Portal Season

Kage Baker was most attuned to summer, of the seasons of the turning year. Her personal thermostat ran to triple digit heat, and her internal organs all re-oriented then, turning to follow the sun like sunflowers. Her hair was photo-reactive, and a morning in the sun would brighten it from dark russet to a blaze of gold, copper and inhuman colours like burgundy and metallic gold: and no, she never dyed or touched it up in her life. I have no idea how it worked, only that it did – only that by mid-way through the Spring Faire, I would be braiding a torrent of sleepy fire in the far-too-early mornings.

Her skin, however … that was porcelain pale, and the only change it ever displayed was to burn extravagantly. By her 20’s, she never willingly exposed an inch of her skin if she could help it, wearing broad Panamas and felt hats in civvies, and wimples in her Faire clothes. Nonetheless, under her shifts and her Hawaiian shirts, she was covered with freckles that never faded at all. She insisted that one day they would all run together and give her an amazing tan – but no, she just would have looked like a piece of toast.

But more than the heat, Kage resonated to the rhythms of Summer. She might not get up at dawn, but she usually woke enough to notice the hot tide of light in the morning and register approval. The long, long afternoons were her favourite times of all the year, made for gin cocktails, badminton games (at which she was a deadly switch hitter), Slurpees, pizza and root beer floats; at Faire, for huge group song-fests in the Inn, led by all that year’s singing groups and fueled by ale and chai.

But she loved the holidays the best, especially the old ones forgotten by nearly everyone except Faire performers and rural Englishmen: Mayday, Midsummer’s (Eve and Day), Lammas. She said they all rang with eldritch resonance, like glass bells, and swore she could feel the seasonal portals opening and closing between our common Earth and Fairieland. She always sounded pretty wistful about it, too; I used to worry she’d find some way to get her Changeling status activated, and just vanish into much-too-thin air some warm sunset …

Here, it is very nearly summer, the Solstice bearing down on us with all the horns of Elfland sounding in its train. Portals come and go like sundogs in the sky, filmy rainbows blinking in and out as they promise strange new horizons. And in my living room, with rosemary and roses and geraniums and clover all blooming rich and heavy in the garden – we are suddenly afflicted with bees. Not outdoors in the garden – where one might not only reasonably expect them, but have room to dodge – but in the living room. Where we have all the windows shut and the A/C on. Six or seven of the fuzzy little beasties in a single hour!

A damned nerve-racking hour, too. Kimberly and Michael were already tense and tired from necessary errands in the wretched heat, I (of course) am no use at all in anything that requires, like, actual movement, and our new kitten was absolutely convinced the invader was some charming new toy just for him! Poor Michael had to climb and leap all around the living room in order to capture each of the bees (we try not to kill bees in our house) while I retreated out of the arena just because I am a large, slow impediment. None of us are allergic to bees, but we were not sure what effect a sting would have on a 4 month old kitten with no brain …

And they just kept coming! We couldn’t figure out where their entry was: we closed the fireplace doors, checked all the windows and doors, even eyeballed the gap under the front door, just in case some working girl had decided to try her hand(s) at being a sapper … Michael redid ALL the edging around the in-window air conditioner, and apparently that was indeed the weakness in our fortress walls. Or there was a bee-sized portal somewhere in the living room, since there was ONE late bee that appeared when everyone else had been tossed out. We could not tell where she had come from, and Kimberly was forced to send her over the Rainbow Bridge before the cats got stung or Michael had a stroke from sheer frustration.

I have never entirely trusted summer portals … and while Kage never disappeared through one, a half dozen bees appearing in our living room was just about as bad. And we are still not entirely sure where they got in!

May the gods and goddesses of the bright season keep flying terror out of all your houses, Dear Readers.

And now, I am off to soothe my nerves with pizza. That is almost the ultimate summer food … at least, Kage thought so.

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Sunday At Home

Kage Baker loved weekends at home. She especially liked it when she had a project burning a hole in her brain (as it were): then she could spend the Sunday not in lazy perusal of the newspapers or old movies, but in frenzied world building.

It was a quiet frenzy, usually; long periods of staring out the window or at her blank computer screen, twirling the end of her braid over and over in her fingers. Then, suddenly! A mad burst of typing, at which she was incredibly fast when inspiration struck her. As Kage never learned to type, it was all a two-finger tarantella – the sound of creation was the staccato percussion of Chico Marx playing the piano.

Few things made her as happy as spending the day like that,

I have no real blog post tonight, because I have spent the day in a similar state (although the typing is less machine gun and more regular – I can use all 10 of my fingers.) Yestreday, I decided to work on the Zombie story, you see: but somehow in the past year, I had misplaced some 30-odd pages of the story. I prowled the house desperately in search of the laptop I had recently replaced – assuming, not unreasonably, I felt, that I might have put the extra pages on a different document thereon. However, I rapidly recalled that 1) I could not remember my sign in; and 2) I’d replaced the laptop because the damn thing would not longer make an Internet connection.

