Friday, December 31, 2010

Kata’s 2010 Reflections

2010 was one of the most interesting years of my life, not the best or most successful or happiest, but one of the most interesting. For me interesting is a positive thing, a reason for getting up in the morning, a reason for putting one foot in front of the other and living each day. Almost everything that happened was unexpected. Maybe I just put the interesting vibration out into the universe.

In early spring I sent my cousin a very emotional e-mail about all the things that were going wrong in my life. One of my last sentences was asking whether I could do work for him, any work, just to try to stay sane. Coincidentally, he was in the process of submitting a proposal for a self-paced training course. I’ve been writing training materials for a long time, but I didn’t know anything about federal laws and how industrial air pollution is controlled. In addition, much to my cousin’s chagrin, I managed to earn a master’s degree without every taking a physics course. So, I immersed myself in the content I received from my cousin as well as practically everything I could find on the Internet. Because I love to learn, this was sheer happiness.

In late spring, I was an enumerator for the 2010 Census, not particularly successful financially, but a great way to meet fascinating people. One of my favorites was an 80+ year old owner of a massive apartment complex, who told me her secrets for keeping young. Because the apartments were close to a medical college, I was also able to chat with young adults from various countries.

In June, bored with what I was reading, I decided to begin to read Hugo award winning novels, 50 years worth of novels, a goal that is going to take me well into the middle of 2011. Each novel makes me think, some more than others. Each novel enlarges my view of the world and of how writers express themselves through words. In addition, I have been exposed to more science. Those concepts I learned while working on the air pollution course have reappeared in a number of the novels.

My blogs have been a source of fascination for me. At the beginning of the year, I set out to write 50 entries in Kata Chimes In and 100 entries in Kata’s Cadence. Little did I know that I would have a small religious crisis and have almost no motivation to write in the second blog, which I associated with my participation in a particular church. In autumn I noticed someone had accessed my New Year’s Resolution post, so I reread it. I am not a person who takes goals lightly. For the last three months of the year, I wrote a poem, blessing, prayer or affirmation almost every morning. Who could ask for a better education? I learned about myself, about writing, and about my readers.

In fall, I went back to taking Tai Chi classes after a two year break. This was one of the hardest and most rewarding semesters for me. Because this was an advanced class, the emphasis was on internal awareness, an area that most of us have little training in. Sure, I could do the form, but do the form while trying to feel my heart beat?

Throughout the year, my thoughts about how I perceive people have changed. Enumerating for the Census forced me outside my comfort zone. Books like The Cow In The Parking Lot by Leonard Scheff and Susan Edmiston, Yoga for Anxiety by Mary NurrieStearns and Rick NurrieStearns, The Miracle of Right Thinking by Orison Swett Marden and The Learning to Love Yourself Workbook by Gay Hendricks helped change the way I look at myself and the world.

For Christmas, I decided to make some Christmas ornaments based on a design in the book Diane Fitzgerald's Shaped Beadwork. I loved how my brain twisted in little knots when I tried to think three-dimensionally. Last night I tried a different pattern in preparation for making a gift for myself (and maybe next year’s Christmas presents). I just didn’t get it, and then all of a sudden, later in the evening, it clicked.

The year contained hundreds of other fascinating things, including farmers’ markets I didn’t know about, new recipes, things from my parents and my childhood that I still am finding as I clean out the house. Today my neighbor-sister took me to a Hispanic grocery store, and I didn’t want to leave. This year, I have been like a little kid, filled with wonder.

I am afraid of 2011. I realized that as I debated whether to try my hand at writing a New Year’s blessing. I like small changes, but don’t like major upheavals. This coming year has a high probability for major upheavals. The New Thought writers talk a lot about faith, and I think the coming year will require me to depend upon it more than in recent years.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Snow Queen

Manipulating. Exploiting. Blurring of the Lines Between Friend and Foe. Uncovering Hidden Origins. Losing Naiveté. Redeeming People. Breaking Rules. Enforcing Rules. Questioning Ancient Traditions. Preserving the Past. Channeling Change. Prolonging Life.

In the 1980 Hugo Award winning novel The Snow Queen, Joan D. Vinge creates an intricate world that is on the brink of a massive transition. Tiamat, a planet close to a Stargate, is valued by off-worlders for its waters of life, an extract that can prolong life and that is traded for technology. The planet is situated in such a way that it has a cycle of about 250 years. For about 150 years it is accessible by the Stargate, during which time the Winters, a technology loving people reign. But alternating that is a 100 year period when the Stargate is closed, the off-worlders withdraw their technology and the planet reverts to a relatively primitive state while ruled by the Summers.

The novel tells the story of the period leading up to the transition when the world will again be without technology and ruled by the Summers. The plot includes the Snow Queen who schemes to retain her power, an off-worlder policewoman manipulated by both the queen and the off-worlder government, and two cousins discovering their origins and their destinies.

The plot is fresh. The world is fascinating. I am glad I found the book. It is part of a series, which I hope to finish reading at some point.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Fountains of Paradise

Textural. Multi-layered. Just as a painter creates using layers of color and texture and a composer creates using multiple instruments, Arthur C. Clarke used thin chapters to create an experience in the 1980 Hugo Award and 1979 Nebula Award winning novel The Fountains of Paradise. I wish I had known that when I began reading the novel; for days I could not get into it. Finally I read a chapter that involved yellow butterflies, and the novel seemed to click for me.

The melody of the novel is the plot of an engineer who wants to build a type of space elevator. Some of the other layers include: first contact with aliens, the legacy of the fountains, a monastery built on the very mountain on which the engineer wants to build the elevator.

The science was interesting for me. Although the novel contained an appealing childhood back-story, there was not as much character development as I prefer. I am glad I read The Foundations of Paradise because it showed me yet another way of writing a novel.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Miracle of Right Thought

Time fascinates me. To be able to hold in my hand a book that was published exactly a century ago is sheer magic to me. {I wish I could hold in my hand a book that would be published exactly a hundred years from now, but I guess that one is a bit far fetched.} It is as though a teacher from the past has traveled to the present and is gently and lovingly guiding me. The Miracle of Right Thought by Orison Swett Marden was published in December of 1910—when the New Thought movement was in full swing--and is still very relevant:

What you allow to live in your heart, harbor in your mind, dwell in your thoughts, are seeds which will develop in your life and produce things like themselves.
Most people do not face life in the right way. They neutralize a large part of their effort because their mental attitude does not correspond with their endeavor, so that while working for one thing they are really expecting something else. They discourage, drive away, the very thing they are pursuing by holding the wrong attitude towards it.
Think life, live it; think youth, live it; feel it, express it from every pore of your being!
Instead of trying to root out a defect or a vicious quality directly, cultivate the opposite quality.
Keep constantly in your mind the ideal of the man or woman you would like to become.

After taking pages and pages of notes on the book and renewing it once, I reluctantly am going to return it to the library this week.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The enjoyable 1979 Hugo and 1978 Nebula award winning novel Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre is post-apocalyptic science fiction written in a style I associate with fantasy. It has a strong, benevolent, somewhat mysterious heroine who goes on a quest to find something that has been lost.

Snake is a healer who has decided to go out among the desert people in her proving year—a time near the end of a student’s regular training. The primary tools of the healing profession are live snakes, whose venom provides the basis for vaccines, helps with infection, shrinks tumors, and performs various other functions. The most vital and rare snake is the dreamsnake, which provides a type of narcotic. Early in the story Snake’s dreamsnake is killed. The rest of the plot centers on her attempt to deal with the loss and possibly find a replacement. Of course, she meets interesting people along the way. The novel is not for those squeamish about snakes!!!

Near the last hundred pages, the story took a stronger science fiction turn, but until that point I thought it could well have been a storyline that would go on for several novels. Snake is likable. While she describes herself as arrogant, she seems to be only slightly more risk taking than her fellow healers and has a touch of naiveté to her. I forgot that I was on my mission to read Hugo award winning novels and felt more like I was reading a current novel. I was sad to see the story end.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Human Psychology. Risk. Gambling. Half of the chapters in the 1978 Hugo Award and 1977 Nebula Award winning novel Gateway by Frederick Pohl take place in the office of a computerized psychologist named Sigfrid. What happened to Robinette that compels him to continue to return for therapy? At the hub of the question is Gateway.

Briefly, Gateway is an asteroid where an unknown alien culture left hundreds of spacecrafts. The humans know almost nothing about the how the spacecrafts work. They do know that they can board them and go to some destination that had earlier—perhaps centuries ago--been programmed by the aliens.

