Monday, November 17, 2014

Why Translate? The Case of the President of Mexico's Secret Book

Just back from ALTA, the American Literary Translators Association conference held this year in (brrr) Milwaukee, which had the theme "Politics & Translation." If you've been following this blog, you've already read reams about my latest book which is, indeed, about politics: Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual.

At ALTA, I spoke on two panels and read an excerpt from my translation of a work by Mexico's great novelist and short story writer Ignacio Solares. (Had the scheduling permitted, I would have loved to have also shared new translations of works by Mexican writers Agustin Cadena and Rose Mary Salum. Here's to ALTA in Tucson, Arizona in 2015!) 

Herewith the text of my talk for the second panel, "Why Translate?"

A transcript of the talk for the panel "Why Translate?" 
American Literary Translation Association (ALTA) Conference
Milwaukee, November 15, 2014
[Slightly edited for this blog]

President of Mexico
I translate for the same reasons that I write. There are many, but we have only a few minutes, so I will focus on two, which are: I want to understand, and I want to share that understanding. 

Sharing might just be with myself, as in a diary entry, or with a cadre of of loyal readers and a few Internet surfers that would be this blog, Madam Mayo. Sharing ramps up, of course, when we start talking about books. 

People have many different and varied motivations for publishing books— and for some, one of them is nothing less than to change the world. Or maybe, to change our understanding of some aspect of the world— and so change the world.

I see the book, whether in its original language or as a translation, as a vector for a set of ideas, a very unusual and efficient vector, for it can carry ideas from mind to mind, spreading out over great distances and, potentially, far into the future. 

Books can travel through two systems, or rather, an array of systems: at one extreme, the heavily intermediated, and at the other, the direct.

Our commercial publishing industry in the United States constitutes that first extreme. To give a stylized example, a book comes into the hands of an agent, then an acquiring editor, perhaps a developmental editor, a copyeditor, a book designer, a formatter, a cover designer, the proofreader, the printer, the delivery truck driver, the warehouse employees, the distributor, the sales reps, the bookstores' buyers, and so on and so forth until, finally, the cashier hands the book to its reader. Very possibly multiple corporate entities and dozens of individuals play some role in bringing a book to any given reader. 

At the other extreme, I might write something on a piece of paper and hand it to you. 

I submit that in the United States we tend to overly focus on this heavily intermediated system; we often overlook the fact that it is not the only or even necessarily the best way for a book to fulfill its purpose.

The first page of Madero's
La sucesion presidencial en 1910
"To the heroes of our country;
to the independent journalists;
to the good Mexicans"
I'm going to focus on two books, both political, both by Francisco I. Madero. 

If you are at all familiar with Mexican history, Francisco I. Madero needs no introduction. If Mexican history is a mystery to you, the main thing you need to know is that Madero was the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and President of Mexico from 1911 to 1913. 

His first book, La sucesión presidencial en 1910, or The Presidential Succession in 1910, published in 1909, served as his political platform in challenging the old regime. Though it was after the stolen elections of 1910 that Madero declared the Revolution on November 20, 1910, informally, we could say that the Revolution was launched with this book. 

Francisco I. Madero's secret book
Madero's second book is Manual espírita or Spiritist Manual, which he finished writing as he was preparing for the Revolution and began to circulate in 1911, when he was president-elect. It is this second book which I translated, and my book about that book, which includes the translation, is Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. 

