A Change In Vision

Kage Baker had (usually) black eyes. They went oddly and dramatically with her paper-pale skin, freckles and red hair – but she had her father’s eyes, and he was mostly North Eastern Native American.

Mrs. Baker occasionally sighed regretfully that none of her many children had inherited her own, blazing blue eyes – but two granddaughter and a grandson did. A couple of her children did boast hazel eyes; and in fact Kage’s own eyes would sometimes shift to a russet red or a moss green. Most of the time, though, they were a hot bright black like obsidian. And they worked  all her life, for which she was extremely grateful – she spent 50 years watching me stumble around in a blur.

Mine are dark brown with grey rings round the iris. They’ve been largely decorative most of my life: except for the tumour that had to be excised from under my left orbit when I was two (My mother was 6 months pregnant with me when her wedding ceremony in Nevada was interrupted by a festive atomic bomb test …) She had a fashionable detestation of spectacles, though, and I was 11 before my habit of memorizing the eye chart was found out – to my mother’s horror, as it meant I would need – shudder! – GLASSES.  But the miracle of the optician’s art has kept me from walking into walls and door jams ever since.

A month ago, my left eye began to ache. It felt like there was ground glass lining the eye socket; and there began a swift decay of what poor vision my left eye still possessed. Migraines have gotten insanely frequent – right now, they are daily, and yestreday I hit a personal record of three in one day. Maybe that actually counts as one long migraine with peaks; all I know is, I spent the day peering through a wall of mirrored thorns and cursing at the pain …

Anyway, I saw an ophthalmologist a few days ago. Good news: I do not have glaucoma (the first diagnostic guess was closed-angle glaucoma, which causes quick blindness). Bad news: my ordinary age-related cataract is spreading at an unusual rate in the left eye. Now, cataracts do not hurt – but they can also cause a degenerative drying out of the eye, which, I am told, can cause mild discomfort.

Or it can feel like your eye socket is lined with ground glass, and give you daily migraines.

It can also make you hyper-sensitive to bright light. I’m using artificial tears 4 times a day; which are kind of refreshing in the heat, especially when they run down my face, but only a mild anodyne. And, of course, I can’t see for shit out of that eye. At the moment, though I am emphatically not going blind (technically), I am essentially one-eyed. I think I’m going to be wearing an eye patch, to keep the light off my damned left eye, while my physicians and I discuss removing the cataract. I will wear it in honour of Kage, of course.

Until I get the bright light problem, and the pain problem, and the dry eye problem all under  control – which will hopefully take only a few more days – I am taking a hiatus. Typing is almost impossible. Reading is screwed up, too, though if I shut one eye and turn up the font on my Kindle to Dick and Jane proportions, it works for a while.

Don’t worry, Dear Readers. I’ll check here and leave brief notes frequently; and hopefully inside a week or so I will have found a way to type comfortably and quickly once again. And if my eye patch is cool enough, I’ll post a photo.

One way or another, I’ll see you all soon.

 

 

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Ways To Be Safe and Happy

Kage Baker never felt completely safe. She was a tremendously brave person – in that the world in general scared her dreadfully, and her life was an exercise in finding ways to avoid, defeat and cure that fear. In which she largely succeeded, in her own distinctive milieu.

She would never sit with her back to a door; she claimed it was due to what happened to far too many card players. She also claimed it was a genetic disposition from her OSS father; or that she was watching for Company assassins.  She didn’t answer the phone or the door. She would never let me yell at other drivers, for fear of road rage; also, because she was much more of lady than I am.

Part of it was also seldom going anywhere alone. I’m not being condescending – some folks just shouldn’t be out there in the wide world without a companion. People who are easily distracted, or have sensory problems, or have psychic signs on their backs that say ROB ME. And we all know such people exit, Dear Readers; some of us are such people. Kage was sharp, clever, paid close attention to her surroundings and had not only a compass in her head but a proximity alarm system set to a wider range than even Mendoza’s. But she did have some sort of metaphysical mark on her aura, one that told large, aggressive older women to bully her.

I have no idea why. But if there were big, bossy, bad-tempered women anywhere, they picked on Kage. Teachers, waitresses, clerks, nurses, mail carriers, gas station attendants: Kage was their natural prey. And when Kage got upset, she lost all powers of speech –  then, all she could do was await rescue or flee.