We’re going into a ship that we don’t know if it’s going to go where it’s supposed to go, and we don’t even know where it’s supposed to go. We go faster than light, nobody knows how. We don’t know how long we’ll be gone, even if we knew where we were going. So we could be traveling the rest of our lives and die before we got there, even if we didn’t run into something that would kill us in two seconds…And not only that. We don’t anything about who built these things.

This causes a type of Russian roulette/gambling situation. The destination may bring the “prospectors” to a place where the aliens have left some wonderful technology or that has some great scientific value. In which case, the prospectors could earn millions of dollars. On the other hand, they could come back empty handed, injured, or not come back at all. In general the novel explores what type of person would sign up for such an assignment. In particular, it explores Robinette, who is caught between his fears and his desire for the big payoff.

This would have been an interesting book to read as part of a book club. At the end, I would have liked to know how other readers felt about Robinette. Could they relate to his fears? Did they find him a good, bad, or an in between type of person? This is the first novel a series, and at some point I would like to read the other books.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

Haunting. Not your typical post-apocalyptic novel. I stayed up way, way too late last night/this morning reading the 1977 Hugo award winning novel Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm. In some ways it is reminiscent of A Choice of Gods and Way Station by Clifford D. Simak; it takes place in the future in an isolated rural setting and a family homestead plays a significant role in the plot. In Wilhelm’s novel, some events, which aren’t elaborated on, cause a global catastrophe. Before the disasters, the patriarch of a large group realizes what is going on and builds genetic facilities and a huge shelter for his extended family into the caves of a mountain. While the family survives the immediate disaster, they, like all other mammals, have been rendered infertile. The geneticists believe that by using a specific cloning technique the offspring will eventually become fertile again after a few generations.

Unlike many science fiction stories, this one centers on the people, in this case the clones, and how they evolve as a society. In the beginning, like normal teenagers, they take on an identity separate from their elders and create a society different from what the elders intended. While in some ways they are greater than the people they were cloned from, in other ways they are less. They all have a telepathic/empathetic connection and can’t bear to be alone. Slowly they lose their ability to see abstractions, to create new ideas, to adjust to unexpected events. Of course, even a cloned society has its rebels.

I need a few more days for the book to work its way into my psyche. I keep thinking about a conversation with a friend last week. We were talking about how teenagers were constantly texting one another. “They can’t bear to be alone!” she exclaimed, irritated. Each generation gains some things and loses others—and has its rebels who don’t go along with the wave.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Gods Themselves

Parallel Universes. Academic Politics. Alternative Energy. Interesting Science. Fascinating Aliens. The 1973 Hugo award winning novel The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov is a story about an energy technology created by the interaction of a parallel universe—one with different physical laws— and our own. I liked the novel, despite the slow moving plots and emphasis on politics in scientific circles.

The book is divided into three main sections. The middle section contains a story about life forms in a parallel universe. This section made the book memorable and worthwhile. The life forms were interesting and unique. I even found myself getting emotionally attached to the little fellows. The ending of the section was satisfying and surprising.

Some of the discussion in the book is timeless. A major part of the plot deals with the safety of the energy technology. If I hadn’t known that the book was written in the early 70’s, I would have thought it was inspired by the politics of Climate Change and Global Warming:

"It is a mistake,” he said, “to suppose that the public wants the environment protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort."
Asimov also offers wisdom on how to counteract some of those arguments. I think the Hugo voters got this one right.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

To Your Scattered Bodies Go

The opening episode in a series. An interesting premise. The day after I finished reading the 1972 Hugo Award Winning Novel To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer I am still not sure what I think about it. I know that it is part of a longer series, Riverworld. I feel very much the way I did when I watched the opening episodes of Lost and The Event on TV. The opening is spectacular, but am I emotionally and intellectually committed to it? Is it compelling enough for me to continue on? Maybe. Maybe not.

The opening few chapters are amazing. After dying, Sir Richard Francis Burton wakes up suspended in a void as he rotates around a pole and surrounded by naked bodies also rotating around poles. The next time he wakes up, he is on the ground. Naked, hairless bodies of men and women are all around him. Slowly, they wake up. Where are they? Is this heaven, hell, purgatory, or some place else? Slowly, they learn that all the people who have ever lived and died on earth are on this planet, which consists of one long river and its banks. There are people from all parts of the earth and from all time periods. To help with their daily needs, they each have a grail that they can use at set times of the day to give them food and some basic supplies.

The main plot seems to be focusing on why they are all there in the first place and who has brought them there. Burton, the main character, makes it his mission to figure this out. But there are also other layers of plot. What is human nature? How do people from different periods of time and different cultures interact with one another to create a society? What role does a person’s past play in their radically different present? Are they the same people as those who died on earth? Do they have souls? Burton keeps on encountering Hermann Goring, the Nazi war criminal. Is this a coincidence or does it have a deeper meaning?

The beginning was spectacular enough that I was glad I read the book. On the other hand I didn’t feel emotionally attached enough to the rest of the story to want to continue reading the series right now. Maybe later. This is more a matter of my tastes and not a reflection on the writing. I am not convinced that the series is going to explore the ideas that am most interested in.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Troubled Waters

Blessings. Elements. Uncovering the Truth. The recently released fantasy novel Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn is beautifully woven together with the concept of blessings. “Blessing” is used both in the traditional sense and in the second sense of being elements—air, wood, fire, water, and earth—similar to the elements used in Eastern medicine.

Temples contain barrels filled with small metal tokens with a blessing on them, such as courage (a wood blessing) or patience (an earth blessing). These might be drawn for guidance or inspiration. The father of a newborn child goes out and asks three strangers to bestow a blessing on his child, usually drawn from the temple barrel, but sometimes given from a token already in the stranger’s possession. These three blessings become a sort of identity and inspiration throughout the child’s life.

In the story, individuals and families are also defined by particular blessings/elements. The blessings influence their occupations and shape their temperaments. They have an affinity for that blessing/element in nature. Rare individuals called “primes” can even control their element.

This world of blessings is the setting for the story of Zoe, a young woman who slowly uncovers the truth about who she is. In the beginning she is a lost young woman who is dealing with the death of her father, a man who has lived with her in exile the past ten years. As the story progresses, Zoe also uncovers the truth about intrigues in the royal palace. Zoe has the blessing of water, and the plot moves like water, sometimes slow and gentle, sometimes fast and racing.

This is the first book I have read by Shinn, and I had an enjoyable experience. I was fascinated by the blessings. Even though Zoe is a strong female character, the book has a gentle, feminine feel to it, which is a nice change of pace for me. I am hoping that Troubled Waters is the first in a series.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ms. Chumlig’s Wisdom (Rainbows End)

In Rainbows End, a science fiction book by Vernor Vinge set in the near future, Ms. Chumlig is a teacher at Fairmont High, a sort of tech school for not so successful teenagers and for older adults. (See My November 29th Blog on Rainbows End.) Although she is fictional, her wisdom is relevant to adults in the real-life job market today.

The first bit of advice could come straight out of a Seth Godin book or blog entry:

Some of you think your hand in life is all deuces and treys. But I have a theory of life and it is straight out of gaming. There is always an angle. You, each of you, have some special wild cards. Play with them. Find out what makes you different and better. Because it is there, if only you can find it. And once you do, you’ll be able to contribute answers to others and others will be willing to contribute back to you. In short, synthetic serendipity doesn’t just happen. By golly, you must create it.
After talking with my fifth grade teacher hostess on Thanksgiving, I am convinced that most middle-aged and older adults could use some classes to update their skill sets:

Administration has changed a lot—Okay. So we have to learn some new tricks—Yes …That’s an important point. This class is about search [web searching] and analysis, the heart of the economy. We obviously need search and analysis as consumers. In almost all modern jobs, search and analysis are how we make out living. But, in the end, we must also know something about something.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rainbows End

Chocked-full of interesting ideas. Fast-paced. Intriguing. Feel-good. Rainbows End, the 2007 Hugo award winner by Vernor Vinge, is a techno-fiction novel that takes place in the near future.

Two worlds collide. The first belongs to Alfred Vaz, who has developed some new YGBM (You-Gotta-Believe-Me) technology, mind control he plans to unleash worldwide. “Then he would be in control. For the first time in history, the world would be under adult supervision.”

The second world belongs to Robert Gu, a once acerbic, world renown poet, who almost succumbed to end-stage Alzheimer’s disease, but with the help of some new medical breakthroughs has been restored to the capacity of a young adult. Many of his other illnesses have also been reversed. Robert, with the help of his not always so loving family and some friends, tries to maneuver the new, technologically enhanced, world that he finds himself in. Not entirely known to Robert, his chief ally is Miri, his teenage granddaughter. Most of the world is “wearing:” they have hoptics, a type of contact, and wearables, clothing with technology embedded, that allow them to see overlays of information on top of the physical world and communicate with each other without using voice or keyboard. Robert and a band of his old group of friends from the university unknowingly become cast as stooges in Vaz’s plot.

