On Cats

Kage Baker professed to loathe cats. More than she professed to loathe most other animals, that is. But tonight, I want to talk about the cats I live with – because, though Kage would probably have disliked them, I love them dearly.

I know that, despite firm avowals of undying hatred, Kage had good social relationships with at least a few cats. Mitz was an extremely beautiful black cat from Kage’s early childhood. He had a perfect profile and only 1 front leg, giving him a high-shouldered hunchbacked look. Kage always lamented she had met him in her pre-Shakespeare days, as otherwise she would have named him Richard III. He was dignified and kingly; also short-haired, which may have been why she liked him.

She also was fond of my cat Thesta, a little grey and white lady who was an excellent mouser. Kage appreciated a cat that was good at a traditional cattish vocation. Thesta, too, was short-haired. On the other hand, Kage truly did dislike my favourite cat, T’Pring, who was enormous, insanely long-haired, and had huge tufted paws and ears – I now suspect she was a Maine Coon mix. Kage only put up with her immensity and fuzziness as a concession to me.

But now, living with Kimberly, I have returned to living with cats. Although my heart belongs to Harry the parrot, I do love cats – as long as they can learn that Harry is not prey; so far, they all seem willing to be parrot-minions instead of mighty hunters. And it is here that my family and I have discovered the wonderful world of Maine Coon cats. We now have two – our lovely lady Ashby, who is orange; and Edward – who is still a baby (technically) and black.

Ashby is a rescue – the Pasadena ASPCA had her down as a 4-month old kitten, rescued with her mother and brother from a dreadful infancy on the street. (She is still frightened of street sweeping machines, even though she is a 100% an indoor cat.) When we brought her home, we were amazed at how actually tiny and dependent she was: but also at the size and fuzziness of her paws, her coat like a cloud of silk, her huge tufted ears, her extraordinarily long and fluffy tail … what we have determined since is that Ashby is a Maine Coon, but was erroneously described as older than she was because she was so large. For a Maine Coon, she is a dainty lady indeed; but she is twice the size of any of our previous, more ordinary cats. She is a golden sunset cloud, with her magnificent tail following her like a princess’ veil. And she is totally my nephew Michael’s cat, adoring him with a proprietary love that sometimes impedes his ability to breathe – 12 pounds is a lot of cat.

When Kimberly’s little black cat used up her last life, we were bereft. We decided that what we needed was another black kitty – for Halloween purposes, of course – and another Maine Coon, because of the beauty and sweetness of Ashby. And after a search and a wait of some months on his pregnant mother, we found him!

Edward was, for a Maine Coon, tiny when he came home to us. He is black, black, black – so totally black that when he closes his eyes, his little face vanishes. He is as soft as velvet, and quite the most affectionate cat I’ve ever known – he likes to give kisses, and purrs like a tank. He thinks Kimberly is absolutely Momma and he likes to lie on her breast and stare lovingly into her eyes. He rarely mews, but he meeps and makes tribble noises and chirps in a tiny voice. He chases sticks and ping pong balls and is learning to fetch. He has paws with thumbs and can open cupboards and turn doorknobs; he likes to hug you with them, and he likes to have his tummy rubbed. Most cats are supposed to hate that, but not Maine Coons – both Edward and Ashby just adore it.

Edward is as insatiably curious as the Elephant’s Child, and absolutely must assist with whatever his humans are doing; one of his favourite napping places is on Kimberly’s desk, lying between her computer screen and keyboard. He now eclipses most of the screen when he does that, but he really likes to assist Momma with her games of solitaire … he has no idea he is not transparent.

I have no pictures of him yet – he has spent the day in or under things, of course, just when I wanted to get a current photo. But from his arrival as a (relatively) teenie kitten, he has grown extravagantly. We did measure him this afternoon – from his ebony nose to his really fuzzy behind, Edward is now 22 inches – count in his 14-inch opera cloak tail, and he is 36 inches long. And he is only 6 months old, and due to keep growing until he is least 3 years old.

So. There are my fuzzy roommates. I will get pictures tomorrow, and share with with you, Dear Readers. Those of you who have cats, and especially Maine Coons, will be appreciative. Even those of you who, like Kage, think you loathe them might like them. Because, you see, one thing I have learned since Kage died is – lean as hard as you can into what you love. Hold it tight. Rub its tummy.

