Tyrannus Delendo Est

Kage Baker didn’t have much faith in political organizations. As an historically-inclined person, she studied a lot of political systems. And she pretty much decided that all of them sucked.

She watched the pattern in the long story of the British in a kind of objectified horror: all the times the Brits stood up valiantly for individual freedoms – gender equality, establishing the rule of law, giving women the vote, abolishing slavery, de-criminalizing homosexuality (all done before the US even tried to accomplish any of them) – contrasted with the times that they gave away their own freedoms with frantic haste.

Some of these things, the Brits have established; then thrown away; then put back again: several times, in fact. It’s amazing it still works over there at all. There are only so many times you can hope for Bran the Blessed or King Arthur to come back and fix things … but they do have some advantages that we here in the United States do not. The Royal Family must be a tremendous help in maintaining calm: not only do they throw up heroes at dependable intervals, but they are also a grand show and distraction without requiring the populace to actually hate anyone. Better still, the government can be dissolved at any time that the Prime Minister annoys enough people. And then a new government must be elected at a speed unrivaled by anything in America. Hell, we don’t elect grade school class presidents as fast as the British elect Prime Ministers.

I would absolutely love it if we could dissolve the current government, and immediately elect a new one. The only real problem would be convincing the current Chief Executive that he is not actually a king, emperor or god; and giving him the boot. But I can dream.

Instead, we are once again on the Everlasting Re-election Merry-go-round. I think it’s indecent that it began merely halfway through the incumbent’s 4-year term; it’s a little better now, a year and some change before the primaries. It’s still horrible, though; especially since everyone has begun in an effort to keep up with the President’s unseemly haste to find some excuse to stay in office. Personally, I expect our long history of a bloodless transition of power to end in 2020. But I also pray nightly to be proven wrong.

Weirder things have happened in the Federal government. Then again, that’s how we got into the present mess.

In the meantime, I follow the news because it is my duty as an enfranchised adult to be aware of current events. I send letters and emails, I sign petitions, I stay alert. When I must take some time off in order to retain my sanity, I return to the fray as soon as my brain and gut can take it. Better a belly ache and some migraines than to live in ignorance and trust that the Wrong Will Fail, the Right Prevail – as the old carol runs. Peace On Earth seems even less likely.

So, Dear Readers, why this diatribe tonight? Well, it’s been a difficult year so far, and the last month has been especially wretched. The political news is so horrible it’s probably giving us all cancer. Ray’s death in July gets first place in my personal competition, but we have also been dealing with some of the usual “Why on Earth is this shit happening NOW?” problems that usually attend a death. Most we have managed to solve so far, and what has been too much for our frail resources has been heroically assisted by good friends and true. My undying gratitude goes out to the saintly people who have sent us food baskets, sweeties, books, cards and help in dealing with the demons of bureaucracy: especially Cynthia, Susan, and Steve and Carol and Neassa.

Still, my patience has been sorely tried. I am not even pretending to be nice to the endless stream of realtors on the phone, all offering to buy the house since one of the mortgage holders has been noted as being inconveniently dead. One of the bastards actually came to the front door this morning – on a Sunday! – to try and frighten poor Kimberly into listing the house. She sent him away with, as they say, a bug in his ear – and he was lucky it was only a figure of speech. The younger cat is excellent at catching cockroaches.

So, anyway, I am sick and tired and full of rage at most everything. Binge watching British mysteries helps. Reading treatises on biology of various sorts helps. Writing will help, when I can do it; but I cannot yet. Not quite. I made a small beginning tonight, though, and am confident that in the very near future I can return to a good 1,000 or so words a day.

Thank you for your patience, Dear Readers. The world is full of tyrants oppressing all of us, in endless ways, everywhere and all the time. But they will die and fall. And we will not.

 

 

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Just Too – Too …

Kage Baker felt firmly that the world could become, at any moment and without warning, too much with us. At such times, she advocated retreating to the comforts afforded by a full pantry, video games, multiple 12-packs of Coca Cola, and a triple-locked front door.

