Seasons May Be Happening

Kage Baker was a fervent Californian. She was born here.

I suspect she’d have been fervent about wherever she had happened to be born – she was strongly attached to her native earth, and felt she owed it to her corporeal origins to be cognisant with its history. She learned the lore, she memorized the legends, she scouted out and became intimate with the local landmarks.

And she did the same thing for all the places we lived after we left Los Angeles: new maps and neighborhood libraries were magnets for Kage. Within a few months of a move, she knew more about the history of a place than most of its native-born. She’d correct them when conversational errors and mispronunciations came up, too; which was a habit she strove mightily to correct, out of sheer courtesy.

But you can’t always tell what the weird local dialect may have done to a word you learned how to pronounce from formal research. In San Luis Obispo, for example, near where we lived for 20-odd happy years, they all pronounce it as “San Louis” – as if they lived in Missouri.  And there is a main street called Higuera. Being born in Los Angeles and having a working acquaintance with Spanish, we pronounced it “Eegwarah” – and people giggled, and corrected us. In SLO, even the native Spanish speakers pronounced that street “HIgeereh”. I don’t think anyone even knew why; or cared, for that matter. We amended our ways. In public, anyway.

No matter where we lived, though, Kage was a defender of California’s seasons. Those of you, Dear Readers, who are also Californians may have never thought of whether we have seasons or not. Those of you who do not live here have probably never given it much thought, either. But you still probably hold to the idea held by the United States East of the Rockies: that California has no seasons.

At best, it’s often held that we have artificial seasons here. Things with funny and derogatory names, like “Fire, Riot, Drought, and Earthquake”. Things named after sports teams or natural disasters, meant to bring a scornful smile to the faces of those hardy souls who deal with REAL WEATHER. Apparently, REAL WEATHER means anything that only happens somewhere that isn’t California – but the truth is, we have all that damned REAL WEATHER somewhere in our state, as well as our own special versions of it.

In California, you can go surfing in the morning, and then drive up to the snow before the Pacific even dries completely in your hair. You can ski in your bathing suit, if you’re really crazy; some years, as late as June or July. You can play Polar Bear in icy water on New Year’s Day; or have a barbecue in the back yard, depending on where you live. There are dunes, swamps, mountains, valleys, crop lands and wilderness. We have dozens of volcanoes and cinder cones, and three of them are considered both active and high threat. We can go 5 years at a time without rain, and then get it for 5 months straight, and then catch on fire for another 4 months – and we’ll still grow most of the nation’s salad while all that is happening.

Kage was proud of it all – its ferocity, its variety, its frequent batshit craziness. We once drove all night and for more than 500 miles through one single thunderstorm, complete with water spouts off the coast and a funnel cloud in the San Joaquin Valley. We danced in the streets in 80-degree winter nights, and in sudden, cold summer hail storms. (We were once young, and usually poor; you dance where you can, then.) Pismo Beach was subject to micro-bursts: intensely local dry tornadoes, that swept across the town taking roofs, kayaks, lawn furniture and the occasional domestic animal.

We have it all, Dear Readers. Whether we want it or not.

Right now, the summer is actually winding down. That doesn’t always mean things get cooler right away, and in fact the last fortnight has been the hottest of the yearBut the Autumnal Equinox is in a week, and the texture of the light is  changing even if the temperature is not (yet). It’s getting that crystalline look that means there is ice in the upper air. Fog and clouds are blowing in and out all day, making their last bows before Fall clears the atmosphere. Such plants as shed or change their leaves are beginning to do so; some are setting fruit, or going comatose, or disappearing completely – they will appear next Spring, just in time to get in the way of the first lawn mower of the year.

Halloween  always has about a 50/50 chance to either broil or drown us.

We’ve been able to turn off the A/C at night lately, and just leave the fans on. We open all the windows, and the sweet night air fills the house while we sleep. I do get woken up from time to time by crunching from the open windows on the porch, but it’s only the skunks and raccoons raiding the bird and squirrel food. I don’t mind the night shift, even when they squeak and squeal and dance on the lawn; they are the least intrusive of the neighbors, unless the wildcats and coyotes try to eat someone … and even that is better than bad karaoke at 2 AM.

