Friday Night

Kage Baker enjoyed Friday nights. Either we were on the road to somewhere, or we were comfortably snugged down at home.

It may have had something to do with growing up inside the weekdays are for school and weekends are for freedom structure. After 12 years of school, Kage went automatically to those schedules; even working didn’t change that, since she worked the usual Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 shift.

Spending weekends at a Faire didn’t count. A Faire weekend exists in a time warp that makes it last, subjectively, about a week: weekends were simply spent in another dimension of the multiverse. That same scholastic discipline meant Kage was never reconciled to having to work all summer, either. Faire weekends were like a week of summer for every week spent behind a desk. I don’t think she could have borne it, otherwise.

Strangely, once she finally stayed home writing full-time, Kage actually spent longer days – and more of them at a stretch – at her great oak desk, writing furiously. But she got to stay home to do it, and make her own hours. Working 14 hours a day was fine, as long as she knew she could knock off and go out for ice cream whenever she wanted.

To her credit, she never succumbed to the temptation to spend her writing day in her night clothes: Kage was a full-dress kind of grownup. She even wore shoes in the house, which was a discipline to which I was never personally broken.

At the moment, I haven’t put on an entire outfit of street clothes in 2 weeks. I’ve doing a lot of driving, to help out Kimberly with shopping and doctor appointments; but since I usually stay in the car, underwear and shoes have become optional. I am perfectly comfortable barefoot and in sweats. As long as I have my driving cap and my Kindle, I am prepared for most eventualities.

Good thing we haven’t gotten into any accidents. I’d have to get dressed, for that.

I’ll have to return to adult life and a hominid lifestyle over the next week, though. Next weekend, I am headed for BayCon, and I really should

…………………..Discontinuity……………………

Ah, Friday nights are not what they were.

The paramedics just left. Ray slipped in the bathroom, and we were unable to get him to his feet. If there were better help for Michael than two old ladies … but now Ray is back in bed, unharmed. The rest of us are winded, aching, tired. There are good nights and bad nights.

Well. Tomorrow, as Scarlet O’Hara said, is another day, Dear Readers. Hopefully things will be slightly more normal.

Things were easier with Kage.

 

 

 

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I’d Become A Nihilist, But I’m Not A Joiner

Kage Baker subscribed, personally, to the famed quote by Groucho Marx: “ I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

Mind you, there were qroups to which she wanted to belong. Not many, though; and most of them were not the sort that solicited members anyway. She wanted to belong to the I Won A Hugo Club, but what she had really enjoyed was just being nominated. The rocket pins delighted her. She did win a Nebula, which would have meant more to her, anyway.

The things to which she most comfortably belonged were things that had no rosters, no boards of directors; they were things she had found fascinating, and with which she liked to be associated. Things like the Renaissance Faire or the People Who Preferred Keds. SFWA, and EBay. They described what she made, and what she liked to acquire.

I think a lot of the groups into which Kage naturally sorted herself had no idea she – or any other member – existed. They were not the sort of groups that kept track. Kage was just the sort of person who kept track, in her own head. And it pleased her to self-identify as certain things. In fact, she went so far as to create whole other worlds to which to belong.

She did a good job. Lots of other people decided to join her there.

I am not much of a joiner. (I had no choice about joining Kage’s multiverse. She assigned me there.) I did join the Renaissance Faire, it is true, but I was one of a gaggle of  young women who all joined as a lark, long ago in the springtime of the world … and none of us realized what we were getting into, until it was much, much too late. A good thing, too, because it was the best thing I ever joined.

I vote regularly, but I don’t like to join in Party politics – I am only a Democrat out of self-preservation. I do write to my representatives, but that too is in the interests of survival. My high school class will hit its 50th anniversary in 2021, and I have not been to a single reunion; I’ve always been too busy performing something or other to submerge myself in the warm tide of alumnae once again. I am suspicious of organized religions, of athletic associations, of book clubs. Basically, if they want me, I probably don’t want to go.

