Stuff. Happening.

Kage Baker was wont to remark, wisely, that stuff  just happens. She (also wisely) didn’t specify precisely what kind of stuff happened, because, really – you just never know in advance. And with us, it could always be really wild things …

Like the day a pelican ran head-first into the power line outside the living room window, clothelining itself. It snapped the power line and then crashed head first into the side of the house; the poor pelican, of course, dropped dead into the Mr. Lincoln rosebush with a snapped neck, and the power went out all over our block for several hours.

Or the day a bulldozer was returning to the City of Pismo’s Corp yard, after being down on the winter beach piling up berms to prevent the January seas from eating the boardwalk. Trundling along with its blade up, like a good responsible bulldozer, it inadvertently caught the power line – the same one that ran right up to our cottage, again – and snapped it. Again. But this time, it also yanked the line so hard that it pulled the power pole over on to our garage; then, as the ‘dozer tried to extricate itself, it pulled the power poles, one by one, over like ninepins along the next mile of Highway 1 where it runs out of Pismo … we had run out of doors when the pole hit our garage, and so were granted a clear view of the poles toppling like a Roadrunner and Coyote cartoon, into the distance.

Another night by candlelight, and Kage running down the battery on her Buke. It was the delay and interruption to her work that made her most especially nuts at times like this: because, naturally, they always happened when she was racing a deadline.

Then there was the night, in a nor’-wester gale off the Pacific 2 blocks away, when we were awakened by the sound of a giant tea kettle. After running around and listening at all the windows, we finally figured out that we were hearing – over the roar of the storm – the sound of something venting steam furiously in the laundry room below our apartment. With my wool anorak over my nightgown, I went downstairs in the rain and wind to discover our water heater was upon point of blowing up. That would have been interesting, and would have launched the heater like a missile right through Kage’s bedroom floor … by the time it was disarmed (desperate work with a wrench in the dark) I was up to my knees in hot water and drenched to the skin, but we were no longer at DefCon 1.  But we were heating all our water on the stove for a week, waiting for a replacement …

A possum hiding under the bedroom bookcase. An invasion of huge red crawdads on the front lawn. A baby starling falling through the ceiling on to Kage’s desk. The engine of our VW bus bursting into flame at a stop sign, and cremating both itself and our favourite cafe’s canopy one morning on the way to work.

Stuff. It just happens. And it’s no use trying to anticipate it, because what happens to US is always as weird as snakes’ suspenders.

Well, now it’s mostly just me it happens to, of course; although my family and Dear Readers (my hostages to fate, you all are) tend to get sideswiped when the Furies run me over. So, this is by way of an apology.

I’m presently waiting for various tests (renal scans, etc.) to determine the current state of my evil right kidney. I hardly care what happens, as long as it solves the problem and this situation ends – I’ve been fighting systemic infections for 3 weeks, and I am tired of it. The unnatural summer heat in Los Angeles – a terror to me in past years – is nicely under control this year, so why do I have to have some new disaster instead? It’s not fair.

Windows 10 has not been an instant success with my computer; but I do think I’ve got it under control now – and without giving Microsoft access to my private files. I missed WorldCon due to infections, but I also missed the burning of all the countryside between Seattle and Spokane that happened that weekend: so my lungs were spared, at least. WordPress, the stalwart platform that supports this very blog, has decided to initiate all sorts of new new NEW FEATURES – which have locked me out for the past 3 days, but it’s under control now. Sort of.

If this missive vanishes into the aether like yestreday’s, I plead betrayal by malignant spirits. So, if any one of you Dear Readers don’t see this – let me know, okay?

That’ll make as much sense as any of the other stuff that happens around me …

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New Buke!

Kage Baker loved her chosen writing devices. She had to have close personal relationships with them, or her Muse refused to talk to her.

