There is Nothing New Under the Sun (*Sigh*)

I was invited to do a reading for a sci-fi/fantasy group in Kansas City. After the reading, there was a Q&A. During the conversation, I mentioned Irish Wolfhounds, and I noticed a somewhat skeptical expression on the face of one of the participants. She also asked if I had read any Brandon Sanderson, and when I said I hadn’t and had been recently chastised for it, she said she was a beta reader for him, and agreed that Mistborn was a great entry point.

I read the Mistborn trilogy the next month. Wolfhounds figure prominently. I connected her skeptical reaction with that fact–that she may have thought I copied Mr. Sanderson’s idea. I had this feeling of shame: “How dare I ever use a wolfhound in a book! Everyone will think I copied Brandon Sanderson! How could I have been so stupid!”

After reading the Mistborn books, I looked up his BYU lectures on YouTube, and watched the ones on publishing. The self-publishing lecture mentioned a writer who has a student travel back in time. He said the books are extremely well-researched and she puts out a book every four years. I looked up this author on Wikipedia, and I sighed–my “Wow! That idea is so great, I can’t sleep–I have to write it!” idea was done decades before I even began writing.

In the MCU, I sometimes see little scenes and phrases that make me wonder if someone read my books and took a few bright snippets from them, or if I’m just that obvious (things like “ouch, ouch, ouch” when Spidey’s back is getting stitched up at the end of one of the movies–that’s at the end of “Stasis.” Or the line about making everything “a chaotic mess”–one of Evil Bob’s assessments of the heroine in “Stasis.” Or the Winter Soldier’s difficult relationship with his therapist, including his angst when she takes down a note-the heroine has a similar relationship with her counselor in “Stasis.” Etc.).

Years ago, I taught a Sunday School class of older teenagers. One Sunday just before class started, they were whispering with each other and laughing. They stopped when I went to the board and started setting things up for the lesson, but then one of them started asking me questions about myself. I gave them the basic answers, nothing to write home about, but after five or six questions they were all laughing after each of my responses. Then they asked me if I knew a person named Stephenie Meyer who’d been an English major at BYU about the same time I was there. I said I’d had a roommate by that name who’d left my bike outside for a party when I was gone for the weekend and it’d been stolen, but I didn’t know what she majored in. That got them rolling on the floors.

I didn’t know until my husband’s birthday, when I asked him what he wanted and he said, “The ‘Twilight’ series,” that there was a famous author by that name. (She could not have been my roommate–she doesn’t look like her and ‘Meyer’ is her married name and obviously my roommate wasn’t married at the time.) Some time after he finished all the books, I read the series. There are details in there that do match a lot of things in my life, and the questions the kids had asked me a couple of months before were all about those things, so I could see why they laughed. But I saw an interview she gave where she said she’d made her main character, Bella, someone with characteristics that lots of women could identify with. Those similarities were like how a fortune-teller works–getting enough details right that you think, “How does she KNOW me so well?” and you ignore all the details that don’t match you.

People talk of a “spiritus mundi,” where every creative thought goes into a communal well from which anyone can draw. I remember hearing Sting say that he’d had a vivid dream and turned it into the song “The Lazarus Heart.” When he told a psychologist friend of his about it, the friend said it was the stereotypical dream of a certain group of, I can’t remember, fishermen tribes, or something. Sting’s response was something like, “I can’t even dream creatively!” The obscure fishermen had put their dreams in the communal well, and Sting’s subconsciousness had drawn it out, according to that theory. Every artist giving inspiration to every other artist to make new and more exciting things. A synergistic growth fueled by every individual’s creative energy and work. Nothing wasted, nothing lost.

Other people assume that anything new that resembles anything that came before is an act of copyright infringement. (Today’s laws are unworkable–I got a “copyright strike” warning on YouTube for putting up a video of me playing and singing Mozart’s ‘Alleluia,’ pirated copies of my books are up for sale on sites in China within hours after I publish them on Amazon, the “life of the author” standard means no one knows when old works by obscure authors are public domain, etc.) (My kids showed me this Tom Scott video, and I agree with the vast majority of it: YouTube’s Copyright System Isn’t Broken. The World’s Is.) These people can’t stand the idea of someone taking a tiny seed of an idea they had and turning it into an entirely different creative work. This attitude stifles creativity by requiring any creator to: 1) Know everything that exists; 2) Look over one’s own shoulder while creating to ensure that nothing that is being created bears any resemblance to anything that has ever existed.

