People Watching

Kage Baker liked to people watch.

Sitting quietly somewhere, preferably with a nice drink of something to hand, just grooving on the passing tide of people – that was something she always enjoyed. It was something to occupy waiting time in lines, air port lounges, hotel lobbies; something to sometimes even go out specifically to do, sitting somewhere interesting like a mall or the Hollywood Bowl and enjoying the cavalcade.

There’s a Simon & Garfunkle song with a verse about it – “America” (which was always a sacred traveler’s song to us) … Laughing on the bus/ Playing games with the faces, /She said the man in the gabardine suit/ Was a spy./I said, “Be careful,/His bow tie is really a camera … There’s a classic Larry Niven story, too, the title of which I cannot GODSDAMNIT recall, about someone who subscribes to magazines about the sport. An interesting idea, in an increasingly crowded world. (Any suggestions, Dear Readers, will be appreciated …)*  **

We used to sit and wonder where people came from, where they were going. What kind of aliens they really were; because the variety of Homo sapiens phenotypes is such that dozens of aliens could walk among us and never be noticed. People whose complexions were peculiar, or whose bone structure was unique; or who, as Kage said “Averted their eyes from strange things, and stared too long at others.”

(There was a fellow who used to hang around Hollywood Boulevard when we were teenagers, whom Kage called The Werewolf of Hollywood (before Warren Zevon’s classic song, which subsequently became a favourite of ours) and he really did look like his genetics were of a lupine nature. Some sort of transient, I think, but a well-spoken fellow who somehow never scared even such a skitzy pair of idiots as we were.)

We especially enjoyed finding people who might be characters in Kage’s stories. Sometimes they were people she’d already written about; sometimes, they were suddenly a face she needed in to see in Byblos or The City In The Cliffs. We were adept at seeing Company Operatives drifting through the crowds in museums and art galleries; likewise demons and sorcerers who cropped up in theatre audiences, or a passing limousine … in Hollywood, damn near anything in the Known Universe can pass you in a Rolls Royce 3:4 saloon.

I had reason today to spend some time in a DMV office. Not for myself, but as chauffeuse for my nephew Michael, who is in the process of acquiring his driver’s license. The best way to do this is to make an appointment at a relatively outlying office; your travails will still exist, but not last as long. In poor Michael’s case, they were brief indeed; the State of California, despite having confirmed his appointment 4 days ago, had lost any record of it when we got there today. Another rite of passage peculiar to Los Angeles: go home and try again another day.

But while my stalwart nephew made his way fruitlessly through the maw of bureaucracy, I sat and watched the crowd. There are days when everyone you see just looks funny – there’s no explanation, but everybody looks like they took the the Friday afternoon ferry from Antares, for a weekend of gambling and shopping in L.A. I’ve no idea what tic in my brain causes this, but it used to happen in Kage’s brain too.

Today was one of those days. We were in the Glendale DMV office, and the entire crowd looked peculiar to me. I finally figured out what it was this time, though: their heads. All their skulls looked weird.

I’ve been spending so much time staring at Neanderthal skulls the past 2 weeks, gazing at Charlotte’s face and putting flesh on it, that the Homo sapiens model is looking wrong to me. They’re so … freakishly round. Like balloons, or melons, or Colorado guidance councilors – we really do look the way little kids draw stick people. One of the most disturbing aspects of the skull is its persistent verticality: Homo sap. heads go straight up and down, like boxes, or menhirs. It makes everyone look like a Lego minifig … where is the graceful double curve of the orbit? The high, winged cheekbones, the majestic slope of the brow? Honestly, modern heads are nearly square!

I’ve got one of those round heads, too, of course, but I can’t see mine. That makes all the difference. On me, as they say, it looks good; or at least I don’t have to think about what it does look like at all.

I’ve found a new way of being alone in a crowd, sitting there and staring at my own species with a stranger’s eyes. It was more fun when Kage was with me, seeing the same things and speculating wildly on their causes. But it’s all grist, as they also say, grist for the writer’s mill.

I’ll take that, too, as a gift from Kage.


*Really. If anyone can identify this story, it will ease a dreadful itch in my brain. Otherwise, I have to re-read every one of Mr. Niven’s short stories until I find it, which is going to take time …

** “Passerby”! It’s called “Passerby!” I found it in the first anthology I checked, the second story – All The Myriad Ways, an excellent compilation BTW, and I advise any and all to read it on general principles. And in the meantime, I found the name!

