And So This Is Christmas

Kage Baker burned with a high, exhausted exhilaration by this time of the holiday cycle. The house pulsed with coloured lights and candles; we had all the goods for the Christmas feast, the tree grew more magnificent by the hour as the winter light faded to darkness, and all the presents were purchased. The few hysterical last minute trips out for forgotten gifts or condiments don’t really count …

That last Christmas Eve, we were totally unaware that Kage was dying. No, really – we knew she had been ill, and was still very sick; but we thought it was all post-surgical stuff, you know? We were disabused of that happy illusion just before midnight on Christmas Eve: I developed an historical case of gastroenteritis, Kage began having horrendous head pain, and eventually we both collapsed in the bathroom, trying to hold one another up and eventually sliding down the wall. We lay there giggling and moaning, and I finally managed to crawl into the living room and phone 911.

They took us both away to the hospital. I got inordinate amounts of IV fluids; Kage was rushed into a CAT scan and thus appraised of the tumour in her brain. “And mine of all brains!” she lamented as we lay on our gurnies waiting to see what happened next. “Happy fucking Christmas to us!”

Yep. Happy fucking Christmas. I got home in two days, to a house where all the decorations looked like weird props for a surrealistic play; Kage arrived a few days later. Kimberly came and rescued me from our disordered home by cleaning and grocery shopping. When Kage got home and was installed in her bedroom by large, attentive fireman (Pismo being the kind of small town where the Emergency crews were all firefighters) we thought we had six months to prepare for her death.

What she got was about a week. We had time to make announcements, and set up a visiting roster; I had a few epic fights with doctors who were loathe to prescribe opiates to someone who had at least half a year to live – proving to me, at least, that they had no more idea of what was going on than I did. Anyway, I was able at least to make sure that Kage was pain-free for her last days … by the time our first visitors arrived, Kage was feeling amazingly good, and was able to receive her guests with aplomb and enjoyment.

It was a happy day. Her sister Anne was there, with Kage’s nieces Kate and Anne. (No apple was permitted to ever fall far from the Baker tree.) Kage’s beloved son-surrogate, Wayne, make an utterly unexpected arrival, and stayed with Kage all day. Towards sunset, she fell asleep – and simply never woke up.

It was the worst Christmas of my life. I doubt that this is a surprise to anyone, Dear Readers. So why do I go over it again today? Nothing horrible is happening – but I have been sick. My whole household has been felled, stomped and otherwise assaulted by influenza; we are better now but not well. And so our staggering, hacking forays to get the house ready for Christmas Day have brought the past very much to my mind.

This is also why I have not written, Dear Readers – the initial attack of the influenza left me gasping and griping under my blankets, unable to do much about anything. Except breathe. Sorry, all, but my success in keeping that, at least, continuing is the best thing to have had occurred recently. Some of you have undoubtedly been going through the same thing. My condolences to you all.

But! It really is Christmas Eve, and even though our plague house has been low on seasonal victories – no one is dressed up, presents are sparse (I have personally lost about 4 gifts in the rumpled morass of my room), STILL: we have the feast ready to go. The tree and the lights are a coruscating glory. The house is warm, and my family is together, even if we do sound like strangling ducks.

Happy Christmas to all of you, my dear friends, and to all your households. Hold your households close in the light, and wait for the Sun to rise.

Because, you know – it will.

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Happy Vernal Equinox

Kage Baker was perpetually surprised at the sheer numbers of people who liked her work. In high school, she was one of a circle of young literary hopefuls, who idolized our English teacher and wrote reams of questionable material that they shared among themselves.

Kage, shining like a young swan in a flock of chickens, wrote more reams and better bad fiction than any of her classmates. Soon no one but Kage was writing anything at all outside of class, and many deathless friendships ended over who got to read her stories first, and fall in love with her heroes … Kage was flabbergasted at the whole brouhaha and characteristically retreated from her fans.

I, a year younger than this nascent salon, came in at the end of the whole yeasty mess. Soon, I was the only audience Kage had left. During my senior year, she was writing from home, in the crumbling tower atop her mother’s house, and sending me manuscript pages every school day via her patient sister Anne.

In short order, this developed into Kage’s private writing system. She spent most of every day writing, in whatever interesting hovel we were then inhabiting in the Hollywood Hills. I read and critiqued everything in the evenings; then Kage would rewrite it. Again and again and again, until it satisfied her and she sent off into the world. When one story failed to sell, she simply started on a new one. One day, the latest effort came back marked NOT A REJECTION (thank you, Virginia Kidd Agency!); and after I dissuaded Kage from throwing it into the creek below our house (we lived in Pismo Beach by then), her career never stumbled again. Although she was never a New York Times sort of success, she was nonetheless drowned in admiring letters and emails – she even had a stalker for a while, which was temporarily a dreadful mess. She laughed about it, though.

