Comes of Age: A Biography. 

> See also the collection by Owen Barfield with the same title, Romanticism Comes of Age, essays on Coleridge, Goethe, Steiner and Anthroposophy.


An important influence on Owen Barfield was the work of Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), most notably his book The Philosophy of Freedom. When he found Steiner's works, Barfield had already independently come to many similar conclusions. In the documentary on Barfield cited above, "it was a case of like finding like."

Rudolf Steiner
See the page on Rudolf Steiner here and an archive of his works here.

Caveat: Reading Steiner can get very strange very fast; not everyone has the stomach for reading about angelic channelings, epic battles in the etheric realm, etc. Steiner's Anthroposophy is an offshoot of Theosophy, and as such, heavily influenced by many of the ideas of Russian mystic Madame Blavatsky. (Read a brief note about Madame Blavatsky, the monumental figure of modern esotercism, in the excerpt from my book about Francisco I. Madero here.)

But: keep your shoes on your feet and your helmet buckled onto your coconut! Steiner was, among many other things, the founder of the Waldorf Schools. Read about that influence in Silicon Valley here (New York Times) and here (Business Insider). There is also a video posted in 2013 by the Waldorf School of the Peninsula which explains the educational philosophy in some detail.

Of note re: Steiner's broader cultural influence: Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift grapples with Steiner's philosophy, Anthroposophy. For this novel Bellow won the Pulitzer Prize in 1976, the same year he also won the Nobel Prize for Literature. See Stephen E. Usher's Conversations with Saul Bellow on Esoteric-Spiritual Matters: A Publisher's Recollections.

(I'm focusing on computers here, so I won't get into Steiner and Biodynamic Agriculture; do Google or Duckduckgo should you feel so moved. P.S. Wikipedia, aka wiki-whenever-whomever-whatever, is likely not your best source of information on this subject.)

The Philosophy of Freedom
By Rudolf Steiner
Also available free online
at the Rudolf Steiner Archive
> See Liz Attwell's brief and concise video review of Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom. Quotes from Atwell's review:

"[This is] the most radical book that Steiner wrote, it is the foundation of all his thought... I think it is the only book that would have convinced me he had something important... to say... he is removing the blinkers from the Western mindset. He clarifies the act of knowing... he brings it down to the simplest possible elements and he shows you where, in your thinking, it's possible that you might be free. He shows you, there's a self-contained place in your thinking where it's absolutely clear that you could be free.... If you build from that place, you can be sure that what you are thinking and feeling and willing is coming from a place that is not being determined by anybody or anything else... we can begin to know ourselves in the world, and that would be the true basis of freedom."


Get it in paperback from
The Seminary Co-op
"During most of [the] seventeen years I was working with computers, and it slowly became clear to me that the central issues bedeviling all of us who try to understand the relation between the human being and the computer are issues upon which Barfield began throwing light some seven decades ago.  The Future Does Not Compute is my attempt to reflect a little of that light toward the reader."

