The Day The Buzzards Return To Hinkley, Ohio

Kage Baker, like all writers, was often asked where she got her ideas. Had she been sure of their provenance, I suspect she’d have lied – they were her ideas, after all. Instead, like several other science fiction writers, she told inquirers that she got them from a PO box in New Jersey, to which she regularly sent self-addressed stamped return envelopes.

I think she got that idea from Roger Zelazny.

The moving finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a line, Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it. — Omar Khayyam.

The above stanza from the Rubaiyat is a pertinent example – while nothing ever comes back around precisely the same way, everything is remembered. All and any days can be be recalled and celebrated (or rued, as the fit takes you). Nothing is lost, anything can be memorialized; but in the long run, none of that is up to you or me. Time keeps everything, and nothing we do can change that.

Approaching, as I am, the Large Life Marker of open heart surgery, I am paying attention to what the recent days mean or will mean to me. St. Patrick’s is coming, of course – I shall spend that day sleeping determinedly, I suspect, only roused to sit up and try to remind my body that it has functions to resume … I never actually enjoy the strain of coaxing my aging flesh to remember to cycle waste and process nutrients after surgery – but it is much preferable to the alternative. The most I have to look forward to is seeing Kimberly, and pressing the button on my morphine pump. Those are both pretty cool, though.

Kimberly will only be allowed to see me for 10 minutes a day, at least until I am moved out of Cardiac ICU and into a more ordinary room. I mean to cherish those 10 minutes. The rest of the time I shall spend happily blurred out, until I can get my eyes to focus on my Kindle tablet.

And in the meantime: tomorrow is the Day the Buzzards Return to Hinkley, Ohio! Every March 15th, they return to mate, nest and lovingly feed bits of dead dog to their fuzzy little offspring. Baby buzzards are cute; like many baby birds, they have white bunny suits of fluff before they fledge.Kimberly and I have celebrated this for years. I need a stuffed baby buzzard …

Also on the topic of really specific memorialization, today is PI Day! March 14th; or, 3.14. Having no especial fondness for mathematics, in my household we celebrate this date with actual, tangible PIE. In this specific case, we have blueberry, lemon meringue and classic custard on hand for our family delectation. The blueberry is calling my name tonight … especially with several weeks of TOTALLY BORING FOOD waiting for me in hospital. No sugar, no caffeine, no salt, no fat, no carbohydrates. I think I get beige protein spun out of liver.

Yestreday, I spent several hours at Glendale Memorial doing pre-registration things. This will spare me doing it on Monday at 5:30 in the morning. It took 3 hours of repeating my DOB and the spelling of my name – which is a tough one for most people, I must admit – but it seemed to stymie everyone even while reading it off my ID bracelet. I have become exotic in my old age. I think its the multi-syllabic nature of my name, and the plethora of digraphs and diphthongs it possesses. Especially since in both my first and last names, the digraphs are followed by alveolar lateral approximates, and then by the inevitable diphthongs …

But I babble. Or I will. This should be interesting, as waking from anesthesia usually leaves me with perfectly astonishing hallucinations. Kimberly always tells the recovery room staff to just assume that no matter how lucid I sound or how readily I agree with their instructions, I don’t mean it. Nor will I remember anything they tell me. They need to just save all their instructions for her, because I will be amiably convinced I am on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise with an aquarium bolted onto my head …

And this leads us back, in a cheerily circular fashion, to where do a writer’s ideas come from? Because every insane factoid, injudicious memorial and cock-eyed holiday yields them, actually. The trick is not to find out the secret P.O. Box in New Jersey (although the  efficacy of it cannot be denied), but to pay attention to all the bizarre and charming things that happen to you along the way. Like the buzzards. And pie. And parts of speech.

Or, as my dear friend Tom Westlake said, when asked where he got his ideas, replied: “What doesn’t give you ideas?”

Right on, Tom. Right the hell on. And not a single line of it all will be unwritten.

 

 

 

 

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Life Is So Interesting

Kage Baker was constantly at war with reality. She simply didn’t care for it much, that is true – but her main complaint was that it interfered with real life. Hers, anyway.

John Lennon once wrote: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”* Kage agreed with that observation, but felt that it did not address the fact that those sorts of interruptions simply were not REAL life: they were just static, the stuff that occurred while the miracles and wonders of your actual existence were really happening. And she resented it.

Her entire life was an effort to get inside her own head and live in the stained-glass, true-love, gods-coming-to-dinner worlds that existed there. She succeeded to an amazing degree, and along the way brought a lot of other people in there with her. She was generous that way. Although, she always said that she only got away with it because Reagan closed all the mental institutions when he was governor of California – and because she had me to run interference with the sordid minions of reality.