The novel is so filled with ideas that I find it difficult to isolate just a couple for discussion. The novel made me think about technology, about people, and about my own future. For me, this is the mark of a good novel.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Classic Science Fiction. The 1970 Hugo and 1971 Nebula award winning novel Ringworld by Larry Niven contains sexy babes, quirky aliens and strange worlds. The mission is to explore the huge ring that surrounds a distant star. For the most part, the novel is light and fun.

One serious note does weave itself through the novel: What does it mean to be lucky? Teela, one of two human on the exploration, is a twenty year old who was bred to be lucky. Her luck isn’t always so lucky for those around her.

I encountered something interesting as I read the book. When I really put effort into visualizing the characters, as if I was watching a science fiction movie, I found the experience quite fun. If I just read for plot or to find some profound insight, I was a bit bored.

Ringworld, which is the first in a series, is part of our science fiction heritage. It is one of those “must reads” and now I’ve read it. I am on to some more modern science fiction for the next few days.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Conversation (Evolution of Fifth Graders)

The hostess at our Thanksgiving dinner yesterday was a fifth grade teacher, who has been teaching elementary school students for over three decades. In between eating wonderful food, including a chocolate pumpkin bread pudding that was so good that it must have come down from heaven, she told me that fifth graders are biologically different than they were when she started teaching school.

The discussion started with food allergies. Years ago a teacher might have a couple of kids who had to be watched so that they didn’t eat peanuts. In recent years, children have become more sensitive to allergens and more children are affected. My hostess described some of the precautions that the teachers now have to take, including making sure that they don’t have peanut residue on their hands when they correct papers.

Later on my hostess described some of the changes that she has made in her classroom. She has gotten rid of the desks and traditional chairs and replaced them with beanbag chairs and stability balls, with the kids using lap desks. The small movements required for children to balance on the balls help them to focus. I have heard this before with regard to kinesthetic learners and some hyperactive kids. She continued talking about how because kids are exposed to so much digital media, especially computers, their brains are physically different from earlier generations. They process information differently. She explained that schools need to adapt their teaching methods to these changes.

All this from Thanksgiving dinner with extended family! Oh, and I ate pickled watermelon rind for the first, and hopefully not last, time.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Satisfying--like the sensation you get after finishing a wonderful dessert or the perfect cup of coffee--describes how I felt after I finished reading the 2006 Hugo winning novel, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. It had just the right combination of character development and science. I liked how the plot, using two different timelines, continued to introduce questions for the reader, answered some questions while introducing more questions, and finally answered the overarching questions of the novel. I felt rewarded when the two timelines finally merged.

The story is told from the view point of Tyler Dupree, who is friends with twins Jason and Diane. At the beginning of The Spin they are 12 and 13, just being kids one night when all of a sudden all the stars disappear. In time, they learn that a temporal barrier has been place around the earth; one second on earth is equivalent to 3.17 years in the rest of the universe. The story goes on to chronicle how The Spin affects the friends’ lives for the next few decades on earth.

The style of the book reminds me of Robert J. Sawyer’s The Neanderthal Parallax trilogy: both focus on the characters, take place--more or less--in the present, have a strong “what if this happened” element, and extrapolate from some interesting science. The writing is very good and tight; many of the descriptions are used to either further the plot or to develop the characters.

The “chocolate sprinkles on top” for me was when Wilson alluded to Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land, the 1962 Hugo winner. Once I finish reading the Hugo winning novels I definitely want to read more of Robert Charles Wilson’s novels.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Journey into Hugo’s World—Background

Journeying. Journaling. Exploring. Attempting to find a path through a wild country. These are some of the words that describe my experience of reading Hugo winning novels the last few months.

Since my return to reading fiction a few years ago, I have turned into a bookworm. I read when most people are watching TV. On Sunday afternoons, I literally feel disoriented if I am not in the middle of a compelling book. In June I felt restless. I had read mainly silly mystery series in the beginning of the year. Suddenly nothing seemed interesting. I searched the internet to find suggestions. As I was walking back from the library one day a thought popped into my head, “I could read Hugo winners this summer.” In retrospect, this must be a lot like deciding to move to another city for a summer or to take a gap year. I didn’t realize the ramifications of what it would mean to me.

Books, books, and more books. Even as I type, new books are being written, published, put on library and bookstore shelves. Choosing to read the Hugo winners has given me a sense of structure—a path through the wilderness of titles, but it has also required commitment. Friends don’t quite get it. They don’t understand why I don’t stop midway through a book that I don’t particularly like. One suggested that I had an obsessive compulsive disorder. I mostly get blank looks. They don’t understand the satisfaction I feel when I finish reading a book and enter the title and author into my little moleskin notebook, like having a passport stamped.

Like any good journey, I am learning a lot. Each book changes me a little bit, but the books cumulatively are changing me. I am between a third and a half of the way through the list of Hugo winning novels, not necessarily taking the books in order. I can hear the opening lines of Star Trek in my head. My journey isn’t into space, but instead into the culture that produced over five decades of science fiction and into my own experience as a reader and a human being.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Forever War

The Politics of War. Perspective. Centuries contrasted with the critical, minute actions of a life. These are some of the thoughts that went through my mind the day after I finished reading the 1976 Hugo and Locus Awards and 1975 Nebula Award winning novel, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. In a nutshell, the novel is the story of William Mandella, from his basic training and combat in the first real battle in the war against the Taurans (an alien species) to his—and the war’s—final battle over a thousand years later. Due to time dilation caused when the troops travel through space, decades and even centuries pass between each battle and between Mandella’s communications from earth. This gives Mandella and the reader the unique opportunity to witness the radically changing cultural and social norms on earth.

I enjoyed The Forever War much more than an earlier Hugo winning war story, Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein. I found I could much more easily care about Mandella, even though at times I was irritated by some of his homophobia. While the novel was written partially as a response to Vietnam—in which Halderman served, it still speaks to the experience of war today. I was painfully reminded of the way US troops are deployed repeatedly to Afghanistan and Iraq during the current war. Because I am not a person who would normally read a war novel, The Forever War helped to expand my awareness of the troops who have fought and continue to fight in wars.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Christmas At the Mysterious Bookstore

Secondary Audience. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed many—if not most-- of the short stories in Christmas At the Mysterious Bookstore, edited by Otto Penzler. I loved "The Lesson of the Season" by Thomas H. Cook because it spoke to my experience as a book—sometimes mystery—reader. I especially enjoyed "The Killer Christian" by Andrew Klavan and "I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus" by Ed McBain; both included endings that were emotionally touching. But I could not relate as much as I would have liked to many of the stories because I was not the primary audience: a mystery bibliophile, a New Yorker, a serious mystery reader, or, especially, one of The Mysterious Bookstore patrons. I, on the other hand, occasionally read quirky mystery novels to forget my troubles for a few hours and have never even been to New York, though I have worked at a bookstore.

A brief history. “Each year, for the past 17 years, Otto Penzler [Owner of The Mysterious Bookstore] has commissioned an original story set during the Christmas season by a leading mystery writer, with some of the action taking place in The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. These stories were then produced as pamphlets, 1,000 copies, and given to customers of the book store as a Christmas present.” The book contains those short stories. This venerable store sells mysteries of all kinds and features rare and collectible hard backs.

While I am glad I read the book, I missed many of the allusions to famous mystery writers and the Mysterious Bookstore, and I occasionally felt like a dilettante. (This happened more with the stories written in the earlier years.) My guess is that the more the reader relates to the original audience of the short stories, the greater their enjoyment of the book will be.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Lesson of the Season

The short story "The Lesson of the Season" by Thomas H. CookChristmas at The Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto Penzler.—touched my heart like few stories have. It was like someone lovingly looked into my soul and smiled. The plot is simple: a man comes into a bookstore at Christmas time, and a clerk offers to help him find a book that he might enjoy. I saw myself reflected in both characters.
But saddest of all, Veronica thought, was that Harry never bought a good book, and thus had yet to experience the actual thrill of literature, the way a fine passage could lift you high above the teeming world, give you focus and a sense of proportion, allow a small life to expand.
Harry explains to Veronica why he buys pulp crime novels:

“They’re like a scotch to me,” he said.
“A scotch?”
“You know, like when you come home at the end of a bad day, and maybe your wife is waiting for you, and she gives you a scotch.”
Harry goes on to explain how reading these unsophisticated crime novels saved his sanity. Veronica has been reading the book The Measure of Man and by the end of the story understands in her heart the quote she has been repeating in her head: “We live in the echo of our pain.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Le Guin on Science Fiction

The introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness—I have the 2000 Ace trade paperback edition—is a “must read” in itself. In it Ursula K. Le Guin talks about Science Fiction:
though extrapolation is an element in science fiction, it isn’t the name of the game by any means. …a lot of…science fiction [is] a thought-experiment …. The purpose of a thought-experiment…is…to describe reality, the present world.
Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.
Open your eyes; listen, listen. That is what the novelists say.
In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we’re done with it, we may find—if it’s a good novel—that we’re a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have changed a little…

The Left Hand of Darkness

Vulnerability. That was the first word that came to mind this morning when I was thinking of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. The book earned both a Hugo and a Nebula award. I won’t even pretend to write a review; hundreds, if not thousands, of people have done it before me. But I can tell you my particular experience with the book.