Unable to open my old laptop, I was in despair: but then my clever sister Kimberly produced the missing section! I had sent it to her for a backup, and totally forgotten I’d done it. But Kimberly remembered – which is why she keeps all our records around here, while my brain all too frequently simply leaks out my ears …

Anyway, the project I so needed was restored to me. I have spent the day editing, re-writing, and stitching the various sections to date into a seamless (ha!) whole. It was a day of bliss. And horror – rewriting always has a plethora of WTF moments, when the words of Robert Browning resound: “God and I both knew what it meant once; now God alone knows.”

But figuring out what I meant is a joy. And if I cannot figure that out, I can at least make sure it’s spelled and punctuated properly.

More story as it develops, Dear Readers. And now, back to following my own footprints through the mist …

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Lurching Forward

Kage Baker absolutely detested aphorism, mottos, feel-good admonitions and such-like pithy remarks. She most particularly hated them when they aimed at her, but their prevalence in society in general annoyed the shit out of her.

“I don’t want to smile!” she would growl, when so ordered by some over-bearing person (usually, but not exclusively, male). “There’s more to existence than “live, laugh, love”! Or praying and eating, for God’s sake. And who in their right mind equates these things? Kindergartners have more self-examined goals!”

This came to a particular head during her last year. Many people were so taken aback they couldn’t think of anything helpful to say; or they thought T-shirt mottos would help. In their defense, Kage did wait until it was impossible to hide the fact that she was ill before announcing it to the world in general; and then seized the opportunity to lecture a little on preventative health care. I thought that was ever-so-slightly hypocritical – as I had to use a chain fall and a come-along to get her into the doctor to begin with – but she told me loftily that it was a mortal illness before she ever noticed it, and she was just exercising her right to privacy when she hesitated so long.

When I told her she was wrong and that I was having a hard time forgiving her for it, she told me: “Well, I’m paying the price, aren’t I? Gotta die of something.”

I disagree. I did then, too. One doesn’t gotta die of anything, if one just exercises sufficient strength of will; and if anyone had enough strength of will for the task, it would have been Kage. However, she dismissed my recriminations with an airy wave of her hand, and anyway: who can stay mad at someone who is dying and keeps on being cheerful about it?

But I did and do agree with her about the aphorism thing. The more I got cheery greeting card advice from my nurses, the crankier I got. It made me actually prefer the doctor who read my file, threw his hands in the air, and demanded “How are you still alive?”

On the subject of dying, I have been flirting with that myself lately. (Looking that sentence over, it sounds like I am considering stock options …) It’s just that, while none of my infections were fatal on the face of it, anything that interferes with one’s breathing becomes fatal as a sort of side-effect; this last time we had to call the EMTs, I honestly thought I was going to die. I was torn between not wanting to die – especially like that, it was uncomfortable and undignified – and realizing that if I did die, I would see so many of my friends and loved ones again … but I would also have to leave a lot of them behind, and I didn’t like that …

Meditating fuzzily on this conundrum kept me fairly calm while we waited for the ambulance. And staying calm was quite difficult; being unable to breathe adequately is a panic-inducing situation. I know from the various horrified remarks by Kimberly, the ambulance drivers, and some of my doctors that I was turning blue by the time they got me to the ER. The ambient light level was dropping amazingly fast, my arms and legs felt like they were all being replaced with stuffed doll limbs … but I remember how sweet the night air was when they wheeled me out of the house, and how delighted I was to smell jasmine, and roses, and cut grass.

Nephew Michael says this preternatural awareness of the living sensorium means that I did die, was too stubborn to go, and am now a zombie. Not a grisly, groping stupid zombie, but like the zombies in Terry Pratchett novels – who are determined members of their society, and more or less accepted by their acquaintances. One of them is a lawyer, which is fairly evil; but no one is perfect. And he sometimes does pro bono work.

Am I a zombie? I don’t know, but the millions of tests done on me in the hospital should have alerted someone to that fact somewhere along the line. My brain is working fine, and nothing has fallen off me lately … so I guess I remain alive. Gods know, I am pretty set on remaining that way for as long as I can manage it. My friends in SkyFaire aren’t going anywhere, and Kage is undoubtedly occupied by slow dancing with God and drinking cocktails with little umbrellas in them, made of coloured starlight. After all, it’s an open-ended invitation, and one that isn’t going to expire. So I have time.

In the meantime, I really, really intend to resume writing. In response to several shy questions from various Dear Readers, yes, the adventures of the Misses Trick and Treat as well as the fearful zombie-hunter of the Hollywood Hills will be taken up again.