I sometimes wish I had someone to do that for me. Usually, though, I am content with things the way they fall out – I’m awfully good at ignoring the bad parts and grabbing all the peculiar glories and graces that Life also provides.

For example, this morning I got this email from the lovely Elizabeth Story (what a wonderful name!) at Tachyon Books:

Excellent news – your book is included in a Humble Book Bundle: Celebrating 25 Years of Sci-Fi and Fantasy from Tachyon.  Here’s the direct link to the bundle: https://bit.ly/33aYpgZ.
Humble Bundle has a “pay-what-you-want model” that benefits both authors and charities. This bundle contributes to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Girls Inc.
This bundle is a limited-time offer that begins today and ends March 31st.  We will be posting about it regularly.  Please help us promote early and often!

Yep, the book Ancient Rockets is included in this bundle. That’s a collection of reviews of silent SFF films, by Kage and I, in the last year of her life. It’s clever, insightful, and frequently funny as hell. Saying so as shouldn’t … And the other books in this bundle are simply marvellous, and you should all read them anyway.

So here is the promotion, which makes me endlessly happy to pass on to you, Dear Readers.

Also, today I got the date for my heart surgery – the waiting is almost over! On Monday, the 16th of March, I go into hospital for open heart repair of my fossilized mitral valve. My only regret is that I have to check in at 5:30 in the freaking morning (which is likely to kill me dead all on its own), with no coffee to animate me. Oh, and I am going to miss all the St. Patrick’s Day goodies at home – corned beef and cabbage, tatties, Guinness, green foil chocolate harps from See’s …

Luckily for me, Kimberly always buys at least a half-dozen corned beefs, and we eat ’em until Easter. So I will get my dinner, eventually.

Oh, and while I will miss St. Patrick’s, I also avoid most of the Ides of March. Which is absolutely a good thing. I am hoping to see some other, more deserving tyrant, fall.

Am I worried about COVID19? No, not really. I am a tough old tabby, and I seem to have inherited a super-charged immune system from my Neanderthal ancestors. I usually heal in half the expected time, as well. So I am pretty confident.

In the merry meantime, Dear Readers, spare a thought for me on Monday morning. And on Tuesday, think of me when you raise a glass of Jamison’s or Guinness.

Oh, and look at those books from Tachyon – it’s a fantastic bundle!

Life continues miraculous and amazing. I’m certainly never bored, and have no intention of quitting it any time soon.  Onward!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Beautiful Boy, 1980

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I Now Have A Small Thoracic Surgeon

Kage Baker was, in some ways, a much stronger woman than I am.

She had a will of iron. I am adequately stubborn, but my will is apparently made of damp sugar floss; like candy floss, it’s only long-lasting when it gets sticky. Kage worked at her writing until, literally, the last 6 hours of her life – she only stopped telling stories to those of us cuddled on her bed when she actually went into her final coma.

She would periodically give up some luxury of food or drink and go into nunnish abstemia, for no very good reason that I could ever ascertain. She claimed she missed giving things up for Lent, and so would occasionally deny herself  goodies for awhile. She said it made the chocolate, gin, maraschino liqueur or KFC taste all the better when she got back around to indulging herself.

That was too ascetic for me. I’ve never enjoyed giving up things.

For the last several weeks now, I have been denied access to the surgeon assigned to fix my wonky mitral valve. I’m afraid it has never even occurred to offer up my sufferings for the souls in Purgatory; I gave that sort of  self-righteous denial back when you could still donate your milk money to buy pagan babies … I’ve been lolling around, feeling sorry for myself, and slipping further and further into a cranky sort of twilight sleep. I never seem to get enough rest, and tend to just sit in my recliner and pant. I can lie down for a little while when I get exhausted enough, though – consequently, I’ve been awake maybe 6 hours out of 24 for the last several days.

I’ve been doing my best to sleep until I could hobble forth and make the acquaintance of Dr. Mastaneh Ahmadi-Kashani. And today was the day! Despite the temperature here in Los Angeles soaring to a completely unnatural 85 degrees – despite the Glendale Department of Traffic deciding to dig up the entire street in front of my doctor’s office – despite said office being a weird, empty, echoing Brutalist cavern of brick and polished concrete: and remember, Kage wrote in Garden of Iden that concrete is one of the few things that looks worse when polished. Despite the front office staff of my cardiologist having neglected to send the front office staff of my thoracic surgeon any of my records: I managed to hobble in and finally see Dr. Ahmadi-Kashani.