However, there bad actors who grab other people’s work and are jerks with it–not just those who steal other’s creative works outright, either. For example, I think Miguel de Cervantes was perfectly justified in verbally sticking that loser author in a pillory and mocking that loser author’s lame copying of the Don Quixote character and mocking that loser author’s claim that his sucky book was a sequel to the original.

But there’s a continuum. Maybe Coldplay should’ve have had to pay some type of compensation to the guy whose guitar piece has the same chord progression as “Viva la Vida.” But to think that guy could’ve stopped Coldplay from making that song, a song that bears no resemblance to the guitar piece aside from the chord progression, sucks–it’s basically saying, “Let’s make the world a more boring place.” Should “Viva la Vida” not have been written, and should we, as a world population, been stuck with only the obscure guitar piece, just because the guy with the obscure guitar piece says so?

What if an MCU writer liked my, “ouch, ouch, ouch” scene and used it to make the end of a Spider-Man movie a little more entertaining? Should I have had the right to say, “No! I wrote that idea first, and you may never, EVER, use it!” But if the writer had gotten the idea from me, it would’ve been super-cool for the writer to give me a little good press–hopefully something better than: “I hated this book, but there was this one bit in it I liked, so I made it better and here you go” (and maybe take me to lunch to say thanks or something). What if an author uses bits of history or personality from people she knows or has heard of in order to make a character more realistic? Should every human who sees themselves in a character have a veto power on that character’s existence (couldn’t the author legitimately respond: “What do you care if I borrowed your personality and history? You weren’t doing anything with it!”)?

What an ironic problem to have: I can’t find a marketing genre that perfectly fits my books because they’re so different from what’s out there (people tell me: “historical fantasy” except it’s too gritty and science-y; “romance” except there’s peril and it doesn’t fit the extremely rigid romance plot structure; “sci-fi” except there’s too much of interpersonal relationships and not enough “hard” math and science; “fantasy” except it doesn’t have wizards or magic; “action-adventure: time travel” except it’s not strictly a page-turner; “diversity fiction” except that even though its main character is an ASD biological female she doesn’t count as diverse because she knows she’s a woman and she likes men, etc.), but I still have a nagging doubt that everything I write has already been done.

As I write, I find that just like Virginia Wolfe had to kill the angel of the house, I need to kill the voice that whispers: “You have nothing to offer. Everything you think or imagine has already been done, and better than how you, at your best, would do it. People will think you’re a fraud because they’re familiar with things you aren’t familiar with and will recognize elements of those things in your work.”

As the Preacher saith: There is no new thing under the sun.

And yet, I refuse to believe it. Guess I’m a heretic. 🙂

Doing Your Job Well Isn’t Being Salty

My Tatyova Commander Deck has Oko, Thief of Crowns in it. (Translation: I have a mostly-peaceful deck of 100 cards. One of those cards is so powerful that it has been banned in some formats.)

Oko, being a trickster, never shows up when I want him to. I’ll have nothing on the board, one of my kids has a thing that will kill everyone, I draw Oko, and I have to play him right then because he’ll at least get rid of that one thing.

But then he gets countered. (“Mom! You can’t play a bomb like Oko when your mono-blue opponent has ten cards in hand and five blue mana untapped!”)

Or he gets insta-killed. (“In response, Lightning Bolt. Fork.”)

And even if he survives landing on the battlefield, he never survives the next opponent’s turn. (“Move to combat. Swing at Oko with everything.” *Disapproving look.* “You should know better than to cast Oko when you don’t have a board state. We’re OBVIOUSLY going to wipe him out.”)

I used to have a lot of simply fun things in this deck– a triad of squirrel interactions, a handful of elf interactions, some things with slowly adding counters that only got people worried once I had twenty-five lands on the ground. Stuff that usually didn’t work, but would make you raise an eyebrow when it showed up, and if it actually did work, it was surprising and fun. But my son who favors mono-blue has continuously pointed out to me my deck’s failings, convinced me to trim the fat, and honed my deck into something with a greater win ratio.

So, the other night I drew Oko. I waited a couple of more turns until I had some more creatures on the board who could protect him. I watched while all my opponents tapped all their mana to play their bombs. I let their creatures fall, holding in reserve my counters and my blue mana.

