Refribbing The Thermostat

Kage Baker.

There, my symbolic post marker is in.

The heat is not too bad in L.A. tonight – but it’s been hot for too long, as well as deadly humidity. Angelenos of my generation are not used to humidity, and excess water in the air is as bad as acid rain. I presume in a generation or or two, people here will be born with transformative gills. Like folks in New Orleans.

I am dodging round all the edges of a migraine still. And the edges of heat exhaustion, too. There are limits to air conditioning, and it still refuses to work on the out of doors: so going near windows, I can feel the heat’s claws flexing and reaching for me.

This is like trying to navigate a coastline that is endless rocky fjords, in an inflatable sea horse float.

I am going to bed early tonight, Dear Readers – I have managed to totally reverse my diurnal rhythm, so that I stay up all night and sleep all day. This causes problems. High among them is that I can’t make any noise while I work, because everyone else is asleep … except the little black cat, who sneaks up invisibly in the dark and licks my feet. Also, my feathered roommate gets loud and cranky.

Bear with m in a bit more patience, Dear Readers. My brain is melting and leaking out my ears.

May I NOT see the next sunrise!


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Why Paddy’s Not At Work Today

Kage Baker did her best to work at her writing every single day. She had an unusually implacable work ethic, and succeeded at this goal much more than most people do. Especially writers.

Writers are notorious for failing to write. On one hand, they will often often labour at any other task, rather than sit down and commit their boiling thoughts to cool paper: it’s like inspiration is an all-body itch and they can’t sit still.  On another hand, they can be distracted unwillingly by all manner of  outre disasters – which, being writers, they cannot help but note and notice. And on the biggest hand of all, writers can suffer from the dreaded writer’s block.

Some unhappy writers claim to exist in a near-constant state of writer’s block, spending most of their time portaging painfully around the falls of clear flowing narration; living for the moments when they hit clear water and speed on for half a mile of creativity. That was not Kage’s problem – on the rare occasions when she succumbed to the block, a half hour of gardening solved it. Or an evening of brain storming. Or just driving off in any direction until she found her Muse thumbing for a ride on the roadside.

What usually got Kage was distraction. Ambient noise was a constant problem; she had inhuman hearing and could be derailed by nearly anything. My knitting too loudly (this is why I use wooden needles). Harry singing, which nothing on earth or under heaven will silence. Too many small domestic disasters – she could write unperturbed while I raced in an out of the house fighting a dryer fire or an invading possum: but the second time we ran out of  ice, or if the toast burnt, Kage was tearing hair and rending garments.

Personally, I can get tossed off the rails by damn near anything. Kimberly has tried with all her considerable might and main to give me a safe place to work, and she’s largely succeeded. I still get taken down by – oh, anything. The weirder it is, the more likely I am to sit idly and stare at it in fascination, too. It’s part of being a writer at all – you are distractable by things sane people never even notice.

I didn’t write a blog this weekend, but that was, initially, on purpose. It’s been so hot and muggy I’ve been awake all night and spent the day asleep: too hot to write, too hot to do anything but read, pet the cat and drink iced coffee. I declared Saturday as a mental health day and lolled. Then on Sunday …

I woke up with 14 spider bits on my feet and legs; the venom makes me ill, and the damn things itch like a biblical plague. I kept somehow misplacing portions of my clean laundry in my (really very small) bedroom. I sat on my dismembered-for-repairs Kit Kat Klock. My keyboard, which is wireless and runs (when it feels like it) on batteries, began to slow down and commit speaking-in-tongues errors on my screen. Oh, and my deodorant melted. It really feels like the Universe is out to get you when your deodorant melts. You pull off the cap and then stand there with talcum-scented slime running down your hands, and realize that somewhere a huge god-sized middle finger is aimed at you.

I was awake until dawn. Luckily I’m re-reading Vinge’s Zones of Thought books, and the recliner is positioned between the standing fan and an open window … and the Maine Coon kitten/cat was in my lap. That’s comforting, but not conducive to work. You can read with a cat in your lap (though a Maine Coon is harder to manage than an average feline) but you cannot type on a tablet. Not in anything that looks like English, anyway. (The Maine Coon likes to help.)

Aaand it just went on today. A lost juvenile raccoon out in broad daylight found the squirrel feeder, and pretty much staked out the porch for the time it took her eat everything: hysterical cats AND squirrels ensued. My ISP disguise program blew its zap, reported me in London and refused to accept any of my incoming US email. I kept getting weather alerts for parts of England where I wasn’t. Two more spiders bit me. And my keyboard keeps freezing.