The Left Hand of Darkness was yet another step in my goal to read all the Hugo winners between 1959 and the present. I found the beginning cumbersome. I had a hard time getting into the setting and the story. Winter, a planet in the middle of an ice age, is inhabited by androgynous people who go through kemmering once a month. During this time they experience a type of estrus and may temporarily become male or female, depending upon circumstances at the time. Most of the plot revolves around Genly Ai, a male envoy sent to Winter, as he tries to understand the culture of Winter and attempts to convince the governments to join the Ekumen, a collective of worlds. I was lost in names, places, folk stories and terms. Ursula K. Le Guin, as I remember form reading her books years ago, has a great talent for creating a world; but it was not my world, and I was confused.

Towards the middle of the book, the story came alive for me. When Ai and Estraven, one of the people of Winter, are traveling through one of the uninhabitable parts of the planet, during the coldest season of the year, I was fully engaged. This is the part of the story that I will remember because it brought out the vulnerability of both the man Ai and the genderless Estraven. The potentially lethal environment, politics and culture, biology, trust and their relationship to one another all add to their vulnerability. While this was the part of the book with which I resonated, I am sure that other readers connect with other aspects of the story.

I plan to read The Dispossessed, also by Le Guin and also part of the Hainish Cycle, before the end of the year. I will be interested to see how my experience of that book is influenced by The Left Hand of Darkness.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stranger in a Strange Land

Provocative… After almost 50 years, the 1962 Hugo Winner, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, is still provocative, withstanding the test of time.

Stranger in a Strange Land tells the story of Mike, who is raised by Martians, after his parents, the first explorers to Mars, are killed. The book chronicles his life on earth after he is brought back by the second group of explorers to Mars. Mike is a human bred, Martian nurtured being. The book explores his escape from the prevailing powers, his nurturing by Jubal—a kind, cynical, and wily man, and his experiences living in the real world. It explores issues of religion, social structure, and our limitations as human beings.

Stranger in a Strange Land is definitely not one of my favorite books, but I am glad that I read it. On one hand, it is sexist, homophobic, and way too long for my tastes. I read the original uncut version, making matters a bit worse. On the other hand, Mike and Jubal are likable characters, the ideas make me think, and I feel richer for having read a book that influenced a lot of the thinking of the 1960’s.  “You Grok?”

Monday, November 8, 2010

Light Boxes

Light Boxes, by Shane Jones, is a fascinating hybrid between a fantasy novel and a poem. The imagery is both beautiful:

Selah painted an intricate intertwining of kites on Bianca’s hands and wrists, the tails extending up her forearms and around her shoulders.
And terrifying:

Caldor Clemens was hanged by his neck inside a hollow oak tree. His flesh had been torn open, and birds had made nests inside his stomach, chest, and neck.
The novel has multiple levels of meaning. On the surface it is the simple story of a town that is punished by not only being banned from any sort of flying—even the bees can’t fly-- but also by having to live constantly in the month of February. But much of the meaning is communicated through the symbolism: the girl who smells of honey and smoke, the Solution who wear bird masks, balloons, mint, the light box, even the month of February.

Is this a book about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), depression, pervasive pessimism in a community, something else entirely; or is this just a simple story?

I read the book twice and would read it a few more times if I didn’t have to return it to the library. This would be a great little book to use in a class or a book group because it is so open to different interpretations.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election 2010 & Yin Yang

As a person who has practiced Tai Chi--almost every afternoon--for over ten years and read books on Taoism, the current political climate is beyond frustrating. The country is so polarized. Conservatives and Liberals are pointing their fingers at the other and calling them names and refusing to play remotely nice. Democrats vote as a block. Republicans vote as a block. Whoa to anyone’s political future if they cross the line. This is turning into national suicide. –-I will cease my rant here. You’ve got the idea.
The Tai Chi—yin/yang-- symbol has been used for millennia to describe life. Life contains opposites: yin and yang, “male” and “female”, expansion and contraction, etc. According to the symbol, even the most yang has a little bit of yin and even the most yin has a little bit of yang. The symbol tells us that everything that exists was created by a dance between these opposites. Martial arts are based upon this principle. In Tai Chi practice those principles help us balance as well as prepare to fight an opponent. For many centuries in the East this principle was used as the basis for medicine and philosophy. The point is the dance, the interplay.

I personally believe now is the time for the United States to use the principle of the yin and the yang. The polarization needs to stop being a static barrier and become a dance. We don’t need partisanship. We don’t need compromise. We need the two sides to come together to create new solutions that neither could arrive at by themselves. We need to work with the good from both sides and create something unique and perhaps surprising. The two sides need to dance, wrestle, argue, and brainstorm with one another until they create something that no one could ever have expected.

[A few wild guesses to some new directions: Increase economic stability by nurturing and encouraging relatively small, very flexible and mobile companies that can change directions rapidly. Build industries that use the extreme weather the world has been experiencing—and will continue to experience—as an economic opportunity. Help reduce healthcare costs by making outdoor activities fun and trendy again. Help reduce healthcare costs by creating a patriotic incentive for fast food restaurants to get people hooked on nutritionally rich/calorie sane foods—think sweet potatoes and carrots glammed up.]

I am not a political person. I just want to read my mystery and science fiction books, practice Tai Chi & stay healthy, and make a living. I hope this is my last political rant.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bryant & May Off the Rails

What a fun, fun ride!! Bryant and May are back.

Of Bryant:
With increasing age, the grace notes of temperance, balance, harmony and gentility are supposed to appear in the human heart. This was not entirely true, however, in Arthur Bryant’s case. He remained acidulous, stubborn, incentive and opinionated. In addition, he was getting ruder by the day…
Of May:

Whenever May felt that his life lacked order, he redressed the imbalance by sprucing up.
Bryant and May Off the Rails, the latest novel in the Peculiar Crimes Unit Mysteries by Christopher Fowler, lived up to all my expectations. Right from the beginning, I was laughing. At a couple of points, I was yelling at the characters. [If people can yell at football players, I am allowed to yell at characters in a mystery.] Bryant is as quirky as ever. I was engrossed, trying to figure out who the killer(s) was/were, up to the end. Fowler’s wordsmithing is enviable. And, I furthered my education of London, this time the subway system and anarchy. What more could a woman want? My only teeny, tiny, perhaps whiny disappointment was lack of a strong story lines for some of the minor characters in the PCU; the drawback to writing a series.

Suggestion: For anyone who has not read the series, consider reading Bryant & May On the Loose first. While not a requirement, it fills in some of the motivation.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Charming Quirks of Others

The Charming Quirks of Others, the latest book in the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith, isn’t so much a book one reads as a book one savors. Think more of taking a long, warm bath or feeling the sun on your face on a cold February day. While my local library categorizes the book as a mystery, it is more about the mystery that is life. The book doesn’t have a lot of plot, but it is filled with character. It is a dramatic change of pace from the books that I have been reading lately—Science fiction & fantasy and fast paced mysteries.

The following quote will help you to better understand Isabel:
She looked up at the ceiling. One of the drawbacks to being a philosopher was that you become aware of what you should not do, and this took from you so many opportunities to savour the human pleasure of revenge or greed or sheer fanaticizing.
This next quote is a good example of the tone and flavor of the book:

We like predictability, she thought, and we are always satisfied when people behave as we think they will. It makes us feel…well, powerful; the world is not as complex a place as some might think—at least not complex for us.
Yet another side of Isabel:
loving anything with all your heart always brings understanding, in time.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Cow In the Parking Lot

Ican imagine the Sixth Sense version of Haley Joel Osment saying “I see angry people” and giving a look of horror for the camera. I see angry people everywhere: on the television, in public places campaigning, on the internet, on the magazine rack in the grocery store, even in the mirror. Such rampant anger can’t be good for society, and it certainly isn’t good for people’s health.

