Sunday, October 21, 2018

Edward Tenner on Handwriting

This blog posts every Monday. Starting this year, the fourth Monday, except when not, is dedicated to a Q & A with another writer. This week not.

In this fascinating talk at TEDx-Princeton Library, historian of technology Edward Tenner provides a rich context for how we write now. (Not the usual TED Talk.)



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





Monday, October 15, 2018

More Noodling about Email-- and Dispatch Boxes

screenshot of a few antique dispatch boxes for sale

I stand by my 10-point protocol for email, but the past few months, after my mother's passing, have brought a tsunami of correspondence. Much of this, from friends and family, has been very welcome, actually; it's just been challenging to keep up with it and everything else. All of which is to say, if I owe you an email, dear reader, please know that I have not vanished into some befogged plane of hyperspace. I am working on it, and with good cheer!

On the ever-gnarly subject of email management, I note that my favorite guru of Attentional Focus Theory, Cal Newport, has recently posted "The Average User Checks Email 5.6 Hours a Day. This is Not Good." It's bit thin that gruel; Newport is simply pointing out some recent report that, by Jove, that's the number (and I believe it). I mention it here because I would like to add the thought that, for many professions, the need to manage large volumes of correspondence is nothing new. (Check out the antique dispatch boxes here.) In my case, as a writer, translator, and workshop leader with several books published, and family and friends, it is to be expected-- and this would be true were I somehow to be transported to 1918 or, say, 1818.

You know, I'll bet Jane Austen complained about the hours she spent on her correspondence.

The seachange of course is that our smartphones have brought us all into potentially instant contact. It used to be the case-- I am old enough to remember-- that really good friends and doting relatives might write, oh, say, every few weeks or so. And I have decided, in my case, that's about reasonably right. In other words, I do not use FB or Whatsapp; I use an old-fashioned telephone, send occasional snail mail and, above all, email. This is consternating to some, a shrug of so what to others. When I write an email I write a thoughtful one, and-- further evidence of thoughtfulness-- with proper punctuation. Some people appreciate this. Some don't. And... the world keeps on turning.

Today I received a charming letter from poet Kim Roberts-- a real letter, placed by the postman in the mailbox, which box I opened with a key, and in an envelope I slit open with an letter opener. After I read the letter, I walked my dogs in autumn sunshine. Then I made a batch of split pea soup.

Life on earth.

And now, dogs snoring, having finished this Monday's post, I will work on my correspondence, I mean, email.

I am thinking of my laptop as, among many things, an early 21st century dispatch box. It's kind of magic, how letters just appear inside it. It has the image of a white apple on its lid.



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






Monday, October 08, 2018

Poetic Listing

As of this year, the second Monday of the month is dedicated to my writing workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing.

POETIC LISTING

A much-celebrated poem that amounts to a list-- a luminous list-- is Robert Pinsky's "The Shirt."

How to make a list into something poetic? It helps to be attentive to and creative with diction drops and spikes, repetition, scansion, and alliteration. I've already posted on diction and on repetition; in future months look for posts on scansion and alliteration.

Herewith, taken from a few favorite works, are some examples of poetic listing-- and to get the most of this, to really hear the poetry, I would suggest that you read these aloud:

"During the first days she kept busy thinking about changes in the house. She took the shades off the candlesticks, had new wall-paper put up, the staircase repainted, and seats made in the garden round the sundial; she even inquired how she could get a basin with a jet fountain and fishes." Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary 
"We eat our supper (cold biscuits, bacon, blackberry jam) and discuss tomorrow. Tomorrow the kind of work I like best begins: buying. Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pineapple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and oh, so much flour, butter so many eggs, spices, flavorings: why, we'll need a pony to pull the buggy home." Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory
"Tonight he wished for little things, the chance to take a hot bath, a reasonable suit of clothing, a gift to bring, at the very least some flowers, but then the room tilted slightly in the other direction and he opened up his hands and all of that fell away from him and he wanted nothing." Ann Patchett, Bel Canto
"The carriage was crammed: waves of silk, ribs of three crinolines, billowed, clashed, entwined almost to the heights of their heads; beneath was a tight press of stockings, girls silken slippers, the Princess's bronze-colored shoes, the Prince's patent-leather pumps; each suffered from the others feet and could find nowhere to put his own." Guiseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard
And an example I also used in the post on repetition (money, money, money):
"Tancredi, he considered, had a great future; he would be the standard-bearer of a counter-attack which the nobility, under new trappings, could launch against the social State. To do this he lacked only one thing: money; this Tancredi did not have; none at all. And to get on in politics, now that a name counted less, would require a lot of money: money to buy votes, money to do the electors favors, money for a dazzling style of living..."  Guiseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard

