Heated Excuses

Kage Baker would likely be disappointed in me. But the heat has just been too much for me lately.

Los Angeles  has just completed a week of temperatures in the 90’s. It’s about to embark on one of temperatures in the 100’s, with a hearty helping on non-rain humidity along the way. San Diego County is on fire, and everywhere else is at risk of it. And I am hidden away in climactic purdah, sheltering from the heat.

I’m mostly asleep; or sitting in the dimness indoors with copious cold water and my Kindle to hand – which I can read in the dark, thanks to its glowing screen. It’s too hot to write.

Normal function will return as soon as my melted brain re-solidifies from the pool of candle wax which it currently resembles.

Stay cool, Dear Readers.


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Kage Baker was mildly obsessed with rain. We both were; and had to be.

Dedicated urbanite though Kage was, rain was extremely important to her. For one thing, the urb in which she lived most of her life was Los Angeles – a city that loses its mind when the rains come, even the ordinary wimpy ones that accompany a normal winter. Most of the drivers on the roads immediately forget how to drive at all in wet weather; accidents multiply everywhere, as the oil on the highway surfaces goes liquid and makes slicks, and the drivers regress to grade-school bumper car level.

Also, in many parts of Los Angeles, the streets flood. The drainage system – in those areas that have drainage systems – tend to get blocked with months of soda cans, dead foliage, discarded clothing, expired rats and pigeons … the first reaction to a good rain is that all the drains on city streets back up and create ponds, all afloat with unsavoury relics. Of course, where there are no drains, the rain simply seeks the lowest point in the streets and begins to form a lake. Intersections, in particular, become maelstroms. You can – and hundreds do – drive in and immediately flood your engine and your interior.

When Angelinos are not stampeding into frothing rivers like maddened cattle, they are usually in the grip of a drought. They have no idea what to do when it therefore, eventually, finally rains. All over the city, you can see automatic sprinklers gushing away in the rain. No native ever carries an umbrella, so people run around with whatever they can grab on their heads, blind.  Rain here can be so infrequent that kids can be in grammar school before they see some – then kindergarten and 1st and 2nd grade teachers get playgrounds full of astonished little people licking the miraculous water off the swings, and eating worms.

Besides being subject to all these rigours of a semi-desert climate, Kage spent the 1st 40 years of her life in the Hollywood Hills. All the problems of ordinary streets are multiplied up there; the streets are goat trails to start with, often undrained, sometimes unpaved, and lined with flat-roofed stucco houses built out of re-used sets … leaks are a way of life. In El Nino winters, we kept our wellies by the front door, like Yorkshire farm wives: because there was no way to even get to the car except by wading through a waterfall or a young river.

Also, the hobby of Renaissance Faires makes one insanely sensitive to the weather. The relationship that outdoor performers have with weather is deep, complicated and essentially psychotic. Not everyone sleeping on Faire site will be in shelter; and if it rains too long, the parking lots and lanes turn to mud and Faire gets cancelled. To this day, if rain begins at night, I wake in terror and cannot sleep until I have checked the entire house to make sure no portion of the roof is leaking, all, vehicles are off-site, and all members of the household are indoors and have a bed …

Right now, of course, in Los Angeles, we’re beginning to explore the idea of sacrificing City Council members in attempt to placate the rain gods. It would be the best work some of them have done in decades. However, the same climate changes that are super-charging our summer heat are also disrupting the Pacific currents – the great storms out of the deep Pacific Ocean have begun to reach us. “Monsoonal moisture” is no longer a euphemism for summer fog.

I expect the actual hurricanes to reach us in my lifetime. As it is, the last two have brushed us firmly enough to raise the waves to unheard-of heights – 15 and 20 foots combers, on fat, flat, placid beaches like Will Rogers and Zuma and Malibu! In Summer! Rain in the high desert, thunderstorms in the mountains, floods in Riverside and Orange counties! Tropical downpours! Water spouts and rainbows and lightning strikes!

Man, we’re getting real weather around here. It’s not weather anyone is used to, but it is the most vehement we’ve seen in years. And in the meantime, we’re still in the claws of a major drought … because 4 inches of rain in 2 hours may nicely flood the lowlands of Irvine, but it does nothing for the dying fields in the Coachella and San Joaquin valleys. Most of the rain is falling to the east and south of the L.A. Basin anyway, and does no good to us here under the tinder-dry yellow hills.