Itch satisfied.





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Edges and Island VI 2/25/15 II

Kage Baker is just about always on my mind. She slips away from me when I sleep, though – she’s immune to my attempts at lucid dreaming, and just will not show up when I try to call her. She was never one to be summoned …

She does show up in my dreams, though. It’s just that she’s in the background, or in another room, or I’m counting on meeting her somewhere really really soon and trying hard to get there.  It’s usually a dream about getting ready for a Renaissance Faire, and I’m trying to get the Inn set built – complete with some out-of-proportion addition like a mead hall or a bowling alley, and all the screw guns have dead batteries … oh, that horrible whine as a Makita winds down to nothing!

This is clearly a metaphor for the writing. Either Kage or my subconscious needs some lessons in subtlety.

shellStaring at Iris kept me occupied for a time, while the new grownups set up in my empty family cave. She was dressed like them (and me) in fur and leather; she carried in firewood and what I hoped were bundles of food, hefting as much or more than a grown man could. She was just so odd-looking!

As I sat by the fire – rapidly built up again by my benefactors – I became aware that I could feel Artur and Eiluned. I could feel their heart fires; and even more, I could feel them feeling mine. I’d only just begun to learn how to feel the heart fire – it enriched the grownups’ conversations, and made me feel safe when I caught the edges of it: but I wasn’t very good at it yet. It was how I was left behind, I’m sure – Momma and I couldn’t feel one another’s heart fires, because I was too little to do it right.

She may have thought I was dead. And I couldn’t feel her to track her. Babies have to learn to do it, you see – both to feel it, and to be felt.  First they learn to talk, but that’s just making noise. It’s the heart fires, the shared feeling among the People, that really makes us the People. I could feel it now from Artur and Eiluned as they moved about, smiling at me; it was the most wonderful thing I had ever encountered.

Iris smiled at me, too – she had teeth like a baby! – but I couldn’t feel her heart fire at all. I smiled back, though, because I was so happy to feel People near me again. And I knew it wasn’t her fault she was ugly. Still, between knowing my Momma was gone, and the continuing weirdness of my rescuers, I just slowly, unconsciously, started to cry. I didn’t mean to. But the tears filled up my eyes and rolled down my face, fracturing the fire into red streaks and stones in my vision; it felt like I was watching from behind a hot wet mask.

Eiluned came to me at once – I could still feel her; and I knew she could feel me. So when she sat down and put her arms around me, it was the most natural thing in the world to burrow into her and cry and cry and cry. Artur came and sat down beside us, until all I could feel was their two big hot hearts holding me close in the darkness behind my eyes. I could even tell that Iris was nearby – a little pale flame, like thin moonlight. But even feeling her was so much better than being alone.

Now came something we all encounter in our first few hours, all we rescued children. Some of us deny it, some dismiss it. Most of us take the memory and make it part of our personality foundation, integrating into the new person we become. They talked over my head: and while I couldn’t understand it then, I very quickly couldn’t forget it either. Their voices came clearly out of the fog that burned away my old brain, became one of the first clear memories for the thing I would become.

It’s that way for all of us. Sometimes what our rescuers say in those first few hours is all we remember at all of our pasts. It certainly stays more important than anything that happened to us before they found us. It is the Word in the Darkness, that becomes Light.


Caveat: the foregoing is the intellectual property of Kathleen Bartholomew.          

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Teaser – 2/25/15 I

Kage Baker loved signs in the sky.

Literally. Los Angeles is a web of tourist attractions knitted roughly together with strip malls; the skies are full of signs. Sometimes they’re inflated, and tethered to tire emporiums or carpet warehouses – various amusingly phallic little blimps, bobbing 3 or 4 stories up with some company name pendent from them. Blimps are amazingly frequent, in fact, in all sizes. By day they are sky whales, too high up to give any real details but the fact of their existence; by night, they light up with argyle patterns and staring eyes and smiling lips, and usually urge one to reconsider one’s phone service carrier.

And still, even in this day and age, the most common form of sign in the sky is a simple banner towed behind a small plane. I’ve no real idea what they say, because usually they’re backwards or upside down, or too high up or far away to tell. Kage had no idea what they usually said either – it didn’t matter, she said, because the entire point was that there was a Sign In The Sky!