Kage didn’t like to flee. So I went with her most everywhere. Nothing makes me stop talking. I never shut up, and the mental governor on my speech is set perpetually 10 seconds later than my mouth. I might embarrass you in a bar, and I am every docent’s nightmare: but if you need to be rescued from a bully, I’m your woman.  Usually I said something snarky and then we scarpered. Kage would come up with even better retorts on the way home, and then she’d write someone into an unfavourable immortality in a story.

This kept us both safe. Kage got rescued, and I got taken away before someone popped me in the nose.

It was part and parcel of Kage’s ultimate defense against Everything In the World – which was writing. Even without the impetus of fleeing some demented waitress, writing was how Kage escaped the world. Bad news, scary news,  just the news in general – her tolerance for the endless dark litany of the 24 hour news cycle was low, and got lower with every passing year and tragedy. Then she hied her to her computer, and fell happily through the glowing screen of her monitor into other worlds.

As I have noted before, some of what Kage wrote was her trying to make the wrongs of the world right. In her Universe, the extinct survived and the orphaned found a way home. No one she ever loved really died; she believed that souls are immortal, and so her giving the beloved dead new and continued lives was merely symbolic of the spiritual truth.

Going into those other worlds was also just a constant joy for her. They were places she wanted to spend time in, peopled with folks she wanted to see. It was an endless adventure and it was safe. Half the time, she didn’t know what they were going to do next until she sat down and started writing, but it never scared her. She would sit with her back to the door, then.

I’ve tried to emulate this happy method. Sometimes it works. But the world is a nasty place, and the last year has been far too constant a horror show. But not completely. I peg away stubbornly at things, and I remind myself how it worked for Kage; and I try and try again to fall through that limpid pool into a better world. Sometimes I only get as far as the limpid pool of Kindle, and lose myself in a story – but I always come back to Here. Here is where the rewards are.

This week, as some of you know, the 33rd edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction came out, Gardner Dozois’ annual compilation of what’s best, what’s happening, what’s passed away, what’s just begun in genre fiction. A lot of stories get published in the final spread; and more make the Honourable Mentions. And this year – my story “Paredolia” made those Honourable Mentions. Mr. Dozois being one of Kage’s personal deities and a very avatar of literary excellence, I am totally, completely zooed.

I can do this!

So I gotta peg away a little more, obviously. The world has scared me under the desk; time to come out and climb into the monitor. Also, untangle these absurd metaphors and similies, and finish another damned story before someone writes demanding changes on something my agent sent out last month …

It’ll keep me safe and happy.

 

 

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The Day After

Kage Baker was often taken to Pismo Beach as a child, for her family’s summer vacation. For some reason – probably having to do with the expense and difficulty of housing 8, 9, 10 people or more, depending on who came along – it was usually the week after the 4th of July.

This led to Kage’s desperate combing of the beach for unexploded fireworks. Sometimes, the family arrived before the beach even got groomed and there were pounds of detritus all over the dunes: scraps of foil and paper in all colours, charred rocket sticks, blackened and hollowed-out shells with the remnants of epic, fascinating names left on them: Verdant Fire Mountain. Silver Rain, Golden Thunder. Dragon Eggs. Ground Bloom Flowers (Kage’s personal favourites, when still alive and combustible. They’ll burn underwater!)

What she was always hoping for was live shells, of course. And, of course, she never found any. Times when we arrived on the 5th were especially tormenting for her – there were still small rocket launchers half-buried in the sand, soot and ashes blowing along the tide line – it drove her nuts. The best she ever managed to score was an unburned Snake (the most boring firework in the world) or a fag end of punk that could be thrown on the barbecue coals to smoke and char and conjure up incendiary dreams.

It’s why we never, ever missed but one 4th of July in Pismo Beach, in all the years we lived there as adults. And that one was because Kage was GOH at a Convention in Las Vegas, where we got to sit on the balcony of our posh hotel and watch Vegas lose its mind: so Kage was happy. But what she loved best was the 20-odd years of sitting on the sand beside the Pismo Pier, surrounded by her family and her own fireworks at last, sipping rum and breathing in the rolling, roof-high drifts of black powder smoke.

And we still went out walking on the 5th in the early morning, before the tractors and rakes came out, just in case there was a Roman candle that had been sadly orphaned the night before. She never found one then, either. But it didn’t bother her as much.

