Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Doña Cordelia (Otilia) Jordan de Degollado

Herewith the Tuesday update my other blog, Maximilian ~ Carlota, where I share my research from my novel based on the true story, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. Doña Cordelia (Otilia) Jordan de Degollado

In 1923, shortly before the death of the ex-Empress Carlota in Belgium, a Mexican newspaper reporter (or perhaps a pair of them), tracked down the then elderly Doña Cordelia (Otilia) Jordan de Degollado, the American widow of the Mexican Empire's never-received ambassador to Washington. I found the newspaper clipping in the Joaquín and Mariano Degollado archive at the University of Texas, Austin. Here is my translation from the Spanish. (Alas, the article did not carry the reporter's name. It opens with mutliple subtitles, as it appears here.)

A Lady of Carlota's Court Tells How She Lived in Mexico

The sovereign is near death Señora Cordelia Jordan de Degollado

Yesterday She Recalled the Times of the so-called Empire of Maximilian


During that Ephemeral Empire, this Lady was Maximilian's Ambassadress Near the White House

The rumors of the ex-empress Carlota's grave illness published in European newspapers and later, in the Mexican press, inspired us to interview a distinguished octogenarian resident in this capital who was a member of the court of Maximilian von Habsburg's ephemeral imperial government.

We refer to the elderly Doña Cordelia Jordan, widow of Degollado, who lives in an apartment at number 41, Calle de Roma, in the Colonia Juárez, and that is where we arrived, accompanied by our photographer.

After inquiring with the concierge of this immense apartment building, we presented ourselves at the door that belongs to Degollado's widow and although at first the servants who attend her showed great reluctance in admitting us . . .

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Dozen Dialogue Exercises


One of the most powerfully vivid ways to show character, relationship, conflict and/or mood is through the use of dialogue. Herewith, one dozen five minute exercises. Use an egg-timer if you must.

#1. Sprinkle in ze French
An American who was resident in Paris for many years gives a tour of the local art museum to some friends who are mighty impressed (but do they admit it?). Write the scene with dialogue.

#2. Echoing in Dialogue
From Henry James's novel The Portrait of a Lady, here's an example of "echoing" in dialogue:
"She has offered to take her-- she's dying to have Isabel go. But what I want her to do when she gets her there is give her all the advantages. I'm sure all we've got to do," said Mrs. Ludlow, "is to give her a chance."
"A chance for what?"
"A chance to develop."
"Oh Moses!" Edmund Ludlow exclaimed. "I hope she isn't going to develop any more!"
In this example, echoing works well to show the two characters's easy going affection for one another. So, try writing a similar scene with echoing in the dialogue. If you need a prompt: a boss and his/ her ingratiating subordinate planning the new furniture arrangements for the office.

#3. Larry & Saul Bake a Cake
Larry and Saul are elderly brothers. Larry is jealous of Saul. Saul thinks Larry is full of himself. They are in Larry's kitchen making a cake. Write the scene with dialogue.

#4. The Control Freak, the Liar & the Narcissist
Three characters, all members of the same family, sit down to dinner. Show by the things they say to one another that one is a control freak, one a liar, and one a narcissist.

#5. Good Cat, Bad Cat
In a pet store: he wants a cat; she does not. Write 5 lines he could say; then, write 5 lines she could say. Briefly describe the cat in question. If you have time, write the scene.

#6. So Terrible. So Awful.
I was in the women's locker room at my health club when I overheard this scrap of dialogue:
A: "Therapists, what they charge--"
B: "Horrible, that's why I quit."
A: "So terrible."
B: "So awful."

I love the shape of this, the way the women echo the sounds and rhythms of each other's words. Notice the rhyme of "horrible" and then "terrible"; the repetition of "So" ("So terrible; "So awful.")

Another interesting aspect is B's interruption of A.

Here's the exercise: take this dialogue; add some names, descriptions, gestures, etc., and flesh out the scene. You might change "therapists" to "dentists" or, say, "contractors" or "piano teachers"--what have you.