Then Oko landed.

No one could counter him. I immediately took out the biggest threat. Then I protected him with Curator’s Ward. Instead of attacking, I left my creatures up to block for him, and I passed the turn. I countered everything my opponents tried against him. A few more turns, and Oko had become king of all.

My daughter took umbrage. She said the way I played Oko was the saltiest she’d ever seen. I said I was merely finally applying their own advice to me, given over many games. My kids told me I was salty like this scene from Game Knights. I said they were the salty ones; I was just playing my deck optimally for once.

Football teams also get irrationally accused of “too much winning.” BYU is currently 8-0, not having just won every game, but having won every game with a combo of smash-face and style that’s seldom seen on any field, anywhere. In our game against Texas State, we were ahead by a substantial margin, and in a 4th-and-one situation our punter (Rehkow) saw an opportunity, so faked the punt and ran for 49 yards. In the moment I was watching it, I was surprised and delighted. But then the announcer said that wasn’t a classy move. Our coach even apologized to the Texas State coach for that play. I guess this special-teams freshman who had been given some decision-making authority was supposed to hold back and play sub-optimally. He’s supposed to be excellent, he’s supposed to make sure we win, he’s supposed to display our team’s depth to those voting in the AP Poll who hold all the keys to whether or not BYU is invited to a bowl game that would generate millions of dollars for the university in these COVID-stretched times– but apparently, he was supposed to play below his insight and ability.

I once had a court case where my opposing counsel wrote a brief claiming the trial judge had messed up in seventeen different ways, any one of which would entitle his client to a new trial. I replied to all those (meritless) seventeen claims of error in my brief. He asked for an oral argument, and was given the standard ten minutes of time to present his case. When he stood up to the podium, he told the court he was going to argue all seventeen points. Well, I knew that was an impossibility. He got through two of them, then, after his time was out, addressed a third, and then, after the court invited him to sit down, mentioned several other points, and asked the court to consider all the others on its own (which it would have done, anyway).

I stood up, quickly addressed the points he’d covered, briefly addressed the points he’d specifically alluded to, and offered to take any questions on any of the rest. The court had none, so I sat down with several minutes to spare.

When the docket was over and all the attorneys were leaving, opposing counsel sought me out. He said he wished he’d been allowed to argue against my co-worker (who’d argued an earlier case on the docket) instead of the “dangerous” one. I laughed politely, and then said my co-worker was plenty dangerous. I thought that was the end of it, but when we got back, she told the other attorneys about it, and I was nicknamed “Danger” for a week or two.

A last example. I’ve participated in church councils (some weekly, some monthly) for several years. I generally try to keep people on task, to help the quiet people to contribute to the conversation, and to keep my own comments as short as possible. So, one week there was a discussion about whether to allow a certain person to bring his dogs to church. I was sure everyone would realize the absurdity of this request, so I hung back. But the comments seemed to be edging towards a feeling that we should be understanding towards this poor brother and let his dogs come into the building with him. When they were about to make a decision, I said, “Are these dogs licensed therapy dogs?”


“Are they small and well-behaved?”

“No. They’re big, and they jump on people.”

“Are they inside dogs?”

“No. They run around in his tall grass.”

I looked around the council. Then I said, “Well, if we’re having ‘Bring a Pet to Church Day,’ I’m sure my kids will want to have our cat come. I bet a lot of other folks would be happy to bring theirs, too. We’ll need to call in an exterminator for the fleas and ticks that get brought in, and we’ll have to assign a committee to clean the carpets after the animals have an accident on them. Also, we should be prepared for the lawsuits when the big animals knock over our elderly members or bite someone.”

Although I hadn’t said much, my comment became notorious. When someone brought up an unreasonable request that could result in very little positive and a whole lot of negative, all someone on the council had to do was say, “This sounds like ‘Bring a Pet to Church Day,'” and everyone would look at me, smile, and then redirect the discussion. From some later comments I heard from others who hadn’t been there, I suspect I had somehow gained a reputation for being a little salty, when I hadn’t done anything but succinctly state the facts.

I just played Oko how he was supposed to be played. Our punter just took the opportunity he’d been trained to see. I argued the case to the best of my ability. I stated facts and let people draw their own conclusions.

There ain’t no salt in that.

