Another Symptom Heard From

Kage Baker had a heart murmur. An innocent heart murmur: a distinction that means it did not affect the functioning of her heart. It merely unnerved physicians who were examining her for the first time. She got very nonchalant about disabusing them of the notion that she was about to have a heart attack.

We figured she must have had rheumatic fever as a child. There was a year or so around age 6 when she caught everything that produced a rash, a fever and/or a sore throat. We figured that was when rheumatic fever snuck in. It was probably the cause of her arthritis that began at the tender age of 8, as well.

But she didn’t have a bad heart!

I, on the other hand, do. And for the last 2 days, I have been experiencing the old-fashioned sounding symptom of palpitations. It sounds like I need smelling salts, and should be languishing on an S-shaped divan, fluttering. a lacey lawn handkerchief. What it actually means is that I get a feeling like wings beating in my chest, followed by a hollow sucking sensation that drains all the air from my lungs. My heart is skipping beats – then stumbling forward in a cartoonish fashion in an attempt to catch up to itself.

It is very tiring.

Consequently, Dear Readers, I’m not up to much tonight. I will answer all your lovely comments and notes, though, tomorrow.

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Oh, My Breaking Heart

Kage Baker resented illness taking her time away, time she could have spent writing. She did indeed write through most illnesses, arming herself with ginger ale and tissues and lap robes and cups of hot soup by her computer. How she never spilled something and shorted out both her computer and herself, I never knew. I suspect sheer will power, refusing to accede to an annoying reality.

Even in her last year, her mortal illness didn’t completely stop her. When she was too tired to sit at her desk, I made her a nest in her arm chair and she worked on her Buke, swaddled in blankets. When she had to take to her bed, we discussed her work; she dictated to me, even as late as a the afternoon of the day she died. I don’t think she actually had an off-switch. Death took her in an inadvertent pause.

I have been unable to resume my own work on a regular basis – this blog and the writing –  because I have been ill, and am not as determined as Kage was. Sorry, Dear Readers. I caught the flu, just a version not covered my super-duper geriatric flue vaccine – it’s a crap shoot, and my vaccine came up snake eyes. And then, there is my heart.

Happily, I have found out I do not have congestive heart failure. Annoyingly, though, I have advanced cardiac valve disease. I must sleep sitting up, am constantly exhausted, and cannot walk more than 20 feet before I am panting like an overheated hound dog. It cramps my style to be essentially chair-bound, and to spend half my day trying vainly to catch my breath while hallucinatory black polka dots sleet over my vision.

Also, I have become indecently mesmerized by the dubious progress of Trump’s impeachment trial. I spend a lot of my day online, reading various newspapers and following news sites; but I’ve managed to restrict my television consumption to Rachel Maddow (for information) and Stephen Colbert (for life-saving hilarity and pungent satire).

Lately, I have also been working my way through various books on the Trump Presidency. Even sticking to books by actual staff members and reporters, the amount of bullshit far exceeds the FDA guidelines for such more-wholesome inclusions as rat droppings and cockroach legs. However, that’s not due to hysteria or confabulation by steady people like Bob Woodward, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig – it’s the nature of the topic which, even when reported professionally, is eyebrow deep in slime and melodrama.

But it takes some time to wade through all this. On the other hand, I have not spent so much research on current events since I was in high school and my civics grade hung precariously from the cliff-edge of forced participation. Sister Philomena and Mrs. Smith would be astounded. As I recall, I learned a lot more about the history of Gondor (from behind the camouflage of the Student Outlook) than the United States, when those noble ladies were trying to make an informed citizen out of me.

