Hope Is Not Necessary

Kage Baker used her writing as her final refuge from all pain and sorrow. She believed, with that particular iron faith she possessed, that it was possible to enter into another world through the screen of her computer. That she had to make that world herself was no problem at all; she’d been making new worlds since her cradle days, and all the passing years had merely given her new portals through which to enter them.

So she would sit down and create. Sometimes, if the pain was very bad, she would want to move and create – then we would go on long drives and talk. The sight of the road unravelling, the white line sinking perpetually back beside her, was a fool-proof goad to both speech and composition. Sometimes it took a few miles; sometimes it went on so long we had to keep moving. That led to some weird and extended trips, that went on for days and ended up hundreds of miles from home. Amazingly, neither of us ever lost our jobs due to calling in Lost In Pumpkin Center … probably because we didn’t do it that much until we moved to Pismo Beach, and began trying to retire.

This wasn’t for writer’s block, you understand. Gardening did for that, on the rare occasions it lasted more than an hour. It was for relief of pain, to find the Way In when despair and grief blocked the way. And if not even that worked – or we had already used up all our grandmothers’ funerals for that year – Kage would in the uttermost extremity turn to someone else’s world.

That’s when The Wrong Box came out. That’s when she played Monkey Island games for a week, or found a new pirate RPG; preferably, one with cannons.  Explosions always cheered Kage up. If things were really bad, she would even resort to what had been her primary refuge as a child – she would read favourite books, over and over.

Her time for reading had decreased geometrically, in relation to her time spent writing, as she got older. She would stop for a good new book (anything by dear, late Sir Terry Pratchett) or for a particularly fascinating research book; she seldom re-read things, probably because she seldom forgot a word she’d ever read in the first place. But she could always turn to seasonal fare, like A Christmas Carol or Hogfather. She could always settle comfortably into the Aubrey-Maturin novels again – she read all 20 and 1/3 of them at least 4 times through. She could always read damn near anything by Robert Lewis Stevenson or Herman Melville. Melville, though, was a sliding scale – Moby-Dick or White Jacket were signs she was cheering up; if she worked her way down to Pierre, I worried she was suicidal. (Read it and you’ll see why. It stinks.)

As for me … well, reading has always been my refuge. There are entire years of my life I remember as visual effects over the edge of a book. I do reread things, a lot: not because I don’t remember them, but because I need to experience once again whatever moved me the first time. It’s not all Bobbsey Twins and happy kittens, either – there’s many a story I read again, knowing it will tear me up, because I know the relief that follows will be real and healing.

I turn to the writing when I can. But I turn to it secondarily, because when I am hurting that badly, it’s harder for me to write. People are different, after all; much of what Kage taught me about writing is solid gold. But some is custom-fitted gold, and I am too short for her measurements …

Pneumonia is not giving up as easily as I had hoped. My agent got inescapably busy, and has not finished reading “The Teddy Bear Squad” (though I am sure she will.) Tor ditto, ditto for Knight & Dei.  I’ve encountered 3 instances of unbridled public hate since the election, and I’m not even in a target population! Royalties from Europe are delayed; not inexplicably, oh no! – because most payments from Europe are being delayed, as Europe disbelievingly asks itself just how fucking stupid the US can possibly be? And this is a question that worries me quite a bit, too, since for the first time in my entire life, I am beginning to suspect that the government could contribute to the end of my personal life.

Not that I’m afraid of that. But it would cause so much mess and trouble! And I object strenuously to dying because of such low-class gummint fuckery as seems to be heaving on the horizon.

Still, as Tolkien reflects on the innate nature of Sam Gamgee in The Two Towers: “Being a cheerful hobbit, he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.” Right now, I am postponing despair. The world is a mess; not just out there in the distant, exotic bits of it, like Tennessee and Indonesia, but the close up  parts as well. I’ve never felt the future looked as bleak as now.

