Sunday, October 15, 2017

Medieval Party Music, Plus Cyberflanerie: Clive James on Lewis Namier; Ilya Zorn's Typewriter, Bob Lefsetz, Rachael Laudan & Etc

More and extra-wicked-effective email ninjerie... I am whittling down my Outlook Express inbox to the Medieval Music Party Mix:

Because of multiple household and office moves this summer and fall I have gotten so woefully behind with my correspondence that you might wonder how I can proffer advice on managing email (one of the top posts in the 11-year history of this blog). Well, gentle reader, point number 9 of my 10-Point E-Mail Protocol is...


....boomwackers and bongo drums... 

... enter stage left, monkey in turquoise silk suit, a-banging a garbage can lid... 

....descending from ceiling, forest of gamelan bells... 

... and another... 



Works better than a charm! And when it doesn't, well, the world keeps turning, with everybody on it managing as best they can. Somebody wins the lottery, somebody wins the booby prize, and the sun will rise again tomorrow replete with infinite possibilities, except for the dead who have, bless them all, achieved inbox verily zero.


Grow new brain cells whilst reading Clive James on Lewis Namier!

Over at my other blog, Maximilian and Carlota, for researchers of Mexico's Second Empire & French Intervention, a post on Konrad Ratz's Correspondencia inédita entre Maximiliano y Carlota.

Life in a Typewriter Shop: The Amazing Story of Ilya Zorn and her Gold Royal Typewriter. (Yes, I have been pulled into the surprisingly charming orbit of the Typosphere...)

Nigeria-Norway fish connection via food historian Rachel Laudan. (As Laudan says, it's nerdy, but I say, Total Yum if you like salted fish and Quintuple Wow Yum if you happen to be fascinated by food history and economic history.)

Bob Lefsetz on the Enimem video. This is important reading about an alligatoresque moment in the swamplands of US culture and politics-- and precisely why it is such a moment-- and it is especially important reading for those (and that would include myself) who would sooner buy a rabid raccoon than download an Eminem tune. Hey, that rhymes! Uh oh. Naughty Muse.

"Casual empiricism suggests"-- I spotted this marvelous pompadour of a phrase over at Marginal Revolution blog, quoting one Todd D. Kendall. "Little gems": Not just a kind of lettuce! As casual empiricism suggests.


I am truly honored that Joseph Hutchinson, Poet Laureate of Colorado, has reviewed my latest Kindle, "Dispatch from the Sister Republic or, Papelito Habla," a longform essay about the Mexican literary landscape written with todo mi corazón. Check it out.

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

Monday, October 09, 2017

Notes on Poultney Bigelow, Author, World Traveler, Pioneer Publisher of "Outing: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation"

[ POULTNEY BIGELOW, 1855-1954 ]
Andy Warhol must be twirling his wig there in some fuggy realm of the astral watching the Instagramming-Tweeting-Facebooking zombie-dom of our day. So it seems, everyone and their neighbor's cousin's twinkle-eyed cat is a 24/7 celebrity in their own iPhone. A century ago, many a decade before Mr Warhol's meteoric flash through the bizarropheres of celebridom (which I daresay have reached their apogee with our Tweeter-in-Chief, DJT), celebrity meant something different, and if not always, at least usually a more curated and dignified elevation to social visibility, and perchance of a literary nature. Well! I'll leave it for our social historians to parse out the granular detail from that particular conceptual bramble-clogged tarpit. I'm just bloggin' here about POULTNEY BIGELOW, an obscure figure today, but a dazzler of a literary celebrity in his time. 

One measure of that celebrity: when he died in 1954 at 98 years of age, the New York Times granted him this lengthy obituary.

The author of a raft of books and pioneer publisher of the sports magazine Outing, Poultney Bigelow has popped up on my radar because I am at work on a book about Far West Texas that will include some discussion of his older brother John Bigelow, Jr.'s articles about the Indian Wars, which Poultney published in Outing, along with illustrations by his Yale University classmate, Frederic Remington

> View Outing online. Also here.

> Next up on my reading list: G. Edward White's The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience (Yale University Press, 1968).