“It’s a message from God!” she would exclaim, enchanted by some obscure advertising banner two miles away and a thousand feet up.

“But you don’t know what it says,” I would complain.

“It’s a message from God,” Kage would say patiently. “That’s the entire point. What it says is irrelevant: it’s a sign that God is there.”

“This is how cults and crusades get started,” I would opine.

“Only by silly people. The rest of us wait for details,’ was Kage’s serene reply. “It’s prophecy TBA.”

“It’s says BUDWEISER!”

“Oh, ye of little faith … ”

It’s true that I lack faith as deep and solid as Kage’s was – in all sorts of things, including that God has something relevant to say via plastic sperm zeppelins and cheap beer. That’s all right, though. Miracles continue to happen whether or not I invest any faith in them; good fortune appears even when I am without hope. Today I got a little royalty check. The hummingbird that raised her chick last year outside the kitchen window is back on her cloisonne nest today. It rained 2 days ago, and will rain again 2 days from now.

And a little red plane towing a long yellow banner flew over me while I was fetching my nephew home from school. I don’t know what it said. But I think what it implied was Kage telling me to keep on working. So I will.


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Kage Baker was always astounded by the support and love of her friends. She got insane amounts of letters in her final days – wonderful, encouraging, supportive and accepting letters (some from you, our Dear Readers) and they surprised the dickens out of her. She loved them: but they surprised her. Those letters were paramount in convincing her, at her life’s end, that she had done something significant with her life, and was loved.

Even more, Kage learned that she had succeeded in what she meant to do and wanted to do. And that, she felt, was the biggest, best, and hardest to win lottery going in the Big Casino of Life.

“I threw blank dice and they came up aces,” she said, content at last.

“That metaphor sucks,” I sniffed.

“Oh, screw you … ”

The last  couple of days you have gifted me with a similar revelation. Blind-sided by an accusation from a direction in which I had never erected any defensive walls, I just wanted to make my confession before it blew up any further. I underestimated your understanding, your affection and your ferocity. Thank you all, so much.

So now let’s just settle down and get back to our shared life on this site. Peculiar as it is, we’ve built something strong and good here, Dear Readers. On with the story!



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Straightening The Record Out

Kage Baker was born to George Henry Baker and Katherine Carmichael, the first of their 6 children. She was formally named Mary Kate Genevieve Baker.

She was followed by Mary Anne Jeffreys Baker; Anthony Jude Thaddeus Baker; George Henry Baker 2nd; James Joseph McCarthy Baker; and finally by Genevieve Emily Baker.

The discerning Reader will notice a few things implied in this list. 1) Kage didn’t care for the name on her birth certificate. 2) Her family, like the antique Romans, used the same names over and over. 3) There were a lot of kids in the family, including two Genevieves. And 4)  I – Kathleen Marie Gabriel Bartholomew – don’t show up anywhere in that lineup.

Technically, I’m a foster child (at best). George and Katherine Baker were wonderful, generous, warm people and one of their virtues was their habit of taking in strays. At one point, I recall that every child in the family had a friend living with them most of the time. Mrs. Baker used to say that she didn’t really like children: she just liked her own – but she extended that to claim many kids who would otherwise have been lost over the years.

I was one of them. Mrs. Baker more or less raised me from early adolescence; when I left home, having been emphatically dismissed by my own mother, it was to the Baker family that I fled. When Kage left home a year later, she moved in with me.  For 40-odd years, Kage and I introduced ourselves to others as sisters. Because we were.

I was called “Auntie”. I was invited to the holiday meals. I cooked and cleaned and painted and gardened and borrowed the car and wasted time and did homework and snuck out to meet boys. I cared for both George and Katherine in their final illnesses; I spoke at Katherine’s eulogy. During that last sickness, Katherine told me to take care of Kage – when we compared notes, we found she had told Kage to take care of me. I guess that “only one working brain between ‘em” thing was obvious to Katherine …

So, anyway, that’s the way things were. Kage left me her notes and her writing and her request to keep her name and work alive. I’ve tried to do that.

Last week, the spouse of one of Kage’s blood siblings posted a statement on a review site, to the effect that I was not Kage Baker’s sister. The statement scolded literary people for not checking their facts. It noted that I made frequent references to this on my blog. It stated this deceit was an annoyance that could no longer be tolerated.