In the meantime, the air smells just as sweet when one is not dying. The roses and jasmine still perfume the front yard, the morning mist still is still full of the cooing of mourning doves, and all my clothes have fronts and backs and pockets!

So there am I happy. And here am I happy. Let life roll on! Just don’t tell me to smile.

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I Am Not Yet Dead

Kage Baker wasn’t very concerned about much of the future when she reached the end of her days.

She was worried about her last book getting finished (I did that, from her copious notes and instructions); she was worried about her family, but thought they would make it if they just took care of one another. And she worried about me. She was sure I would try to live on my own; and that without her guidance I would neglect my health and nutrition and be found as a months-old corpse, mummified with a book in my hands and dust on my eyeballs.

She did have a way with words, did Kage …

I have been absent from this blog for a long, weary time, Dear Readers. I have been really amazingly sick, though I didn’t catch Covid-19! Nor did Kage’s lurid fantasies come true in any way – no untimely demise surrounded by Terry Pratchett books and empty cracker boxes; no living under a bridge in a hovel make out of, yes, Terry Pratchett books … no eking out an existence couch-surfing with everyone I know.

I did none of those things. I sensibly moved my household goods and chattels to my native Los Angeles, and moved in with my patient sister, Kimberly. And all went well until I apparently annoyed some Elder God or something, and my health began a slow, layered, apocalyptic collapse. For the last 4 years I have been battling a variety of stubborn and confusing conditions, culminating (I hope!) with my spending the last 10 days in hospital, with pneumonia and a MRSA infection.

During that stay, my doctors decided that my tracheotomy tube, which I have had since failing to emerge in a timely fashion from anesthesia for heart surgery, was too large. We are now fighting with my medical goods supplier to get the smaller trach that has been prescribed – the supplier insists that the model ordered does not exist, does not come in my size, is only made by Dark Elves who require a human sacrifice to deliver it, and I know not what other nonsense. While Kimberly battles with them, I continue to cough up mucus: though not as much as previously – all that is left to produce trauma to my throat is irritation from the trach, and while that is annoying, it is a big improvement over the last several months.

So large an improvement it it, that I have been released from hospital; and in much better shape than when I entered it, in an ambulance, wired up like a cheap stereo and turning blue from lack of oxygen. I can breathe, and talk, and eat, and walk around the house without oxygen. We are just hoping we can browbeat the bureaucrats at Super Care to provide the right trach quickly enough to change it out before the old one chokes me again.

I must advise, Dear Readers, that life with a plastic tube down one’s throat is not an optimal life style.

And! Super Care has just this very minute called to advise us that, as they do not have the right size in stock, they are arbitrarily sending a larger size; and is that all right with us? Kimberly demurred, amazingly without the profanity I would have added, and ordered them to talk to the doctor and order the right size. It’s a good thing I cannot talk easily on the phone right now, because I would wither their ears and blast their office with very naughty speech. I doubt that would increase their efficiency very much.

So, anyway, against monumental odds, I am trying to return to life. I hope to resume something approaching normalcy – and that means, first and foremost, resuming this blog. My audience may have wandered away by this time, not-unreasonably assuming I was dead or kidnapped by aliens. I shall resume anyway, shouting into the Void in the hope that someone, somewhere, will hear and consent to listen as I stand on my soapbox.

I am so very tired of life revolving around 3 meals of dreadful food a day, and when my next breathing treatment is due, and how soon before I can have another painkiller. I am tired of the late night ambulance rides; though I must confess, the lights and sirens are kind of fun even when one is moribund. I am tired of clothes without backs, without underwear, without pockets; I am tired of decaf coffee and chamomile tea, and endless dry chicken. I have seen the ceilings of every hospital in the area – from a racing gurney – and none of them were worth the trip.

So I return to this life line, Dear Readers. I started it because I was aching with loss and needed to memorialize Kage. Those still apply; yestreday was Kage’s birthday, and I hovered all day on the edge of tears … but it’s very hard, and painful, too, to cry with a trach in place. And so, as they sang in WWI through their own traumas, here we are again.

Let us defeat evil, Dear Readers, and rise above the mud and barbed wire.

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Inauguration Day

Kage Baker simply was not particularly interested in politics.

She paid her taxes (years when she made enough money to actually owe any), and assiduously exercised her right to vote (because she was an historian, and knew what her exercised right had cost). But she was always suspicious of cults of personality, and felt that most politicians took ruthless advantage of the tendency of the public to follow such cults.

Even politicians that have no personalities, such as Ted Cruz. All the man is, is a walking air horn – blatting spite and nonsense whenever he thinks it profitable, and counting on his determinedly conservative, largely rural and overwhelmingly Texan constituents to carry him forward. Another one – I hesitate to say “man” – is that well-greased weather vane, Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina. He’s not so much a chameleon as a warped mirror – whatever you want, he’ll support it, and give the object of his adulation comfortingly fun-house reflections of themselves.