Poultney (b. 1855) and John Jr. (b. 1854) were the sons of John Bigelow, a skyscraper of a figure in US, New York State, New York City, and Panama Canal history. As President Lincoln's Minister to France, John Bigelow Sr. also had quite a bit to do with twisting Napoleon III's arm to remove his army from Mexico... and Abolition... publishing history... and Swedenborgianism....

See also this article about the Bigelow family homestead in Malden-on-Hudson, where Poultney lived his last decades.
"The First Family of Malden: Eccentric and Worldy" by Jennifer Farley, Saugerties Times, July 10, 2012

More about John Bigelow, Sr. and John Bigelow, Jr. anon.


His papers are in the New York Public Library

Some letters to his father are in the John Bigelow Archive at Union College.

[ A wee selection from Poultney Bigelow's ouevre ]

The German Emperor and His Eastern Neighbours (1892)

Paddles and Politics (1892)

Bismarck (1892)

The Borderland of Czar and Kaiser: Notes from Both Sides of the Russian Frontier (1895)

History of the German Struggle for Liberty (1896)

White Man's Africa (1897)

The Children of the Nations: A Study of Colonization and Its Problems (1901)

Prussian Memories (1916)

Genseric: King of the Vandals and First Prussian (1918)

Prussianism and Pacifism (1919)

Japan and Her Colonies (1923)

Seventy Summers (1925)


Poultney Bigelow's best-known work is his memoir, Seventy Summers, in two volumes, 1925.

When he was a boy, as mentioned, his father was President Abraham Lincoln's Minister to France. Those familiar with Mexican history will recall that the French Imperial Army had invaded Mexico to support a return to a Catholic monarchy: the regime of Maximilian von Habsburg. By 1866, thanks in part to Bigelow's persistent pressure in support of the Mexican Republic, Napoleon III's support for Maximilian was waning, and the Mexican monarchy began to collapse. Poultney Bigelow (vol I p. 33):

[ The Prince Imperial of France ]
"The Emperor sent his only child, the Prince Imperial, to mark his warm friendship for Uncle Sam. It was a bitter pill for Eugenie, and still more for her Court, who had invested much money in Mexico. How they must have cursed the heretics, Lincoln and Stewart and Grant, for thus destroying their dreams of easy money!...  
"Prince Imperial was not so attractive to me... His hair was perfumed, oiled, and curled; he wore a velvet suit with a wide lace collar; he was pale, thin, and obviously on an official mission. An arm-chair became his baby throne, and behind it stood a forbidding Field-Marshal whose uniform was rich in decorations, and whose grandeur checked any impulse we boys might have cherished as regards a rough romp.
"My brother [John Bigelow, Jr] and myself were formally presented-- and amongst the many elders many compliments were exchanged, and much emphasis laid upon the Emperor's kindness so nobly manifested. But the formality was an empty one-- we did not play any games with His Imperial Highness, and he soon retired with his war-like equerry to tell his fond mamma that he had been among the American savages, that he had escaped alive, and was uncommonly glad at not having had to share in our brutal pastimes."

Playtime in Potsdam with Prince Wilhelm (1859-1941), whom he calls William, who would become Kaiser Wilhem II, was a marked contrast (vol I p. 76):

[ The Future Kaiser ]
"At the Neues Palais I was cordially welcomed by Prince William and his brother Henry... From the hour of my first visit until our departure for New York in the fall of 1872, I was an almost constant playmate of the future Kaiser... We romped about the great palace if the weather was bad, played hide-and-seek in the vast attic spaces, and once had the rare treat of working the stage machinery in the theater. Of course, as in the case of most normal boys, we compared notes on likes and dislikes. Prince William knew his Fenimore Cooper by heart, and thirsted for games reminiscent of Uncas and Leatherstocking."