Talbott on awareness of self and awareness of the nature of machines:
"Machines become a threat when they embody our limitations without our being fully aware of those limitations. All reason shouts at us to approach every aspect of the computer with the greatest caution and reserve. But what incebtive has our culture provided for the exercise of such caution and reserve? It's more in our nature to let technology lead where it will, and to celebrate that leading as progress." Ch. 2 "The Machine in the Ghost"
"On the one hand: the machine as an expression of the human being. On the other hand: the machine as an independent force that acts or reacts upon us. Which is it? I am convinced there is no hope for understanding the role of technology in today's world without our first learning to hold both sides of the truth in our minds, flexibly and simultaneously. The relationship between human being and machine has become something like a complex symbiosis." Ch. 2 "The Machine in the Ghost"
"If it is only through self-awareness and inner adjustment that I can restrict the hammer in my hands to its proper role, I must multiply the effort a millionfold when dealing with a vasty more complex technology-- one expressinh in a much more insistent manner its own urgencies." Ch. 2 "The Machine in the Ghost"
"understanding is the basis of freedom." Ch. 2 "The Machine in the Ghost"
"the computer, one might almost say, was invented as an inevitable refinement of the corporation" Ch. 3 "The Future Does Not Compute"
"what we have embodied in technology are our own habits of thought... The need is to raise these habits to full consciousness, and then take responsability for them." Ch. 5 "On Being Responsible for Earth"
"another word for responsability is 'dominion'-- not the dominion of raw power, but of effective wisdom." Ch. 5 "On Being Responsible for Earth"
"We can no longer stop or even redirect the engine of technological change by brute, external force. Such force is the principle of the engine itself, and only strengthens it. We must tame technology by rising above it and reclaiming what it not mechanical in ourselves." Ch. 5 "On Being Responsible for Earth"
[Much of chapter 5 is taken up with a critique of the works of Jerry Mander. See Mander's In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations and Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. (For more on television: Marie Winn, The Plug-In Drug: Televisions, Computers, and Family Life).]
[Much of chapter 6 includes a scathing attack on George Gilder's ideas.]
"...the more complex and indirect the mechanisms through which human action come into expression, the more you and I must be masters of ourselves." Ch. 6 "Networks and Communities"
" way or another, you are creating your future. Wake up before you find that the devils within you have done the creating." Ch. 6 "Networks and Communities"
"...the view that a technology can be 'democratizing and leveling' testifies to a radical alienation from everything that constitutes both the inner life and culture" Ch. 6 "Networks and Communities"
"...the telephone, automobile, radio, and television have all contributed to social fragmentation, personal isolation, and alienation from both self and other" Ch. 6 "Networks and Communities"
"What hope is there for peace and human rights when I conceive the barriers separating me from my fellows to be mere obstructions on a network technology diagram rather than the powers of darkness shadowing my own heart?" Ch. 6 "Networks and Communities"

On freedom and power:
"The need is to recognize ourselves in our machines, and our machines in ourselves, and begin to raise ourselves above our machines." Ch. 7 "At the Fringe of Freedom"
 "Freedom, you might say, is not a state, but a tension" Ch. 7 "At the Fringe of Freedom"
"The doing required of us is a refusal to continue seeing all problems as the result  of a doing rather than a being, as technical rather than spiritual." Ch. 7 "At the Fringe of Freedom"
"...if we persist in the cultivation of a purely technical stance toward our work and our technology, we will find that, like the corporation, it takes on a life of its own, which is at the same time, our life--but out of control and less than fully conscious... this autonomous life may exercise a totalitarian suppression of the human spirit that will be all the more powerful for its diffuseness and invisibility" Ch. 7 "At the Fringe of Freedom"

On the so-called "global village":
"...could it be that what we so eagerly embrace, unawares, are the powers of dissolution themselves?" Ch. 9 "Do We Really Want a Global Village?"
"...what concerns me is the liklihood of our expressing within a new social and technological landscape the same spiritual vacuity that gave rise to the old tyrannies" Ch. 9 "Do We Really Want a Global Village?"
"The global village is... a technological creation.  Many would-be village architects are inspired by te endless potentials they discern in a satellite dish planted among thatched roof houses. This techno-romantic image calls up visions of information sharing and cooperation, grassroots power, and utopian social change. What it ignores is the monolithic and violently assimilative character of the resulting cultural bridges." Ch. 9 "Do We Really Want a Global Village?"

On awareness and loss:
"The light of mathematics may have descended into our minds from the circling stars, but how many students of mathematics still look to the night sky with wonder?" Ch. 9 "Do We Really Want a Global Village?"

On "helping" developing countries by bringing modern technology:

"the logic and assumptions of our technology can prove bitterly corrosive. Worse, the kind of community from which Western technical systems commonly arise is, for the most art, noncommunity--typified by the purely technical, one-dimenional, commercially motivated, and wholly rationalized environments of corporate research and development organizations."


"...human  life can be sustained only within a sea of meaning, not a network of information" Ch. 9 "Do We Really Want a Global Village?"