But I persevere.  I’m reading Terry Pratchett books. I’ve got my writing hat and my writing necklace on. I’m eschewing Facebook, the local news, even Rachel Maddow; my friends can email me, and do – in fact, I just got a visual bouquet of bunnies, which was a huge lift. I have red and green M&Ms, walnut divinity, hot coffee and warm socks. The Christmas lights are up on my desk and in the yard.

Sam got by with a leaf full of lembas and a memory of potatoes. I can do no less.

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Just Stand There

Kage Baker was a firm believer in the old adage: Choose your battleground.

She had no idea, initially, that this was a truism from the rediscovered General Sun Tzu and his Art of War. She rather scorned the hipster/corporate/would-be warriors who began espousing Sun Tzu in the late 20th century. She figured most of them for the men a little younger than our male playmates; those who had not gone to Vietnam but sure as hell wished they had!

No, she learned it as a child from her mother. Now, I am quite sure that Mrs. Baker was not a devotee of Sun Tzu; I suspect her experience came from the age-old wisdom of womanhood, that has traditionally had little choice about being on the battlefield, but could occasionally pick which one she stood on. It may also have been family wisdom handed down from all those South Carolinian ancestors; whom, I hardly need say, wore grey and learned the truth of the saying the hardest way possible …

Given her druthers, though, Kage would have preferred to never have to choose a battleground at all. She didn’t want to fight anyone, anywhere, over anything. She hated losing, but she would rather have won because no one was paying attention to the contest; subterfuge was all right, too, as long as no one saw it. She did not, she averred, want to meet anyone’s eyes in a contest – just let her alone to do her own thing, and all would be well. She rarely wanted something anybody else wanted, anyway.

It must be said, though, that was only true for a given value of “What anybody else wanted.” She did want to be published, and there are only so many slots for that going around: but that’s why she had an agent. and wrote a gazillion times faster than most other people. There is usually only 1 red popsicle in a pack of Popsicles, too; she got those by sheer force of personality and by being – until puberty hit the boys – the biggest kid in the house.

She’d have been at a real disadvantage had spaces on an annual publications list been decided by single combat – Kage was inept with swords, and used to make me come do the fencing bits in her beloved pirate RPG’s. Mind you, if they’d let her use a cannon, she’d have won: she was a hell of a gunner … but it’s just as well her agent did the bloody parts.

I too would prefer not to have to fight for what I want. However, that was not an option open to a young woman of character in the latter half of the 20th century. We had to learn to fight, having only recently identified the enemy command structure in the first place. The first half of the 21st century isn’t looking  too good for our freedoms, either, but at least we are presently spoiled for choice in selecting battlegrounds. Man, they’re everywhere right now! And likely to remain so for a while.

At my age, of course, I am not so much a woman of character as just – a character. A woman who lives past menopause – remember, Dear Readers, that’s only recently become common! – is just a weird old lady.  Dearie me, what to do? What to choose? How to survive it all? Social media is a Rat King, the news has lost its communal mind, religion is a nest of snakes – all of them biting their own tails. The only alternative to living long is dying. You have to make your stand while you still can, no matter how peculiar you become. Lear pleads, “I am a very foolish fond old man”, but he’s just feeling sorry for himself.

Lady Macbeth dosen’t live long enough to know her entreaties to the spirits were not necessary: soon enough, Time would have done for her all she required of them. “Come, you spirits, That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,. And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full, Of direst cruelty.” She got to choose her battleground, though. Of course, she then lost her mind and flubbed the follow-through … but we’re all victims of our upbringing, and growing up to be a Queen puts different burdens on a young woman of any character.

And why do I maunder on so, in vitriol and self-pity, Dear Readers? I am tired. T-I-R-E-D. I chose a few battlegrounds, this latter half of the waning year, and they have all turned out to be deep in mud and rich in caltrops. I am sick of it – sick of it all. I can’t even depend on my health, those damned spirits that attend on mortal thoughts having robbed me of the vigor that was the birthright of my X chromosomes. Hell, I’m so creaky and pitiful and useless, I may as well be a man.

