Monday, April 20, 2015

A 9th Conclusion After 9 Years of Blogging

Last year, for the Associated Writing Programs Conference in Seattle, I gave a talk titled "Writers Blogs: Eight Conclusions After 8 Years of Blogging." I leave those conclusions unchanged, but now for the 9th anniversary of "Madam Mayo," I add a ninth:

9. Q & A's are fun to do, always surprising, and very informative, both for me and my readers.
Ergo, look for more of these. 

Herewith a few Q & A's from the recent and not-so-recent past:
Q & A with Michele Orwin, Founding Editor of Bacon Press Books 
Q & A with "Heron & Crane" Podcaster Chris Gondek
One Q and 1 A with "Listen Well" Podcaster Margaret Dulaney
Q & A with Tod Goldberg of Literary Disco Podcast
Q & A with Rice Freeman-Zachery on Creative Podcasting 
Five Quick Questions for Mexican Writer Agustin Cadena 

(P.S. I've done scads more interviews  lengthy ones  for my podcast series Conversations with Other Writers and Marfa Mondays and, of course, I also mention these on this blog. Stay tuned for the Marfa Mondays interview with Texas historian Lonn Taylor.)

+ Your COMMENTS are always welcome. You are also very welcome to sign up for my free newsletter.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Q & A with Independent Publisher Michele Orwin, Founding Editor of Bacon Press Books

A new independent publisher
As some of you may know, I wear another chapeau as editor / publisher of Dancing Chiva (which specializes in publishing works by Yours Truly and, shall we say, denizens of the Afterlife). In that guise, I attended last weekend's excellent two day seminar in Austin, Texas, "Publishing U," the annual conference of the Independent Book Publishers Association, where I ran into my Washington DC writing friend, novelist and poet Michele Orwin. Turns out she's started up Bacon Press Books. Check out the Bacon Press Books's beautiful website and the latest book, the first paperback edition of Kate Blackwell's superb short story collection, You Won't Remember This, which was originally published in hardcoverand to glowing reviews by Southern Methodist University Press.

Herewith some Q & A:

C.M. MAYO: What prompted you to start the press?

MICHELE ORWIN: I knew if I wanted to keep working, I’d have to have my own business. Since I’d spent my whole professional life working as a writer and teaching others about writing, I wanted to do something where I could use my experience. Then I read about digital publishing. It made so much sense. 

We know so many writers who had published books that are only available in hardcover. I thought once I learned how to publish, I could either release their books in paperback and Ebook or else teach them how to do it. 

The first paperback edition
of Kate Black's splendid book of short fiction
Bacon Press Books, 2015
C.M. MAYO: I for one am delighted to see what I would call a "hybrid press." (Would you agree with that term?) It seems authors such as myselfpreviously published with various small and commercial presses, a track record of reviews have been caught between, shall we say, less than attractive deals, or self-publishing, with zip in between. Self-publishing has usually meant that one's book gets lost in the haystack, next to Suzy's Memories of Cupcake Recipes, which is set in some horrible font with a blecch cover. (Though now that I think about it, Suzy's Memories of Cupcake Recipes could be the title for a delicious comic novel...)

MICHELE ORWIN: There’s been a lot of discussion in the indie community about terms. I’ll be very happy when we all finally come up with ones we can use. People still confuse what used to be called "vanity publishing" with "self-publishing."  Vanity publishing in the past meant all you had to do was pay a (usually) exorbitant fee and you’d get a book. No vetting and not great editing. Self-publishers today are a lot more sophisticated and they have access to a wide range of talented free-lancers, so the quality of self-publishing can be pretty high. 

Plus there are a lot of what’s now called "hybrid authors." Authors who publish both with traditional publishers and with independents or else self-publish. For some it’s a question of economics, they can make more money publishing on their own. For others, it’s a matter of control. We have one author who was published traditionally but wanted to go in a different direction from what his publisher wanted, so he chose to work with us. 

I call myself an independent publisher. We don’t take on most of the books we’re sent. We have high editorial and production standards. People can’t pay us to publish bad books or even mediocre ones.  Not sure what we’d do with Suzy's Memories of Cupcake Recipes. 

I call the business model I use "partnership publishing." That comes closest. We've tried to make it as author friendly as possible and still be in business. While we can’t offer advances, and we do ask authors to cover production costs, we share other expenses. And while they may provide the capital, I put in way more time than our authors do once the book is published. We offer a generous split on revenues, a two-year contract so authors can go elsewhere if they get a better offer or aren’t happy, and the author keeps all rights and all files. 

C.M. MAYO: You've been around a long time and seen many other small presses. Not to name names, but what are some of the things that you've seen as common practice in the small press world that you think would be best to avoid?