Last night was a dreadful mess here in my neighborhood. I could cope with the ruckus if it were just Safe and Sane fireworks – yes, they’re illegal, but I don’t really begrudge anyone a little fountain, or a sparkler, or a couple of Piccolo Petes … or even those nasty boring Snakes. But my neighbors favour Chinese mortars acquired from dishonest pursers’ mates down in San Pedro, or high-capacity-magazine guns. The resultant explosions are huge, loud and dangerous. In fact, only a few blocks away last night, some of the neighbors managed to light the cottonwood trees in the LA River bed on fire with an errant sky rocket, which was very interesting for a while …

But it’s fine today, and ought to be pretty much all right tonight. The local police are apparently not enthusiastic about anyone setting the River on fire again, and will be patrolling pretty hard tonight.  The Corgi and the cats can spend a quiet evening undrugged, and the smell of black powder has almost died away. I can’t really object to that smell, either – I do like it,and it was like catnip to Kage! I don’t care for the undertone of burnt cottonwood that lingers in our streets, but that’s why the police are being so determined.

And we went and saw  a movie today, en famille: so I can recommend Finding Dory, Dear Readers, as a very nice movie. There are hamburgers and hot dogs for dinner. All is well, most is cool; quiet prevails.

I don’t mind not finding left-over explosives these days. I don’t think even Kage would. There are enough real ones out there.

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Happy Birthday, America

Kage Baker was a responsible, patriotic American. She paid her taxes, served on juries without complaint, voted in every election – even volunteered at polling places between jobs. She came of a family where military and civil service jobs were considered de rigeur, and had uncles in service all over the world and cousins from every breed of humans.

And she loved the 4th of July. And she loved fireworks. The two were only tangentially connected: in California, fireworks are most likely to be found at 4th of July celebrations and baseball games; and since Kage was allergic to sports ball of all sorts, her only explosive outlet was 4th of July.

It must be admitted, though, that she did indulge in illegal fireworks when she found a way. I cannot deny that the occasional bottle rocket was fired from our backyard. Fireworks were easy to get in Pismo Beach, where they were illegal to sell in Pismo itself but not in every single little town around it – Kage, like everyone else in San Luis Obispo County, bought her fireworks over the nearest city line and virtuously set them off only on the beach. It was illegal to do that, too, in Pismo; but on July 4th and on the sands, the police ignored this behaviour unless you were actively on fire.

If you tried it anywhere else, though, they nailed you. One of the festive sights of 4th of July in Pismo was always some foolish incendiarist tourist trotting down the street handcuffed to a PBPD bicycle – during the holiday, the police went afoot and on bikes, as the car traffic was too thick for police cars. I cherish the memories of some shirtless drunk in a gimme cap being pulled along by two natty cops on their blue-and-white bicycles, yammering about his right to set off guns and M-80’s in the public street …

There’s one of the huge mysteries of our country right there in miniature, Dear Readers – the insistence of the average American on being an irresponsible agent of chaos on ritual occasions in order to celebrate “Freedom”. Apparently being an American means – to a lot of us – that you are entitled to render the rest of the world unhappy, insane or dead, in order to practice your Constitutional rights. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are being violated; my neighbors, at least, are apparently rehearsing for that longed-for day when the Martians invade and their drunken asses are miraculously transformed into a “well-regulated militia”. Yeah, hold your breath for that one, kids.

I wanted to write something charmingly Norman Rockwell-ish about this all-American holiday: barbecues, the limitless ways to cook hot dogs and pies and burgers and beans, fireworks and happy families and how really exciting the smell of black powder can be! But I can’t.  I’m too tired and busy and not at all in a good mood. Where I live, illegal explosives and guns have become a way of life – the last week has been a steadily escalating hell, as “patriots” have been firing all and anything as straight up into the air as they can manage (which isn’t very). They seem unaware that bullets,  sky rockets and embers come back down.

And tonight, of course, we get an up close and personal demonstration of why the capitol of Hell is named Pandemonium.

Police helicopters are loathe to come over and high-beam perps because they are vulnerable to being shot out of the air – no, seriously; a Chinese sky rocket in the tail rotor is very bad news. Police have only so many cars, motorcycles and bikes (and the LAPD is also out on damn near anything they can lay their hands on tonight, too) and they are dealing with worse things than illegal fireworks – things like the illegal fireworks that have already managed to set buildings on fire, which is happening all over the city. The LAFD is understaffed, undermanned, and half their resources are out fighting brush fires in the hills anyway.

Last night, a little girl in Compton got her hand blown off by a cherry bomb tossed at her in a public park. There are other, less horrible injuries beginning to pile up in the ERs everywhere; by evening, there will be more and worse wounds everywhere.