Soon, I hope to sleep under a blanket again.

I can feel Autumn slowing the Year Wheel, the drag of all that summer growth gradually stopping the seasons’ rush for a moment of equipoise. There are quiet moments in every dance, and now we are just upon point of briefly standing still. We will catch our breath and trade partners before we fling ourselves into the long night of winter.

If you listen, you can hear the music slow. If you dance with the seasons, you will catch them in their pavane and move with the rhythm of the year. There is one, Dear Readers, and not one marked with sports ball or natural disasters.

Even in California.

 

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Toys and Accessories

Kage Baker was a devotee of accessories. She believed firmly that all outfits and most activities were improved by having the right bling; she had accessories for all her favourite clothes and costumes.  From hair clips to shoes, she gathered all the right stuff to go with every occasion, and with all her dedicated clothes.

Kage never wore any earings except the small gold hoops she had worn since she’d gotten her ears pierced at 18. She wore the same jade ring on her hand from a trip to Avalon when she was 22. And she wore the same two carved pieces of ivory for 30 years and more; they were carven from antique Mah Jong tiles by an artist at Faire, strung on linen cord in a booth roofed by an oak tree. One was a smiling sun; the other was a miniature mask of John Barleycorn, the King of All the Fields. She never took those off, not until she went in for brain surgery a month before she died.

But she had special necklaces for conventions – a string of polished pink and green jasper, another of lapis lazuli and copper. Citrines set in gold Celtic work. She had a padparadscha sapphire ring; she also had half a dozen lurid plastic rings from the ’60’s, and they all lived in the same ancient blue velvet box in her jewellry case. For Dickens Fair, she had a pin made from a cufflink with a fouled anchor emblem; she wore it in a silk scarf, for Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax. Her taste was exquisite, deliberate and precise.

On the other hand … Kage loved toys. She loved miniature civic landmarks marked in uneven gold ink: Souvenir of  San Francisco!  Santa Catalina, the Island of Romance! The Space Needle, Faneuil Hall, the Del Coronado Hotel shrunken down to be a piggy bank. She loved all the little plastic robots in the entire world – from the drop-weight toddling robots you sent away for with half a dozen Rice Krispies box tops and 3 dimes taped to an index car, to all the windup teeth, glowing eyes, noses with moustaches, and teeny tiny Godzillas vomiting sparks. She had a clockwork bunny – he had blood red eyes and danced in a manic circle, and she called him General Woundwart.

Kage’s desk was covered with these things: she swore she couldn’t write without them. She was probably right – I am not in any position to scoff, as my desk is likewise covered with similar doohickeys. I have a dead tree with Halloween lights in it. I have lava lights and a Kit Kat Klock. I have a 3-eyed alien from Toy Story riding a Lego rocket ship, a windup jackdaw that compulsively hops and fall over, a glass bottle of water and earth from Glastonbury, and a jointed skeleton. I have been well schooled in fetishes and good luck charms.

Kage’s accessorizing always extended to our cars. Rainbows were popular, until they got sort of politicized. For years, various of the characters from Disney animation accompanied us everywhere – only ones from the NEW films, the really good ones like Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Kage was particularly fond of Lumier, and of Shan Yu from Mulan. That was before she went all pirate, and started decking out the car with cutlasses and Jolly Rogers and air fresheners shaped like a skull and crossbones … and so, of course, I still have a pirate pointing the way on my dashboard, and another guarding the stern deck in the Cruiser. I wouldn’t feel safe without them.

I do have some of my own fixations, though. In fact, just today, a new bit of bling arrived in the mail. It’s a charming little squid, quite naturalistic, with the loveliest lambent emerald eyes. He’s about 5 inches long, made of especially squishy plastic and will hereafter grace my dashboard – just above one of the vents, so his tentacles can wave in the breeze from the A/C. Thus will the blessing of Cthulu accompany me on my travels …

Got one for Kimberly, too. It’s to match the plaques on her car’s fender, where a martial Darwin fish is battling it out with a Cthulu fish, eye to eye to eye to eye … everybody needs blessings. Blessings and bling, that’s what you need through all life’s little adventures.