And hey! Does anyone besides me even remember the Student Outlook? It was a slick, ice white half-sheet newsletter, distributed weekly to 8th, 9th, and 10th  graders in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Nor am I referring to any racial politics here: the thing was printed on shiny, slippery white paper that smelled of licorice and bananas from the weird ink they used. However, it was providentially big enough to hide the Ballantine  paperbacks of LOTR with which I improved each shining hour in those days …

When I’m not reading late into the night, I am online compulsively researching valve disease and cardiac surgery. As of this morning, my series of rudely intrusive tests have shown that my mitral valve has essentially turned to stone: so much so, in fact, that the first level of cardiac surgery is inadequate for my wretched heart. My doctor has dismissed the idea of a valvuplasty, that famous balloon-in-a-catheter trick wherein teeny little cameras and a very detail-oriented surgeon can inflate a balloon in the offending valve, and stretch the bugger back into usefulness. My mitral valve has passed beyond that, it appears, and will probably have to be replaced.

There is a minimally invasive surgery that gets at the heart through a couple of little holes (more teeny cameras, and scalpels on sticks) or between the ribs. However, I am not only a fat old lady, I am a fat old lady who still has the remains of heroically big tits. It’ll be up to my surgeon, of course, to decide just how to access my heart, but I am pretty certain it’s the classic Aztec version for me. I am quite resigned to waking up with an extra 8-inch incision bisecting my chest – the technique requires splitting my breastbone and using a mini version of the Jaws of Life to spread my ribs like the space jockey in the original Alien.

There are YouTube videos of this fascinating procedure. I do not recommend anyone watch them. Not everyone shares my interest in how to take apart the human body.

Complaining alone should keep me at this, now that I know what will happen.  I am trying to keep some vestige of normal life going while I wait to  be escorted up to the top of the ancient pyramid. And I tell you, Dear Readers, I want some of those fancy feather headdresses and nifty obsidian blades – if I am gonna have my heart disconnected, I want all the premium props.




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By The Rocket’s Red Glare

Kage Baker held to John Lennon’s wisdom – well, not in much, but definitely this: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

And she was always shaking her head at me, as I trailed home with thistles and rose petals stuck to my clothes; with no idea how the knotted clothesline soaked in vanilla milk shake ended up on the dashboard of the car; mysteriously tattooed (even though it turned out to be a press-on) … she’d shake her head at me in despair, and say, “I can’t take my eyes off you for five minutes!”

It was usually a fair cop. And life runs in huge, awkward, unexpected circles …

So, today I went into hospital for a couple of echo cardiograms. Despite my fears, I was blessed with a sympathetic set of nurses, a deft and modern anesthesiologist, and a miraculously smooth journey through the cardiac labs and ICU. All tests are done, and I have a clear diagnosis: calcification of the mitral valve. I am now beginning the planning for heart surgery, and I really don’t mind – I have a diagnosis,  a plan, and a good expectation of restored health and stamina.

Imagine my surprise, then, at coming home, sitting down, and spending the next several hours watching Iran and the United States begin a shooting war.

Kage wouldn’t be surprised. Horrified, yes, but not surprised. We both watched CNN being born by the light of tracer bullets over Bagdad. The wise men at that nativity were on their knees, all right,  peeking over window sills in  besieged hotels, narrating a monstrous conflict.

For all the good it did. We’re still crouching in the dark, on someone else’s territory, trying to find a reason for whatever the hell is going on. Only this time, the insane thug with a god-king complex is the POTUS.

Still, Dear Readers, I myself feel I have gotten good news. My problem has a name and a solution. Brighter times may lie ahead of me. Spring will bring the breeding birds; Summer will bring roses. Autumn will bring the ripened corn, and come next Winter – I will dance one more time at Dickens, and sing with the Hallelujah Chorus.

If  we all live that long, anyway.




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Old Christmas Is Past, 12th Night Is The Last

Kage Baker loved the celebration of Twelfth Night. It put a proper end on the Christmas Season, rather than the  abrupt murder of all decorations and good cheer that takes place in most American homes the very day after Christmas.  There are homes where part of the Christmas Day festivities is denuding the tree. On my block here in Los Angeles, two houses have already put their trees out on the curb. What a horrible letdown!