"...our rush to wire the world will some day be seen to have spawned a suffering as great as that caused by this century's most ruthless dictators"

On the corporation (corporation as machine):

"Is the corporation a human activity in the service of human needs, or not? It is remarkble how easily and subtly the human-centered view slips from our grasp. Indeed, just so far as the corporation is viewed as an enterprise designed to score a profit, rather than to serve worthwhile ends under the discipline of economic controls, to that extent the entire organization has already been cut loose from its human justification and reduced to something like a computational machine" Ch. 10 "Thoughts on a Group Support System"

Nugget o' wisdom:

"... every problem is a gift... [it] invites the production of new, human "capital.' This is far different from seeing a problem merely as something to be gotten rid of by the most efficient means possible." Ch. 10 "Thoughts on a Group Support System"


"It's not the Net we're talking about here; it's you and me. And surely that's the only place to begin. Neither liberation nor oppression can become living powers in any soil except that of the human heart" Ch 11


"If we experience our machines as increasingly humanlike, then we are experiencing ourselves as increasingly machinelike." Ch 11 
"...we are strongly  tempted to use our freedom in order to deny freedom, pursuing instead the mechanization of life and thought" Ch 11 
"... what is directly at risk now--what the computer asks us to abdicate-- are our independent powers of awareness. Yet these powers are the only means by which we can raise ourselves above the machine" Ch 11 
"What if the human being to whom we so beautifully adapt the computer is the wrong sort of human being? What if our efforts really amount to a more effective adaptation of the human being to the machine, rather than the other way around?" Ch 11 
"...we have learned to regard ourselves as ghosts in the machine... we have more and more become mere ghosts in the machine" Ch 11 

"an electronic New Jerusalem, its streets paved with silicon" Ch. 24 "Electronic Mysticism"

More to ponder:

"ancient man, much more than we, experienced himself rather like an like an embryo within a surrounding, nourishing cosmos... a plenum of wisdom and potency"
"the mythic surround was engaged in weaving the ancient mind, as in a dream"
"From Tolkein's storyteller-- who originates and remains one with his own mind-- they have descended to mechanican tinkerer... just so far as we forget our ancient descent from a cosmos of wisdom above us-- we lose the basis of creative mastery, an offer ourselves to be remade by the mechanisms below us"
"we are pursuing an experiment every bit as momentous as the discivery of mind at the dawning of western civilization-- what manner of god will we be?"

> See also C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image

Essential quote from Talbott's The Future Does Not Compute:
"...what we have today is in some respects a seriously disabled consciousness, and... our own infatuation with machines is both a symptom of our disability and a further contributor to it." 

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Novelist Leslie Pietrzyk on the Siren Song of the Online World & on Writing SILVER GIRL

Get this book from:
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Politics & Prose
and just about everywhere else

A bouquet of bienvenidos for new readers of this blog in 2018. And as you long-time readers know, I post here at "Madam Mayo" blog on Mondays. For 2018, Monday is still the magic day, and every fourth Monday of the month will feature either a post on cyberflanerie or a Q & A with another writer, poet, and/or literary translator.

This first Q & A for 2018 is with crackerjack literary novelist, short story writer, and essayist Leslie Pietrzyk who has a new novel out this month, which I cannot wait to read. Silver Girl is the title, and it has already been garnering outstanding reviews, including a starred review from Publisher's Weekly. (For the unititiated, a starred review in Publisher's Weekly is a B-Freaking-D for which, lest you own a wine shop, you do not have enough champagne.)

More fiction by Leslie Pietrzyk:
Pears on a Willow Tree
A Year and a Day

This Angel on My Chest
Pietrzyk is also the author of This Angel on My Chest, winner of the Drue Heinz Prize for Short Fiction; and the novels A Year and a Day and Pears on a Willow Tree.

C.M. MAYO: You have been a consistently productive literary writer for many years. How has the digital revolution affected your writing? Specifically, has it become more challenging to stay focused with the siren calls of email, texting, blogs, online newspapers and magazines, Facebook, Twitter, and such? If so, do you have some tips and tricks you might be able to share?

Leslie Pietrzyk,
author of SILVER GIRL
LELSIE PIETRZYK: Oh, yes, yes, yes…I’m a sucker for that siren song of the online world. I’m not sure I’ve come up with the answer for maintaining focus, but sometimes I’ll try setting timers (say, no Facebook until two hours have passed) or working late at night (fewer people online to chat with). I don’t answer email on the weekends.

But what works better for me (unless I’m kidding myself), is that I’ve become more open to working WITH social media and the wide world of Google available while I’m writing. Why knock myself out trying to imagine the color of nail polishes in 1982 when I can simply Google for an answer and see an array before me? Why berate myself for dipping into Facebook for five minutes? Why not just accept that distractions are part of our world now and try to retrain myself to write deeply amidst them?  