It’s a small, soft thing, and in no way permanent.

And here is my favourite cat poem, written by an Irish monk …

*I and Pangur Bán my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

translated by Robin Flowers

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The Great Outdoors, Indoors

Kage Baker didn’t really like most people. She had to get to know them individually, which she didn’t do often because she was busy and shy. Those who did get her attention long enough to get to know her – and didn’t scare her – know that she was a good friend, faithful and true, and a right lot of fun once she had a couple of rum and Cokes in her.

Kage also didn’t like Nature much. She gave her civilized preferences to Lord Ermenwyr (“I HATE Nature!”) and much preferred to observe the natural, wet, fuzzy, sticky, smelly, hot, cold world through a thick pane of glass. Gardens were her preferred outdoors environment, the more clipped and securely bedded the better. With easy access to modern plumbing, and a lawn chair with a drink holder.

Even in her books, few Operatives really liked animals – including humans. One of the only exceptions was Raven, an illegally augmented raven (of course) who becomes the partner of a young Operative in Mendoza In Hollywood. And, naturally, the endless and mostly implied passions of Nefer for hoof stock. As chief assistant researcher, I too learned things about bison I have since laboured in vain to forget …

Since I have moved back to Los Angeles, I’ve been re-immersed in the tide of Nature. Living, as I do, close to both Griffith Park and the Los Angeles River, I am rich in the company of furred and winged neighbors. We have a squirrel feeder; a bird feeder on the window as well as a bowl on the porch for the ground feeders; scads of nectar-rich flowers for the butterflies and hummingbirds. After dark, raccoons, skunks and possums waddle up to eat the spilled seeds and nuts. During the day, young ravens and hawks come by to see if any other smaller visitants are catchable ; it’s especially charming when the fledglings are accompanied by their mamas, teaching them patiently how to nail a squirrel or a pigeon.

At night, bobcats and mountain lions come and sit on our cars. We never see them; but cat prints as large and larger than my hands make it plain they have been out there. They seem to like sliding down the windshield. All cats are the same, in odd ways.

Recently, our next-door human neighbor sadly deceased; her house has been steadily worked on for months, being renovated by a team of house-flippers. In the course of their landscaping efforts, they trimmed or cut down several trees – which unfortunately, were condos for roof rats. And now, there are roof rats all over the place. Roof rats are an introduced species, Rattus rattus, smaller and more gracile than the Rattus norwegicus which you find all over downtown Los Angeles. I happen to like rats, when encountered on a social basis; but the current wave of rodentine refugees are not especially fun.

They don’t get into the house often – we have two cats now, and I think the smell of them upsets any rat adventurers. However, accidents do happen … over the weekend, one of the tree rats managed to fall down the chimney and put on a desperate show in the fireplace. This was kind of funny during the day; but in this heat Kim and I sleep in the living room, for the air conditioning. And a rat in the fireplace is just not conducive to rest.

Our fireplace is kept closed with both a metal net curtain, and glass doors; we have an artificial log in place, so in the summer there is no actual fire – although the very splendid fake fire is complete with wonderful waxing and waning lights, that are beautifully soothing. The rat, however, must have thought he’d gone to ratty Hell, because he ran up, down and all around behind the doors, frantically seeking an egress. Or maybe it was the avid attention of our younger cat, who seemed to think the rat-under-glass was a special television show just for him.

Our elder cat is a large but delicate and ladylike red Maine Coon cat, yclept Ashby, who simply watched the rat from the top of my desk. Our younger cat, though, went nearly as crazy as the poor rat. Edward is a jet black Maine Coon – just 6 months old -who is already bigger than Ashby, and we spent a horrendous night with Edward the Black periodically throwing himself at the fireplace doors (BOINNNNG!), and sending the rat into loud insane scrabbling all over the place. Between futile attacks, Edward cried piteously (Maine Coons have tiny, sweet little voices) for someone to give him the rat.