Tonight is Twelfth Night, Dear Readers – the last of the 12 days of Christmas. Armenian and other Orthodox Christian friends are celebrating Christmas; a lot of Latin countries and neighborhoods just celebrated the Three Kings arrival at the manger yestreday. In my house, all our lights and deco are still up; we’ve eaten most of the leftovers, and I just polished off the fruit cake.

Kage knew a song for every holiday; including this one, of course. Some of the holidays no longer exist; others are antiques, celebrated by the few who always ready to lift a glass. The Renaissance Faire contributed a lot of them, as well as to a lot of them – once you get actors and musos well lubricated, they’ll start ad libbing on all the songs we all learned off the same few albums by Steeleye Span, Pentangle, Fairport Convention …

First we all learned the same songs. Then we began to riff on them. And then we began to write our own. Those of us who had no composition skills just memorized everything we heard, and sang it all back through the mutating force of differing harmonies.

Some of them were from the Anvil of the World universe, and others were from the Middle Ages, Tudor England, the industrial revolution – those Luddite hymns had some snappy tunes, you know? Some were out of stories, and some from histories. And some of those (songs, stories and histories) Kage wrote herself.

Kage was an alto and I am a soprano. We could sing anything in parts, sometimes in harmonies so close that other singers couldn’t find their way into the mix. (Sorry, Athene – we were annoying!) Everyone we knew could sing, or fiddle, or play a trombone (lots of weird brass out under the oaks in the Old Days), a creuth or a serpent or a shawm, or at least keep time with the bones or a tambourine. We used to spend the late afternoons under the trees in the Innyard, dozens of folks with instruments and mugs and bottles, singing their hearts out as the light turned golden and timeless.

I’m especially happy about 12th Night this year, because tomorrow I go into the hospital for a couple of cardiac tests. One is nothing much; the other is a  transesophageal echocardiogram, and it worries me quite a lot. I shall probably come through it scathless, but the very idea is upsetting me. So the jollies of tonight are particularly welcome, even if it’s only the happy consumption of fruit cake and chocolate coins. Bear me in your mind, Dear Readers, if it’s not too much trouble – I have to get up before the sun even rises!

I’ll just lean into the memories of those endless afternoons under the oak trees, taking comfort from the voices rising up all around me. I was a pane of coloured glass in a cathedral window in those afternoons; we all were, held in place with the silver of violins, the polished wood of shawms, the weight of beloved shoulders against mine as we sang the sun down into the West …

I suspect we are still sitting there. Certainly, I can hear us in my mind.



TWELFTH NIGHT CAROL  (which we sang to our queen, rather than the traditional king)

Joy, health, love, and peace be all here in this place
By your leave, we will sing concerning our Queen

Our Queen is well dressed, in the silks of the best
In ribbons so rare, no Queen can compare

We have travelled many miles, over hedges and stiles
In search of our Queen, unto you we bring

We have powder and shot to conquer the lot
we have cannon and ball to conquer them all

Old Christmas is past, twelve tide is the last
And we bid you adieu, great joy to the new





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Well, Happy Freaking New Year

Kage Baker had no especial personal attachment to the calendrical New Year. As she pointed out, it was completely arbitrary anyway: the month was stolen from the Roman god Janus; the various American celebrations were an accrual of various social customs over the last 1,000 years, mostly in Europe. Some of them were invented by bartenders and camera crews.

In addition, the change from the Gregorian to the Julian calendar in 1582 cost us a couple of weeks when Pope Gregory sprang that one on Europe. It supposedly made it easier to calculate the solstices and equinoxes, but now – 5oo-0dd years later – almost no one remembers what the solstices and equinoxes even are, let alone what to do about them.