CM: Are you in a writing group? If so, can you talk about the members, the process, and the value for you?*
LP: For many years I was in an incredible, high-level writing group of 6 women who shared novels-in-progress…dear Madam Mayo belonged to this group! I think I learned how to write a novel from these monthly meetings.

When the group dissipated after 10 years, I was—honestly—tired of having critical voices in my head. Plus, I was in the beginning phases of putting together a story collection that was linked unconventionally, by incident (in each story, a young husband dies suddenly; the book became This Angel on My Chest). Because what I was doing was so difficult, and because I didn’t know how on earth I was going to make this premise work, and because I didn’t want to hear one word about my flailing, I decided that it was time for a different kind of group.

I started my neighborhood prompt writing group, and we meet once a month and write for 30 minutes to open-ended, one-word prompts. We can read out loud or not, and there are no critiques, only admiration. We’ve been meeting for more than 5 years now, and chunks of Silver Girl emerged from these meetings.

(Here’s an article about how to start your own prompt writing group: )

CM: Did you experience any blocks while writing this novel, and if so, how did you break through them?
LP: My biggest block actually came right at the beginning. I had been writing character sketches and scenes in my prompt group for at least eighteen months before I started the book in earnest, so I had all this material. My two college girl characters were dark and edgy and complicated, and I’d teased out a ton of fascinating history to their relationship. When I finally finished This Angel on My Chest I thought it would be a simple glide right into the new book…but I realized immediately that my complicated, interesting characters had no plot! It was a humbling moment.

I started doing more research into the Tylenol murders in the early 80s (which is the backdrop for the book) and focused on brainstorming potential connections between my girls and that event. I won’t say I ended up with an outline per se, but eventually I found a path for the book’s events. (Nor will I say that anything about writing this book was a “simple glide”!)

CM: Back to a digital question. At what point, if any, were you working on paper for this novel? Was working on paper necessary for you, or problematic?
LP: I never thought I’d say this, but paper was very important! I’m usually all-computer-all-the-time, but I’ve found that writing to prompts on paper feels freeing and takes my mind to riskier, more interesting places. So I wrote about Jess and the unnamed narrator many, many times across several little notebooks. The problematic parts came in trying to locate scenes I was sure I’d remembered writing, and when I had to type into the computer, a task I despise. Perhaps even more problematic is the constant fear that I’ll lose one of my notebooks to carelessness or fire before I transcribe its contents!

CM: Do you keep in active touch with your readers? If so, do you prefer hearing from them by email, sending a newsletter, a conversation via social media, or some combination?
LP: I’m far too disorganized to send a newsletter. Also, I retain enough Midwestern upbringing to wonder, who wants to hear from me? An email from a reader is always a fun surprise or a tweet…but I’m still loyal to Facebook. I generally post publically so anyone can follow me. I’ve actually come to know many readers and writers through my FB scroll. And for real old-school types, I’ve still got my literary blog!** I used to be very reliable about posting and am erratic now, but I hope the site still retains a scrap of personal flair:

Email access is on my website (along with some of my favorite recipes):

# # # # 

*CM: I too left our writing group, and for similar reasons. (I was about half way into an epic and epically complex historical novel, and after I got rolling with that, receiving critiques from other writers who were, of necessity, reading 30 pages out of context, was turning into more trouble than it was worth to me-- and, to further complicate matters, I was transitioning to living in Mexico City again.) Nontheless I remain immensely grateful for members' critiques of the beginning drafts of this novel, as well as of several other short stories and literary essays. And I miss the comraderie of those meetings with such excellent friends and esteemed colleagues. Those years for me personally, and for my writing, were a rare blessing.
**CM: For anyone interested in writing and publishing literary fiction, Leslie Pietrzyk's Work-in-Progress blog is a read well worth your while.

> Your comments are ever and always welcome. Write to me here.

Blast from 2008! 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Two Tools for Speed and Fun with Email

As announced in my last post of last year, in 2018 I will continue to post on Mondays, with the first and third Mondays of the month devoted to posts related to my own work and/or work-in-progress. 

How I wish I could be posting about a new podcast or excerpt from my book-in-progress, but this finds me still mired in the mudslide of tasks post-household move #2.