New Book Release: Concinnity

Link to purchase “Concinnity”

The three books, “Incubation,” “Emergence,” and “Concinnity,” comprise seven-year old Marcel’s first time-traveling trip– a quest that sent him to medieval Ireland.

I’d planned to write one book for Marcel, one for Pierre (involving pirates and De Soto’s misadventures, and giving hints at Thomas’s origins), and one for Charly (in France). But during his adventure, Marcel changed in ways I hadn’t anticipated, and the people he met along the way had their own stories, and so much more was going on than I’d realized at first, that it simply took much longer to reach the end of his quest than my research, maps, and plans had initially led me to believe.

I’ve loved sharing this place and time with these new friends– and with my ever-patient family. I hope this book will entertain and delight you, and perhaps something more.

–Alex Drevessa

Cover art by Arcanadragon

Hermitcraft Invasion

Once again, the same six notes stuck in my head. A short tune sung by a young man with a pleasant voice, a tone of shyness, and a Swedish accent mellowed by years of conversation with friends across the North Sea.

It began a few months ago. I was about to get on the BowFlex (and start one of my “Great Courses” lectures) while my kids ate breakfast. My oldest son checked his computer, then announced, “Gree-Anne uploaded a new episode!”

I rolled my eyes. “Is this one of those ‘watch other people play Minecraft’ things?”

My youngest daughter told the others that they shouldn’t let me watch, that I wouldn’t “get it,” and my lack of appreciation would spoil it for the rest of them. But she was outnumbered by her siblings. I said, “Fine. I promise not to say anything disparaging.”

As I started getting my heart-rate up, I learned that it was the Grand Opening of a “redstone build” that they’d named “Sahara” (pronounced the way Sting sings it in the Police song “Tea in the Sahara”) and that, like its antecedent IRL corporation, it was designed to deliver products quickly at competitive prices.

My first out-loud laugh came when I learned they’d just accidentally blown up their only customer when they launched their celebratory fireworks. A short time later I was panting/shouting at the screen, “That’s why you have a soft-opening! What are you thinking, guys?” And when a certain person got long-winded and Grian (the “Gree-Anne” I’d heard earlier) gently nudged him a little, and then a little more, and then a little more, until he fell off the platform, I was laughing so hard I had to stop my workout for a second to catch my breath. (My kids, knowing how much I loathe meetings, and how absolutely efficiently I try to run them when I have to be in charge of one, were laughing at how much I was laughing, and accused me of wishing I could do that to certain people.)

A few days later, at a big church dance, a fellow mom was talking to me about her kids, and complaining that it isn’t bad enough that they play videogames, themselves, but now they like to watch other people playing videogames. I turned to her son and said, “Do you watch Hermitcraft?”

He nodded.

“Did you see the Grand Opening of Sahara?”

He smiled.

I turned to his mom. “It was hilarious. There was this big machine they’d made, and instead of…”

Pretty soon the room was alive with other kids joining in, informing me that there was this whole subplot I’d missed of Grian gumming up the works by throwing in a potato, and didn’t I see the second Grand Opening where the customer who’d gotten blown up was now standing WAY off in the distance to watch the celebratory fireworks, and, and, and…

So now I’m hooked, to the point that the other morning my kids said, “There’s a live-stream today with Mumbo-Jumbo…”

“I’m not letting you watch someone click on blocks of sand for two hours.”

“No, Mom. He and Iskall are going End Busting.”

“Which means?”

“They’re going to find villages in the End and fight things and get stuff you can’t get anywhere else.”

“Mumbo is going with Iskall?” (Iskall85 is the only Hermit I’ve subscribed to, myself.) [Personally, I think his current Omega Tree build is (subconsciously) influenced by the World Tree (Yggdrasil) myth of ancient Scandinavian culture; this, even though Nassim Taleb might argue it’s foolish to start with a creative work and look backwards to find cultural inspiration for it.]

“Yeah, Mom. It’s starting right now!”

Well, they were all more than up-to-date with their schoolwork, and we never actually took a Spring Break, and I had a couple dozen mindless tasks that I’d pushed off too long and really needed to get done, so I said okay, but just for an hour or ninety minutes.

“Don’t worry. It’s only going to be an hour.”

Close to four hours later, pretty much all of us, including the young men who were live-streaming, were fairly slap-happy with silliness.

