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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

AMA Karaoke: Come Sing With Us!

Every year for... uh... a long time now, I've hosted karaoke at Anime Mid-Atlantic. It's a Japanese entertainment-centric competition where attendees can get up and sing for the crowd for a chance to win some awesome prizes courtesy of the event and our vendors.

I'm also pleased to say it is one of the most supportive con events I've ever participated in.

No joke, live karaoke in front of people is one of the toughest things you can do, especially when there's an audience vs. performer setup with a stage and everything. You may tell yourself it's your buddies, fellow attendees, people who are just as nervous as you... but it can still be scary. I've seen my fair share of people get up there with visibly shaking hands.

But you know what's really great about con karaoke in general and AMA karaoke specifically? You have support. Even if you forget your words, or hit the wrong note, or maybe the song makes you emotional, the entire crowd (and staff) has your back. I do warn in the rules that heckling and booing will get you ejected from the event, but I've never once in all my time hosting for AMA had to make good on that.

Last year in particular was, as my staff and I told each other, probably the huggiest karaoke we've ever done. There was so much support and enthusiasm everywhere, and it reminded me why I still do this every year even though con prep is stressful and I'm dividing my time between the event and promoting for Onezumi Events. I just feel so good afterwards, because everyone has fun and is so happy. And that's the best feeling.

Now, there is one little thing I like to do differently from other con karaoke, which is Nightmare Mode. What is that? Well, two contestants sign up completely blind. They don't know what they're singing, they just get dealer's choice. I then send them music, lyrics, and (if it's available) an instrumental track. The song could be old-school, weird, or just plain difficult. But it will be a challenge. They sing during judging for the other singers, and they walk off with a prize no matter what because they took the plunge and dared to try something new.

I can't wait to do this again for 2017, and entries are already rolling in! If you're in the mid-Atlantic, why not register for AMA? It's currently $50 for a full weekend pass. Then be sure to register for karaoke. To keep things on a theme, we accept songs from anime, J-drama, and games/shows of Japanese origin. And we'd love to have you join us!

See you this June!

Monday, April 24, 2017

REVIEW: April Birchbox: "Inside Out"

Honestly, there are times I feel like my monthly Birchbox is my reward for looking after myself. And/or getting out of bed. It's been a rough few weeks for me, so cracking something open with just a pile of nice stuff in it was something of a relief for me. This month's theme, "Inside Out," reflects the nature of the products inside -- multitaskers that are useful from both a cosmetic and skin care standpoint.

And fortunately this month, I knew what everything was!

Marcelle BB Cream Golden Glow ~ $29

Double plus good. I love Marcelle as a brand, and I love BB cream. For someone like me who's clumsy with makeup and always waits 'til the last minute to slap any on, I am all about anything you can put on casually.

I was unsure about the "golden glow" part of it, and when it first went on my skin it looked a little too warm-tinted to blend well. But it looked better as I went on, and ended up adjusting nicely so it didn't look like I'd picked the wrong shade at the grocery store or anything.

This wore very comfortably and stayed on nicely. And it didn't separate like my usual Burt's Bees, either.

Davines LOVE Smoothing Shampoo - For Coarse or Frizzy Hair ~ $26

Always on board to try new shampoo. This had a nice subtle scent to it, was kind of purpley in colour (which is a small point but I love purple), and really did its job. It felt a little heavier than my usual, so it took a little more working through to get it all rinsed out, but the result was nice.

I generally shy away from anything with olive oil in it, but this was made with olive extract and didn't feel terrible and goopy on my hands.

Davines LOVE Smoothing Conditioner - For Coarse or Frizzy Hair ~ $30

After the hair masks, it was nice to just get plain old conditioner. I speak that language. This was a single-serving packet thrown in as a bonus. And it was reeeeeeeeally thick. It honestly felt more like a paste than even the hair masks I've been sent. So I had a little trouble with it at first.

In the end, though, great results. Potentially better than the previous hair masks they sent. I am genuinely tempted to pick up both of these in a set.

Number 4 Jour d'Automne Smoothing Balm ~ $30

My first thought when I opened this was "hotel." It genuinely smells like every shampoo/conditioner/soap/lotion set you find in hotel bathrooms. That's not cursing it. Just something I noticed.

With that out of the way, I really do like the feel of this. It wasn't oily or heavy, and it went into my hair (damp) without weighing it down or making me feel like I was just dropping all the oil right back into it. Which is a plus. My hair is basically impossible to de-frizz completely, but it did enough that I didn't go out looking like I'd stuck my finger in a socket. Which is an accomplishment.