By the time Kage was in her final days, the letters were still coming in; though by this time, they were sympathies and condolences as well as admiring accolades. I read them to her as she lay drifting in and out of narcotized sleep, and she was just as amazed and grateful at their numbers and sentiments as she had been in the beginning. One in particular moved her – a letter from a young widowed mother who had read Kage’s stories to her two daughters, and wanted to thank Kage for not making every ending fairy-tale perfect: because sometimes people don’t come back, and sometimes one is left alone, and yet people manage to make happy endings anyway.

“Oh, goodie,” Kage whispered when I finished. “Someone got it.”

That gave her enormous joy and satisfaction – that someone got what she was saying. And even that so many others at least thought they did. She drifted off to sleep that night in great content. I sat up for hours and then slept on the floor beside her bed, so I could hear her if she called in the night. That was the darkest time of my life, personally, but her dying was a long afternoon of light and comfort to Kage.

So that was good.

Now, Dear Readers – I am not the writer Kage Baker was; and right now I have to buckle down and get to work trying to get some things published. But, like her, I stand amazed right now at the number of people who like my own stuff and have said such kind and heartening things to me. I will be thanking each of you one by one, in the near future; But for now, for tonight, please take my gratitude and love as given, and know how you inspire me to not give up. Kage’s talent was a blazing phoenix; mine is a little moth, silhouetted dimly against her great light. But thank you, all of you Dear Readers, who have been willing to watch that little moth dance and risk getting ash-hued scaled gems off its dusty wings.

May the sweet Spring night enfold you all in joy.

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I Am The Handmaiden of Entropy

Kage Baker never understood, or approved of, why the various Solstices and Equinoxes changed their actual dates year by year. In her nonstandard mind, those pivot points of the calendrical year fell on the 21st of their respective months – March, June, September, December – and that was that. She allowed the traditional holiday of December 25th houseroom in her horological universe, but she did not allow it to assume the Winter Solstice – which she honoured on December 21st, with an entirely different feast.

I’m less punctilious in my awareness of the Quarter Days; I know they’re coming, I give each of them a nod and a courtesy as we pass. I make a point of looking up when the Solstice or Equinox occurs, so I can extend appropriate greetings to my kith and kin, and observe the more obvious symptoms of the change along the line of the sun.

The Equinoxes are my favourites. At those times, day and night are nearly equal in length, and the world spins like a ballerina en pointe. I imagine the skirts of the Earth’s magnetic fields flaring out faster and wider as the spin intensifies; then, the dancer tilts a little to one side or the other, and the days begin to grow longer or shorter. You can see it happening every sunset, when you find yourself watching the light fade at 9 o’clock at night, or the darkness catches you when it’s barely 5 o’clock in what is technically still the afternoon.

Tomorrow is the Spring Equinox. It’s the 20th instead of the 21st, and I can deal with that just fine. Part of the blame for the shifting dates goes to the Gregorian Calendar; which, although better than the Julian Calendar it replaced, is still wrong. But that was an infamous mess when the change was made (we lost 12 days!) and even now is not properly synced to the actual orbital period of the Earth. That is 365.24 days and the Gregorian Calendar comes limping after the Earth in its orbit in a mere 365 days. It tries to take care of the problem by adding time to Leap Years, which is just a coarse approximation of a cure. This is as silly as those Midwestern states that occasionally try to declare the value of pi to be an even 3.14 days, and has just about as much effect on the laws of the universe: i.e., none.

The Babylonians seemed to make it work as a flat 3 – by tripling the square of the radius of a circle – but even they eventually decided it was closer to 3.125, And they’re extinct, anyway. Do not hire a High Priest or a Pope for charting your horological needs is the moral here …

Now, Dear Readers – those of you who are still watching for my missives in the ether – you are probably wondering what the heck all these maunderings on the calendar are about. Well, they are about Time. A lot of time has passed since I last posted, all glowing with good intentions to remain findable on the electromagnetic stage. I failed at that.

I am now trying to recoup the time I have lost in the wilderness of doing and being NOTHING. NOTHING has been the sum of my existence for the last several months; behold, I am become the handmaiden of Entropy, before whom all worlds … dissolve.

It appears my recovery from the Year of Being Terminally Ill peaked some few months ago, and I didn’t notice. I have since been crumpled up like a piece of newspaper, into the origami shape of a Crone. I forget things – I have weeping fits and tantrums – it has been suggested I have PTSD from my hellish confinement in the nursing home. My muscles have dissolved to the quivering weakness of overcooked spaghetti, and I can barely walk. My chest congests without warning and subjects me to insane coughing fits. My voice – an instrument I have worked on for over 50 years – has lost any tone of couth or gentility, and achieved the conversational timbre of a crow.

I am a mess, Dear Readers. However, Kimberly has never stopped urging me to write ( I sit all day; what else is there for me to do?) and I have finally admitted she is right. So I am writing. I don’t know where any of this will lead, or even if anyone is still listening. But if you are, I thank you most fulsomely. You will bear the dubious honour of my attempts to return to the service of Life.

It’s just the day for it.

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The Weather Has Finally Changed

Kage Baker loved Autumn. It wasn’t her favourite season – that was Summer, when she could happily live on the blazing edge of heat prostration, and try to transmute into a salamander. But she did enjoy Autumn, when she could enjoy the changing colours of the trees, wear even more sweaters, and look forward to the holiday season.

