Dinner, with the Sounds of War

Kage Baker, like most people our age – middling-old folks, kids – grew up watching war on the telly over dinner.

In our youngest days, it was watching The 20th Century with Walter Cronkite; it was pretty much a replay of WWII: grainy B&W footage of smoking ruins, lines of soldiers marching head down through what seemed to be endless rain, mud. Lots of mud. Sometimes it was French mud, Belgian mud, German mud, Polish mud – sometimes it was jungle mud.

Being at most 5 years old when this unfolded before my eyes and Sunday bowl of spaghetti, I was left with the impression that some portion of European beaches were washed by the warm waves of the blue Pacific. A little South of Normandy, I figured … both Kage and I believed that WWII was, in fact, still going on until we were in second or third grade, when the nuns disabused us of that interesting impression.

Then, by 5th or 6th grade, it was the Vietnam Show during dinner. Still Walter Cronkite, though, for years and years. I knew what was real by then at least, though. I picked up a lot of the history of Indochina from various documentaries and the newspapers. A version of it, anyway; although I remember associating the greens of the Asian jungle with the pale green of the afternoon paper – Los Angeles had morning and afternoon papers back them, and the Herald Examiner was mint green. It was what I usually used for the many, many papers we had to write about the War. (I was also fairly confused when M.A.S.H. started running in 1972; I was already a bit temporally unhinged, I guess.)

The Vietnam War saw us through our high school years, and then some. And by the time it (officially) ended in 1975, it seemed clear to me that small ugly wars would be popping off all over the globe for at least the duration of the 20th Century. I followed the news in the paper (only the LA Times by then) but not on the telly – Kage couldn’t stand it, and with every year dove deeper and deeper into her writing. Finally, she started working out the Company history and writing the future the way she felt like, and she just stopped paying attention to the Present. Who was fighting whom and why, she said, was of no interest to her. Besides, she figured it was everyone all the time and for no freakin’ good reason, so they could all got to hell in some hand basket other than hers …

Then the war in Iran started in 2003. We were at work when the news came over the radio in the manager’s office that shelling had begun. The ladies in our department who had significant others in the Armed Services all got very quiet, and then went home early. Kage and I went home and – for the first time ever – we turned on the new-born CNN and proceeded to eat dinner to the soon-to-be-familiar voices of Wolf Blitzer and Bernie Shaw and Peter Arnett. And we had our morning coffee with them, too, for months; and evening after evening we spent eating dinner and watching tracer fire like malignant green fireflies over the jewel of ancient Mesopotamia, the City of Peace, reflecting in the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.

It was in colour, though. And the CNN credits were read in by James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader and probably of God. We were duly impressed. And I couldn’t say we actually got bored with the coverage – after a childhood thinking Europe was still under the heel of the Nazis, war for real on the telly was all too serious. What we got was … tired. Sick and tired. The US began to get crazier and crazier, and the novelty of the 24/7 news cycle wore off real fast even with the addition of colour television. One day, we just didn’t turn the damned television on every morning and evening; the computer became our magic window on the Big Wide World, and it was a lot easier to avoid watching horrors.

I never wanted to watch a war on television ever again. And for some years, it was easy to avoid.

However. The world rolls on, and there are no new ways for people to be bad: only new weapons, wider coverage, younger voices on the news. A different old city echoing with bomb blasts, a different decayed empire trying to rebirth itself from someone else’s ashes. No tracer bullets yet, but it’s all still in colour. The bomb smoke over Kharkiv is a delicate shade of peach against the eastern sky.

I’ve spent the winter huddled and hibernating. Time to start writing again. The world cannot be ignored forever, you know?

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Company News & Related Stuff

Kage Baker was always interested in peculiar appearances and disappearances. She read UFO reports with avid disbelief – there was never enough – or even halfway logical – proof for her, but the mystery was fun. She wondered what happened at the Library of Alexandria, of which some fabled but un-provenenced volumes have turned up at intervals since its destruction. She wondered about OOPARTS – the nails, live frogs, Energizer batteries, gold and silver jewelry and assorted tools that show up in ancient solid rocks.

Where did Frances Bacon get that metallic talking head? Who thought up the Antikythera Mechanism? Elizabeth I’s astrologer, Dr. John Dee, possessed a couple of crystals in which he foresaw the future – they were said to have been more-or-less acquired from thin air. Kage lusted after them, and really wanted to know what they were.

Where did Lazarus species go before they were found again? She collected all those articles about plants and animals discovered in hidden canyons and dubious woods, and speculated on the questions. Who would even care about the goblin shark or the New Guinea Big-eared Bat? And why? It was her casual collection of such that finally coalesced into The Company one morning over the breakfast table: she decided someone had to be responsible for all this activity.

It started with animals, but before long it was anything that had vanished and been found again: plants. Music. Manuscripts. People, even. Being Kage, there had to be a method and a motive for saving all of them – hence the for-profit ethos of the Company, and their ruthless recruitment methods.

Many readers, especially our friends, sent notes and URLs and article to Kage, excitedly pointing out the re-discovery of unique mammals and weird insects. Most of them still do, too. Thank you, all of you! I file every one in Kage’s archives, and I still hope to use them in something.