Apropos of Madero's two books and the two systems to bring a book to its readers, the heavily intermediated and the relatively direct, a bit from the opening of chapter 2 of my book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution:

When we talk about a “successful book,” usually what we mean is one that has a brand-name publisher, enjoys prime shelf space in bookstores, and earns its author buckets of royalties. In other words, we talk about it as a commodity—or, if we’re a mite more sophisticated, a hybrid commodity / work of art / scholarship. I say “we” because I am writing and I presume you are reading this in a time and place where books are no longer banned by the government, their authors no longer casually imprisoned—or worse. Lulled by endless streams of made-for-the-movies thrillers and romances, we forget that, as Ray Bradbury put it, “A book is a loaded gun.” 
Francisco I. Madero intended his Manual espírita to be a beam of light, to heal Mexico and the world with his consoling concepts of the nature and meaning of life. However, it is a book that stands on the shoulders of his first book that was, indeed, a loaded gun: La sucesión presidencial en 1910, published in the winter of 1909 when Don Porfirio Díaz, the dictator who had stolen the presidency in a coup d’état and ruled Mexico on and off for over thirty years, was about to celebrate his eightieth birthday and, as Mexico’s so-called “necessary man,” take for himself a seventh term.
Madero had no interest in the capitalist concept of a book’s success; he wanted La sucesión presidencial en 1910 in people’s hands, and as fast as possible, and for that he did not need bookstores, he needed a jump-start on Don Porfirio’s police. He paid for the printing himself (a first edition of 3,000, and later more) and, as he noted in a letter:
[T]he first precaution I took was to hand out 800 copies to members of the press and intellectuals throughout Mexico, so when the Government got wind of the book’s circulation, it would be too late to stop it. . .

Now when we come to Madero's second book, Manual espírita, or Spiritist Manual, there are two reasons the subtitle of my book calls it his "secret book": First, he wrote it under a pseudonym; second, incredible as it may sound, for the most part, historians have completely ignored it. A few have begrudged it a footnote; only a very few— so few that I can count them on one hand— have dared to write about it in any depth and seriousness. 

The 1924 edition
published by
Casa Editorial Maucci
in Barcelona
In 1911 five thousand copies of Madero's Manual espírita went into circulation, one assumes, among Spiritists. It was republished by Madero's enemies, the Reyistas, as an attack-- the Reyistas' message being, "Madero is the true author, you see what a nut he is." And I discovered that in 1924 Casa Editorial Maucci in Barcelona brought out a reprint. I do not know what influence the Manual espírita may or may not have had in spreading Spiritism, whether in Mexico or abroad—it would make a fine PhD dissertation to delve into that question— but as far as historians of Mexico are concerned, until very recently, and apart from a very few and very hard-to-find editions published in Mexico, essentially, the Manual espírita itself disappeared into the ethers. 

In 2011, a hundred years after its publication, I published the first English translation as a Kindle. Earlier this year, 2014, I published my book about the book, which includes Madero's book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual as both a Kindle and a paperback. And like Madero himself with both his books, I self-published.

I hasten to clarify that I did not self-publish because of a string of rejections. I have already published several books, two with university presses and two with major commercial publishers, among others, so I know that, with patience and persistence, should those have proved necessary, my work would have found a home. My decision to self-publish was a deeply thought-out strategy, specific to my circumstances and specific to this title. In other words, I decided to skip the heavily intermediated system, which for this book probably would have been a university press. My three reasons:

First, I am not an academic hoping for tenure, and as I already have several books published, on the margin, as a writer and a translator I did not have a lot to gain by going to a traditional publisher, and in fact I had a lot to lose, mainly time and control;
Second, outside of Mexico, alas (would that it were otherwise) books on Mexico are not particularly commercial, which makes me suspect that, whatever its merits may or may not be, mine would have taken a shoulder-saggingly long time to place;
Third, for many readers, Spiritism is at once disturbing and beneath their notice. Let's say, it creeps them out, as would a book on, oh, alien abductions or crop circles. And I think this explains why even many of the leading historians of the Revolution do not know about Madero's Spiritism, or know next to nothing about it. To give you an idea, one major textbook does not mention it at all, while another textbook, also published by an important university press, blithely labels Madero an atheist, which is rather like calling the Pope of Rome a Protestant.