I did not sleep. Kimberly, Edward and the damned rat finally all fell asleep around 4; and sometime during the next day, the rat managed his escape. Or maybe he died of stress from having an enormous black lunatic banging on the fireplace doors. Whatever, he has not been since. Edward, though, still checks the doors every day just to make sure there is no-one lurking in there – but Edward, despite being enormous, is still just an innocent little baby who expects miracles to come down the chimney.

During the long, noisy night, I amused myself by imagining what Kage would have had to say if she had been cooped up with a crying, 14-pound baby cat and a demented tree rat. I’d probably have had to administer several ounces of rum and chocolate, and hoped she’d fall asleep as well … but, you know? At least I was home with my loved ones.

Nearly anything is bearable under those circumstances.

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A Small Report From The Edges of Reality

Kage Baker wasn’t fond at all of consensus reality. Considering, as she did, that reality was what you make it, she had a low opinion of the reality on offer – the group view, the mass of humanity view, the purblind, self-obsessed tunnel vision that does constitute the consensus of the majority of human kind.

So she largely used her own. A lot of people who do this have slipped over the edges of recognizing any reality, and forged far over the border of being able to live in anyone else’s. But Kage was imminently sane, and practical besides. She was on excellent terms with the input from her own senses; she just didn’t care to rely on what other people told her that was.

Kage was never any good at doing what she was told to do. Her usual technique was to listen quietly, make no response, and then ignore the orders she did not like. No loud defiance, no obstreperous argument; she just held still until no one was looking, and then proceeded to do what she wanted to do. And it worked pretty well; if anyone ever noticed again, they tended to forget what it was they’d told her to do in the first place. And Kage sailed on, defining herself just the way she wanted.

One of the reasons she refused the consensus reality was that she felt it missed too much. Details matter, and reality cannot be accurately determined unless you look for and integrate those details. Can you know everything about everything? Probably not, although Kage wasn’t ever willing to bet on that. She was deeply aware that things are always stranger than what we are told. She wanted all the information she could get.

I always felt the same way; we spent years collecting weird facts from all over. not only for Kage’s stories but for our own amusement. For years now, friends have sent me articles about the kinds of glorious weirdness we liked; they still continue to do so, which is a source of endless delight to me. I can’t find everything that floods through the aether, after all. Just today, my old friend Mark Shanks (a genuine scholar) send me a fascinating article on a mummified moa claw. (https://tinyurl.com/prnpnzdh). This came from a bird that was 10 feet tall, mind you. One look at this, and you can understand why the Maori hunted them to extinction. It is always an impoverishment when a species goes extinct, but in this case it was pretty clearly either the moas or the Maori.

Here are a few more mentions of interesting weirdness from the last few months.

A Senor Elfrain Cab, who is pretty much a Mayan still living in the original Mayan lands, has dedicated his life to saving the rare, stingless Mayan honeybee. They produced (and still produce) a potent honey that was once a staple of the Mayan diet. It’s still sought-for, and still just as good. The bees were almost exterminated by the Spaniards – as were the Maya – but both groups still survive, and mean to remain. Find them here: https://tinyurl.com/2ppsk7yz , and maybe buy some Mayan honey.

For the first time in years, new baby ravens have been born at the Tower of London. This is nice news for the Raven Master of the Tower, who is fond of his enormous charges; also nice news for the monarchy, whose continued existence is said to depend on the ravens being maintained at the Tower of London. https://tinyurl.com/268pwwz3 And in my opinion, you can never have too many ravens, anyway.

The genome of the platypus has finally been pretty thoroughly mapped! See here, with an adorable photograph: https://tinyurl.com/czwh58un . I thought it would have been done before now, too, but there is so very much to be studied in Australia! Most of which would also love to kill you, which must make life extremely interesting for Australian researchers … but, anyway, it appears the platypus really is a missing link, between reptiles and birds. This is especially fascinating because actually finding a real missing link in very rare – in my scholarly days, in fact, we were taught never to expect to lay our greedy hands on anything so obvious and distinct. But, you know, Australia …

I had more to share, but the WordPress program has evidently slipped over some edge of reality itself – I can barely get it to respond to the most ordinary of commands, and it has in fact devoured – devoured, I say! – a few hundred pearls of wisdom in the last hour. The more I try to save, the more it loses.

I am going to quit, post and publish now, before I disappear up my own paragraph block.