I actually thought of something clever, Dear Readers, to say about the loathly David Madison Cawthorn, of North Carolina. But it would be mean and nasty, and I am disinclined to treat a man in a wheelchair as his own party usually treats them. And he kind of has a personality. He is, however, a piece of work.

Anyway, Kage tended not to get emotionally involved with politicians. They were public servants and she expected them to behave that way and just get on with their jobs, as quietly as possible. Kage had very old-fashioned ideas about servants … The only politicians I recall her having feelings for were Nixon (CON!) and Obama (PRO!)

I have similar inclinations myself, though I am much more susceptible to a virtuous or heroic man or woman. Gimme an epic, a hero’s journey, a fairy tale, and I am halfway hooked. Our new President and Vice President so well embody my emotional weaknesses, that I have been in a tizzy of joy all day. Mind you, in order to get rid of Trump, I might have seriously considered Beany and Cecil; so getting a truly virtuous man and a redoubtably heroic woman has been a dream true.

Anyway, today my household has been glued to the telly from 7 AM to 7PM (Jeopardy must not be missed), drinking in the pageantry of the triumph of decency and truth. I wept during the oath-taking; and giggled, too, when snow glittered through the crowd and when Garth Brooks ran mad among the high and mighty, hugging everyone in sight. I prayed with the generations of power at the Tomb of the Unknown, which is enough to gut anyone. I both cheered and tore my hair when President Biden kept dashing out of the parade line on the way to the White House to greet people – why does he DO things like that? I was surprised the beleaguered Secret Service guys didn’t handcuff him to his wife.

And the sun shone, and the wind made the Field of Flags on the National Mall glitter like the Potomac, and babies were little coat-wrapped burritos trying to fall out of the arms of Biden and Harris kin. People wandered around in the high atmosphere of our nation’s highest ceremony, grinning and back-slapping like they were at a barbecue. Dogs were mentioned and impatiently anticipated by the press; it was reported that the Bidens are looking into a rescue cat, as well.

Kage has been well out of it the last four years, and I have been constantly grateful that she wasn’t here to see the mess America had become. But today would have pleased her. It sure pleased me.

And it slowly dawned on me, Dear Readers, that a significant portion of our government is once more in the hands of human beings. Wow! Retro me, Sathanus! And take those damned lizard people with you.

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We’ve Been Spinning Since the Solstice

Kage Baker was not one of those people who forgot a holiday as soon as it was over. There’s nothing actually wrong with doing that – one must move on,after all – but she always liked to wring just a little more glitter out of a special day. Kage’s celebrations of birthdays tended to drift along for days – whole weekends were favourite – but by the time we were in our 40’s, my birthday and hers tended to run for a week or two.

She kept Christmas until 12th Night. The quarter days (the solstices and equinoxes) were probably 2-days festivals when Kage’s Celtic ancestors celebrated them; the Celts counted time by nights, so most of their celebrations took in the days on either side of the Big Night. Mayday used to pair with Walpurgisnacht on April 30th; Halloween paired with what is now observed as All Saints Day on November 1st. And in some places, they still do. And our household was definitely one of those places.

Now, obviously, today is not the Winter Solstice anymore. Nor is it yet the Spring Equinox. But Kage always kept the memory of the most recent quarter day in mind, to see if anything appropriately amazing happened between then and the next one. As Sir Terry Pratchett was wont to say, It can all go myffic at any moment. So, what with the unsettled times we’re been having – what with the modern Plague and the modern Caligula shaking things up – I’ve been keeping an eye on this weary world’s spinning progress, to see if miracles of any hue are in the offing.

And, lo! As we have been turning into the light, we have also been turning into the Land of Miracles.

First and foremost, of course: oh, frabjous day! Calloo callay! We are about to get a new President! Despite his considerable, although amazingly stupid, attempts to deny it happened, Trump lost the 2020 election. Joe Biden will be inaugurated as our 46th President and Kamala Harris as his Vice-President. Being as we are on the West Coast, that means champagne for breakfast, as the ceremony will start around 9 AM our time. And the mere fact that it is happening at all is a freaking miracle! Most of the country seems to feel like its luck has changed for the better. Woo-hoo!

Also, I am no longer completely dependent on extra oxygen! Noticing that it was quite wearying to carry the oxygen accumulator with me around the house, and that my breathing was getting much easier, I decided last night to make the journey to the bathroom unencumbered Also, I figured I wouldn’t frighten my family that way. And it worked! No panting, no exhaustion; no aches in my shoulder from hauling around 10 pounds of purring machine, either. Kimberly, with the honed reflexes of a mother, was awake when I came back to the living room – but she was as delighted as I was. While I am not madly more active, I can now perambulate so much more energetically. I am clearly getting better. A small miracle, I will admit, but mine own.