Also, one must never underrate the power of Hallmark Cards. Nor, as Kage used to warn hoarsely, glancing over her shoulder, “the all-powerful funny hat and glitter lobby”. That always cracked me up. I’m not sure why it seemed so funny, but, we ran fevers a lot in January …

We had holiday meals and rituals, of course. Our household ran on the power of ritual activity, among other odd alternative energies. But Kage personally celebrated several New Years over the course of a calendar 12 months, ranging from Samhain to her own birthday to the opening date of the Hollywood Bowl. Anything that had personal resonance and could be enhanced with toasts, candles and a feast. If you actually sit down and think about it, the year becomes studded with marvellous markers and turning points. Most years, Kage was celebrating several years at once.

Just for fun – and so you too, Dear Readers, can cherry pick among calendars to find the holidays you like the best – a brief comparative table is included at the end of this blog. They’re a fun way to start, and you can always add things from other calendars as you prefer – Middle Earth, for example, things from dwarfs or elves or hobbits. Shakespeare is a gold mine. Various literary calendars exist, as well, and can be plundered to great effect.

So happy New Year to you all, Dear Readers. I do hope you had a good one. I myself enjoyed the holiday, staying up on the Eve to watch the Ball drop in Times Square. Then I spent a classically quiet New Year’s Day with my family, eating ham and Christmas candy  while watching the Rose Parade and the Twilight Zone marathon.

Today, I went to see my cardiologist, as part of striving mightily for a year in which I can accomplish more – like, walking more than 20 feet. Or breathing consistently. I can’t do either of those things right now, and it’s astonishing how little one can do while panting. I had an idea that it might be an unavoidable side effect of congestive heart failure, and I was extremely depressed by that. I can’t even exercise anymore; a walk around the block would take all the daylight hours there are this time of year.

But a new test – a detailed ultrasound – revealed a new and amazing thing: I don’t have congestive heart failure. For the last 13 years, I have been told that  I do – I have had heart attacks attributed to the condition, and have tried several medicines designed to make my heart beat more quickly, more slowly or stronger. But that’s not the baseline problem. My heart is 66 years old, slightly damaged, and very tired. But what I have is valve disease!

One of the valves on the lung side of my heart is not permitting blood into or out of my lungs adequately. That’s why I start panting when I exert myself to any degree – like walking to the bathroom. It’s why I can’t sleep on my back, because blood is sloshing messily around in my heart. It’s why I am constantly out of breath. Apparently, the assumption of congestive heart failure has been presumed, for the last 13 years, by the evidence of  my realio-trulio heart attacks. Also, imaging tests that show blood hanging about where it should not, like tide pools left behind in a wrack of seaweed and dried foam.

Anyway: I have no idea, yet, what will cure me of this – but my cardiologist says that 1) it can be solved and he can give me more strength; and 2) it won’t even be difficult. I figure it can’t be as difficult as turning unflattering shades of lavender and gasping like a lungfish. I will feel both better and different; and that will be a glorious thing.

The only thing which I am now dreading, is that a specialty echo-cardiogram has become necessary. I have had the good old snake-a-tube-up-from-your-groin echo-grams before, and they are a dawdle. But now I also need a TEE – that means a transesophageal echo-cardiogram, and involves a tube with a camera put down one’s throat. Apparently, this gives a superlative view of the valve suspected of conking out. I’ve had one before. The problem is, the test is administered while one is still, mostly, conscious.

It’s like being water-boarded internally. I did my best to swallow the damn camera last time, and passed out while it was still being forced down my throat. I woke up with no real damage done, hardly even a sore throat. But I still have nightmares about the process, as well as the doctor who callously told me to just relax, it couldn’t be that bad. Well, you asshole: yes, it could. Yes, it was.

I’m going to explain this before hand and request that I be as totally anesthetized as is physically possible. At least give me “twilight sleep’ so I don’t remember it. If that can be done for a woman giving birth, it can damn well be given to a woman trying to keep her own life going.

Mind you, I am going to accede to the test, no matter what. It’s necessary. But if I can talk someone into giving me a break, for once, I am willing to throw all false courage aside and whine. Think kindly of me next Tuesday, Dear Readers, at about 8:30 AM. I am going to try to lay back and think of England, even if my surroundings are more like Gitmo.