#7. "Three Jackets, Three Men & a Joke"
Describe three jackets. Describe the three men who are wearing them. One man tells a joke. How do the other two react?

#8. "When in Rome"
Do as the Romans do: speak Italian. Have your characters, who are arguing about something (whatever you like) use some or all of the following words and phrases:

Dove? (Where?) Buona notte (Good night) Ha un gelato? (Have you any ice-cream?) una crema de barba (shaving cream) E compreso il servizio? (Is service included?) E sulla strada sbagliata (You're on the wrong road)

#9. Class Envy
Your character hates rich people. Give him 3-4 lines of really nasty dialogue. Then, in two sentences or less, identify the specific source of his feelings.

#10. ##&%#@*!!!
One of the fun things about writing fiction is that you can assume the voice of characters who would do and say all sorts of naughty, slobby things. Here's the exercise: two characters (give them names and a little description) are sitting on a back porch drinking beer. They are arguing over which is the better sports team, and a good portion of their vocabulary consists of swear words. Write the scene with dialogue.

#11. Wedding Dress Dialogue
Mother and daughter are in a changing room, before a floor-length mirror, arguing over one more wedding dress. The mother is thrilled about this wedding; the daughter is tempted to call the wedding off-- but show don't tell. That is, do not have the characters state their feelings, but show them through tone, gesture and indirect comments.Write the scene with dialogue.

#12. Sorry
Cindy, a highly educated, experienced, and competent professional, peppers her conversations with, "I'm sorry" (and then she wonders why she's not been promoted). Sketch a few scenes for Cindy with dialogue.

Help yourself to these and other exercises on dialogue, plotting, beginnings, use of imagery, specificity, synesthesia, and much more at “Giant Golden Buddha & 364 More 5 Minute Writing Exercises.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mexico City Melissa Garden: March 2010

I sometimes feel like I owe a gadzooksalillion e-mails. I fell behind the curve with my booktour back in 2009 and ever since, I feel like I'm just falling farther and farther behind. In part, I know, same as everyone else, I'm just swimming (against? with? ayyy) in the tsunami of the technium. Still, I am keenly aware that behind every e-mail, there is a person, a relationship. So if I owe you an e-mail, please know, well, I'm doing my best. And just as in a chef's mise-en-place, a little break is an important part of the process. Herewith: Picadou, enjoying the Mexico City Melissa Garden (aka my office), this very morning. Right after I took this photo, a hummingbird tried to fly in.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sergio Troncoso Writing in Literal on the Loss of Ciudad Juárez

Wednesdays is the usual day for a guest-blog post here at Madam Mayo, but today I'd like to send you elsewhere-- to read Sergio Troncoso's haunting and important essay for Literal Magazine about the loss of Ciudad Juárez.

The Loss of Juárez: How Has the Violence in Juárez Changed Border Culture?

by Sergio Troncoso

Recently I returned home to El Paso, and as we drove back to Ysleta on the Border Highway a sense of sadness overtook me. My kids, Aaron and Isaac, have for two years been clamoring to go to Mexico. They have studied Spanish in New York City, where we live, and their classroom walls are covered with posters from Latin America and Spain. When we return to Ysleta to visit their abuelitos, that is the opportunity to transform the Spanish language and Mexico to more than just academic subjects, to eat an enchilada or an asadero, rather than just to lick your lips at pictures. . . . CONTINUE READING

Monday, March 21, 2011

Story Farm: Katherine Dunn's Apifera

Can the suddenly and drastically cheaper cost of disseminating information, yoked to creativity, plow up even one of our most ancient equations?

Over the past few years I have been watching the local food movement gather momentum and, at the same time, I've also been fascinated to see how so many writers, as well as artists and small businesses, have been making splendidly creative use of the Internet to market their products (and while the poet in me rather curls my toes at the term "product," the economist in me nods, ho hum).