I always went along with it. I indulged her, is what I did. And at the back of my mind, even while I myself was also glad to be forting up, I always felt a tiny bit superior. I wasn’t the fragile one. I wasn’t the would-be anchorite. I was tough and strong and up to the challenges of life.

And maybe I was, then. Maybe I was wrong then, too, and just had not yet borne enough travail to notice. My knees may have been buckling for decades, and I just thought I was getting shorter. In any event, I was wrong.

Ray, my brother-in-law, died early this month; we are going on as best we can. Last night, apparently, one of my cousins lost her father – also my cousin, I think, or maybe a great uncle. I am so sorry, Sheila. Another cousin is on his way to his own father’s death bed – sorrow, love and prayers to you, Jeff. And now I have just discovered that an old friend from Faire, Maggie Secara, died overnight. No one knows why, yet; she simply couldn’t be revived, when found. Jim, I am so sorry!

Too much. Too close together, too painful, too plain old stupidly unbearable. I’m too tired, my blood sugar is adamantly too high, my back is too achy.  The background that the world is presently giving to all these sinkholes of life is not helping one bit, either. Right now, being a human woman in this world sucks dead frogs and woodchucks.

I need to retreat today, Dear Readers. I need to bury myself in a book, my refuge of old. I need to watch TV with my family. Or I could go hide in the bedroom and cry myself blind, but that will just make me one more burden for everyone else. And no one in this house needs one more burden from anything, anything at all. We need popsicles and Pop Tarts and cookies and chocolate bars. All I have is roasted garbanzo beans – ooh, the sybaritic joys of the diabetic life style! – but the hellish heat has actually dropped past 80 degrees, so maybe I can convince Kimberly to come out with me and buy sweets.

I really don’t care at the moment. I’ll be better later. But right now, it’s all too – too.

 

 

 

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Familiar Monsters

Kage Baker  really, really never wanted to write monster stories.

She liked monster movies – preferably black and white, and soundless if possible. She liked the classic Universal monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Wolfman; she even liked some B-list but classic things like the Invisible Man, or that dynamic duo, Jekyll and Hyde. But what she liked to do was watch the old, old movies. She never really liked the more modern takes on any of these.

Mind you, she read the original novels – she was a fanatic about primary sources. But she didn’t really enjoy most of them, not in writing. She never liked the style that Stoker or Shelley used, though she applauded the ideas; she liked Stephenson, but she would have liked him if he’d written Hardy Boys books. Kage was more than half in love with Robert Louis Stevenson.

As later years provided more modern takes on the classic novels, Kage read those. She liked Saberhagen but was annoyed by the good man’s habit of forgetting to end the novels. She was, like half the world, totally dazzled by Rice’s first ventures into the vampiric universe: and then, like half the world, she gave up in disgust when it all got stereotyped and repetitive and simply too adoring a paean to the Beautiful People. She swore never to write a vampire story herself, because of that. There really were no good werewolf stories in Kage’s time. The one exception to that was the excellent Peter S. Beagle story, “Lila the Werewolf”; the current BDSM crop of violent wolfy romance would have appalled her.

Besides, Kage just hated participating in most fads. She would deliberately wait to read or watch most things until the rush was over It was a perverse sort of snobbery, to which she admitted with no embarrassment. And when she needed monsters in her stories – which happened from time to time – she would either make them up or choose obscure ones. It’s a weirdly carnivorous Celtic muse in “The Literary Agent” (no, not Joseph – the invisible creature who waits and watches from the branches of an oak, until RLS refuses Joseph’s temptations and sends him after Agatha Christie.) The Little Stupid Guys are basically a moronic version the denizens of the Hollow Hills. Operatives are mistaken for angels and demons and gods.

She wouldn’t have given the time of day to zombies. Too sticky and disgusting.

I have wondered by I am currently so fascinated with my zombie and ghoul stories. I have no answer, though. The WHY is beyond me, although the HOW has been obvious: I have had dreams that will not let me go. I suppose the why doesn’t really matter in that event, Dear Readers. Getting the story down is what matters.

