Monday, June 30, 2014

The Useful Life: A Crown to the Simple Life

I oftentimes cannot believe my luck-- our luck-- with I've been writing and researching for my writing long enough to well remember when finding books was a question of going to the library or, in some cases, shelling out the money for a copy. Oftentimes, when the library was in another city, this was time-consuming and expensive task. For many things we still need to research in archives, of course. But wow, I have found such a wonder of a trove, saved so much time and money with One small example is this book, The Useful Life: A Crown to the Simple Life, as Taught by Emanuel Swedenborg, with an introduction by John Bigelow.

I'd written about Bigelow (much of it based on my research into his personal papers in the NY Public Library's manuscript Division, his dispatches to Secretary of State Seward, and Margaret Clapp's biography of Bigelow, Forgotten First Citizen) in my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire.

In a slice of a few years out of his long, rich and very active life, Bigelow served as US ambassador to France during the US Civil War and the French Intervention in Mexico. He was instrumental in convincing Luis Napoleon to not only refuse to support the Confederacy, but to then withdraw French troops from Mexico. Bigelow also attempted to help the parents of the prince, Agustin de Iturbide y Green, reclaim their child from Maximilian von Habsburg.

Once my novel was published, that was the end of researching Bigelow, so I thought. As I was writing Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual, apropos of my translation of that book, imagine my surprise to find that among the American Swdenborgians-- followers of the Swedeish scientist and mystic whose ideas were forerunners to Spiritualism-- was Bigelow. And finding his books about that? A quick search in turned up this gem.

P.S. Another great tool for researchers is For any given book, this shows which libraries have it.

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A Couple of Abolitionists

A Window to the Invisible World: Master Amajur and the Smoking Signatures

Andrew Jackson Davis, the Seer of Poughkeepsie

The Burned-Over District

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why I Am a Mega-Fan of the Filofax

It was wicked fun doing a post a for Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools blog on my seriously uncool Internet password management system, so I just had to write for Cool Tools about my other favorite paper-based organizing tool, the Filofax Personal Organizer. (Note: I have no connection whatsoever with this company except as a delighted customer.)

Sturdy, Customizable, Portable Paper-Based Organizing System: The Filofax Personal Organizer

Why a paper-based organizing system in this digital age? First, as Get Things Done guru David Allen puts it, “low-tech is oftentimes better because it is in your face.” Second, last I checked (channeling Jaron Lanier here), I am not a gadget. I cherish the tools that help me stay organized, yet allow me to abide within generous swaths of Internet-free time—formally known as normal life (you know, when you didn't see everyone doing the thumb-twiddling zombie shuffle). The Filofax personal organizer is one of them. 