Evidently I am not alone in my experience. This week I read The Cow in the Parking Lot—A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger by Leonard Scheff and Susan Edmiston. Most intrapersonal change begins with awareness. The authors suggest we begin by observing when we are angry and then start looking at what unfulfilled needs might be triggering the anger. Using the Zen approach, they describe anger as an addiction and as a habitual way of dealing with life. This little book is packed with good advice.

Where does the cow fit in? The book begins with a story of someone waiting patiently for a particular parking spot and then, at the last second, someone in another car taking their spot. Grrrr!! Now imagine instead a cow taking the spot instead of the car. Huh? Different experience, eh?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

To Fetch A Thief

This is my week for reading doggy drama, first The City, now To Fetch A Thief, the third novel in the Chet and Bernie Mystery series written by Spencer Quinn. Like the previous two books, Chet, the dog narrates the story. The effect is unique, sometimes humorous, but not corny. The plot is a serious mystery, just told from a unique perspective. For example, whereas we humans identify others in terms of names or faces, Chet perceives everyone, both human and critter, in terms of scents. His top priority is always being loyal to Bernie. On the other hand, being good usually takes a back seat to such doggy pursuits as Chet marking his territory, snagging a piece of leather to chew on or romancing a She dog in the mood. Chet’s literal interpretation of idioms adds to the humor of the novels.

I am not sure the novels technically fit all the criteria for “Dude Lit,” but they are definitely aimed at the male point of view. Bernie is a rugged PI, concerned about catching and punishing the bad guys, while still concerned about those who are less fortunate and need his help, in this novel his ex-wife, a gay clown, a kidnapped elephant, and a manicurist who lives in a trailer park. Bernie both gets beaten up and beats up. And, well, dogs and dudes just go together.

The latest novel did not disappoint me. Far from it, I am more aware of Quinn’s wonderful writing style. I admire the way that he can affect my emotions with just a few well placed sentences. And, of course, who can resist Chet?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The City

When I grow up—even if I don’t ever quite grow up—I want to write like Clifford D. Simak. In the middle of reading a lot of 2010 and 2009 novels, I digressed to his 1952 novel The City. The book is timeless, though somewhat folksy. In it Simak writes about one of my favorite themes, evolution. How could humans evolve? How could individuals adapt to the extreme environment of another planet and how would that adaptation change the species as a whole? Given a different start would humans evolve differently and be less warlike? What would happen if everyone could suddenly understand each other’s point of view? If dogs and ants were given a little help, could they evolve more rapidly? How would they be different from humans? How might robots evolve if left alone? The book is mostly sentimental, but has enough science to make it intellectually interesting. Best of all, it makes me think.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Temeraire Series

The Temeraire Series, written by Naomi Novik, is alternative history that premises what would have happened if dragons had been present during the Napoleonic Wars. Somewhere between book 1, His Majesty’s Dragon, and book 6, Tongues of Serpents, I metamorphosed from a causal reader to a fan. I don’t remember the first day I began to think “I wonder…” but this is probably the biggest clue to the start. “I wonder what Temeraire would have thought of this.” this thing that just happened to me in real life. This weekend as I was reading the latest book, which takes place in Australia, I thought: “I wonder what is happening to little Perscitia (a scholarly little dragon who doesn’t like to fight) back in Britain. I hope she is happy. I wonder what is happening to Admiral Roland, too. Will we ever find out what happens to Emily? Will she be a good captain?” I had to reel myself back in when I was wondering whether I could find a Perscitia costume to wear to Tai Chi this weekend, although dragons are very thematic to martial arts.

The Temeraire series hooked me in emotionally because of the characters, especially the bond between captain and dragon. It is about as close to unconditionally love that one can find. The series hooked me in intellectually because it tackles interesting and sometimes difficult topics: ethics, loyalty and duty, genocide, slavery, Imperialism. I am not a great history fan, but it has made that period come alive for me. In some small way, I feel like I have been a part of it, if only in my imagination.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

First Be Aware

Change comes, not by struggling to change or by fighting or by disciplining oneself, but by becoming aware of what we are feeling and how we habitually act.

From The Cow In The Parking Lot by Leonard Scheff and Susan Edmiston

Friday, October 22, 2010

Of Jung, Spock, and Revolution

Experiential and Participatory, those are some of the words that describe how we have changed in the last 40+ years, continuing on with some of my thoughts from my last blog entry, Stand On Zanzibar. We are no longer satisfied to passively watch an entertainer. We are less concerned about finding the right teacher or guru.

In the world of entertainment we want to have an active role. At the very least we want to choose when we watch a television program or vote for the winner of a reality TV series. Many of us want and expect our entertainment to come from multiple platforms. We want more than a book or a TV program; we want a larger experience. [Last night I finished Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik, and one of my first thoughts was “I wonder which dragon I am" and made a mental note to see if there was a personality quiz on-line.] We twitter, blog, Facebook, YouTube. If we can’t be discovered by a talent scout, we put our art out on the internet and let the “public decide.” We write fan fiction, create avatars, roleplay our favorite characters. It used to be only a bunch of nerds wearing Mr. Spock ears; now a larger percent of us want to be immersed in our entertainment.

The authority figure role has also diminished over the last 40 years. Instead of a staff of paid encyclopedia writers, people from all over share their knowledge on sites like Wikipedia. We ask questions in internet groups. We share recipes and helpful hints on websites. We are more likely to actively seek out the answers ourselves from multiple sources, rather than looking to one expert and, we are more likely to want to make the final decision ourselves.

I am reading Jung on Active Imagination by Joan Chodorow. Carl Jung drew mandalas almost every morning in 1918 through 1919. Finally one day he realized: “One could not go beyond the center. The Center is goal and everything is directed toward that center,…the self is the principle and archetype of orientation and meaning.” This profound idea helped change psychology. But the point is that Jung actively participated in the process. He needed to experience hundreds of mandalas to reach his conclusion. He was an unusual man. Now, more and more people want to interact with life experientially, whether directly or virtually, to find their wisdom.

I hear friends and family lamenting about how few people attend Sunday services. Many churches are filled with old congregates. Part of the situation is that traditional churches are working on the old model. Younger people want an experiential religion. They are less likely to want someone with impressive credentials standing in front of them. Yet, I also hear of churches bucking the trend and creating new experiences for their members, some taking full advantage of social media.

Part of the revolution of the last forty years is where we put ourselves. We are no longer playing follow the leader. We are putting ourselves in the center of our world and then creating the picture of our lives by reaching out to the larger world around us. The idea is not so different from Jung and his mandalas.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stand On Zanzibar

What will the world be like in 40+ years? In the mid-1960’s John Brunner must have asked himself that question before he wrote the 1969 Hugo Winning novel Stand On Zanzibar, which takes place in 2010. In his book the draft is still going on, pot and other hallucinogens are as widely used as cigarettes were in the 60’s, people pop tranquilizers all the times, sabotage is an everyday occurrence, styles are polychromatic, whales are extinct, people no longer use gas powered cars, television is holographic, and eugenics is one of the driving issues in the world. (Brunner also has a president named Obomi.) Brunner basically expanded on the hippy dippy world of the 1960’s.

The 500 pages of the book were not my cup of tea, but I did enjoy some aspects. Brunner billed the book as a “non-novel.” In spots, he has pages of dialogue without identifying the speaker or without adding any description. In other spots he has sections of a television broadcast. There are additional “non-novel” techniques sprinkled throughout the book. I see how some of this way of thinking may have been a precursor to TV shows like Lost and even multi-platform storytelling.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

What one ought to learn is how to extract patterns! ....You don’t have to know everything. You simply need to know where to find it when necessary.

Children are a pipeline into the posthumous future. So are books, works of art, notoriety and sundry other alternatives.
Governments don’t change things,” she said, “Only time does that.”
You have many years to live—do the things you will be proud to remember when you’re old"
I continue to make a dent in my goal to read all the Hugo Winning novels.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Habits of Thinking

From my perspective, one of the biggest contributors to the problems that the United States is facing is that most people are stuck in old ways of thinking. This is not such a good thing in a world that is rapidly changing and requires new paradigms. Reading and watching science fiction, taking Tai Chi, and reading bloggers like Seth Grodin encourage me to think in new ways. Here is a wonderful quote from Infinite Possibilities, written by Mike Dooley:

Thinking is similar to any physical task we perform. We get used to doing it in certain ways; we have our comfort zones, our routines, and our habits.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Humorous Interlude

I just finished a three novel humorous interlude between reading Hugo winning novels. Sometimes a woman can only take so much dystopian entertainment.

Two of the novels I read were fun mysteries by Betty Webb: The Anteater of Death and The Koala of Death. What’s not to love…cute critters, wacky characters, a well meaning but meddling mother, and even a few poignant moments. The bad part is that so far there are only two novels in the series. Is it time to sign Betty Webb up for the coffee of the month club yet?