In our day, what we think of as self-publishing usually includes intermediaries such as In my case this would be and Ingram. Ingram's recent move into the realm of self-publishing is really the topic for another panel, but suffice it to say that for traditional publishing, no exaggeration, this is as momentous as Hiroshima. Ingram is a major book distributor and now also an on-demand book printer, and what listing with Ingram means is that all major on-line booksellers can now source a self-published book from Ingram. Libraries can order it, just as they order many of their books from Ingram, and while Barnes & Noble as well as many other major bookstore chains and independent bookstores may not necessarily stock it on their shelves, it's right there, as easy to order as any other book, on their webpagesagain, sourced from Ingram. 

As for getting my book into people's hands, without a publisher, I do not have a marketing staff and sales reps to work for me. Like Madero with his La sucesión presidencial en 1910, I simply identified a key individuals and sent them an inscribed copy. For my book, these people, mainly but not exclusively academics, are experts on Madero, on the Mexican Revolution, Mexican history in general, the history of metaphysical religion, and Masonry (Madero was a Mason).

The process of the book, my little turtle, finding its readers may be a long and winding one, but it is underway [see reviews] and I feel no urge to hurry. Unlike a traditionally published book, which must dash out like a rabbit, digitally available books (ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks sold on-line) are not so heavily dependent on "buzz" generated to coincide with the fleeting moment when a book, thanks to the efforts of marketing staff and sales reps, might be available on physical shelves in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Like grocery stores, brick-and-mortar bookstores must move their merchandize with the seasons and oftentimes, as with the proverbial cottage cheese, even more quickly. Digital bookshelves, however, are of a different nature; they can have unseen and unattended dimensions, additions to which impose a marginal cost approaching, or in fact, zero. Now if, on a Tuesday at 4 am, say, seven months or, say, seven years in the future, someone in Australia wants to download my Kindle or order my print-on-demand paperback, at the click of a button, he can do just that. 

Will my book with its translation of Madero's Spiritist Manual change our understanding of Mexican history? Well, I do think it knocks the sombrero off the reigning paradigm, to consider that Francisco I. Madero, the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution— an absolutely transformative episode in Mexican history and the first major revolution of the 20th century—was a not only a Spiritist but a leading Spiritist and a Spiritist medium. 

Madero believed that he was channeling written instructions from spirits in writing both of his books, and furthermore, he detailed his beliefs about the moral duty of political action and including such esoterica as astral travel and interplanetary reincarnation, in his Spiritist Manual

For anyone who chooses to open their eyes and look at the overwhelming evidence, the connection between Madero's beliefs and his politics is clear. As Mexican historian Enrique Krauze wrote in his seminal 1987 biography, Francisco I. Madero: Místico de la libertad, in the case of Madero, "Politics does not displace Spiritism; it is born of it."

I do not deny other motives and the millions of other participants in that Revolution. But its spark, and the way it played out, and, I believe, Madero's murder, are a very different story once we take into account his Spiritism.

My aim with my book and my translation of Madero's book is to deepen our understanding of Madero, both as an individual and as a political figure; and at the same time, deepen our understanding of the rich esoteric matrix from which his ideas sprang, in other words, not to promote his ideas nor disparage them, but to explain them and give them context. It is also then my aim to deepen our understanding of the 1910 Revolution itself and therefore of Mexico itself, and because the histories are intertwined, therefore also deepen our understanding of North America, Latin America, the Pacific Rim, and more for a long as a book exists and someone reads it, it can catalyze change in understanding (and other changes) that ripple out, endlessly. Such is the wonder, the magical embryonic power of a book, any book, whether original or in translation: that, even as it rests on a dusty shelf for a hundred years, or for that matter, an unvisited digital "shelf," if it can be found, if it can be read, it holds such potential.

Your COMMENTS are always welcome.