Literary connections were multitudinous in the Bigelow household. Babe Poultney is held by Washington Irving (p.19), as a boy shakes hands with Charles Dickens (p. 54); and later visits with Samuel Clemens, aka Mark ("Dear old Mark!") Twain in Johannesburg and in London (pp. 165-168). On the poet Joaquin Miller (p.197):
"Joaquin (pronounced Walk-een by the initiate) had rented a cottage on my father's place near West Point, and acted the part of an interesting savage  slowly accomodating himself to the ways of the white man... On his head was a picturesque Mexican sombrero, beneath whose broad brim flowed a massive main after the fashion of Buffalo Bill..."
[ Jeff Davis ]
Giants of politics and captains of industry make their cameo appearances, among the former, Jefferson Davis (breaks up a dog fight with his bare hands p. 225), Theodore Roosevelt (vol I 272, vol II 194, 212 212....) and among the latter, Andrew Carnegie. With Carnegie, as with certain others, Poultney can be cutting-- and this apropos of Carnegie's annual visits on John Bigelow, Sr.'s birthday (p. 198):
"Carnegie awakened my dislike from first meeting him in the early 'eighties, and this instinctive feeling was further fortified by my father who was profoundly religious."

The scene in which Bigelow Sr invites his birthday visitor to finance the translation and publication of the works of Swedenborg would make a prize-winning playlet.

Poultney's first taste of Yale University did not suit him. He took a two year leave to travel the world. It would be difficult to overstate his adventures before starting Outing magazine: China, Japan, Papua New Guiness, Borneo, China... returning to Yale in 1876... and many more subsequent world travels...

At Yale University he meets Frederic Remington; together they take a drawing class (p. 301):
"The most difficult of all statues for a beginner was given us: the madly dancing Faun generally credited to Praxiteles. At long intervals the melancholy professor of drawing entered our cheerless room, gazed sadly at our clumsy crayoning, made a few strokes by way of emphasizing our clumsiness, and then disappeared." 


The range of sports covered included bear hunting, moose hunting, salmon fishing in Canada, blowing up an abandoned ship in the waters off Madeiria, camping in Yellowstone , cruising to the Bahamas in winter, chasing Geronimo, tennis... Uf, I am breathless just typing all that.


I just kind of went acorns & hazelnuts taking screenshots from the series of articles on biking, "Around the World on a Bicycle" by biking pioneer Thomas Stevens (1854 - 1935), illustrated by W. A. Rogers. 


And here are a few of the ads in Outing-- which give an idea of the magazine's readers, or at least as the editor and his advertisers might have envisioned them:

In general the articles in Outing are long, dense (no pull quotes), and sparsely if interestingly illustrated. The contrast with most of our contemporary magazines-- a froth of pull quotes, splashy photos and advertising featuring more splashy photos (for the most part of stick-thin people exuding  ennui, disdain, or immanent coma) and the whole of it but sprinkled with driplets of prose-- is striking. I quail to think of Mr Bigelow's reaction were he to have seen the likes of Sports Illustrated.

The prose in Outing gives me a yen for crumpets, or something. From the opening of a November 1885 "To the Pole on Sledges" by W.H. Gilder: 
"Do I think that any one will ever reach the North Pole? Most assuredly."
The poetry is, shall we say, evidence that literary tastes have since evolved. Herewith a couple of samples (after which point my bemusement wears thin):


[ Screenshot of an article by Theodore Roosevelt in Poultney Bigelow's Outing ]

[ A buff-looking portrait of Theodore Roosevelt by J. R. Chapin ] 


[ Later in this article there is a gruesome drawing 
of doing in a hippopotamus, not shown here.]

Notes about Poultney's older brother John Bigelow Jr, his career, and his reporting on the Indian Wars for Outing anon.

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

(a post on the English translation of Swedish mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg's book 
with an introduction by John Bigelow)

Monday, October 02, 2017

Spotlight on the Electric Grid: Ted Koppel's LIGHTS OUT, Plus Cyberflanerie

With the catastrophe in Puerto Rico in the news, I am surprised not to have seen more mentions in the media and the blogosphere of Ted Koppel's LIGHTS OUT. The subtitle of Koppel's book of 2015 is A Cyberattack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath-- but when the grid goes down, it goes down, whether from a cyberattack or, in the case of Puerto Rico, from back-to-back major hurricanes.