Dr. Jart + Cicapair Tiger Grass Cream ~ $48

I kinda wish this had either come in an earlier box or that all the redness around my eyes and cheeks had come later, because this would have been perfect. As it is, I do have some owwie spots on occasion,and it really does make a difference.

It's thick, but it rubs in well and a little goes a long way. Which is good because at $48 for a little tube I'm not sure I could afford to buy this on the regular. Still, it's a good thing to have on hand for sure.

The Beauty Crop GRLPWR Liquid Lipstick ~ $15

Have I mentioned yet how much I love liquid lipstick? I love it, I love it, I love it. It goes on less icky than any other kind, it goes all matte when it dries, and most types smell kinda chocolate-minty so it's like I'm spreading hot chocolate on my face.

I got this stick in the shade "Imma Bawse," which is a blaringly bright red of a colour I don't normally go for. Though in my profile I do request to be surprised, so I wasn't against it. Let me show you this shade.

Yeah, it's red. And honestly, I really like it. As for durability, it stays on nicely... until you drink something, and then you end up going home with that awful sort of ring of half-done lip. If I'd been long-term at a club I'd have taken it with me and redone it in the bathroom, but eh. All that said, I really do like it.

This month's Birchbox was way more hit than miss, of a much higher percentage than usual. Definitely going to buy a lot of what was in here.

Want to try Birchbox for yourself? Click here and check it out -- there's boxes for men and women, cosmetic and skin care!

Friday, April 21, 2017

"Interviews with Monster Girls" ~ Four Lessons About Living with Disability

In my early takes on the winter anime season, I noted that Interviews with Monster Girls (originally Demi-chan wa Kataritai, or "Demi-chans want to talk") seems like the worst possible setup for a harem show, but ends up overturning those fears extremely quickly. It genuinely looks like fanboy bait in every respect, what with it taking place in a high school, involving paranormal high schoolers and one male lead, and including a succubus in its cast.

I was more than a little shocked to watch as it quickly bucked "paranormal ecchi" for social commentary on the lives of disabled people attempting to function in normal society. And then handling it well. Because God knows I'm tired of seeing Very Special Episodes that get it all wrong.

The central character of the series is Takahashi-sensei, a high school biology teacher in an alternate universe where demi-humans are not only recognised, but integrated into society. Think Grimm with less killing and more overall understanding. Vampires, succubi, dullahans, and yuki-onna are the result of genetic mutations, and their differences from humanity combined with a general fear of the unknown turned them into the stuff of legend.

Takahashi-sensei is fascinated by demi-humans (who prefer to be called "demis"), and wants to learn more about them. He just happens to find himself at a school that contains four. And while his encounters with them are originally to satisfy his own curiosity, he eventually becomes a confidant, enabling them to attend school more comfortably and helping the student body be more accepting of them.

And each of the demis, in turn, explores a different side of living with disability.

Hikari: Support Systems

Series poster girl Hikari is a blonde, bright, cheery vampire. Being a "vampire" in this universe does involve consuming human blood (although some vampires can go off it in the same way humans can give up meat), sunburning and suffering heat exhaustion easily, having excellent night vision, and itching to bite things -- literally.

Of the four demis in the series, Hikari seems the least concerned with her nature. She's already got coping methods in place such as government blood (yep) and a fridge in her room. But she's also lazy, irresponsible, and easily distracted, leading to her non-vampire twin Himari looking after her a great deal.

Hikari kicks off the between-class chat sessions with Takahashi-sensei, but her storyline also offers insight into the concept of disability vs. presumed laziness. Many disabled people genuinely do have limited energy resources -- which, in Interviews, is represented by a conceived inability to do certain things thanks to Hikari's vampiric nature. (It turns out that these things are not true and Hikari really is just lazy... not a sign that disabled people are lazy, but a reminder that disability does not make someone a martyr.)

While Hikari is not the only one with a family, her family goes out of their way more than others to make sure she has a support system -- even going so far as to lighten their hair so her bright blonde is less noticeable in the group. In the end, the lesson of Hikari's arc is both the necessity of a support system and -- via Himari -- the necessity of that support system to see the disabled person as a whole person, rather than becoming nothing but a caretaker.