Lately, I don’t want to be part of anything any more. Emily Dickinson is where I have taken my inspiration. Not only the ascetic  “The soul selects her own society” but the much less high brow “I’m nobody – Who are you? Are you nobody too?”*

This past week has been a real shit show, Dear Readers. Not just for me, by any means; all of us here in the Land of the Free are racing as fast as we can just to stay ahead of the wolves. Soon, some of us will start throwing companions out of the sleigh and into the ravening jaws of the pursuers – the states of Alabama, Ohio, Georgia (and far too  many others) have already decided to toss half the human race to the wolves.

Things here in lovely Atwater have been unusually wretched the last several days. My daily perusal of MSNBC and the local news has left me physically nauseated. My email is full of people screaming for money, for support, for blood. The storm was nice this morning, but when it finally began to sweetly rain I had been awake for 24 hours – sleep has been hard to come by here of late, and while my family managed to actually get some rest last night, my insomnia decided to strut its hour on the stage. Interminably. I feel like an armadillo on the side of a Texas highway.

This is part of why I didn’t post last night, for which I apologize, Dear Readers. I kept thinking I would fall asleep, and lay there in the dark grimly relaxing, waiting for my brain to slip away. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I read  – The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells. I thought it would be dry enough to stun me into sleep; instead, it made my hair stand on end and then strongly tempted me to set said hair on fire. It’s strong, nasty medicine about climate change. Read it if you have put all the sharp objects safely away.

In the meantime, I am abandoning good intentions for the night. I’m gonna drink gin and lime juice. I’m going to eat raw raspberry Pop Tarts. I’m going to take CBD oil. If I don’t sleep, it’ll be sugar and alcohol until dawn – my own private party club. Hallucinations are welcome, as long as I don’t dream of anything that is actually happening.

Let us all be nobody together for a while.

 

*I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

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Same Song, New Verse. Damn It.

Kage Baker, in her final few weeks, told me to take her dying as a learning experience. She told me it would be useful, if I let it – that I would have learned new and vastly important things, things that not even the deaths of my parents and hers had taught me.

My parents both died suddenly, and I was spared their final care. I did help take care of Kage’s parents, and the death of her mother in particular ripped the heart out of both of us. I thought I had quite enough experience, thank you. None of it had ever helped with any other; each death was a fresh piece of broken glass in the soul.

“Oh, fuck you, drama queen,” Kage said when I observed this. “If there is one thing you’re really, really good at, it’s taking care of people. You’re a responsibility junkie. You’ll survive and you’ll find a lot of this helpful. Don’t you throw away any of this!”

Well. That was the woman who still had notebooks and plastic jewelry from her grade school days, so I’m not sure just how objective her instructions to save stuff could really be. But I ended up doing exactly as she advised, producing an awful lot of these blogs out of that horrible time. Also, two published  short stories and a novel, all fueled by grief and pain.

Kage actually thought that the adage about needing pain in order to create was a lot of bullshit. She felt that there is no point to pain, that a life without it could be perfectly fine, if it could be managed. But no one can get away with that particular trick, so the only thing to do was survive – give the finger to cruel fate – and try to use what you had learned for something better. Something else, at least.

Today was my brother-in-law Ray’s first round of chemotherapy. He has been diagnosed with liver cancer; a PET scan yestreday also showed metastases in various lymph nodes, and his cervical spine. Despite this, he has no cancer-related discomfort; no jaundice, no back pain, no nausea. Considering that he has also battled congestive heart failure, diabetes and Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease for years, it’s rather amazing that he feels as well as he does …

We can’t tell, yet, what side effects the chemo will have. He is already confined to a wheelchair, and long ago said goodby to his hair – he’s 70 years old, for heaven’s sake, and is already the oldest man in his family in 3 or 4 generations. The chemo is palliative treatment, to shrink or erase as much of the cancer as can be done. We are working on making him comfortable now, to make his last months as good as we can – because his oncologist estimates a life expectancy of six months. I hope so. Kage’s doctor said the same thing, and she was gone in 2 weeks. I hope six months is not their “hamburger, hamburger” sort of thing.