My family will keep the dog and the cats drugged to their furry little ears, and stay close to them to try and keep them calm. No one has been allowed out all day, nor will all night; we’ve replaced or baby-gated every screen a terrified animal might breach. And I’ve got my nitroglycerin to hand, as I do have this damned wonky heart.

We’ve forted up as best we can. We’ll barbecue and we’ll eat watermelon and corn and ice cream. We have our flag out, and our holiday porch lights are all red, white and blue. We’ll watch special movies, that say “4th of July” to us, and salute our country that we really, actually do love …

I love my country. But sometimes, I fear my neighbors.

 

 

 

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Spacer. Sparkly Spacer.

Kage Baker was a fanatic devotee of fireworks. She went to happy extremes to watch and use them, which I hope to talk about at some length – tomorrow.

Tonight, I am going to bed early. I’m tired, from having helped deal with the ongoing 3-ring, 2-cat, 1-Corgi circus that is my household in the run-up to the 4th of July. Living as I do in a quiet residential area of Los Angeles, this is the time of year when half the city loses its collective mind and tries for a week to burn the other half down. The fireworks have been getting earlier and louder every night for the last week, and the family pets are on their last nerves.

So are my sister and I. Today, the poor beasties began began having panic attacks at 3 in the afternoon. It’s impossible to go from room to room – or even chair to chair – without someone furry and frightened trying to hide between your ankles. And distressed Corgis … sing. Dylan wails in terror, sounding like a little tenor wolf on bad drugs. At least the cats just creep into laps to hide. Or they creep into  cupboards. And bookcases. And bathtubs. You don’t know they are there until two frantic paws come round the toilet to desperately embrace your naked ankles. Man, that’s a surprise.

Harry, by the way, doesn’t care at all. He loves explosions and loud noises. It could be real mortar rounds out there, and he’d be cheering for the biggest blasts.

Luckily, Dylan also has some good drugs available as well, which we can give him every 8 hours at need. He is now asleep at last, and likely to remain so until 3 or 4 this morning. He’ll miss whatever late night fireworks go off,  as well as the nightly raccoon canvassing on the front porch. With some good luck, Kimberly may get as much as 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Come The Day, he will spend the entire 24 hours stoned to his enormous ears.

I used to enjoy fireworks so much more … still, I will enjoy writing about Kage and her own hysterical experiences tomorrow. Consider this entry, Dear Readers, as a spacer;  a little glass ball separating big bright wodges of glowing beads on the string of my narrative.

If you look very closely, you can see sky rockets blooming upside down inside the clear spheres, colours spangled against the dark glassy inside curve …

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Birthday Dreams and Memories

Kage Baker vastly enjoyed celebrating birthdays.  And she enjoyed other people’s birthdays every bit as much as her own – as long as there was plenty of opportunity for decorations, furbelows, squibs, confetti, banners and all other manner of domestic special effects.

When unable to bake a Catharine Wheel into a cake (or some artistic equivalent), Kage liked to organize Birthday Charabancs: large, complicated travelling parties covering several days and as many miles as possible. She put together some memorable ones that took place on Catalina Island: sometimes extending to veritable mobs of our sisters and their spouses and offspring, sometimes just the pair of us spending a week living in a tent in an abandoned aviary.We’d walk down Avalon Canyon for cocktails and evening fireworks.

In later years, we spent weekends in June and July following faint trails throughout Central and Northern California. Kage loved old maps, and often planned road trips based on them. This was especially interesting when the roads she wanted to follow had been removed or renamed; or when the town she was seeking had fallen into a sinkhole sometime in the 1910’s, and was now marked only by the half-hollow remains of a granite memorial pillar otherwise full of active beehive.

My birthdays were more and more celebrated in Pismo Beach, with as many of the people we knew and loved as possible crammed into the back yard of our almost-beachside cottage. We had our own Tent City, where people played tag and Guerilla Croquet between the tent ropes and lawn chairs: a ball down a gopher hole was a penalty stroke and people’s pet dogs ate the vegetables out of our garden. At night, the little kids scared themselves to sleep with flashlights and ghost stories, while the grownups lured raccoons with leftover barbecue and experimented with multiple bottle rocket launchers … and on the 4th of July, the entire kit and kaboodle would dig a motte and bailey on the beach, set off illegal fireworks (along with the other 30,000 maniacs in town) and wait for the Municipal Fireworks.

You know, Dear Readers, I have been incredibly rich in the happenings of my life. Kage and I wandered well beyond the Fields We Know for most of our lives, in fact. Even staying home was a jolly combination of The Bobbsey Twins On Holiday and Clan of the Cave Bear.