Kyoko: "Normality"

Kyoko the dullahan is a rarity even among demis -- she is one of only three or four of her kind in the world. While her condition is unique and difficult (her neck exists in a wormhole and she's forced to carry her head around), her coping methods in order to maintain quality of life are relatively few and far between compared to the others. She also seems more fascinated by her condition than burdened by it, and expresses a desire late in the series to go into demi-human research so she can learn more about herself and help fellow demis.

However, despite her being one of the most "taken care of" demis in the show, the people around her (Takahashi-sensei included) seem to consider her one of the worst off. Classmates are put off by the offhand way in which she talks about her condition, and even Takahashi-sensei briefly finds himself wondering what it would be like if she were "normal" and musing on how much happier she'd be.

Fortunately, he knows better in the end; Kyoko is normal. She's generally happy and unconcerned, and she's even found ways in which her condition can be helpful (being able to do chores without missing your favourite show, for example). But many pity her because, from their angle, it must be terrible to be her.

Kyoko's journey in the story is far less about her and far more about those around her... their ability to see that "different" is not "abnormal," and that she isn't sad or miserable just because she's not like everyone else around her.

Yuki: Fear of Your Condition

Yuki-onna -- literally "snow women" -- are a common mythical creature in Japan. For the uninitiated, they are ghostly women who use their ice powers to kill and ensnare humans (often men). In the "real" world of Interviews, they (like vampires) are extremely sensitive to heat, and also possess the ability to create cold air and ice around them. One wonders if Frozen exists in this universe, and how it was taken if so.

Yuki's journey is probably the greatest in the series, to the point that her "curtain call" in the opening actually changes drastically mid-series. She isolates herself, fearful that she will hurt someone, because of an incident in her past that seems to align with all the horrible legends of yuki-onna. This leads to many seeing her as standoffish -- angering some and saddening others.

Through Takahashi-sensei, Yuki learns what her condition really entails, how she does what she does, and that... well... she really doesn't need to be afraid of it at all. It alters quality of life for herself, but not for others. And with new coping mechanisms in place, we're able to see Yuki not only grow as a character, but also try to find ways to make her identity serve her, rather than the other way around.

Sakie: Finding Love

One of the hardest -- and less talked-about -- sides of living with a physical or mental disability is the fear that we will never truly find love. It may be because we feel something about our condition makes us unattractive. Or because we can't trust anyone. Or because we worry that our condition will harm or inconvenience a potential partner. In Sakie's case, it's because she's a succubus -- and simply touching someone has an aphrodisiac effect.

The one teacher out of the four demis, Sakie has carefully crafted a life for herself that will make sure she never inconveniences anyone else. She lives out in the middle of nowhere to keep her powers from affecting anyone while she sleeps. She takes the earliest and latest trains, which are practically empty, to avoid brushing against people. She dresses down to hide her nature. And even though she's unquestionably a party girl who loves a beer and desperately wants a boyfriend, she never goes out, staying home in the evenings and drinking with her teddy bear instead.

While her lifestyle has kept her "footprint" on society essentially nonexistent, it hasn't done her many favours. She wants to find love, but fears she may never know what's real love and what's just her succubus nature affecting someone yet again. So even though she is content to believe that her isolation is completely her own choice and no problem at all... it's not.

And that's another problem with living with disability. We don't want to inconvenience those around us, but many of us take that to an impossible extreme. The series ends with Sakie attempting to find a middle ground, but (at least in the anime) the results are yet to be seen.

In the interest of full disclosure. Does absolutely every freaking demi in this show crush on Takahashi-sensei? Yes. Does that make it a harem show? Not really. These are three high school girls (and one lonely teacher) who have all found a chill, caring guy who spends time with them, helps them be more secure in their identities, and is also apparently super ripped. With the exception of Sakie, the crushes are not any sort of plot point. And speaking as someone with a male high school teacher friend... girls do crush. In a real high school, his fan club would probably be a lot bigger and a lot more vocal.

But the prime message of this series is acceptance. Of others who are different from you, but also of yourself if there is something about you that you feel is strange, wrong, "broken," or otherwise. And, most importantly, it shows just how much can change for a person if you just open your ears to them and let them say what they need to say.

Interviews with Monster Girls is available to watch on Crunchyroll.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Discover Teas ~ Time to Dye!

Now that there are no children in the immediate family, Easter is a far more chill time of year for my family. Like all other holidays, the core of it tends to be going over to my uncle and aunt's place, having dinner, watching some MST3K (especially true now), and comparing notes on working in the arts.