In the meanwhile, I continue look for these things myself. They are everywhere. And not just rescued objects, but things Kage speculated about appearing in the future. That’s something all science fiction writers look forward to happening – or dread, depending on what it is they are predicting. A lot of people, for instance, were unhappy when the USA started exploding actual nuclear devices, although writers had described the methods several places already. They’d have been more unhappy if it had set the atmosphere on fire – which was one of the disasters predicted – but, of course, it didn’t. It hasn’t proved to be good for anyone, but at least the atmosphere hasn’t burned yet. It’s apparently going to take climate change to do that.

In the merry meanwhile – there is water on Mars, just as Kage speculated. The heart of Mars is not cold, but still displays a faint, banked heat, ditto. Strange plagues are having their way with humankind; Kage would not have liked that, but she certainly would not be blaming Wuhan Province in China.Maybe it would be sort of comforting to suspect cyborg corporate evil of the deed.

On a lighter note, computers are now so small and versatile that they are can basically be regarded as the Bukes Kage wrote into her stories. And if you find itty tiny keyboards a pain to use, someone has now come up with a new kind of keyboard. Check out this link: https://tinyurl.com/wdpyph8fhttps://tinyurl.com/wdpyph8f It’s a button-ball, just like Alex uses!

People are cyborging themselves in various ways – especially to let themselves use the Internet more intimately. Or control prosthetics, whatever function you most desperately desire … Several manufacturers now make spectacles that will take photos, record sound and videos (Kestrel, Snap Inc.), play videos or television (Facebook, and the venerable Ray Ban). And of course Windows and Google are still out there available as recording glasses, if you want to risk the excitement of getting your lights punched out. Can ring-holos be far away?

Pandas have had a population explosion in 2021. Two dozen of the little buggers were born in sanctuaries last year, cocking black-masked snooks at extinction with their false thumbs. Monarch butterflies have inexplicably flocked to the California Central Coast in hundreds of thousands, when last year they were almost unseen in their usual haunts.Where the hell did they all come from? Why did they leave, and what brought them back?

In the last couple of decades: original scores by Holst were discovered in a New Zealand library – where he did not live. One by Rachmaninov was found in a mail bag. A second, different Vivaldi opera of “Orlando Furioso” was located; works by Brahms, Mozart and Bach have all been found in odd places, and authenticated. Master tapes from Bob Marley recording sessions were found in the water-logged basement of am abandoned London hotel. And 600 lost recordings from a BBC Radio show of Alistair Cooke’s were found in, of all things, a muck-spreader in a diary farm shed in Warwickshire.

This kind of stuff happens all the time.

Even the poster-child of extinct birds, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, although it has been officially declared extinct by the US government, is suspected of being alive and well – in Cuba. Which is almost as inaccessible as a muck-spreader in Warwickshire, I guess.

All these speculations – and there are gazillions more, in Kage’s notes and my aging head – may one day soon matter. For one thing, I persist in trying to sell something new; and while my health has been damnably bad this last year, I am getting better. I haven’t even caught Covid!

And there is a very good chance that AMC is going to commit to making a series of The Company stories. Nothing is signed yet, but the almost-deal is looking good. They may even want me as a consultant. There is no guarantee, of course, that AMC will not make a pig’s eat out of the series (Television does that a lot. Usually, even) but Kage’s name would be OUT THERE. And all her stories would still be safe and sound on our shelves, Dear Readers, in printed versions that cannot be diluted, smudged, disregarded or violated.

Kage always called this the Gypsy Horse Traders’ method of publication.

Cross your fingers, Dear Readers, and hope the horse is sold … and comes trotting back to its home stable in a night or two. That’s the way to sell something.

Dee’s Crystal
Dee’s Claude Glass
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January Gets Colder

Kage Baker loathed modern politics.

She was fond of several old monarchies (mostly Tudor and Windsor), and could recite king lists in half a dozen European and Middle eastern dynasties. (Don’t sneer; most Americans cannot list more than half a dozen Presidents in sequence by date.) Her emotional needs were just more satisfied by kings, queens and that sort. Elected officials struck her as – well, common.

When you consider the American Chief Executives, they have rarely been actual aristocrats; at least, not since the earliest days. Most of them have been rich – it takes an obscene amount of money to aspire to high office in this country. However, despite the pedigrees of Washington and Jefferson, Adams was a poor lawyer. Lincoln was only a little less poor. Even JFK, although a native American aristo and rolling in money, was not well know to the general public: not like a prince. And note, no Rockefeller or Rothschild has ever made it.

Americans are just as royalty-crazy as anyone else, but they prefer to bestow the accolade on their heroes personally. Kage was sure that was why there have been war heroes and actors galore elected as President. We call the dazzling lure “celebrity” here in the USA, but it amounts very nearly to the same thing. And Kage did not quite approve.

“At least,” she was wont to grumble, “in Britain, they breed bureaucrats on purpose. They have manners, and training, and stuff.”

But democracy was the way here in America, and Kage did her best to navigate her way through all the lies, bullshit and idiocy. She voted in every election in which she had standing, and did her research on the candidates and measures. She did not, however, graft her eyes and ears to the television reportage. She couldn’t stomach the debates and the posturing. She rarely even read the newspapers, relying instead on me ( her personal file clipper) and the info from the Voter’s Information from the California Secretary of State’s office.