So, here I am. I know how to administer IM drugs, and have already been doing that. He may need a PICC line, which is a permanent IV port; I know how to handle that, as well, and can even knit some covers, as I did for Kage – though I think Ray will want nice masculine solid colours, like green or black, and not the tropical cocktail migraine stripes Kage liked … but, yeah, I know all about hospice care at home.

Kimberly, Michael and I will soldier through this. The physical part is the easiest to accomplish (though not to get used to); which is why I hope we have more than 2 weeks. I hope it’s as relatively easy as it was for Kage; I hope nothing new and horrible comes up.

We all owe God a death, they say. That is also a lot of bullshit – everything that lives, dies; except maybe for tardigraves, the little buggers – but why do we have to pay so much with other people’s lives? If it was just me, no big deal. I could handle that, no problem. Why do we have to make that mortal payment for other people? It’s not right. It’s not fair.

This is the conundrum that made Kage write about the immortal Operatives: the ones who save the past, who cheat death, who restore the lost and who, themselves, never, ever die. Kage wanted to know why we lose the ones we love. I hope she found an answer that satisfied her, when she herself walked into eternity; I am sure she sternly questioned God about it, and if the answer didn’t satisfy her, I’m sure He took great pains to correct that … He did if he’s as smart as He’s supposed to be, anyway.

Kage wrote to make the people and things she loved immortal. It helped to live with their absence, to know she had tucked them away safely in the care of the Company. I’ll have to try her solution.

Again. Damn it. Again.

 

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Inspiration

Kage Baker began writing only about the things she personally liked.

That may seem self-evident as a writing gambit, but few writers have the self-control (I guess you’d call it) to stick to the tiny personal stuff. Real writing is a stronger siren than the urge to write fan fiction about the Martian Man-Hunter, and before long, most people find themselves writing about … things, you know, just fabulous irresistible things; important and philosophical and emotional things. Grownup things. Then they get drawn into serious research, and making sure things are spelled correctly and keeping the deorum ex machina to a minimum.

Either that or they go on to a long career of Adventures Among the Pea-pod Fairies, or careful little pamphlets on Miniature Golf Courses of the World. Being any kind of writer is inherently perilous.

Not everyone should go on to a fuller writing path, anyway. Ever since Amazon started listing self-published books on their inventory, a frightening number of people have gotten their second-stage stories out there in plain view. They have passed the adolescent first stage of writing about their favourite bands, and are writing about specific periods of history or their favourite wars. They write lots of novels that are their own takes on famous battles, romances, kings, gods, monsters.

They also write whatever the latest best-selling fad is among genre stories: brave girls who save the world.  Brave girls and boys who  save the world. Brave girls and boys who save the world and discover sex. Witches are perennial favourites, and urban fantasy has been simply getting more popular as time goes on. Zombies and werewolves and ghouls, oh my! Plucky teenagers are a must-have for some of these themes. Then they end up being sold on Amazon’s Remainder Table, which markets them for a couple of dollars – or even for free, if they can be rendered as an e-book. They get included as a freebie along with the other Prime treats, now that a Prime membership is over $100 a year …

However: this may be a second-stage in the multi-stage rocket of writing real books, but that’s not saying all of it is second-class. Far from it! Being intermittently impoverished, I scan the freebie books on Amazon every week, looking for something marvelous that will entertain me on sleepless nights. And I always find stuff, too. The financial necessity of “beggars can’t be choosers” has enabled me to discover many an excellent read being inexplicably offered for free. And as a side effect, I have ventured into side branches of he science fiction and fantasy genres at which I had, in more monied days, turned up my nose.

Kage always said I should be more experimental in what I read. She herself was willing to at least take a stab at writing anything for which someone was willing to pay. Only once did she take on a commission that she absolutely could not stomach – and that was not because the subject matter bothered her. No, it was because the people who control the Estate of Johnston McCulley wanted a dreadfully bowdlerized version of Zorro for their anthology – and rather than castrate her childhood hero like a fat tomcat, Kage ultimately refused the commission. But the stories she wrote before that were great Zorro stories.