MICHELE ORWIN: Not sure I can answer that. We published our first book in January 2013 and we’re still learning. What I have seen is that the indie community is incredibly generous in helping newcomers. Giving out information, sharing  contacts. I’ve learned so much from conferences, online groups, and other small presses.  The really awful things are done mostly by the larger companies that charge authors a fortune and don’t do much more than produce a book and make the author buy hundreds of copies. 

C.M. MAYO: What are some of the common misconceptions first time authors have that make it difficult for their press?

MICHELE ORWIN: There are five misconceptions that I’ve run into and have heard other publishers talk about too. First, that the book is fine as is and doesn’t need an editor. Second, just because a book is good, it’ll be a best seller or maybe even sell at all. Third, that they don’t have to do any marketing or promotion to help their books get discovered. Fourth, that they’ll make money. Fifth, that it’ll happen quickly. 

With more than 600,000 books expected to be published this year, it’s a very tough business. 

C.M. MAYO: Your website is one of the best I've ever seen. Tell, tell!

MICHELE ORWIN: Thank you! I tried about half a dozen different providers. But I’m not very adept and they just didn’t come out right. My daughter knows coding, she told me about SquareSpace. I needed something easy to use that would look good and SquareSpace was it. 

C.M. MAYO: How about book stores? Does Bacon Books Press work with sales reps?

MICHELE ORWIN: Not all the books we publish would do well in book stores. But for the few that would, we haven’t had much luck. The books can all be special ordered or ordered online from the stores. From what I’ve heard, that’s how many stores would prefer to deal with most small presses. 

We’re not working with distributors yet. But at some point we will be when it makes economic sense for us to do it. A big part of this new publishing landscape is having access to a global market by making the books available online. That’s where we’ll find most of our readers. 

C.M. MAYO: Can you talk about your background as a writer and poet and how that informs what you're doing now?

MICHELE ORWIN: I’m a fiction writer, my husband is a poet. It’s been a real eye-opener for both of us. Though probably more for me. I now understand why agents/publishers don’t want to see a whole book, or won’t read past the first 10-20 pages. You really can tell pretty quickly if you’re going to like something. I understand how subjective it all is. One book I turned down now has 25 5-star reader reviews on Amazon. It just wasn’t right for us, but I’m sure the author is wondering why I passed.

And I understand why it’s not a good idea to give too much feedback if you’re going to reject a book. Just because I see flaws doesn’t mean someone else will. It’s better to let the author try elsewhere. 

I also understand better why authors need to be involved in marketing. I used to cringe at the idea of self-promotion. But now I can see that the author really is the best person to connect with readers. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Another Transcript Now Available: Marfa Mondays #11 Cowboy Songs By Cowboys and an Interview with Michael Stevens

Still working on the edits for Marfa Mondays Podcast #17, an interview with Texas historian Lonn Taylor and, meanwhile, still churning out the transcripts. Available to date:

#16 Tremendous Forms: Paul Chaplo on Finding Composition in the Landscape

#15 Gifts of the Ancient Ones: Greg Williams on the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands

#14 Over Burro Mesa (not a transcript but an article)

#13 Looking at Mexico in New Ways: An Interview with Historian John Tutino

#12 Dallas Baxter: "This Precious Place"

and as of today... drumroll...

#11 Cowboy Songs By Cowboys
and an Interview with Michael Stevens

[Note: If you want to hear the songs, which I highly recommend, it would be a far sight better to listen to the podcast.


C. M. Mayo: We're going to hear some more music in this podcast, but I want to go back for a moment to put all this into some context by sharing with you some of my interview with Michael Stevens, which was recorded in one of the lounges at Sul Ross State University's University Center just before the show. Michael Stevens is the one you heard first in this podcast singing about the Old Double Diamond. My first question was, how did this all get started?

Michael Stevens: Well, it started out as just cowboys getting together. And when it really would happen in the old days, it was just people heard about these guys who get together and talk and BS and tell stories and, you know, that's all they had. It's an oral tradition of just like, seamen. And there is a Fisher Poets Society in Oregon/Washington, somewhere up there. I've forgotten where it is. It's around Siskiyou Pass I think. But it happens right about now. Of course, they did it before we did. The ships were out there long before the cowboys were here and they told stories and sang songs. A lot of those songs and old Scottish and Irish ballads got turned into cowboy songs when the people came over here. Instead of singing about whales in the ocean, or whatever they did, they took that melody— and I believe "Streets of Laredo" is "The Bard of Armagh" or something like that— so it was some old melody that they just changed the words to. They weren't musicians particularly. A lot of times they didn't carry instruments, so a lot of it you'll hear a cappella, a lot of what those guys had—or they took an instrument out and it fell apart. Banjos seemed to last longer than guitars and things like that.