I, on the other hand, am a low-level news junky. As I have gotten older, my attention to media coverage of political affairs has gotten more and more deliberate. At this point, I subscribe to 3 newspapers (LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post), watch the news most nights, and am unabashedly addicted to Rachel Maddow. I’ve not yet sunk to the depths of “Meet the Press” or “Deadline: White House”, but I fear it is only a matter of time. I already watch Chris Hayes most of the time …

This last year I have watched and read more than ever. The reasons should be fairly obvious. I was personally, viscerally horrified by January 6, 2021. I’ve watched in growing terror and disbelief over the last year, as those responsible – especially Donald Trump, the Prime Mover of Sedition – have doubled down and doubled down yet again in their insistent attack on democracy. It just keeps getting worse and worse.

Tomorrow, of course, is the one year mark since that ghastly morning at the Federal Capitol. I know there are people all over the country preparing to stand against a second attempt, but is it enough? Is it in the right place? Is it, God save us, already too late?

I don’t know, Dear Readers. And while I realize that, statistically, some of you must be on the other side of this issue than am I – I honestly don’t care very much. What I saw a year ago was American participation in a kind of politics I never thought to see in this country. I am disinclined to shrug it off, or accept it as free speech. It horrified and repulsed me. I’m afraid tonight. I’ll be afraid tomorrow, too, as I scan the news in hopes that no such another riot will rise to stain our history.

Sleep well tonight, Dear Readers. but not too heavily. I think I will never sleep well again, as long as this is not pursued, as long as those responsible go unpunished for their treason. Or maybe I will. Who knows? I am old and tired.

I don’t think so, though.

Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

Sir John Harington, Epigrams, Book iv, Epistle 5.

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January … 4th?

Kage Baker was a little leery of the first few days of any new year. She didn’t like to leap in with both feet and no caution; she felt the entire enormous span of the next year should be approached delicately. Even suspiciously.

When she learned of the Mayans’ tendency to assign a certain number of days at the turning of the year as a dead zone – to avoid activity and new enterprises while the annual clock got its act together for another ratchet – she felt that was really the most careful thing to do. Who knows what could happen? Maybe cosmic dragons would decide to come eat the Moon. Maybe the dark eye of the galactic center – where we now know the black hole Sagittarius A lurks, eating light and roughly midwifing stars – would open full and stare into our collective soul.

Maybe the Big One would hit. For Angelinos who lived through the quakes of 1971 and/or 1994, the mountains dancing are never far from our minds.

Anyway,she liked to take it quietly. For decades, of course, we had to return to school or work shortly after the New Year; Kage kept things low-key by returning in body only, wandering through the first week or so in a stated of somnambulism. When she retired to write full time, it was of course much easier – she just curled up in her armchair with her Christmas stocking full of sweeties, and watched movies.

I’ve got to admit, since I too retired and moved back to Los Angeles, I much prefer Kage’s way. Now is absolutely the time to eat leftover prime rib and ham; to munch steadily through the seasonal sweeties, and read your Christmas Book, and nap in the short, silver afternoons. It helps, of course, that this is the time of year when Los Angeles gets its coldest weather – it hits near to 32 at night and seldom gets above 55 in the day. There is frost on the lawn, on the cars, on the lights still hanging. One wakes up under cats, which is extremely warm and fuzzy, and spends the day wrapped in lap robes. I do, anyway.

I used to be fairly immune to cold weather – and yeah, I realize our dry California cold hardly compares to what the rest of you have to endure, but this is as cold as we get here in the Basin, and it’s bad. Kage literally spent her days in her sleeping bag, with lap robes and shawls layered on top, and a hoodie sweatshirt over her shirt. Harry slept in the hood, nestled in her hair.

Due to my habitual indolence at this time of year, I haven’t got a lot to say right now. I will observe that today is the birthday of such gently opposed people as James Ussher and Isaac Newton, Jacob Grimm and Max Eastman, Admiral George Tryon and Col. Tom Thumb, and a really unnecessary number of football and rugby players. Tomorrow is 12th Night, and we will change out the lights and green boughs in the house.

And in 2 days it will be a year since assorted goons, minions, fanatics and anarchists tried to overthrow the American government. I think I will try to snatch a little more peace and quiet before then, just in case things go all wahooni-shaped. Again. It’s nerve-wracking, wondering what will happen and what the rest of us will have to do about it …

In the meantime, please forgive my winter indolence. Stay warm, stay safe, stay careful.

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Christmas Day 2021

Kage Baker wasn’t always a successful writer. She wasn’t always the Well-known Name who could forget a $2,000 check on the dining room table for two months – which she actually did on a couple of occasions.