The other novel in my break was They Walked Like Men written by Clifford D. Simak and published in 1962. This is not another touching Simak novel; this is wonderful silliness. In it aliens are slowly buying up the earth, one property at a time. Of course the only person who realizes it is an intrepid newspaper reporter. He saves the world with more cute critters.

All 500+ pages of Stand on Zanzibar is waiting for me by my reading lamp. So far, in the first 25 pages, I have found no cute critters and definitely no silliness. I don’t expect either.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Take Chances

If your life is ever going to change for the better, you’ll have to take chances. You’ll have to get out of your rut, meet new people, explore new ideas and move along unfamiliar pathways. In a way the risks of self growth involve going into the unknown, into an unfamiliar land where the language is different and customs are different and you have to learn your way around.

Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, Learning to Love Yourself

Friday, October 1, 2010

Evolution II

Evolution wasn’t something that may or may not have happened once, at the beginning of time. Our planet, the life and people on it, continually evolve. As we grind though each issue and theme, the work and art we create embody these experiences for the rest of the world. Our creations help us evolve, but our lives and our work help others evolve, too.

We’re not just here to live our lives and to create our art. We’re part of the art being created.

Stop Being Mean to Yourself by Melody Beattie

Thursday, September 30, 2010


What do I unsee? What do I unhear? Those were the questions I had in my mind when I woke up this morning. I finished reading the 2010 Hugo Winning (tie) novel The City & The City by China Mieville last night. As I slept, the world Mievelle created was playing with my subconscious. The theme Mievelle centered his book around was now taking on a life beyond the pages. Good Science Fiction can do that.

In The City and The City two different cities in two different countries exist side by side. A street may have one side in one city and the other side in the other city. A building may have one area that belongs in one city and another area in the other city. Intersections may be “cross hatched,” and belong in both cities, creating a challenge to drivers. This isn’t the result of multiple dimensions or space time fluctuations. This is the result of cultural training. People are taught to “unsee” people from the other city. There are cues in dress, posture, etc. People are also taught to “unheard” any sounds that come from the other city.

The first hundred or so pages, I confess, were slow reading for me. Even though I had read reviews, I still couldn’t get into the book. But once I did, the setting came alive for me. I was as involved in the story as I would be reading any other mystery. (In our library, the book is categorized as a mystery novel.)

This phenomenon of unseeing is actually quite common. Our senses take in a great deal of information, and we can only pay attention to a fraction of it. Inattentional blindness is the term given to this phenomenon of ignoring what is in front of us. In a famous study, participants were asked to count how many times actors wearing a specific color passed a ball. While the other actors were bouncing the ball, a woman in a gorilla costume walked through them. Half the participants never “saw” the gorilla. Historically, legend has it that the Indians did not see the European ships at first because their consciousness did not yet accept the ships' existence. Similarly, a fun article that appeared earlier this month discussed luck. Many people do not “see” opportunities.  But people can be taught to see; they can learn to be lucky. 

Unseeing and unhearing can be applied to so many areas of our lives. So as I go about my day I begin forming the questions. What do I unsee? Who do I unsee? What do I unhear? Who do I unhear?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Seeing People

More times than not, I think of change as a positive force. But, one of the not so good trends is a lack of basic acknowledgment by people of those around them on the sidewalk, at the store, at the library, etc. A few months ago I had an encounter with a group leader on a temporary job. I was standing three feet away from her, waiting to give her my time sheet, and she absolutely did not acknowledge my presence, not with a word, not with body language, not with a grunt or a hurumph, nothing. I was invisible to her. I wish this had been an isolated instance, but it appears to be the trend. Now I am not saying we have to greet everyone we meet with Namasate or a small town America “How ya doin?” but it would do most of us a lot of good just to be acknowledged with a slight nod or a tiny smile. Some days even a “Get the hell out of my way” would be a boost to people’s self worth; at least they would feel they existed. Alexander McCall Smith touched on that yesterday in his weekend companion to Corduroy Mansions in the Telegraph:

And seeing somebody is immensely important, I think. How many people do we see each day but not see? We walk along the street and are aware of people passing by, but do we see them in the sense of acknowledging their presence? I don’t think we do. Or we carry out the small transactions of life with others, but do we see them in the sense of recognizing their unique existence, their feelings, what it is to be them? Sorry, I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but it’s an important idea.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Windup Girl--Part 2

To a certain extent I believe in the Gaia hypothesis, that the earth is a living system. At the very least, I believe that everything affects everything else. I believe that we all need to live our lives with an awareness of how our actions or inactions affect the world around us. Lately, I have been looking at that paradigm in terms of air pollution regulations. Paolo Bacigalupi in The Windup Girl looks at the interconnectedness with regard to genetic engineering:

The symbol for the Environment Ministry is the eye of a tortoise, for the long view—the understanding that nothing comes cheap or quickly without hidden cost.
Lately our weather has been unusual. A local meteorologist said that in all the decades he has been forecasting weather, he has never seen anything like we experienced this summer. Similarly, I have been working on a project with an individual who is expert in an aspect of air pollution monitoring, and I also have been trying to get a pulse on the environment through Facebook and newsfeeds. Studies indicate that air pollution may contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, respiratory problems, and even diabetes. Have we gone beyond the tipping point? Besides rethinking our housing, transportation, diets, and occupations; do we need to rethink our physical bodies?

The “Windup Girl” refers to a genetically engineered person created as a servant. In the story a scientist argues that she represents the future of humankind:

Our environment has changed. If we wish to remain at the top of our food chain, we must evolve. Or we will refuse, and go the way of the dinosaurs and Felis domesticus. Evolve or die. It has always been nature’s guiding principle…

This is all very creepy and yet very interesting to me.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Windup Girl--Part 1

I began reading the Hugo and Nebula winning novel The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi the same day as an article appeared on Yahoo! about genetically modified salmon. Creepy. Very, very creepy. The Windup Girl is an incredible novel, well deserving of every award it has received. But I didn’t enjoy reading it. It made me feel too vulnerable. The novel is just too plausible. Many people are mistrustful or at least a bit skeptical of the motivation of large food companies. Our recent tainted egg scare is just one in a series of examples. Many people don’t trust government agencies to always hold people’s best interests in mind. Bacigalupi extrapolates a dark future based on those ideas. I usually am not paranoid, and I actually think genetic engineering has the potential to do a great deal of good for some serious conditions: diabetes, inherited cancers, spinal injuries. Like many things, it also has the potential to do devastating harm.

I need to lighten up a bit before I am ready to look at some of my bookmarks.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autumnal Equinox

From Choice of Gods by Clifford D. Simak:

It was a good day…fair and soft and warm. These were the kind of days that one must treasure, close against the heart, for the painted days were few. Soon would come the dreary days, with the cold mist slanting ghostily through the naked trees and after that the frigid sweep of northern winds and snow.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Not Stupids and Loonies

The 1967 Hugo Winner, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, tells the tale of a revolution instigated by the residents--Loonies--of the moon, a sort of penal colony. The uprising is partially led by Mike, a computer, and a group of "not stupids", people who Mike is fond of because they have no problems accepting him as a friend.

The book was not necessarily my mug of Chai, but I did receive a certain amount of enjoyment from it. While a lot of people over the years have quoted from the book the phrase “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” my favorite was “not stupids.” To me “not stupids” is a fun phrase for describing people who are willing to think outside the box. It also makes me chuckle about how people on both sides of a controversial issue will point at people on the other side and refer to them as stupid. You would think that they would be able to find some common ground in the fact that both are all stupid.

I am neither a history nor world politics buff, so I am grateful that the book helped me to stretch my boundaries and look at the way revolutions come about. The description of how covert organizations are formed and preserved helped me to understand terrorism better. While I think of myself primarily as an individual, I am also a citizen of the world, which seems to demand at least a token attempt to understand it. I could imagine how people felt in the 1960’s when they read this while the Vietnam War raged on. How empowering.

I did manage to find one quote my analytical brain found attractive. This is on problem solving:
From somewhere, back in my youth, heard Prof say,” Manuel, when faced with a problem you do not understand, do any part of it you do understand, then look at it again.” He had been teaching me something he himself did not understand well—something in math—but had taught me something far more important, a basic principle.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


How might the human race evolve? We assume that it will evolve technologically and perhaps physically, but could it also advance in other ways? Socially? Psychically? In its ability to co-exist with nature? Once again I made our local librarians trudge down into storage to pull out a book for me. A Choice of Gods, written by Clifford D. Simak and published in 1972, looks at some of the other possible forms of evolution. The book’s message is still relevant. Perhaps the majority of mankind is drawn to power and conquest, but there will always be pockets of individuals drawn to a different way, and their potential is endless.