The first move was late last summer, and a second one last fall, the furniture and Texas Bibliothek arriving on the other side of the ocean only last month... (It was actually substantially more than two moves but I won't bore you with the details.)

One of the tasks in the mudslide is catching up on email.

Those of you who have been following this blog well know that email management is a subject I have been tangling with, and fascinated by, for an age-- well, since 1996, when I first got an email account, as a matter of fact. Back in 2016-- before the moves-- I had made such substantial progress with my email process that I posted this blog's all-time most popular post:

I still stand by my 10-point protocol; however, I now consider that post as less a celebration than a handy reminder to myself to take my own advice as life's Black Swan-esque episodes may demand. 

Over the past months, further refinements with my email process, such as using a Zassenhaus timer helped, as did insights from further noodling... But moving house being the utter chaos that moving  house is, the email backlog accumulated up to, understandably, one heckuva Himalaya.

Now it's already more a Sierra Madre; daunting, yes, but with relatively more sky. But of course I'm aiming for a wide sky over low rolling hills... And it's getting rather tiresome to be starting almost every single email with an apology for the delay.

Over the past few weeks two new things have helped me little faster progress and at the same time have some fun. Herewith:

#1. I now use the Mr. Stopwatch app for batching email. 

This not just another stopwatch app; I can click on the option to have each elapsed minute loudly announced by, I presume, the app designer, which is so perfectly annoyingly perfect.

What do I mean, perfectly annoyingly perfect? One of the problems I've had is, ironically, spending too much time on email and so ending up dithering around in a Ludic loop. I find I can work down more of my email backlog when I process it in batches of say, 20 minutes-- and the trick is to actually stop after 20 minutes. With the audio on-the-minute option, Mr. Stopwatch is so annoying -- which is perfect for me!-- that I usually yearn to stop after 10 - 15 minutes, which is even better.

For email, Mr. Stopwatch beats the Zassenhaus. Anyway, I forgot to pack my Zassenhaus.

Screenshot from my new favorite app, Mr. Stopwatch

My writing assistant with a small selection of postcards
soon to be mailed.
#2. Whenever apt, and if I feel so moved, I send a postcard instead.

Inspired by Karen Benke's Write Back Soon! I have begun keeping a batch of postcards handy near my laptop.

I myself am charmed to receive postcards (I mean personal, not junk mail, of course), so I would assume that some of my correspondents might feel the same way-- and so, with a postcard I can say hello to friends and family without adding another email to their personal Himalayas or Alps, or speedbumpitos, or what have you.

P.S. Nope, no Whatsapp, no FB, and I have largely abandoned Twitter. And I just might start typing my postcard messages on a typewriter! But I have to get another typewriter. For reasons too ridiculous to elaborate on here, I had to leave my beautiful 1961 Hermes 3000 on the other side of the ocean.

All this said, I sincerely do appreciate email.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

New Resources for Writers

As announced in my last post of last year, in 2018 I will continue to post on Mondays, with the second Monday of the month dedicated to my writing workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing.

to visit my "For Writers" pages

Get this book from
The Seminary Coop
Since the year 2000 I have maintained "For Writers," an ever-evolving series of webpages within my main website. Updates are now live on three of those subpages:

+ Recommended Reading on Creative Process
New on the frequently updated list: Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I listened to the audio edition, read by the author, and it was such a trove of wisdom, I listened to it again.

> Visit the main "Recommended Reading: Creative Process" page here.

+ Resources for Writers: Tips & Tools
Updates on ye olde article "Ten Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Writing Workshop."

> Visit the main "Tips & Tools" page here.

+ Resources for Writers: On Publishing
Several updates on ye olde article, "Out of the Forest of Noise: On Publishing the Literary Short Story," including new links to a treasure of a resource, Clifford Garstang's Perpetual Folly Literary Magazine Rankings for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Thank you, Clifford!

> Visit the main "On Publishing" page here.