She was right about my snobbishness. I have never been fond of werewolves or zombies, and had refused to read about them for years. I’m still not all that crazy about werewolves – I detested Twilight, and most of the pack fantasies are too BDSM for me – but zombies have turned out to be absolutely fascinating. I especially like the work of Mira Grant – but then, Ms. Grant is insanely talented, and managed to make a series about tapeworms sympathetic. M.C. Carey’s novels about post-zombie apocalypse Britain are also wonderful, moody and dark and yet ultimately hopeful.

On which note, it’s time to go look over my own notes on a zombie story. Yes, I have succumbed to the lure of seeing what I have to say about the subject. It’s gotten that interesting, and I have had an epiphany: just because I didn’t like it when I was 20 years old doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means I was 20 years old once. Can’t blame me for that.

In the meantime, what would happen on a story arc where zombies intersect an HOA? Now, that seems like real urban horror to me …

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PSA II

Kage Baker was never on Face Book. However, it is one the main places where I post these blogs.

Now that I am on a new computer, Face Book is being cranky about notifications – when you, Dear Readers, leave remarks and likes here on FB, only some of them get through.  It is not helped by the fact that FB is apparently busily selling its soul to a new demon, and it therefore somewhat more distracted than usual. If that is possible. This is maddening for both me and you, if you are anticipating a response.

So, I am asking: When you have read these blogs on FB (assuming you do) and want to express an opinion (ditto): may I ask that you follow the link to the blog here on WordPress and leave it there? It will help me to remember to answer like a civilized person. I will actually see it.

Thank you!

 

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PSA I

Kage Baker had a keen appreciation of the ways social media enhanced communication. You could easily corner a vast audience without ever having to hire a hall, or find someone to make decent cookies and vol au vent pastries.

You could even more easily corner a more modest audience, with just an hour or so’s work of an evening. Most important for all, for Kage, was that all the crowds of all sizes could be managed from within a safe zone. She enjoyed her audience all the more because she could control how she met her readers. She dearly loved them, and corresponded with many; she was scrupulous about answering letters – as some of you, Dear Readers, can attest. I took dictation and did research for her on those.

She was also quite keen on science fiction conventions. She spoke as much as any con would let her, and volunteered for panels bereft of their full complement of speakers. She was a courteous participant, and a stern but amiable moderator. And she got through all these meetings and confrontations because she could hand things off to me – literally, usually – without worrying whether or not I was there to grab them. I always assumed she thought I had a Bag of Holding concealed about my person.

She did the same for me at Faires, after all. She developed a hilarious and completely not obsequious persona as the cook for whatever Inn I was supposed to be running at the time. She liked to stand just behind me, ready to take my bonnet while reminding me that the Sheriff’s men had bottomed out the porter barrel or that we were entirely out of mustard for the ham and the Pickwick Club was sure to complain. She liked to observe lugubriously that the mice were getting uppity in the Parlour, or that there were tentacle marks on the steps leading down cellar – again …

That’s the way I wrote her into The Women of Nell Gwynne’s II. She was the cook with the dab hand at poisoned trifle; entirely for the right side, of course.

It’s only one of the many ways I miss her.

This coming Memorial Day weekend (May 24th through  May 27th) is BayCon, up in Santa Clara. It was Kage’s favourite convention, and it’s still mine, though now I am playing her part for the crowds. I am less shy but nearly as funny, and just as likely to be confused about where I am supposed to be. I could keep track of that stuff for Kage, but somehow am a dead loss at it myself. Go figure, eh?

I will be there at the San Mateo Airport Marriott, from Friday through Monday, showing the flag and generally swanning about. It’s always such fun! I’m on all manner of panels – standing on soap boxes is my fave rave sport – and am greatly looking forward to it. The Inestimable Neassa will be with me, ready to take the things I hand off to her and generally make sure I don’t get lost or misplace my limbs.

If any of you Dear Readers are in the area, feel free to come see me. Do not buy a ticket unless you were meaning to anyway! I will be in the lobby and/or the bar a lot of the time, knitting and people watching. And I will try to print out my schedule before the Con, for those who are coming to the Con and want to come listen to me pontificate.