So it's a real old tradition of telling stories and it gets moved to the next person because a lot of those people didn't write, and so what the cowboys picked up on and started and then, at some point a few people, John Lomax and his son, they started recording these songs. Well, there were people before that even that were some of the cowboys that were starting to collect the songs.

The first gathering of this type that I know of was Elko, Nevada. They'd created a folklore center. I never studied the history of that either. If you could get ahold of Joel Nelson he might fill you in a little bit more but you can Google all that. About '85, well, Joel Nelson and his wife at the time, Barney Nelson, who's a teacher here in Ryder, got some really neat books out, they went. They heard about it. Joel's always been into poetry. He reads Robert Service. He reads Pushkin. You know, name it. If he sits down and does "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost with a big mustache and a cowboy hat you think it's the best cowboy poem you ever heard and then he says "Robert Frost" and you can see people go, Oh, that's why it seemed familiar to me! Because it's kind of what cowboys do. You know, they go the other way. If they want to make a lot of money they wouldn't be a cowboy.

So they came back here the next year after Elko and started a little gathering here and I wasn't here at the time. I was in Austin building guitars, but I'd gone from a horse ranch in McKinney to Austin and been in and out of the horse business since I was a little kid.
When I came down here [Alpine], my wife wanted to live here and she was not living anywhere else, and I heard about it. And then a friend of a friend, a girl we'd known in college had married Warren Burnett, the trial lawyer from Odessa and then I met Warren and he one day said— I hadn't gone to the gathering—he said, "You should go meet Buck Ramsey. He's my friend. He's the guy in a wheelchair and if anybody gives you any trouble…" Well, Warren says, "Anybody gives you any shit you tell them," because that's the way Warren was. I don't know if you know anything about Warren. Anyways, so I met Buck Ramsey and played music. Well, it turned out I knew a couple cowboy songs, and I didn't even know they were cowboy songs because I'd been in Berkeley since 1967 and played a lot of music and country music.

C.M. Mayo: Out in California?

Michael Stevens: Yeah. When I hit there I left Fort Worth in '67 and got there in November of '67. I had a cowboy outfit with bell bottoms, embroidered shirts and long hair and they called me The Sheriff. And we played country music. Cody was there. We played the same kind of venues as Commander Cody. Then they said you won't believe who's coming from [??] asleep at the wheel, so I was out there. Then I learned a bunch of folk songs hanging around the Freight and Salvage and those things. Well, it turns out a bunch of them were cowboy songs, and I'd heard a lot of Jack Elliot and all that, well, there's a bunch of cowboy songs stuck in there.

So I got down here and somehow after meeting Buck and playing... So they said, we need some more performers. Would you come and we'll stick you in a session and sing a few songs? And I went, Hey, I like this.

C.M. Mayo: What year was that?

Michael Stevens: That would be about '93 or '94.

C.M. Mayo: You've been coming back every year since?

Michael Stevens: Well, I live here.

C.M. Mayo: So you've come to all the Cowboy Poetry Gatherings?

Michael Stevens: Well, I was on the committee for 16 years and of the 16 years I think I was vice president about three and president for seven, at least. I just retired from the 25th year. This is my first year as a performer as a civilian.


C.M. Mayo [to listeners]: A little further into the interview Michael Stevens talked about after Berkeley, how he came back to Texas. But then you're going to hear him backtrack and talk some more about his time in Berkeley at the Freight and Salvage. That was, and is, the hub of the folk music scene.


April Newsletter

The writing assistants

My April newsletter has gone out via MailChimp with oodles of podcast transcripts, the best from this blog, my upcoming Literary Travel Writing workshop, and more.

> More newsletters with lots of yummy stuff in the archive.

> If you're not already a subscriber, I invite you to opt-in to get the next one here.

> Your COMMENTS are always welcome.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking: A Beyond Glowing Review

This is a 1,000 candle review, but I should start by saying I am the last person who would attend an Amanda Palmer concert because I don't like loud, I don't like crowds, and especially feisty crowds, and most things explicit make my toes curl. As far as music goes, I'm more an opera-at-the-Kennedy-Center kind of person (and that would include some fairly way-out opera, by the way). I have zip to do with the music business; I write literary fiction, poetry, and essay. But Amanda Palmer, you're a hero to me because you're an artist as shaman, and that's what it's all about, and in The Art of Asking, you explain this beautifully and with bodacious heart. 

