Friday, September 29, 2006

Zyzzyva Speaks

Howard Junker, editor of Zyzzyva, informs Madamn Mayo that he too is blogging. Blog on! Tameme is going to get a blog, too, one of these days...

That Hat

"That Hat" is today's 5 minute writing exercise-- the penultimate one. Tomorrow, September 30th, will be the last day I post these. I began on October 1, 2005, so the year's worth will be complete. I'll leave them on-line. Hope they're both fun and helpful.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What Would Ronald Reagan Say?

Madam Mayo is in despair. She sure would like to call up her Senator and give 'em an earful. But get this-- as a resident of the District of Columbia, she has no voting representation in the House or the Senate. That's right: US citizens who are DC residents have no vote in the House or the Senate. And about this wall they want to build along the US-Mexican border? What would Ronald Reagan say about that? Check out this speech. If you're over the age of 20, you might remember it.

Stop the Abuse of Power and Stand Up for Freedom: ACLU Membership Conference, October 15-18 in Washington DC

Click here to sign up. Yes, Madam Mayo is a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union. You betcha.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

History At Chapters A Literary Bookstore

A moment in Writer's Center history! If I do say so myself. Last night I gave the Writers Center's first-ever workshop at the Chapters Literary Bookstore in downtown Washington DC--- on literary travel writing. What an amazingly eclectic and talented group--- writing about Afghanistan, New Mexico, Positano, India... and a local backyard... (after all, one need not to go far to see with new eyes). Chapters is one of my favorite places in DC. It's a cozy little store with an unsually high quality selection of books-- and a breeze of a walk from the Metro Center stop. (About my literary travel writing workshops: I'll be offering more this fall at the Writers Center in Bethesda MD and also at the F. Scott Fiztgerald Writers Conference in Rockville MD. More info here.)

By the way, Chapters also runs a superb reading series. Tonight at 7 pm Janis Cooke Newman will be reading and signing her novel, Mary, a major new historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln. Apropos of tonight's reading, Newman has a fun guest blog post over at Wendi Kaufman's The Happy Booker.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Miraculous Air --- in Paperback from Milkweed Editions, Spring 2007

Here's the cover of the paperback. It'll be out this spring from Milkweed Editions. (Why is there an angel carrying a tiny house on the cover? Click here to find out.)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Taj Mahal, Etc.

"Taj Mahal, Etc" is today's 5 minute writing exercise. I'm posting them daily on my my website through September 30th, at which time I will leave the whole 365 on-line. Hope it's fun. By the way, click here to read about the writing workshops I'm giving this fall--- including one on literary travel writing at Chapters.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Eric Maisel's Creativity Newsletter

Eric Maisel is a creativity coach (he's pioneered the field), family therapist, and the author of A Writer's Paris, Coaching the Artist Within, Fearless Creating, The Creativity Book, The Van Gogh Blues, and other books on the creative life. Madam Mayo is not a client, but she's certainly a fan. His creativity newsletters are free, by the way-- just go to his website to sign up.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

At Chapters, September 26th: A Literary Travel Writing Workshop

I'm giving three travel writing writing workshops this fall in the Washington DC area. First up is a workshop (via the Writers Center) at Chapters A Literary Bookstore this Tuesday September 26th (6:30-8:30 pm):
Take your travel writing to another level: the literary, which is to say, giving the reader the novelistic experience of actually traveling there with you. For both beginning and advanced writers, this three hour workshop covers the techniques from fiction and poetry that you can apply to this specialized form of creative nonfiction for deliciously vivid effects.