What comes next, I ask myself, and I do not know. There seems to be no logical progression to this sort of thing and the reason that there is no logic is that we are too new at it to have an understanding of what may be involved.…As it stands at the moment, I can only speculate….Standing on my mountain top, I strain my eyes to look into the future.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Corduroy Mansions Is Back

I like the world better after I have read an Alexander McCall Smith novel. I smile more. I think happier thoughts about people. Corduroy Mansions, a serialized novel on the Telegraph, is back for its third season starting this week. (Reading the earlier novels is not a prerequisite for enjoying the third season.) The series is humorous, poignant, and touching, filled with AMS’s British sensibility. Despite being a voracious reader, I like listening to Andrew Sachs read the daily installment as I begin my morning routine. Some habits are wonderful

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Graveyard Book

Last night I finished reading the 2009 Hugo Winning Novel, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. The story is about a boy whose family is murdered when he is a baby and who is brought up by the dead and not so dead inhabitants of a graveyard. It isn’t something I would normally have chosen to read, but it did leave me thinking, as most books do. And, I found two quotes that fit in with the theme of this blog.

On Mastery:

There were some lessons that Bod had mastered. He had eaten a bellyful of unripe apples, sour and white-pipped, from the tree some years before, and had regretted it for days, his guts cramping and painful while Mrs. Owens lectured him on what not to eat. Now he always waited until the apples were ripe before eating them, and never ate more than two or three a night.

If only the rest of us could be so bright, particularly those of us who sit in odd positions and end up in a lot of pain, only to sit that way the next day.


You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Always in Motion

Though this world feels to me as if it is still and concrete, the truth is that it is always in motion. The world is in a constant state of birth and death, manifestation and destruction.
The Soul’s Companion by Tian Dayton, PhD

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


When I was working on my bachelor’s degree, my advisor in the English department wrote articles for fishing magazines. He often didn’t receive the respect he deserved from the other instructors and professors in the department who were more erudite or, in some cases, blatantly pretentious. He instilled in me the importance of telling a simple story.

I was thinking about him this morning as I was trying to edit and add activities to a course about a piece of technology. So much content! So many technical points! My mind wanted to go into overdrive. But I realized that it didn’t have to be that way. Our learners want and need to hear a simple story. It might have technical aspects. It might involve math and physics. But it is still a story. All I need to do is write it, step by step.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

2010 Hugo Winning Novel

Three months ago, I vaguely cared about Hugo winners. I would pick up a Hugo winning novel and think “Hmm, this is interesting.” Last night I went to sleep thinking, “Tomorrow morning when I wake up, I’ll know what the Hugo winning novel is for 2010.” It was like waiting for Santa. The winner turns out to be winners: The City & The City, by China Miéville and The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. I have already been on the internet to reserve a copy from one of the neighboring libraries of the novel my library doesn’t carry.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Way Station

Way Station, written in 1963 by Clifford D. Simak, is my new favorite book. After two readings, I am reluctantly—very, very reluctantly—going to return it to the library this weekend. It reminds me so much of the style of Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No.1 Ladies Detective Series. The tone is very gentle and thoughtful. I don’t know how to begin to describe why I love the book. The process is like dissecting a rose; you have lots of parts but have lost the essence of what makes a rose a rose.

Briefly, at the end of the Civil War, Enoch is approached by an alien from another planet to run a way station where aliens will briefly stop over on their trips. Without going into detail, the technology is similar to the Star Trek transporter in that it doesn’t involve flying saucers. At this point, Enoch has fought in the war and also lost his parents. He is a man who doesn’t know what he will do next with his life. So, unbeknownst to all the other humans, his childhood home is turned into a way station.

For the next hundred years Enoch runs the station, preparing for visitors, accommodating them for a couple of hours, and then sending them on their way to the next station. Many times the travelers visit with Enoch and teach him about their planet, including their science, culture, and art. They may bring Enoch a small gift, which he may or may not understand what it is. After each traveler leaves, Enoch writes a detailed description of the experience. As one might imagine, Enoch’s home is filled with journals and extraterrestrial gifts. Other than some pieces of wood he has given as cryptic gifts, he has shared none of this with another human.

While in the station, Enoch does not age. Enoch lives in a rural area. His only contact with the rest of the world is his hour-long walk to and from his mailbox, where he chats with the mailman and observes nature around him.

Of course the story revolves around a couple of days when everything seems to go to hell.

I am attracted to the thoughtful introspection of Enoch. I am attracted to Simak’s point of view that humans/aliens are essentially good and loving. I am attracted to Enoch’s world of wonder. Imagine a life of meeting new and fascinating beings as part of your job and life, of continuously learning new things, of regularly having experiences that challenge your concept of reality.--One night when I couldn’t sleep, I thought “if I were Enoch, who might I have met today and what might I have experienced.”-- So much of science fiction is apocalyptic. I need science fiction that has hope and heart. I want to feel that the future can yield something good. I want to live in the world of the Way Station.

P.S. Happy 100th post to me.

Monday, August 23, 2010


How often do we think of wonder? The context of the quote that follows is that Enoch has just learned that the person he has been talking with is from another planet. Granted this may not be an experience that many of us have had, but I think that the feeling that is described applies to the world we do encounter from time to time.

There was nothing to grab hold of, nothing to hang on to. There was no yardstick for it and there were no rules. And it left a sort of blank spot in one’s thinking that might fill in, come time, but now was no more than a tunnel of great wonder that went on and on forever.

Clifford Simak, Way Station

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ray Bradbury

As a life long fan of science fiction, I have just one thing to say this morning:

Happy 90th Birthday to Ray Bradbury!!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Making the Abstract Concrete

I always feel a bit better when I find other people who think like I do about learning. I have been reading Movement for Actors, edited by Nicole Potter. One of the essays is by Alan S. Questel who describes the work of Feldenkrais.

To make the abstract concrete is a kind of learning that is not prevalent in our culture. Most of our learning is informational—facts and ideas that we take in through books, lectures, and other media, where we listen to someone else tell us what we should know and understand.
Real learning, the kind we experienced as children, comes from our ability to make distinctions and create new relationships to the world we live in. Through this kind of learning, we can develop a sense of self based on an internal criteria and inner authority.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Multiple Intelligences and SYTYCD

So You Think You Can Dance helps make me a smarter person. It gives me a vocabulary for movement and emotions. Don’t get me wrong, I love the dancing. But what enthralls me is watching the judges.

After bumbling through assorted internal martial arts classes, I feel nourished by the discussions on different way to move a wrist or a knee, where the center of gravity is in a dancer’s body, the openness of a shoulder. I unconsciously find myself experimenting with a tiny movement as I listen. Sometimes when I practice Tai Chi later in the week, I hear a SYTYCD judge’s critic in my head, and I explore how to bring those ideas to my form.

So You Think You Can Dance teaches me about emotion. Coming from a strict German American family, emotion was discouraged. At best it was a sign of being undisciplined. At worse, it was considered blatantly bad. Watching the display and discussion of emotion is like a woman who has deprived herself of dessert for months finally having a slim slice of cheesecake. In two different seasons, Adam Shankman has asked dancers what they were feeling. And paused, creating a beautiful space. The dancer opened his/her heart. I was in tears. I could feel the currents through the miles or over the Television waves. There have been times when all three judges have broken down in tears when a performance has moved them. I begin to understand what it is like to feel art, with its beauty, joy, pain.

Fred Rogers would be so proud. “Today boys and girls we are going to learn about two motions. The first motion is the movement we do with our bodies. The second motion –emotion—we do with our hearts.” I am so going to miss the show when it ends next week.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Many Divisions

I am continuing to read the Hugo winning novels. This quote from 1967 epitomizes my thoughts and feelings on change this week.

A man is a thing of many divisions, not a pure, clear flame…His intellect often wars with his emotions, his will with his desires…his ideals are at odds with his environment, and if follows them, he knows keenly the loss of that which was old—but if he does not follow them, he feels the pain of having forsaken a new and noble dream, Whatever he does represents both a gain and a loss, an arrival and a departure. Always he morns that which is gone and fears some part of that which is new.

Roger Zelany, Lord of Light

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Seeking Circuits

Some times I don’t understand myself. We are blessed with a great inter-library loan system. Often when I am feeling stressed-out, I will reserve a bunch of books. With just a few clicks of my mouse books are sent on their way from several different libraries. This week Hugo winners from the 1960’s are making their way to my local library. I now realize that when I engage in the book hunt, I am activating my “seeking circuits.” For me the feeling is better than eating chocolate.