Kage taught me that.

 

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Beginning the Long Run

Kage Baker never wanted to rush into the winter season. September was, in her mind, far too soon to be thinking about December’s Extreme Christmas. And there was still Halloween to fill October with black and orange, fallen leaves and candles, monsters and ghosts … the last quarter of the ritual year is awfully crowded, and Kage refused to short-change any of the holidays.

But we do have to start somewhere and somewhen: that was always my job. I can start planning Dickens Fair, and still have mad enthusiasm for Harvest Home, Samhain and Thanksgiving. I may be hunting up my hoops and purple satin, but I’ll be packing by the light of orange faerie lights and drinking iced coffee from a skull mug. I have strung holly and ivy on the walls of the Green Man while eating turkey sarnies and pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving. And I’m one of those hugely annoying people who happily sings Christmas Carols all year round.

So today, our fearless, peerless leader Kevin Patterson sent me the first rough bllueprints for our little section of London. We are moving across the street, which will be interesting but not too hard. We can flip the Parlour in mirror image, and warn our guests about the strange entities suddenly appearing in the new angles of the walls … and this will give us early warning, to make sure we don’t accidentally cut a critical yard off the Kitchen width, so the ladies who cook have to imitate paper dolls trying to wedge themselves in there. It’s nice to make sure we have doors and windows, too. One year, those got left off: it was quite a scramble to refit the Parlour so that we weren’t doing silhoettes in a cracker box.

I am especially looking forward to the Dickens run this year, specifically because of the travel. For the first time in 3 or 4 years, I will have my car back in working order. I’ve been renting cars at need, which worked fine; especially as I keep getting too ill to drive for long distances. But at the moment, my health is better. And today, I finally got my beloved PT Cruiser running again! I know the PT Cruiser is not regarded as a classic car, but it was what I wanted from the moment I set eyes on one. Kage loved it, too. And she made sure I had that car, all paid for and completely mine, before she died.

So now it’s alive again – with a brand new transmission, to the amusement of the AAMCO mechanic. They don’t get many manual transmissions to work on anymore, and very few of those are owned by middle-aged women. He was impressed. He also liked my telling him how the LAPD suggests that a manual transmission is the cheapest anti-theft device going – which is true, Dear Readers, as so few of the young, cool, cutting edge thugs have learned how to drive one. Ha ha.

I then spent half the day fighting my way through the webs and illusions of the DMV, and so by next week the Cruiser will be re-registered, re-insured, and on its merry way. And so will I. With a brand new driver’s license, as well, since over the last insane year my license vanished somewhere in the tide of chaos that rolled through our house.

I suspect I threw it out in some frantic cleaning frenzy. Alternately, I figure I will find it in about a month, packed away with my comic pressure socks from the last BayCon and weeks after I’ve replaced the thing. It hardly matters, really; I’ve never had a license that didn’t make me look like an aging troll, so new or old makes no difference. As long as it gets me through Security checkpoints, all is well.

So, round and round we go. I’m trying to establish, once again, old habits that have enriched my life in the past. Like writing. Like having a working car. Like racing the moon’s rising down the shadowed road through half a hundred alternate Universes, in my black pearl of a car, equipped with the pewter figure of a pirate pointing the way forward with his cutlass on the dashboard. And with the zombie bobble-head buccaneer in the back window, draped in multi-coloured Mardi Gras beads. Accessories are everything in a cool car …

Life has always been so very rich. And so it will continue for a while.

 

 

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And Here We Are Again

Kage Baker absolutely loved classical British music hall. Especially Pantomime: a panto horse or a flouncing dame with 5 0’clock shadow could reduce her to hysterics. British clowns are rather different from the demon tricksters in American circuses, and Kage actually liked the red noses, possessed ladders and buckets of whitewash common to British music hall.

But she hated ordinary clowns.

The venerable cry originally attributed to Joseph Grimaldi when he appeared at Drury Lane in 1799 – And here we are again!  – struck Kage as simultaneously both the most hilarious and most sinister introduction for clowns ever uttered. She would have found the recent plague of menacing clowns reported all over the UK (as well as select portions of the US) right in character for Panto clowns. Giggles with just a soupcon of shudders.