Someone asked me in the comments if I was thinking of including vampires in my ventures. The answer is definitely NO. Not only have I no original ideas, the perfect vampire story – in my own opinion – has already been written: it is The Vampire Tapestry, by Suzy McKee Charnas. It’s years out of print (I have a paperback), though Ms. Charnas has adapted it into a play, Vampire Dreams. She is more famous for feminist dystopian novels, now. But that one is what I would have written, had I been capable in my 20’s: the vampire is an almost perfect predator, inhumanely intellectual and alone, a portrait drawn in spare pen and ink designs. What can I say? I find predators romantic.

Anyway, it has been done. It charms me so much I cannot turn my hand to it, myself.

I’m still working on getting a page or two, a thousand words or more, together for, Dear Readers. It’s  hard. I have plenty of ideas and am not blocked, but we are still in recovery here. It will be a very long time before it is all done, but we are doing our best right now: hence, my return to the blog. But I’m spending a lot of time binge watching gentle fantasies like Northern Exposure with Kimberly – it helps us both. For late night, there is Midsomer Murders; and if I still can’t sleep when Kimberly has given up and gone to bed – there is my Kindle. It’s actinic glow is soothing, since it lets me read in the dark. The unending flow of words – and Kindle’s most valuable aspect, to me, is the ability to never run out of books – has been my primary barricade against grief since I was 8 years old.

I can’t help remembering, right now and with acid sorrow, how I used to stay up late to read and watch strange television with Ray. He too was a night owl, and he and I explored shows on parasitic monsters, killer fish, alien visitors, and politics when the rest of the family was gone to sleep. They were all pretty much nonsense, and Ray’s ascerbic comments were wonderful.

I hope Kimberly feels a little better, when she wakes up and knows I am awake out in the living room, fighting off the visitation of Death.  That lean abhorred monster is the most familiar of all.  And the worst.

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Now We Are Three

Kage Baker knew how hard it is to speak of the newly dead. She couldn’t talk about her parents at all, just after they died. She spoke of them rarely afterwards, and usually only to close friends. She never memorialized birthdays or death dates; she said it hurt too much. But they were always in her thoughts, somewhere – everything she wrote was for their approval, wherever they were.

She figured, though, that they weren’t paying attention, especially after they were both gone into the Uttermost West and had found one another again. Her theory was that they were driving through an endless vista of the Hollywood Hills, young and in love, in a pink convertible.

Here at Chez Famille … we are still reeling from the death of my brother-in-law, Raymond Richard Miller. He died at 8:59 AM on July 10th, after a brief and dreadful battle with liver cancer. I think – I hope and pray, as well – that it was harder on us caregivers than it was on Ray; it only seemed to be really painful for the last 48 hours. Prior to that, he steadfastly maintained he was not in pain, just tired; when we had to guess, as it grew harder and harder for him to speak, we fed him painkillers anyway on general principles. He seemed to appreciate it.

Ray was a good man. He did not deserve so hard a going as he got. He fought hard to stay, and when he was too tired – he fought just as hard to go. His traitor body did not indulge him in either effort, making him stay until the mainspring ran down on his personal clock. He was with us almost to the end, though, enough to ask for water and complain about the taste of the morphine and leave a message for his son, Michael.

He always had had sleep apnea. When I was sure he was gone, Kimberly bent over him – and he drew a deep breath and resumed breathing. I jumped, and she began to laugh through her tears, saying: “One last jump scare! How Ray!” While we were gasping and giggling helplessly, he slipped out from under our hands. And that was that.

We have been cleaning house, tidying things away, notifying friends and family, fighting with all the legal rag tag and bobtail that follows after a death like minor demons. And we are trying to take care of one another. We are managing, but sudden tears and bad tempers crop up all the time. Kimberly reminds me, though, that I also have an audience, who would like to know where the hell I have got to … and I do still have stories to tell. More than before, even.