To take this further, as you are reading whatever you happen to be reading, note in your notebook whenever you find, in your view, any especially apt use of poetic listing. (More on reading as a writer here.)

P.S. More resources for writers on my workshop page.

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








Monday, October 01, 2018

Cyberflanerie: B. Jay Antrim's 1848 Journey Across Mexico; Paxman on Jenkins; Kunstler Talks to Strand about Electric Light; Do the Math; Wolfe on McLuhan

This finds me catching up on email, mainly, doggedly, heartfully, and working on the Far West Texas book and related podcasts which I hope to announce shortly. Meanwhile, for you my dear adventurously curious readers, herewith some fascinating items that have popped up on my screen in recent weeks:


Over at Mexico News Daily John Pint covers Steve Wilson's discovery of a most extraordinary collection of watercolors and memoir by B. Jay Antrim about his 1848 journey to California by way of Mexico. (Why not by way of Texas? Back then a chunk of that was Comancheria.)

Historian Andrew Paxman talks about his biography of William O. Jenkins, Jenkins of Mexico: How a Southern Farm Boy Became a Mexican Magnate, at PEN San Miguel. A splendid biography, and a must-read for anyone with any interest in Mexico.




Abidingly fascinating: James Howard Kunstler talks to Clark Strande about electric light.

Ye olde wet towel (wet as in wet cement) Chris Martenson interviews Tom Murphy about Doing the Math (and whether you're freaked out or you totally don't care, here's Murphy's intriguing theory about your reaction).

Tom Wolfe on "Why is Marshall McLuhan Important?"
Long, but it's ceaselessly interesting.



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




Monday, September 24, 2018

Working with a Working Library: Kuddelmuddel

This blog posts every Monday. Starting this year, every fourth Monday, except when not, is a Q & A with another writer. This week not.


[ My writing assistant keeps an eye on Kuddelmuddel]
As you dear, faithful, writerly readers know, I have been at work on the Far West Texas book. One of the individuals who appears and reappears throughout the narrative is Lt. John Bigelow, Jr. An officer in the Tenth U.S. Cavalry in the late 19th century, Bigelow had an illustrious father and his own impressive body of work in military strategy and tactics, in many ways anticipating the industrial-level wars of the twentieth century. So, having done a small Himalaya of reading on those Bigelows and the Tenth Cavalry, last fall at the conference at the Center for Big Bend Studies, I presented a paper on Lt. Bigelow, expecting to polish it up into publishable form lickety-split. Ha! It's still not finished, but at least the draft is, and I submitted it. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, herewith, a few lessons learned about working with a working library.

I'm several decades and several published books down the pike now that I pause here, en blog, to confess that I never fully appreciated what was involved with writing a book that necessitated a working library. I just sort of accumulated whatever books I needed, or thought I might need, willynilly, clearing bookshelf space, catch as catch can. Things got rather pile-y, shall we say, and sometimes I wasted good working mornings just hunting for things. I never fully appreciated how unwieldly  some of these working libraries can grow-- and grow as, in many cases, they rightfully must.

Some of my working libraries took up only a few shelves, for example, the reading for my anthology Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. The one for my Baja California book, Miraculous Air, took up an entire wall, floor to ceiling, and the working library for my novel on Mexico's Second Empire almost twice as much space. Ditto my recent book on Madero and metaphysical religionAnd... drumroll... most especially the one I am using now on Far West Texas. The Texasbibliothek, as I call it, now hogs and camels and elephants and Macktrucks an entire room.