For us, the holiday season ran from October 1st to January 1st, with festive stops for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Kage felt that was pretty good horological planning on the centuries of time-keepers who have fine tuned the calendar since Julian’s got kicked out. I held that most of it was probably coincidental, but she blithely informed me that time is deep and has strange currents.

Regardless of whether this is due to the wobble in the Earth’s rotation or the attention of partying elementals, the season has indeed changed here in the Los Angeles Basin. (Whatever is going on the San Fernando Valley is weird and out of my pay grade.) The nights are chill, the days are cool, the air is perfumed with the scents of stone and water, and the spice of drying leaves. It’s time to consider actually baking and roasting things in the oven; time to hunt up all the bread and pie recipes we’ve clipped out over the summer and stashed in various books.

We’re already on our second change of holiday lights. White and yellow lights have been added to the red and orange of Halloween, to give a more Harvest Home ambience; we have fewer grotesqueries inhabiting the porch. And there is now also the nightly skunk and raccoon show, as the carefree summer foragers shift to scavenging peanuts and birdseed off the porch. Winter is coming, after all.

Geese are flying overhead twice a day, going to and from the local ponds, pools and reservoirs where they like to spend their summer days. Soon, most of them will take off for wherever they intend to spend the winter; somewhere near Cabo, Kage believed. Until they sort it out, we are treated to the sweet, wild sound of their cries as they pass over head – you can call it honking itf you like, but if you do, I can only conclude you have never actually heard wild geese in flight. They are the very voice of Autumn, and they make even my tired old blood stir and leap with longing …

Kage would be transfixed when they flew overhead, which they did low and swift when we lived in the North. They were often so low that we could hear their wing beats, loud and strong as oarsmen beating their way to shore. Kage would freeze where she stood, her head tilted up to follow their passage, leaning back so far her hair flew out behind her like a banner on the wind. I’d be half afraid she would rise up and vanish, following them. Afterwards, she would hurry indoors and write like a madwoman for hours.

I haven’t been writing like a madwoman today – I am not as helplessly soul-bound to the peripheral currents of the turning world as Kage was. However, neither am I a stolid rock. I have vowed to keep this blog more regular, and am determined to do so. Also, I am resolutely writing my daily portion of my 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo, which is progressing satisfactorily quickly. So far, anyway. I have yet to meet the dreaded and habitual block that occurs around day 15.

The change in the season makes me very happy, too. The light is more beautiful in Autumn, aged and antique, outlining and thickening what it illuminates even as the trees grow lean and bare. The hills are golden; later, if it ever rains, they will be dun-coloured and monastic. But right now they are still rich and carpeted in wild grasses, that move like wild goose wings under the cold wind.The roses in my front yard are blooming one last time for the year. This year’s newest squirrels are re-enacting Fast and Furious in the tree outside the living room windows. It’s all very Hallmark.

That’s why Kage liked it so – we don’t get snow here, and very rarely frost, but the Autumn is nonetheless deep in classic display. Besides, she was always about 20 degrees colder than me, so our gentler Autumns were better for her. She damn near died when we lived in Northern California, and even in Pismo Beach she started wearing two or three sweaters by Halloween.

I’m still usually barefoot. And I miss her scolding me for doing it, too.

Well, Dear Readers. This has been a meandering sort of blog. Obviously, part of my brain is following the geese away into the dark under the stars.

Autumn is for reminiscence, too.

Cutting edge 17th century horological device.

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Halloween 2022

Kage Baker loved Halloween. It may have been her favourite holiday; at least, a one-day holiday. Christmas would have come in at a close second, but it is both a one-day holiday and an entire holiday season. Of course, you can build Halloween gradually through the entirety of October, if you are so inclined. And Kage always was. To be honest, so was I; so we added to the deco as the month on, and by October 31st we were a veritable temple of Halloween,

Gore was not in it; Kage actually thought that was a bit vulgar. Our Halloween was more classical – orange lights, a Pumpkin-headed Jack riding a stag in the yard, and numerous pumpkins both real and false. On the night itself, all the yard lights were lit and Jack O’Lanterns lit up the porch: but the house itself was illuminated only by candles and whatever Jack O’Lanterns Kage decided were either too good or too bad to be exposed to the public. They made great living room lamps.

Then we’d sit and eat popcorn by candlelight, handing out candy to the rare Trick or Treaters we got in the Hollywood Hills and watching classic horror movies.

Here at Kimberly’s house, we do pretty much the same thing. In fact, we’ve been watching scary movies all month. The yard was decorated with lights and a glow-in-the-dark scarecrow thingie. But tonight, we have turned it all off, and are sitting peaceably in the dark. We are not giving out candy this year, as Kimberly feels it is still a bit too dangerous – there’s still Covid out there, several flavours of it, though we are all vaxed: but there is also monkey pox, and plain old influenza out in full force. And I have what is politely referred to as a “compromised” immune system. So we’ll have to eat the candy ourselves …

I realize it has been an absurd amount of time since I last posted, Dear Readers, and I apologize. You can chalk it up largely to my apparently cursed immune system. While I have improved vastly over the last two years, I am still ridiculously fragile – prone to sudden fits of exhaustion, still coughing like a consumptive walrus, diving as deeply as I can into reading, because I don’t have the strength to write …

But it IS Halloween! We can hear the shrieks and giggles of little kids out in the street, which is a lovely sound. The night is cool and damp and scented with the dry perfume of changing leaves. Our black cat, Edward, is posted by an open window, watching for night-squirrels and other cat enemies; our orange cat. Ashby, is hiding in Kimberly’s bedroom. She doesn’t approve of visitors or noise.