On the one hand, this was good. It kept her modest, she averred (wistfully before the money started coming in, smugly afterwards) and it kept her spending habits careful. However, her natural inclination was to spend her money free, and when her money it was all gone (to paraphrase a sea chantey), she would boldly go back to sea.*

On the other hand, that really was her natural inclination. When she upgraded from a weekly paycheck drone in the pink collar ghetto to a Real Writer with only 2 or 3 – but huge – paydays a year, she went kind of nuts for awhile. She didn’t really buy anything actually silly, except maybe a surfeit of Chinese food and a lot of British Naval memorabilia; but she had never really gotten the hang of what the balance of money in the checking account actually meant …

This was solved comfortably when Kage just tossed all our finances to me. She kept a list of things she wanted – books, music, collectibles, furniture – and every couple of weeks she’d simply inquire how much she could spend on them. I’d tell her, and she would stick to the budget I set. I paid the bills and the rent and got groceries with my weekly paycheck – Kage got to make extravagant purchases without going totally feral, and enlivened our pantry no end with adventurous comestibles. We’d both grown up poor; sticking to a budget was easy enough, once we figured out which one of us was better at it.

But she was adamant that holidays should be celebrated with as much pomp and conspicuous consumption as possible. They had to be special. We learned how to take disasters in stride, and to improvise feasts out of anything. She was an artist at improvising feasts – not just what was to be eaten and drunk, but the way they were consumed. Kage could give two peanut butter sandwiches and a can of off-market cola a sense of occasion. One of the things she introduced into our routines was Universal Toasting – whatever we had, we’d clink bits together in a toast to our great good fortune. We clinked champagne glasses and breaded oysters; halved day-old doughnuts; prime rib on decorous forks and charred bangers in greasy fingers. It always seemed to work. I recommend it.

Yestreday, we had our traditional holiday plumbing catastrophe when the dish washer refused to drain. At least, it refused to drain down the drain, although it was enthusiastic about draining out the front and out over the kitchen floor. Michael, who is exceptionally handy, set to on the ask of repairing it … but one problem led to another, and another and another … until he found that the back wall of the washer had been gnawed open, the drain pipe chewed freaking off, all the wires he could see chewed in half, and the front of the machine was stuffed full of dried grass, presumably imported by whatever had done all the chewing and gnawing. How it had been working at all was a deep mystery, and Michael considered we were lucky not to have burned the house down. The entire thing was declared dead until we can get a plumber in.

Then, this afternoon, Kimberly and Michael began the happy tasks attendant upon Christmas Day dinner. They were bustling about in the kitchen, when suddenly a silence fell. Michael came striding solemnly into the living room with the prime rib in his hands. He offered it to me and asked what I thought of it. I took a sniff and it was appallingly clear that our Christmas roast had turned to the Dark Side. Despite being purchased only 2 days before, with its sell-by date two days in the future, it freaking reeked.

No prime rib for us. Kimberly and Michael dashed out to the store to find any sort of roast as all. No luck, our part of Los Angeles was suddenly beef-free. They came home, and we sat for a little bit staring all disconsolate at one another. Then I got to work on my computer, searching local restaurants. Against all odds and popular legends, none of our local Chinese restaurants was open. We ended up ordering from Domino’s. Better a crust of pizza where love is, you know, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. Proverbs 15:17 KJV: We were content.

An hour later, the phone at Domino’s was a recording stating they were closed, and the online site showed our order had been in preparation for an hour and 9 minutes. No cheesy bread for us … there was a bit more screaming this time, mostly from me; but then Kimberly suggested Jack In The Box! Our family’s favourite junk food emporium! (Except for when 7-11 has those weird hot dog shaped hamburgers.) We quickly worked out an appalling and delicious order, and Kimberly and I made our halting way down the driveway and to our car.

AND JUST THEN … the Domino’s car with the blazing icon on its roof came rushing up to our house and screeched to a halt. A very flustered young man came running up with a pile of boxes, pushed them into Kimberly’s arms, begged her to call tomorrow and yell at his absent boss about the stupid automatic system that closed down the phones and locked customers out of the order system, and then vanished into the night like – I don’t know, an overworked elf.

I said it was a Christmas miracle. Michael said it was the craziest Christmas Night ever. Kimberly sensibly sent the food indoors with Michael and helped me back in while making sure I did not fall off the porch and down into the wet leaves in the flower bed.

So now we are sitting here, happy together in the warmth, comfortable eating pizza and pasta in Alfredo sauce. We are watching The Hogfather, laughing immoderately. The cats are stoned on socks full of catnip, and are another fine show on the floor. We have sweeties galore, the lights are lit, the fire is warm and it’s Christmas! We’re together and it’s Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of you, or a Happy Hogswatch, or whatever celebration of eternal light you favour.

We’re together. And it’s Christmas.

*Adieu, Sweet Darling Nancy

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Christmas Eve, 2021

Kage Baker loved Christmas Eve. All the last minute fooferah and deco, the stockings, the last presents trotted out to tantalize for a few hours … as often as possible, a fire lit and candles everywhere; no electricity, except what was necessary to light the tree.

Due to the exigencies of still having two separate households to visit on Christmas Day, we always had our formal holiday dinner on Christmas eve. So the household was also replete with the perfumes of roasting beef, baking Yorkshire pudding, boiling plum pudding – which were then digested in happy comas until midnight, when we would exchange presents. We’d ooh and ahh and giggle over whatever we’d bought one another, and then stagger off to bed for a few hours sleep before it was time to go wake up our sisters’ households.