We've all experienced a storm that leaves us for a few hours or even a few days without electricity. (As for me, I live in Mexico City where my barrio's transformer regularly crashes, especially in the summer rainy season. And a couple of times over the past couple of years the transformer just exploded, quién sabe porqué. So I keep flashlights charged and plenty of candles and matches handy-- which I rarely need for long. The Comisión Federal de Electricidad guys always show up, and they always manage to get it working again.)

But the grid going down for weeks or months, that is entirely different magnitude of problem. The most recent reports are that this may be the case in Puerto Rico for as many as six months. In his 2015 LIGHTS OUT Koppel spells out exactly what is now unfolding and likely to continue unfolding in such a circumstance. It is grim but important reading.



Sundry items on my radar over the past week:

Margaret Randall, "The Role of Small Presses in Fortifying Literature"
I came across this one when I was Googling up a certain small press in Texas... why? That would be another post... P.S. My post that mentions Randall's pioneer literary magazine, El Corno Emplumado. See also my longform essay on the Mexican literary landscape and the power of the book, "Disptach from the Sister Republic or, Papelito Habla"

David Allen's GTD Podcasts
GTD (Getting Things Done) is a methodology at once simple, powerful, and, for those who want to / are prepared to recognize it, based on something profoundly metaphysical. (Whoa! No, I have nothing to do with his church!) Anyway, for those who might be interested, the way I use GTD-- certainly not the only way to do it-- is with a Filofax, oodles of PostIts, and individual files for upcoming events and travel in a free-standing stand at-hand, right behind my desk. These GTD podcasts were a lifesaver of a refresher for me this week; I have been in the crazy-making midst of moving house, and not for the first time this year.
P.S. "Why I am a Mega Fan of the Filofax Personal Organizer"

Alice Friedemann's Groovy-Goofy Cracker Video

Because I have been contemplating interstate highways and trucks... and oil... (as those of you follow this blog well know, I am, after all, writing a book about Far West Texas) I have belatedly come upon the work of Alice Friedemann. I have never met her, but perchance, my grandfather, chemist Frank R. Mayo (1908-1987), would have known her grandfather, geologist Francis Pettijohn (1904-1999); they were of the same generation, both spent time at the University of Chicago in the late 1920s... although, who knows? I have yet to read Alice's book, When the Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation, but I shall... I am anxious to read it because I found her interview with James Howard Kunstler worth listening to thrice. I shall also try her cracker recipe, looks yums. In the video she also talks about her book, Crunch!

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Liberator Without a Country

If you haven't heard of Agustín de Iturbide, he is Mexico's George Washington-- but it's muy complicado.

Last Thursday in the Club de Industriales in Mexico City historian Luis Reed Torres presented his latest book, El Libertador sin patria (The Liberator without a Country), a most extraordinary and illuminating collection of 19th century texts by liberals about Agustín de Iturbide, many of which Reed Torres rescued from the deepest, mustiest recesses of the archives. For anyone interested in Mexican history, El Libertador sin patria is a must-read work, and a must-have reference.

I hope to post a link to where you can find El Libertador sin patria on-line very soon. In the meantime, for your reference, the ISBN is 978-607-97750-0-1.

> Read my prologue in English

> Read my prologue in Spanish

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

From the Typosphere: "Bank"

Isn't just too too too tooooo much a-gurgling and churgling and over-arcing and under-the-rugging in this techno-kray-zee world? In the spirit of calming things down, this Monday I offer a wee but wicked poem, typed on ye olde 1961 Hermes 3000:

"Bank" is in my forthcoming collection, Meteor. 

P.S. New on the blogroll:

The Long Slow {typecast} Blog

The Typewriter Revolution

Welcome to the Typosphere

Monday, September 11, 2017

Cartridges and Postcards from the US-Mexico Border of Yore

Postcards from the US-Mexico border, 1916.