Still, early this morning – it rained. Here by the River, where the stones show in the shallows and the roots of the cotton woods are bare and thirsty; at dawn, it rained. Not much, not heavily, but for a while. The air was the breath of Paradise: wet stone, grass, roses, camphor trees. Eucalyptus, orange blossoms, the muskiness of sycamores and oaks. It rained enough to get me wet as I stood out in the driveway like a loon, face up to the water-colour grey clouds. And while it’s nearly 90 degrees now, it was cool until nearly noon in the rain’s aftermath – the sweetest day all summer.

Let the rains come! We’ll put up with the flooded streets, the clumsy drivers, the kindergarteners eating worms; I don’t mind getting up and checking the house for the ghosts of old leaking roofs. I’ll get a new pair of wellies.

Oh, let the rains come!


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Writing In The Heat

Kage Baker enjoyed, and approved of, modern conveniences. As long as they worked. And behaved themselves.

She loved someone in her immediate vicinity having a phone that would work anywhere; she preferred that it not be her, because she didn’t want to be easily found nor to answer the damned phone.  She liked electricity – she liked even more having battery operated standbys for all her toys that needed electricity to work. So she had a hierarchy of devices: her desktop computer – then her Buke, that would work on batteries – then my Smartphone, ditto – and then pads and pens for when she needed to write, all the batteries were dead, and one of the smaller devices was busily recharging on the hand-cranked charger.

We were saving up for a generator, too.

Lighting was no problem, ever; we lit the house by candles and oil lamps at need and whim, and had plenty of both. We had fire-starters ranging from the culinary blowtorch I used for creme brullee to the flint and steel Kage kept on her desk (and knew how to use). At one point we had a power outage during a move, when most of our stuff was still in boxes – Kage made a rush light out of pencil-sharpener scraps and olive oil in a big clam shell, and we were fine.

We kept sensible emergency kits, of course. But a mere power outage isn’t really cause to break into the Armageddon supplies; not when 30 years or so doing historical re-creating has littered your house with 2,000+ years of retro tech ready to use. I even have a time-keeping candle that can be calibrated down to a quarter of an hour, which is more than detailed enough for me …

Anyway, the system worked for us. It still works; Kimberly keeps her house in the heat just the way we did.

Right now, it’s 91 degrees here. A hot wind full of the scents of hot stone and grilling meat is blowing outside. There are waves 15 feet tall expected down at all the beaches, but there’s also a couple of million overheated people down there lusting after them – I’ve got no desire to join the heat lemmings.  And at least the humidity is behaving itself. Everyone is watching the hills anxiously for signs of smoke, but at least no one is having to grow gills.

Here in our household, all the drapes were drawn at dawn. (Say that 3 times fast, as Kage used to challenge …) All the windows were wide open all night, to let the coolth in; now the house is shut up and radiating heat in all directions except inside. The A/C cools the core of the house, and then a series of fans – staged in overlapping zones, like mirrors lighting the tunnels of a pyramid – stirs the cooler air out to the edges of the building. Getting near the windows on the borders is thus like strolling by a furnace, but no one’s really inclined to stare out at the heat shimmering above the street anyway.

The lights are all off – I believe, virtuously, that this will lessen our load on the electricity grid. Which is nice, since at least 3 devices with self-illuminated screens are lit all the time. The cold blue lunar light of the cathode ray tube no longer spills from the telly or our computers: it’s a fuller spectrum light, now, LED or high-definition pixils or (for all I know) super-excited atoms of noble gasses phosphorescing in 16 million colours. Not the light that lit so many of our childhood insomniac  nights, Kage and I – but one softer and more like the daylight we daren’t let into the house with its freight of unwanted IR and UV.

Man, Kage loved those glowing screens! So much easier to write in the cool dimness when your “paper” sheds a helpful glow over your fingers!

I’m combating the heat as best I can, and writing as much as possible. Blue squirrels are continuing their adventures,heading into a space that is still wrapped in fog for me –  although I believe a Bambi-style forest fire is going to provide an epic denouement to “The Teddy Bear Squad”.  And when it all get just to wearisome hot to cope, I can retire with my Kindle and read off yet another glowing screen.

Kage would have loved it.

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Labour Day

Kage Baker, like most American workers, had a cyclical relationship with Labour Day.

When she was a kid, she hated it – it meant we were soon to be back in school. And in Los Angeles, September is often the very hottest month of all. So, as Kage reckoned it, we were more or less going to Hell.