For both myself and my writing students, I maintain a list of recommended books on process. I'm a voracious reader but it has been a long Gobi Desert of a time since I've read anything to add to this list. Today, with a big fat star, I add The Art of Asking. And not because the book is about asking  and "taking the donuts," as Palmer puts it  indeed, something for which most writers, and especially women writers, need some coaching but because what it's really about is the meaning and the reality of being a true artist. 

The true artist is a kind of shaman. We forget this in the noise, shiny plastic, and conformity of industrial culture. Remembering it is a profound gift.

P.S. Watch Amada Palmer singing the "Ukelele Anthem" and giving her famous TED talk.

More anon.

>Your COMMENTS are always welcome. Opt-in for my newsletter here.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Sarah Cortez, ed., Goodbye, Mexico: Poems of Remembrance (Texas Review Press, 2015)

As a poet I keep a sharp eye out for calls for submissions but alas, or rather, in a way, happily, for Texan poet Sarah Cortez's Goodbye, Mexico, I had nothing, nada, because for me, it's "Hola, México," just about every day. Translation: I'm living in Mexico City and not planning on leaving anytime soon. But happily, always happily, I translate contemporary Mexican poetry, and I knew of just the perfect poem: Agustín Cadena's "Café San Martín," so haunting and musical, from his splendid collection, Cacería de Brujas. And so I am delighted to say that Cadena's poem, in my translation, was selected by Sarah Cortez to be included in this important collection.

About Cadena:

Agustin Cadena was born in the Valle de Mezquital, Hidalgo, Mexico. For several years Cadena has been living in Hungary, where he is professor at the University of Debrecen. Author of more than twenty books, including the poetry collection, Cacería de Brujas, Cadena writes in multiple genres, including the novel, screenplay, short story, poem, essay, and children's literature.

> Visit his blog, El vino y la hiel.

From the back cover of Goodbye, Mexico:

"This anthology gathers the strong voices of accomplished poets reaching into and beyond nostalgia to remember, to honor, and to document through figurative imagery their experiences of Mexico and the vibrant border areas before the ravages of the narco-violence. That Mexico has been irrevocably altered by illegal human trafficking and drug cartel violence is indisputable. Together with other complex dynamics of the current century, such as globalization, the failing middle class, and the disrupted tourist industry, this beloved country has changed almost beyond recognition. Many on both sides of the border grieve the loss of the Mexico that was, particularly the Mexico that existed during the last half of the Twentieth Century. This loss engenders memory; memory engenders poems."*

Other poets in this collection include Diana Anhalt, Alan Birkelbach, Sarah Cortez, Martín Espada, James Hoggard, Janet McCann, and Alberto Ríos. If you know poetry, you know that's an all-star list.

With his permission, here is my translation of Agustín Cadena's poem, "Café San Martín":


Do you remember the Café San Martín?
I do, sometimes,
when it rains in the afternoon and it’s summer.
We liked to go there and drink coffee
and smoke while we looked at the rain.
The Café San Martín was small,
lukewarm, and it had big windows
that looked onto a meridian of June.
But it is no longer there.
Now on that corner where it was
they sell video games.
Have you tried to go back?
Have you walked in the rain, alone,
remembering the girl you were
and asking yourself where would these people have gone,
with their pink curtains and old spoons
and their Café San Martín?
Yes, I have wanted to go back,
many times,
when I happen to think of you,
when my shoes fill with water
and I wish I were that age again
and not so foolish
as to let go of your hand that afternoon.
Once again it is June and raining.
Everywhere there are cafés
in certain neighborhoods.
The present erases all traces. 

P.S. Sarah Cortez and other poets will be reading from Goodbye, Mexico on Saturday June 27, 2015 @ 7 - 9 PM  The Twig Book Shop, 306 Pearl Parkway, San Antonio, Texas.

I hasten to mention that despite the troubles on the border and elsewhere, many areas of Mexico are stable and even thriving. I also hasten to add that the narco-violence finds fuel north of the border, and for anyone doubting the deep contradictions and corruption in the United States itself in regard to narcotics policies and trade, I highly recommend for a start on that gnarliest of subjects Sam Quinones' alarming and deeply researched new book, Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic.

Five Quick Questions for Agustin Cadena

+ "Lady of the Seas" a complete short story by Agustín Cadena translated by C.M. Mayo in Mexico: A Traveler Literary Companion

My review of Sarah Cortez and Sergio Troncoso, eds, Our Lost Border: Essays on Life Amid the Narco-Violence in Literal.