For more information and to register, click here. My website,, has information about my travel writing, including Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California the Other Mexico, which I am delighted to say will be available in paperback this spring from Milkweed Editions. More about the other travel writing workshops is here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Short History of Sweet Potato Pie and How it Became a Flying Saucer

More from the DC Shorts Film festival: A strange, sweet and silly film, and especially strange to me, as I recognized so many of the cast members from the Safeway at the Watergate. Here's the synopsis:
In the tradition of 'Chocolat' comes 'Sweet Potato Pie.' Here is the true story of Pearl Mallory who works as a cook at the St. Mary's Court Retirement Home in Washington, DC. Hailing from rural Virginia, Pearl is one of eight children borne of the sons and daughters of slaves, Now, by the age of 82, she has lived nearly her entire life in kitchens cooking for senior citizens. But Pearl's cuisine is not the traditional beige and grey offerings normally found in the institutional walls of old people's homes. Her specialty-- Sweet Potato Pie. Mixed into the sweet cream, orange fruit, and exotic spices of Pearl's concoction is her inextricable connection with her tangled Southern roots and with her unyielding devotion to the Lord. She creates an irresistible and magical potion. With it's rich perfume, earthy taste, and silken lustre, Pearl's Sweet Potato Pie inspires the most extraordinary and unexpected effect on the normally sober and otherwise staid residents of St. Mary's Home. 'Sweet Potato Pie' is all the evidence you need to know that 'You are what you eat.'
But I think the real star of this film was Pearl's artist friend, a St Mary's Home resident who fell into baroque raptures over the color orange and, later, went around the dining room shooting everyone's pie with a can of Cool Whip.


Sunday night Madam Mayo went to the DC Shorts Film Festival's "Best of DC Shorts" screening at the E Street theater. One excellent short film (really short: only 8 minutes) was Zombie-American, the story of Glen, who happens to be a Zombie. Madam Mayo cannot bring herself to tell what he did with the Q-Tip. (And by the way, yes, she is still, like, totally having a major cow about RFIDs.)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Secret RFID Testing in the US and in Mexico

Levi Strauss & Co has put RFIDs into clothing in two undisclosed locations in Mexico, according to a April 27, 2006 press release on the Spy Chips website. To wit:
New information confirms that Levi Strauss & Co. is violating a call for a moratorium on item-level RFID by spychipping its clothing. What's more, the company is refusing to disclose the location of its U.S. test. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a controversial technology that uses tiny microchips to track items from a distance. These RFID microchips have earned the nickname "spychips" because each contains a unique identification number, like a Social Security number for things, that can be read silently and invisibly by radio waves. Over 40 of the world's leading privacy and civil liberties organizations have called for a moratorium on chipping individual consumer items because the technology can be used to track people without their knowledge or consent. Jeffrey Beckman, Director of Worldwide and U.S. Communications for Levi Strauss, confirmed his company's chipping program in an email exhange with McIntyre, saying "a retail customer is testing RFID at one location [in the U.S.]...on a few of our larger-volume core men's Levi's jeans styles." However, he refused to name the location. "Out of respect for our customer's wishes, we are not going to discuss any specifics about their test," he said. Beckman also confirmed the company is tagging Levi Strauss clothing products, including Dockers brand pants, at two of its franchise locations in Mexico... Read the rest here.
Who's next? What's next? And what about books? What shall happen to us all when RFIDs get into books? But Orwell knew the answer to that. Ojo: the Spanish version of Spy Chips is out in Spanish: Chips Espias.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

So Who Is Bruce Schneier?

Madam Mayo first heard the name yesterday when she read his op-ed piece about RFIDs in the Washington Post. Bruce Scheier is a security expert with several books published, as well as a blog and a raft of articles you can read online here. One of the best is "Your Vanishing Privacy." To read more about RFIDs, see my last two posts. Two key things about RFIDs: they're extremely tiny; they transmit.

The ACLU on the Dangers of RFIDs

Read the ACLU's letter of strong protest here.

RFIDs Are Coming: Get Your Passport Renewed

A few months ago I read Spy Chips, a fascinating and deeply disturbing book about RFIDs, the new "spychips." RFIDs are not-- repeat, not-- similar to any tags you've seen before. (Read more at And now --- the outrage du jour-- the U.S. government wants to put them in your passport. In today's Washington Post, security expert Bruce Schneier writes:

If you have a passport, now is the time to renew it -- even if it's not set to expire anytime soon. If you don't have a passport and think you might need one, now is the time to get it. In many countries, including the United States, passports will soon be equipped with RFID chips. And you don't want one of these chips in your passport.