However, what she really loved were Sir Terry Pratchett’s portrayals of the mournful purveyers of mandated mirth who graduated from the Ankh Morpork Fools Guild.  From the smallest, most miserable apprentice with pineapple cream dripping from his painted eyebrows, to the perfect, icy menace of the Dr. Whiteface, the albino clown: Kage hated them on the loose, and loved them between the pages of Sir Terry’s books.

She refused to read anything by one of my favourite authors, Stephen King, on general principles. It was bad enough that references permeated popular culture, and that I kept telling her the plots. Of course, she did keep asking what the plots were, since Mr. King’s genius was undeniable and Kage held all such talent in high regard … but she would be disapproving of the current film of IT, Part Two of which is now finally in theatres.

Kage would have no trouble with me over this. I have no desire at all to have seen this in a darkened theatre. Besides, as I am now of an elderly pursausion and can no longer sit for 3 hours in a  movie palace, I shall have to wait until the whole thing is out on DVD. I already have Part One. Then I can watch it in one long, carefully punctuated session in my living room. Just like I did with Avengers: End Game … twice, so far.

What is tiding me over the wait this summer has been reading. I have worked my way through most of Pratchett – I weep at the heroics and the losses more than I used to; on the other hand, I also laugh harder at the Fools Guild and similar antics, and consequently have to stay very close to the bathroom … I am safer tonight, as the very newest novel by Stephen King appeared on my Kindle late last night and I am not laughing near as much while reading that.

However, what I have been doing for the last 2 months has still not been condusive to writing. Today it is 2 months to the day since my dear brother-in-law Ray died; I have spent most of that time reading, binging on cozy mysteries on BritBox, and helping Kimberly and Michael with the necessary changes to the household. We have been keeping very close to home and to one another; things are – not improving, but stabilizing. We are coming along. Nobody’s new normal is very good these days …

Still, we soldier on. I have actually written 4 new paragraphs of “The Misses Take and Treat” today, and will soon be able to share more. Various stories are still leaping frantically around the inside of my skull, and it’s time to corner the damn things and put them back to work.

But for now … time for another reboot, another weary start, another attempt to get life to settle down into some sort of rhyme and rhythm. I mean, for heaven’s sake! This nonsense is getting old. So am I. Time for some peace!

And yet, nonetheless: here we are again.

 

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Tyrannus Delendo Est

Kage Baker didn’t have much faith in political organizations. As an historically-inclined person, she studied a lot of political systems. And she pretty much decided that all of them sucked.

She watched the pattern in the long story of the British in a kind of objectified horror: all the times the Brits stood up valiantly for individual freedoms – gender equality, establishing the rule of law, giving women the vote, abolishing slavery, de-criminalizing homosexuality (all done before the US even tried to accomplish any of them) – contrasted with the times that they gave away their own freedoms with frantic haste.

Some of these things, the Brits have established; then thrown away; then put back again: several times, in fact. It’s amazing it still works over there at all. There are only so many times you can hope for Bran the Blessed or King Arthur to come back and fix things … but they do have some advantages that we here in the United States do not. The Royal Family must be a tremendous help in maintaining calm: not only do they throw up heroes at dependable intervals, but they are also a grand show and distraction without requiring the populace to actually hate anyone. Better still, the government can be dissolved at any time that the Prime Minister annoys enough people. And then a new government must be elected at a speed unrivaled by anything in America. Hell, we don’t elect grade school class presidents as fast as the British elect Prime Ministers.

I would absolutely love it if we could dissolve the current government, and immediately elect a new one. The only real problem would be convincing the current Chief Executive that he is not actually a king, emperor or god; and giving him the boot. But I can dream.

Instead, we are once again on the Everlasting Re-election Merry-go-round. I think it’s indecent that it began merely halfway through the incumbent’s 4-year term; it’s a little better now, a year and some change before the primaries. It’s still horrible, though; especially since everyone has begun in an effort to keep up with the President’s unseemly haste to find some excuse to stay in office. Personally, I expect our long history of a bloodless transition of power to end in 2020. But I also pray nightly to be proven wrong.