Tonight is also the beginning of National Write A Novel In A Month, affectionately abbreviated to NaNoWriMo by us fanatics who do it every year. The goal is 50,000 words in 30 days, intended as the seed and heart of a novel, written in a month. I wrote most of the second Ladies of Nell Gwynne novel in one of these exercises. My traditional start to it is to begin at midnight on Halloween, by which time it is November 1st; I’ll have a bowl of Tootsie Rolls at hand and the start of that subtle twitching which accompanies serious Intent To Write.

And we’ll see where it goes after that.

But I will try to maintain contact with the real world, and not fade out again. These last few years, I have spent altogether too many Halloween nights in the ER. waiting to find out what is wrong with me now. In fact, I’ve spent the last several days waiting for the latest results of blood tests to see if I had to go back into the hospital – but today, the answers finally came in. I am clear! I do not have some weird blood infection! I can stay home and relax!

It’s a great relief; for the last week, I’ve been living in fear of staphylococcus infections showing up. But no, this year I am staying home. And I decided it was way past time to renew my voice in the world, just to prove I am still real. Also, in the Celtic calendar, tonight is when the New Year starts; perfect for beginnings and/or renewals.

So Happy Halloween, Dear Readers, and a blessed Samhain to you all; also, Happy New Year’s, as you can really never have too many renewals going on in your life.

I’ll be back. I promise.

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September 6, 2022

Kage Baker would be in white silk mode right now.

It’s hot here in Los Angeles, and has been for nearly 2 weeks now. Triple digit days, and nights that only get down as far as 75 degrees just before dawn. Fond as Kage was of heat – she used to claim there were salamanders in her ancestry – even she would give up eventually when it got this bad in Pismo Beach.

It may have been the distraction of me lying on the floor, whining and moaning that I was dying of heat prostration. Or it may have been the horrible sight of Harry; who, after being held under a cold shower to bring his body temperature down, looked the demon love child of a Skexis and Quetzalcoatl. (Parrots, like Moriarty, do not sweat.)

Or maybe even Kage got too hot. She’d never admit it, but she’d curse the hot wind off the beach, and knot her hair on top of her head – literally, winding the extravagant length of into a rough rope, and tying it to itself in a Gordian Knot. Then she’d pin the knot to the top of her head with a spare pencil. Or more than one, because Harry considered it his prerogative to pull all the sticks out of her hair until the whole length of it cascaded down over him … then he’d laugh like a maniac, and have to be untangled and removed.

In the moments with less parrot and more peace, Kage would change into her white silk lounging pajamas. No kidding. She would shed her shoes and stockings, which was a very decadent and informal move for her, and continue to write for as long as she could stand sitting by the window. When even the sight of the sea was too hot for her, she’d repair to her wing-back chair, drink rum and Coke with an umbrella in it, and watch pirate movies.

Harry would scurry around on the back of the chair, or run up and down her legs, cackling at the movies. And I’d take a cold shower, dress in as little as I could manage, and watch the two of them. And giggle. And read quietly while they entertained themselves … eventually the sun would set, and we’d have ice cream for dinner, and a glorious cool wind would arise from the steaming sea and all the stars would light at once from the friction of the burning atmosphere.

But we’d survive. Good times, those.

Tonight, Dear Readers, I am simply too tired to come up with a deep, cogent post. My brain has melted, and is leaking out my ears. I wouldn’t mind if it were at least cool, but my melted brain is like boiling caramel. And my hair, although tied in a ponytail on one side of my head, is still as hot and heavy as a cashmere sweater. I’d cut it off, but Kimberly would kill me – I’ve cut my hair off three times or so in the last three years, and she has dedicated herself to preventing me from doing it again. Admittedly, I always do a bad job of it and look terrible …

But we’re surviving. Good times are still happening. Ice cream for dinner has appeared on menus a couple of times in the past fortnight. I have adequate amounts of iced coffee to drink. Today I ordered the unexpected-and-anticipated-with-hysteria BRAND NEW MONKEY ISLAND game. It was Kage’s favourite game in all the rolling world, and so I will play it as a memorial.

Also, a new Stephen King novel, Fairy Tale, came out today. It materialized on my Kindle like a friendly spirit, and reading it is what I am doing for the rest of the night. With a Stephen King novel, after a certain point it’s too scary to try and asleep anyway, so why bother trying in the heat?

And I hope all of you, Dear Readers, are successfully combating the heat and are safe and comfortable. If you have silk pajamas, don them and raise a run and Coke to Kage.