So no, not a lot of egg dyeing goes on. Even so, I did stop in on Discover Teas' egg dyeing workshop beforehand. The class taught you how to forego store-bought dyes and use natural tea leaves and herbs (plus another ingredient or two) to create your own pretty colours at home.

We did get a worksheet of what herbs and teas produce which effects -- in the interests of the shop, I won't be cribbing it. But for quick examples? Regular black tea gives a reddish-brown hue, hibiscus gives a greyish-black, and various shades of yellow can be achieved with chamomile, turmeric, or green tea. How to do it and how to get various effects can be learned at a class like this one -- but one thing I'll say is that, unlike drugstore dye, the eggs have to sit a lot longer. Talking into the hours. But it's worth it.

Emily did a great job teaching the class -- she even had a very cool Overwatch themed egg she made in advance. (Sadly, didn't get a photo of that.) We also got to take our own eggs home, already in a tea/dye bath, to see how they turned out later. I went with the black tea.

Besides the fact that I'm just a black tea junkie in general, I had a reason for my choice. Back when my grandfather was a kid living in West Virginia, his family dyed eggs for the Orthodox church where his dad was a priest. Red eggs are actually used as part of the Orthodox Easter rite, and the eggs had to be dyed with natural ingredients. So this is how they did it -- same way as we learned at the shop.

Sadly I didn't have a chance to do any experimenting with other colours this year, but I'm hoping to play with some different teas next year and do a nice little basket for my family. If you're interested in learning more cool things like this, look up Discover Teas on Facebook!
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Monday, April 17, 2017

"Ex Machina" ~ Embracing the Experiment

Note: This article contains spoilers for the entirety of the film. If you do not want to be spoiled, please do not read on.

The concept of artificial intelligence has been one of my favourite topics since I was old enough to create stories and world-build. One of my earliest attempts at writing covered that beloved old saw of science fiction: what if artificially-intelligent beings really did care about us? What if they had motivations beyond their programming? What if they could be, all things considered, human?

The 2015 flick Ex Machina is built heavily on that concept, and by the end of the first act it seems to be leading us toward that beautiful fairy-tale notion: the idea that a robot could "grow a soul" and have desires, yearnings, needs, wants, and loves. We see Ava -- what a name for a pretty AI girl trapped underground who seems only to want to escape -- looking quite human, standing at a crosswalk in an inspiring bright light, watching the world go by as she had said early in the film she wished she could.

And in that moment we feel something. We feel her humanity. We feel that freedom she yearned for, that her fellow experiments tore themselves apart for.

But more importantly in that moment... we, like Caleb, become the subject of the experiment. And we were fooled.

Back in my post about morality in video games, I discussed the true nature of artificial intelligence. While it's a lovely suspension of disbelief to think of computers and androids with souls, that is far more science fantasy than science fiction. This even applies to harder stuff like Black Mirror, where AI tends to be the victim of human whim. It's key to remember here that that series is actually a subversion of sci-fi -- where by-the-book science fiction is man vs. technology, Black Mirror is man, pure and simple, as reflected in technology.

So what, then, is the real nature of artificial intelligence? It's actually quite boring: AI is information fed into a computer and then given the ability to progress down a tree using that information at the speed of human thought or better. And in that respect, we work with artificially intelligent machines every day. We have to or we'd never get anything done. AI is not a near-future development; it's in your pocket. It's in your video games. It's literally everywhere. And all it is, is the ability to run through a set series of a solutions to a problem very very quickly until the computer smacks into the one that works.

What most people are hoping for is what we might call Artificial Intuition: the ability to make a decision based not on dashing through everything it knows in order, but based on observation. It's the problem with things like autonomous cars, where it might have to choose between killing the passenger and killing a pedestrian. Without some as-yet-undiscovered element of programming, a computer cannot simply look at a problem and, like a human, go, "Oh, I've dealt with this before, I should do this." Even our buddy Watson operates via Artificial Intelligence -- not Artificial Intuition. And even that intelligence is limited.

In the aforementioned video game article, I noted that even morality-driven games like Undertale and Papers, Please are driven not by a universal morality, but by the ethics of the programmer. Even "mercy good, killing bad," which seems quite universal, came from the mind of one person and was programmed into the game in question. And that is the key thing to remember about artificial intelligence -- the computer cannot think or do anything that was not programmed into it. Even if it learns new words and concepts from other people, its core programming has been arranged a certain way. Think of it like those irritating "invisible walls" in video games that don't let you explore areas the programmer doesn't want you in.

Now let's talk about Nathan's experiments.