Respiration is great, Dear Readers.

There was also the Great Conjunction earlier this month, when Jupiter and Saturn appeared to be huge and side by side in the evening sky – a sight not seen so clearly in 800 years. I love these once-in-a-fairy-tale-while phenomena, like Haley’s Comet (which I have also seen) and unexpected meteorites, and Century Plants, and fertile mules – which are always female, for some unknown reason …

Not all miracles are necessarily good, of course. We have just concluded a most unseasonable spate of summer-warm weather here in Southern California, and now we are in the grip of monster winds. And rain and snow and fire. In fact, this evening, it’s been snowing in the mountains and raining in the hills: while trees, electrical lines, small zeppelins and squirrels are blowing in the wind and all directions. We are under a winter weather watch, a wind watch, a fire watch, AND a flash flood warning. This is the sort of malign weather magic that Titania is lamenting at the beginning of Act 2 in Midsummer Night’s Dream, when she tosses Oberon out of her dance party.

All of this I take as part of the dizzy earth twirling on her toes. Last year, as corroborative proof (sort of), the planet actually sped up in her rotation, contravening the habits of the past several million years. Scientists are considering subtracting a leap second from the official clock, which is quite a quantum quake.

So, things are strange, Dear Readers. They always are, of course; if you examine the local warp and woof closely enough, it’s clear that the Fates are usually weaving our fortunes while seriously under the influence. It’s just standing out a lot more this year, at least here at the beginning.

Kage would be amused. And unsurprised.

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So, This Old Lady Walks Into A Bar …

Kage Baker didn’t attend Dickens Fair consistently the last few years of her life. She was beginning to be at constant demand for her work, and sometimes found it easier to write when her noisy roommates (me and Harry), were off carousing in faux London. I brought stories back to her, for her amusement.

I didn’t bring this story back to her; she was already dead when it happened. And the incident shocked me so much I never told anyone except Kimberly. But right now, it has achieved sudden relevance, with the loathsome Donald Trump about to finally leave the White House … this was my own first taste of what the next 4 years would be like.

So! We set our scene in London, as that great city exists in transient glory in the Cow Palace …

Mr. Charles Dickens reads daily in the Parlour of the Green Man Inn, from his “new” classic, A Christmas Carol. It’s a madly popular show – people crowded all around the long Parlour table where The Great Man sits; taking every chair and sofa, leaning in windows, even sitting on the rug at his feet. My staff and I go happily bonkers: waiting at the Parlour door to take his hat and coat, setting up a nice little fancy tea where Dickens sits, with one of the ladies standing ready to pour him out a fresh cuppa when he appears. The Keeper of the Book – a facsimile edition of Dickens’ own performance copy – would hover anxiously by his place, dedicated to putting the volume into no hand but his.

On this day, a friend of mine was visiting Dickens, and asked me to save a space at the table for his lady – she had never heard it before. I was happy to do them the favour, and resumed my Dickens-watch holding the back of a chair for her.

And then an elderly lady suddenly walked up and sat down in the chair I was holding, PLOP. She didn’t even look at me; I apparently did not exist. I deduced this by the way she then tried to hitch the chair forward, and was surprised to find me holding on to it.

“Pardon me, Madame”, I said in my friendly innkeeper voice. “I am holding this seat for a friend of mine. May I seat you – ” and I gestured at an empty chair across the table ” – closer to the head of the table?”

See how sneaky I was? But, really, it was a better seat. However, she just gave me a long blank stare over one shoulder, and then turned away; I really did not exist.

So I repeated myself. I caught the attention of one of the Parlour maids, and asked her to hold the other seat for my apparently stone-deaf visitor. I leaned beside the chair as obsequiously as really good corsetry would allow, offered a cup of tea, pointed out the plates of biscuits at the other chair … nothing. However, a younger woman came up as I was repeating that the seat was saved; she was apparently the elderly lady’s daughter, and joined me in urging that her mother change chairs so I could seat my guest.

At this point, I need to mention that I am white. The old lady and her daughter were white. But my dear friend and his lady are black.

And so: the elderly lady looked up at her daughter (still treating me as a part of the chair) and said, in a shockingly normal tone of voice: “But, honey – Trump won in November. We don’t have to be nice to them any more.”

The daughter looked horrified, and stared around to see if anyone had heard. Only me, of course – and I had the back of the chair in stranglehold as a wave of rage poured over me. It felt like ice cold water rising up into my throat. I was thinking: Here, of all places? Is this my moment to to live up to my ideals? Because if I answer this old bat as she deserves, I am going to get fired. My face must have been rather weird: I suspect it was frightening, since the daughter grabbed her mother’s arm, yanked her out of the chair, and walked her rapidly out of the Parlour.