One with an umbrella in it.

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Self Indulgence

Kage Baker sternly schooled herself to sit and write every day; in fact, most of every day and into the night. She didn’t always stop for meals – from experience, I recommend a desk with a pull-out self to one side for a writer, as it served her quite handily as a meal tray.

And this dedication was in spite of the fact that she did most of the cooking in our house. I’m an adequate cook – she was inspired. I happily served and did the dishes, in appreciation of the remarkable meals she made. Punctuated, of course, with the times we simply had to have Chinese food or fast food or simply the ultimate I am a grown up meal: ice cream for dinner. Kage favoured Irish Cream.

When she was too tired, distracted or bored – and yes, a writer can get bored with their own stuff, especially the long slogs between major scenes – she would often indulge herself in some recreational writing instead. She said it kept the neurons firing and the fingers nimble, and she didn’t have to think as much. Sometimes it was fanfic, sometimes it was childhood reminiscence, sometimes it was notes on future stories she wasn’t ready to write yet. And sometimes those turned into actual stories, and she found herself frantically writing two things at once: usually in turn. but often simultaneously.

I’d have been more sympathetic, except that that is the way I read. I simply cannot keep my hands off my TBR stack, or stop getting new books … if Kimberly hadn’t offered me space in her house, I’d be living under a bridge in a hovel made of boxes, full of books.

But I am really trying to write every day. However, this week has been a real hellhole of discomfort. I think my body is just tired of the heat and is considering quitting. I won’t let it, so it’s retaliating by refusing to work. The solution, obviously, is to write something indulgent. Like about coffee. The candies we enjoyed as children? Rating all the gas stations/rest stops on I-5 in terms of accessibility, hygiene, and demented snacks? (All, maybe, six of them …) No, I know! Pets! Cats!

Kage insisted that she hated cats. Nonetheless, she could go on for hours about the beloved cat of her childhood, Mittens. He was amiable, black, and 3-legged; he walked with the slantwise dignity of Richard III, one shoulder canted higher than the other, casting gold-eyed glances of princely hauteur behind him.

And like most people who detest cats, cats adored Kage. She could never sit down in Kimberly’s house without one of Kimberly’s cats coming over begging for pets. My own cat, T’Pring, even liked Kage, and she didn’t like anyone. She just tolerated me.

I, however, love cats. And dogs. And birds. I moved down to Kimberly’s house in Los Angeles with my own sweet baby, Harry the parrot; we joined a household of divers cats and at least one dog. At the moment we are dog-less, but are in search of a Corgi puppy. As a sort of placeholder, we have two gorgeous Maine Coon cats, which are each about dog-sized. The red lady, Ashby, is bigger than a Chihuahua but quite delicate and dainty – for a Maine Coon. The black gentleman cat, Edward, is … larger than a Corgi.

He is astounding – silky jet black, with some pale ghosting colour on his tummy. He is 36 inches from nose to butt, not counting his tail. He’s as long as my leg. He weighs 20-odd pounds, and still has 2 years to go to maturity. The floor shakes when he zooms. And he is the sweetest, cuddliest cat ever, with a teeny tiny voice. Mostly, he says Meep and makes tribble noises; Maine Coons don’t meow much. Ashby has an even tinier voice, and rarely says anything at all. They both purr like engines.

I fondly think Kage would have liked them, as they are such darlings. However, being Maine Coons, they are also walking clouds of silky-soft fine fur – and since I suspect that Kage was actually slightly allergic to cats, that would have been intolerable. Her much-loved Mittens was a short hair; my T’Pring was a cross between and Maine Coon and a Persian (major floof) and Kage couldn’t bear being close to her.

Maine Coon cats have amazing fur – they need to be groomed at least weekly. They don’t shed like ordinary cats, in single strands of fur; they shed vast CLUMPS of fur, which cling to everything and waft through the air like pollen. Combined with Harry’s down, which he also sheds copiously, I end up waking up in the morning looking like the victim of some dubious lycanthropy. My hair is a fur and feather magnet.

One of the great advantages of Maine Coon cats is that they actually like to have their tummies rubbed. And those tummies are incredibly soft and floofy. Edward, especially, likes to lie on his back and make enticing air biscuits to invite you to stroke his gorgeous belly. As a throw rug, he takes up most of the living room floor, and can completely block the hall or a doorway. This necessitates flash lights for any human wandering about in the dark (like me), as he will NOT make a noise unless you actually step on him. Then, of course, you die of guilt … Day or night, he’s likely to wrap all his paws around your foot anyway – not to hurt, but to demand tummy rubs.

Now how, you may ask, does one live with a parrot and two ginormous cats? Training, Dear Readers, and unrelenting vigilance. Ashby is not much of a problem, as she is very shy and terrified of almost everything – she is, I think, offended by Harry’s noisiness. Edward, though, was very interested in Harry as a kitten, and still sometimes watches him speculatively. However, he never reacts as he does to the birds outside the windows, and has been taught since his earliest days that Harry is neither safe to touch, nor even actually a bird. God knows, Harry doesn’t act like any other bird Edward has ever seen … Harry is free-range by day, but they are never left alone; at night or when we are out, Harry is in his cage. Edward sometimes like to sit on top of the cage, but not much – Harry tries to bite his paws.