[official webpage, with excerpts, Q & A, podcasts, 
and resources for researchers]

[about President Plutarco Elías Calles 
and the research séances of the IMIS]

My anthology of 24 Mexican writers on Mexico

Interview with C.M. Mayo on literary translation

A "Marfa Mondays" podcast interview 
with historian John Tutino

Monday, November 10, 2014

In Mexico's National Palace: Dr. Yolia Tortolero Cervantes and Her Pathbreaking Work on Francisco I. Madero, El espiritismo seduce a Francisco Madero


Last Thursday in Mexico's National Palace (Palacio Nacional), I had the great honor of introducing both the lecture series, Francisco I. Madero: Del espíritismo al Bhagavad-Gita y otras influencias esotéricas, [Francisco I. Madero: From Spiritism to the Bhagavad-Gita and Other Esoteric Influences] and its first speaker, Dr. Yolia Tortolero Cervantes, author of El espíritismo seduce a Francisco Madero. [Spiritism Seduces Francisco Madero.] 

The series continues each Tuesday at 5 pm through December 2, when I will be speaking with Ignacio Solares. All lectures are free and open to the public in the National Palace's Recinto Juárez. More information and the complete schedule is here. 

After her fascinating lecture about President Madero
and Spiritism in Mexico's National Palace
(The portrait is of President Benito Juárez)
If you have been following this blog, you already know all about my own book, Metaphyscal Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, which includes my translation-- the first into English-- of Madero's Manual espirita. 

[>>Read excerpts and more.]

Herewith my translation of my introduction to the lecture series and of Dr. Yolia Tortolero Cervantes, followed by the Spanish original.

Good afternoon. It is a great honor for me to give you all a very warm welcome to this lecture series, "Francisco I. Madero: From Spiritism to the Bhagavad-Gita and Other Esoteric Influences." 
Profoundly respected and internationally famous as Mexico's "Apostle of Democracy," Francisco I. Madero was the leader of the 1910 Revolution and President of the Republic from 1911 to 1913. During his life, and for decades after his assassination in 1913, Madero's Spiritism and other esoteric ideas have been the topic of gossip, of rumor. In particular, during his brief administration, his enemies used such gossip as a weapon of attack. Later, the subject became taboo.
The "Gita"
also influenced
Mohandas Gandhi
This lecture series and the various works of the participants represent a parting of the waters, not only for the notable quality of the original research, but the fact that we are celebrating it the National Palace.
I hasten to clarify that we are not necessarily celebrating esoteric ideas in themselves; we celebrate the memory of this honored figure in Mexican history and these historians' efforts to comprehend the nature of his esoteric ideas, their context, and their role-- a role that was fundamental in his private life and his political life.
As Enrique Krauze tells us in his seminal work of 1987, Francisco I. Madero: Místico de la libertad [Francisco I. Madero: Mystic of Liberty], "Politics does not displace Spiritism; it is born of it."
Allan Kardec
Chef du Spiritisme
This series offers lectures each Tuesday here at the same time, at 5 pm. 
On November 11, we will hear from LUCRECIA INFANTE de about "Spirits, women and equality: Laureana Wright and Kardecian Spiritism in Mexico."
On November 18, we will hear from two experts on Madero and Spiritism, ALEJANDRO ROSAS ROBLES, who will talk about "The Revolution of the Spirits" and MANUEL GUERRA, on the lost Spiritist writings of Madero.
On November 25, we will hear from CARLOS FRANCISCO MARTINEZ MORENO on "Masonry, Spiritism and Hinduism: Interconnected Strands in Madero's Trio of Mystic Pillars."
And finally, on December 2, Yours Truly, C.M. MAYO, will talk about my book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual [Odisea metafísica hacia la Revolución Mexicana: Francisco I. Madero y su libro secreto, Manual espírita], and will will also hear from the Mexican novelist, IGNACIO SOLARES, about his work, Madero, el otro [Madero, the Other.].