RFID stands for "radio-frequency identification." Passports with RFID chips store an electronic copy of the passport information: your name, a digitized picture, etc. And in the future, the chip might store fingerprints or digital visas from various countries.

By itself, this is no problem. But RFID chips don't have to be plugged in to a reader to operate. Like the chips used for automatic toll collection on roads or automatic fare collection on subways, these chips operate via proximity. The risk to you is the possibility of surreptitious access: Your passport information might be read without your knowledge or consent by a government trying to track your movements....
click here to read the rest.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Into the Home Stretch on the Daily 5

It was on October 1st, 2005 that I began posting a daily 5 minute writing exercise. I will be posting them until September 30th, at which point I will stop, but leave the year's worth of them on-line here. Click here to check out today's exercise.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sept 13th @ 7 pm Reading & Signing @ Georgetown's Book Hill

I'll be reading from & signing Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion at the Georgetown (Washington DC) Public Library, the old mansion on top of "Book Hill" at Wisconsin Ave & R Sts. tonight at 7 pm. The event is free and open to the public. More info about the book and other events here. Hasta pronto... that is, more anon, including a post about Maximilandia...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

News From Mexico

From Ann Hazard comes the report that Baja California's East Cape was devastated by the recent hurricane. She sends this website with news and photos. She's going to be setting up a relief fund. More anon about that. And Mexico has a new president: Felipe Calderon. I'm off to Queretaro, back blogging after the 12th.

Enrique Krauze on Mexico's Presidential Elections

What is going on in Mexico? It helps to understand some history. In today's Washington Post, Mexican historian Enrique Krauze offers a concise description of the mess and what's at stake. For more news, check out the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute's Mexico Elections web page.

Monday, September 04, 2006

To Queretaro & San Miguel de Allende

Madam Mayo is heading south:

September 7th I will be presenting Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion with Mexican writer Araceli Ardon ---(read her fabulous short story, "It Is Nothing of Mine", on the National Public Radio website here)---and Mexican literary critic Maria Teresa Azuara at the Museo de Arte de Queretaro. The event is at 8 pm-- details here.

September 8th, from 5 - 7 pm, I'll be reading from Miraculous Air and also Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, together with writer and dream expert Joseph Dispenza, in the San Miguel Author's Sala. The founder, who will be introducing me, is Susan Page, whose book, by the way, The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book, is one I very highly recommend to all my writing students.

Back blogging after September 12th.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

In Honor of Daniel Pinchbeck's new book, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, the Daily 5 Minute Writing Exercise Gets an Aztec Headdress

Today's 5 minute writing exercise is "The Story of the Aztec Headdress." (Pictured left is Moctezuma's headdress, a present from Cortez to Carlos V, now in a museum in Austria.) About Daniel Pinchbeck's 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl: Pinchbeck is either a nut or a courageous visionary who, by the way, is quite a good writer. Madam Mayo is not at all sure what to make of this very curious book. Check out what he has to say about his recent Rolling Stone interview here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Obsessed by Peaches

Is today's 5 minute writing exercise. I've been posting these since October 1st, so I'm almost up to 365. View the index here. Why 5 minutes? Click here for 5 reasons. Do I do them myself? You betcha. (I'm almost finished with the complete draft of my novel.)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party

Out of 10 stars I give this movie an 11, and I'd give it a 12 if it weren't more than a little bit amateurish. But this is completely excusable! Robert Brinkmann's quirky, self-financed film was made without a script and in only 3 days of shooting. And: it's star is Stephen Tobolowsky, the swim-with-the-dolphins zen master shoulder-to-the-shovel heart-of-a-child genius of a character actor, and he, let me tell you, is a rare blessing upon our culture and our age. You may not recognize the name Stephen Tobolowsky, but surely you'll recognize his face. He's acted in over 150 movies. To sum it up, "Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party" is like "My Dinner with Andre" but 10,000 times better.