Sunday Contentment

Kage Baker loved quiet Sunday evenings. She most especially loved winter evenings; when the sun set  in the West into the Pacific in a nest of red tinsel clouds, and the sky was a deep cold violet all the way to the dreaming East.

For the last several years of her life, Kage only got to enjoy those warm, slow evenings on the weeknights – on Saturdays and Sundays, she tended to be at Dickens Fair, in the Green Man Inn, in London as built in the Cow Palace in San Francisco … she always tried to duck outside at sunset, to salute the blue silk sky over the peak of the Cow Palace’s roof, and the brave little Christmas tree that glowed there in the cold winds off the Bay.

Besides, out there was where the chemical toilets were. And it was always a good idea to visit them just before the last couple of hours of the Fair. That was the time when the major gigs were done; when Mrs. Drum could actually sit down in the Parlour. When she could indulge in a pint of ale, or a shot of whiskey, or a glass of absinthe. Or maybe all 3, in sequence.

Most of all, though, it was when the staff and family of the Green Man would take over the main table, the one reserved for the gentry. ALL the sweeties would come out to the table, the yummy leftovers and the even- more-delectable goodies we saved especially for the family…

Pound cake with homemade rum sauce (devotees like Kage were known the drink the stuff straight).  Homemade lemon curd on tea biscuits, or scones, or simply from a spoon. Fudges, divinities, window and thumb cookies; mince pies, ginger bread shaped like castles and roses, shortbread petticoat tails. Hand-dipped chocolates (for which the Parlour maids traded cucumber sandwiches and pitchers of ale).

And then, we would put on our shawls and gloves and bonnets, and process to Fezziwig’s party to watch the dancing. Our dancing days were long past, Kage and I, but we sat at the sides and held coats and hats and fans and reticules and sword sticks and toddlers for youngsters. It was grand.

I’m not at Dickens this year, but I am warm and content in my own living room. The gas fire is a lovely orange glow, and the trimmed tree looks like a newborn nebula – thank you, Michael! I have a red glass full of Cranberry Sprite, which tastes like a Shirley Temple cocktail – or, if you were of the small boy persuasion, a Roy Rogers.

And if I lift my glass, and view the sparkling tree through the facets in it, the whole room becomes a Christmas kaleidoscope. And, yes, I am content.

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The Tree Goes Up In Glory

Kage Baker kept to a strict schedule of when and how her traditional holiday events occurred. I think it was an attempt to triumph over the  chaos that always overwhelmed us at the end of the year – the holiday season was usually a ride on a carousel powered by out- of-sync sky rockets.

Therefore, no matter what, the Christmas tree (always a  live one) went up on December 15th. If we happened to be in London on that day, the tree went up as we packed for that weekend of Dickens; we decorated it, glassy-eyed with weariness and cheer, the Monday after we got home. It provided a glowing, glittering beacon of calm and reason for us, and we could spend the rest of the season relaxing in the glow of coloured lights, admiring all the ornaments. Kage would lie back in her chair and breathe in the balsam-scented exhalations of the tree, like the breath of a lover.

I’ve followed this schedule for most of my life. But this year, all is inside out and upside down. I am just coasting, letting other people set the scenes and enjoying being an audience. My nephew Michael has heroically been hanging lights and garlands on everything; tonight, he’ll set up the tree right on schedule, just to please me. Bless him! It’s a gorgeous tree, despite being faux; one of the elegant ones with needles made meticulously of fine paper, so it’s as lovely as a live fir. And mostly cat-proof, which is why my sister uses a faux tree in the first place.

The cats nest in it anyway. But it’s less disastrous this way.

I’m not doing Dickens this year, on the principal that an actor who can’t walk 20 feet without panting like an old basset hound, is just not very festive. And Dickens didn’t write any characters like that, anyway – Mrs. Wititterly, from Nicholas Nickelby, comes closest. But she is a thoroughly unpleasant hypochondriac who enjoys her own ill-health, as well as a heaping helping of malice – and she’s not very festive, either.