I made the mistake of looking at Facebook, too. Aaaargh, my eyes …

So, no stories tonight, Dear Readers. Tomorrow, there will stories and  ideas and more exotic fruit and a long diagnostic session with the computer before I try to type at speed again.

No more distractions! Or at least, different, and less engrossing, ones.

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Hitting My Mark

Kage Baker liked, and made, detailed plans.

She was gifted when necessity required improvisation – she could come up with truly amazing solutions when Fate screwed the regular plan over, and arses had to be pulled from fires. Life in a large, poor family; 30 years as an environmental performer; making most of her living via the notoriously fickle medium of The Arts – it all combined to a splendid set of reflexes in the face of any adversity.

She just liked having plans.

Black pepper, for instance, can be used plug minor holes in a leaky radiator. (And it smells  interesting in the cabin of the car.) You have to use a lot of it, and it helps if you are in the habit of carrying a large Costco-sized tin in the glove box. Cakes can be sliced with keyhole saws – thin saw blades are the trick. Almost anything that worked in that history or anthropology book you read, can still work in the age of cell phones and microwave ovens. Probably. Eventually. Trying it will at least give you something to do while you wait for the power to come back on.

Most valuable of all, Kage knew that all plans eventually gang agley. No one rides the wave of Fortune proudly on their feet for very long; you’d best be prepared for the inevitable fall, and being dragged through the surf of some tropical beach sans the bottom of your bathing suit. Kage was always ready to hold her breath and grab some critical piece of her clothing.

I had a wonderful idea for a blog tonight, Dear Readers. And for a story. But this evening has run off the edge of the road; a sudden craving for KFC led to misadventures in the drive-through lane, which necessitated unpacking the entire order in order to be certain that the one indispensable container had, indeed been left out. Making it back into the house required woodcraft in the front yard, to avoid the twilight skunks who like to come out and eat the peanuts the squirrels drop. And now, I have a migraine.

Thus, all I am doing tonight is dashing out and striking an arresting pose on the chalked-in X on the lower stage right. Ta-DA! Now I’m gonna shed my spangles and feathers, and crawl away to sleep.

Tomorrow I shall regale you with the interesting differences between pluots and apriplums. I shall reveal the reason it is now the season to sleep in the recliner, and what the cats think of that. And I shall discuss a story idea gifted to me today by a vision of a iron pot boiling on a fire of cycad logs.

Sleep well, Dear Readers.


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Kage Baker truly adored the Summer season.

It was her home season. It would have been even if she had not been born on its door step – which she was – because it was generally the longest period of calendar time she ever spent without two sweaters on. The rest of the year, it was uncommon for her to be typing furiously away, in her patented Chico Marx double-forefingered stab, with all available sleeves pulled down over her entire hands to keep warm.

Kage hated gloves. She said it was easier to type with her sweater sleeves pulled down over her knuckles. I always laughed this idea to scorn, except for those times (knitting in lace gloves, say) when I knitted myself into my needlework, and had to ask Kage to untangle me. “Ah, tatted yourself to the couch again, eh?” she would say at Dickens, deftly unstitching my gloves in her character as Mrs. Drum. “Ah, the old Master always told ye to be more careful with the needles, he did!”

“Please be still and do hurry up, Drum,” I would say with as much dignity as I could muster. And Kage would snicker audibly and ply me with all sorts of homely advice in an accent that veered between Devon and Yorkshire, to the amusement of the audience.

That never happened in the summer. All Kage had to do then was save me from the sudden attacks of Harry, who harbours a lasting desire to grab my knitting and wreak havoc on it. Luckily, Harry could be distracted by plums, cherries, pizza, and cocktail umbrellas, all of which were in ample supply around Kage in summer. We bought cocktail umbrellas in bulk, so it was not a tragedy to buy the parrot off with nice little pastel parasol, and watch him scamper about with it like a demented green geisha.

The only thing Kage held against Summer was that that the weather could be – well, boring. She was a native Californio; her summers, from infancy on, were  long hot seasons glowing with heat. The sky was blue. The earth was brown. The grass was gold. The only colour in the sky was a few pink stripes at dawn and a god’s forge in the West at sunset.

Lately, though, what with climate change and the fact that people in California don’t remember the weather from one year to the next, the weather has been more interesting. This year, the fire season decided to run for 12 months, for example – the golden hills have been burning here and there continuously since April. There’s a good-sized fire in Yucaipa as I write this, and various small empty lots and freeway verges are burning all over the Basin.

At the same time, this year has given us not only the seasonal winter rains that saved our municipal arse, but showers have just kept on rolling through the area. Actual rain! Most of them are thunder storms in the hills; which, since those hills also burned last year, are now debouching major floods into normally parched areas like Acton and Devore and Riverside.