She’s another tiny, cheery lady surgeon. I have good luck with those so far, and Dr. Kashani is a delight. She was appreciative of my having done my own research, especially since the procedure I wanted to have done was the same one she was planning to do anyway. We’ll be going for the full open-heart surgery, and replacing the entire mitral valve. That ought to give me another 15 to 20 years of vastly-improved health before any subsequent work is needed.

Hey, before then an asteroid might hit us.

I need some blood work done, and an angiogram. Dr. Kashani needs to call my cardiologist’s office, and yell at his staff until they send her my damned records. I will probably be going into hospital in 2 to 3 weeks; then I can expect a week or so in hospital, and another 4 weeks at home healing. But I should be walking long before that, driving by May, riding my trike by summer. And I shouldn’t be panting at all!

Of course, all this relies upon the procedure going well: no infections, no power outages while I’m on the heart-lung machine, no alien parasites found tacking up their rock posters in my thorax. My remaining kidney must not pack it in in a fit of nephritic pique. I have to keep my blood sugar stable.

I have no real fear of any of those things going wrong, though. Tonight, I am glowing with renewed hope and expectation. Things are finally in  train!

Oh, and by the way, Dear Readers: Happy Fat Tuesday! I’ll keep everyone posted on how my surgery schedule unfolds.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

 

 

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In Freefall

Kage Baker did not reveal what turned out to be her mortal illness until just a few months before she died. In the meantime, she wrote like a madwoman  (which was her usual technique, actually) and continued on as if there were nothing wrong with her and Death would never come knocking on her door.

The main advantage to her course of action was, obviously, that she didn’t have to give any explanations or endure any sticky sympathy. She detested both those obligations, and felt that having a fatal diagnosis should at least free her from annoying social norms. She also greatly enjoyed shocking people when she did make her first and last public appearance as a sick person: at the World Fantasy Awards in 2009. Kage attended in a wheelchair and had enormous fun startling people who asked too familiarly what was wrong with her.

You know the type, Dear Readers: they give the ailing person a look of roguish disapproval, demanding: Well, what have you done to yourself THIS time? It gave Kage deep satisfaction and amusement to respond brightly: I have advanced cancer! No one ever had an immediate response to that …  All weekend, Kage left encounters like this with a triumphant  Home, Rasputin!*  to her faithful entourage, and departed scattering Halloween chocolates behind her.

We had a great time, overall. Within the week, Kage was in the hospital for the first surgery, on the months’-long journey to her end. We looked back on that last weekend with great joy, so glad to have had it before she was too weak.

I’ve been unable to find a celebratory event with which to mark my coming heart surgery. Though I must admit, I haven’t looked all that much – too tired, even though Kimberly and Michael have been perfectly amiable about wheeling me about. What they don’t like doing is letting me out of the house at all – I have all the stamina of a wet Kleenex, tend to pant and gasp in an unnerving way, and, of course, am really not in a good condition to go out and confront influenza viri. Kimberly is understandably determined to prevent my contracting any infection before it’s time to open my chest.

I haven’t had a great time writing, either. I would if I could, but … mainly, all I can do is  sleep. When I am awake, I read. I’ve begun to worry a bit about being sicker than I thought I was, because lately I haven’t even had the energy to read. I can’t seem to focus my intellect on the subjects (and they are not all space operas or zombie stories, really!) and  find myself re-reading the same paragraph on the dissemination of squamous fish over and over … discouraging, that.

In an attempt to find something that really stirs my emotions, I’ve even been working my way through the “kiss and tell” books being regularly published by losers in the wars with Donald Trump. Some are just tabloid trash, even when they are writing truthfully about the tabloid trash currently lairing in the White House. One way to verify the more egregious anecdotes is to see who else reports them, other than the original tattler. Some of the most hilarious stories cannot be supported by anyone or thing other than the original report – others, like Trump’s amazingly ignorant order to evacuate Seoul due to its unfortunate proximity to North Korea, do seem to be true. But they are so depressing …

Still, I have been slogging on, counting down the days until my surgery can be scheduled.

My initial appointment with my cardiac surgeon,  Dr. Mastaneh Ahmadi-Kashani, was supposed to be yestreday. Sadly, a couple of hours before the appointed time, the doctor’s office called to cancel: the surgeon was called in to the hospital for an emergency. She only keeps office hours once a week, so I have been kicked back to next Tuesday. I admire her devotion to the patient with the emergency, but … Sigh. At this point, I am willing to go into surgery the very next Wednesday – I don’t care about what method they choose, or how long it will take to recover, or how much it is supposed hurt: I just want it done, so I can begin healing. I am degenerating into a coral polyp, and want to resume life as a vertebrate.