I’m not, though. I’m still a woman. It’s a mess out there, but if I can’t choose my battleground, I can still to choose to stand where I am embattled. Somewhere with the odd rock to rest my old arse on, or send flying at the enemy with my stick.  So, I’m not choosing the Tearoom, the garden, the solar and the knitting basket and the cushioned chair. It’s a freaking war out there, kids, and no one has the right to walk away without making a stand.

The Crone is my sigil, now …


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Never Giving Up

Kage Baker lived an enchanted life. I really believe she did, as her luck was astonishing.

Some of that is attributable to her having a will of iron and  refusing to cooperate with the daily ration of shit the Universe delivers to all of us. She simply wasn’t having any of that, and would go on her way in pursuit of goals that would have seemed totally impossible to most people. I know, because 1) they seemed impossible to me, and I was there; and 2) she accomplished them anyway.

Kage wanted to be a writer. She succeeded at this task. This is a much larger victory than most people realize, though all writers will realize the enormity of the triumph. Even if you, as a writer, are satisfied with just being a private, domestic writer – one who,  like Emily Dickinson, writes for your own self and never sees a public sale or audience – the strength and discipline required to actually write all that stuff is heroic. Many try; few succeed, even in their private journals.

Further, Kage wanted to be a published writer. This, despite the historically growing ranks of the literate throughout Time, remains one of the largest, harshest, most unfairly rigged lotteries on Earth. But that never gave Kage a moment’s pause. It was what she intended to do. And she did it. And so strong was her intent, that I am still getting things published on the mere strength of her name.

I don’t dare stop. Some vital escapement on the gears of Time will probably fly off into starry infinity, and cause the Universe to dissolve into turkey gravy, or something …

Kage wanted to make her living at home, writing. She might have waited until she retired, but no – she wanted to do it while she was still in those years which her staunchly middle-class upbringing told her were the years to make your way. So she did. She moved someplace where it was cheaper to live, she built her entire working day around the production of her craft, and she worked as steadily at that as she ever did administering insurance or selling ad space (both of which she did with great success). By the time she died, she had been making more writing than at any other job she had ever held, and did so at her beloved oaken desk looking at the sea from her front room window …

Had Kage beaten the cancer, she’d have been supporting me too within a year or so.

That’s one of the reasons I retired early and took up her work. She made me promise to do so, of course, which would have been enough – but she had demonstrably so overpowered Fate with the sheer energy of her will, that I have had no reason to ever think it would not continue to work. That undoubtedly has more than a small helping o my own hubris in it; but you know? It’s been pretty much working …

The only problem has been the collapse of my health. After more than half a century of fairly robust life, my body fell apart like the One Hoss Shay* once Kage was gone. It’s made doing anything and everything somewhat harder than I had anticipated. But I soldier on …

At the moment, just as I was poised to resume Dickens Fair with all the vigor and enthusiasm of youth – I have been firmly reminded that I no longer on the positive side of that ledger. Right now, I am at home – still – and will be so for this weekend as well. I am fighting pneumonia;  so far, I am winning, but if I go dashing off, I likely will lose that battle. Probably my family will kill me, too, if I do something so stupid.

I hate this. I had a crying fit this morning when I realized I was not going to be able to go North; that was especially idiotic, since I was then nearly drowned by my streaming eyes and nose, and just about coughed my lungs out, too. But, Dear Readers, it is the ultimate bummer to embark on Extreme Christmas, to set out on the glorious starry Road of the Weird, and then to be jerked up short by the failures of the flesh. MY flesh, anyway; I could forgive other people, but it’s my own damned body that has betrayed me.

This is not acceptable.

So I’m not accepting it. Kage never accepted all the common sense strictures that said she would never succeed at her goals: she just kept on working until she Did It. While I am not driving North (Kimberly would hide my keys, I suspect), neither am I giving up, There is still Last Weekend after this one – a new goal at which to aim my will and desire.