I got my first Filofax over 25 years ago and it has been a love story ever since. Part of this English company’s century-old line of organizers originally developed for engineers, it is a beautifully made 6-ring loose leaf binder. With the Filofax diary, address book, paper inserts and other items that get tucked in there, for most users, it fattens up to the size of a paperback edition of Anna Karenina. Or, say, a Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwich. Right, it does not fit in a coat pocket.
Depending on the model, the Filofax personal organizer comes with an assortment of pockets on both the inside and outside flaps. Mine also includes a pen holder on the right and a highlighter holder on the left, and it closes securely, so no loose items (such as that drycleaner’s ticket) can fall out.
Filofax sells a cornucopia of inserts for the 6 ring binder, from a wide variety of configurations for the diary refill, to a personal ruler/ page marker, maps of most major cities, a pad for assorted sticky notes, checkbook holder, business card holder, super-thin calculator, extra paper in a rainbow of colors, index tabs, a portable hole punch, and an address book, among other items. 
Countless are the ways to configure one’s Filofax personal organizer. I’ve evolved into using the Week on Two Pages diary for noting appointments, birthdays, and any time-sensitive to-dos; two rulers/ page markers; the assorted sticky notes pad (though now with my own, more economical, Post-Its); the address book at the back; plus a “page” of plastic sleeves for business cards. I stash items such as stamps and paperclips in the front inner pocket (especially handy when traveling). Tickets (drycleaners, concerts) go in another pocket. In addition, I made up several tabbed sections to index my personal, financial, business, and other to do / might one day do lists, to which I slap on ideas scribbled on Post-Its as they occur to me. The tabbed sections follow my personal interpretation of David Allen’s Get Things Done  (GTD) system—his basic idea being, capture all your to dos in one “bucket” you regularly revisit, and thereby can clear your mind for more clarity and creativity in the present moment. (To track more complex medium and long-term projects, I use the Projecteze system of a Word.doc table which relies on the sorting feature—that’s another post.)
As for address book, it’s not my main nor my only address book, just the addresses I like to keep handy in this particular system—so, in part, it serves as a paper backup for the most vital addresses, and those I regularly consult when making appointments or sending birthday cards and such.
Usually the Filofax stays open on my desk-- which works for me, but clearly that won’t be ideal for those who work in less private and/or mobile situations. I take it with me when I travel or attend meetings where I might need to review my schedule or consult the to do lists and/or address book. 
High-end stationary, luggage, and department stores often carry the Filofax line of organizers and inserts—as does— but to ensure that I get exactly what I want when I want it, I order the refill for the following year from the Filofax USA’s on-line shop on September 1st. At year’s end—following the advice of my tax accountant who says it could be handy in case of an audit—I file the diary with the rest of that year’s tax documents.
There are four major disadvantages to this system. None of them torpedo it for me, but they might for you:
(1) It’s a paper-based system, and for those who want their hand-held and/or laptop to be their all, and the many bells-and-whistles of a cloud-based system, clearly, it’s a head-shaker.
(2) High cost. You get what you pay for, however, and I have been happy to pay for the refills and other accessories because their simple and elegant design inspires me to stay better organized. For those who bristle at such prices, however, it would certainly be possible to make a homemade version of many of the inserts.
(3) Security risk. One’s office or house could burn down or someone could steal the Filofax—but then again, they couldn’t hack into it at 3 in the morning from Uzbekistan, either. 
(4) Bulk and weight. I can easily toss my Filofax into a briefcase or shoulderbag, but without an on-call chiropractor, I wouldn’t want to haul it around on a walk. That said, when I go for a walk, I go for a walk. 

> Your COMMENTS are always welcome.

Cyberflanerie: Harry Ransom, Michael K. Schuessler, Tina Larkin, Sophy Burnham, Clay Shirky & more

Researchers and translators take note: The Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas has just made available a magnificent collection, with data base, of Spanish Theater and "Comedias Sueltas." Read more in English or in Spanish.

My amigo Michael K. Schuessler has just published a gorgeous and important book with University of Arizona Press: Foundational Arts: Mural Painting and Missionary Theater in New Spain. From the catalog:
In Foundational Arts Michael K. Schuessler asserts that the literature of New Spain begins with missionary theater and its intimate relationship to mural painting. In particular, he examines the relationships between texts and visual images that emerged in Mexico at two Augustinian monasteries in Hidalgo, Mexico, during the century following the Spanish Conquest. The forced combination of the ideographical tradition of Nahuatl with Latin-based language alphabets led to a fascinating array of new cultural expressions.
Missionary theater was organized by ingenious friars with the intent to convert and catechize indigenous populations. Often performed in Nahuatl or other local languages, the actors combined Latin-based language texts with visual contexts that corresponded to indigenous ways of knowing: murals, architectural ornamentation, statuary, altars, and other modes of visual representation. By concentrating on the interrelationship between mural painting and missionary theater, Foundational Arts explores the artistic and ideological origins of Mexican plastic arts and literature. 

Listen in to my interview with Michael Schuessler about his previous books about Mexico and Mexican writers, for Conversations with Other Writers
Paper Crown from Art We Heart

Love-love-love these paper crowns from Art We Heart. Must, must, must have.

Oh, she seems so happy: Artist Tina Larkin and Purple HarpMobile.

Sophy Burnham's 10 Rules of the Universe.

Clay Shirky rants about women. (Having just nudged a couple of girlfriends with their unnecessarily modest CVs, I'd say he's right on. Anyway, a very interesting perspective, well worth reading and pondering.) 

Big Data blog by Igor Carron with a snow-cool title: Nuit Blanche.

Georgia O'Keeffe's hands: a brief and very unusual podcast by hand analyst Janet Savage.