You may wonder, why can't I just borrow books from my local library? Answer, Part I: I don't have a relevant library nearby. Part II: When I am writing I often need to have several different books at-hand; many libraries will not lend out so many books at once, nor bring out so many volumes to a reading room. (But yes, I have consulted books in libraries, and in archival collections.) As I worked on that Baja California book, the Second Empire novel, and the one on the Mexican Revolution, I often had five or ten or even as many as, say, fifteen books open on my desk... such is the Kuddelmuddel of my process.

So... for the types of books I was and am writing, this means having a budget-- a realistic budget-- for buying books. University press hardcovers can be, ouch. To save money, many a time I bought an ex-library edition off of www.abebooks.com-- which for used books is, in my experience, more reliable than amazon or ebay.  And for collectible editions, I would advise steering way clear of amazon and ebay because all sorts of sellers on there have no clue what a first edition is or how to accurately describe a book's condition. Again, abebooks.com is good and better yet sellers who are members in good standing of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of AmericaAn occupational danger is that you can get a jones for collecting, and start buying first editions. But that's another blog post. I used to buy Italian shoes, let me put it that way.


[Bookmarks for books
in my working library]
As for organizing these working libraries, I posted previously about that here.  Indeed, I got this current working library, my Texasbibliothek, into such superb shape that, as I was pulling out various titles for this paper on Lt. Bigelow, I had a little fiesta of self-congratulation every single time. 

And reshelving the books? Something I do now with this Texasbibliothek that I have never done before-- and I am shaking my head that it had not occurred to me sooner-- is to tuck into each book a bookmark with its category.

Making individual bookmarks with the categories noted might seem more trouble than it's worth, but the challenge is, many books could go into more than one category, and if I have to remember or decide anew which one it is each time I reshelve it, well.... then... unshelved books tend to start piling up and sprawling into big, giant, King-Kong-scale Kuddelmuddel! 

Decluttering? Indeed I do declutter. However, for some subjects, as in these working libraries, the collections in themselves have significant cultural / scholarly value; they should not be broken up. One day I will find them a good home.

What is Kuddelmuddel? 



Not to be confused with Kugel Mugel.



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





Monday, September 17, 2018

Cyberflanerie: Software Skills, Food, Summer, the Occult, Consciousness, Umständlich, Supplemental Energy

David Black talks about the hierarchy of software skills.

The always surprising and knowledgable food historian Rachel Lauden on hamburger and milk.

Mexico Cooks! cooks beans. This is the best Mexican cooking blog, por lejos.
P.S. It doesn't look as nice 'n totalmente auténtico, but I say, go for the Instant Pot.

One of my very favorite bloggers, Pat Dubrava, on "The End of Summer."

Extra-extra crunchaliciously crunchy interview with scholar of the occult Robert Mathiesen.

Jeffrey Mishlove interviews Eban Alexander about consciousness.

Umständlich on the Easy German YouTube channel. They have a powerfully effective concept for learning German, and wow, it is the opposite of Umständlich. I mean, einfach. If you want to brush up on your German, check these out. I started learning Spanish years ago by watching telenovelas (and took classes, too). I wish I'd had something like Easy German videos instead: real people talking, together with a transcript (so I can see what they are actually saying) and the English translation (so I can understand it). I start and stop and replay and also use the speed adjustment. Ganz toll. It's driving my dogs crazy, though.

The German-Texan Heritage Society. I just surfed upon them in looking for the Goethe Institut exam venues in Texas. I was amused to find a blog post about Sitzfleisch. I recall a workshop of yore when novelist Clark Blaise said that Sitzfleisch was the main thing a writer needed.

Oil patch noodling: Gail Tverberg on how supplemental energy puts humans in charge and, an oldie but holycowie: Kunstler interviews Tad Patzek.

What I'm up to is catching up on email, finishing a paper about a cavalry officer in the Indian Wars in Texas, and a heap of reading for my in-progress book on Far West Texas. I'd like to think I'm at the end of that reading but dagnabbit people keep on writing excellent and important books! I'm almost finished with Peter Brannen's The Ends of the World and Steve Brusatte's The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs-- both excellent, so far, and both vital for understanding the deep history of Far West Texas, home of the Permian Basin and stomping grounds of T Rex.