Looking at Mexico in New Ways: An Interview with John Tutino

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Cyberflanerie: Rock, Mural, Street and Bathroom Wall Edition d'Not Art

(Translation: No littering, dude.)
So who painted this oh-so-Texan trash receptacle with the Magritte-esque slogan for the Marfa Visitor's Center? A 4th of July cyber-sparkler to you, whoever you are, dear artiste. (At least it was plum-obvious where to deposit the bottles and snack wrappers that had been accumulating on the floor behind the front seat since El Paso.) The question for today's little foray into les mystères de l'art is, would I get arrested were I to spray pink sparkly foam paint all over it? Hard to say. The Marfa Vistor's Center is, after all, walking distance to El Cosmico, where you can rent the yurt and, round about when I was there, sign up for an herbal remedies class-- and I would not be at all surprised to catch some ukelele playing going on at one their "happenings." I mean, Marfans do seem whimsical or at least mind-your-own-business-relaxed when it comes to art-- or, this is not art qua art. 

But then-- Madam Mayo plucks a few bees out of her bouffant-- what is "art"? 

"Manos Arriba," or "Hands Up," pictured right, is an approximately 1,000- 2,000 year-old rock art site in the relatively nearby (by Far West Texas standards) Big Bend Ranch State Park. Never mind that hypothetical can of pink sparkly foam; you touch that rock art and the ranger sees you, boy howdy, you're in a poke of trouble. Carve your name and a date into the rock with your penknife? Seriously illegal. And if you did that back in, say, 1887? Well, you'd be dead by now so much as the ranger might like to, true, she couldn't do anything.

Voyez l'équation simple:

+ Really old man-made marks = Art. Approved response: From a reverent distance, take pictures.


+ Relatively recent marks, including those made as long ago as 1887 by nonindigenous people = Defacement. Approved response: Express dismay.

Bloggable Graffito, circa 2015
Ladies Room, Plaine coffee shop

Alpine, Texas
Not that I personally don't feel sincere reverence for rock art-- (and may my podcast interview with Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation, bolster my case). I am simply sayin'.

Voyez l'équation étonnante:

+ Writing on coffee shop bathroom wall that evidences childlike yet articulate whimsy referring to marine life = Bloggable.


+ Writing on coffee shop bathroom wall that evidences childlike and inarticulate whimsy referring to just about anything and everything else = Ick. 

Where does the hypothetical sparkly pink foam paint come in? I don't think it does. 

Once home in Mexico City I encountered this street art mural with a hand appearing to reach for a grape-purple grenade with feet:

Mexico City street art

I have absolutely no idea what it all means. The word BOMB to the left often appears in Mexico City graffiti, why I know not.

Madam Mayo pronounces this Very Fine Art.
On a more high-toned note, here is a small section I snapped of one of the murals by Víctor Cuaduro in the Government Palace of Querétaro, Mexico, of the three monarchists executed on the Cerro de las Campanas in 1867, Maximilian and his generals Mejía and Miramón. If you were to apply anything from a spray can to that-- let's say you wanted to make a stencil of your hand, as in "Manos arriba"-- I'll bet you a million pesos that you would be speedily tackled by the several security guards.

P.S. Instant Art Critique Phrase Generator. I typed in 12345 and got:

With regard to the issue of content, the disjunctive perturbation of the spatial relationships brings within the realm of discourse the distinctive formal juxtapositions. 

+ + + + + + 

But seriously now...

The Lower Pecos Canyonlands have been much on my mind as I am writing a book about Far West Texas, and one of the many compare-and-contrast items from my previous book, Miraculous Air, about Mexico's Baja California peninsula, is the rock art. So far I've visited a multitude of sites in the Big Bend (most recently in the canyon that runs north-south alongside the western flank of the Solitario) plus the Lower Pecos Canyonlands sites at Meyers Spring and Eagle Nest Canyon at Langtry, which drains into the Rio Grande, that is, the US-Mexico border. And this May, just a scootch east of the Pecos, I plan to visit Curly Tail Panther. Did I mention, Lower Pecos Canyonlands rock art is spectacular?

Apropos of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, a recent and delightful discovery is that my fellow Women Writing the West member Mary S. Black, an expert on the Lower Pecos, has published a novel, Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyon, about the Archaic artists-- to my knowledge, the first historical novel about these people. I'm looking forward to reading it, as well as her guidebook to the region which is in-progress.

> Listen in anytime to my interview with Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation, which offers tours to important but very remote rock art sites, many of which are on private land. 

> My brief video of the first part of the hike into Eagle Nest Canyon.

> Check out these photos of a storm in May 2014 with massive flooding in that same canyon-- it gives an idea of how the caves were formed.

***UPDATE*** For more jaw-dropping photos and archaeological updates, check out the blog: Ancient Southwest Texas Project-- Texas State University 2o15 Expedition to Eagle Nest Canyon

> Your COMMENTS are always welcome. My newsletter goes out on Monday with new podcasts, articles, and upcoming workshops; I welcome you to automatically opt-in (and opt-out anytime) here.