One artist who combines art and marketing both charmingly and effectively is Katherine Dunn whose blog, Apifera Farm, showcases not only her artwork, her beautiful book on creative illustration, and offers her handmade "raggedy" pillows, sachets, aprons, lavender and more, but also tells the stories of her animals: sheep, chickens with fluffy "underpants," a couple of very athletic chocolate labs, an elderly and prone-to farting one-eyed pug, a multitude of barn cats, and a growing herd of elderly goats and rescued donkeys, including the famous Pino of the pie fests, whom she supports by inviting donations via PayPal, selling her art, and putting on said pie fests.

I don't know Katherine Dunn personally, but after following her blog for a couple of years, I feel as if I do. Judging from the crowd of comments that trail each one of her blog posts--- whether frolicky or sweet or tragic or sassy--- I am not alone. I've bought her book, an apron, a portrait of said pug (back when he had both eyes), and a lavender-filled pillow as a get well gift for my aunt. Translation: I've become a loyal customer. And, as an artist myself (if a literary one), I admire her spunk and dedication, all in the midst of running a farm, to making and marketing her own art.

(Digression: I've been writing and teaching creative writing for many years now and I've seen it over and again: the wannabes, some shiningly talented, who "don't have time" to write. Well, mangos. Some of the most amazing novels have been written on commuter trains or while caring for small children, or in a life of grinding poverty. There is always an excuse not to make art and so, how very apt is the title of Pressfield's book on breaking the block: The War of Art. A second lethal trap for artists is shyness about "self promotion." Yes, there are more than a few narcisstistic nutters in the literary and art worlds, but as I like to say, it's not self-promotion; it's book promotion. Or art promotion. If you owned a donut shop, would you make a batch of donuts and hide them in the alleyway with no sign? If you opened a donut shop and took out an ad to let the neighborhood know, would that be "self-promotion"? Huh?)

But here's what strikes me as an entirely new paradigm, emerging from Katherine Dunn's blog, or platform, if you want to call it that: a newly important variable in valuing animals.

Don't get me wrong: I have no doubt that animals have souls. I consider my own pug a member of the family. If I lived anywhere nearby, I would go to Apifera's annual pie fest and buy an apron to help the rescued donkeys! But I want to talk for a moment as an economist, at the nitty gritty level of dollars and cents.

We think of the value of a farm animal as a function of what it can provide: milk, meat, hides, eggs, feathers. Plug in the cost of feeding, caring for and transporting it, and there you have it: a number. And given that number, it either makes economic sense to raise a chicken or not, to keep another goat or not. Send it to slaughter this month or next month. In sum, to most working farmers throughout time and history, a person who rescues elderly livestock might have a few loose marbles.

I recently had a chat with a Mexican filmmaker who has made what is sure to be a spectacular documentary about goats in Mexico (which includes the Matanza, with all it's fabulously horrifying ritual, as documented some years ago by Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide). I said to him, if I had farm animals, they would all die of old age; I couldn't bear to kill them. Not that I'm vegetarian--- I am happy to get my hamburger and chicken by the pound from the supermarket. A squirmy puzzle of a contradiction, but there you have it. He answered: without death, there is no farm.

What he said was profoundly true and yet--- it occurs to me now--- what if its own story can become one of the variables in calculating an animal's economic value?

I realize this sounds strange, but Katherine Dunn's Apifera Farm demonstrates precisely this. On her blog, Apifera, she tells an animal's story (for example, Giacomo's); this attracts readers (such as myself), and converts some into customers-- perhaps for an apron, a lavender sachet, or a painting. (Again, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying she has a calculating nature, only that there is, plainly, and wonderfully, an economic result from the stories about her animals on her blog. To get a sense of her blog, perhaps the most representative post is this beautiful one.)