Homicide Watch for Washington DC: a much needed and well-done blog. (So many murders, so little press.) 

Speaking of DC, Wilson Quarterly has launched as a digital.

Greg Borzo interviews me for the University of Chicago Social Sciences Division newsletter, about my new book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution. 

COMMENTS always welcome.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Cyberflanerie: Book Binding, Laundry Apps, POWs, Translations, Speedometers, Yogic Intersections & Etc.

Jeff Peachy has been binding books for 25 years

Silicon Valley's Laundry App Race (NY Magazine)

James Cecil Collier (1923-2014) RIP. One of the last of the POWs of WWII.

My dad's book, Captured: The Forgotten Men of Guamstill getting great reviews.

Roger Greenwald has just published GUARDING THE AIR: SELECTED POEMS OF GUNNAR HARDING. He says: "Guarding the Air is the first large selection of Harding’s poetry to appear in English: 112 poems drawn from eleven of the fourteen books Harding has published that contain poetry in verse. As well as line drawings by the poet, the book contains a brief introduction, a guide to the poetry in the form of Harding’s prefaces to his three Swedish volumes of selected poems, and extensive endnotes."

The spring issue of Ezra translation journal is out

Seth Godin on speedometer confusion

In case you were wondering, too: Swiss Miss asks, What is Alibaba?

Krishnamurti and Iyengar (Thanks for the tip, amiga K.)

"Horreo panorámico" in Margolles on airbnb.

Things That Don't Scale (hmmm… crunchy…)

COMMENTS always welcome.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Novel about Palacio in Palacio

This is all in Spanish, but I know many of you, dear readers, do speak it. So here's the big news: my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empiretranslated by Agustín Cadena as El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano, will be featured on Tuesday July 15, 2014 in the series of talks on (my translation) "Maximilian in Mexico, A Fictionalized History." The talks are all free and open to the public and held in the Recinto de Homenaje a Don Benito Juárez of Mexico City's National Palace. 
It will be a very special honor for me to present the novel together with Agustín Cadena, for his translation is such a superb one; he is one of Mexico's most accomplished literary writers (and I have been honored to translated some of his short stories); and he is an expert on the novels of the 19th century. (Those baggy monsters… which mine most definitely is.)
(Don't know who Maximilian was and why Mexicans find him so endlessly worthy of conferences and novels and conferences about the novels? Start here.)

Click here for the official announcement

Las escrituras de la historia son variables y a su vez coincidentes. La intrigante pasión por develar la memoria colectiva atrapa por igual tanto a historiadores como a novelistas. Mientras el historiador se ocupa de que los hechos narrados sean verdaderos, el novelista pretende sobre todo que estos sean verosímiles. Sin embargo, cuando el novelista se ocupa de narrar los “grandes” relatos de la historia, éste no puede fácilmente escabullirse del dato histórico, materia prima para el historiador. 
Para conocer las claves de la novela histórica y experiencia creativa de la escritura en voz de algunos de sus representantes, el Recinto de Homenaje a Don Benito Juárez organizó el ciclo de entrevistas presenciales y conferencias: MAXIMILIANO EN MÉXICO, UNA HISTORIA NOVELADA.

José Manuel Villalpando
Martes 1, 17:00 horas/ Entrada libre

Entrevista al autor por Bertha Hernández
Martes 8, 17:00 horas/ Entrada libre 

Agustín Cadena
Martes 15, 17:00 / Entrada libre

Entrevista al autor por Leopoldo Silberman
Jueves  24, 17:00 horas

Alfredo Moreno Flores
Martes 29, 17:00 horas / Entrada Libre


Entrevista al autor por Bertha Hernández
Martes 5, 17:00 horas / Entrada Libre

Entrevista al autor por Ariel Ruiz
Martes 12, 17:00 horas / Entrada Libre
Entrevista al autora por Guadalupe Lozada
Martes 19, 17:00 horas / Entrada Libre

Carlos Mújica
Martes 26, 17 horas / Entrada Libre

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cyberflanerie: Mexico City, Patzcuaro, Tijuana & Tulum Edition

You're Eating Fake Tacos and Diana Kennedy is Pissed About It  by Daniel Hernandez
P.S. Diana Kennedy is a true treasure: teacher, caretaker, visionary. Her name may not be hispanic, but she knows Mexican cuisine better than anyone, including, yes, the Mexicans.