Monday, April 06, 2015

What Happened to تelma: A Story of the Far Future

A short story by C.M. Mayo

تelma did not have one single vice, Gilda insisted. Not one. تelma did not puff, she did not chew her nails, she did not gossip, and no doubt she'd only had se (if she had se, and Gilda wasn't going to bet the co-op on it) with Dr. Chavez the gastrochakrologist, who was her husband, but he was dead (as of seven months ago, heart attack on the gwgwolf course in Jupiter-on-Stilts, Florida)so, how could she?

 تelma probably climbed into bed in cotton pajamas, the kind with cornflowers printed on them and little mother-of-pearl buttons all the way up to the chin. 

OK, Gilda allowed, تelma did drink, though it was always only one drinka glass of white wine neatly sipped (Gilda had seen her at intermissions at the Kennedy Center-on-Stilts), a taste of champagne to make a toast at the Watergate-West-on-Stilts New Year's Party. And yes, she dyed her hair (Autumn Auburn Gilda had seen her with the box at the check-out register of the  Pharmacy downstairs) to cover the gray. Was that a vice?

"Don't forget the face lift," Jacki said, because it was a famously bad one.

"You could see the scars around her ears," Gilda said. And to think of itthe little half-moons cut deep in the skin beneath poor تelma's earlobes, still red and healingGilda burst into loud, sniffling sobs.

"I'll hold while you get a hanky, honey," Jacki said.

Meanwhile, Jacki  went on painting her toenails Very Vermillion, one blue-veined foot up on the rim of her marble bath. Jacki was one-hundred-and-five years old, though she didn't look it. Every morning she did an hour of yoga (breathe, she would tell herself at odd intervals through her day, breathe). An ex-gwgwolfer from Dallas, Jacki had been the type to wear pearl clip earrings, but five years ago, when she turned one hundred, a niece dragged her to Arizona for a meditation retreat; ever since she'd taken to wearing dangly earrings, the kind with silver feathers and chips of turquoise. Today she wore earrings with tiny strings of silver beads that hung down in a fringe, and as she leaned overtouching her toes with the ease of a catthey tickled her knee. 

Not that she didn't care about تelma Chavez. It was terrible what had happened to her, truly terrible.

"You know what I was thinking?" Gilda said when she came back on the line. 

"Hm," Jacki said. She was aiming the brush at her little toe.

"I should get a face lift."

"You'd look more rested," Jacki offered.

"You really think so."


"I'd love to get my eyes firmed up, you know? Maybe a brow-lift, but I'm worried about looking too tight." Gilda bit into a papple, making a loud crunch.

"Are you eating peanut brittle?"

"Of course not, I'm on a diet!"

"You know," Jacki said, "تelma never once went on a diet."

"Don't tell me," Gilda said.

"تelma read about bacon back in 3015," Jacki said, "and, bingo, she stopped eating it."

elma," Gilda said, though she wasn't sure what she really wanted to say about تelma. The thought of تelma stuck in her throat like cotton.


It was true, Gilda suffered from peanut brittle binges. Gilda lived alone Dr. Chavez had divorced her five years ago (it was April 2, 3028, and it wasn't for تelma, not yet; though تelma was already living in Watergate-on-Stilts West, in unit 502) and so, who was to see her? 

The only one who would come by her apartment without an invitation was Jacki. Jacki lived in the three bedroom penthouse with a view of the river. Just to ride the elevator up there made Gilda feel small, as if, with each passing floor, she were shrinking. When she stepped off,  it seemed her voice had become tiny too, high and flightly. In the kitchenJacki would brew a pot of sage tea Gilda couldn't help comparing her own cracked linoleum to Jacki's gleaming oak floor, her own original Harvest Gold (more aptly, Congealed  Mustard) formica countertops to Jacki's perfectly fitted slabs of Moroccan green and mocha-speckled granite chips. Even Jacki's dishes were prettier, her napkins color coordinated. When the sage tea was brewed, they would sit in Jacki's livingroom on Jacki's white sofa, surrounded by walls covered with Jacki's niece's paintings, huge canvases of purples and desert yellows and soft rose pinks, all variations of the one over the sofa which was titled "Sedona at Sunrise." Far below lay the Potomac, a shimmering belt of silver. Seabirds whirled by, and geese, and flocks of starlings. Sometimes, as if it were just another bird, the Royal chop-chop would roar by, its tail ruddering in the wind. ("Hiya Bill," Jacki would always say, with a vague nod over the rim of her mug.) 