And in the merry meanwhile, there are these blogs. It’s good to be back at the forge, hammering out deathless pearls of hyperverbalism.

 

 

 

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Soft Spring Evening In A Hard Time

Kage Baker kept a sharp, albeit distant, eye on the world.

Writers have to, unless they are solely writing fan fiction or some niche genre completely unrelated to human behaviour. Pony parties, maybe. Illustrative parables concerning drywall. The history of granite – which was Kage’s favourite example of a bore-you-to-death narrative. And that was a BBC special.

The distance she required in her observations was for her own self-survival. There is no way she could have managed to keep track of current events in the present day – we’d have had to block any and all news channels, never turned on the radio, relied on taped telly shows and DVDs. Even in 2009, her last full year on earth, she never looked at newspapers. She stopped reading even mild news aggregates. She relied on me to provide her with a teeny weeny slice of what was in the news – and at that, she only really wanted to hear about cryptozoology, lost things unexpectedly found, and strange history; the exploration of Mars and the Outer Planets, the Royal family, Jethro Tull.

She never stopped mining the world for story ideas; but, then, she needed to do it personally less and less. People came to her with stories they wanted her to write – editors, not just those dreaded people who sidle up and said hoarsely, “I have a great idea for a book, and you can have it for 50% of the proceeds.” Kage said she always felt like she was about to be offered a black market baby. Most authors feel the same way, I think. But the nice, professional folks who wanted a story about dragons, or a Victorian mystery, or in the style of Jack Vance – those she welcomed happily. And in fact, she got so many such invitations that she never, ever had to search for a topic.

These days … of, Ptah, scribe of the gods and god of writers! I think I would have had to use parental controls and blocked most of the general news channels on both the television and her computer. She never used Facebook, so the increasingly wide stream of total crap that now streams through even a brief visit to any social media could be avoided. I just never told her what I was reading, unless it was a good joke or news of some amazing new find of pirate treasure.

I, myself, pay far too much attention to our steady descent into the Maelstrom. It tells on one, you know? One goes along, as hard as nails for months and months, the original steel-eyed cookie: and then, ZAP! The weight of the damned world is abruptly too much, and it’s all one can do to find enough gin to water down one’s limeade … it’s time to draw the hem of some softer, alternate reality over one’s head, and huddle in the twilight.

Spring this year has been an especially lovely season in Los Angles. Doubtless we shall burn like recidivist heretics come Summer, but so far the season has been exquisite.  It has actually rained – in fact, it is raining now, a warm soft rain from a sky like watered silk. We don’t get too many Springs like that in Los Angeles. It’s a miracle.

Wildflowers are everywhere, hillsides and freeways; they are growing up through the silver oats in my front yard. The fruit trees were thick with blossom, and now are heavy with fruit. All the little creatures of the woods are, I presume, screwing their heads off – certainly all the little creatures of my garden are. The squirrels are utterly charming in their courtships, playing romantic tag at the speed of light. The raccoons are a bit more raucous, especially as they tend to fall off the roof in the dark … the birds are simply wonderful, singing and dancing and nesting all over the garden. Periodically, all the mourning doves on the porch take off in a huge fit of preemptive hysteria, casting shadows through the lace curtains to the wooden-whistle sound of their wings …

Here in the shadow of the hills of Griffith Park, we are watching all the critters, listening to all the soft booming wings, luxuriating in all  the grey silk of the rain-pregnant skies. This evening is, for the moment, a rare bit of peace in an increasingly noisy, ghastly world. I’m ignoring whatever horrible larks the White House is getting up to tonight; we’re watching old, prerecorded television. I may read later tonight – something mindless and entertaining, like zombies or 19th century knitting patterns. I may write some more, too: Kimberly is agitating for more of Marswife, and I have an idea for a zombie story myself.

Or I may play mahjong on my new computer. Or, I know! Plants vs Zombies! A perfect compromise!

Believe me, Dear Readers. It really is. Give it a try; or whatever comforting and goofy amusement you keep in your house for emergencies. It’s not a night for grief.

 

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