And now, this past week, at completely random moments (doing dishes, hiking, working on a legal project), the tiny bit of tune plays through my head:

“Do you even bust, bro?”

Hiking Horsetail Falls, Alpine, Utah

I took this hike at the end of July. It’s a gorgeous trail with plenty of shade, cold mountain streams, huge boulders, flowers, pine and aspen trees, a meadow, and views of the enchanting falls themselves.

Be sure to bring plenty of water on this hike, especially if you go in summer. Things to beware of on this trail include: loose rocks, steep inclines, creek crossings, rough patches, and an occasional nasty pile of horse poop.

The trail head is just a short drive from the center of Alpine, Utah.

Map from Alpine to Trail Head

The trail is two miles long, but then you have to hike back down, making it a total of four miles. Its elevation changes by 1,617 feet, so plan on taking it slow. Personally, I spent about 90 minutes going up and about an hour going down, although I was stopping along the way to briefly talk with friendly people and to take pictures and videos.

You’ll park in the gravel lot, then begin the hike north on a rocky path through tall grass. Soon you’ll be able to see the near mountain peaks: View from the trail head.

View from lower end of trail

Once you get into the forest, the views disappear, replaced with other beauties all along the way. Meeting a butterfly

About forty minutes up, there’s a short side trail marked by intriguing round boulders about as tall as your waist. This trail gives you a distant glimpse of the falls: Boulder trail to far view of falls.

Although the towering trees become thicker as you continue higher, there’s still enough light reaching the forest floor to let drifts of asters bloom under the tall pines: Asters and tall pines. Often along the trail you’ll see huge boulders and giant trees laid flat along the slopes– picturesque reminders of how wild and dangerous the mountains can be.

About two-thirds of the way up, the trail opens into a pretty meadow, the most level and easy part of the trail. It’s a short rest that contrasts with what comes next. Walking into the meadow

Much of the higher part of the trail is crossed by, or even composed of, wide, shallow creek beds. The clear water flows from melting glaciers higher up, and feels extremely refreshing until your toes go numb. Crossing the shallow stream  Other trickling streams are so small and hidden among the plants that you hear them before you see them. Rivulet

At last, up ahead, through the trees, you’ll spy a signpost:

When you reach the signpost, take the trail on the left. Continue on, but not very far. On the left side of the trail, down the slope, look for a small tree with a black rope tied to it. Finding the rope to go down the trail to the falls Grab firm hold of that rope, and use it to help yourself go down the extremely steep beginning part of the trail to the falls.

This trail is skinny, damp, and rugged. It’s full of sweet-smelling plants that I couldn’t identify, but maybe you can from these videos: Lovely smells * More lovely smells. The trail is lush to the point of being overgrown– plants will constantly be brushing against your skin and hair.

Soon you’ll start to hear the roaring of the falls. Then you’ll come out on the rocky ledge, and at last you’ll have this beautiful view: At the falls. I stayed a few minutes to enjoy the scene. I had to be careful, because the steep rock surface was slippery with dust and grit, and I didn’t want to end up on the news as: “Stupid Hiker Dies at Falls.” I was tempted to try to get within touching distance of the water, but this same worry forestalled me.

On the way back I caught a view I’d missed on the way up:

View from a lookout spot

This trail had my favorite amount of traffic on it: short periods of time when I couldn’t see or hear anyone else, periodic quick greetings with fellow-hikers, and even an occasional short chat with the friendliest hikers or those who needed a little guidance.

As I was writing this post, I came across a great website that describes this and many other trails: I used the information on that site to find out how long the Horsetail Falls trail really was, and what the change in elevation was on the trail. Now that I know that website exists, I’ll have to use it to find some other great places to explore.

Happy wandering!

Popular Astrophysicist Unwittingly Defines “Hell”

Warning: This is a religious post. Also, these are only my personal thoughts, and are in NO WAY an attempt to make an official statement of any religion.

At the end of chapter six, “Dark Matter,” in Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” he says, “Behold my recurring nightmare: Are we, too, missing some basic pieces of the universe that once were? What part of the cosmic history book has been marked ‘access denied’? What remains absent from our theories and equations that ought to be there, leaving us groping for answers we may never find?”

To me, this quote describes the hell it would eventually be, to be sentenced to any post-mortal existence where knowledge is limited.

