September Newsletter: The Salt Bath

So there I was, in the bath. My knees didn’t fit, but the rest of me was under the water, warm and surrounded by salt. Pavlina had set a table next to me with almonds and figs. She’d also donated one of her packets of Yakusen Meguri hot spring bath powder, which had turned the water milky and medicinal. I leaned my back against the lip of the tub and held up a paperback: The No. 1 Ladies‘s Detection Agency.

And beyond the acacia, over the dusty road, the roofs of the town under a cover of trees and scrub bush; on the horizon, in a blue shimmer of heat, the hills, like improbable, overgrown termite-mounds.”

Yes. There I was, finally.

The the tub is new. It looks like a red Dixie cup, and it sat wrapped in plastic in our living month for six months while we waited to stop being scared of the Coronavirus and call in the workers to install it. It took another month after that for me to stop being scared of baths.

Three years ago, when my younger daughter was just starting to walk, we had a really terrible summer vacation. Pavlina and I would be at the park, we’d look at each other, we’d look back to where the kid was supposed to be playing, and she wouldn’t be there. I tracked her down to a birthday party about five minutes away. Or we’d be in a street-side restaurant, we’d look away, and she’d be out the door chasing a pigeon into traffic. She picked a direction and just started running.

“I can’t do this!” I told Pavlina in a restaurant on a beach. “I feel like every time I let my guard down, the baby tries to kill herself.”

“I know it feels that way…” Pavlina didn’t finish that sentence because she realized our daughter was gone. We chased her down before she could fling herself into the sea.

That was life for a while. Every moment is either a life-or-death emergency or preparing for one. If you find yourself relaxing, snap out of it and get your eye back on ball, because that ball is hurtling at 100 miles per hour toward you and your loved ones.

Which all might have something to do with the problems I had learning how to relax last month. It worked (with the help of the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, Viktor Frankl, and Saint Augustine), but it was hard to bring the lessons I learned back home with me once the vacation was over.

Like this bath, for instance. Pavlina told me to try the Japanese bath salts, and hey wait a minute, you’ve never actually taken a bath in our house, have you? I was like, yeah, sure, I guess I could take a bath, but the book I’ve been reading bit me…so I have nothing to do when I’m in there…and isn’t there a parent-teacher conference we’re supposed to virtually attend?

Pavlina promised she would log in for both of us and she’d give me a book to read. No, the girls won’t explode while you’re stuck in the bath. No, you can’t use that time to check your email instead. She basically shoved me into the bathroom and bolted the door behind me.

I stood there, wondering what I was doing. Look how long it’s taking to just fill the tub up in the first place! Surely, the girls are exploding right now, and here I am waiting for a tub to fill with water that I can make dirty. I decided I wouldn’t make the water dirty – I’d follow a friend’s advice and take a cold shower first.

Suddenly there was no room in my head for second-guessing and self-recrimination. There was only “COLD!” I fled into the hot tub, trembling with endorphins.

My soap has lemongrass in it, and my shampoo has black pepper and thistle milk. I therefore cooked fragrantly as I read my book and ate my almonds and figs. I can’t imagine stronger positive reinforcement this side of direct electrostimulation to the nucleus accumbens. Now I look forward every day to reading The Ladies’ Detective Agency because I remembered that bath.

I think I’ll take another this weekend.

And what else is going on? A Book Launch! Yeah, that’s right, peoples! Simon Roy, Artyom Trakhanov and I are going to do a book launch for First Knife on zoom this weekend! That’s Saturday the 10th at 9am PST. We’ll have Q&A, drinking games (I’ll be drinking anyway), and fabulous prizes, all hosted by the gracious Arcane Comics. Here‘s where you can sign up. 

Also, Fellow Tetrapod

Finally, finally, I’ve started writing my long-planned-for “office drama with talking animals” novel.  I mean, ahem!

<synopsis voice> Fellow Tetrapod takes place in the UN embassy to the Convention of Sophonts, where the ambassador’s chef, his admin, and a team-building consultant get up to multispecies mischief. It’ll make you take it easy on yourself and other people, because after all we’re just a bunch of foolish apes.

You can read a bit of it here, but I know that this is what you really want, you animals: the Fellow Tetrapod playlist!