Edward’s enormous, fluffy, front paws, BTW, are the size of the palm of my hand. His fifth toes are conveniently offset from the other four, which gives him quite serviceable hands; he can grasp a doorknob, hold a piece of kibble and eat it from his paw, and catch flies on the wing – in one paw. Not even most humans can do that. Fortunately, most humans don’t then eat the flies they catch, but, you know – CAT.

Ashby, being near-blind, confines her hunting to the occasional spider on the rug. I like to encourage this, as spiders bite me most evilly. Edward hunts them, too. Bugging seems to satisfy their hunting instincts, along with the occasional murder of a sock full of catnip.

Obviously, I am besotted with our cats. They are charming, affectionate companions; which is good, given their size. But I and my entire family are now addicted to Maine Coon cats. They’re like good furniture; they will always be wanted. And they’re nearly as big.

So: there you are, Dear Readers. I recommend Maine Coon cats wholeheartedly. I think even Kage would have liked these two; T’Pring was a autocratic wanton, but Ashby and Edward are as sweet as kittens even now.

I’m gonna go pet me some kitty tummy now …

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The Immovable Object

Kage Baker: my constant theme, the bedrock of my ramblings here. I spent most of yestreday in a delirium, wandering through some of our more chemically-dependent youth; today, I return to Kage. .

Kage made most of her living, quite on purpose, in historically creative fields. She painted, and even sold some of her work; she used to say “Well, I’m not as good as Van Gogh, God rest his brilliant soul, but I have out-sold him.”

She performed for more than 20 years at both the original Renaissance Faire, and the Dickens Christmas Faire, in improvisational theatre, stage acts, and as a singer. She had a lovely alto, perfect pitch and an inhuman skill at inventing harmony. She could also remember, and sing, every commercial ditty she had ever heard; there wasn’t a lot of call for that, but it did mean she also remembered every hymn, folk song and opera she ever heard, as well.

And she wrote. Gods, how she wrote! I have manuscripts retained since her high school days; enormous fantasy novels that have never seen the light of day. She was writing fanfic before it was popularized; steampunk, too. Had I not, to my mingled relief and guilt, talked her out of powering the Company operatives with clockwork, she’d have been an early writer of that, as well.

These are all fairly liberal areas of creativity – bordering on eccentricity and downright wackiness, even. But Kage’s eccentricities were quiet and private. And she was never wacky. She had class.

She was, at heart, an extremely conservative person. At least, in reaction to any outside force – whatever originated in her own mind could and did go off in all directions and several dimensions; but her first reaction to change from the outside was to dig in her heels and say, “NO”. If something had worked once, it was likely to work again and should therefore always be the first thing tried. The longer or more often it had worked, the more likely Kage felt it was to work again. I’ve never been sure if this reflects a complete lack of comprehension of the laws of probability, or a very sophisticated view of them. Or if she had mixed up the laws of probability with the those of Energy Conservation, or possibly Returning to the Mean. Or maybe with how to make a paper airplane …

The respective depths and widths of our minds were calibrated to different measures. One of my duties as her writing assistant was to make the necessary conversions from Kage’s universe to something closer to the one inhabited by her audience. Sometimes it was easy, such as pointing out that a third of Iden was originally written in Latin and Greek. Sometimes I had to figure out just what Kage’s view of the source of the Universe or the pancreas exactly was, and sort out how to reconcile her personal belief with science and history. Unless her idea was a plot point, and then – heck, science fiction needs those weird and differing perceptions!

And lest you think I was a self-serving editor, Dear Readers, I maintain my innocence. Even real editors ran afoul of the adamantine wall of Kage’s convictions. And I was streaks better than the editor who objected to the Milky Way being visible in one book, because, he said “No one can see that because we live in it.” A brief explanation ensued of the Earth’s distance from the bulk of the Milky Way galaxy. out here in the Orion Belt, as well as the relative size of the Milky Way versus the size of the Earth. Kage put both feet down as hard as she could and said NO CHANGE; it was, no surprise, settled in Kage’s favour, but she gleefully told the story for the rest of her life.

I think most science fiction writers have run into something like this. Especially the ones who write much harder science fiction than Kage did. The facts that the writers do incredible amounts of research, and sometimes have pertinent degrees in their fields, was no barrier ever to the opinion of a low-level editor. The high level editors, BTW, don’t seem to make errors like that. The editor who corrected Kage’s date of The Amazing Year in The Catch was thanked and obeyed immediately: because baseball was not one of Kage’s fields of expertise, and because the editor was right.

The two or three fans who wrote to tell her that cyborgs were not real, time travel was not real, or to ask why had she never considered writing a story where the Nazis won WWII? were dismissed somewhat less politely than editors. I remember Kage writing back to one guy asking if he even knew what science fiction was? He didn’t answer back, so I guess he didn’t.