Her longest-lasting relationship was with good pens and bad paper. She was very picky about her pens – she wasn’t so particular about what style of point they had, but she preferred black ink and a medium line. Too fine a point made her nuts, except for tossing at targets like darts. She always claimed a starving writer could probably keep themselves fed with a few good Cro-quills and a moderate pigeon population. Eventually, though, the ease and longevity of roller-ball Pilots won her heart, because it was so much harder to spill ink when you didn’t have to keep dipping the point in an ink well …

As for paper: Kage had a truly exasperating fondness for Eaton’s Corrasable Bond paper. The stuff is thin, typewriter and printer ink will literally fall off of it, and even the sturdiest pen ink will eventually oxidize to a faint sepia ghost of itself. She also liked legal pads, the kind with green paper apparently made of single-layer bathroom tissue; I spent half my life transcribing her scrawl from those things, which have the unique and hideous quality of having both sides readable at the same time.

Since she was also frugal – except concerning books, computer games, chocolate and cocktails – Kage scrupulously stockpiled all printer pages that got messed up in the printing process. Then she wrote her handwritten notes on those, which meant that they were usually folded in half, smudged, partially covered in mangled graffiti, and of a polished surface that left marks on every other page each one touched. She drew arrows and cartouches to show which handwritten parts hooked up with which others; she stuck scribbled instruction on little torn slips of paper in to make it clearer. Which it did not do.

I have pounds of manuscripts that bristle with these little notes. Sometimes, I just have piles of the notes – I’ve spent whole days these last 5 years, re-inserting them where they go in a partial manuscript to make sense of the plot. Sometimes I just find the little slips, like particularly weird fortunes, scattered on the floor: George says, try for more depth, structure. Or: Find out how to transplant a head. Or: A dead man hung from every branch.

Being the typist for this kind of writer is maddening. But, as they say, it’s a good life if you don’t weaken … for sweet sanity’s sake (Kage’s as well as mine) I eventually weaned her off the venerable pen and paper system and onto a computer. At which point, she found her perfect milieu and never looked back. The speed! The ease! The cool accessories!

Kage wanted a portable, a laptop, as soon as she began to attend conventions. (Also, the original IBM commercials with the organ grinder’s monkey using the trackball amused her.) It was utterly necessary; it allowed her to compose everywhere, anywhere, and it got easier all the time as the technology got better and personal computers became universal. When she first got the news that she would lose most a year to cancer – but thought she’d survive – I got her one of the first really little machines: the tiny notebook computer she called her Buke.

I’ve used it myself for the last 5 years, complete with the little wood and polished brass case Kage chose for it. It’s been invaluable. But electronic flesh is no more immortal than meat-suits, and the little darling is fading fast. It has become necessary to replace it while it can still boot up enough to transfer vital files to a new incarnation.

Today, the new Buke arrived! I had to back order it from Fry’s to get exactly what I needed – it has to fit in the cool little case that fits in my knitting bag; and it had to have a good-sized keyboard and not be just a tablet. I need to write on it most of all, so something that played games and texted and sang and could locate Whole Foods markets was not suitable. A form of Kindle Fire was a vast disappointment – it did all those other tricks, but its word processing was a joke. Apparently, it is now commercially feasible to market computers for the semi-literate …  Well, phooie to that.

It has to charge for 8 hours, of course. Sigh. But by 10 PM this evening, I shall be setting forth on the shining shores of a new Buke! And who knows what adventures will lead on from that, Dear Readers?

These writers’ roads, you know – pen and ink, photons, crayons on torn-open paper bags – all, all are infinite.

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Paradoxes in Pictures

Kage Baker loved days when lots of interesting things cropped up in the news.

She didn’t like being interrupted to learn about them – I saved ’em up for mealtimes and long drives, usually. And those times when Kage would throw herself into her wing-back chair, howling I’m bored! Amuse me! Tell me stories! What happens next? To which I would maturely reply How the hell should I know? You’re the storyteller. Hey, did you know pigeons have magnetic rocks in their heads?