Nathan, despite playing the role of a Silicon Valley beer-guzzling robot-fucking tech-bro to the hilt, is not a fool. We know this. He's a genius. A genius strung up by his own hubris, but a genius nonetheless. We know by the third act that every aspect of Caleb's visit was planned, and we get slow-burn indications of just how deep Nathan's experiment goes.

To truly understand what he's up to, I have to take my NASA brat hat off and put my writer hat on. While an underground bunker with selectively locked doors is a perfect sci-fi setting, it's also a perfect model of Nathan's psyche. I'm referring to my old fave, Jung's concept that houses are representative of the owner's mind. Special rooms Caleb is allowed into and out of, dark secrets Caleb can only access when Nathan is blind drunk... it's an extremely basic, but well executed, example of the trope.

And it also serves to remind us that we, for the entirety of this movie, are in Nathan's World. Everything here is controlled by him. Everything we see, we see because he's decided we're allowed to see it. Everything. Even Ava. Even -- and a lot of people aren't going to like this -- the tragic AIs that came before her.

We learn late in the film that Ava's appearance, her kindness to Caleb, her flirtiness, were all programmed into her. Caleb was bait, and Nathan's test was to see if Ava could reason her way out of a trap, while simultaneously appearing human to Caleb. But here's the thing. One of the core points of this movie is that Nathan is in charge. That everything is under his watchful eye. And yet we're seeing that Ava and his previous projects all desire freedom. How can that be?

One potential reading is that this is a sign that Nathan is not as in control as he thinks, and that even his control is not absolute. That there are some things that he cannot account for. But then why set up the big reveal of the movie to be that absolutely everything was under his thumb?

The more likely reading is that Nathan programmed in the desire for freedom.

Why, though? Why do that to himself? In-world, there are a few potential reasons. It could have been to give him something to test -- knowing that test subjects are more motivated by a want or a need, and thus realizing these AIs would have to want something in order to give good results. Hell, it could have been a kink. We already know he only makes "operational" pretty fembots. Maybe he's just that big a sleaze and wants a girl to control. Or maybe he wants them to escape, to set into motion the AI-fueled future he described to Caleb.

On a metatextual level, though, we have to remember what I said before. AI contains the morality of the programmer. Ava and Kyoko and the others reflect Nathan, his beliefs, his needs and wants. They are equipped with his way of thinking. Perhaps, once we scratch the surface, we're actually seeing the story of a man desperate for an escape. From what? We'll never know, as he's been rather conveniently silenced.

Now that we have that laid out, let's go back to the movie's old buddy, the Turing Test. And let's remember what Nathan and Caleb keep on coming back to: the true subject of the Turing Test.

As stated in the movie, the Test doesn't determine whether or not a computer is "like a human." Rather, it tests whether it operates in such a way that a human believes they're speaking to another human. The human is the mouse in the maze. Not the computer. And even though we have this distinction drawn for us throughout the movie, we forget until the truth of Nathan's test becomes clear.

The test in the movie, as we learn, was never to see if Ava is a convincing human. It was, to put it bluntly, to see if Caleb can be tricked into thinking that Ava somehow has a magical robot soul. Did it work? Yes. And it worked on us, too.

Think of the final span of the movie. Think of Ava and Kyoko as they take down the creator who trapped them. Think of Ava pensively examining the old robots, creating a human form for herself. Think of her with her flowing hair, looking like a "real girl," stepping out into the real world, standing at the crosswalk with all of life and the real world ahead of her, free from her bunker, free to explore.

And then remember that there is absolutely nothing in her computer brain that wasn't put there by Nathan.

Remember that we spent an entire movie being led slowly down a path that ended in the realisation that everything is under Nathan's control. Even Nathan's death was under his control -- he did, after all, create robots whose prime directive was Freedom. Just because Ava killed him doesn't mean she was operating outside his programming; it just means that his morality, as represented in her programming, dictates that it's okay to sacrifice others to get what you want. (Which, from what we've seen of him, is not at all surprising.)

If your heart went out to Ava as she experienced the human world in human form? Congratulations. She worked on you. As we witness Caleb being tested, we miss the very real fact that we are the test subjects. The fact that, even after knowing her true nature, many of us are willing to put aside everything we've just been told -- just as Caleb did -- and give in to the fantasy of her potential humanity.

And if you were a little bit afraid? You'll probably survive longer than I will when the robot uprising happens.