And so it depressed Gilda to ride the elevator back down to the second floor to her own one bedroom with a city viewwhich meant people-pods whizzing by and the boring beige slab of the 艾 Hotel. Always her apartment lacked light and it smelled stale, of puffer butts and the Carpet  powder her maid shook out too much of on the carpets. As for the peanut brittle, it was the cheap kind from the RMFS (robot-manned farm stand) downstairs that tasted of imitation butter and made her fingers slippery with grease. Gilda would sit in her ex-husband's armchair with the box open on her lap, the OEL (Omni-Eye-Lullaby) 
on loud so she could hear it over the crunching. Such a bliss of oblivion: the sugar coursing into her veins like opium, the peanuts all mealy in her mouth. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.

But now Gilda was on a diet—papples, lettuce, skinned boiled chicken, and bottle after bottle of Diet Kick. She had been on a diet since the last time she saw تelma, which was two weeks ago in the elevator
— one week before it happened. تelma had just had her hair done, and she was coming back down to check her mail. Gilda could tell, because تelma did not have her coat on all تelma wore was a baby-blue knit dress and a string of pearls. Outside (Gilda had seen it from her balcony), a  freezing rain was driving down like darts. 

"Oh," said Gilda. She suddenly felt very fat in her belted raincoat. She bared her teeth, a species of smile. "How nice your hair looks." 

Indeed, تelma's hair looked smooth, a perfect helmet of Autumn Auburn. Her face was also smooth, and if the skin was drawn too tightly over the bones, no matter: تelma owned an expression as serene as a minor saint's. On her handshe held her keys with simple grace, as if they were a rosary the modest band of gold. (Seven months his widow, and تelma still wore it, Gilda thought. Her own she'd dropped down the trash chute.)

"Thank you," تelma said.

And then, when the elevator came to the lobby, تelma said, "Goodbye."

Jacki saw تelma more often, because she went to the Health Club in the basement of the Watergate-Hotel-on-Stilts next door. You saw everybody there: Lord Kelly on the LifeCycle, Liz Dudley on the rowing machine, Mrs. Harootunian (bless her, she'd suffered a stroke) in her bathing cap with the ruffles and the chin strap, walking slowly, her chicken-thin arms making angel wings from one side of the shallow end to the other. Dr. Chavez had been keen for the Stair-Stair. Right up until his final gwgwolf vacation in Jupiter-on-Stilts, Florida, he used to pump away from 6 to 6:30 pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Toward the end of his half hour he'd be half slumped over like a sherpa with big triangles of sweat on his GO GEORGETOWN T-shirt; but when the timer hit 30, pum! he'd punch the STOP button and fling his little towel around his neck. Stehr-Stehr Tuhm, Dr. Chavez liked to say, his eyebrows bouncing up and down, it ez de sluwest tuhm knuwn to mun. 

It gave him firm glutes, Gilda would allow; otherwise it didn't do him any good. As soon as she said this, however, she felt like a big rock had dropped into her stomach. (How could she say such a thing?)

"But now تelma," Jacki said. "She started lifting weights with the trainer, and you could see her skin just glowing."

They were on the phone again. Jacki clamped the receiver between the vise of her shoulder and one ear. She was standing naked in her bathroom. For a one-hundred-and-five-year old, Jacki didn't look bad. She would have liked to but she couldn't see herself, because her bathroom was billowing with steam.

"I'll bet تelma never strained," Gilda said. Gilda was sitting in her kitchen, tipping her puffer ash into an empty bottle of Diet Kick. On the Harvest Gold counter, by the telephone, was a large burn mark. She'd made it the week they'd moved in, in 3006.

"She never built up that stringy muscle," Jacki said. 

"I hate stringy muscle," Gilda said.

"Hmm," Jacki said, knowing that her own were not stringy. How she adored her bathroom,  all mirrors and cool, cream-colored marble chips. Her bath was filled now, just above the nozzles. (Gosh, Gilda had marveled when she first saw it, you could drown your woolly mammoth in that.) The towels, piled high in a hand-woven basket, were white and fluffy, fresh from the dryer. The Viva Bath Jacki squeezed in the entire bottle (Gilda heard it, plipilyplipily)  smelled like newly mown grass.

"I should start going again," Gilda said. Gilda was 40 pounds overweight. All of her exercise clothes were tight.

"Hmm," Jacki said. She dipped her hand in the water. (The bathtub, the contractor estimated, weighed 2,000 pounds when full. I ain't making no guarantees, he'd said, and he made it plain, the way he kept his arms tightly crossed over his chest, mummy in a tomb, he didn't want to install it.)

"My doctor says my blood pressure is high," Gilda said. She tapped some more puffer ash into the Diet Kick bottle.

"Hm," Jacki said. (She reminded herself, breathe.)

"I guess I'd feel better if I made myself walk on one of those treadmills," Gilda said.