It was different when she ran across neat things herself, as she often did in her daily wandering through the fringes of the Web. Then, she’d crow with delight or yell with disapproval, and make swift notes to remind her later of whatever had so struck sparks from her at first reading. Sometimes, of course, she couldn’t decipher the notes when the time came to use the tidbit – she would spend a happy time tracking it down again; or, when it was totally incomprehensible, she’d take a stab at what the notes might have meant. It was usually pretty amusing. Lewis’ adventures  were always especially prone to Kage not remembering what the hell she meant when she made the original plot notes … which is the actual source of the moniker “Princess Tiara Parakeet”.*

Today, I came across a doozy of a news gem, one which would have absolutely required a story. It would have had to be a Mars story, and fitted with great care into the Universe of Mary Talbot and the Empress of Mars: because the fate of the Ephesian Church has already been pretty well delineated there … but there must be a way to incorporate it.

The redoubtable Curiosity rover on Mars has uploaded a photo of – the figure of a lady. Possibly a Lady, as in the Diana of Luna; exactly the sort of thing the Ephesians of Kage’s stories would have wanted to find on Mars. Here it is, in a photo not especially retouched or otherwise self-fulfillingly enhanced:

Lady On Mars?

Lady On Mars?

She seems to be 3 to 5 inches tall. I must admit, the figure does have a certain resemblance to a Cretan snake goddess, or maybe Cathy wandering through the heather. Dejah Thoris she is not; she’s wearing clothes … personally, I think she’s an especially romantic and lovely artifact of photographing sand and stone in low light.

But does it matter? The image is beautiful, and it belongs in stories. I’ll have to write it into the ongoing saga of Marswife, which will one day grow up into a real novel. (If I’m lucky and determined.)  In fact, I’d love a version of this photo for cover art. Don’t you think so, Dear Readers?

In semi-related news, today I got a phone call from my primary caregiver doctor, demanding I get  into his office ASAP.  My ultrasound picture was weird. I rushed in;  he took several vials of blood – all to be processed for various kidney function tests – and handed me a completed authorization and rush appointment with a nephrologist. So, on Friday, I am going to meet Dr. Nguyen, to try and explain my idiot right kidney.

The ultrasound showed two paradoxical findings.  1) the right kidney appears to be basically the normal size, only slightly larger than the left one. However, it shows that 2) it also exhibits severe hydronephrosis – which basically means, it’s bigger on the inside. It’s probably hollow … which is not normal for a human kidney; though it is a disease of sheep. At least  in Terry Pratchett novels. I evidently have a Tardis kidney.

Time alone will tell what my next renal adventure will produce. In the meantime, I have to incorporate the Lady of Mars into a novel, and finish it.

Man, it’s never dull around here … More news as it happens, Dear Readers.



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Finding Your Own Fun

Kage Baker disliked surprises. She didn’t care for changes, she detested practical jokes, and even “nice” surprises like birthday presents made her nervous.

What if she didn’t like them? What if they forced changes on her routines? What if she had to somehow be seen using them when all she wanted to do was to pitch them in the rubbish tip and forget the entire sordid interlude? Those venerable comedy routines where someone trots out an ugly vase whenever Aunt Mimsie comes to visit filled Kage with sympathetic horror.

The side effects and symptoms and debilitations of her last year were a low-level nightmare for her. She coped with them valiantly, though, mostly by determinedly seeing them through a light of farce and insanity: the entire situation was so ghastly and so weird, it was the only way to survive from day to day. When her assorted therapies required piercings and tattoos (which no one tells you about beforehand, BTW. It was a surprise!), she made the best of it; when they also made her a cyborg, with a port in her arm and a pump in her chest – well, she made notes on the interesting sensation of becoming an Operative.

We laughed such a lot, that year. We found ourselves in lots of weird situations, but that year was the weirdest. It was a case of laugh or give up, and laughing was not only more pleasant, it annoyed the hell out of stuffy medical personnel. So Kage made paper airplanes out of examination drapes, and wore wildly striped socks to surgeries, and we went AWOL from the hospital whenever she got too fed up with it. She always called them to tell them where she was; and it was only funnier when they usually hadn’t noticed she was gone … You have to take your fun where you can find it, when times get desperate.