I know my jolly Inn crew would have loved coping with my new role as acerbic baggage: it would have been hilarious and waaay too exciting, and probably led to wheelchair races in the streets of London – if not in the actual Parlour of the Green Man. But that kind of mayhem is self-indulgent and also not very festive: all Christmas really needs in the way of mortality is the cast A Christmas Carol, with its adorable Tiny Tim and the looming Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Not to mention all the miserable ghosts of venal businessmen flitting through the London night like big penitent moths …

So here I am, marking off time in the candy-coloured glow of several hundred lights, in the smouldering warmth of Los Angeles rather than the icy Bayside London of Dickens Fair. I miss everyone, but it’s a relief to know they won’t have to figure out how to dispose of my dead body with the empty kegs at the end of the day. I have just enough sense to realize I’m not a great casting decision this year.

But I’m writing! I’m giving a final polish to two  or three stories I’ve produced this year, and will send them off tomorrow to test my agent’s new energy. Look! I cry into the aether. I have produced stuff! Find me the eager publishers!

Christmas presents are stacking up in my room, as I have sensibly done my shopping online. My December stash of Mullah coffee has arrived, too, renewing my ancient pledges of fidelity to Faire-brewed coffee and vegetable alkaloids.  I managed to sleep upright in the recliner for a solid 2 hours last night. I even resisted rose-flavoured Turkish Delight for lunch – mostly.

And here is my blog post for the day. The last 2 months have been spent in a ghastly fog of weakness and despair – I imagine it as damp, billowing clouds of a sickly greyish tan; the colour the Elizabethans called “dead Spaniard”. (These were people who dyed cloth hues named “Puke”, “Turkey” and “Sad New Colour”, which probably luckily remains a mystery.) But the nasty clouds are thinning, drawing away, evaporating in all the lights of all the exulting evergreens.

I sit now in the growing tent of light, every shade of star and diamond and white, white, white: the waxing tide of the year’s renewal.  And the tree rises in glory.


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Aaaand … I Start Again

Kage Baker believed her entire adult life that she would die of a heart condition. She was  brave, and resigned to what she was sure was her ultimate destiny. She was also wrong, but that’s all right.

Blood tests in her adulthood showed markers for rheumatic fever as a child. (It wasn’t exotic in the 1950’s …) Her mother had no recollection of any such event, but there was a bit of confusion about that due to the Great Year of the Rashes in the Baker household. Two kinds of measles, chickenpox and who-knows-what-else ran up and down the chain of kids from eldest to youngest; Kage caught them all. She used to say she could have had stigmata or smallpox and no one would have known at the time.

However, her blood told another tale. And she had a heart murmur. The heart murmur was the kind usually called innocent, however – it didn’t impart any disability or cause any damage. Not to Kage, at least. It did frighten all of her doctors for her whole life; they’d listen to her heart with its funny harmonic beat, and promptly panic. When they began suggesting EKGs and asking cautious questions about angina, Kage learned to tell them about the innocent murmur. Eventually they stopped bothering her.

Her heart stayed healthy right until the end, when the only thing it did wrong was to stop. But that can happen when you have cancer of the medulla oblongata, when your brain finally forgets how to tell your lungs to breathe or your heart to beat. It’s heart failure, all right, but not the kind where you clutch your chest and fall down.

That’s the kind of heart failure I have.

I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2009, and had a heart attack a few months before Kage’s final illness began. I was as well-behaved a heart patient as I could be, but when your sister is dying and you are her caretaker, that can get kind of sketchy. I had another attack when I moved back to Los Angeles after Kage died; another a couple of years later; and yet another on October 14th of this year …

Where I’ve been for the last 2 months, Dear Readers, is recuperating. As far as possible, anyway; I am in Stage 3 CHF, and persuading my body to breathe has become an intense new hobby. On good days, I just pant and tire easily – pulling up my pants has become an adventure unparalleled since my potty-training days. On bad days, I just can’t breathe lying down. Since I also don’t sleep well sitting up, I am chronically short on sleep, breathe, or both. Strength has been very slow to return in any usable form.

My brain is turning to vanilla pudding.  I’m cranky, too.

But! I am trying to soldier on. Just this week, I got marvellous good news from my agent, and now feel newly empowered about the writing. I’ve missed Dickens Faire, NaNoWriMo, numerous friends’ birthdays and festive celebrations; I can’t go Christmas shopping, walk more than 15 feet or sing Christmas carols, but I am trying hard to find my way back to a new normal. So here I am back at the old pop stand.

I intend to pontificate about new good things happening with Kage’s work, and my own as well. I’ll regale you with tales of medical black humour, new horizons in physical ineptitude, and the tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago … so much to talk about, and much easier to write instead of talk right now.