The always excellent and informative Exploring Colonial Mexico, lately on Enrique Luft Pávlata.

Sam Quinones doesn't like Tijuana, he loves it! (Yes, Yours Truly has visited and had quite a bit to say about it, too. But I didn't get to the opera.)

Victor: Artes Populares Mexicanas, now in new digs near the Claustro Sor Juana, upstairs from Librería Madero. I was about to blog about this charming rinconcito, but my amigo, artist and travel writer, Jim Johnston, beat me to it in his blog, Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler. 

Speaking of rinconcitos, Mexico Cooks! has another bodacious post about the new market in Col. Roma. Nicholas Gilman chimes in on his blog, Good Food in Mexico City.

My amiga the ever adventurous DC-based writer Judy Leaver is learning Spanish in Tulum.

David Lida says Federico Gama is the best photojournalist working in Mexico City today.

Burro Hall is still reporting on the usual wackiness. (Hey, karma police, the guy has an elderly pug.)

COMMENTS always welcome.

Kate Phillips' essay in The Atlantic: Springtime in Tiananmen Square

My amiga the writer Kate Phillips, an eyewitness to 1989, has just published this riveting piece in The Atlantic online.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cyberflanerie: Bookstores, Happening & Not

C'est moi, C.M. Mayo, with Uli Quetzalpugtl
visiting Prairie Lights in Iowa City
Recently as I breezed through Iowa City, of course-- but of course-- I stopped in at Prairie Lights, the book lover's midwestern Mecca, which I last visited in (uyyy) 1990. In tow: puglet Uli Quetzalpugtl, my new writing assistant. Right now, Uli Q. has two speeds: wiggly-wiggly and dead asleep. Anyway, Prairie Lights, I am delighted to report, remains a handsome space, its vast inventory a pleasure cruise of discovery. Oh, the contrast to your average airport bookstore or Barnes & Noble, with its paid-for displays, was RE-FRESH-ING. As Uli Q. might say, like a wiggly loll on the grass.

More about bookstores:

A profile of Joyce Meskis, owner of Denver's iconic Tattered Cover Book Store. (Fun factoid: I am slated to introduce her at this year's Women Writing West conference in Golden, Colorado.)

And here is my recent Women Writing the West listserv comment in response to a writer who shared her experience marketing to bookshops and specialty shops in the tourist town where her several books are set (what she had to say was most interesting, but these listervs are private, so I only quote myself):
Re: marketing to a specific place... I went through some similar things with my book on Mexico's Baja California peninsula, Miraculous Air. One would think that it would find a good market with US and Canadian and other visitors to Los Cabos and yonder (there are, literally, millions, flying & driving & sailing in) and it got rave reviews, including in the Los Angeles Times, but-- though I hasten to add that a few bookstores such as El Tecolote in Todos Santos and Baja Book & Maps were quick to carry it-- the sad thing is, most people, and that includes many gift shop owners, don't care about books. They just don't. They don't get it and they won't get it. And they are overwhelmed with dealing with inventory and paperwork as it is. 
This is why I am thrilled with on-line booksellers such as amazon-- which I know isn't perfect, I know it's been a nightmare for independent bookstores--- because the people who actually do read, who actually would care to read a literary travel memoir such as Miraculous Air, can google it up, or surf on in from my webpage and get a copy lickety split. With a wifi connection, they can even download the Kindle and start reading right there, on the plane or on the beach-- and I am happy to report, a good number do. Better yet, I actually get paid for those Kindles-- which in my experience as a literary magazine editor, is rarely the case for books left on consignment. 
That said, I have heard of some authors doing splendidly well with just the right store for their books. Thank you, [name], for sharing your experience with this, and I for one hope to hear more. The book business has always been a bit of a mystery to me and certainly it is changing fast. 
PS I also think retail itself is changing fast-- that's another subject.

And Gregory Gibson, an author and owner of Ten Pound Island, has some interesting things to say about how the used and antiquarian books business has changed, on his blog: 

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Ye olde ode to bookshoppes of yore (Red Room)
Why Aren't There More Readers? A Note on Curiosity, Creativity, and Courage
Top 10 Books Read 2013
The future of bookstores (guest post for Carmen Amato)
My shop (yeah!)