I didn’t know anyone felt like this. I was … taken aback, especially when I was informed of this by the administrator of the review site – not by any of the Bakers whom I have known for decades of my life (and theirs). I still haven’t been contacted, although I’ve requested it. I’m ashamed, embarrassed, in pain, and confused.  Cruelest of all, the writing has been shot and left in a ditch for dead.  It feels like Kage dying all over again – except that this time, someone wants to take even her memory away from me.

Well, that can’t be done. My neurons and probably portions of my DNA were permanently altered by the  burning radiation of Kage’s life. Gamma rays don’t wash off.

But, in respect and courtesy, I need to correct at least the perception that I have been trying to lie or cheat or otherwise defraud the public. I hope I’ve done so here. I want to get back to my work now.

Was Kage Baker my blood relative, my genetic sibling? No. Was she my sister? Oh, yes – she was. And she said so.




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Life Never Stops Being Amazing

Kage Baker loved novelty – on her own terms. That meant she preferred to sneak up on it, examine it from hiding, then ambush if it looked interesting. If it didn’t please her, she liked having the option to creep away and deny she’d been anywhere near it.

This was because she also liked tradition. Established routines made her feel safe. If something good happened a certain way once,  it had to happen that way all the time: traditions didn’t need much time to settle in, just a high enough quotient of GOOD. And she was suspicious and disapproving of anything that interfered with what she expected to happen.

It was difficult to get her to try new foods, for instance. Being one of many in the maternal dining room, she managed to refuse suspect foods much longer than usual: from toddlerhood until well into her adult years. For instance, until Kage left home, moved in with me and had to eat my cooking, she had never eaten lots of things that actually became favourite foods: Brussels sprouts. Yorkshire pudding. Any pasta other than spaghetti.  She was in her 30’s before she discovered oysters; her 40’s, before foie gras; her 50’s, before lobster.

The one novelty she embraced without hesitation was travelling. Any new road was instantly fascinating, and Kage could barely wait to find out where it went. New horizons were something for which she had an unslakeable appetite. In fact, she often worked out new routes to old destinations, just so she could try a now road, a fresh approach. We had scenic routes everywhere, ways we took to the most mundane places in order to make them more fun. If we were doing an ordinary shopping – especially if we were momentarily poor, which happened a lot – then going to a new grocery store would make limited budgets more entertaining to use.

If she had a bad day at work, Kage would request the long way home – in Pismo, we’d drive down to the streets that hung just above the beach and follow the coastline all the way. You can drive for miles between the houses and the vast beach, and never lose sight of the sea. And going to work in the morning was enriched by a swing down through the municipal parking lots, to observe the clouds of terns and plovers and sandpipers sweep over the early waves.

Terrified though she was of flying, she could never resists the chance to be in a new place. I think it’s the only reason she ever consented to attend conventions out of state at all. Even so, Kage was willing to drive for  days to both see a fresh city and avoid a plane; I got us 1,000 miles in all directions from the Pacific coast. Every time we passed a point we’d reached before, Kage would cheer New road! New road from here on!, leaning out the window while her braid bannered out behind her.

Good thing that driving was Kage’s preferred method of travel, too. (Though she’d have taken sailing ships if there were a clipper service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas …) Daughters of California that we were, we knew how to live in a car. If I could find a car, Kage could find a road: and we could get anywhere.

I’ve been to many more states since she died, more than she ever saw. I fly quite happily, though I can still do long-distance drives for quite a distance, too. This May, I shall be at BayCon in San Jose – which jaunt is a mere gallope, a saunter up I-5. Then in August, I am heading to Seattle, there to pick up my travelling companion – the retired mastermind who was the model for the Unfortunate Mr. Gytte – and we are going to WorldCon at Spokane. New horizons, Dear Readers, new experiences.

Plus, today I finally discovered ramen noodles, which were delightful. How I reached this advanced age and never tried them before is a bit of a mystery to me. But I liked ‘em.

There’s still such a lot to do that’s new and wonderful. Kage would be pleased.


Tomorrow: next bit of the story



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Edges and Islands V

Kage Baker actually did have a real life. It was kind of strange, and she tended to hammer it into the narrow gaps between world-building and writing things down – but she actually did possess access to an IRL universe.