Anyway: I am back, and I will be back. I still live! As John Carter used to announce to himself every morning on Mars.

How can I do less?


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I Am Really Dim

Kate Baker was an indomitable fighter against most illnesses. She powered through most ailments with the steely calm of a gunfighter; no drama and no big deal, just getting the job done.

Cancer only got her because she inadvertently died. Had there not been so much extra crap to try and get through, had it not tired her out so freaking badly, I think she could have beaten it. But she fell asleep.

Before that, the only thing that really slowed her down were respiratory diseases. Colds and flu always felled her. She got bronchitis like most people get sunburnt. She bitched more about colds than she ever did about the cancer. Let’s face it, Dear Readers, colds can kick one’s butt all out of proportion to the relevant cellular warfare.

I have a cold. It’s winning. Luckily, I have Nyquil, so I can sleep a lot.

I also have a new insulin regimen. Pro: it seems to be a tipping point of efficiency, and my blood sugar is going down! Con … my body is protesting adapting to a lower blood sugar level. I  can adapt to things with a speed that astounds and infuriates my doctors, which is evidently what it did in getting used to the insanely high levels I have had recently. Until the insulin and my glucose reach detente, that too is leaving me pretty much asleep.

I like to think I am pretty tough. And maybe I am. But right now, I am a tough broad who is mostly unconscious.

Dazzling prose will resume as soon as I can stay awake reliably. In the meantime, I shall peck out little notes to you all while my blood sugar boils and bubbles.

And now for a warming glass of Nyquil. Good night, all.





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In One Ear and Out Of My Mind

Kage Baker gave her Company Operatives the most black and white, intractable, and tunnel-visioned work ethic she could imagine: Nothing matters. Except the Work.

After which, Kage then spent a great deal of time putting her Operatives through various wringers as they fought to either maintain that ethic, or live whole lives outside of it. It was one of the dramatic engines that drove the multi-levelled plots, and came to be a separate level all its own. I don’t know how much it showed to the reader, but Kage became determined to prove that work ethic wrong, Wrong, WRONG.

Naturally, there were Company wonks who never even contemplate violating the rule. (There are always organisms that like being in a box.  Other than cats, who only like it if it’s someone else’s box …) Some of them stick to the party line because they can’t imagine revolting against it; it confers security, safety and comfort. Some Operatives end up, despite the technical enhancement of intelligence and memory, common sense deficient: they are emotionally stupid. Kage spent decades in the Pink Collar Ghetto; she worked beside a lot of people so cowed by their work, or rendered so callous, that they had lost all love or awareness of life.

Some Operatives actually try to live up to the Nothing but the Work ethic because they are good people. They are trying to do their duty, live up to their responsibilities. In some cases, like Nefer, they actually do love their work more than just about anything – Nefer, I happen to know, prefers relict breeds of cattle more than anything but chocolate and bodice-ripper  ring holos …

Eventually, though, even the folks who are truly and honestly devoted to the Work realize what the Company is demanding of them. Ignorance of abuse, tolerance of cruelty, blindness to the hot white light of truth – and these things become intolerable, to the point where the good folks either join an insurgency, or walk into the wilderness to await the end of the world where they cannot harm anyone.

Nef does that, heading into the immensity of the Serengeti to meet the end among the animals she loves. Joseph starts his own rebellion, under the aegis of Budu and the Enforcers, to take everything down. Art the end, he has to face the consequences of what you do when you’re prepared to die for a cause – and yet you don’t. That’s a hard, hard fate, which is why Kage gave it to Joseph. She depended on his strength.

Louis, on the other hand, wanders fecklessly along, being misused almost more than any other Operative by the villains of the Company and the Facilitators. When he finally realizes that he has been used, that evil he could never imagine has discarded him to his fate, Louis is astounded – bu he becomes a shining if eccentric hero, and rises with the determination of an archangel to strike a blow for the Right. And, I suspect, musical theatre …

Mendoza, of course, never really gets the message at all. She does what she should until Temptation arrives and stretches out its hand. And every time he does, Mendoza runs mad and throws it all over for love.