She didn’t really care. She wasn’t into arguing her plots with anyone, especially if they didn’t like them in the first place. She would talk at Cons (because why go to a Con if you don’t intend to talk), but that was because the people who wanted to talk to her usually liked her work. I think there were only a couple of times when Kage encountered people who had evidently come to a Con specifically to tell off the authors. But people are weird.

It did enforce her determination not to talk to most people. One of my jobs was to either fend off those who were bugging Kage, or enable her to disappear. Like one of Swift’s flappers, sort of, except instead of a bladder full on dried peas, I usually conjured urgent meetings or family disasters. We usually didn’t start giggling for 10 or 15 feet …

But Kage knew that, despite a focus and singleness of mind like unto a diamond drill, she had a limited amount of stamina and time. Especially time, though we didn’t know that in those years; but Kage resented anything that made demands on her writing time. She had 20 or more years planned out, in which to write – not only the careful expanding universes in her head, but with room carefully left for sudden, new ideas. If Kage had been this careful and thorough with her study notes, she would have made straight A’s.

I have tons of stuff that she never did write down, ideas she recited to me to keep us awake on long drives. I’ve written it down, as well as I can in her own words. Some was literally dictated to me as Kage was dying. You know how Emily Dickinson recounted how, because she could not stop for Death, Death had kindly stopped for her? I figure he had to sprint to catch up to Kage, his robe kilted up around his bony knees, as she obviously would never have stopped for him …

Sometimes I wonder, in despair and sometimes in hope, how far I will get on Kage’s work before Death comes looking for me. Four years ago, I too thought I had 20 years or so; in the last 2 years, I’ve realized I can’t afford to think I have all that still ahead of me. But I’ll take all I can get, and see just how much I might get out into the world before that skeletal knock comes at my door.

As someone reminded me yestreday: what is remembered, lives. And I remember.

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My Coffee

Kage Baker was a fervent proponent of coffee.

She liked tea in the proper circumstances, and loved the various rituals of the English tea ceremony, Her willingness to drink tea, however, was usually based heavily on what biscuits we had on hand. For years we had afternoon tea on Saturdays, when we could still find a plentiful supply of Alphabet  Biscuits; they were rich, square biscuits, heavily frosted with a pink and white frosting like the best enamel – but edible. They were further painted with the letters of the alphabet, and a few martial motifs like drums and wooden soldiers. Alas, they vanished into the mists of time, and I no longer even remember who made them.

Mostly, though, Kage took her caffeine (the real reason she imbibed all those brown beverages) as Coca Cola. Or coffee. The advent of Starbucks was a revelation, and we worked our way through every exotic blend they offered.  As the years went by, though, I gave my heart (and my cerebral spinal fluid, and a large portion of my blood) to the coffee we could only get Faire. That was the divine custom blend served day and night at the Teahouse of the Mullah Nazrudin’s Donkey.

The Teahouse was presided over by the Mullah, who I am still convinced was a large, amiable, devout Sufi Djinn. He gave drink to the thirsty and hung over; he fed the hungry with insane combination of lamb and chicken and lentils; he found beds for the lost. And he made the most amazing coffee – even the most standard blend, which was some kind of Arabica, did more for the drinker than most coffee houses’ espresso. He was a good and amazing man, and I will dedicate a blog to him someday, and detail the wonders he worked for Kage and many others.

It’s a splendid coffee. For the true effect, though, you need to drink it with a hint of straw and fire retardant in it, flavoured slightly with sweat and sunscreen melting off your forehead and running down on to your lips. You need to drink it way early in the morning, when the grey ceiling of fog has not yet burned off and it seems impossible that in 3 hours it will be 100 degrees and the streets will be full of people; or late at night, when the Faire is dark but for lanterns in booth windows, and all the people left are US: a crowd of murmuring shadows under the oaks, moving like mist along the dark streets. You need to drink it with the sound of flutes and drums and hurdy-gurdies and belly dancers in the background.

However … Time rolls on, and the Mullah was some time ago gathered to the afterlife. But his devoted employees, the indefatigable coffee-servers who, I suspect, slept suspended from the multi-coloured roof tent of the Teahouse, like bats. Minor djinn all of them, I am sure. And as they are all clever and scholarly djinn, they have established a virtual Teahouse online. There one can catch glimpses of the Paradisaical booth where so many of us spent so many nights, in so many fantastical worlds and altered states of consciousness … and one can purchase the coffee beans!

Kage would have been so happy …

I have the coffee shipped to me now, two pounds of pristine beans every month or so. They come in re-purposed Amazon boxes, usually, which evokes the hard-scrabble improvisation of all our days at the Renaissance Faire. And it makes me laugh. The cats like to climb into the boxes, of course, because they smell so wonderful: but as they are both Maine Coons, they hang over the edges like pie crust and purr contentedly.

And Kimberly sand Michael grind the beans fresh for every pot (because I am still an invalid), and run them through a high-tech drip system that produces my life-sustaining tana leaves.

It’s how I made it every morning for Kage and I as well, though the system was likely to add a few weird vessels along the way. And I’ve used everything from napkins to linen handkerchiefs to formed origami filters to get a clean pour. Good coffee is essential to a successful camping trip, but the filters are the trickiest part.