There are few things I love more about Christmas than the memories of lounging around before our living room fire, nibbling plum pudding in the blinking coloured light from the Christmas tree. Or getting up at 3AM, in order to drive through the paling night so we could get to our families’ houses by dawn – the idea being, the crazy aunties would wake up the kids still abed, the little sluggards, and ring chaos in with the holiday morning.

I still can’t sleep late on Christmas morning. These days, though, I wake up, register that The Day has indeed come, pray my thanks and roll over and go back to sleep for a few hours. All the holiday lights will still be blinking softly, their tiny chimes sounding in the silent house, because we leave them on all night on Christmas Eve – you must leave lights burning, you see, so the sun knows to come back. Otherwise, all you get on Christmas Day is a big ball of burning gas in the sky, when what you need is the newborn spirit of Light spilling over the curve of the world …

It’s been a rough year and a rotten day here at my house. Better than last year, by a very great deal – but still hard, and most of that unexpected. We have avoided the plagues rampaging all around. But no one feels well anyway; my continuing slow return to good health has been slowed to a crawl the last few weeks and I am afraid my present-wrapping will be sparse indeed. My family must be content with the fact that we have presents at all – and they are, and we all will be, because everyone is exhausted and ill and so we are taking considerable comfort in what we have that so many other people do not.

It can be hard some years to avoid the black tide of depression at Christmas. But it’s gotten no higher than my knees this year, and I know I can keep my head above the waters until daylight now.

We have a warm house and we are all together, Kimberly, Michael and I. No-one can find the stockings, but we have sweeties to put in whatever surrogates Kimberly comes up with to use. There is a prime rib in the refrigerator, a new splendid pan for Yorkshire pudding, all manner of trimmings and garnishes for the feast; there will be pie. We are damned lucky and we know it. We may be worn out and on our last nerves, but we are at home together.

I wish you all a warm Christmas Day with someone you really love, Dear Readers; maybe something nice to eat, or at least a candy cane or two. May you only get socks if you want them. May the Light of the new day fill your hearts and homes.

Happy Christmas!

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Christmas Eve Eve

Kage Baker was not a fluffy sort of person. She was a romantic, in a stern way, and a traditionalist; but the addition of ribbons and bells and cute animals to a holiday never delighted her much. Unless it was a holiday about ribbons and bells and cute animals – which usually restricted the field to the Blessing of the Animals. and Easter for the very young. Then, it was alright. For other people.

But not so much for Kage. The closest she ever got to warm fuzzies was a spastic wind-up bunny with inexplicable red eyes, whom she named General Woundwort.*She loved him dearly.

But her preference for dignity over cuteness was why she despised my habit of referring to Christmas Eve Eve. She thought I was indulging in sticky fairy tale cutity. What I was really doing was stretching out the holiday anticipation by an extra day.Which is my story, and I’m sticking to it … plus, I always start losing track of the days when we get this deep into December. I spent all this morning, for instance, thinking it was December 24th, and having pointless panic attacks every time I remembered I hadn’t wrapped any presents yet.

My family has been very patient about correcting me each time I frantically start up, asking if we have enough paper, or creamed spinach, or time to bake the fruitcake. How long will the prime rib need to roast? We need to reset the outside lights timer so they burn all night long! Where are our stockings?

I’ve had worse Christmas Eves, though.

Kage’s last Christmas Eve Eve, she developed a ghastly headache. By Christmas Eve, she was nearly blind from the pain; then I got a bellyache, and started throwing up uncontrollably. We ended up on the bathroom floor, planning how on earth we were going to get to the phone to dial 911 – which we obviously needed. We crawled into the living room like two drunken crabs, leaning on one another and giggling madly.

Several hours, one MRI and a slew of lab tests later, our giggling stopped. I turned out to just have some monster gastroenteritis. Kage, though … her cancer had returned as a brain tumour, and she needed surgery ASAP. Though even that was not expected to help much. We sat there in the ER, staring at one another. Kage said, “Happy fucking Christmas, huh?”

And then we started laughing hysterically again.

But I am comfortable enough with all this now to wish all of you, Dear Readers, a Merry Christmas Eve Eve. Doubtless, many of you are also occasionally confused by the rush to the holiday, and now you have a greeting for that day when you can’t find your stocking stuffers because you put them in a safe place a month ago. Or remember exactly what the heck Auntie Lisle put in her dressing, or which cousin cannot abide nuts in fudge, or how to shut up your brother-in-law before he triggers anyone else at the dinner table with screwball politics.

Christmas Day, for all the rush and the deadlines, and the madness of feeding festive foods to 27 people in a house with 18 chairs – is nonetheless inevitable: we’ve made the it to The Day, and it will all unfold automatically. It may be insane, but it’s self-propelled. But Christmas Eve is fraught with anxieties and last-minute hysteria. So Christmas Eve Eve deserves a special salutation and attention, because it gives us that extra day to accomplish, complete – and yes, lose our minds just a little more.

Kage and I always ended up laughing hysterically at some point while getting ready, even in years where nothing went famously wrong, like a brain tumour (or the toilet bowl being shattered by a falling conch shell: a different tale altogether.) And Kimberly and I traditionally have laughing fits while trying to coordinate everything that has to somehow be ushered in and out of a single oven. Ah, demented laughter in the oxygen-and-sugar rich air of a hot kitchen! There’s nothing like it. Insanity can be fun, when shared with the proper people.