About a century ago, after the fall of Francisco I. Madero's government in 1913, with the ensuing struggle between the Huertistas and Carrancistas, and the chaos along the US-Mexico border (in part fomented by German agents, hoping to keep the U.S. Army otherwise occupied during WWI), the U.S. Army set up a number of camps there. On ebay, my sister found these postcards, probably sent by a soldier stationed near El Paso, dated October 26, 1916.

One of the postcards shows an address in Alliance, Ohio, a town noted for its Feline Historical Museum. Thank you, Google.

Here is another GIF, this one of some cartridges I picked up-- by invitation, I hasten to emphasize-- on private property right by the Rio Grande about 20 minutes' drive down a dirt road from Presidio, Texas. Seriously, these are cartridges from the time of the Mexican Revolution (probably from target practice); they were just lying on the ground. That is how isolated a place it still is.

Cartridge circa 1916, from near Presidio, TX

One last GIF: An overcast day on the otherwise spectacular Hot Springs Historic Trail in the Big Bend National Park. The river is the Rio Grande, the border with Mexico. At sunset the mountains turn the most otherwordly sherbet-pink. Imagine this scene with a wall through it-- your tax dollars down the hole for a perfectly pointless aesthetic and ecological atrocity. (I shall now take a deep breath.)

Hot Springs Historic Trail, Big Bend National Park
Far West Texas
(Don't watch this GIF unless you are part Viking,
it will make you seasick)

Not shown in my video: the guy hiking a few minutes ahead of me on this trail wore a T-shirt that said TEXAS GUN SAFETY TIP #1: GET ONE. Well, it ain't California. Excuse me, I need to go crunch my granola.

Much more anon.

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

Monday, September 04, 2017

What is "Writing" (Really?) / And a New Video with Yours Truly Talking About Four Exceedingly Rare Books

On his always thought-provoking blog, the author of Deep Work, Cal Newport, recently posted "Toward a Deeper Vocabulary"  on how we need more words for "writing." As a productivity expert (among other things) Newport has often been invited to "dissertation boot camps." He writes:
"Something that strikes me about these events is the extensive use of the term 'writing' to capture the variety of different mental efforts that go into producing a doctoral dissertation; e.g., 'make sure you write every day' or 'don’t get too distracted from your writing by other obligations.' The actual act of writing words on paper, of course, is necessary to finish a thesis, but it’s far from the only part of this process. The term 'writing,' in this context, is being used as a stand in for the many different cognitive efforts required to create something worthy of inclusion in the intellectual firmament of your discipline." 

I agree. In writing all of my books it has been my consistent experience that "writing" is not a linear process akin to clocking in, and, say, ironing shirts. It's a complex, zizaggily circular-ish process-- to quote Newport, "involving different cognitive efforts"-- that oftentimes doesn't look like "writing."

(That said, sometimes-- sometimes-- you've just gotta velcro your posterior to the chair and bang the words into the Word doc.)

As those of you who have been following my blog have heard ad infinitum, I am at work on a book about Far West Texas. Um, that means I need to write it. But there are other tasks directly relevant to ending up with a published book, for example, reading about Far West Texas, traveling in and observing Far West Texas, taking notes, transcribing notes as dictation, reviewing photographs and videos, interviewing people, transcribing those interviews, and so on and so forth.

Right now, for example, I am finishing Andrew Torget's excellent Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands and last week, I plowed through Andrés Reséndez's also superb The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. Pending writing for me is an essay / podcast (to be edited and incorporated into my book in-progress) about the Seminole Scouts (many of them ex-slaves) in the Indian Wars...

If I were to simply sit down and commence typing, it would be akin to trying to cook without having assembled the proper equipment and ingredients. In other words, I need to have read Torget and Reséndiz (among many other works), to have transcribed my notes, and so on and so forth.

Not that I have not done quite a bit of the writing already, I mean, there are words on paper, there are bits and pieces, an introduction, some sections... Like I said, the process is zigzaggily circular.

I oftentimes compare "writing," in its broadest mushiest sense, to cooking. And chefs will understand me when I say, you have got to master mis-en-place.