COMMENTS always welcome

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Changing of the Guards (A Comment on Self-Publishing)

    • I couldn't resist jumping in on this one. Here's my comment to Saurav Dutt's blog post, "The Changing of the Guards."
      @intralingo [Lisa Carter] tweeted this blog post, which is how I found it. I didn't have it served up to me in the NYT or whatever. The whole writing & reading scene is going horizontal & networked, that's the thing.
      I'm a writer now working on my 7th book, not counting anthologies, and, variously, I've been published by big commercial publishers, small independents, and university presses. For my latest book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual-- rather niche, as the title suggests-- I looked back on my experiences and the kinds of contracts & PR & marketing I could expect and I realized (in about 2 minutes) that trying to find a traditional US publisher would be in neither my nor the book's best interest. Frankly, it amazes me to say this. But I say this.
      Strategy: Kindle (done), POD CreateSpace under my own imprint (done), IngramSpark (in-progress) and once that's done, a postcard mailing to libraries, review copies to Mexican historians and others who would find the book of interest,, and my newsletter will go out to subscribers. And I'll give a few talks here and there. So no, I'm probably not going to be able to buy a yacht, but I do think I can expect, over the long term, to do better than I would with the typical small or university press. Maybe I'm wrong about that. But I'm willing to take the risk and find out. And I will admit that, despite my previous experience as a literary magazine editor and as an author-- translation: I get it about hiring an editor and quality book design-- I have had to climb a bit of a learning curve… alas… but one big help has been joining the Independent Publishers Association. I do warmly recommend that.
      My take on publishing now is that, for various reasons and in many (though I hasten to add, not all) cases, publishers are simply not doing enough for their authors. They are struggling, they lack vision, and too many of them are trying to market books as if they were tubs of cottage cheese. But generalizations can only go so far; authors and their titles are an extremely heterogeneous bunch. For some authors and some titles a traditional publisher is, in fact, the best option and I think that will continue to be the case. (If I were not an independent writer but a faculty member aiming for tenure, I would not self-publish, for example.) But this is no longer the case for many authors and books, and increasingly so. The stigma of self-publishing is definitely less than it was only a few years ago.

      [This last bit is in response to examples of editorial arrogance Dutt cites:] 
      I do have sincere and enormous respect for many of my editors and the marketing staff I've worked with in the past. I say many, not all. As in any industry, or any society for that matter, there are some insecure, ignorant, and unhappy people. But bless 'em. One day they'll figure it all out. Meanwhile, one can fly wide of their orbit. Or maybe write them into one's next novel.
      COMMENTS always welcome.

      Freedom in writing is akin to knocking down walls. Tyranny is a process of building them.” --Saurav Dutt

Thursday, June 12, 2014

From Axis Mundi to Mappa Mundi: Great Temples and Sacred Bundles in Aztec Society: the 2014 Divinity School Alumnus of the Year lecture, by Davíd Carrasco

Via the University of Chicago alumni newsletter:
From Axis Mundi to Mappa Mundi: Great Temples and Sacred Bundles in Aztec Society: the 2014 Divinity School Alumnus of the Year lecture, by Davíd Carrasco.
Davíd Carrasco (ThM 1970, MA 1974, PhD in the History of Religions area, 1977) as the Divinity School's Alumnus of the Year for 2014. Carrasco is the Neil Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America at Harvard University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Anthropology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard Divinity School. A famed scholar, lecturer, writer, filmmaker, and expert on Mexican and Mesoamerican art and culture, he is a historian of religions with a particular interest in religious dimensions in human experience
Recorded in Swift Hall on April 24, 2014.

Watch here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cyberflanerie: Others Did It So I Don't Have To Edition

(But did she ever get to Alaska?)
Live through an Alaskan Winter in an RV
(via David Lida. David, Did you actually watch this?)

Figure Out in Crunchy Techno-Industrial Detail What Happened to Tom Cruise

P.S. As for things I get to do and that I recommend: I am reading an advance copy of Tom Christensen's River of Ink and it is beyond splendid. Stay tuned.

COMMENTS always welcome