And in the meantime, there is the writing. There is always the writing.

And that’s the other thing Kage taught me about never giving up. If you never give up on The Work, The Work stays dependable. And that is all that matters.





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I Hae Gang Agley

Kage Baker was seldom stopped from work by mere illness.

She was indomitable that way. No mere microorganism ever kept her from her writing for long. If she was at all upright, she was at her computer, working away furiously. Even when confined to her bed – and it took the ass-end of a fatal illness to accomplish that – she dictated and plotted.

In like determination, she went to work when ill, whenever she could manage. Many co-workers did not exactly bless her name for this monomania, but she had an amazing work record. If they gave Good Attendance Awards to grownups, Kage would have gotten lots of them. She even did Dickens Fair with all its attendant varieties of insidious Winter Plague, usually medicated to the eyebrows on decongestants and coloured narcotic syrups. I remember her hilarious routine with a crystal glass of Nyquil, pretending it was absinthe in the Parlour of the Green Man …

Kage managed to do this because she did not drive. She could recline, glassy-eyed with fever or surrounded by Kleenex, in the passenger seat while I drove us on through the dark to our artistic rendezvous. It made me nuts, that she would not rest and recover; but it was just the way she was. She’d rather be propped up in a corner as a prop than miss the show altogether.

Many performers feel the same way. Heck, I feel that way myself! But I’m the one who drives; especially this weekend, when my stalwart co-pilot nephew is deep in the final drafts of the papers he owes for finals. That’s not something he can do on the road, or in the Parlour … so when I got up yestreday and went more-or-less face down in my surprised pillows – well, it was obvious I wasn’t getting to Fair.

I am thus in the midst of missing this weekend of Dickens. This is especially annoying because I had promised to bring some polo mallets up for someone … don’t even ask, Dear Readers, it’s the sort of thing that only makes sense at a theatrical event. The polo gig will have to wait a week. My own brilliant staff is doubtless doing just wonderfully in the Green Man without me, but … I miss them. I miss everything and everyone.

On the other hand, I am fighting off the flu and hoping it does not sink into my lungs and develop into pneumonia – which is a problem with us old lady-types. I am close to drowning in my own skull, I can’t catch my breath, my bones ache in places where I know for a gods-forsaken fact I don’t even have bones, and I am alternately freezing and sweating to death. Which means I either have a fever or malaria; neither of which would surprise me.

Anyway, I have no splendid tales of journeys through the starry dark this week, Dear Readers. I am chasing no mysterious lights nor UFOs; the wise-eyed wild beasts are not waiting for me on the verge. There is no beer nor brandy nor Smoking Bishop in my future: only cups of hot tea and the interestingly-named bone broth – which tastes mostly of water over stone, herbs and chrysanthemum petals and so is at least very yendri in flavour … but not very exciting.

I am going to crawl back in bed now and hope to dream of wild excitement and brightly-decked halls. And I hope you, Dear Readers, go find yourselves some real ones.


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December Dawns Dark

Kage Baker both loved and distrusted December. It’s Christmas, it’s Dickens Fair, it’s coloured lights and favourite food and drink, it’s baking and roasting and tinsel and spiced wine and ribbons!

But it’s also when most of the people she and I loved and lost actually died. And she knew it was very hard on me, and she was always looking at me slantwise, asking worriedly, “Are you okay? What are you thinking?” She was really concerned that I would slip into the Slough of Despond, and was always urging me to brace up!

It’s hard to do that. My favourite grandparent, my Mother and Father, a  child, some especially dear friends … I hate December for its grave markers. I try not to make a point of remembering them, but how do you forget dates like that? You can’t stop being aware of them, because those gaps make up part of the shape of your soul – there’s no getting over it, you know? You learn to soldier on, but it’s hard. And I still hate December.