What is mis-en-place? In plain English, you don't want to start the whipped cream for what might be a chocolate cake when your countertops, stovetop, and sink are cluttered with pots and spoons and dishes and splotches from the mushroom croquettes. Or whatever it is you were making. You need to start clean; then assemble your utensils and equipment; then assemble your ingredients; then wash, cut, chop; then cook.

So to follow the analogy of writing as cooking: reading and researching could be compared to assembling utensils and equipment; taking notes, transcribing, and filing could be compared to washing, cutting and chopping... and typing, say, to putting the skillet onto the burner... that is to say, actually, finally, cooking.

Back to starting clean. In 2014 I published Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual (a book that was, in a way, a digression, however, the Mexican Revolution will appear in Far West Texas book, as you might guess, if you've ever seen a map of the Texas-Mexico border). This week, I wanted to be working on the Far West Texas book, but two long-pending tasks for that Mexican Revolution book were nagging at me. These were to

(1) Finish the editing on the transcript of my 2016 talk at the Center for Big Bend Studies Conference about the book (this is for an academic readership,  extensively footnoted, and includes new material about another edition of Madero's book)  

(2) Finish a short video to share some images and information about four exceedingly rare books in my personal library, which for scholars of the Mexican Revolution, and especially anyone studying Francisco I. Madero, would be vital to see.

So that is what I did the past few days--I read Torget, I finished editing the transcript of my talk and posted the PDF (which you are welcome to download here), and, whew, I just uploaded that video I have been meaning to make since 2014(!)


Was this procrastination? No, gentle reader, it was good old fashioned mis-en-place. Stay tuned for the podcast on the Seminole Scouts in Far West Texas. (Listen in anytime to the other 20 podcasts posted to date here.)

Back to the question of the writing process. How do you know when what you're doing is a legitimate task towards finishing a book (or thesis or story or essay), and when it's procrastination? To my writing workshop students, I say, you need to decide that for yourself. As for me, I rely on intuition and common sense (which sometimes contradict each other), and then, no drama, I just decide. Yes, once in a while (usually when I did not heed my intuition), I look back and think, hmm, maybe thus-and-such could be done differently next time. And whatever, it's fine. I don't ruminate about woulda coulda shoudas (that would be procrastination!), I just get to the day's work, as best as I can.

> For more about the writing (and publishing) process, check out my talk of yore for the Writer's Center, "The Arc of Writerly Action."

> See also "Thirty Deadly Effective Ways to Free Up Bits, Drips & Gimungously Vast Swaths of Time for Writing."

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

Haiku in the Guadalupe Mountains of Far West Texas

McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Photo: C.M. Mayo
(This will give you a much better idea of the
extraordinary quality of this letterpress printing
by Matthew Kelsey)
As those of you who follow this blog well know, I am at work on a book about Far West Texas and, as part of this work, back in May of this year, I was the artist-in-residence at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. About an hour and half drive east of El Paso, the Guadalupe Mountains are little visited, especially outside of holidays and weekends in the fall and spring seasons. Although I was there for the crush of Memorial Day weekend, it wasn't much of a crush; for the rest of my stay I often had trails all to myself-- except for the rattlesnakes. I happened upon two rattlesnakes in my two weeks, one curled up in the middle of the trail; the other darted out right in front of me, rattling loudly, from the brush. It's not Disneyland out there.

I'll be writing about the Guadalupe Mountains at length, but here I'd like to share a photo of my official donation to the park. All artists-in-residence give a workshop, and donate a work or art-- in my case, it will be a framed letterpress broadsheet of seven haiku, "In the Guadalupe Mountains."

The first haiku from "In the Guadalupe Mountains" by C.M. Mayo

This letterpress printing was done by Matthew Kelsey of Saratoga, California. Poets and others with something special to have printed, I warmly recommend Matt Kelsey, he is a master craftsman and a pleasure to work with.

The seventh haiku from "In the Guadalupe Mountains" by C.M. Mayo

> Visit my poetry page here. I'll be posting the haiku there.

P.S. Last fall one of the artists-in-residence  in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park was one of my very favorite painters, Mary Baxter of Marfa, Texas. Listen in to my interview with her here. Check out her landscapes, many of the Guadalupe Mountains, here.

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