In the 21st century, with information so spectaculary cheap to transmit, now that we can read about and see pictures and videos and communicate with and order products from a farm on the other side of the continent at the same lickety-split typing as we might with our own next door neighbor, is it so economically daft to keep a farm, I mean a working, economically viable farm, with animals whose main job is to simply be? To be a chicken fluffing its feathers; a cat meeting new goats; a rescued donkey receiving a hug; to be curious, friendly, jealous, sad, joyous at the new weeds poking up from the gravel. In pictures and words--- in narrative--- an artist sees and then shows us what she sees. And so, by the artist's magic, we see, too. And we begin to care about the individual animals, for their stories, like all stories, always, can give our lives texture, richness, and meaning.

What if, without death, or at least, without unnatural death, the farm lives?

Because what is a farm? What is, for that matter, an art gallery? Can we explode, conflate, mash, weave, interpercolate the concepts?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

A few links for this most splendid o' days.

Roger Mansell (1935 - 2010)
This is my dad's memorial website, which tells about his fascinating (if gruesome) research and the splendid archive he donated to Stanford University's Hoover Institution just last year. He always celebrated St Patrick's Day with a bodacious party. I'm sure he is partying on!

Michael Hogan on the Irish Soldiers of Mexico
The link is to Hogan's guest-blog post about his books on the little-known "San Patricios."

The Life and Work of William Butler Yeats
The National Library of Ireland's website.

The Leprechaun webcam
In Tipperary (where else?)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Little Walls Against the Technium (as of 2011)

Re: Swiss Miss's lament about "too many channels," what with texting, Skyping, e-mailing, FBing, and hence, the general, guilt-laden feeling of o-ver-whelm. I hear ya, sister. The walls aren't high enough to keep out all the waters, but there are some walls. It occurs to me to note what mine are as of March 2011. (Note: This is not an exercise in self-congratulation; the walls definitely need to be higher-- and not to keep communication out per se. My goal, in all this Niagara of craziness, is respond in a more timely and respectful way to communications from family, friends, colleagues, students, and readers.)

No to LinkedIn
Yes, I have an account but I haven't logged in in oh, I guess it's been about a year. Almost every day someone sends me an invitation to join them, and--- nothing personal--- I ignore it. I have to ignore something! (If you really do know me, "friend" me on FB and/ or send me an e-mail.)

A Wet Towel Upon Twitter, Sort Of
Ay, is anyone really reading my tweets anyway?!? It's a ridiculously inefficient way to have a conversation. Yes, I do see some traffic to my blog because of Twitter, but not enough to justify the bother of logging in and (sigh) having my visual field cluttered up with other peoples' tweets. But I admit, I have changed my mind about Twitter about four times now. Follow me @madammayo (P.S. Here's what I had to say about Twitter in 2009.)

UPDATE 2016: My active Twitter accounts are @cmmayo1 and @marfamondays

Nope to MySpace
Never bothered.

Scroogy with Skype
Only four people have my skype address, and one of them has died. The others will die, too; the question is when. (If you are one of those four, please don't die, OK?)

Texting is a Truly Terrible Idea
OMG, no. I used it once, for one day in Istanbul, where my Mexican cell phone did not work. That was enough. My thumbs thank me. The Goddess of Punctuation thanks me. Any and all hotdogging (don't ask) thumbsters who feel the need to text me can use FB or email.

UPDATE 2016: For reals, I do not text. For me as a writer, texting is poison, and email, which is necessary, is already more than enough of a channel of communication.

To Avoid Receiving Phone Calls, Live in Mexico City
As I do... People just can't figure out the area codes, which have how many 5's? It might be easier to call Afghanistan! Yes, I do get telemarketers, but I hang up with such infinite smoothness, I forget they just called.

In the US, check voice mail twice a week
At most. If I can remember. (If it were really important, they would have e-mailed.)

I Would Hammer In My Television For Fun!
My ongoing fantasy is to take a hammer to the screen, but my husband, who occasionally watches the news or baseball, would not appreciate that. Anyway, there are so many channels on the cable service he's subscribed to, I can't figure out where to start watching, and whenever I do start watching, I get a headache. Seriously, I don't watch television.

UPDATE 2016: No Netflix either.