I’ve been told to expect post-surgical discomfort similar to an elephant standing on my chest. Well, I am already feeling that, every time I walk to the bathroom. I’d at least like to feel it and know that it means something different – like, maybe actually filling my lungs. I am longing to be able to walk again; to accompany my sister to the grocery store; to drive without worrying about passing out, to climb stairs without the world growing black, to sing. I really miss singing.

These days, I cannot hold my breath for longer than one or two words; it gives my singing an unfortunate mechanical staccato. Which would be amusing, if I was doing it on purpose, I guess.  Harry doesn’t like it, though. He regards funny noises as his particular domain.

So, Dear Readers, please bear with me for a while longer. It’s taken me all day to write this blog entry, in between lengthy naps; and I am still falling asleep as I write. I’ll have to edit it extremely carefully, to avoid amusing and demented typos. For instance, in the first line of this entry, Kage did not die of a”moral disease”. She was a person of absolute probity. The idea would have made her snicker, though; so I guess it’s worth it to have committed it.

In the meantime, Dear Readers, please keep me in your thoughts. Or, if not me, then my over-worked surgeon, Dr, Kashani, so she can manage to meet me long enough to tell me how she intends to get at my heart. A matte knife and a crow bar would be acceptable to me right now.

In the meantime, my old school chum Cynthia has sent me an exquisite blue and gold macaw feather – thank you, Cyth! It is just the accessory for having your heart removed. I don’t think they’ll let me bring it into the operating room, but I think I’ll wear it in my hair next Tuesday. It’s retro fashion, after all.

 

 

 

*Bewitched. The incomparable Agnes Moorehead, in her role as Samantha’s mother, Endora, used to issue this command to her chauffeur: who would then proceed to drive backwards out through the walls of Samantha’s suburban living room … Kage found it hilarious.

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Another Symptom Heard From

Kage Baker had a heart murmur. An innocent heart murmur: a distinction that means it did not affect the functioning of her heart. It merely unnerved physicians who were examining her for the first time. She got very nonchalant about disabusing them of the notion that she was about to have a heart attack.

We figured she must have had rheumatic fever as a child. There was a year or so around age 6 when she caught everything that produced a rash, a fever and/or a sore throat. We figured that was when rheumatic fever snuck in. It was probably the cause of her arthritis that began at the tender age of 8, as well.

But she didn’t have a bad heart!

I, on the other hand, do. And for the last 2 days, I have been experiencing the old-fashioned sounding symptom of palpitations. It sounds like I need smelling salts, and should be languishing on an S-shaped divan, fluttering. a lacey lawn handkerchief. What it actually means is that I get a feeling like wings beating in my chest, followed by a hollow sucking sensation that drains all the air from my lungs. My heart is skipping beats – then stumbling forward in a cartoonish fashion in an attempt to catch up to itself.

It is very tiring.

Consequently, Dear Readers, I’m not up to much tonight. I will answer all your lovely comments and notes, though, tomorrow.

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Oh, My Breaking Heart

Kage Baker resented illness taking her time away, time she could have spent writing. She did indeed write through most illnesses, arming herself with ginger ale and tissues and lap robes and cups of hot soup by her computer. How she never spilled something and shorted out both her computer and herself, I never knew. I suspect sheer will power, refusing to accede to an annoying reality.

Even in her last year, her mortal illness didn’t completely stop her. When she was too tired to sit at her desk, I made her a nest in her arm chair and she worked on her Buke, swaddled in blankets. When she had to take to her bed, we discussed her work; she dictated to me, even as late as a the afternoon of the day she died. I don’t think she actually had an off-switch. Death took her in an inadvertent pause.

I have been unable to resume my own work on a regular basis – this blog and the writing –  because I have been ill, and am not as determined as Kage was. Sorry, Dear Readers. I caught the flu, just a version not covered my super-duper geriatric flue vaccine – it’s a crap shoot, and my vaccine came up snake eyes. And then, there is my heart.

Happily, I have found out I do not have congestive heart failure. Annoyingly, though, I have advanced cardiac valve disease. I must sleep sitting up, am constantly exhausted, and cannot walk more than 20 feet before I am panting like an overheated hound dog. It cramps my style to be essentially chair-bound, and to spend half my day trying vainly to catch my breath while hallucinatory black polka dots sleet over my vision.

Also, I have become indecently mesmerized by the dubious progress of Trump’s impeachment trial. I spend a lot of my day online, reading various newspapers and following news sites; but I’ve managed to restrict my television consumption to Rachel Maddow (for information) and Stephen Colbert (for life-saving hilarity and pungent satire).