So I don’t think of it as December. It’s Midwinter, it’s Solstice, it’s Fairs and Yule and parties, it’s the sweet cold dark and the brightest stars and grace of naked trees against a steel blue sky. It’s sunsets like metallic fire, and dawns like burning gold and silver glass, and a moon that makes the entire world a symphony of frozen blue.

Kage promised she would not die in December herself; and she kept that promise. I suspect it took some adamantine self-control not to give in to the desire to snuggle into her warm bed and sleep until the next world dawned around her – but she did it. She managed not only December, through brain surgery and torrential rains and radiation therapy and chemo and the cropping of her long red hair – but also most of January, when she actually rallied for a brief while.

That let her say goodbye to lots more folks. It let her make plans for a very complete and well-realized departure, and that make her happier. Which is good, because none of it worked and she died after a mere week at home, where she had anticipated forting up for a final stand on the edge of life. But I don’t think she knew it would happen so quickly If she did, she never let me know, which was a great tenderness to what remained of my sanity at that point.

My dear Jason knew my particular fetish – or is it an anti-fetish? – and also promised not to kick the bucket in December. He kept his promise, too, heading into the West just before the end of November. He was always a gentleman. I will remember him with the others, though; now he anchors one end of my list of loss, just as Kage anchors the other.

Today is December 1st. It’s gotten actually cold in Los Angeles, mirabile dictu! My November writing binge on NaNoWriMo foundered this year, on assorted illnesses, duties, accidents and Jason’s death: but that just happens sometimes. I’ll keep writing. I’m actually writing more on this blog than in some time, so the energy is rolling, Dear Readers, it’s really rolling along.

And there is Dickens Fair, which is always a sensory-overload delight. Tomorrow I drive up again, along the ever-deepening chill and silence of I-5, headed for that mother load of tinsel and faeries and fake snow and gilded gingerbread and spiced hippocras and wet feet and warm hugs in the Cow Palace. For two days I will revel and rejoice – as much as a stiff old lady like me can manage, anyway – and firmly believe for several bright hours that there is Good Will On Earth To All Men.

My ghosts are all there, of course. Especially Kage … but their company is bright and welcome in the lamplight of my Parlour, and I will lift each glass of beer and cup of tea to them in unending love. Each of them has built a part of that edifice of light we erect in the dark heart of Winter, to shelter our lonely souls.

They won’t ride beside me until I am back on the black, black road again. And then, no matter how chill the hand on my shoulder, I will rejoice at the company. All my loves can find me in that winter dark.

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I’ve Seen A Thing Or Two

Kage Baker was of the opinion that no one who paid attention could ever get bored on a road trip.

It helped that she was a born sight-seer, a natural tourist. It also helped that she was obsessive about details, and paid hawk-like attention to everything she saw out the car window. I learned to do so also – as far as was consistent with the safe operation of a motor vehicle, of course (she said primly). One of the great hazards on a road trip is highway hypnosis, just zoning out as the endless white line runs off into the void behind you. That’s much harder to do when you are watching for weird road kill, UFOs, and unbelievable roadside signs.

This is what makes I-5 so very much fun to travel. It’s also what makes it such a terror, but hey – you gotta play what you’re dealt, right? The entertainment of strange visions passing by at 70 miles per hour can, luckily, be depended on to enliven any trip, on any road.

This weekend, it was obvious that nuts are proliferating in the San Joaquin Valley. Some of these are literal – enormous new orchards are going in all over, endless lines of tiny trees in bright white paper wrappers: they look they’ve been planted in their diapers, or their nursery nightgowns. Most of them seem to be pistachios, which are good new crop. They are tasty, nutritious and drought-resistant and don’t require as much water as soft fruits like apricots and grapes. Of course, so are cashews – but raw cashews also contain the same active chemical as poison ivy.