Silly Cell Phone, Almost Never with a Battery
I just continually forget to charge it! And then, a lot of times, even if it is charged, and stashed in my purse, I forget to turn it on! It has this very cool xylophone ringtone and I have never figured out how to get it to work! It vibrates silently, ayyy!

Yea, Verily with Reluctance, to Facebook
It's become a broadcasting platform of sorts, yes, it actually does help sell books and fill reading venues, so I'm there, and every twice in a blue moon, I'll update my status. This blog's feed is integrated into FB's "friend feed," so it no doubt appears I am on-line at FB more often than I really am. P.S. I am sorry, I am not interested in sharing what I am eating, and I don't really care about what you are eating, either, even if you really are my real (not just FB) friend, unless we are actually, like, in meat space, eating together at, like, a table in like, a restaurant. It makes me sad to see social interaction having descended to the level of "like" and "poke." Oh well!

UPDATE 2015: Adios Facebook! The Six Reasons Why I Deactivated My Account

With Red Room, booktour.com, goodreads.com, SheWrites, FB Fan Pages, etc, Bring on the VA
All the social networking sites for books and writers-- that's what I have a virtual assistant for! And she bills me via PayPal on the 15th of each month! And I love her!

UPDATE 2015: Not anymore! I don't bother with any of that anymore and Red Room went dark.

On a schedule. This blog is updated on Mondays, and sometimes in between; my other blog, Maximilian ~ Carlota, is updated on Tuesdays (unless I'm traveling).  once in a while. I used to blog whenever I felt like it. That, I learned, was not a good idea, if I wanted to continue to publish books.

When It Comes to E-mail...Viva, file folders in Outlook Express! More about that anon. Way anon. Ayyy. Back to the Niagara.

UPDATE 2016: Email Ninjerie in the Theater of Space-Time or, This Writer's 10 Point Protocol for Inbox 10 (ish)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Blogs Noted: Malcolm Beith, Leslie Pietrzyk, Burro Hall, Maria Clara Paulino, Lucinda Mayo, Edie Wilson

Burro Hall
Musing on both the uber-local (Querétaro, large city in central Mexico) and wildly-ranging global issues, such as Querétaro vs Japan and pugs in the Revolution. Caveat to the shivery-hearted: not PC.

Mex Files
By Richard Grabman, who is publishing some very interesting books on Mexico.

Malcolm Beith on the media and the drug "war."

Novelist Leslie Pietrzyk's Work-in-Progress on how to organize your books
Thanks, Leslie, for the mention; readers, check out her many links on this endlessly bloggable subject. (Ay, I should have included a link to Gabriel Zaid's consternating masterpiece, So Many Books.)

Maria Clara Paulino's Writings in the Margins
Out of Portugal.

Edie Wilson's Communication is Innovation.

Holly Wilmeth, Photographer (San Miguel de Allende).

Lucinda Mayo, Textle Artist (Guadalajara).

The daily fix: Swiss-Miss, Seth Godin, Cuteoverload.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Decluttering a Library: The Ten Question Could-Be-A-Flowchart

When is it a library and when is it hoarding? A personal library can easily mushroom (ay, and paperbacks do seem to multiply, in multitudinous multitudes) into a gnarly mess. And what good is a library where you can't find the darned book you're looking for?


When I was younger and did not have so many books, I loved them each and all, and never gave a one away (though I did, to my everlasting regret, sell my Nancy Drew mysteries collection to my sister). Then, ten years ago, we moved and I had to give away more boxes of books than I imagined possible. Funny, it got easier and easier... and what with all the extra shelf space, so did going to bookstores and amazon.com... and once again, I found my shelves piled with piles and in general chaos (no, Travels in the Yucatan does not belong with the Beatrix Potter bio, and yikes, did I really need 11 books on crop circles??)

In the process of decluttering anew, these ten questions, in the following order, let me decide quickly and easily what to do with each book. I'm filing this post under Future Reminders to Take My Own Advice; should this serve you also, gentle reader, that would be grand.