Until tomorrow, Dear Readers.

This would be holding YOUR drumstick …
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New Chapter: Wherein I Lose An Orifice

Kage Baker always said, you should try to hook your audience with the first sentence. I hope the one above is odd enough to catch someone’s attention – not that I deserve it, having lapsed into so long a silence lately.

But once you start this sort of thing, it’s actually pretty hard to stop. Kage wrote stories because no one could interrupt her, writing – they could refuse to listen, but they sure as hell couldn’t take over the narrative.

She used to pass some of our brainstorming time coming up with alternate beginning lines to her stories – as weird as possible, sometimes, to ponder whether or not they would have worked better than what she ended up using. Mendoza In Hollywood almost started with a soliloquy on gardening; but Kage’s editor felt a recap of the history of the Company would work better; so she added that. but then segued into the history of Los Angeles, her psychotic home town.

The Life of the World To Come got the gardening treatise in the beginning as well. She had moved it from the beginning of In the Garden of Iden to begin with, but suddenly got up one day and redid the beginning with one of my favourite passages in all her books: “Rain comes on the west wind, ice out of the blue north. The east wind brings hazes, smokes, the exhalation of the desert on the distant mainland; and hot winds come out of the south, across the wide ocean.”

Sky Coyote once started with “I used to be a human being”: but Kage finally decided that was too grim and zombie-ish, and did another recap of the Company’s history – before drifting into Joseph’s Warner Brothers narration of his life.

The Sons of Heaven had so many first lines (being a mosaic novel) that Kage gave up on it. She found it easier to just invent an overlying plot to all of them, and let that carry the weight. She figured by that time, most folks knew what she was up to, anyway.

She debated over titles, too. Would anyone have bought Growing Up Green? How about The Villain’s Journey? (I think someone has since used that for a novel about the bad guy/antihero.) What about Moving On the Black Squares? All those ended up with different titles, and sold like hotcakes. I liked The Square-rigged Time Machine, myself; but Kage ultimately dismissed it as too silly. Ah, well.

But I have been working hard, Dear Readers, perfecting the things I took for granted before 2020: The Year Everyone’s Worlds Fell Apart. Things like being permitted to wear underwear, and eat solid food, and talk, and walk. Nothing has worked as well or as quickly as I felt I deserved – I still can’t walk up more than 3 steps or more than 20 feet on the level without gasping for breath – but I couldn’t do that much in June.

That’s when I finally had my tracheotomy tube removed. I woke up with a huge divot in my neck, a lurid tunnel two fingers wide straight into my throat, with a dark little gap in the center that fluttered when I talked. I could feel my breath moving in and out; what happened when I sneezed was too horrible to describe. But I could breathe, and sneeze, and walk, and talk! And while that hole was visually (to me) as huge as the Valles Marineris, it was easily hidden behind a measly little square of gauze and a strip of tape.

I got off the oxygen. Every day, when we changed my dressing, the hole in my throat got smaller – Kimberly helped with the mirror and flashlight, so I could see. And finally, the day before yestreday, the last bit of the hole into my trachea finally healed shut. There is still a horrendous hole in my neck, but now it is just a rose-coloured cave that is actually healing along its edges. No air moves in or out! I don’t wheeze! And sneezing has returned to a harmless little nasal explosion.

And I can whistle recreationally again! I was never a very good whistler, mind you – but I could whistle, and Harry loved it. Now I can again. I can sing, too – not loudly or well, and I really have no breath control, but I can do it. Harry really likes that, as we have sung together his whole little weird life. He doesn’t care how thin and gaspy my voice is, as long as it’s mine. Which is really a weird attitude for someone who can switch voices 3 or 4 times in a single song … my favourite is “Rule Britannia” in his growly baritone monster voice. He can even whistle it in that ogre voice.

Anyway. I am almost a whole woman again. Of, if not whole – I have shed a frightening number of organs over the years – at least a functioning woman. Which is why I have laboured over the past 3 hours over this blog entry. The knack for doing this is returning very slowly, but I am getting accustomed to appreciating any victory at all. After all, I have surmounted disaster, outwitted my physicians, and dodged Death half a dozen times in the last year. I’m happy to be doing anything at all.