And along with the water-sensitive new orchards there are lots of signs from water-sensitive nuts amid the human population. These blame the drought on most California Senators and Representatives, including some who are no longer in office – or maybe even alive. They tend to be in fallow fields, which at least looks appropriate; but there are also lots in fields of lush cotton, or sorghum, or tomatoes, or cotton, or baby pistachios: all pleading for the passing motorist to help end the CONGRESS-CAUSED WATER SHORTAGE. In the meantime, herons stalk along the edges of the damp fields and the Aquaduct, catching ground squirrels and fish.

Cognitive dissonance rules on I-5.

There were a lot animals on show this weekend, too. Coyotes, ravens, crows, egrets, herons, cattle, goats and sheep – most alive, alive oh, some in interesting grotesque positions – usually with their feet in the air – on the verge. The birds and coyotes are clearly caught by cars. The cattle seem to walk up to the fence beside the road and just keel over dead …

Cattle herds are full of tiny calves; sheep flocks with even tinier lambs. Seen in a moment’s speedy passage, they appear to be on anti-gravity, perpetually in midair as they bounce around their grazing mothers.

In one field, there were also two magnificent rams – hot-eyed and sulky, with great curved horns that they alternately shook at the passing cars and at the bulls in the next pasture. The bulls were the pale cattle I only ever see on I-5 at mid-winter: huge, white as marble, dewlapped and lyre-horned and as formal as a temple frieze.

I don’t know what they are, or why I never see them except this time of year. I like to think they are maybe the Cattle of the Sun, out for some fresh salad as the California winter grass gets thick. Or maybe they’re kept by some hidden sect of Mithraites, and will dedicate their heart’s blood to Sol Invictus come the Solstice, ransoming us all from darkness. They are probably British Whites, or Charolais, or White Parks – but I like to think they are sacred bulls, and I always pray when I pass them on the winter road.

We saw cars with colored headlights, lots of colors. Headlights are white, right? White white, or yellow white or blue white; like a stream of diamonds when you see a road from a distance at night, a sluice filled with all grades from D to Z, 1 to 10 – and all glowing in the dark. But we’ve been seeing headlights that are pink, lavender, actual outright blue, and one instance of lime green. That was on the 12 Highway through the vineyards of Napa, causing my nephew to remark, “I didn’t know the Hulk drove.” Are these things even legal? I have no idea, but they’re out there, throwing multicolored shadows over the midnight highways.

A month ago, field after field was brown and barren. Some were thinly dressed in Russian thistle, others were covered in harvested rags of cotton bushes and various forms of brassica. By last weekend, most of them were newly furrowed and some even plowed, with long tidy rows of neat tilled earth, all shaped like enormous Toblerone bars. New plants are growing thickly up through the aging tumbleweeds now, and every Toberlone segment is crowned with green velvet. And the new crops haven’t even sprouted yet! It’s all volunteer grass and wild flowers and weeds, California’s superluminal green season bursting up in search of the winter rains.

There was even grass sprouting on some of the remaining huge cotton icebergs parked on the sides of the empty fields. On the wild hills, the new oats are high enough now to move in waves under the wind. And mist clings to slopes and plateaus everywhere, like the memory of the ancient warm sea that used to fill California’s Central valley. Plesiosaurs could be sporting out towards Modesto …

How could anyone ever get bored? Like the insurance commercial says: We know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two.

Oh, have I ever.



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Meeting Magic

Kage Baker‘s favorite activity at Dickens Fair was probably people-watching. Especially, she liked watching our singular special effect on the patrons – the magical glow that makes the customers believe in the enormous, complicated, Extreme Christmas card that is Dickens Fair.

At Dickens Fair, it is also especially rewarding activity. It’s uplifting. Heart-warming.  Watching people’s faces as they listen, rapt, to Charles Dickens reading aloud from his own A Christmas Carol re-lights the fire in my tired heart – especially when I look around the Parlour and see the actors present equally enthralled. Even when they have heard our dear Mr. Dickens perform it daily for (in some cases) 16 years or more years, they enter completely into the magic of the scenes he paints.