P.S. Help yourself anytime to "Giant Golden Buddha" and 364 More Free Five Minute Writing Exercises. The exercise for today:
February 12 "Popol Vuh: Seven Random Bits"
I just pulled the Popol Vuh off the shelf and found these seven random bits:
~sweet drink!
~you tricksters!
~And they remembered what had been said about the East.
~corn with fish
What can you write in five minutes that incorporates all of these?
Alternatively, pull a random book from your own shelves for your own random seven bits, and do five minutes of writing incorporating those.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

On Organizing (and Twice Moving) a Working Library: Ten Lessons Learned of Late with the Texas Bibliothek

[ The Texas Bibliothek, Ready to Ship.
Yes, it is big. Yes, I devour books like a ravenous owl.
Yes, this is my process.
I accumulated similar-sized working libraries
in writing some of my other books, e.g.,
Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California (2002);
The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (2009); and
Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution (2014). ]
File this post under Future Reminder to Take My Own Advice, and if some or all of these ideas also work for you, gentle reader, verily I say unto you: Wunderbar!

Late last September, having finally rearranged and set up my working library in my new office in Mexico City-- the work in question being a book on Far West Texas-- I had to pack it all back up again and ship it across the Atlantic. (Why? Well, that's a novel I'm not going to write).

Now that I've got my Texas books resettled on their second set of new shelves in less than six months, I'm ready to take on 2018! But whew, I've got biceps after this job for a Hercules. The thirty-eight boxes of books comprising what I now call the Texas Bibliothek-- I have landed in German-speaking Switzerland-- arrived in mid-January. And a couple weeks later, every tome and paperback and pamphlet and back-issue of Cenizo Journal is in place, and I can carry my bike over head! I could scoop up and toss dessicated Christmas trees, small donkeys and their Schmutzlis out windows, too, should I take a notion!

Ten Lessons Learned of Late with the Texas Bibliothek

1. Organize the books by topic-- not as a librarian would recommend, but as your working writer's mind finds most apt. 

After all, you're the one who will be using these books, not the general public. And even in a fairly substantial working library, such as this one, there are not enough books to justify the bothernation of cataloging and labeling each and every title.

[ Ideas About Texas (some, anyway)]
If you have more than 50 books and if you do not organize them in some reasonably reasonable way, why don't you just open your front door and let your dogs wander out and then you can go looking for them on the freeway at four a.m., that might be more fun!

2. If any category has more than 30-40 books, create a new subcategory.

Because trying to keep books in alphabetic order, whether by author or by title, makes me feel dehydrated, RRRRRR.

3. Label categories of books with large, easy-to-read lettering. 

Because if you're a working writer, like me you're probably near-sighted...

Funny how book designers always have such unique ideas about colors and font sizes and typefaces.... In other words, I don't want to have to look at the visual clutter of those spines to try to figure out what this bunch is about; I let that BIG FAT LABEL tell me.

If you do not want to make labels, why don't you peel the labels off all the jars and cans in your pantry, mix 'em up, and then try to find which one is the dog food and which one the canned pumpkin? That would be a mile more hilarious.

4. When moving, before touching anything, take photos of the whole shebang.

I do not have early onset dementia, but boy howdy, moving house sometimes makes me feel as if I do. (Did I used to have a working library? Was I working on a book? What day is it? Is Ikea still open?)

5. Then, before even touching those books, take a tape measure and write down the inches of shelf space required for each and every category.

[ I suspect that these things are in cahoots
with pens and umbrellas. ]
A tape measure!

I realize this may sound very OCD.

But three moves ago, it did not occur to me to do this with my working collection on Mexico's Second Empire / French Intervention, for my then recently-published book, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. In the rush of moving I allowed the moving company crew to pack the books, willynilly-fefifo-rama-chillydilly, and then, on arrival, lacking space, never mind bookshelf space, and so having to leave that particular library in a half-unpacked, unsorted chaos, for the next few years more correspondence and related research was bottlenecked than I want to think about. (That library now has its home in Mexico City-- that would be another blog post.)

The main thing is, you want to be certain you actually have the bookshelf space you need plus ample wiggle room for each  category before you start packing-- and then double check the available bookshelf space again before you start unpacking.

And never, ever let anyone else pack them.

Sounds obvious. Alas, for me, three moves ago, it was not.

[ Yeah, Literary Nuns! (Note label in upper right corner) ]

[ Geology, Energy, Box 1
corresponded to category 40,
requiring 17 inches of shelf space. ]
6. Save those neatly made shelf labels to reattach to the new shelves, and also label-- with mammoth, easy-to-read fonts-- each and every box.