I have persisted in trying to view my own health disasters in a similar vein. And since my entry into aging seems to be accompanied by most of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a minor troupe of Furies, translating the whole thing into comedy has been the only way to stay even slightly sane. Amusement is a much better option than despair.

I’ve spent most of the last month battling diverse infections, and exploring the wonderful world of antibiotics. As I’ve never abused them, most of them still work on me: I’ve nonetheless had to try several over the last several week, though, as the bugs have been strengthened by other people’s overuse … horrid little mutants. Luckily, I like yoghurt, and so have had a good time replenishing my alimentary biome; and Kimberly found me a brand of probiotics that are gummy teddy bears! Useful and fun at the same time! I can enact little Grateful Dead parades with my morning pill routine.

And I have discovered that continued use of sufficiently strong antibiotics can erase your fingerprints. They grow back, of course, but first they are simply sloughed away. This can get slightly awkward when you’re also trying to renew your driver’s license – but my thumbprint was one of the tougher ones, and I managed to produce a sufficiently whorled print to satisfy the DMV.

And now the rest of my fingerprints are growing back nicely. I should have no problems if I attract the attention of the TSA when I fly to Seattle later this month, or when I rent a car to drive to Spokane for WorldCon. Though it’ll certainly be amusing if something goes wrong … I’ll have great stories to report, that’s for damned sure.

I’ll keep you all appraised of the trip, Dear Readers. Adventures At The Hugo Awards, with No Fingerprints!


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Adventures In Grist

Kage Baker clung to the philosophy that everything was grist for the writer’s mill. It wasn’t that she was desperate to find material for stories – inspiration was her constant companion; her Muse guided her through her days with his hand on the back of her neck.

No, Kage frequently and fervently recited the old adage in order to simply make it through the onslaught of sensory input that sleeted perpetually through her mind. Leonardo DaVinci was one of her patron saints, and a constant warning, a brilliant bad example: keep track of all that stuff pouring through your brain, or you’ll never get a damned thing done! She forced a shape and index on it all. she wrestled the amorphous incubus of data into a coherent and biddable angel.

It’s all grist for the writer’s mill, she would recite through gritted teeth and tight-squinched eyes: as we whirled twice widdershins in a skidding truck to end up backwards on the traffic island in the middle of Santa Barbara’s main drag, covered in centrifuged date shake:

As we trudged up the dark slope of an abandoned quarry, family members lugging camping gear and bad attitudes and fighting over who had the flashlight – until a beam of blue-white light arced down out of the night sky to pin Kage, alone, on the hillside in a glaring prism:

As she was carefully shoe-horned into the narrow steel and ceramic catafalque of a CAT scan at one in the morning, about to discover that a tumour the size of a golf ball had grown in the ivory redoubt of her skull in a mere fortnight.

Whatever happened to us, at whatever speed, whether it left us laughing or weeping or puking our fillings out: Kage flung up this, her special shield, before every flight of arrows that came whistling through the air down to us. And the mirror on the shield – make sure there is always a mirror on your shield, Dear Readers! – flung the light of the fire in her head at whatever shit was falling, and froze it into a perfect portrait. And there it was, ready to be preserved forever, at her leisure.

Considering just how much input she opened herself to in the course of her life, she got a truly amazing number of those portraits down in coloured inks.  The mantra of the endless grist was the trick, or so Kage maintained. You had to grab all that coruscating stuff, brand it and own it and make it dance for you. You had to dance back, of course, but she never minded that – as long as there was a fiddler and a dance somewhere, Kage would essay the course.

And that’s what she tried to impress on me. I have no idea what worked best – the 50 years of running frantically at her side taking notes as she turned the grist into gold; or the one frantic year when she just poured it all, uncatalogued flaming invention, straight into my brain. But it took. It’s my creed and coda, too. now.