As I consider that Telestial beings (murderers, rapists, thieves, liars) are limited to the knowledge and power of a Telestial world, that this earth is in a Telestial state, and that all the pretty-well-understood forces operating on this earth tend towards disorganization, I surmise that post-mortal life in the Telestial kingdom is always a struggle against slipping backwards. You are Sisyphus and his rock, unable to get beyond the immediate problem of decline.

I suspect the Terrestrial kingdom (decent folk who’ve reached a plateau and refused to become more) is a place where things are fairly stagnant. They neither decay nor expand. People are separate and single– individuals have neither root nor branch (ancestors nor progeny) because they never made ties that could withstand trial by fire. How soon before the charm of sameness fades? This is a kingdom of glory, and things are somewhat pleasant, like a post-mortal Garden of Eden. But what you can learn and become has a limit– and, therefore, it’s still the nightmare Dr. Tyson describes.

I think Celestial beings (those who use time well, are kind, judge righteous judgement, make every organization they’re part of stronger and happier, make mistakes but always try again and trust God to make up the difference, improve their talents, those who could slap their worn-down, scarred bodies on the judgement bar as visible proof of their service to others) are ready to live where they can continue what they’ve been doing during this mortal section of their eternal lives. They never reach a place where “the cosmic history book has been marked ‘access denied’[,]” or they are left “groping for answers [they] may never find[.]” Quite the opposite– the universe’s knowledge flows to that person, “without compulsory means.”

I get the feeling that Dr. Tyson doesn’t have much use for religion. But I love the way he lets knowledge flow through him to people like me (a celestial quality in him, eh?). Perhaps he’d roll his eyes at my use of his sentiments, but he succinctly described a final result where we immortals are prohibited from learning more. My life is better for believing that’s an avoidable fate.

Some might say it’s blasphemous to believe that we, God’s children, could, in some far-off eternity, actually keep His commandment to become like Him. But I say, anything else is hell. I think the physics backs me up…

NaNoWriMo Success (ish)!

I started National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) with about 54,000 words written in Book Six of the “Stasis” series. At this moment the book is 85,300 words. That means I fell 18,700 words short of the NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words in one month.

In decimal form, I accomplished 62.6% of my goal. If this had been a class, I’d have a D minus. The worst passing grade you can get.

In picture form, my hopes of reaching 50,000 words had a progression something like this:

Bright optimism

Winter of discontent

Mushy despair

It’s much like when I took Calculus 112. I listened in class, I did all the homework, and I studied for the tests in order to achieve my goal of getting an A. But my grades kept coming in worse than I’d hoped. As finals approached, I determined that I needed a 69% on the exam in order to have a “B” for my semester grade. I crammed, I went to the testing center, I worked through every minute they allowed me, and at last I turned in my final. Then I gathered with the crowd of students waiting for their name and test score to appear on the screen. The dread in that little vestibule was palpable.

Finally, my name flashed on the screen, accompanied by a huge “69% D.” I yelled, “YES!” and happily left the room, to the perplexed stares of the other students.

Circling back to NaNoWriMo, I’m happy with my D minus there, too. I really like those 31,300 words I wrote this month. The book has taken some turns that completely surprised me. I’ve loved getting to know some of these secondary characters that have troubles and passions all their own. I wish the end of the book were already in existence because I can’t wait to see what happens next. And, I cut out several thousand words I didn’t like.

Yes, I didn’t meet my goal of having 104,000 words by the end of this month. My hopes, like the Jack-o’-lanterns, turned to mush. But unlike the Jack-o’-lanterns and Calc 112, instead of ending up with something nasty or barely passable, I think I ended up with something like this:

Pumpkin Pie Happiness

Congratulations to everyone who had a NaNoWriMo success (or success-ish) this year!

Tricky Hexaflexagons

Vi Hart has a series of mind-blowing videos that explore intriguing math concepts in rapid, quirky, entertaining ways.

I love the little hexaflexagons. You can think of them as half nose-pincher (or fortune-teller, or origami basket– you know, that toy you made during church by ripping the program into a square and folding in its corners to the middle, then flipping it over and folding the corners in again) and half way-cool-math-avante garde concept art.