The Kindle edition of Dr Tortolero's
pathbreaking work
Today [November 11, 2014], the opening of the series, is in the hands of the renowned Mexican historian, DR YOLIA TORTOLERO CERVANTES, with "Nine Readings About Francisco I. Madero and His Belief in Spiritism."  
Her work, El espiritismo seduce a Francisco I. Madero [Spiritism Seduces Francisco I. Madero], lit the way for many other works, including mine. 
I confess that it would have been impossible for me to see where to begin, never mind find my way out of the labyrinth of esoteric ideas in the life of Francisco Madero without this marvelous and deeply researched work as my guide. It is no exaggeration: it is not possible for anyone to find their footing in the history of Francisco Madero and the Revolution of 1910 without Dr. Tortolero's work.
A brief biography of Dr. Tortolero:
She received her doctorate from the Colegio de México in 1999 with a thesis about the influence of Spiritism on Francisco Ignacio Madero's political career (1873-1910), a work subsequently published by the National Fund for Culture and the Arts in 2001 (first edition);   by the Senate of the Republic in 2002 (second edition), and an electronic edition in Kindle format in 2013. In 1999 she was Chief of Research in the Recinto de Homenaje a Benito Juárez [National Palace] and from 2000 - 2010 she worked in Mexico's National Archive, as Chief of the National Rgistry and as Director of Research and Archival Standards. 
From 2011 - 2012 she worked in the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas, Venezuela, as Professor in the Masters in the History of the Americas and the Masters in the History of Venezuela. Since January 2012 she has been visiting researcher in the Bolivarium Institute for Historical Research, in the Bolívar University in Caracas, where she has been researching the life of lawyer Joaquín Mosquera y Figueroa (1748-1830), who was  Oidor de la Real Audiencia de México at the end of the 18th century and Visitador Regente de la Real Audiencia de Caracas from 1805 to 1809. Beginning in October 2014 she is a CONACYT post-doctoral fellow in the Masters in History interdisciplinary program in the University of Guanajuato.
[NOTE: I hope to be able to link to the YouTube video of her talk soon.]


Muy buenas tardes. Es un gran honor para mi darles a todos ustedes la muy cordial bienvenida a este ciclo de conferencias, "Francisco I. Madero : Del espíritimo al Bhagavad-Gita y otras influencias esotéricas."

Profundamente respetado y ampliamente conocido como "El Apóstol de la Democracia", Francisco I. Madero fue  líder de la Revolución de 1910 y Presidente de la República de 1911 a 1913.

Durante su vida y décadas después de su asesinato en 1913, su espiritismo y sus otras ideas esotéricas han sido tópicos de chisme, de rumor. En particular durante su breve administración presidencial, tales chismes se utilizaron como armas de ataque para sus enemigos. Posteriormente, el tópico se convirtió en tabú.

Esta conferencia, al igual que las varias obras de sus participantes, representa un parte aguas, no solamente por la notable calidad de invtestigación original, sino por el hecho de que hoy en día estamos celebrandolo en Palacio Nacional. Quisiera aclarar que no estamos necesariamente celebrando las ideas esotéricas en sí. Celebramos la memoria de este gran personaje en la historia de México y celebramos los esfuerzos de os historiadores por comprender la naturaleza de sus ideas esotéricas, su origen, su contexto, y su papel-- un papel primordial para Francisco I. Madero tanto en su via privada como su vida política.

Como nos dijo Enrique Krauze en su obra seminal de 1987, Francisco I. Madero, Místico de la libertad, "La política no desplaza al espiritismo; nace de él."

El ciclo de conferencias se llevará a cabo cada martes a la misma hora. 

El 11 de noviembre, nos hablará Lucrecia Infante de espíritus, mujeres e igualdad. Laureana Wright y el Espiritismo Kardeciano en México.

El 18 de noviembre, 2014 nos hablarán dos expertos en la vida y espiritismo de Madero, Alejandro Rosas, de la Revolución de los espíritus y Manuel Guerra, de los escritos espiritistas perdidos de Francisco I. Madero.

El 25 de noviembre, nos hablará Carlos Francisco Martínez Moreno sobre la masonería, espiritismo e hindismo: senderos comunicantes en los tres pilares místicos de Francisco I. Madero.