1. Am I reading it now?
--->If yes, goes to the READING NOW shelf. If no, on to question 2.

2. Am I planning to read it in the next [fill in the blank]?
For me I have enough shelf space right now to say, "the next couple of years." Do try to be realistic, if inevitably (sigh) optimistic.
-->If yes, goes to the READING SOON shelf. If no, on to question 3.

3. Is it part of a collection?
Collections have value on many levels, and the moreso when curated with thought and care. Mine include autographed first editions; Mexican art books; Baja Californiana, Maximiliana, and 19th and 20th century English language travel memoirs of Mexico.
-->If yes, goes to the appropriate shelf. If no, on to question 4.

4. Does it have serious sentimental value? Because everything may have some sentimental value, this needs to be rated on a scale of, say, 1 - 10. I have enough shelf space right now that a minimum of 5 on a scale of 1 - 10 works for me.
-->If yes, goes to appropriate shelf. If no, on to question 5.

5. Is it necessary for reference?
This also needs to be rated on a scale. I'm going for a 7.5 on a scale on 1 - 10. If you live in a mansion, maybe a 2 or 3 would do; if you live in Manhattan in 2 feet square, maybe you'd need it to be an absolute 10 +.
-->If yes, goes to REFERENCE shelf or appropriate shelf by subject. If no, on to question 6.

6. Would someone I know be happy to have it?
-->If yes, goes into an envelope / box and out the door! If no, on to question 7.

7. Can I sell it?
A lot of people don't realize that some of their older books have value. (How about a 1st edition signed copy of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake? You might buy a car with that.) And even if they're crummy old paperbacks, if you have enough of them, I suppose you could squeegee together a little mountain of cash.
-->If yes, goes onto the TO SELL shelf. And answer question 8. If no, skip directly to question 9.

8. Yeah, but honestly, am I really going to get around to selling it?
The transaction cost might not be worth it. --->If yes, well, cool beans. Stop here, and proceed to next book. If no, on to question 9.

9. Can it be donated?
It's a lovely idea to imagine that the donation of a book might help a library or other nonprofit, and ultimately, be read by others. Please do it! (Certainly a lot of organizations would be thrilled to have that signed first edition of Finnegan's Wake.) And don't overlook historical associations and university libraries. Grandpa's self-published memoir of his time as a POW during WWII; great grandma's xeroxed and saddle-stapled family history; a highschool year book from 1939 or, say, 1899, might be very welcome on certain shelves. That said, alas, some books are in such bad shape (coffee stains, cracked spines, yellowed, torn pages, etc) that no one wants them, and when you haul them over to, say, Goodwill or your local library, you're not helping; you're just giving someone else the unpleasant chore of throwing it in the dumpster.
-->If yes, goes into the DONATION BOX. (I keep mine in the hall closet. When it fills up, it goes to the basket in the basement, and when that fills up, it all goes into the back of the car, and from there to wherever it needs to go.) If no, on to question 10.

10. Can it be recycled into furniture, insulation, a jewelry box, or art?
-->If yes, goes to your WORKSHOP / STUDIO.

If the answer has been "no" to all ten questions, light a candle and give it a blessing if you must, but PUT IT IN THE PAPER RECYCLING BIN. This really is the last, the very last, very horrible, very sad, very karmically problematic resort. Oh well!

More anon.

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

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Rod Jellema's Master Class in Poetry at the Writer's Center

March 15 is the deadline to apply to Rod Jellema's Poetry Master Class at the Writer's Center. He is an amazing poet and for any poet who wants to hone their craft, this is a rare opportunity.

The Fortnightly Poetry Consortium with Rod Jellema
Application for this workshop is free. If you are accepted, we will contact you for payment. To be considered for this workshop, please submit 6 poems to Rod Jellema Workshop, The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. Submission deadline: March 15. Maximum 12 participants.