Watching people round the lace-covered table in my Parlour, under the warm glow of the chandelier, eating Digestive biscuits and Turkish Delight as they listen – oh, that is magic! Watching their faces light up as Mr. Dickens – as Bob Cratchitt – warms his hands at the flickering flame of a single candle; hearing the appreciative gasps and giggles as Mr. Dickens brings all the beloved characters to life – these are some of the best moments of my personal Christmas season. Perhaps best of all is when one of the Ghosts drifts through: Christmas Present shedding palpable warmth from his glittering torch, or Christmas Yet To Come floating facelessly by with a hooded bow to his creator as he passes. The actors all totally fail to notice these spectral visitants, of course, leaving the customers to grin and gape at the magic only they can apparently see ….

And yes, it always works. The delighted audience is totally willing to believe that we, the inhabitants of this fairy-tale London, cannot see the Spirits that drift among us. Maybe they’re only wiling to play along, but I know that some of them are genuinely touched by it all. I’ve seen the complete belief in the eyes of children when a faerie cavorts down the street; I’ve heard grown women assuring one another that, YES, that Ghost of Jacob Marley was really scary!

This Saturday, as I walked close by the entrance to our London – by the bedizened arch where the Fezziwig’s Dance Party whirls and waltzes all day long – I heard two entering customers talking to one another as they wandered in. “OH, look!” said one to the other happily, “it’s even more detailed and prettier than last year!”

Magic, Dear Readers. The magic we make, and share, and that then comes back to us performers as we soldier on through our frantic, festive days. Kage lived for those moments at Dickens, cherished them with hand-rubbing glee when they occurred.

This was the second of our performance weekends, the post-Thanksgiving 3-day extravaganza. Of course, once inside our walls, it is perpetually 6 PM on Christmas Eve in London – never mind the rain or wind or blazing sun outside in San Francisco, we ARE London! And it’s worth every minute of the lengthy drive I make from  Los Angeles to get here; every other minute of the hour and a half drive in at O’Dark in the morning to get there in time to get my corsets, hoops and boots on. Not to mention the hapless passengers I wake up at ungodly hours to drive in with me. They are valiant heroes, Neassa and Michael. But the magic carries us all forward.

Alas, I was betrayed by my damned aging legs: after 2 of our 3 days, I had to return home on Sunday. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Michael and I encountered all sorts of weirdness and trouble and delays on I-5.

Good magic: my stalwart nephew is now a driver – after a lifetime career as luggage traveling to and from Fairs – and now competently drives for most of the journey while I put my legs up.

Weird magic: we came up behind a car that apparently had a man-sized pink rabbit in a black suit lashed to its rear bumper. After making sure we both saw it,  we fell to wondering why someone had 1) killed Harvey; and 2) been callous enough to take  his carcass home. When we came up alongside the vehicle, the figure had mysteriously transformed into a bunch of lumpy bags under a black tarp, with one pink bag with long floppy handles exposed at the end … but I swear, we saw a 6-foot rabbit at first!

Bad magic: hideous accidents. Why do holiday weekends have to be marked with such horrible events? The traffic on the I-5 began to get lumpy around Buttonwillow. By the time we reached the Grapevine, it was averaging about 1 mile an hour. There were a few smaller accidents here and there, but the main event seemed to involve a truck towing a huge 5th wheel trailer that had gone airborne from the South side to the North side of the road … traffic was choked down from 4 lanes on each side to 1, and by the time we crawled by, the cars were backed up down to the bottom of the Grapevine in both directions.

We passed with prayers and gratitude. It was snow we were worried about; what we got were the flames of flares, the hot metal stink of over-heated steel. I’d resumed the wheel for that portion of the drive, and very glad of it I was, too.

But we made it home! Safe home from the glittering, spinning, roaring magic of Dickens to the safe, Thanksgiving leftovers of home. That is one of the best magic tricks there is: to journey into the heart of a dream, and still come back to the warmth of home at the end.

You have to leave home, Dear Readers, to meet magic. And you have to come back to appreciate it.

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