And in the meantime Dear Readers – take one from Column A, and two from Column B (below) and have a good New Year.

Gregorian calendar 2020
Ab urbe condita 2773
Armenian calendar 1469
Assyrian calendar 6770
Bahá’í calendar 176–177
Balinese saka calendar 1941–1942
Bengali calendar 1427
Berber calendar 2970
British Regnal year 68 Eliz. 2 – 69 Eliz. 2
Buddhist calendar 2564
Burmese calendar 1382
Byzantine calendar 7528–7529
Chinese calendar 己亥(Earth Pig)
4716 or 4656
— to —
庚子年 (Metal Rat)
4717 or 4657
Coptic calendar 1736–1737
Discordian calendar 3186
Ethiopian calendar 2012–2013
Hebrew calendar 5780–5781
Hindu calendars
 – Vikram Samvat 2076–2077
 – Shaka Samvat 1941–1942
 – Kali Yuga 5120–5121
Holocene calendar 12020
Igbo calendar 1020–1021
Iranian calendar 1398–1399
Islamic calendar 1441–1442
Japanese calendar Reiwa 2
Javanese calendar 1953–1954
Juche calendar 109
Julian calendar Gregorian minus 13 days
Korean calendar 4353
Minguo calendar ROC 109
Nanakshahi calendar 552
Thai solar calendar 2563
Tibetan calendar 阴土猪年
(female Earth-Pig)
2146 or 1765 or 993
— to —
(male Iron-Rat)
2147 or 1766 or 994
Unix time 1577836800 – 1609459199
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Pirates and Chocolate and Rice

Kage Baker liked to use the week between Christmas and New Year’s as a resting place. She played her new games or read her new book, or just sat happily watching telly and snacking. She could easily subsist for the entire week on the contents of her Christmas stocking – that was one of the things Christmas stockings are for, after all: to feed you during the black, cold heart of winter. You could wrap up in half a dozen comforters, watch the sea and old movies, and live on imported chocolates and cheese.

That’s largely what I’ve been doing these last several days, too. Leftovers, sweeties from my stocking (Violet Crumble! Marzipan pigs!) and filling in the corners with cranberry sauce, prime rib and breakfast pizza. I still feel like I am drowning  most of the time; I tend to sneeze 18 times in a row, and I am quite sure that the rising fluid level in my skull is visible in my eyes. However, small, separate bits of me – my mouth, my warm feet – are feeling better. In celebration, I have a few found goodies to share with you.

Kage loved pirates. And chocolate. She loved them both to obsession, with the passion and heat of the proverbial thousand suns. I was therefore delighted when I found this strange little article about a botanist buccaneer, one of whose passions was the cultivation and exploitation of the cacao tree. So singular and peculiar was this man’s story, I figure he had to have recruited by the Company – as a sort of mortal gardening Janissary, if not as an actual Operative. If he was an Operative, he had to have been having the very best of all assignments: ploughing the briny wave under the black flag, all the while collecting plants and inventing European hot chocolate.  A dream come true!

Kage was also much concerned with the questions of global food: the inequalities in its distribution, the stupid politics that leave a million children crying with hunger. The lack of any real attempt to improve the stable crops – hey, we had beer and bread and crudities, right? We had potatoes for crisps and vodka; barley for porridge and whiskey; oats for oatmeal and brose – are we seeing a general theme here, Dear Readers? If you could manage to eat some of the food and made booze of all the rest, that surely was enough?

Except it wasn’t, of course. And to Kage’s continued distress, no one ever seemed to get the really basic concept of making something that could easily feed the masses. Being an American of Brit descent, Kage fixed on corn to fuel her heroine Mendoza’s identical mania. Mendoza eventually wrought super maize to feed the world. It was insanely nutritious and would grow anywhere; it was pretty, too.