My friend and his lady came back as I stood there, shaking. Staying in character is a great way to hide your feelings, Dear Readers; I was able to slide back behind Mrs. Bombay and welcome my guests warmly to the Reading. Just then, Mr. Dickens made his entrance, and I excused myself to wait by his chair at the head of the table. I poured his tea, laid The Book by his saucer, exchanged some cheery seasonal badinage, and left the Table in the excellent hands of Mr. Dickens.

Then I went and stood behind the Bar, fixed a vacuous smile on my face, and shook for a half hour.

Dear Readers, I cannot really actually describe the horror of that encounter. There in my own Parlour, at Extreme Christmas, in the liberal haven of San Francisco, out of the mouth of a decent-looking, amiable little old lady – the festering and yet so normal-sounding hatred that would come to be one of the hallmarks of Trump’s regime. I didn’t know, yet, that ordinary people would go instantly mad under Trump’s control, and crawl out of every rat-hole like the living dead; that they would turn out to be legion.

But I definitely felt I had been missed by a bullet – I hadn’t had to put my ass on the line, my friends did not meet this horrible old lady face to face. I could see them seated there, listening raptly, happy as anybody should be to be listening to Charles Dickens read A Christmas Carol. They thanked me afterwards, and I never told them what had happened. They never gave me any hint that they had heard it, either; perhaps we were all desperately trying to spare one another’s feelings. If so, I was and am grateful – because that day I was ashamed of my skin colour, my nation, my own craven thankfulness that I didn’t have to take more action myself.

But that scene has never left my mind for long, not through the last four long, ghastly years. I’ve never been completely off-guard, never stopped watching and listening for another Trump-zombie to wander up and slime all over my day. As my health got worse and worse, I couldn’t make it out to march or protest – though I did proudly knit a pussy hat for a friend who wore it to that first women’s march. I sent letter and emails, I signed petitions. And every time I did, I heard that old woman saying in a calm, reasonable voice: But, honey, we don’t have to be nice to them anymore!

Even spending most of last year hospitalized, there were other patients, members of staff, whose casually ugly remarks reminded me. I spoke up whenever I heard them, the way you do to let some beer-bellied jackass know that his x-rated “joke” is not funny. Some nurses refused to tend me; at least one roommate objected to sharing a room with me. I spent my last 3 months there essentially in solitary, as my roommate was comatose. Video calls with Kimberly and Michael were almost my only human contact.

I watched much worse things happen, as people were shot, spat on, run over, harangued. Their attackers looked normal, but acted like lunatics. Trump was even worse, offending and alienating all America’s friends and allies with behaviour so awful even SNL had trouble parodying it. Could anyone actually be as horrible as he was? And with every action, he showed us that he could get even worse.

But that old lady stuck in my mind. She’s haunted me for 4 years. Now maybe the bitch will lie down and die in my memory.

So, Dear Readers, this old lady walked into a bar and learned that the world had changed. And it was her own bar! Like everyone else, she began to learn that the light was fading. Atlantis was well and truly sunk, there were no faeries, the Dark Lord had not only won, but he was much uglier and more inelegant than the stories had led us to believe.

But soon he’ll be gone, gone to live (in defiance of his lease) in Mira Largo. He’ll be Florida’s problem then. Mind you, I don’t know how the hell we’re going to get Air Force One back from him. And he’s walking off with the nuclear football, too, but at least we can turn that off long range …

Damn, but it’s been a long,dark walk into that bar.

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New Year’s Day, 2021

Kage Baker. An acknowledgement of the import of the date. A few references to obscure, eccentric and/or amusing customs in other lands and times. A genial well-wishing to my patient Dear Readers.

That is the basic structure of any of my blogs, and particularly for this first holiday of a New Year. And that is about all I’m going to manage to get down here tonight, as I am tired beyond words. We have all escaped from the pernicious gravitational tide of 2020, but just at the moment I am barely keeping my head above the retreating tide of evil murk.

Ah, Kage, my dear old buddy – we certainly fought and ran from a lively selection of horrors in our time! We survived Reagan’s amiable mismanagement of first California and then the entire nation; we found and kept jobs in the worst of economic times, because we had to do it. Remember when you were working sales for a company that sold suspicious sports memorabilia? Or when I worked for that crazy sweat room business that made custom window treatments? (Never just blinds, o no!) Ah, we had some good old times. I miss you.

Here’s to the the end of the year we all spent in the garbage crusher! May its like never be see again in my lifetime. Or yours, Dear Readers, as some of you are significantly younger than I am. I lived through Nixon and the Watergate break-in; through Reagan’s beatification of the Nicaraguan Contras as “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers; through a myriad demented Defense schemes, and not-quite wars, and all the times our government pulled faces and spit at other countries.