No wild promises or oaths, though, Dear Readers. I cannot guarantee burning prose, here – not even daily prose. I’ve learned more practical expectations of myself this past year, too.

But having found one of my voices, I mean to find them all.

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Once More Unto the Breach

Kage Baker did give me a few choice bits of advice at the end of her life. It was that lovely afternoon that she spent surrounded by friends and family, with an unseasonably warm January wind coming off the ocean directly into her open bedroom window.

Between her nieces curled up like kittens on her bed, and her sister Anne reminiscing with her; our dear friend Wayne plumping her pillows and helping her sit up (he turned up unexpectedly in a clear case of hero-radar, knowing he was needed), and Harry singing in the corner of her bedroom – Kage and I didn’t have a lot of time together, alone. Mind you, we had spent the entirety of the rest of her illness on our own – but that weekend was supposed to be the first of her “At Home” events, where she could gradually say her farewells.

We thought we had weeks to get around to the pithy advice and such. Surprise! She fell asleep as the sun westered, and died long before morning.

But she did have time to advise me not to live alone; to take care of my health; to lay off the pork rinds and eclair jags (don’t judge, Dear Readers); and to do whatever I had to in order to avoid falling headfirst into the Slough of Despond.

“You get depressed and then you give up,” she told me, poking me in the ribs. “Don’t do that anymore. It’s better to kick someone’s ass than to give up! And listen to Kimberly – she’s on your side, and fierce, and a lot more practical than you are!”

She was right, of course. And I endeavored to follow all that good advice – well, not the eclairs, but the pork rinds for sure. But the last year was too much for me.

It was too much for everyone, Dear Readers. We all spent portions of 2020 howling at the stone walls, rattling the adamantine bars of our cages. I just happened to spend most of it warehoused in a Skilled Nursing Facility, battling with my caregivers to get out of that sanitized prison. I had to become a thoroughly rotten patient in order to be permitted to try to walk, to get off the ventilator, to eat solid food – I think that Kimberly and I literally annoyed my doctors into letting me go home at last. Never, ever send your relatives off to be confined, if they are even slightly alert and alive- never abandon them, never leave them to fight alone. Without Kimberly and Michael, I would never have escaped.

Considering that the doctors at Glendale Memorial told Kimberly that I was completely gone in my post-cardiac surgery coma and she should consider pulling the plug … I don’t think I would be alive without the steely determination of my family.

But I didn’t die, and I learned to walk and talk and eat again, and I have been home for months now. Infuriatingly, I am still wearing a damned tracheotomy tube down my throat, that irritates my trachea and produces tons of loathsome, sticky mucus; and I cannot get a good bre4ath, because I am trying to do all my breathing through a plastic drinking straw. Literally, the inner canula of my trach is the size of a straw. So I get gaspy now and then, and I get recurring pneumonia from crap getting inhaled into my lungs, and I sound like a bad AI when I try to talk.

And no one would even consider removing my trach.

I hate it. I despair. Increasingly, I find myself about to give up, feeling that I will never be right again, that I will be a burden on my family for as long as my miserable life endures.

But, Kage was right. I cannot give up fighting. And Kimberly has stood by me through all this, even the moments like yestreday when I collapsed in very unattractive weeping. Crying is dreadfully ugly when you can’t sob; you just leak tears and make suffocating duck noises, while using up a mint’s worth of Kleenex.

But lo! Just as I was subsiding into self-pitying snuffling, my pulmonary doctor called. Kimberly took the call because I could not speak. She explained how very unhappy I was, only she did it without sounding like an hysterical dish washing machine full of custard … and my doctors (plural) understood! Finally! They told her they actually did want me off the trach, they were just worried it would be bad for me. But Kimberly managed to make them understand that I was already ready miserable enough to be losing the will to live, and …

A miracle happened!

On Monday, I go into the hospital to have the trach tube removed! It’s being done on an in-patient basis in order to keep me alive if we are all wrong and my lungs collapse as soon as the trach it out. (Which no one actually thinks will happen, but …) I have sworn to behave no matter what is needed – as long at it eventually leads to a trach-free life. My doctors agreed to their part, too. They even apologized for not communicating properly to me that they were gonna take out the tube the whole time …

Yeah, right. But someone listened! Someone understood! Mostly, that someone was Kimberly, but she was able to explain it to my hesitant doctors in such a way that I am no longer on the Ignore This Old Woman list.