Tomorrow, things get real. Merry Christmas Eve Eve, Dear Readers.

  • the rabbit villain from Watership Down.

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December 1st

Kage Baker was of the school of Christmas decorations that held: you should wait until December to decorate. So am I, so is my family.

I notice that the custom is growing, to begin Christmas lights, at least, as early as Thanksgiving. That’s fine if you want to do it, especially if it is a family tradition. But it’s not what Kage liked. We had a specific and strict schedule: lights go up on the 1st, tree goes up on the 15th, tree comes down on New Year’s Day, lights come down on 12th Night (which is January 6th.)

We pretty much follow that schedule here, now, at my family’s house. However, instead of taking down the outside lights, they stay up and are altered to suit the season. Thus, today, we have taken down the orange and yellow lights, and are adding blue ones to the white lights on the front porch. On the iron fence around the front yard, coloured lights are strung all around our perimeter. There is amazingly little bulb theft. It must be the spirit of the season.

The garland that always hangs over the arch into the dining room changes now, too. It has been autumn leaves and tiny orange lights, which makes the entire living room look like the famous Amber Room in the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg. Of course, the original walls panels, crafted from Baltic amber, were looted in WWII, and have since been replaced with new ones – but no one knows where the originals got to, as they have never been found. Personally, I think they are decorating some high-ranking Facilitator’s digs in the European Company base … but the faux effect in our living room is still gorgeous during autumn.

Now it will change to a fir garland, with white lights. And under that, a string of lovely pointy Edison lights, with visible filaments like bottled lightning.We have recently added a beautiful white porcelain stag’s head over the mantle, and he will get a wreath around his neck – holly leaves and berries, and white faerie lights. The.mantle will also be decked, with greenery and candle lights; and, yes, we will unashamedly hang stockings! Kage and I always did, even in years when we had to hang them on door knobs.

This year, though, we are planning on a major change to our tree ritual. We ordinarily have a lovely artificial tree, because Kimberly and I object to cutting down living trees, and because my late brother-in-law was allergic to most resins and pollens. This year, a new resident has made us change our technique. The addition to our household of a black Maine Coon, who is now – although at 10 months he is technically still a kitten, and will continue growing for a couple of years – is currently more than 3 feet long, weighs 15 pounds and is demonstrably capable of limited flight.

Therefore, this year, we are putting up a tree of only lights, in the front bay window. Green lights for the outline, coloured lights for decorations, and a snowflake at the top. Edward will still be fascinated and poke his black velvet paws and nose everywhere, but it will prevent his scaling the usual 7-foot tree. If he behaves well, we may try a tiny real tree on a table to one side. After all, as Kimberly observed optimistically, there are only so many times Edward is willing to get shot with a squirt gun … Whatever we do, it will be lovely. And madly amusing.

And today, Dear Readers, I actually went shopping! Only one stop, and Michael had to push me in my chair (a festive and seasonal red), and I collapsed into an immediate nap once we got home – but I did it! I managed! Wore my mask just as I ought, and had a lovely time. It’s hard to get presents for your chauffeur when he is actively pushing you, but I’ve done most of the big items by mail order already. Trips to places like Cost Plus are for sweeties, and goodies like enormous tins of ginger snaps. And, of course, for weird candies.

Kage would approve of all of this, I fervently believe. She adored shopping, and she and I always made an enormous deal out of Christmas shopping trips. I did most of the lighting effects – ladders do not faze me – but she designed ours for the most part; which meant that, no matter how small our dwellings were, they dripped lights and gave off illumination that drew fascinated wild animals to come investigate. If the Witch had had coloured lights, she wouldn’t have needed a Gingerbread Candy house to lure Hansel and Gretel – they’d have come to the light display like little moths in clogs and caps.

I hope our beloved dead come to the lights, as well. Christmas is a time for ghosties, according to the Britanno-Celtic heritage we shared. And as the years go by, I am more and more willing to peer out of our jewel-blazing windows and try to catch sight of Kage’s bright hair and black, sparkling eyes.

Here is the bonfire, burning as always with all the colours of the heavens. Come and be warmed, come and be remembered.

The lights will blaze all night.

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The Earthquake Hour

Kage Baker used to say she wanted to go “all of a piece”, like Oliver Wendell Holmes’ Wonderful One-Hoss Shay.

If you, Dear Readers, are unfamiliar with the famed 19th century American jurist and poet Holmes. it would do you all good to get to know him. Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia Britannica or any poetry anthology worth its ampersand will give you information on him. His career on the Supreme Court is especially interesting; he remains one of the few Supreme Court Judges known for his scholarship. As a poet, he displays a rather dated voice, often hilariously so by modern standards. But he is a decidedly American poet, sometimes excruciatingly folksy but also heroic and emotional in a manly way. Kage liked him.

(When we went aboard the U.S.S. Constitution on a trip to Boston, Kage stood on the deck and recited Holmes’ Old Ironsides. The crew was unperturbed; they are are used to it. In fact, though there was no tour then scheduled, they invited her below decks for one anyway.)