Lately, I have also been working my way through various books on the Trump Presidency. Even sticking to books by actual staff members and reporters, the amount of bullshit far exceeds the FDA guidelines for such more-wholesome inclusions as rat droppings and cockroach legs. However, that’s not due to hysteria or confabulation by steady people like Bob Woodward, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig – it’s the nature of the topic which, even when reported professionally, is eyebrow deep in slime and melodrama.

But it takes some time to wade through all this. On the other hand, I have not spent so much research on current events since I was in high school and my civics grade hung precariously from the cliff-edge of forced participation. Sister Philomena and Mrs. Smith would be astounded. As I recall, I learned a lot more about the history of Gondor (from behind the camouflage of the Student Outlook) than the United States, when those noble ladies were trying to make an informed citizen out of me.

And hey! Does anyone besides me even remember the Student Outlook? It was a slick, ice white half-sheet newsletter, distributed weekly to 8th, 9th, and 10th  graders in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Nor am I referring to any racial politics here: the thing was printed on shiny, slippery white paper that smelled of licorice and bananas from the weird ink they used. However, it was providentially big enough to hide the Ballantine  paperbacks of LOTR with which I improved each shining hour in those days …

When I’m not reading late into the night, I am online compulsively researching valve disease and cardiac surgery. As of this morning, my series of rudely intrusive tests have shown that my mitral valve has essentially turned to stone: so much so, in fact, that the first level of cardiac surgery is inadequate for my wretched heart. My doctor has dismissed the idea of a valvuplasty, that famous balloon-in-a-catheter trick wherein teeny little cameras and a very detail-oriented surgeon can inflate a balloon in the offending valve, and stretch the bugger back into usefulness. My mitral valve has passed beyond that, it appears, and will probably have to be replaced.

There is a minimally invasive surgery that gets at the heart through a couple of little holes (more teeny cameras, and scalpels on sticks) or between the ribs. However, I am not only a fat old lady, I am a fat old lady who still has the remains of heroically big tits. It’ll be up to my surgeon, of course, to decide just how to access my heart, but I am pretty certain it’s the classic Aztec version for me. I am quite resigned to waking up with an extra 8-inch incision bisecting my chest – the technique requires splitting my breastbone and using a mini version of the Jaws of Life to spread my ribs like the space jockey in the original Alien.

There are YouTube videos of this fascinating procedure. I do not recommend anyone watch them. Not everyone shares my interest in how to take apart the human body.

Complaining alone should keep me at this, now that I know what will happen.  I am trying to keep some vestige of normal life going while I wait to  be escorted up to the top of the ancient pyramid. And I tell you, Dear Readers, I want some of those fancy feather headdresses and nifty obsidian blades – if I am gonna have my heart disconnected, I want all the premium props.

 

 

 

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By The Rocket’s Red Glare

Kage Baker held to John Lennon’s wisdom – well, not in much, but definitely this: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

And she was always shaking her head at me, as I trailed home with thistles and rose petals stuck to my clothes; with no idea how the knotted clothesline soaked in vanilla milk shake ended up on the dashboard of the car; mysteriously tattooed (even though it turned out to be a press-on) … she’d shake her head at me in despair, and say, “I can’t take my eyes off you for five minutes!”

It was usually a fair cop. And life runs in huge, awkward, unexpected circles …

So, today I went into hospital for a couple of echo cardiograms. Despite my fears, I was blessed with a sympathetic set of nurses, a deft and modern anesthesiologist, and a miraculously smooth journey through the cardiac labs and ICU. All tests are done, and I have a clear diagnosis: calcification of the mitral valve. I am now beginning the planning for heart surgery, and I really don’t mind – I have a diagnosis,  a plan, and a good expectation of restored health and stamina.

Imagine my surprise, then, at coming home, sitting down, and spending the next several hours watching Iran and the United States begin a shooting war.

Kage wouldn’t be surprised. Horrified, yes, but not surprised. We both watched CNN being born by the light of tracer bullets over Bagdad. The wise men at that nativity were on their knees, all right,  peeking over window sills in  besieged hotels, narrating a monstrous conflict.

For all the good it did. We’re still crouching in the dark, on someone else’s territory, trying to find a reason for whatever the hell is going on. Only this time, the insane thug with a god-king complex is the POTUS.

Still, Dear Readers, I myself feel I have gotten good news. My problem has a name and a solution. Brighter times may lie ahead of me. Spring will bring the breeding birds; Summer will bring roses. Autumn will bring the ripened corn, and come next Winter – I will dance one more time at Dickens, and sing with the Hallelujah Chorus.

If  we all live that long, anyway.

 

 

 

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