It took me 6 months to begin writing about Kage, and more than that to write about her death. It’s not even a fortnight since Ray died – it’s very hard to write at all, let alone about him. But I want and need to write. I wonder if I should be ashamed of myself, that I ache to resume writing? Ray would say No. Hell, no! Kimberly certainly does.

For tonight, though, I have to keep this brief. It’s hard to type, with tears streaming; I need to wipe my eyes and blow my nose and compose myself. Then I can compose something else for tomorrow.

Tonight, we shall watch Midsomer Murders, and eat Boston Cream Pie, and keep one another company.

Hold your loved ones tightly, Dear Readers.

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Book Mark 7/8/19

Kage Baker wrote through damned near everything. But even she could not always make that writing be useful to anyone else right away.

When she knew she didn’t have the time, the strength, the patience or the simple physical chance to make her ideas coherent to the world, she just hunkered down and wrote for herself. Later on she would clean it up, add punctuation and verbs and stuff like that.

We are primarily sitting vigil with Ray right now. He is exasperated and so, so tired: but he’s stronger than he thought he was, and  it’s taking its sweet time. Life ends on its own schedule; for everyone like Kage, who holds a party and then comfortably dies when the party is over – there is someone who is left waiting for their ride home to get there.  I don’t think Ray is going to tip …

We’re trying to keep him comfortable as the time ticks down, and keep one another sane. I tend to be mostly awake at night, so I am not doing much creative during the day. Sorry, Dear Readers.

More as it happens.

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Making Life Better Through Technology

Kage Baker became gradually fascinated with cyborgs. They were not a longstanding or pre-existing interest of hers. However, after about the third book she wrote about them, she admitted she’d gotten rather intrigued by the possibilities.

Originally, her Operatives were nothing so cutting-edge as they became by the time they were committed to paper in The Garden of Iden. Kage had had a recurring nightmare since early childhood – staring at herself in a mirror, lifting a hand to her cheek, and peeling back her skin to discover that tiny, shining wheels and gears lay beneath it. So she envisioned her first cyborgs as clockwork under their surface humanity.

No one had named or envisioned steam punk yet. Which was probably a good thing, since  Kage would never have relinquished this mesmerizing vision if it had been. Joseph’s tantrums would have been accompanied by literal steam under his collar, and Mendoza’s worst problem would have turned out to be rust. (True story, this, which has fortunately never seen the light of day …)

Here at my house, we are having an internal electronics problem: Ray is technically a deathless cyborg. He has had an implanted defibrillator for some years, installed as part of a program to study congestive heart failure. When he came home for final care, Kimberly asked specifically for the defibrillator to be turned off, if it hadn’t been already – and she was assured it would be done. Because, for obvious reasons, when you are under a Do Not Resuscitate directive, you don’t want to be wearing an automatic heart-restarting machine.

Imagine our horror and surprise when, 2 nights ago, it became obvious that the damn thing had never been turned off.

Should my dear, patient brother-in-law have quietly died in his sleep July 4th night? Probably. The shock of the defibrillator isn’t large or painful, and so much kept waking him up 2 nights ago – fire crackers, cherry bombs, M-80s and mortars; with military surplus artillery, for all I know – that it took us all a while to realize,  one of the times he woke up violently was due to an electric shock.

Kimberly has spent yestreday and today on the phone with layers of medical personnel connected both to Kaiser and the original study out of St. Jude’s. Most of the layers have disavowed any knowledge or responsibility of the entire matter, but we finally got hold of the on-call emergency technician. And he has just left, having finally turned off the defibrillator with his magic electromagnetic wand. The onerous task took all of 10 minutes, and most of that was packing and unpacking the machine.

Aaargh. Dear Readers, never assume that your technology is your perfect friend. Not when you yourself cannot control it directly, anyway. Kage’s Operatives came to grief over that many and many the time, throughout the books. She deduced, from her own personal experience, that it could be a potential problem; for anyone in any version of the human condition: Kage had common sense. The medical profession seems to largely lack this.