Now, in cultures unlike our own … on the last night of the year, Colombians place three potatoes—one peeled, one unpeeled, and one half peeled—beneath their beds. At midnight, they reach down and pull out the first potato they touch. Peeled means they’ll have financial problems, unpeeled indicates abundance, and half peeled…well, somewhere in between. So if you want an excuse for the desperate life you usually lead, you can rely on the potatoes.

In Italy, they eat lentils; in the southern USA, they eat black-eyed peas and rice; in Spain, they eat 12 raisins as quickly as possible while the clocks chime the 12 strokes of midnight. It’s supposed to be for good luck – I guess if you don’t choke while cramming raisins in your gob during the 24 seconds the bells take, it counts as really good luck.

In the Philippines, they eat 12 round fruit – any round fruit, they are meant to signify coins and thus prosperity. There doesn’t seem to be any time limit, so I guess you’re ahead of Spain right there. In Denmark they eat boiled cod with mustard, and then marzipan doughnuts. At least, I think it’s sequential. I had some friends who liked kippers with powdered sugar doughnuts, but I never thought to ask them if it was traditional or some peculiar aberration of Faire exhaustion.

In parts of Canada, they go ice fishing (and presumably, eat them afterwards.) In Ireland, they throw bread against the walls of their houses. In Greece, they bake special yeast bread and give it to the poor. In China, and other parts of the East, they make special super-long soba noodles called “crossing-over noodles.”

And everyone, everywhere, sets off fireworks. And shoots guns into the air. And starts fires and shoots holes through property, trees and the neighbors. In the LA Basin area, police helicopters will not fly around midnight on New Year’ Eve, because they have gotten hit and disabled in the past …

But, you know what, Dear Readers? It’s all to honour the point where the stars slip from one domain to the next. It is rather arbitrary as to date and time, but the global weight of belief that now accompanies all this panoply surely tips the celebrations over to significance. There are a lot of philosophies that contend human being are the sensory equipment of the Universe – we are how stars and cosmic dust and Martian sand worms and coelacanths and every variety of Bug-Eyed Monster (including Homo sapiens) recognizes itself and the Universe and the relationships between them.

So be certain to take note of all the amazing stuff that goes on around you, Dear Readers. You are the eyes and ears of the Universe.

Happy New Year, y’all.

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The Empty Days

Kage Baker always shut down as far as she could for the days between Christmas and New Year’s.

She felt that that week should be a buffer, a waiting period, a comfortable domestic hermitage. The jobs we held while we lived on the Central Coast of California – an area still largely rural and determinedly touristy – always shut down for at least that week; sometimes two. We lived off Christmas leftovers, Christmas candy, Christmas bonuses and Kage’s writing. We stayed at home and did as little as possible, in a happy torpor.

FYI, the Aztecs observed a five-day empty period at the end of their annual calendrical cycle. It had a formal name, accepted customs, enormous symbolic weight: the Aztecs were very into even numbers, and the partitioning of those five days was necessary to make the year come out even. However, they didn’t like it and so declared the entire dead days period to be bad luck – they stayed home and did as little as possible, in a quiet dread of something horrible happening.

When I told Kage about that, she was very interested and found it logical; except the existential terror part. She felt the Aztecs were taking it too far in that. If you want to read about it, Dear Readers, and decide for yourself if you want to spend the final week of the year in either happy lassitude or paranoid suspicion, check out the link below. The Wikipedia entry should give you a start for research.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_calendar

As the result of doing as little possible this week, I have therefore not posted many blogs. Sorry, Dear Readers: the holiday season this year is a vast expanse of alarm, worry, despair and exhaustion. My family is holding on hard to home and hearth, and hoping we will survive until the horological rhythm of the world renews itself and starts over. Let’s face it – we all ran out of interest in the year 2020 around the time the first earthquake hit Puerto Rico … things never improved much after that.

Now a third of a million Americans are head, hundreds of thousands more are sick, the economy is collapsing, continent-wide storms have begun and hospitals are staring at a shortage of beds, staff, supplies, and even oxygen. The parasite in the White House did leave, but there is no guarantee he will stay gone; and I don’t think anyone has any more plan for keeping him out than they had for getting him out in the first place. There will be no crowds in Times Square. There will be no Rose Parade in Pasadena. There will be countless careless New Year’s Eve parties, which will flood into the overburdened health system around the feast day of our Lady of the Poor. Fun times, eh?

Nonetheless, many of us have managed good Christmases. Lots of people came to a new realization of just how important it was to be with their friends and family. We have renewed hope, what with multiple effective COVID vaccines making their (too slow, but better than nothing) way to the public; we are hesitantly hoping for better times when the new President takes office on January 20th. Weird as it has been, this at least has not been the year without a Christmas.