Y por último, el 2 de diciembre, su servidor, C.M. Mayo, voy a hablar de mi libro, 
Odisea metafísica hacia la Revolución Mexicana: Francisco I. Madero y su libro secreto, Manual espírita, y nos va a hablar el gran novelista mexicano, Ignacio Solares, sobre su novela, Madero, el otro.

Hoy [el 11 de noviembre], la apertura del ciclo, está en manos de la renombrada historiadora, la Dra Yolia Tortolero Cervantes, con "Nueve lecturas sobre Francisco I. Madero y su creencia en el espiritismo".  Su obra, El espiritismo seduce a Francisco I. Madero, dio paso a muchas otras, incluyenda la mía. 

Confieso que hubiera sido imposible para mí saber dónde empezar ni hablar de salir del laberínto de las ideas esotéricas en la vida de Francisco Madero sin esta maravillosa y profundamente investigada obra como guía.

Digo sin exerageración, no les es posible a nadie ubicarse dentro de la historia de Francisco Madero sin esta obra de la Dra. Tortolero.

Ahora una breve biografía. 

Yolia Tortolero Cervantes 
Se doctoró en Historia en El Colegio de México en 1999 con la tesis sobre la influencia del espiritismo en la vida política de Francisco Ignacio Madero (1873-1910), obra publicada por el Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes en 2001 (1ª edición); por el Senado de la República, 2002 (2ª edición) y en versión electrónica en formato Kindle, 2013. 
En 1999 fue Jefa de Investigación del Recinto de Homenaje a Benito Juárez y entre 2000 y 2010 trabajó en el Archivo General de la Nación de México, como Jefa del Registro Nacional de Archivos y Directora de Investigación y Normatividad Archivística. 
Entre 2011 y 2012 trabajó en la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello en Caracas, Venezuela, como profesora en la maestría en Historia de América y maestría en Historia de Venezuela. 
Desde enero de 2012 es investigadora visitante del Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas Bolivarium, de la Universidad Simón Bolívar en Caracas, en donde investiga la vida del abogado Joaquín Mosquera y Figueroa (1748-1830), quien fue Oidor de la Real Audiencia de México a fines del siglo XVIII y Visitador Regente de la Real Audiencia de Caracas entre 1805 y 1809. 
A partir de octubre de 2014 es becaria de CONACYT en la Estancia Posdoctoral en apoyo al Posgrado Nacional en la Maestría en Historia (Estudios Históricos Interdisciplinarios) de la Universidad de Guanajuato. 

[Espero poder añadir un enlace a su plática en YouTube próximamente.]

El espiritismo seduce a Francisco Madero

(on the webpage for my book, 
Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution)

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Highlights from my Landing on Planet Austin

(Shot with my iPhone on the way to my 
book presentation at the Texas Book Festival)

How I love Austin and relish book fairs so that was a good combo. Now that I go to book fairs to talk about my books, I often wonder, why didn't I go more often earlier? I mean, just as a reader. It's like entering Ali Baba's cave, these endless tables heaped with treasures...


Now that I've brought out my upteenth book, I don't get too glittery-eyed about any of it; I just hope my books are there (they were, whew), the microphone works (it did, yay) and enough of the seats are filled that everyone feels it all worked out reasonably well (they were, thank you all).

Apart from talking about my latest bookwhich I can do until the cows and the donkeys and the rollerbladers come homewhat I relish about book fairs are two things:

(1) discoveries (creative nudges) and

(2) meeting friends, new and old.


At the Texas Book Festival in Austin I discovered:

(1) Paul V. Chaplo's gorgeous book, Marfa Flights: Aerial Views of Big Bend CountryHe granted me a fascinating interview, which we recorded in the author's green room in the State Capitol. That will be Marfa Mondays podcast #15. I delightedly provided him with this blurb:

These stunning images of one of the most sparsely populated and least visited regions of North America are not your typical coffee table book pretty pictures. In Marfa Flights: Aerial Views of Big Bend Country, Paul V. Chaplo, a classically trained visual artist who also happens to be a professional photographer, found and composed out of this swirlingly violent and bone-dry landscape something wondrous and haunting. Photographed from a single engine airplane, at various times of day, the land and sky and jewel-like ribbons of water come alive with form, muscle, and color. 