Which of these might have been Kage’s personal ethic, I don’t know even now. Not for sure. She was utterly committed to accomplishing what she intended, always. But sometimes it was because it was all she wanted to do; sometimes it was a duty whose grip she could not eluded, sometimes it was because the Work – her own Work – kept the pains of everyday life at a safe distance. Sometimes she wrote until her fingers were sore and her eyes were red all for sweet love’s sake: because the story – and more, the act of telling the story – were the truest of true loves.

Life’s been ugly this last year, Dear Readers. It’s been increasingly nasty and brutish, although at least it has not succeeded in being short. I’m awfully weary of all the crap, though.

In these dark days, when priceless crystals seem to line up to fall and crash on stone floors, Kage’s ethic still seem the best. It really does keep the dark at bay, for awhile; and who would quibble at the duration of any possible relief? I love where it takes me, I love who I meet in that Wood outside Athens.

Maybe nothing matters but the work, and maybe nothing matters at all. All I know is what works. And as long as does, I’ll be here.


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Thag You Bery Buch

Kage Baker, being a modest lady, lived in a sort of lace-mitten horror of ever discussing her health. It’s how and why she managed not to let anyone know she had cancer until 4 months before she died. And even then, it was only because she had to go to an award convention in which she had been nominated. As it was, she got a wheelchair and chocolate bars to throw to (or maybe at) the crowd,  and made a special effect out of it all.

I try to behave the same way, although it’s harder for me. (Being a naturally vulgar person …)  I have a personal tendency to exotic diseases and public collapses, as well. However, when possible, I don’t carry on about it. It’s unladylike. Also, it depresses me and other people.

In the meantime, I woke up this morning with a cold. This is outrageous: when you have serious diseases, the common cold should have the good manners to leave you alone. Viruses have no manners, and they don’t even care. I’ve been reading Ed Yong’s paean to beneficial microbial life, I Contain Multitudes (excellent book. I recommend it.) while I sniff and snuffle And to Dr. Yong, whom I now hold responsible, I say “Ppphhhttt.” Juicily.

But you, Dear Readers, are all such lovely people that when I lost patience and bitched and moaned about all my wretched health “challenges”, you universally responded with support and affection.

As Bilbo Baggins said, “Thag you bery buch.” May no dragons fall on your houses.

And now, I am going to bed, with a bottle of medicinal absinthe (green Nyquil). Back tomorrow, unless I drown in my skull.

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Perseverance and Other Pastimes

Kage Baker was an exceptionally cautious person. It was, I think, the foundation stone of her writing talent and success.

That was because she never began any project she intended to abandon. In fact, Kage would go to insane lengths to maintain and complete anything she started. Someday, I must recount our adventures with stained glass, enamelling, and menhir-carving.

Thus, she started to write her own stories when she was a small child and just never stopped. Instead of making friends, she found audiences in school, and became a bard.  She finagled pens and paper and typewriters and word processing systems out of friends, relatives and thin air so she never had to quit; she kept finding faster ways to write.

Those ways did not include ever actually learning to type. Kage was a 2-fingered typist all her life; but she was so fast, she  sounded like a Gatling gun with hiccups when she was at her best. She wrote right up to and including the day she died, by which time she had returned full circle to her original method: telling the story aloud to someone.

That was me. That is still me: Amenuensis At Large, Science Geek and Eccentric Research;  Total Fantasy By Special Arrangement. And I can type, too. I made my living more or less by typing for 35 years. And now I make my living, such as it is, by making Kage Baker and the world inside her head … live.

To tell the truth, I wouldn’t go back to a typewriter for anything less than an obscene amount of money. And a free typewriter. It might have to be one made of chocolate, too. And it would have to be replaced frequently … every 2 weeks, say, on Amazon Prime …

It does make me scream and curse when my computers go South on me, obviously. Today I have been running endlessly diagnostics and uploading endless drivers. My desktop is now almost functional … my Buke is still rebooting after I gave up and returned it to the dreaded factory defaults. There are still hours of customizing to do, removing crap I don’t want and replacing it with crap I do. Like, I hate McAfee. And HP Smart Friend. And Cortana, and all the other cybernetic nannies with which Microsoft is trying to saddle me.

But, you know what, Dear Readers? I shall persevere. Tonight is another entry pecked out with one finge on my Kindle’s candy-bar-sized screen: but I did it! It’s even about writing.

More, faster, better tomorrow! Wider horizons and bigger keyboards! Excelsior!



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