And so I have maundered on for hundreds of words, Dear Readers, trying to explain the peculiar world of coffee for me and Kage. It is a landscape of creativity – because without that blessed caffeine my brain would seize up entirely; little brass cogs and wheels and worm drives would expand  like an asteroid belt around my head.

And this past day has been one of the worst I’ve had since I escaped the hospital – due to the unrelenting heat, I am sure. I am a quivering mass of tremours and thirst, which has made typing this a real gas, I do assure you.

But, you know what? I have iced Mullah coffee waiting in the fridge, For all I feel like an egg frying on the pavement, I shall probably live forever. And I hope you, Dear Readers, do the same.

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Where Would We Be Now?

Kage Baker liked to play games with reality.

I suspect most writers do. It amuses them to to twist the Fields We Know in ways both subtle and glaring; to make the rest of us see what peculiar vistas they, the writers, see – and not to be able to find our ways out, at least for the duration of the story,

The stories that move you the most are the ones you never do escape. You go through the rest of your life peering at least through the shadows cast by that wood outside Athens; skipping over the glowing paving of the Yellow Brick Road; looking over your shoulder for the hoof beats of black horses, watching the skies for dragons and pterodactyls. Watching the street lights suspiciously, for fear they will mutate into gas lamps or torches or fusion glows …

Kage excelled at making stories like that. I still walk, variously enchanted and bemused, through the worlds she made. Some of them I share with all of you, Dear Readers; and looking at the number of articles I receive about re-discovered lost animals, plants, art works, royal heirs, esoteric booze and sodas – there are a lot of people wandering through Kage’s Universe with me. I ramble also in the worlds she made but never published, where even stranger people congregate on the shore of a saltless sea …

I might get to some of those some day. One never knows.

Kage’s second most favourite reality game was called Where Would We Be Now? It consisted of bringing up the dimensions and shapes of some prior place we had lived, and figuring out where, how and even if our current home goods would fit in our old room(s). Kage had a very precise memory of all the sizes and shapes of prior residences, and it could get very interesting figuring it all out. Especially those times when we would be perforce furnishing rooms in mid-air or someone else’s lot in order to fit our chattels in. Or remembering some tiny not-quite-hovel where we had dwelt in happy poverty in our 20’s, and arguing over who had to sleep on the floor this time.

Whoever started laughing and couldn’t stop, lost.

It was great fun. Stories were born out of the exercise, as well, as Kage would sketch madly to illustrate some new configuration of our household she had imagined. Often they turned out to someone else’s household altogether. Good memories, especially on bad days.

Today has not been a well-regulated day for me; my unconscious has been playing Where Would We Be Now? all day, resulting in long stretches where I had no idea where the hell I was. I kept falling asleep, for one problem, and then constructing someplace weird from what I overheard in my sleep … for a couple of hours, I worried a great deal about posting a blog, and the decided I had no problem – I’d just take the weekend off, and explain it all to you, Dear Readers, on Monday. Then I discovered it was not Saturday, but Thursday, and had to re-arrange my internal orrery to the actual time and place. And then write a blog.

Life has been complicated by the usual summer bloom of spiders. We are not usually much troubled with arachnids, but when it gets hot, they get dreadfully pushy. They’re little ones, just dust spiders usually, but the little wretches bite. I am inured to most bug bites – even mosquitoes – but I’m ridiculously sensitive to spider bites. They swell up like wandering goiters, they ache, and they make me feverish and ill. I languish uselessly, feeling like a stepped-on egg; I get pale and garrulous and whiny. I make tiny, cranky sacrifices to hydrocortisone cream, and swear vendetti against the cursed arachnids.

I’d love to spray Raid all over, but the stuff is bad for cats, and parrots, and humans who do not breathe well. So we spray spearmint essence around (spiders don’t like the smell) and vacuum furiously, and encourage our cats in their hunting. Both the big black boy and the little orange girl are dedicated bug hunters, and can be counted upon to rid us of most of the plague. Harry does what he can, too, when one gets close to him – he is ruthless in policing the walls near his perch.

A certain amount of moths (like, every moth they can find) also fall prey to our pets, but hey – it’s the Circle of Life, you know? And there’s only so much sympathy I can extend to guests who chew holes in my clothes.

Anyway, between spiders and narcolepsy and assorted hideous dreams involving Alex Jones (do NOT find yourself half-asleep while the news is on. Learn by my error.) I have been pretty useless today. In fact, this blog is the only constructive thing I have accomplished. But I have done that – I still live!

And maybe you can try our old game yourselves, Dear Readers, and see if it amuses you as well. Trying to literally fit yourself into old dwellings can very instructive, and requires considerable skill and spatial expertise. Of course, the failures are the fun part …

Better still, let one your favourite stories drag you under their sweet-scented tide, to frolic with whomever you love that lives there. It’s time well-spent; it’s good for your soul, your heart and your long-term memory.

And some author will feel the distant thrill of a reader returning to their world. And they will be happy, too.

A very nice orrery, albeit out of proportion.

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