Which gets one through all sorts of Sloughs of Despond and heights of hilarity, not to mention unexpected  and unwanted excursions into the toils and coils of ridiculous medical science. So I told myself this evening, while a technician poured what was apparently hot olive oil over my ribs before driving a blunt fork into my kidney …

I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, Dear Readers. right now I am popping ibuprofen and racing the clock hands to midnight – nyah, nyah, I’m gonna win!  It’s all grist and it can all be baked into bread somehow.

And it will.



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Jump-starting Sessile Behaviour

Kage Baker taught me that a writer sometimes needs to jump-start their writing. Forcibly. Perhaps with explosives.

This means that writers can fall into behaviour totally lacking the energy curve sufficient to make the leap into actual writing. Research slowly devolves into web-surfing, or reading trashy novels or fringe science or Pogo, Calvin & Hobbes and Heavenly Nostrils compilations. Writing shrinks  and shrinks ( …and still I continue to shrink!*) until one is hard put to manage a snappy Twitter caption; indeed, one finds oneself simply ogling NASA photos of the day, or wandering through #fieldworkfail and snickering like a hyena.

For Kage, pitfalls included Monkey Island computer games and cartoon marathons. Luckily for me, she passed on her Monkey Island obsession to our semi-niece Meagan. And I never succumbed to the dubious charms of SpongeBob. In fact, I felt it was a sign of my eventual recovery from Kage’s death when I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to go see the recent SpongeBob movie a gazillion times.

So, I lack Kage’s specific ways and  cues for wasting time. Nonetheless, I have my own; and I’ve done very nearly nothing about writing for the last month. I would not be at all surprised if I am now shouting into an uninhabited vacuum. I have no excuse – several reasons, but no real excuse. It’s been a truly wretched year for health with me, and it just keeps getting funnier (as Beetlejuice says. This is irony, kids.). Various joints are responding to the climate change in Los Angeles by freezing up: I appear to be maturing into some kind of coral organism, determined to spend my Golden Years as a sessile life form. My heart objects to the rising summer heat strenuously – well, no, I tell a lie: my heart does nothing strenuously; it objects to heat by whining, stammering and apparently developing St. Vitus Dance. Or maybe St. Elmo’s Fire; late at night, it’s hard to tell. I must ask Kimberly if I am phosphorescent.

The lifelong attempt to kill me on the part of my right kidney has progressed to Stage 3 kidney failure – this is not necessarily dangerous, and many people stay right there long enough to die of something else decades further on. However, my kidney is an over-achiever: it is trying to make the grade to Stage 4, preferably in one gigantic upgrade,  like a Windows 10 download that can kill you. I am, by now, accustomed to constant, low-level pain: however, the last month has featured episodes of the brain-burning, spine-dissolving, projectile-vomiting pain that only accompanies real kidney trouble.

Luckily, as I learned 50 years ago, when it reaches the puking point, it means the attack is almost over. So there is that to enjoy … until then, though, I am a black hole of muttered complaint and shrieked obscenity as I crab-walk between my bed and the bathroom, unable to stand up straight or actually pee. To make it even more interesting, I have apparently finally developed kidney stones: the sensation of which is a quantum leap beyond the mere strangulation pain of the kink in my ureter swelling shut …

And even the question of the stones is still hypothetical; unless you go out of your way to pee into a strainer (yeah, good luck with that for us setter types) the only way to tell if you might have passed a kidney stone is that the pain stops. At first, you may not be sure if you have simply died and are waiting for the Urinary Valkeries to carry you away to Kidney Pain Valhalla; but eventually you decide the floating sensation of ecstasy means you have actually survived.

Until the next one, anyway. There have been 2, so far. But tomorrow I have a sonogram scheduled, to eyeball my entire damned urinary tract with magic rays and find out what is screwing things up in there. I am expecting something vile and astonishing – a randomly-growing liver. An unexploded land mine. The Lost Dutchman Mine – at the very least, staghorn calculus**. I am also expecting another argument with my doctors as to whether or not I can finally evict the offending organ – because at this point, one working kidney would make life easier than carrying around this one that periodically renders me too sick to write for days at a time.