My most recent work with Thracian has been to compare real Thracian place names with their modern equivalents (for example the ancient city of ancient Sēlymbria and modern Silivri/Silivriya/Silivría) to figure out what sound shifts Thracian might have gone through between the classical age and now. Here’s the result. You might like it, or you might think it’s to Bulgarian-y.

“Ko îs tu?” Tonian paîrmăt.

“Îzo îm gont,” praspelăt aî, “ka oynoy zî zîstmotoy u îrmate, an kotoy kafnogotetoy ikeya an namotoy an Peyso, Tursa ner-îvroto ka Kubinoto deymoto an kabăsoto.

“Who are you?” Anthony asked.

“I am a mortal,” he answered, “and one of the dwellers in the desert, to whom the pagans once prayed by the names of Pan, Satyr the man-goat, and Incubus the demon of lust.” (translated from the story of Saint Anthony and the Centaur)

I rather like the words gont (“a mortal”) and ikeya (“they once prayed”). I’m not sure about all those “oto”s though. Hm.

Anyway, here’s what I read this month:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – trying to get a grip on the funny/omniscient POV (maybe the narrator of this book is The Guide)? It was also a fun return to middle school. As a 2020s adult reading this book: its beginning is an elegant work of genius, but its ending…isn’t there. You got to do more than point out a problem, dude. Or at least rewrite the ending as many times as you rewrote the beginning.

A New History of Life by Dr. Stuart Southerland – a “Great Courses” course, again as research for Fellow Tetrapod. I was disappointed. There’s some good geology in there, but the paleontology is superficial and out-dated (he talks about whether dinosaurs were endothermic), and I don’t care about history-of-science stories.

Wyrms by Orson Scott Card – it was free with my Audible subscription. It’s a tidy piece of writing with just a bit of tantalizing worldbuilding. All of the surfaces are there – the language, the biology, the ecology, the history and culture – but they’re begging for depth. I also would have liked a more mature discussion of willpower (as distinct from self-control). Still, a good spring-board for Fellow Tetrapod.

The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss – A lot of this book isn’t applicable to me (or anyone living in the 2020s), but the rest of it is. There’s tons of stuff about working from home and how great it is. I was already sold on that idea, but the next thing I need to do is prioritize and get out of my own way. Also that stuff on “muses.” Hmm…

Patton’s Space Ship by John Barnes – it’s some angry dude’s job to clean up the infinite timelines! There’s a lot of shooting bad guys because they’re bad. I didn’t like that so much, but on the other hand, this book didn’t bite me. The main character has just enough real humanity at the beginning to make up for all that shootin’. And Barnes took his research seriously – I enjoyed the description of life in the terrible Man-in-the-High-Castle alternate history.

White-Luck Warrior by R. Scott bakker – holy spooky mother-goddess YEAH! Honestly I was a bit disappointed in the previous book in this series, but it turns out that was all set-up for this breathtaking masterpiece. White-Luck Warrior has all the piercing description and insight of the previous books, but also shows a much defter hand with plot. I did not see those twists coming – and I was looking for them – but once we got there I was like “well of course that’s what happened!” The perfect balance of the expected surprise. So imagine me there on the beach, Man’s Search for Meaning swirling in my head, the hot sands banished beneath the chill winds of the goblin-infested northern plains, a sulfurous smell in my nose and before me an elf I can trust only to betray me…this is what epic fantasy should be!

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl – another summer book because it needs there to be nothing going on in your life when you read it. For me, this book forms a trio with Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Art of Living and The Confessions of Saint Augustine (which I’ll hopefully be able to tell you about next month). I’ve been fumbling around for faith, and these are the books I’ve picked up so far. Frankl describes a life in a Concentration Camp and after, and what differed between those who gave up and those who went on. I got a lot of use out of it.

Unnatural Habits by Kerry Greenwood – a bit of a thought experiment on women-only communities run well and badly. The mystery was fractured, and I didn’t like the jokes about murdering people. But aside from that, it was fun.

PBS Spacetime by Dr. Matt O’Dowd – good good good astrophysics on youtube! O’Dowd just dips his toe into the math, which is right where I am, astrophysically. I’ve been especially watching the “other universes” videos. I bet you know why.

And for those of you who didn’t check out the new Fellow Tetrapod playlist, here are the highlights:

Black and gold” by Sam Sparro – yeah, that’s where I’m at.

Delicious” by Kang Nam – for the many food scenes that are going to be in this book

Youngblood” from the Jem and the Holograms movie – for this book’s many questionable decisions.

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