"You would," Jacki said. (Just breathe.)

"I don't want to have a stroke or anything," Gilda said.

"Hm," Jacki said. She was fond of her neighbor, she really was. But sometimes she just wished Gilda would shut the flippetydoodah up.


A little while later, Jacki's niece called from Arizona. Her voice a high-pitched flute-like voice of a child, though she was nearly seventy
 sounded so clear she could have been calling from the next room. In fact, she was calling from her studio on the outskirts of Sedona, a strange fire-colored place of red rock and cactus and quick slithering things. (And, Jacki thought, a plague of kitchy art galleries.) It would still be light there. Here, in the night, Jacki lay floating in her bath, her knees two glistening islands in a sea of warm, pale green bubbles.

Her niece wanted to tell her about her new meditation teacher, a woman who also happened to channel a Light Entity named Zeldklar. "Zeldklar says your mind can see everything. When you meditate, you can learn to make your mind, like, fly all around the universe."

"Well," Jacki said. "You don't say." There was something hard and slicing in her voice but she was trying, she really was. Other than this niece, no one else in her family would still speak to her.

"Anybody can learn to do it," her niece said.

"You really think so," Jacki said, but of course she didn't think so, and only partly because she had her doubts about this new meditation teacher. The last meditation teacher the one who'd led the retreat Jacki had attended with her niece had such a kind face, soft and round like a doe-eyed Buddha. Your mind expands with your compassion, the teacher had said and thenting rung a little silver bell. It did make senseyes, Jacki had realized as she sat there in the lotus position, her eyes closed and hands pressed lightly together yesBut the problem was, in her heart, Jacki was still the little girl who thrilled to tell lies and steal things (Marcy McFilbert's stuffed bunny, the teacher's change purse). One time how can it possibly have been a century ago? Jacki had plucked the legs off a daddy longlegs spider one by one by wriggling one until there was nothing left in the palm of her hand but a dot. Whatchit! she'd flicked it with her thumb at Marcy McFilbert and then told the whole class it was Marcy's booger.

"Zeldklar says that time and space are an illusion," her niece said.

"You don't say," Jacki said, though she wondered for a moment if this might be true; after all, her own life seemed to her packed and warped and pulled into tight, painful knots. Dr. Chavez (no one called him Ermenegildo, not even Gilda when she was married to him) Jacki remembered as if she'd seen him last night: his breath like hot coffee, the sandpaper feel of his face, the muscled weight of him as he rolled over the coolness of her sheets. Dr. Chavez might as well have collapsed on the gwgwolf course in Jupiter-on-Stilts, Florida this morning as seven months ago; he might as well have been sitting in his living room watching OEL with Gilda; for that matter Jacki felt it like a certaintyhe could have been dressed for the Kennedy Center-on-Stilts, riding down in the elevator with تelma.

"Oh," Jacki sighed suddenly. "Poor تelma."

"What happened to تelma?" her niece asked.

"What happened to تelma?" Jacki sent the question hurtling back across the continent as she slipped down until her knees disappeared into the warm, pale green water and she could feel the water lapping at the hairs on the back of her neck. She had to turn her cheek to keep the phone above the suds. Breathe, she told herself, as she took a long deep breath that, let out, sounded like another sigh.

"Well?" said her niece.

"Well," said Jacki, and her voice dropped to a raspy whisper: "Why don't you ask Zeldklar?"


There are so many bizarre ways to die, Gilda thought. This was later, when she was lying in her bed still thinking about what had happened to تelma. In college Gilda had read a short story about a man whose father died when a pig fell on top of him. The father really suffered, because though his pelvis was crushed into his abdominal cavity, it took a long time for him to die. And then the son suffered too because he was so embarrassed about the way his father had died. In the story everyone asked, or maybeGilda couldn't remember the story ended when someone finally asked, so, what happened to the pig? And how about the Indonesian sushi chef who swallowed 696 goldfish and one of them popped out his nose but anyway he died of bloat. (Shed read about that just the other day at the RMSF check-out.) Once she saw a OEL show it was this ancient thing, maybe even Roman, The Twilight Zone  about a man who drove out by himself to a remote villa. No one was there; all the furniture was draped with sheets. He stepped into the elevator. The doors shut; with a loud grinding it began to rise, and then, with a clank, it stopped. He punched all the buttons, he slammed at them with his fist. And then he screamed and screamed  because he knew no one would find him, not for months. 
Well, Gilda decided as she tucked the blanket up just beneath her chin, some things you could avoid. If you had the sense. But apparently not spontaneous combustion.

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A slightly yet profoundly different version of this story was originally published in Chelsea with the title "What Happened to Thelma."