Weirder things have happened in the Federal government. Then again, that’s how we got into the present mess.

In the meantime, I follow the news because it is my duty as an enfranchised adult to be aware of current events. I send letters and emails, I sign petitions, I stay alert. When I must take some time off in order to retain my sanity, I return to the fray as soon as my brain and gut can take it. Better a belly ache and some migraines than to live in ignorance and trust that the Wrong Will Fail, the Right Prevail – as the old carol runs. Peace On Earth seems even less likely.

So, Dear Readers, why this diatribe tonight? Well, it’s been a difficult year so far, and the last month has been especially wretched. The political news is so horrible it’s probably giving us all cancer. Ray’s death in July gets first place in my personal competition, but we have also been dealing with some of the usual “Why on Earth is this shit happening NOW?” problems that usually attend a death. Most we have managed to solve so far, and what has been too much for our frail resources has been heroically assisted by good friends and true. My undying gratitude goes out to the saintly people who have sent us food baskets, sweeties, books, cards and help in dealing with the demons of bureaucracy: especially Cynthia, Susan, and Steve and Carol and Neassa.

Still, my patience has been sorely tried. I am not even pretending to be nice to the endless stream of realtors on the phone, all offering to buy the house since one of the mortgage holders has been noted as being inconveniently dead. One of the bastards actually came to the front door this morning – on a Sunday! – to try and frighten poor Kimberly into listing the house. She sent him away with, as they say, a bug in his ear – and he was lucky it was only a figure of speech. The younger cat is excellent at catching cockroaches.

So, anyway, I am sick and tired and full of rage at most everything. Binge watching British mysteries helps. Reading treatises on biology of various sorts helps. Writing will help, when I can do it; but I cannot yet. Not quite. I made a small beginning tonight, though, and am confident that in the very near future I can return to a good 1,000 or so words a day.

Thank you for your patience, Dear Readers. The world is full of tyrants oppressing all of us, in endless ways, everywhere and all the time. But they will die and fall. And we will not.

 

 

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Just Too – Too …

Kage Baker felt firmly that the world could become, at any moment and without warning, too much with us. At such times, she advocated retreating to the comforts afforded by a full pantry, video games, multiple 12-packs of Coca Cola, and a triple-locked front door.

I always went along with it. I indulged her, is what I did. And at the back of my mind, even while I myself was also glad to be forting up, I always felt a tiny bit superior. I wasn’t the fragile one. I wasn’t the would-be anchorite. I was tough and strong and up to the challenges of life.

And maybe I was, then. Maybe I was wrong then, too, and just had not yet borne enough travail to notice. My knees may have been buckling for decades, and I just thought I was getting shorter. In any event, I was wrong.

Ray, my brother-in-law, died early this month; we are going on as best we can. Last night, apparently, one of my cousins lost her father – also my cousin, I think, or maybe a great uncle. I am so sorry, Sheila. Another cousin is on his way to his own father’s death bed – sorrow, love and prayers to you, Jeff. And now I have just discovered that an old friend from Faire, Maggie Secara, died overnight. No one knows why, yet; she simply couldn’t be revived, when found. Jim, I am so sorry!

Too much. Too close together, too painful, too plain old stupidly unbearable. I’m too tired, my blood sugar is adamantly too high, my back is too achy.  The background that the world is presently giving to all these sinkholes of life is not helping one bit, either. Right now, being a human woman in this world sucks dead frogs and woodchucks.

I need to retreat today, Dear Readers. I need to bury myself in a book, my refuge of old. I need to watch TV with my family. Or I could go hide in the bedroom and cry myself blind, but that will just make me one more burden for everyone else. And no one in this house needs one more burden from anything, anything at all. We need popsicles and Pop Tarts and cookies and chocolate bars. All I have is roasted garbanzo beans – ooh, the sybaritic joys of the diabetic life style! – but the hellish heat has actually dropped past 80 degrees, so maybe I can convince Kimberly to come out with me and buy sweets.

I really don’t care at the moment. I’ll be better later. But right now, it’s all too – too.