Ray has always had terrific stories. His career as a deathless cyborg has amused him this afternoon, too. But it shouldn’t have to be this hard.

I don’t think there will be any story  from me tonight, Dear Readers. I have spent a lot of the day with Kimberly and Michael, near Ray’s bed. I expect to spend a lot of the night there, too. Ray is not only reconciled, he is willing to go now – I think another night’s tide might see him on his way. He is an old Navy man, anyway – Admiral Rickover, head of the U.S. Naval Reactors Office, chose Ray when he still in Officer’s Training School for the Navy’s nuclear power program.

Time for you to go investigate fusion in the heart of a star, Ray …

 

 

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And Lo! We Have Survived Another 4th

Kage Baker loved the 4th of July. When we lived in Northern California, especially in Pismo Beach, she never missed finding some prime vantage point for a view of the local fireworks.

The best years were the ones when all our friends and family would come to Pismo and camp out in our backyard and living room and library and the nearest motels, and the whole unruly lot would go down to the beach to watch together. We had towels and beach chairs; we brought hidden flasks and doctored Slurpies and lots of fireworks. Fireworks are illegal in Pismo, but they are legally sold in every little town surrounding it. The PBPD took the sensible view that – as long as the fireworks were set off in pits in the sand and no one was actually on fire – they could ignore the whole thing. And they did.  Ah, those were good times …

Now I am back in Los Angeles, where fireworks have been illegal since I was in grade school.  Nonetheless, they are set off freaking everywhere, for 2 or 3 days on both sides of the actual holidays. They go on from dawn to dusk. Many wheelie bins are given Viking funerals at the hands of M-80s and cherry bombs; illegal mortars from China, smuggled into San Pedro, thunder from most backyards and driveways. It sounds like D-Day and smells like a blacksmith’s.

I no longer indulge. This is because I now live on the edge of inflammable Griffith Park instead of the fireproof beach, have emotionally labile pets, and am currently participating in my beloved brother-in-law’s end of life care. The explosions have been going on for two nights now – waking poor Ray up multiple times all night – and are already starting up again. The cats are in border-line hysteria. Harry demands to be put to bed almost as soon as it is dark, and doesn’t dare make a peep until the din stops about 2 AM …

There is a wide and often excessively vocal divide between the illegal fireworks devotees and those of us with vulnerable housemates. Those of us who desire quiet lose by default, because the LAPD also ignores the violators: with considerable less reason, too. I suspect they realize that stopping illegal fireworks in suburbia is basically impossible. But between this wretched and lawless excess, and the equally wretched and lawless excess of moronic President Trump, I am almost sick of fireworks. I resent this quite a bit. A pox on all their brainless houses!

To ease my nervous system into something within at least shouting range of normalcy, I wrote ma

***DISCONTINUITY***

 

Well. We just had a quite respectable earthquake here, stronger than yestreday’s. If this was also centered on Ridgecrest, then based on the strength and duration- I would say it was probably at least a 7. It was a slow, prolonged roller. Now ALL the animals are hysterical. Other than that,though, we are fine here at Chez Famille.

Ah! Local news says it was, yes, centered in the same place – and is tentatively a 7.1. Ta da! We California natives take an obscure pride in being able to tell a Richter reading through the soles of our feet.

Please hold the folks in the Ridgecrest area in your prayers, though, Dear Readers. This one was definitely worse than the last one, and those poor folks are already shoveling their roofs off their floors …

Here’s some Misses Take and Treat for your amusement. But now I’m gonna shut down my laptop and keep my files safe!

 

My windows looked out into the garden, right along one of the winding paths that ran through it. I watched the light change for a while, sipping that good water. I could see a few figures through the trees; they all seemed to be ostentatiously ignoring the orchard and my cottage. I was very grateful for that. Once I was accepted and settled in, I knew, the convent sorority would be coming around with the amiable frequency of the bees.