The point here is that the carriage in the title doesn’t wear out: it is logically designed so that no one part is any stronger than another – so it continues on and on, not subject to decay because it all ages at the same rate, and thus no part can fail.

This struck Kage as a good way to age, personally. Her goal was to have all major bodily systems quit at the same moment, allowing her to fall gracefully dead or at least into a pile of dust. That, you see, was the eventual fate of the Wonderful Shay – at precisely 100 years to the day from its completion, it gave a dreadful lurch and was reduced to a pile of shavings and splinters.

This was also the day and moment, historically, of the Great Lisbon Earthquake in Portugal. This is an event rarely remembered to day, except in Portugal, and associated islands like Majorca and the Azores – this despite the fact that it was a humdinger of a 7.7 complete with fires, gaping fissures and a tsunami. But it was recent history for Holmes, and a disaster of such astonishing magnitude that he considered it appropriate as a death-knell for the Wonderful Shay.

Anyway, that was what Kage wanted to do when she died. I wished it had been that way, too, instead of the relentless months-long deterioration of her last months. Though she bore it with astounding courage and cheerfulness, it was hard. But that last day, at least, it did happen almost as she wanted. She fell peacefully asleep in the literal arms of her family, in her own bed, with the sound of the sea in her ears. By the time her poor tired body stopped, she was long gone into the West, and there was nothing else for her to do. It was as close to a quiet crumbling as she could manage.

I, too,wish to go like the One-Hoss Shay – and for decades, as I bounced evidently unharmed from disaster to disaster, it seemed that I might succeed. I healed with inhuman speed; I either recovered from diseases with insouciant ease, or never caught at all plagues that felled everyone around me. I entered my 60’s confident, content, and probably fairly arrogant.

Well. I fell from grace and health with a speed and thoroughness more suited to some classical Greek king bad-mouthing the gods. Whole systems failed en masse, or in chorus-line sequence; things went wrong I had never even heard of in a lifetime of care-giving at other peoples’ beds. I did not know, for instance, that you could break two valves at once in your heart; or that a hole could then be torn in your heart by the valves acting up like pistons in a cartoon. I never knew that after heart surgery, it was common to have all your hair fall out. (That alone made me almost reconsider the benefits of surviving, for a little while.) I had somehow never learned that going on a ventilator was considered a permanent disability – but when I woke up 3 weeks after heart surgery, I was not expected to walk, talk or breathe on my own again. I was expected to stay in a nursing facility, like a good little turnip …

Wonderful Shays are not consigned to the back of the stable and left to rot. I was having none of it, and with my family’s support, and by being both stubborn and a really bad patient, I made it home. Since then. I have been working at returning to something approaching normalcy. It’s been ridiculously hard, Dear Readers, which is why these blogs have become few and far between. It’s like climbing a cinder-cone: climb 13 inches and slide back 12. Days go by with small but definite improvements – then some minor thing exhausts me or trips me up, and I sleep for days. I want to be part of my household again, but all too often I am merely a piece of furniture.

I am neither drivable, nor a pile of dust. It’s freaking depressing.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bad patch – fell down 3 times in as many days, one of of them a nose-first bash into the living room floor. Not only did I scare my poor sister, I bruised most of myself, and then wrenched the rest by the contortions required to get me upright again. It’s still difficult to type, after scrunching my hands.

Then today, I encountered a new problem. While dining on leftover Chinese food – s one does; the only thing better is leftover pizza – I realized that my mouthful of barbecued pork was simply not going down. I had chewed it thoroughly, swallowed it properly, I had not inhaled it: but apparently my throat is now narrower by some tiny but crucial amount, undoubtedly due to unsuspected scar tissue. It was bizarre, surreal – I couldn’t talk or make a sound, had (somehow) nothing to throw to get attention … and it was suddenly getting harder to breathe …

So I Heimliched myself. I had no idea if it would work, but no one had ever told me it wouldn’t, which is always enough for me … I clenched my fists together and punched myself as hard as I could just below my sternum. That moved things enough for me to croak “Help!”, and then explosively vomit everything I’d eaten that morning. I hadn’t eaten much, but I couldn’t stop. It was disgusting and messy, but it worked! I could breathe again!

I fear I scared my family half to death, but it worked! Within 20 minutes, I was pretty much fine – clean, in fresh clothes, breathing easily. Shaking like an aspen and really wobbly, but it was a vast improvement. Kimberly made me some lentil soup when I was up to it, which was warm and wonderful – one is always so hungry after throwing up, once one finally stops.

Anyway, Dear Readers, I Heimliched myself successfully. I am inordinately proud of this. I am also exhausted and vow to eat soft food slowly for the next several days. And it was really good Chinese food, too … sigh. Kimberly observed what an interesting blog post this would make; what occurred to me was how Kage would have yelled at me for the entire silly incident.

But, you know, I just have to resign myself that the elegant fate of the One-Hoss Shay is not to be mine. Probably I won’t even manage Kage’s dignified departure. I am just more the pratfall type, the person who stands under the falling safe, steps on the banana peel, is mistaken for fresh salmon by a hungry bear … decapitated by a nutjob with a thrift-shop katana. Badly. Kage was the One-Hoss Shay, but I am the unfortunate city of Lisbon.