However, back in the real world, corn is not the grain that most of the world eats. Pride of place there goes to rice. I give you this interesting article on heirloom rice, and the fascinating varieties that have been winkled out of private rice paddies and uncultivated marshes, and mustered to feed the billions.  Basudha is a rice conservation farm that grows 1,420 traditional rice varieties, including some that are no longer found anywhere else in the world. Here, one can find such rare cultivars as Garib-sal (“garib” meaning poor in Bengali), an ironically named folk rice with nano-particles of silver in each grain. Or Sateen, meaning “co-wife,” a rice that contains three grains in each hull.

And there is also the brand new cultivar, Golden Rice. It grows anywhere, is resistant to damn near anything rice-icidal, and grows like a weed. And it’s pretty, too. Naturally, though, the countries that need it the most are rejecting it as a GMO demon and its inventors have been reduced to literally lying about it just to get people to plant and eat it. Bangladesh, though, has recently agreed to try it; so the dream of a universal grain may yet be realized.

I haven’t sussed out the connection between Basudha and the Company yet, but I will. It’s bound to be a damp. convoluted trail, but the aesthetics should be marvellous.

In the meantime, Dear Readers, I leave you with these few little shining pictures to contemplate. Cough syrup and eucalyptus fumes are calling my name, and it’s about time for me to melt into goo in my armchair. The little black cat is eyeing me, and meowing little cat curses to try and get me to make a lap for her to sit on.

So it’s back to being a happy sickie and watching Dr. Who. May you all have a lovely quiet evening as well, Dear Readers, with all the purrs and liquors and chocolates and telly and books you will need for what remains of the 12 Days of Christmas.


Golden rice compared to its pallid cousin







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Time To Die – Not!

Kage Baker would have bet that Christmas would not arrive, sooner than that her annual bout of bronchitis would not arrive. She’d probably have won the bet, too.

She caught colds that promptly mutated into bronchial infections every year between high school and her death: they got a  little better after her tonsils were evicted in her 30’s, but never quite went away. She only found surcease in her very last winter, just before she died:  because she was having radiation therapy and enough chemo to supply a plague ward.

Although, in her own opinion, what really knocked the bronchitis on its ass was the hot toddies I made every winter. That particular combination of Irish whiskey, lemons, sugar and hot water was the universal panacea, for Kage. As long as I made it, anyway. Kage thought I had some sort of weird healing bartender vibes …

Alas, nothing works that well – or deliciously – on me. Tonight I am dying of a cold as vile as the bug that took out Wells’ Martians in War of the Worlds. My throat hurts, my sinuses ache so much all of my teeth ache as well, I am half deaf and all but voiceless. My fingers work a little though … I can at least complain to all of you Dear Readers.

Luckily for me, Kimberly and Michael are taking excellent care of me. I have lots of hot drinks and smooth foods to comfort me – if I can’t taste them much, at least the warmth and the texture are comforting.(She even found me some nice cool creamy ambrosia, an antique treat that soothes me marvelous well.) I will never run out of tissues. I have many warm blankets, meds to combat mucus and sneezes, and occasional cats to keep me warm. Harry has learned to mimic my coughing, which he does at hilarious length – I don’t know what he’s saying, or what thinks I am saying when we hack at one another. But it’s pretty funny, and charmingly companionable.

If I die, it will not be because of neglect. Kimberly watches over me as if I  was a prize orchid, needing a special atmosphere to grow and flourish. Personally, I think she is wasting her time on me, but I am too freaking grateful for all her care to tell her to stop. I cannot imagine what horror would be looming over me without my family’s ferocious care.

I don’t have enough oxygen, though, to write much. So I am going to sign off after this brief little banner, waved weakly at you all from the trench of my soggy illness. Oh, and just for inspiration – today is the anniversary of the 537 CE date of the completion of Hagia Sophia. Let us all celebrate the temple of wisdom!

To which end, I am going to go gargle. Maybe with gin …

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