My family has been clinging to one another and enjoying sweeties while binge-watching Dr. Who on BBC America. Everyone got at least one nice present; the annual prime rib with Yorkshire pudding was divine, and there will be equally time-hallowed ham and Hoppin’ John for New Years.

Personally, I’ve gotten permission from my pulmonologist to have my ENT take out my tracheotomy tube soon. I cannot express the deep craving with which I look forward to life without a plastic tube in my neck. I shall probably need supplemental oxygen for a time, but I now have a lovely oxygen accumulator instead of nasty tanks. The accumulator is the size of a large lunchbox and extracts oxygen from the ambient atmosphere for my use: unbelievably keen. Just before I made the switch, I made in incautious tango turn around my oxygen caddy, and fell on my face – miraculously, I broke no bones, did not hit my head, and am merely stiff from strained muscles and dignity. But I have new hope.

These may be the empty days, Dear Readers, but they are not back luck, nor a prelude to disaster. They don’t have to be, any way. We are still on our feet, and around all of us are loved ones to help us stand just little longer. We have passed the Winter Solstice and are falling into the light once more. We can tentatively take this as a quiet time, to rest up and recover some strength.

And eat Christmas sweeties. Even the best chocolate doesn’t keep forever.

Aztec-calendar-stone

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Christmas Eve, 2020

Kage Baker was wont to sing (along with John Lennon): So now it is Christmas, la la la la la … At which point she’d stop and look rather disgusted and remark “Really, Johnny, this song has stupid vapid lyrics.”

Which it does. Kage felt she could get away with that judgemental remark due to her life-long devotion to the Beatles, as well as her own innate good taste. It’s a silly song; though not as brain-dead as Paul’s Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time. Secular Christmas carols tend to be silly.

Kage – and I – always adored the old religious hymns; the ones with a hint of blood and thunder and pagan sacrifice, murderous kings and foreign potentates ignoring international borders, camels in surrealistic profile along the dunes, and an entire winter sky full of angels. Hosanna, hosanna inexcelsis! Wings, wings and more wings (cherubim alone have an aerodynamically-unlikely seven wings apiece), song falling over the ha-Negev like the Aurora Borealis.

Nonetheless, today is, finally, at last and much too soon: Christmas Eve. Our goal, Kage and I, was always to get the presents wrapped and under the tree tonight, our stockings crammed beyond the bounds of Euclidean geometry, and a wonderful holiday dinner of prime rib, Brussels sprouts, Yorkshire pudding and gravy coming to life on and in the oven. We usually did it on Christmas Eve, so as to spend the holiday dinner itself with our sisters and their families. Tonight, though, with Dickens Fair gone virtual and all sensible people keeping to small-household quarantine, we are snugged down safe and sound at home.

It’s been a whacked out and somewhat difficult Christmas Eve. We’ve had repeated power failures, which has left us whining in the dark and feeling the good warmth dissolve out of the house. Thank goodness for propane gas and fireplaces! Not a great deal of shopping got done, but we have managed to set aside guilt and resolved to delight in giving one another what we can. It will be the 66th annual anniversary of my not getting a pony for Christmas, but I am content.

I’ve been slowly drowning in my own secretions, waiting endlessly for some miracle drug that promises to dry me up. It has never come … I have been dying by Godotian increments. But due to Kimberly being a ferociously ruthless telephone caller, she got the pharmacy to send it today! I have had the first treatment – it must be inhaled and tastes like the ghost of some brassica dead by heavy metal poisoning. On the other hand, my throat feels as smooth as a tin whistle, and I am every so happy!

The house is warm. The living room is filled with coloured light; so is the front yard, and tonight is the night when we leave the lights on all night long. It must work – Santa has never missed the house, and the Solstice has never spitefully reversed itself.

NORAD is tracking Santa. A small rain has been gently falling all day, and we got just cold enough in the power failures to appreciate being warm now. All in all, we here at Chez Bartholomew are pretty well set for the grand winter celebration.

So I wish you all a warm, cozy, Christmas Eve, Dear Readers. Hold close to however many of your loved ones you have managed to bring to shelter, and wave over safe distances to the rest of the family. Listen at midnight for the glassy whisper of the stars singing Hallelujah, and for the velvet susurration of your dogs and cats, and any other livestock you may have around the house, wishing one another Merry Christmas.

I’m going to watch one of several endless viewings of Christmas Story tonight, and later on read A Child’s Christmas In Wales for my own delectation. Tomorrow will be Hogfather. At some point there will be grain and salt on the door sill, because we all have our own special rituals don’t we?

It all comes down to blood on snow, as the man says. But this year, may it be less of our own.

rising sun running deer
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