The Rambling Writer Goes “Forest Bathing”


Thor and Bear dog and I just discovered that we haven’t been hiking in our nearby wooded trails—we’ve been “forest bathing.” At least we think so.

Reading an article from The Washington Post by Meeri Kim, “Forest Bathing,” we learned that the practice of Shinrin-yoku was formalized by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982. It refers to a conscious practice of “taking in the forest atmosphere” to promote physiological, psychological, and spiritual health. Apparently studies have shown that spending relaxed time among trees and plants in a natural setting provides measurable benefits in immune boosting and mental health.

Thor: “Uh, yeah!”

Bear-dog: “Woof.”

Sara: “This is news?” Continue reading

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BVC Announces Contact Imminent by Kristine Smith

Contact Imminent by Kristine SmithContact Imminent
The Jani Kilian Chronicles 4
by Kristine Smith

Human-idomeni relations. Never smooth. Worsening by the day.
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Alma’s Bookshelf: Embers of Heaven

In the aftermath of what I quickly came to call my Blessed Book, “The Secrets of Jin-shei” – the one that swept the world, was quickly published in some dozen or more languages including REALLY out-there ones like Catalan, and Lithuanian, and Turkish, and Hebrew – my agent asked if there was a sequel.

And I said no, at first, because there wasn’t, not really. That novel ended where it did and that was a very good place for it to end. There didn’t seem to be any other place for that story to go.

I said no, and kept saying no, and all the time there was a nebulous idea that was taking wraith-like form in the back of my mind. I said no… right until the moment that ghost coalesced, and I found myself saying, “Well, actually…”

And thus began ‘Embers of Heaven’.

Part of the push was a wonderful image I found online which gave me a visual through which I could step into that new story. I even harbored hopes that it might end up being the cover of the new book eventually, which it didn’t. But I still have it, that image. It retains its power, although now it’s the reminder of the story it brought forth rather than its inspiration. And part of it was the story itself that presented itself to me. This would not be a sequel, not directly – it would be another stand-alone novel, but it would be a follow-up to “Secrets of Jin-shei”, a story of what happened to that wonderful language of women and the women’s country of Syai which I had left behind in the earlier book.

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Joyful Politics and Feeling Powerful

My friend Diane Silver spoke at the Unity Church in Lawrence, Kansas, last week on “Creating a Joyful Politics.” Given this crazy election year, I thought others would like to hear what she had to say.

Diane has a lot of experience in politics, as well as being an excellent writer and editor. That is to say, she’s not talking about naive joy; she’s advocating the joy that comes from doing something while having faith that things will work out well. Continue reading

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Wading Into Controversy

Steven Harper PiziksThe school where I teach is adding some new books to the curriculum.  Yay!  I’ve been agitating for some changes to English 9 and English 12 because all the books and plays we read are by white men.  No minority writers, no women.  Inexcusable!

The English department came into some book money recently, and we spent considerable time reading and discussing additions.  We made several, but the ones that startled me most landed in English 9 and English 12.

In English 9 we’re adding THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME by Mark Haddon.  It’s the enormously famous book about an autistic teenager in London who sets out to solve the murder of the dog next door.  Although the author is a a white male, the book is told from the point of view of the autistic protagonist, and we have a great many autistic students at Nameless High School. Continue reading

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Calling Dr. Pavlov

ScaleLong ago and far away, when I was a chunky post-teenager, my grandmother offered to pay for me to participate in the Schick weight loss program. This was a thing that enjoyed a brief vogue in the mid-70s, when I was living in Los Angeles. Basically, along with a diet plan, it involved aversion therapy. Every week I would bring in some (junky) food that I particularly favored at that point, and chew it to the point of nausea (and then spit it out), while being zapped with shocks that were well past the amusing point and into the actively unpleasant.

At this point it seems like something out of a Philip K. Dick story or something–surely this didn’t happen to me? Maybe I was more willing to put up with this nonsense because I had read so much science fiction that it seemed familiar. Continue reading

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BVC Announces In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan

In Ashes Lie by Marie BrennanIn Ashes Lie
Onyx Court 2
by Marie Brennan


It is the seventeenth century. For twenty years, the City of London has been torn apart: by war, by plague, by fire.


