September Going, Going …

Kage Baker always sort of shrugged off September.

In our day, of course, it began with the last precious days of summer vacation – then, across the yawning and demon-haunted abyss of Labour Day, school began. That pretty much soured the entire month for Kage. No amount of new lunch pails, pencil boxes or coloured pens could ever reconcile her to the return to school. Especially since we wore wool uniforms, and saddle oxfords as heavily confining as shackles; we always went back in a heat wave, too.

Kage shambled back like a zombie. And she stayed that way for the duration of September.

But September does finally wear away, and by its end it’s usually recognizably Autumn. Leaves are turning, the air is  clear, the heat is being defeated, and …AND! October is next!

Kage loved October. It’s the month of bonfires and Halloween, chocolates and monsters. The seasonal candy alone could have sent her over the edge in delighted delirium – candy corn! Wax bottles and oranges and skulls full of deadly sweet sugar syrup! Chocolate-shelled pumpkins with orange-flavoured marshmallow fillings! As October finally hove on the horizon, hull down and warping for land, Kage emerged from her September ennui and went straight into a sugar-fueled frenzy.

I’m remembering her full face-about particularly today, because my September has been pretty much a dead loss. The heat has kept me pent indoors most days, until after dark: and even when I revived after sunset, I’ve been a wrung-out rag as far as energy goes. I’ve read a lot, I’ve slept a lot but at weird hours out of synch with my household, I’ve discovered that the real reason for 700 TV channels is to improve your chances of finding something to watch at 3 in the morning.

(It’s no guarantee, mind you. We’ve got 700 channels but 699 of them are usually showing crap. Half of those are all showing the same crap. Shows on Nazis, aliens and deadly animals predominate. If something interesting is broadcast, it turns out ultimately to have been destroyed by Nazis, accomplished by space aliens, or eaten by something from Australia. Endless footage of tanks. Or trenches. Or tanks in trenches… on fire. DIY  Mothballs. The History of Granite.)

But back to my point, such as it is. September, which I usually enjoy, has instead lived up to all Kage’s worst expectations. It’s been too hot. I am not adapting to humidity. Most of the news from the world has been vile. I have been writing at a glacial pace, on days when I can write at all – mostly, I’ve been reading. I thought a new Steven King would be out this month, but I screwed up the date and it won’t be out until November! I am a desperate addict …

So to assuage my reading jones, I’ve been re-reading King novels. It’s effective, because it takes even me a couple of days to get through one of those humungous tomes – on the other hand, it is not conducive to peaceful sleep. On the other other hand, Mr. King’s stories do offset the everyday horrors of the world capering and gibbering on the news –  as I have observed before, things may be bad but at least there are no vampires in my cellar. The zombie apocalypse has not downloaded on to my cell phone. My car is not possessed.

My problems have been small, really. There were 73 (!!!) pieces of spam on this blog this morning –  all of which questioned either the length of my penis or my marketing strategy on this blog. Having no stake in either of these problems, the spam was easy to dismiss.

The story I submitted to F&SF was, alas, rejected yestreday – but I got a personal note from the editor telling me why, which is the best kind of rejection notice to get. I was able to make some changes and send it out again to another magazine today – back on the horse!

And I also learned that “Pareidolia” will appear in the March 2015 issue of Asimov’s. So there’s that, Dear Readers: I know when it is coming. I got the contract, and everything.

And tomorrow is, at last, October, decked with coloured lights and blazing leaves,  sanctified with the incense of burnt sugar and pumpkins. The month of spirits and candy overload. Not to mention the run up to National Novel Writing Month beginning at midnight on November 1st, which will give me something to do with those nights when I can’t sleep. I need to prepare.

I need candy corn and Halloween Peeps. I need Russell Stover marshmallow pumpkins. I need to get  my notes together and ready. It’s all right to feel sorry for yourself in September, but – October is another month entirely. Time to get back to work.

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The Light, The Light

Kage Baker loved the light of autumn.

She loved light in general, being a thoroughly solar person. But all seasons have their own palettes, of course. Her favourite season was Summer, but her favourite seasonal light was Fall’s.

Northern light, she called it; because, in her opinion, the light always looked like that in Northern California – it had a visual chill, a sharpness and a formality that reminded her of the aging year. Kage theorized it might be a perpetual thin layer of ice crystals, refracting all the light between Point Conception and Mount Shasta.  Or maybe magic. Even if it was the middle of Summer and we were running around Northern Faire in 15 pounds of wool each, the light was chill. The air was hot, but the light was cool and crystalline. It was the light of the Summer Country.

That was what she liked about it. It made all the colours of the world more intense, and Kage lived for colour. Everything had an associated colour for her, which she usually experienced directly in one form or another. Home decorating or synesthesia, it didn’t matter to Kage as long as she was accessorized properly.  If she hadn’t been so thoroughly  in love with words, nothing would ever have pried her from the visual arts. But I think those visual arts she tried – water colours, murals, enameling, illuminating, DIY fireworks – all sent the wrong kind of Muse to tempt her. Classically draped ladies with archaic smiles were not Kage’s thing.