This year, I have been firmly At Home since the heat began to rise. It’s not so bad this week – we’ve actually had a few lights on at night! And since portions of the LA Basin and its ever-so-flammable rim have been on fire since more or less Easter, it so far appears that there may not be as many illegal fireworks this year. That would be nice – it makes the pets insane, and sets fire to things unnecessarily. We don’t have a nice convenient sandy beach a block away here by Griffith Park.

So, birthdays are a little tamer now. Though I’ve had painted fondant butterfly cookies and fried clams tonight, and otherwise enjoyed considerable natal pomp and circumstance. But, hell – I am 63 now, and really ought to be applying my feeble energies to the metric tons of writing waiting for me. I’ve adventured and charabanced and gypsied a lot more than most, after all. Even Kage preferred flush plumbing and rooms you could stand up in for a good rest.

Sometimes I do miss that mad adventurous life. Sometimes, though, I am relieved things are at least a little slower and less frantic these days. At least, until I get my Cruiser’s transmission repaired. Then, look out!

Come on, you Euros,, you New and Old Pounds, you relict Deutschmarks. The road is calling.

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Bisy – Backson

Kage Baker was a salamander. A desert nymph – a cactacead? – or a fire elemental or an actual genie: they’re supposed to be smokeless flames in their natural forms. Maybe a dragon of some sort; she was partly of Welsh descent, after all, although her habits of scholarship, tea and solitude were more Chinese than Cymric.

The main point is, she loved heat. She loved flame. She loved being very, very warm – so warm that other people gasped and withered and dropped noisily dead around her. (Well, some people did. All right – me.) All weather was sweater weather, unless it was triple-digit heat – hence her enormous collection of hoodies and cardigans. Her room was always a fit habitat for orchids and geckoes; mine had frost on the windows in the winter. On the inside.

Here’s the thing: climate change is altering the weather in California, especially Southern California. It was always hot in the summer, with occasional hot spells set into the Fall and Winter landscapes like small burning gems. Now,  though, it gets hot at random all year round, and the summers enjoy the climate of Pandemonium. I spent the middle 30 of my 60-odd years happily acclimatizing to a Northern California seacoast, before I moved back down here to the Los Angeles Basin – just in time for congestive heart failure and global warming to combine into perfect terrarium for a lizard. Or Kage.

The last couple of years, I’ve also spent some time flirting with kidney failure. Solved that problem by finally evicting the offending organ, but … you become more susceptible to heat when you have reduced kidney function. I can handle the weather by restricting my active phases to times when the temperature stays below 80 – but when it goes too far above that and stays there, I tend to gradually wilt and wither.

June’s been a toughie. We’ve had spates of heat well over 100 degrees, though at least the thermometer on City Hall hasn’t melted again; I think they replaced it with a wireless sensor after that happened 5 years ago. No one has ever been sure how hot it got that day … but last week it got up to 115 for several days. I did my best to sleep through it. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks, mostly – sleeping. I am dehydrating and conserving my sugars  …

This week has been better, but it’s been up in the 80’s now for a few days, and after a while even the best A/C in the world begins to falter. Our house is not a sealed environment, which is apparently what I need; until then, I just have to cope with the fact that heat radiates in through the windows, other people have to go in and out the doors occasionally, and if the nighttime temps won’t drop below 75, you’re never going to get very cool.

But June is going away in cooler style – it’s barely 80 today, and a grey cloud cover is teasing us with the faintest promise of thunderstorms. Probably all that will happen is dry lightning and more of the surrounding hills will burn – but there is actually a little cool breeze wandering around, so we may get lucky. I have lots of iced coffee  (I’m trying to both stay awake and not die of heat exhaustion) lots of loose cotton clothes, and I’m staying indoors.

And in the meantime, Dear Readers, my regimen of mostly sleeping is helping. When I am briefly conscious, I’m working on updating Kage’s own website, and waiting for the suddenly-multiple Foreign Potentates to pay me – now that the IRS has finally given them permission to do so. Italy, Germany, Spain, China – yeah, the Brits are flinging spanners left and right, but they haven’t offered to buy anything of Kage’s anyway, so I’m not worrying too much. If we get paid in Deutschmarks again, huzzah! Kage loved that.

Something approaching normality should resume by Friday, with the new month. I resort to A.A. Milne for explanations. In the meantime, Dear Readers, stay cool.

 

 

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