When she was a teenager, she’d developed enough sense of time to realize it was a 3-day holiday. However, it still fell outside the limits of the school year (this was a long time ago, and we went to Catholic school.) and so she crankily considered it a total waste of perfectly good time off.

“It’s like being sick during Christmas vacation,” she would pronounce in tones of outrage. “It’s a Cosmic Injustice. And when we Take Over, that will be fixed!”

We kept enormous lists of what would be done to improve the world when we Took Over. A lot of them involved putting the vanished animals, plants,books, candies, etc. back where they belonged; also, razing all the ugly buildings in Los Angeles. Kage gave a lot of those jobs to the Company Operatives later on. A startling amount of the Company agenda rose out of things Kage saw and disapproved of from a passing station wagon in her school years …

At last, of course, Kage joined the working class in earnest; and for many, many years she welcomed Labor Day as an extended holiday. For a lot of those years, it was a 3-day weekend at Northern Renaissance Faire,  a sojourn in the fabled Wood Outside Athens: those may have been the best years. But the best ones may also have been in her last decade – when she worked from home and we had both retired from Faire, and the Labour Day weekend was full of friends and relatives come for a last summer party at the beach.  Those were amazing times, Dear Readers.

Nowadays, it’s pretty much a mark on a calendar for me. Everyone in the household is retired, working at home, or in the final run-up to entering the job market. But Kimberly inherited the barbecue gene and also passed it on to Michael, so they grill if the weather isn’t too hot to step outdoors. We watch marathons on telly. I sing a few union and Luddite hymns to myself; I can hear Kage singing harmony in my head.

But mostly, I avoid the heat. This really is hottest time of year in L.A., usually, and going near the windows is like loitering near a blast furnace. I’ve been pretty wilted the last few days, and have accomplished nothing at all but napping and reading.

However, the marine layer is due back soon. The temperature is predicted to drop a good 20 degrees, into the 70’s, and the environment will become survivable for me again. I can go to the grocery store! I can drive out to my storage locker and unearth the autumn decorations and the spare toaster! I can summon enough brain wattage to write!

So here’s to General Ludd, and my Grandda who fought the blackleg miners and smuggled beer into a New Mexico jail, and my other Granddad who held the picket line against the studio scabs with a baseball bat and a burning Buick.

And in the meantime, I’ve honoured today with a bit of actual labour.




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Too, Too Hot

Kage Baker loved heat. But she was nuts.

Whenever summer reaches the inhuman levels of heat – as it is presently doing in Los Angeles – it comes clear to me that Kage was insane. Even before the days when my metabolism short-circuited if the temperature got over 80 degrees, I wondered about it. I was so miserable in the heat, and she was so happy! Triple digit heat, and Kage’s solution was to put on a silk pajama top and pin her hair up. Even more frustratingly, it always worked for her!

I don’t think she even usually sweated. Not like me. I start deliquesing when it gets hot; which is an interesting phenomenon when observed in exotic salts, but grotesque in a human being. Kage just glowed like metal in a forge. I suspected she might, if it got hot enough, either dissolve into white-hot droplets or simply burst into flames: but it would never be, you know – sticky.

After a mild July and August, Los Angeles has begun its annual end-of-summer heat wave. The temperature is into the 90’s, and expected to stay that way for several days. I have changed into nocturnal mode,  observing the heat and light from the safe side of the windows. I wander from fan to fan, clutching my spray bottle/fan combo, flinching like a vampire playing chicken with the daylight.

In fact, it’s too damned hot to write. My writing hat is sticking to my brow. I shall regale you all, Dear Readers, with my amusing adventures in Nuclear Medicine later on – there were some interesting moments – probably late tonight, when I can sit in the cool (er)  darkness and write for a while without melting on the keyboard.

For now I’m just hitting my mark, in a heat-exhausted effort to maintain the bare vestiges of discipline. Most of you are probably in similar shape … go drink iced tea or cold beer; eat frozen grapes and get into the Magnum ice cream bars. Sit as close to your fans and A/C as you can, and try to stay cool.

I think Kage was maybe part dragon. Or something like a cactus dryad. Me, I’m more like a Jello salad …


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Kage Baker hated tests, Any and all tests, for anything at all; she simply detested being evaluated. It was mostly for things in which she had no interest anyway; and often considered were no one else’s business.