So bear me in your thoughts, Dear Readers. Keep Kimberly and Michael there too, my indomitable bodyguards. I shall spend this week practising closing off my trach to breathe without it – I can actually do that, Dear Readers, which means I CAN BREATHE!!!

Kage was right. Kimberly was right. I am the luckiest woman on life with the virtue and ferocity of my sisters. Oh, frabjous day! Calloo Callay!

Everybody chortle in joy!

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It’s Not the Heat – No, Wait, It IS The Heat

Kage Baker, as I have noted several times, loved heat. She did very well in it, wisely hydrating religiously and never over-exposing herself to unmitigated sun.

A standing fan, silk lounging pajamas, and a secure supply of iced drinks, and she was set. She stayed chipper and productive while I was lying on the couch faint with hypothermia and moaning endlessly. And annoyingly, I am sure.

I’m not at all certain Kage ever even sweated.

The last several years, climate change has been unkind to California. Mind you, we haven’t had killer storms, city-choking snow, state-wide floods or such horrors as now annually proliferate in the Midwest and the East Coast. But our fire season now runs all-year long, and the summer months are the very worst. In this last week, as the heat has grown daily, we have had dozens of small fires alongside freeways and in parks. But the worst is the heat.

California is warm; everyone knows that. We are nothing really but a gussied-up sub-desert. Days in the 80’s and 90’s are not unusual even in winter, and can run uninterrupted during the summer months. We have established ways to deal with that (water parks, pool parties, ice cream trucks), and can even put up with a week’s worth of triple digit heat without quite descending into dystopian chaos.

Flex Alerts help, too, wherein we just don’t use unnecessary electricity during peak hours. Mind you, I personally think too few people pay attention to those, and they should be more stringently enforced. Possibly with vigilante forces … Light your living room with candles for the evening. Prepare cold meals early in the day; who can eat in the heat anyway? Do your laundry in the morning, and run the dishwasher after midnight; and no, your electric toothbrush, hair dryer and home theatre are NOT vital to your life. Take a cool shower, and make it a Navy shower while you are at it. Read a book by lantern light; it’s romantic.

Yeah, I sound self-righteous. That’s because 1) I and my family do all these things and more to accommodate Flex Alerts; and 2) I can’t reach anyone to enforce my autocratic rule anyway, so I tend to sound off more loudly. And it’s also due to the fact that the entire West Coast and environs is under a heat advisory, which is not expected to let up until the other side of this weekend. I am nervous, enervated and cranky.

This makes us all grumpy, and listless, and really rather mean. Mind you, Kimberly keeps the center of the house at a quite comfortable temperature, through a clever deployment of our one AC unit and various fans. The electricity usage is as minimal as we can make it, and still be cool enough to eat and sleep. But these are the days when the cats melt, and the parrot fusses, and we humans chug cold drinks and eat finger foods that don’t demand cooking. The kitchen gets at least 6 hours of sun this time of year, and it’s a furnace even without turning the oven on.

At present, it is really rather nice in the living room – dark and pleasantly cool. We are spending our evening by the light of the television and our various computers. When we can see the screens, anyway, The cats like to lounge in front of them, and Kimberly is even now scrolling over the limp black form of our new kitten, Edward. Being a Maine Coon, Edward is not only excessively fuzzy but a truly ridiculous length stretched out like this.

Aside from observing our pets loll about, and debating a choice of cold gin cocktails, I haven’t really done a damned thing today. I will, Dear Readers, tomorrow for certain. At least, I plan to do … something. Anything, as long as it’s creative. I don’t feel at all creative in this blood sapping heat, but I do feel the nagging urge to be creative somehow. It may be time to take up a new knitting project – starting a new one will give a few days before the project takes over my lap and I die of heat exhaustion …

So, not a lot to boast about, talk of or anticipate tonight: only a hope that we may all stay cool enough to rest and not get burned out by an escaped verge fire from one of our ubiquitous ant-trail freeways … stay chill, Dear Readers.

And remember, a gin and tonic will be your friend, if you will let it.

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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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