The Onyx Court is London’s faerie shadow. Dedicated to co-existence with mortals, it struggles to survive against rival courts who oppose everything it stands for.


Now, when these two realms are at their most divided, they face a threat neither can defeat alone. The Great Fire ravaging London is more than mere flames. While the city’s human residents struggle to halt the inexorable blaze, the fae must defeat a stranger foe: the embodiment of the fire itself, a monstrous Dragon that seeks to devour London both above and below. If the faerie queen Lune and her mortal consort cannot bring the two worlds together, the city itself may not survive….

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Bicentennial Man: A Very Short Review

by Brenda W. Clough

This movie came out in 1999, and I am sorry to report that I only saw it last fall. It is fairly faithfully based upon the award-winning novella from 1976 that we probably all have read, by Isaac Asimov.

Bicentennial The concept of robots doing the work of, looking like, or even becoming human is very ancient indeed, and we never get tired of debating it. Bicentennial Man is an interesting contrast to Ex Machina, which came out more recently (I reviewed it here) or Her (review here). Frankly the other two movies are better — both as movies and as stories. There is a sentimentality about Bicentennial Man which Asimov put there that gives it an inevitably old-fashioned feel. And some of the basic premises of Bicentennial Man are, I argue, flawed.

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Dice Tales: Preserving Agency

Roman twenty-sided die(This is the twentieth installment of Dice Tales, an ongoing series of posts about RPGs as storytelling.)


Going back to the issue of different kinds of challenges — the other big problem here is the preservation of player agency.

Let’s look at physical conflicts. There are fairly clear-cut rules for such things: if you take too much damage, you’ll suffer a penalty on your rolls for doing other stuff. Get grappled by the bad guy, you’re incapable of taking any actions until you break free. Etc. It may suck when those things happen to you, but by and large, players understand that that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

But what about mental or social conflicts? Take lying, for example: most games have some kind of mechanic for representing how well somebody can lie, and another for catching somebody in a lie. But the thing is, not all lies are created equal, are they? Some are more plausible than others, and it should be easier to get somebody to swallow something very close to the truth than a complete whopper. It should also be easier to put one over on somebody who trusts you than somebody who automatically doubts every word that comes out of your mouth. But whereas combat often has rules for modifying the numbers based on circumstances (it’s more difficult to hit a specific spot on your target; you’re X much harder to hit if you’re focusing on defense), other matters are not usually so codified.

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TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING, and the Enchantment of Narrative Digression

Leaving opera in 2000 made in 1882











I was recently rereading Maria Edgeworth’s two famous Irish novels, Castle Rackrent,  and The Absentee. Castle Rackrent was her first novel, and her shortest—and some consider it her best. The Absentee,  though published as part of her collection, Tales of Fashionable Life, is quite a bit longer than Castle Rackrent.

Both are hailed for their sympathetic view of the Irish peasantry, but in actuality the peasantry is pretty much in the background of Castle Rackrent, which is mostly about a series of bad masters of the eponymous Rackrent Castle and its lands.

The Absentee delves more explicitly into the plight of the Irish peasantry, at the mercy of absentee landlords bent on making a splash in London society by appointing rascally agents to wring their lands of funding for their expensive lifestyle. So why is the first one regarded as her masterpiece, and the second as pretty much of an also-ran?

I think it’s entirely due to the narrative voice of Castle Rackrent.

The novel is a first-person account by old Thady Quirk, who lives in the stable. He does relatively little in the novel outside of his narration. But the warmth of his voice, the Irish cadences of the language, add not just charm but the ring of the real, whereas The Absentee is told through the more common third person narrator who remains strictly behind the scene.

One of the ways Thady is charming are his narrative digressions—sometimes prefaced by an Oh, and I forgot to tell you disclaimer. In my cruising around reading people’s reactions to books, I see a lot of praise for engaging narrative voices, but narrative digression gets a lot more ambivalent reaction.

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