She knew she could read. She knew she could write. Both abilities were self-demonstrating, if a teacher were paying any attention at all. For the rest … maths, geography, all the varied sciences: Kage figured there was either nothing that could make them explicable to her, or that reference works would be available to her in adulthood. She was pretty well convinced, though, that nothing she learned would ever again be of use to her, at least not in that specific form in which it was presented and tested for in her school days.

She was probably right. Kage was certainly not one of those kids who fit well or easily into the assembly-line format of standard schooling. She was one of the ones who slips through unseen, a shadow in the doorway, on her way to somewhere else. It was obvious to all her frustrated teachers that she was very, very bright – and also that she had no interest in taking part in the aspects of scholarship to which they thought that brightness should have led her. Why doesn’t she live up to her potential? countless teachers wailed.

Kage said later that there was no greater curse for a bright child than potential.

School systems have always struggled with kids like Kage, and more often than not they have failed. Standard classes have almost no way to reach that elusive spark of potential, and in their efforts to expose it they usually put it out. Kage was tougher than most, and more stubborn – she put her head down and slogged her way through 12 years of lessons and tests. Then she ran away with the circus and spent the rest of her life writing.

A lot of writers have childhoods like that. In Kage’s case, she maintained that she just too private a person to put up with being tested. Being published was much easier – because she got to decide what was going on display, and no one had to read the answers unless they wanted to.

Medical tests, of course, were different. They were inescapable. And by going to a doctor in the first place, one sort of requested them. That was one of the main reasons Kage put off going to a doctor in the first place – she didn’t want to ask for tests; she didn’t want to know the answer. Besides, as she said, it was bloody depressing to have passing the test be the problem.

I’m going in for some more tests on my eccentric heart tomorrow – stress testing. Hopefully on a treadmill, because the chemical alternative is an amazing drag – one ends up strapped to a table, head downward, while weird chemicals race through one’s bloodstream and aggravate one’s heart into beating too fast. Or, in my case, usually don’t … the techs get very annoyed then.

Of course, I usually fall off the treadmill. I have the last two times. I tend to pass out before any useful data is gathered; except the dubious information that if I run too fast, I faint. But I intend to try, because I really don’t enjoy that head-down-drugs-in-your veins route.

However the stress test happens, I am hoping it will supply the answer to why my heart is not beating fast enough. The tide of my blood keeps stalling out; then I get dizzy and fall down. My blood pressure is ludicrous, and reads like something someone calls out just before the patient codes.

At least I’ll be a part of the campus that has lots of aquariums. I’ll just think of it as going to visit the fishies.

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Doctor Day

Kage Baker  was a firm believer in the delights of anticipation.

It came under the same heading as “getting there is half the fun”. The journey is in itself a goal – the process is a purpose. Sometimes the purpose, if the ultimate destination turns out to be a bust.

Which sometimes it does. We once spent a magical weekend wending our way along the Northern California Coast and through the yacht clubs and oyster farms of the Back Bay. We were looking for Bolinas Bay. And we eventually found it – or what was very possibly a Twilight Zone version of it.  The town was … inhospitable. People stared unsmilingly at us; clerks lingered in back rooms rather than come forward and serve us; signs near all the beach access roads indicated that only locals were welcome. The clothing, the architecture, the hair, the public art – all straight out of the 1960’s. The attitude – more like the 1560’s. In Spain. And us with English accents, and PROTESTANT written on our brows.

We left in haste, looking back over our shoulders.

Anyway, getting to a goal can be better than arriving. And even when it’s not, it is still a distinct joy and adventure of its own. Ideally, the run-up is as much fun as the actual performance: that was how Kage liked things to work out.

Today, Doctor Who begins not only a new season but a new Doctor! BBC America has been showing more and more Dr. Who all week; today, they are showing nothing else. The living room has been echoing with favourite episodes all day. As I write this, John Hurt is doing his brief but brilliant turn as the un-numbered Doctor, and Matt Smith is courting Queen Elizabeth the First. Or maybe a Zygon who just thinks it’s Elizabeth Tudor; plots get a little confused when you’re listening, while writing, from another room.

But the point is, Dear Readers, the actual point here is: the process of waiting out the countdown to the new Dr. Who is as much fun as watching it will be.

So I’m returning back to the enterprise at hand. I’m hanging my writing cap on the stag’s head handle of the cane that now lives beside my desk, and settling in to listen to someone else telling the story for a while.

I shall meet a lot of you, I suspect, on the aethereal plane when the new Doctor debuts at 5 PM Pacific Standard Time. BYOB and pass the kettle chips!

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