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





Monday, September 10, 2018

Poetic Repetition

As of this year, the second Monday of the month is dedicated to my writing workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing.


POETIC REPETITION

Unintentional repetition of a word or phrase in your writing is rather like going out the door with another sweater clinging to the back of your sweater -- uh, dorky. Or smiling wide-- with a piece of spinach stuck between your front teeth. It's the sort of thing we all do on occasion, and that is why we need to revise, revise, revise.

Intentional repetition on the other hand, can bring in the bongo-drums of musicality! Here are some examples of ye olde poetic technique:

"Man lives in the flicker, Man lives in the flicker."
-- Mark Slade, "The New Metamorphosis" Mosaic 8 (1975), quoted in Marshal McLuhan, "Man and Media," transcript of a talk delivered in 1979, in Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (MIT Press, 2005).

wanting, wanting...

"Wanting to be read, wanting the recognition, whether its Jacqueline Susan-style, all glitz and limos, or sweeping the gland slam of literary events, is not a crime."
-- Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

book my only book...

"You have also never said one word about my poor little Highland book my only book. I had hoped that you and Fritz would have liked it."
-- Queen Victoria (letter to her daughter, 23/12/1865)

money, money, money, money....

"Tancredi, he considered, had a great future; he would be the standard-bearer of a counter-attack which the nobility, under new trappings, could launch against the social State. To do this he lacked only one thing: money; this Tancredi did not have; none at all. And to get on in politics, now that a name counted less, would require a lot of money: money to buy votes, money to do the electors favors, money for a dazzling style of living..."
-- Guiseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopoard


In a previous post I talked about reading as a writer. One thing to notice as you read is where the author repeats a word or phrase-- if you judge it effective.

P.S. Oodles of free resources for creative writers on my workshop page, including "Giant Golden Buddha" & 364 more free 5 minute writing exercises.

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







Monday, September 03, 2018

John Bigelow's Advice to His Sons

This past week, for my book on Far West Texas, I've been working on a paper about Lt. John Bigelow of the Tenth Cavalry. (About this most unusual officer and his long life of many adventures and achievements, see my previous notes here and here, and about his brother Poultney Bigelow here). 

From his father John Bigelow's Retrospections of an Active Life, vol. IV, pp. 535-543:










[no V]






















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






Monday, August 27, 2018

August Vacation: Fourth Monday (Q & A with Other Writers)

This blog posts every Monday. Starting this year, the fourth Monday, except when not, is dedicated to a Q & A with another writer. I'm on vacation this week so, herewith, in case you missed them, a selection of previously posted but especially crunchy Q & As:

Q & A with Sara Mansfield Taber on Chance Particulars: A Writer's Field Notebook

Q & A with Mary S. Black on Travels in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands and Her New Book, From the Frio to Del Rio

Q & A with Mexican Historian Alan Rojas Orzechowski on Painter Santiago Rebull

Q & A with Nancy Peacock on The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson and On Writing in the Whirl of the Digital Revolution

P.S. See also my Conversations with Other Writers Occasional Podcast page, where you can listen in anytime and also read the transcripts.

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

Monday, August 20, 2018

Eeeeeeasyyyy Geeeeeermaaaaan

Sometime in 2019 I'll be blogging more about adventures in learning German; suffice to say I am very ooohsoooveeery slowly but steadily doing the drills and more for this language that oftentimes feels like it's all elbows. One resource I've stumbled upon of late is the Easy German Youtube channel. German is not, actually, at all easy; nonetheless I find what works brilliantly for me is to play the Easy German videos at half speed so that I can follow the captions in both German and in English translation. Everyone sounds stooooned. It's hilarious. But effective. Hats off to you, Easy German! Google says the translation of that would be Hüte weg zu Ihnen. I am not so sure. Ich bin nicht so sicher. Bye! Bis dann!

German Breakfast (to play at half speed, click on the YouTube icon, once on the Youtube page, on the video's lower right hand corner, click on the tool icon. A menu will pop up; click on speed and select half speed.)