It’s going to take an earthquake hour to make my end. And in consideration of the last two years, I think that is how I really want it.

*https://www.gutenberg.org/files/45280/45280-h/45280-h.htm

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T’is A Season

Kage Baker had a tremendous emotional dependence on the steady progression of the seasons. She wasn’t afraid of their not progressing -she liked the beat, man; she heard, and loved, the heartbeats of the year. Don’t roll your eyes and say white women don’t hear the beat; she’d roll her eyes right back (and, oh, could she roll her eyes!) and tell you that a white woman certainly could hear the beat; she just heard a different beat.

But she heard it all the time.

Some it it, I am sure, was a sensitivity to rhythm that was unique to Kage herself. A sort of internal metronome; an instrument, incidentally, that fascinated Kage. I offered frequently to get her one, just for amusement’s sake. But she demurred, saying she didn’t want anyone to know that she could be entertained by just sitting around listening to a metronome tick. I thought she could use it as a meditation aid, but she said, No, that’s what the Who turned up loud was for …

The rest of her hearing the annular beat was just – listening. Listening with extreme sensitivity to vibration, as many animals do; developing an intensely delicate aural palette, that could hear the grass growing and tell the difference between the fall of mist and the fall of star dust. About 14 tons of stardust falls to Earth every day, you know; that’s a freaking lot more dust that falls than water, here in Southern California. Maybe the difference helped.

Kage claimed she could hear the music of the spheres, and loved our years in the oak forests and in Pismo Beach – the emptiness of where we lived allowed any noise to translate into the subtle ringing of crystal spheres and glass gears. For Kage, these were sounds most prevalent on windy spring and breathless hot summer nights. But they were background noise to all the seasonal sounds – for Kage, waves of chilled or heated air sweeping over us from the deserts and the seas, the constant straining and sighing of plants, even the sounds of particular animals prowling at night.

Living in the empty places exposes you to an amazing lot of feral noise …

Vixens are both paranoid and opportunistic; they will hide their babies from you until one evening you hear a yipping at the front door, and open it to find a tired mamma fox and three kits half her size inquiring after possible leftovers? Deer will come 24/7; you learn when the soughing noise is the wind, and when it is a doe eating your cotton and linen clothes off the line. And it gets exciting when something hits the side your house or trailer in the middle of the night, and you need to wait until daylight to find out if it’s a bear or a stag. And even if is a stag, it is not very calming, because it left hoof prints the size of dinner platters, and Kage keeps reciting the story of the Ceryneian hind sotto voce (it had golden antlers and breathed fire and was twice the size of non-inflammatory deer). Badgers, though, are nearly perfect neighbors: quiet, handsome, uninterested in the garbage.

Here on the edges of the LA River and Griffith Park, I have learned how much amazing bird noise persists in such an urban setting. I can tell the difference between a crow and a raven; crows seldom sound like parrots or thumb pianos, and ravens do. Hawks are good at marking out the seasons – in spring they shriek their desire from high in the air, and scream while they plummet together in ecstasy; in fall, the year’s fledglings sit amid the thinning leaves and cry for their moms to come feed them. (Which they seldom do.) Mockingbirds sing all summer and all night, so if you hear a song sparrow or a finch or Jethro Tull at midnight, it’s probably a mockingbird. Peacocks sound like cats being murdered, and mark summer. Geese not only trumpet, their wings beat strongly enough to hear them in the cold autumn air.

In fall, rain and leaves fall. You learn to tell if the whispering patter is falling leaves or rain across the porch. After years of sleeping at Faires in buildings held together with duct tape and dried beer, I have become ridiculously anxious about both sounds, and now have to get up and pace through the house to make sure everyone is under a roof and the roof isn’t leaking. And if you’re sleepy enough, you can get awfully confused as to what season it really is – while mostly what it does in LA is not rain, what it alternately does is rain whenever the hell it feels like it.

Kage tried to keep time with all of it. While this sometimes necessitated changing in mid-stride from a burgomasque to a pavane, that didn’t faze her. She could dance to the counter-beat if it struck her. She was a genius at harmony. But you could see the physical delight in her steps and movements when she fit them, half-unconsciously, to the beat of a woodpecker or a blacksmith’s hammer, dancers’ bells, or a drum, or a thousand hands thundering in applause.

Now it’s nearly winter. The mornings are cold and silent, except for the distant chorus of the geese, which tempts me to leap out of my warm bed go haring off after them down the frosted street. (I would fall over, turn blue and ascend to fly with the geese within half a block … but one does remember one’s youth at times like that.) The stars have begun to sing; the owls have begun to chant. And now the faint sweet chiming of the holiday lights has begun.

Have you never noticed that, Dear Readers? As the strings of lights go on and off, each small bulb gives a tiny, delicate ting! as it switches back and forth. You must lie very still to hear it – but if you do, then all the blinking lights on the tree, the mantel, around the windows and railings of the porch give a constant song as soft and clear as a baby’s breathing. All night; all winter.

It is the sleeping heartbeat of the world, transmitted through the coloured fire we light to mark the winter darkness. Listen for it this season, Dear Readers. The planets and the sweet darkness between them all sing to us, assuring us of rest and quiet sleep.

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