In the meantime: kick-starting has commenced. I went to Target today, and got new underwear for my sonogram session (it’s a girl thing). I am recklessly glugging coffee. I have gone to the grocery store, and not fallen down in the driveway! As long as I don’t try to alter the plane of my torso too quickly (or much at all), I am fine.

And so, barricaded into my swivel chair with pillows, I essay once more the seas of literature. Wish me luck, Dear Readers.



*A reference for those old enough to have ridden the Disney ride for tired feet that was NOT Small, Small World

**staghorn calculusSee the white pattern in the kidney? That is solid stone. Ouchie.

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No Thanks, Nostalgia

Kage Baker liked to reminisce, from time to time, about the diverse things that made our adolescence interesting and unique. It was a kind of mental aerobics for her – it exercised her memory, letting her keep the files tidy and up to date; it encouraged cross-referencing and refiling, as new experiences cast old ones into a new light.

Sewing the past in to the present was a constant activity for Kage. Executing the mental equivalent of turning the heel in a sock grew out of it, too: it was one of the ways she branched off from reality. It was how she found those turns that were 90 degrees perpendicular to everything, and wandered off into other worlds and dimensions.

So there were hours and hours spent going dreamily over old occurrences. Do you remember? was not a rhetorical question for Kage, or from her. We went over and over the high and low and just plain weird points of our lives, looking for unsampled views and vantage points hidden under the trash of years.

One of the constant themes of our teenaged years was the unending attempts of my right kidney to kill me; which I’ve touched on once or twice before. I spent a lot of high school lying on a table in the cafeteria, being used as a book prop or an easel or a draft excluder. My friends leaned their textbooks on me and had me hold their Cokes; I guarded coats and purses and judged the  throwing plastic forks into the acoustic ceiling tile competitions, as I had an unrivaled view of the ceiling … a lot of Kage’s stories began as she propped a sketch pad against me and illustrated some plot point in what would become Lord Ermenwyr’s Universe.

But when I was 18, the offending kink in my right ureter was surgically repaired; and when I was 30, it was repaired again. The infections and debilitating pains stopped in my freshman year of college, and the old enemy only raised its banner rarely after that. The pain became a memory rather than a constant danger. I still wish I had succeeded in having the kidney removed and fed to Kimberly’s cats, but the damned thing still works. Mostly. Usually.

On my birthday, it decided to stop. Kidney pain is notorious for being vile, and I’ve discovered that time does not lessen its revolting power. By the evening of the 5th, I was reaching the point where I start throwing up – it always happens, and the pain subsides for a while after that, which is great. By that time, though, I was also in the ER, happily stoned on morphine and suggesting to my doctor that it would be amusing to have developed Stag’s Horn calculi; he agreed, but his only explanation for the condition of my damned kidney was: It hurts because it’s swollen, and it seems to be swollen because it hurts.

Interestingly Zen, and there’s no denying it’s an ugly kidney: it looks more like a dented cantaloupe than any kind of respectable legume. No stones, but a humdinger of an infection. I was given antibiotics, and sent home with more plus a nice supply of hydrocodone. It’s all kept me moderately numb and increasingly less inflamed over the last few days, and I believe my kidney is going to escape being ejected from my environs yet again. I don’t want to keep the thing, but all my doctors are loathe to condemn a mainly-functioning organ as cat meat.

Anyway, that’s what has occasioned my silence these last several days. Bright demented dreams and the necessity of staying lying down have prevented me from writing; I ought to take up opium, so I might have a chance of working as I wait out the rebellion of my viscera.

I could really have spent the rest of my life without reliving this portion of my adolescence. The constant companion of The Pain In My Side is NOT something I ever wanted to experience again. And I suspect the doctors are going to cut off my supply of narcotics sooner or later, so I don’t really have the chance of developing an interesting addiction.

Oh, well. I’d rather be lucid, anyway.


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