Between each meeting, members agree to do at least 6 pre-poem exercises, 15 minutes maximum, using a list of recommended exercises. This provides a growing stock of favored words, images, phrases and lines from which each member will make one poem for each meeting.

Members will submit with the poem the initial exercise and a one-page “Work Sheet” tracing the process through which the poem was born. Discussion will focus more on the creative process than on the poem as an artifact. Members will be showing each other the infinity of possibilities and discoveries in creating freely with words.

Fee: $270 (Members receive a 13% discount)
Date: April 2, 16 and 30, May 14, June 4 and 18
Day: 6 Saturdays
Time: 2:00-4:30 P.M.
Genre(s): Poetry
Level: Master Class
Location: Bethesda

Workshop Meets April 2, 16 and 30, May14, June 4 and 18. Required text: The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach.

More anon.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Guest-blogger Essayist and Playright Margaret Dulaney on 5 Reasons to Trust the Muse

Margaret Dulaney is the creator of the Spoken Word Website, Listen Well, an open-faith website which explores the divine through story and metaphor. Most of her "offerings," as she calls them, are hers, and charming they are: I like to listen to them while at lunch. You might like to settle on a bench under a lovely tree... Listen Well has also hosted Sophy Burnham, author of The Art of Intuition, reading from her book. No doubt a most marvelous muse prompted Margaret to create and launch Listen Well. Over to you, Margaret!

Five Reasons to Trust your Muse
by Margaret Dulaney

This morning while I was writing a piece for my Spoken Word Site, Listen Well, and as I sat searching for a particularly tricky word, in it popped, loud, sure, and handed to me, as I would hand a treat to my dog: POP, right in the mouth. “Nomenclature!” It bellowed.

“Oh there you go again, giving me words that I wouldn’t think of using, and of which I am not even sure I know the meaning.”

I open my dictionary, as I’ve done hundreds, perhaps thousands of times on such occasions. Of course the word was perfect; it couldn’t have been more perfect.

I am thoroughly convinced that I have a very well-educated, egg-headed muse that helps me put words together. I can almost see him. Yes, he is decidedly a him, (not sure why). I imagine him to be a departed soul who lived somewhere around the turn of the twentieth century. He adores Ralph Waldo Emerson and Charles Dickens, and interestingly enough, so do I! He has a tremendous respect for words, (like the Japanese, he believes that words have souls). He doesn’t mind my spelling at all, thinks it’s comical, but then I have been speaking more than printing lately.

Books of collected quotations are odious to him, he can be a terrible snob at times. I sense him sniffing, “short cuts” he mutters, “If you need a quote I’ll find it for you,” and he does! He’s remarkable! I will be lead, as if on leash, directly to the very line that most fits my need. Really, he is a darling. I know this would embarrass him to hear, but then come to think of it, he might have put the word darling in my head, he really is that clever. I am so grateful to him that I have imagined writing him a letter. It would go something like this.

Dear, dear friend,

Don’t ever think of getting another job!

Love, Margaret

Five reasons to trust the Muse

1) Muses have better vocabulary.

Words can be Sticky Wickets (11-16-2010); it’s best to trust an expert.

2) They are champs with a metaphor.
Mine gave me the image of a child scientist dissecting a frog for one of my Listen Well offerings, A Small Matter of Great Importance (1-16-2011). I was so grateful.

3) The Muse is like a floating library. Need a quote? Just ask!
They are the ones that search out and introduce you to writers that you might love. If you're lucky, they may be living!
Like C.M. Mayo and Sophy Burnham (2-15-2011).

4)They write by ear, and would never laugh at your spelling.
This funny piece from the Washington Post had me howling with painful empathy.

5) The Muse won’t show up unless you love what you’re writing.
Love seems to be the door through which the muse walks, be sure and clean your cottage well: Our Cottages.

--- Margaret Dulaney

---> For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blogs, click here. Recent guest-bloggers include Janice Eidus, Michael Hogan, Richard Goodman, Ellen Meeropol, and Roberta Rich.