(2) In the parking lot on Lavaca Street, this bumpersticker made me chuckle:

(3) The Colorado River: which I'd seen before, but noticed anew. Early in the morning when I drove over the bridge into downtown, the water looked a jewel-olive, and it was filled with boaters.

(4) Many people people being an endless source of surprise to me apparently find cowboy boots comfortable enough for trudging around on sidewalks. And some, going for the cowgirl-goes-nighty-night look, I guess, pair them with gauzy mini-skirts.

(5) Tattoos are a hot fashion. (I cannot fathom why, in the absence of life-threatening disease, anyone would pay to get stuck with needles. For die-hard tattoo fans, may I recommend Tattly. At least the tattoos are well-designed.)

(6) The Austin Film Festival was going on simultaneously... (Austin... film... hmm. I have always felt a distant kinship with screenwriters, yet no urge to visit their planet. I'm happy to view it through a telescope.)

M.M. McAllen's new book, the
latest and best narrative history
of Mexico's Second Empire
(7) Synchronity alert! By alphabetic happenstance, Yours Truly and M. M. McAllen found our books stacked side-by-side in the book tent. We read together for the panel "A Layered History," about Mexican history McAllen on the Second Empire, and Yours Truly on the Mexican Revolution. 

Hey y'all go get M.M. McAllen's book, Maximilian and Carlota: Europe's Last Empire in Mexico. It's the latest and best narrative history of the Second Empire, a fascinating translational period in Mexican history. Plus, this gorgeous hardcover edition makes a handsome holiday gift! 

In case you haven't been reading this blog, in which case you'll just have to forgive yet one more mention, or else go away now and have a nice life, my book is the blast-your-sombrero-off rewrite of the Mexican Revolution, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual.

Here we are just after the event which was moderated by Steven Kellman:

(8) Many Mexicans seem to nurture an intense flame of fascination with Maximilian's and Carlota's reproductive lives. I have yet to attend a talk about Maximilian, whether my own or someone else's, where one or more of the Mexican audience members doesn't ask about the supposed illegitimate children. And rare indeed when they don't also ask about Carlota's supposed offspring. 

(9) It shouldn't have surprised me but it did and I realize now that I will be asked about this again and again: What is the relation of Spiritism to Protestantism? (Answer: it's complicated. Will blog anon.) 

(10) The longest lines in the book signing tent were for books I have zero interest in reading. (Sigh.)

(11) If I lived in Austin, the first thing I would buy is a pair of Yeti oven mitts. It's that kind of vibe, yeah. 

YETI go for BBQ.
Fur cover tattoo.


Just a few of the many writers at the fair as presenters, moderators, or attending whom I was able to visit with, listen to, or at least catch a quick hello: José Skinner, one of my very favorite writers, who will have a new book of fiction out shortly; Melinda Nuss, whose book, Distance, Theatre, and the Public Voice, 1750-1850, looks super crunchy ("crunchy" being a word of high praise in my lexicon)... S. Kirk Walsh, talented novelist and visionary who has brought back to life the stories of Julie Hayden .....Naomi Shihab Nye, one of my favorite poets and essayists who has a charming new children's book out, The Turtle of Oman .....Ricardo Ainslie .....Emily St. John Mandel ..... John Christian, photographer, my correspondent on all subjects Mexican and Texan..... Cynthia Leal Massey, my fellow Women Writing the West amiga, who has a new book out, Death of a Texas Ranger ..... Sergio Troncoso ..... Ilán Stavans ..... Porter Shreve..... And last, but certainly not least, and indeed most of all, to all Steph Opitz, Literary Director of the Texas Book Festival, and all the many, many volunteers and donors who made the Texas Book Festival possible, a heartfelt

Your COMMENTS are always welcome.