7. Number each box, e.g., 1 of 32; 2 of 32, etc.

These can be cross-referenced with the master list of categories, which has the measurements.

8. Don't be stingy with boxes!!

For moving books I prefer the so-called banker's boxes with punch-out holes for handles. Banker's boxes are large enough to take a heaping helping of books, and the handles make them easy to carry, however the weight of a book-filled banker's box remains within the range of what I, a 50-something female whose daily mainly workout consists of walking two pugs, and, la-de-da, whatever biking and yoga, can easily haul up or down a staircase.

Yes, you could snag a batch of free boxes at the grocery store, and yes, you probably could, as I certainly could, lift bigger boxes with double the number of books in them-- and most men can haul a stack of two or even three bigger boxes at a time. However, whatever the upper-body strength you have and shape you are in, when you are moving house, unless you for some reason enjoy showering hundreds of dollars on, say, your chiropractor's vacation home, lifting huge, ultra-heavy, and unwieldy boxes is penny wise and dollar dumb. Ox dumb.

Goodie for me, I learned this lesson three moves ago, and I had an excellent chiropractor.

9. Take photos of the boxes, labels included.

Because you never know! Seems I have good moving juju. Knock on wood for next time!

10. On reshelving day, gather together before commencing:
+ Papertowels
+ Cleaning spray for the shelves (they will be dusty)
+ Garbage bag
+ Tape
+ Scissors (to trim off old bits of tape, etc.)
+ Measuring tape!!!!!!!!!!
+ Step stool or small ladder
+ Water and snack
+ iPad with audiobooks and/or podcasts and/or dance music 
P.S. History nerds podcast alert! Check out Liz Covart's Ben Franklin's World

If you are missing any one of these items, you will probably have to interrupt whatever you are doing to go get it, and then in, say, the kitchen, because you have Moving on the Brain, you will be distracted by some zombie command from the dusty ethers such as, I must now go to Ikea to buy garbage bags and whatnotsy whatnots...

+ + + + + + + +

Meanwhile, dagnabbit, people just won't stop writing books on Texas!! Two more, post-move, essential additions to the Texas Bibliothek:

Regular Army O! Soldiering on the Western Frontier, 1861-1891
By Douglas C. McChristian

The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American Southwest 
by Peter Cozzens

+ + + + + + + +

Wish me luck, gentle reader. I aim to finish my book on Far West Texas this year. By the way, I host an associated 24 podcast series, "Marfa Mondays," which is woefully behind schedule because of these moves, but soon to resume. I invite you to listen in anytime to the 20 podcasts posted so far.

Listen in anytime
P.S. Using the free blogger platform, I also maintain an online working library of out-of-copyright (now in the public domain, mainly linked to Texas books-- books which I could not or did not want to attempt to purchase but would like to be able to consult at my leisure. It includes a number of titles that might appear bizarrely out of place (one is on Massachusetts, for example)-- but after all, this is not for the general public, but a working library in service of my book in-progress. I mention this because perhaps you might find it of use to create such an online library for your own purposes.

My working library of out-of-copyright Texas books, mainly from
I make no claims for its usefulness to anyone else.

P.P.S. For those wondering, what is my take on ebooks? First of all, I delightedly sell them!  And yes, I have bought some, and as far as the Texas book research goes, when I need a book urgently and/or the paper edition is unavailable or expensive, I have been known to download a Kindle or four-- or, as above-mentioned, download out-of-copyright books for free from and similar sites. I appreciate that convenience, and also the ease with which I can search within a text for a word or phrase. Nonetheless, on balance, I find ebooks decidedly inferior to paper. Morever, I doubt that my electronic libraries will outlive me in any meaningful way, while I expect that my working libraries of hardcovers and paperbacks, including some rare editions, may serve other researchers well beyond the horizon of my lifetime.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

+ + + + + + + +

As anounced in the last post of 2017, in 2018 I will be posting on Mondays on the following schedule:

First and third Mondays of the month: New writing / news / podcasts;
Second Monday: For the writing workshop;
Fourth Monday: Cyberflanerie and/or Q & A with another writer, poet, and/or translator;
Fifth Monday, when applicable: Whatever strikes my gong.