I made some short videos to simply explain how to make and use the two kinds of these tricky devices:

How to Make a Hexaflexagon

Hexaflexagon Design Tip

How to Make a Hexa-Hexaflexagon

How to Find All Six Sides on a Hexa-Hexaflexagon

If you’re a teacher, feel free to check out my three lesson plans on hexaflexagons. I included links to the Vi Hart videos. The links are to her Vimeo videos, because you can download them from there (so you don’t have to rely on streaming them during class).

To Beard, or Not to Beard

If space aliens were to come to earth seeking the best male specimens for their collection, they might choose these four guys:

Taysom, Langi, Bronson, Kafusi (Corbin)
Taysom, Langi, Bronson, Kafusi (Corbin). Originally tweeted here:

This picture was reposted with a seemingly innocent comment about how great they looked with their beards.

But there was a tang of rebellion in the compliment.

You see, these four men played football for BYU. Part of the Honor Code is that men must be clean-shaven, or at most, wear a mustache. This rule hardly mattered from the 80’s to the early 2000’s– anyone respectable was clean-shaven, so arguing against this rule was tantamount to arguing that you wanted to give the University a bad reputation. While I was there, to me, arguing against “the beard rule” looked like nothing more than asking to be a slouch about your personal hygiene.

Maybe part of that was because the first, and only, time I’ve seen my dad in a beard was when he came home from an extended hunting trip. We were thrilled when the station wagon pulled up to the house. My sisters and I ran out calling, “Daddy!” But I stopped in my tracks, aghast at the man with the giant black bush obscuring the lower half of his face who was hugging my older sister. He smelled bad, too. Shaving was just part of getting back to cleanliness.

But about five years ago, I was writing a scene where a character was growing a beard. I was trying to decide whether it was realistic for him to be handsome under those circumstances. I went to the grocery store and looked around to see if there were any men with beards that weren’t entirely scummy. There weren’t any, until I turned in to the cereal aisle, and way at the end was a fellow wearing a short beard, and he seemed okay. Satisfied that it was possible, I continued writing the scene.

However, now that I’d started looking for beards, I noticed them everywhere, and at an increasing rate. For example, at a Magic the Gathering pre-release event, out of about forty people, the only ones not wearing beards were my four children, me, two other women, and two men. Though I generally don’t mind being the only female in a group, there was this odd sense that the beards were a matter of pride, and not having one was what relegated a person to the “women and children” sphere. It put me in mind of when King David sent messengers to comfort the new king on his father’s death, and the new king shaved half the beard off each messenger’s face. But instead of just going clean-shaven, King David had them live by themselves until their beards grew back, so they could avoid the humiliation of going beardless. That was a culture where manliness was everything, and nothing screamed manliness like having a beard.

Still, in spite of friends telling me how toasty warm their beards kept them in the bitter winter wind, or how proudly they displayed the thick hair on their chins (one even decorated his with braids and Christmas ornaments), I’d guessed that beards were a short fashion trend.

But it’s stayed.

An article about the origins of the modern penchant for beards (warning: the article is PG-13) traced this facial hair trend to the U.S. special ops forces operating in Iraq. The irony was that the soldiers with the most deadly assignments were allowed to wear beards to build rapport with the locals, but the locals soon learned that the U.S. soldiers with the beards were the ones most to be feared. Within the military, being allowed (or required) to grow a beard was a visual statement that you were the best of the best. This feeling came home with the returning soldiers, and has now spread generally.

I thought the article was interesting, but it still just described a fashion choice, right? I mean, it’s just hair. Men can’t really care about it all that much, right?


A few weeks ago, just before sunrise, I was at a film shoot. There was an efficient process to get all the extras ready to go on set. Outside the last trailer, I noticed a bunch of men talking together, not quite upset, but definitely animated. It turned out that all but one of them had just had their beards shaved off. They were talking about how long they’d been growing them, how good they’d looked with them, how strange they felt without them. The one who’d been allowed to keep his was stroking it in a highly pleased way, occasionally throwing out comments about how the others’ beards obviously hadn’t been very good, or they’d have been allowed to keep them. Much later, as the sun was setting and everyone was back in street clothes, the men were still saying how unused they were to being without their beards, and wondering with more immediacy how their family members would react.

So is this simply a fashion trend? Or is it a cultural shift? If the decision to beard, or not to beard, has always had some deeply personal, even primal dimension to it, throwing off the shackles of shaving may really be the outward sign of a deeper cultural rumbling.