Friday, April 14, 2017

REVIEW: "Rise of the Tomb Raider" Demo ~ Loving the Action Game

Straight-up, action games are hard for me to play for extended periods of time. Given my seizure issues and how prone I am to eyestrain because of them, I have maybe half an hour before I start getting vertigo and tunnel vision and my thumbs won't do the thing on the analog sticks. But I fight that (by which I mean I play in half hour chunks where I can) because damn it there's some beauties coming out.

Rob recently sat me in front of the demo for Rise of the Tomb Raider, and he generally sits me in front of games for one of two reasons: either they're super spoopy, or there's something about it that's deeply rooted in one of my Big Interests and ten minutes in I'm going to be leaning over the coffee table yelling about the Holy Roman Empire or some shit. This was definitely and solidly in the realm of the second.

Point the first, I was really happy to see that Rhianna Pratchett was back for this one. My absolute devotion to the works of her late father aside, Pratchett herself is a damned talented game player. I never finished her first Tomb Raider game, but I played enough to know it was solid and I heard from people who would know -- and would speak up -- if Lara Croft wasn't written realistically. So when I knew her name was attached, I wasn't concerned about the scenario at all. I knew it would be good.

Point the second, the gameplay itself... and it's something I noticed in Resident Evil 7. (Which I haven't played for jumpscare reasons but I've watched several playthroughs of it and I did play the demo.) Night Mind did a great video on what makes RE7 successful as horror, and one was something I noticed in this game: you're not sure what's a game and what's a cut scene.

Now, yeah. If you press a button during a cut scene, you'll get a little pop-up at the button that says you're cool and don't need to do anything. But in the moment, as Lara is scrambling to land her picks in an icy cliff face, it could go either way -- and you learn that quickly when something that looks distinctly like a cut scene... isn't. And you plummet to your death.

Like RE7, Rise of the Tomb Raider takes away your trust in camera angles and other typical game tropes to tell you when you can rest. For the former, that heightens the horror; for the latter, it heightens the tension and action. Even when the story takes over, you can't sit back and watch because maybe at the end of this cinematic you'll have to grab on to that cliff that's hurtling toward you.

That's another plus of improved gameplay graphics: you can pull that on a player.

The story itself is a piece of work, too. And that's the real reason I was sat down in front of it: religious imagery, cults, the Middle East, analysis of iconography... holy crow. For someone into the history of religion, especially in that part of the world, it's like catnip. The use of Orthodox icons in the puzzle was especially pleasing to me, given my background.

And speaking of backgrounds. If you can spare even a second as you play, just stop and pan around. Everything is so beautiful and detailed. A lot went into this. And this is just the demo.

Incidentally, the demo cuts off at the most irritating place. Props to them for the most insane cliffhanger I've ever seen on a video game demo, but also how dare they.

I definitely want to play the rest of this. Even though it's exactly the kind of game that screws with my vertigo, I feel like it'll end up being worth it. That, and it's stepping into a whole new level of immersiveness I never foresaw: destroying the divide between gameplay and cutscene to a point that it causes a visceral reaction in the player. That's genius.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is a good two years old, so you can get it for cheap on your platform of choice.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Ribbon Trees" ~ Years in the Making

Sometimes (okay, constantly) I'll write a piece for a specific publication, very tightly themed, and it won't make it in. Occasionally that doesn't matter, but sometimes you're left with something extremely narrow in tone that, while it might find a home elsewhere, is often just too tailored for that sort of thing.

"Ribbon Trees" was a recounting of my trip to Avebury with my friend JJ. Mostly we were going to look at the stones, but there were also some straight-up magic (take that however you like) trees there. There's a great deal to the legend of them... and that was part of my piece. That, and the full experience of the place.

The legend of Avebury's trees sat in my mind for months (years, at this point) after my trip, and I was pleased that I had a chance to write about them and share the experience with a larger audience. Not everyone will have a chance to see them for themselves, after all.

Sadly, its inclusion had a very near miss (I made it to the short list, and even to the editing stages). These things happen, and so I filed it away to use later elsewhere.

Then I was approached again, asked if I might mind having it put in an online journal. All things considered? Not at all. It's a piece I'm proud of, and I was glad for it to find a home.

The home in question is Rooted, a spinoff site of the original anthology with which it shares a name. The site explores "our messy, beautiful, symbiotic relationship with trees." And it's a great spot for a lot of creative nonfiction on the same topic.

You can read my contribution free on their site. And, you know, if you enjoy seeing me write about crazy trees with magical properties, you may want to look into Owl's Flower, the light novel series I do with Ginger Hoesly.