According to Lynne McTaggart in The Intention Experiment:
The seeking circuits are fully engaged when an animal is involved in high anticipation, intense interest, or insatiable curiosity….When animals are curious, the hypothalamus lights up and the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine is produced…the chemical’s true purpose is to arouse a certain neural pathway. What actually feels good is the activation of the seeking portion of the brain.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


One of my goals this summer is to read the Hugo winners from 1959-1970. I just finished reading A Case of Conscious by James Blish. This quote speaks to my awareness of sometimes being information rich and wisdom poor.

This is not a question of information. It is a question of whether or not the information can be used. If not, then limitless information is of no help.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


We can’t find the answers if we don’t keep asking the questions.
Bob Barth

Monday, June 14, 2010


So many of us are always looking for the perfect moment where we find the job that reflects our right livelihood, meet our soul mate, buy the perfect home, etc. Maybe, each moment is right and perfect. Once in awhile I will be walking and think to myself, “What if this is the moment that my whole life has been leading up to? Here. Now, as I walk up this hill on the way to the grocery store.” Suddenly colors seem brighter. I notice the sounds of the birds. I am conscious of my posture and my breath. The moment becomes sacred.

Speak up, destiny, speak up! Destiny always seems decades away, but suddenly it’s not decades away; it’s right now. But maybe destiny is always right now, right here, right this very instant, maybe.

Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Solve the F@#*% Problem, Please

Has the United States become a country of judgers and critics, rather than a nation of problem solvers? When James Cameron offered to help BP control the oil spill in the gulf, many, many, many people left negative comments on the internet. What I didn’t see were comments of curiosity, surprise, or even delight. I would have liked to see a collective light bulb go on across the country. A good director knows how to solve problems, particularly the hard ones. He knows how to find and enlist experts who can contribute to his project. He has experience with not taking no for an answer, but rather challenging people to go beyond their current level of what they think is possible. He knows how to think outside the box and draw from diverse disciplines. He knows that any great project is a collaboration, not the work of one person or one company. This is the type of thinking that is needed to solve the oil spill problem quickly and with as few long term problems as possible. I am not talking about James Cameron the man as much as the way of looking at a problem that he represents. That is what we need.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if twenty years from now a little girl told her teacher, “we are called the ‘United States’ because we are really, really good at solving problems together?” Wouldn’t it be better if it were true, if the US was know for its problem solving expertise the world over?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Appreciating Now

I appreciate my life today. If I don’t appreciate it now, then that now will turn into hours, the hours into days, the days into months and the months into years, and then I will have missed them. The moment is all that I have, what I do not say now will go unsaid, what I do not do now will go undone. What I do not see now, when it surrounds me, will go unseen.
Tian Dayton, The Soul’s Companion

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Dip

Seth Godin’s book The Dip reminds me a lot of George Leonard’s book Mastery. Both of them talk about the non-glamorous middle period after the excitement of the beginning wears off where many, if not most, people quit. Here is Godin’s description of The Dip:
At the beginning, when you first start something, it’s fun.…it’s interesting, and you get plenty of good feedback from the people around you. Over the next few days and weeks, the rapid learning you experience keeps you going. Whatever your new thing is, it’s easy to stay engaged in it. And then the Dip happens. The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery…The Dip is the combination of bureaucracy and busywork….The Dip is the difference between the easy “beginner” technique and the more useful “expert” approach…The Dip is the long stretch between beginner’s luck and real accomplishment.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Whenever you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself, “Have I stopped living in the now?”…We try to anticipate the things that will happen in the future so we can feel in control of our lives, but we almost always end up feeling overwhelmed and out of control. The best way to be in control of our lives is to stay present in the moment.

Echo Bodine, A Still Small Voice

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Inspiration from Within

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Inspiration from outside one’s self is like the heat in an oven. It makes passable Bath buns. But inspiration from within is like a volcano. It changes the face of the world.
Aunt Felicity in The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Magnificent Now

I have to go do something magnificent now, while the day is still young.

Audrey in Manor of Death by Leslie Caine.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Change Begins Within

Change begins from within and then extends outwards. Something from outside can stimulate it but until it happens inside of us, it’s not ours.

Tian Dayton, The Soul’s Companion

Monday, March 29, 2010


Lately I have been going through one of those phases again where I wonder how can I know so much and yet my life appear to be so screwed up. I like this quote in The Principles of Effortless Power by Peter Ralston:
A lot of people want to learn something, and simply study from someone who tells them to do this and that, and that’s legitimate….In my case, I wanted to make the art mine. And in order to be mine, I had to have the ability. I had to discover and understand it. It didn’t do me any good if someone said something and I believed it; only if I understood it, only when it was my experience and my ability, was it useful.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Twyla Tharp, The Creative habit:
"When you’re in a rut, you have to question everything except your ability to get out of it."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Website-2 Steps Back

I have been working on and tweaking my website for almost a week. Today, I found out that my internet provider no longer offers free web hosting. I am not sure I can financially justify paying for a site, but I also don’t want ads. I am indecisive about what I want to do. How badly do I want or need a website? I did learn a lot about myself through the process of creating the site. It is enough?

I feel like I have been in some sort of energetic limbo for a long time. I could really use a few days of just practicing some internal martial arts form, like Baguazhang, and not thinking. I am so tired of trying to force the river.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Designing My Website: Part 2

Saturday I was not going to rest until I got the navigation bar to do what I wanted it to do. The visited links were purple. While I love purple, I didn’t want it on my visited links. I was like a woman possessed. Finally, I thought to type my question into the browser window. A wonderful soul in the State of Washington had an answer to my problem. I slept well.

Since then I have been like a teenager who can’t decide what to wear to the big dance. I keep on trying on color schemes and graphics. I have painted, penciled, crayoned, and photoshopped. I have changed and rechanged and rerechanged the colors of fonts. I have tiled and untiled. I have questioned who I am and what I want to say, and tried to figure out how that translates into the look of a webpage.

Yesterday, emotionally exhausted, I sat down and read the last three hundred pages of the The Reincarnationist with barely a bathroom break. Today, given a long list of my week’s todo’s, I decided to fire up Dreamweaver again.

I am determined! What color palette is that?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Beginning the Website

Terror. Complete and utter terror. I woke up this morning in a panic. Both of my parents came from very strict German households where anything short of perfection was not tolerated. My parents were better than there parents, but I still managed to grow up believing that any mistake was one too many. Many of my semesters in college and grad school I earned straight A’s.

Yet, I love to learn. This past week I have been reading a book on how to use Dreamweaver to create a website. I have done almost all of the little exercises. I finally decided, while I had the book out from the library and the concepts were fresh in my mind, it was time for me to build my own site. I was on an emotional high with the ideas, looking at the Css Web garden sites until late into the evening yesterday,

But, then the nagging started. I know next to nothing about graphic design. When I opened up Dreamweaver it looked like a foreign object again. Where did I look in my books to find out how to build a menu? All of a sudden all I saw was my ignorance. I didn’t see anything that I understood, anything that I did right. Screw beginner’s mind!! I hate it.

Yet, I am often the teacher. How can I expect anyone to follow me or listen to me if I don’t allow myself the vulnerability of being a beginner, of trying and failing, and trying again? This is how I learn empathy and compassion.

I also heard myself muttering, “On Roll Over do this…” Even as part of me is freaking out, another part of me is slowly putting together the pieces to make this thing work. How fascinating and complex is this Beginner’s Mind.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mood Enhancers

Many, many years ago I went out on a first date with a man who worked in the same mall that I did. Soon after we sat down to dinner, I found out that not only did he take a plethora of recreational drugs; he was in fact a drug dealer. At that time I was a tad on the conservative side in that area and was a bit freaked out. I have since moved to many tads conservative in that area. He was a sweet, sweet man, but I still remember him pouring out assorted pills in his hand. He had a drug to create whatever mood he wanted for the moment.

Fast forwarding to this week, I offered to bring over the first books in The First Ladies’ Detective Series by Alexander McCall Smith to a friend who is recovering from surgery. She answered with a quick “no thanks.” Nothing much happens in the books. Who cares, I thought; I like how I feel when I read Smith’s books. I feel connected with the world. I want to hug strangers and tousle the hair of small children. Lately I have been reading the Big Mike Series by Garrison Allen. What a balm for the dark funk I have been in. The characters are so wonderfully lightly bawdy. How can you not smile! Going to a library for me is like my date pouring out the pills in his hand. What kind of mood do I want to me in?

I tend to like to think that my mood enhancers are kinder and gentler. They don’t involve potential damage to major organs—other than my back when I tote too many home—and no innocent people are hurt. Well, maybe a few library patrons have had to jump out of my way when I have stalked a bit too enthusiastically towards the shelves.