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 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, 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

By C.M. Mayo

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

By C.M. Mayo

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


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 this powerful 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 Leopard

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

C.M. Mayo

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.