Ciclo de Conferencias en Palacio Nacional, ciudad de México: 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Rolf Potts on Time Wealth ( A Note)

I first heard about travel writer Rolf Potts an eon ago, when he interviewed me about my travel memoir of Baja California, Miraculous Air, for his Vagabonding blog. Back then-- whew, it was maybe 2003 or 2004?-- the idea that another writer, on his own platform, would "publish" interviews was very avant-garde. How things have changed! 

(In part in emulation of Potts, I started my own occasional podcast series of Q & A with my favorite writer friends. So thanks, Rolf.)

With his books and blog, Potts has garnered legions of fans over the years, including Tim Ferriss. Ferriss, the super-buff, tango-dancing, Mr Viral-Video, tree-climbing, globe-trotting author of the best-selling Four Hour Work Week, is the sort of author I'm usually allergic to (well, I sniff, how else will I ever get through my backlog of Willa Cather novels?). But Tim, I send you a cyber shower of jpeg lotus petals! Because, actually, I did read The Four Hour Work Week and gleaned some nifty ideas from it, and I quite enjoyed your recent podcast interview with Rolf Potts. In particular, I was heartened to hear you guys talking about "time wealth."
(In addition to more podcasts)
On my wish list for more exciting
baking experiences: the Yeti oven mitt

(Speaking of time wealth, while listening in, I was baking a pumpkin cake. I hereby award myself a prize.)

But seriously, I think about time wealth-- though until now I wouldn't have used that term-- all the time. It's the hours, quality hours, of one's life-- how to maximize the number and maximize their quality? Most  people assume that more money, more stuff, is the way. But as one climbs the curve of middle age, one starts to feel the drag of clutter, and the shrinking time-horizon. 

As they say, "your stuff owns you," for every single thing, whether big (a house) or small (a pair of shoes) requires both care (of some sort, at some point) and physical space. Trips to the mall, the dry cleaners, the grocery store, getting that light fixture fixed... I'm always asking myself, is this where I want to be? Is this what I want to be doing? I have so many books I want to write, and time rolls by at a frighteningly fast rate. 

One exercise that always brings me back to the best tactics to maximize time wealth is to imagine that I have, say, a hundred million dollars. Silly as it may sound, I recommend doing it seriously. 

As "the Estate Lady," Julie Hall,
reminds us, "the hearse doesn't
have a trailer hitch"
Really, what would you do if you had a hundred million dollars?  

Most people, once they get past their tittering at the helium in such an idea, blow through a long list of stuff-- a special car, a fabulous mansion, a this, a that... but then, past all the material objects, and a parade of imaginary butlers and masseuses (none of whom, ha, seem to require training, time off, any paperwork, inconvenient boyfriends or children, or annoying quirks), and then, oh yeah...

Giving away a wad of it to this relative, another wad to that charity... There's usually a long list of relatives, friends, and charities.

And then... then...

All of that exhausted, there is something else. 

Something the heart yearns for, and that, usually, doesn't require much money, if any. It might be time to read, just read, on a beautiful beach. The chance to paint. To write a novel. Make a film. Volunteer to help [fill in the blank]. And very often travel often comes up: to cross the country on a bike, to see India, or, say, hike the length of the Appalachian trail. 

The thing is, stuff-- whether the illusory lack of it, or the clutter of it-- has gotten in the way of seeing the heart's true, and for most people even of the most ordinary means, very attainable, path. 

Dear readers, check out Tim Ferriss' podcast interview with Rolf Potts. (Don't mind Ferriss' nattering on about his viral videos and his underwear. As we say in Mexico, no hay dos.)

P.S. Tim, you're a strange dude. But I sincerely appreciate your gusto for both learning and most especially, for teaching. (And don't bother with an MFA. Write from the heart. If you like Naomi Shihab Nye's poetry, your road is golden.)

Your COMMENTS are always welcome.

Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico: 

(from the workshop page)