She didn’t like most of it very much. The real world – local news, global trends and situations, geo-political games: it all tended to upset her. She was afraid of road rage people. She was afraid of the deranged strangers who mutter half-audible threats behind you in grocery store lines. She was afraid of the interpersonal tensions that make the lunch room at work into a mine field. She dreaded phone calls after 10 PM; when, she said, people only call to tell you they are dead.

To hide from personal pain, Kage wrote.  Nothing matters but the work: a philosophy taken from her own life, her own solution to those times when things are intolerable. She didn’t always keep what she wrote in those times, but just writing it down got her through the Dark Lands.

Sometimes writing – like any other art – is more about survival than anything else.


What I remember most is the light.

It was a silver light, at the beginning of things. Everywhere, even at night – beyond the fire that burned in the spear-slit doorway of our cave, the light of the moon and stars was blue-white on the snow and the pale stones. It was almost as clear as day – we see well in the dark – but in daytime, the light had a glitter to it like the sea; like waves you couldn’t see danced and sparkled in the sky. I suppose it was ice in the air.

I had seen the sea twice, though, before all the grown-ups went away. It was a half-day’s walk, carried in a bag on someone’s back. We went twice; the second time, I was big enough to run on the yellow sands of the beach. The grown ups caught salmon, and on the way home there were silver scales glittering in every bag, and on every shoulder. That’s why I remember the light so clearly – everything shone, everything danced like fish scales in the sun.

And then, after Artur and Iris and Eiluned came and took me away, the light of the entire world changed, It was red and gold then, everywhere and all the time; when I napped in the cool white halls with the other, stranger kids, all the shadows on the walls were a pale pink glow.  At dawn the sky burned white, and at sunset it smoldered down into the red earth, and when it rained the distant rocks to the South and East were purple. There wasn’t any ocean, but there was the lake; it glittered pretty well. But the light was never, ever cold.

I didn’t mind. I wasn’t cold,  either.


It was terribly cold, the day I was left behind. I was all wrapped up in fur and leather, though, even with the long socks that tied to the bottom of my tunic: so I was warm, and I ran around and played until I got tired. Then I lay down in a safe little cavelet I knew, and went to sleep. Nobody had told me we were moving camp that day, I guess because I was still mostly part of the baggage. Momma told me not to go to far away, but she always said that. And I didn’t listen, and so I was asleep in my hidden place when all the grown-ups walked away. I like to think they hunted and called for me – I’m just about certain they did. But I didn’t hear them, and they didn’t find me, and when I woke up and walked home they were all gone away.

They took most of the skins, and all of the food. They didn’t bank the fire completely, though – there was nothing to burn out of control in the cave – so I could feed the fire and keep it alive. I could probably have stayed alive for several days like that, if nothing grabbed me when I went out to search for food and fuel. But Artur and the others were watching, because it was their business to save children who were left behind. It was barely dark when I heard them calling softly outside, so as not to surprise me, and then a big man came pushing into the firelight. There was a lady with him, and another person behind them in the shadows.

I’d never seen anyone other than my family, but my momma had told me there were other people in the world. She taught me to be polite to them, because new people were a gift in the empty world. So I made the welcome sign with both my hands (because I couldn’t remember which one I was supposed to use in mixed company). They both smiled at me at that, and Artur answered with his own big right hand and said, “Hello, little flower. My name is Artur, and these ladies are Eiluned and Iris.”

Artur was fine – just a big man, with sandy-yellow hair and bright grey eyes. Eiluned was all right, too, though she was darker than my momma. But she looked like a person.

Iris, though … Iris was the ugliest person I’d ever met.  Her hair was short and curly and black, like paint. Her eyes were small and squinchy, and black, too, which made her look blind to me, and I could barely look at her nose; it looked like the end had been cut off, leaving her nostrils gaping and exposed. Her skin was a colour I would have thought was pretty on a piece of agate – but I’d never before seen a lady the dark brown of jasper, so it was  strange and scary. Her face was small and scrunched up on the front of her head, and when she turned to the side, it looked like part of her skull was … just gone.

Iris was pretty much the most disturbing thing I had ever seen in my life.



Caveat: the foregoing is the intellectual property of Kathleen Bartholomew.          



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