After a bit, I took my backpack and climbed up the narrow stairs at the side of the main room. The loft above was dim and quiet, but a skylight let in a view of the sky centered over the low bed. There was a small chest with ample room for the scarce contents of my knapsack. There was a pitcher and glass for water by the bed. And there were lots of pillows, all with embroidered pillow cases that reminded me of the ones my mother used to make when I was little: not really a surprise, really, as she had grown up in a place like this, too.

When my gear was disposed and I’d tested the bed, I took my Kindle and its solar charger (hey, you can’t live entirely without technology. I can’t, anyway.) and went downstairs. I spread the flexible solar cell on the front window sill, and curled up in the armchair to read and wait for lunch.

Petek was startled at my Kindle when she came to escort me to lunch, but not (as I had halfway feared) disapproving. Ghouls’ interest in technology varied, but was mostly centered around things that let their communities interact with the world at a safe distance. They were intensely into literacy, as well; it turned out that what fascinated Petek about my Ebook was not the Kindle itself, but the tiny, foldable solar cell I was using to power it.

“I’m an addicted reader,” I explained sheepishly. “Condiment labels, instruction manuals – if it’s a printed word, I’ll read it. And that solar cell has made it possible to use my Kindle just about anywhere.”

“We have several of them,” Petek said, gently examining my charger. “This is a marvelous thing – I’ve seen these online, but we’ve never really been able to justify the expense.”

“It’s best for traveling,” I said. “The only wifi it uses is to access my Kindle account, and that’s anonymized. So I can get all the books I want, Amazon stores them in the cloud, and I stay invisible.”

Petek nodded – that was standard procedure in ghoul convents. These ladies would have been early adapters of online shopping. I wonder sometimes how many cryptids are contributing to the success and spread of Amazon Prime. Sometimes I wonder if Bezos is one of them …

As we walked over to the refectory, Petek told me that they had a Kindle network set up in the convent, and invited me to join. That sounded great – there is no doubt you belong to a given household when you’re sharing your books with them. I had pondered mightily on how to get a chance to enter the convent network, and here Petek was inviting me in.

And as long as I was very, very careful – which I would have to be insane to not be – it would give me a backdoor into their system. Ghouls are not, usually, especially tech-savvy; usually, one sister would be their IT person, at about the same level as any household or small business – she would be someone who could find a lost file, undo an accidental deletion, and remember to check and see if the computer was plugged in or not. My expertise was … considerably less domestic.

Besides: I really am an utter reading-junkie. Access to more books was always good.

A stream of ghouls wound into the refectory. A wonderful aroma wound out of it, enticingly warm and fresh on the rising breeze: hot vegetables, fresh bread, herbs and oil. I reminded me sharply of some trendy bistro in Cambria or The sisters coming in for lunch all looked like rather tweedy English gardeners, slender ladies in sensible clothes – flannel and corduroy, skirted and booted; all with interestingly braided hair. Clearly, a deliberate coif was a signature style here. I felt distinctly inelegant with my own hair loose down my back.

“I should have pulled my hair back,” I murmured to Petek. She laughed gently.

“Don’t feel bad. You’re new yet,” she said. “See our little sisters? It’s a wonder we don’t have to harvest whole fields out of their hair every day.”

She pointed out a small table right against the windows, where a harassed-looking young woman was slotting a crowd of small girls, more or less forcibly, into their chairs. Her charges looked like they ranged from about age12 to age 3, and most were wearing flower circlets – the worse for wear, but very pretty in their universally pale hair. Only one child stood out – her hair was dark red, and she clung to the side of another little girl about her size.

Obviously, this was Bree; the little ghoul girl would be her companion, assigned to become her close-sister before either of the kids was old enough to wonder why.

My mother had never spoke of her close-sister. I still missed mine, sometimes.

Petek seated us at one of the smaller tables, as well. There was room for another couple of lunchers, but throughout our meal various women just stopped a couple at a time – to greet Petek, and shyly welcome me to their convent. Their eyes lit with just as much curiosity as any community of women anywhere: but ghouls are almost prim in their observance of manners and tradition. I knew my vitals would make the rounds of the convent grapevine before anyone worked up the courage to to come ask details of me.

 

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