The other thing Kage especially liked about the light of Fall was that it usually happened smack on the Equinox. BOOM! And the light of the day, especially the early mornings and late afternoons, was altered. It was dependable and cooperative. Los Angeles is such a freaky place, climate-wise, that it can produce the illumination of any season at all on any day; it all depends on how much and what particulate matter is floating around.

Autumn, though, didn’t play such tricks. The Equinox appeared, doing its fouetté en tournant, and the change was made right on schedule.  Even before the leaves changed (and even in Los Angeles, we have a lot of leaves that do) the angle of the sun wrought a magical change on the landscape. It was harvest light, Halloween light.

Not that this has much to do with the temperature. The Equinox was a hint that eventually the nights would cool as well as lengthen, but we still get heat waves right up through Halloween – I remember lots of Halloweens where  makeup melted right off everyone’s faces. Made the candy taste funny … As a matter of fact, we’re still bouncing around in slowly cooling heat waves right now; from triple digit Venusian heat, we’re now down to a mere seasonal warmth. The nights begin to lengthen in earnest now, and will soon cool down properly.

But the light will stay, that harvest light, making the world look like ripe fields even if it’s just warm dusty concrete. By the time October ends, it will look warm in comparison to the lead and iron skies of a Southern Winter; and it will still evoke the hills that frame San Francisco Bay, long gilded slopes of wild barley and grass. Here, as soon as we get a first rain – if we get a rain at all – our own hills will go dun-grey and everything on them will be slicked down like a cheap rug. But the light on them will still be Harvest Home for a while.

And that was the light Kage loved best of all. She said it was the light for which stained glass was invented; the light that inspired beer. You can keep your snows of yestreyear, wherever it is they get to. Immortality was in the light of Autumn.

And I guess it still is. The season of spirits is coming. In the light of the Summer Country, I see their long shadows cast from the West, growing long and longer under the bronze oak trees. I know each one by their silhouettes. Even though we can no longer see one another’s eyes, they wave and I wave back; we salute, and the extended hands cover acres to meet mine. And I know who they are.

I know them by the shape of their shadows, in the late, cool, pure light.

 

 

 

 

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SOMETHING Is With Us Always

Kage Baker loved the past. She loved it so much that she could never forget it, never let it go – what she had once had and loved, she had and loved forever. Once something found its way into her heart, it never left.

We’ve all heard the (much over-done) adage: If you love something, let it go. Well, Kage tried.  It didn’t work. Her heart was a pavilion with no doors, only decorated arches; she always insisted her mind was, too. They were set with painted tiles and stained glass, festooned with grandiflora rose vines, and decorated by some madman with a fretsaw into arabesques and bas-reliefs and cavorting little creatures of dubious species. But they were wide open to the elements, and she claimed that other people and their memories were constantly wandering in and out. And they never left. She might even have preferred it if some of the ages of legend and remembrance she carried had packed up and gone, but they wouldn’t do it.

I’ve don’t know what inventory she took along with her when she died. But I do know that whatever she left behind has been settling down in my head ever since, through jimmied windows and lock-picked doors, and those hidden vents where the screening fails and you don’t notice until the attic is full of squirrels. Things run races in the ceiling in the middle of the night, giggling and muttering, sometimes shrieking when they slip off a stud and fall between the uprights. When I can grab ‘em and hold them still long enough, a story results.

In the meantime, the candle carousel behind my eyes circles round the spark Kage lit in my head, and the shadows change endlessly. Plato didn’t know the half of it: the shadows we watch in the mouth of the cave aren’t just cast from momentous beings and acts outside. The biggest ones flow out from the darkness behind us, from the heart of the cave we never turn to see – at least, until it’s time to find the EXIT. Only then, for most of us, do we grin or shriek or goggle like morons, and wander off into the Lands we not only Do Not Know but seldom suspected were There at all.

Kage, however, must have walked on quietly, politely shouldering her way through the crowd with murmured excuses and little side-slips. She was good as easing her way through a crowd; good at being barely visible. If anything caught at her shoulder as she made her way out, she must have turned and pointed and told it: No, sorry, I’m just coming off shift, but see that lady there? The short one with the glasses? She’s the one you want.

And, since the past would never leave her, Kage sensibly left the past where it stood. Off she went into the Uttermost West, leaving me with all her pasts – and futures , too – and an ache like badly-poured concrete under my breastbone.

Another friend died yestreday. The Autumnal Equinox is in two days, so I’m guessing he left early to catch the outgoing tide and will soon be setting his sail by the westering stars. Being at the age where a lot more of my friends are dying than being born, I keep expecting to get used to this. No luck, so far … Right now, the past we shared is foremost in the shadow-play of my memories.

It’s not a dance, though, so much as a measured march, which is my clearest vision of him. Sometimes he’s dressed as a Landsknect, sometimes in the black leather of Night Security. Most often, though, he’s wearing a Centurian’s kit – something he never did, I think, but which he wears in my mind because of all the times he was on guard over us all. World-weary, amused, a little cynical, very wise; on duty in Darkest Britannia, watching the crazy natives leap through bonfires and sing about the Past …

Which Past, though all our loved ones  slip inevitably away into the West, stays with us always, for sweet love’s sake.

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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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Rain

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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