 

 

 

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Familiar Monsters

Kage Baker  really, really never wanted to write monster stories.

She liked monster movies – preferably black and white, and soundless if possible. She liked the classic Universal monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Wolfman; she even liked some B-list but classic things like the Invisible Man, or that dynamic duo, Jekyll and Hyde. But what she liked to do was watch the old, old movies. She never really liked the more modern takes on any of these.

Mind you, she read the original novels – she was a fanatic about primary sources. But she didn’t really enjoy most of them, not in writing. She never liked the style that Stoker or Shelley used, though she applauded the ideas; she liked Stephenson, but she would have liked him if he’d written Hardy Boys books. Kage was more than half in love with Robert Louis Stevenson.

As later years provided more modern takes on the classic novels, Kage read those. She liked Saberhagen but was annoyed by the good man’s habit of forgetting to end the novels. She was, like half the world, totally dazzled by Rice’s first ventures into the vampiric universe: and then, like half the world, she gave up in disgust when it all got stereotyped and repetitive and simply too adoring a paean to the Beautiful People. She swore never to write a vampire story herself, because of that. There really were no good werewolf stories in Kage’s time. The one exception to that was the excellent Peter S. Beagle story, “Lila the Werewolf”; the current BDSM crop of violent wolfy romance would have appalled her.

Besides, Kage just hated participating in most fads. She would deliberately wait to read or watch most things until the rush was over It was a perverse sort of snobbery, to which she admitted with no embarrassment. And when she needed monsters in her stories – which happened from time to time – she would either make them up or choose obscure ones. It’s a weirdly carnivorous Celtic muse in “The Literary Agent” (no, not Joseph – the invisible creature who waits and watches from the branches of an oak, until RLS refuses Joseph’s temptations and sends him after Agatha Christie.) The Little Stupid Guys are basically a moronic version the denizens of the Hollow Hills. Operatives are mistaken for angels and demons and gods.

She wouldn’t have given the time of day to zombies. Too sticky and disgusting.

I have wondered by I am currently so fascinated with my zombie and ghoul stories. I have no answer, though. The WHY is beyond me, although the HOW has been obvious: I have had dreams that will not let me go. I suppose the why doesn’t really matter in that event, Dear Readers. Getting the story down is what matters.

Someone asked me in the comments if I was thinking of including vampires in my ventures. The answer is definitely NO. Not only have I no original ideas, the perfect vampire story – in my own opinion – has already been written: it is The Vampire Tapestry, by Suzy McKee Charnas. It’s years out of print (I have a paperback), though Ms. Charnas has adapted it into a play, Vampire Dreams. She is more famous for feminist dystopian novels, now. But that one is what I would have written, had I been capable in my 20’s: the vampire is an almost perfect predator, inhumanely intellectual and alone, a portrait drawn in spare pen and ink designs. What can I say? I find predators romantic.

Anyway, it has been done. It charms me so much I cannot turn my hand to it, myself.

I’m still working on getting a page or two, a thousand words or more, together for, Dear Readers. It’s  hard. I have plenty of ideas and am not blocked, but we are still in recovery here. It will be a very long time before it is all done, but we are doing our best right now: hence, my return to the blog. But I’m spending a lot of time binge watching gentle fantasies like Northern Exposure with Kimberly – it helps us both. For late night, there is Midsomer Murders; and if I still can’t sleep when Kimberly has given up and gone to bed – there is my Kindle. It’s actinic glow is soothing, since it lets me read in the dark. The unending flow of words – and Kindle’s most valuable aspect, to me, is the ability to never run out of books – has been my primary barricade against grief since I was 8 years old.

I can’t help remembering, right now and with acid sorrow, how I used to stay up late to read and watch strange television with Ray. He too was a night owl, and he and I explored shows on parasitic monsters, killer fish, alien visitors, and politics when the rest of the family was gone to sleep. They were all pretty much nonsense, and Ray’s ascerbic comments were wonderful.

I hope Kimberly feels a little better, when she wakes up and knows I am awake out in the living room, fighting off the visitation of Death.  That lean abhorred monster is the most familiar of all.  And the worst.

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