In fact, fires and floods are  presently happening simultaneously at both ends of the 210 freeway. That is, one end is burning and one end is flooding. Berms have been cut away from the edges of the Metro train tracks, leaving the silver railways hanging nearly unsuspended and completely useless. Yucaipa is on fire and evacuating. And water mains continue to break here and there in the metropolis proper, turning streets in Palms, Brentwood and Sherman Oaks into spouting rivers.

Being a homebody these days, I watch the chaos on the news and cheer all the brave first responders impartially. And while I do rather wish some of the thunder storms would decide to rain on me here on the edge of Griffith Park, I don’t really mind missing the fires, the smoke, the exploding water mains and electrical vaults, the burning palm trees levin-struck by the lightning … if I want more excitement, I can always walk a few blocks down to the L.A. River bank, and watch the cottonwood trees drown in the run-off from the hills.

It’s 90 degrees here, and the River is rising …

But the sun has gone down in glory, and there are brilliant summer stars out now, between the fog from the sea and the thunder heads from the desert. Thanks to a lit screen and a lit keyboard, I can sit here in the dark and type in some comfort. But for now, Dear Readers, I am going to go read a wonderful article on the arrival of human beings in Australia 65,000 years ago. I think it will activate some real writing …

Now’s the best time to work, in the summer darkness.  Moths and stories are battering softly at the screens.

And that was also why it was Kage’s favourite season.

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In Thunder Weather

Kage Baker passionately loved the early summer weather of Southern California.

What she loved best were the warm, grey days – May Grey, June Gloom, July Oh-Why: whatever the idiot news people called those weeks-long periods when coastal California warms up under a deep coat of hot silver mist. Basking days, she called them – times to makes a nest in the boughs on an oak tree in her mother’s yard and eat plums. Days to share a green serpentine boulder with a friendly lizard, and let the heat of the Earth radiate through your bones as if you were a lantern. Days to get your sister to drive out for Slurpees, and add gin to them.

When we lived  in Pismo Beach, these mornings included ground level fog – but faint and thin, like a cubic mile of bubbles, air made of pastel rainbows where every tree had a flat top disappearing into the fog. Here in the L.A. Basin, when it happens, the fog lingers on the shoulders of the hills, and leaves the ground clear;  it abruptly vanishes at mid-afternoon to hot clarity and skies of heated pearl. But the last several years we’ve burned in heat too soon and too high, and never gotten the grey grace of the fogs at all.

This year, mirabile dictu,  rescued at last as we all were from 7 years of drought, we  got the grey time back. It’s been wonderful, these long slow warm mornings full of the scent of roses and the sweet mutterings of mourning doves. The sound of the doves for some reason moves Harry to repeat his water-drop imitation – perfect little chimes of dripping water, like a desk fountain. Except that it’s a parrot, so sometimes the burble of the water is punctuated by dog whistles, the theme from Jeopardy, and exuberant glossolalia in an English-accented cadence …

Mind you, it’s still too hot. If I go outside, I sicken and melt like a cheap popsicle. Luckily, I can stay indoors, where A/C and fans keep the coolth inside the thick old walls of our 100-year old California cottage. I am become a nocturnal creature, racing out in the silky sauna air of the twilight to replenish the lime ices and Coke Life and salads and plums I live on. The murmuring dove sounds are replaced then with the soft murderous calls of owls, to which Harry replies with very quiet whistles: just enough to warn us, I think. Kage always thought so, anyway.

Suddenly, the heat and the dark and the boiling pearly fogs are all inspiring me. It’s part of this year’s August Revival, obviously; I am returning to life, Dear Readers, after the terrors and megrims of July. Hence my maundering on about the weather and what it means and does – it was ghastly and threatening last month, but today it has returned to that dim  dreamy heat Kage so loved.

Part of that, of course, is the lovely welcoming comments from you, Dear Readers. Even though a couple of you think I am a spineless whinger,  it’s cool: sometimes, that’s precisely what I am, and free speech must run free! I don’t mind being reminded to use my endo skeleton … but I also deeply appreciate the well wishes and encouragement the rest of you give me. You’re cool people, and I’m grateful to be able to pontificate to all of you.

I think tomorrow we shall return to some Company speculation, or maybe a treatise on new fruit. Kage stuff. In the meantime, I leave you with the thunder weather photo I have as my August wall paper – it’s very Kage stuff, too.

Thunder weather, when the sky is grey.

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Kage Baker loved celebrating Lammas. High summer and Harvest combined. The exotic apple stand up one of the canyons above Avila Bay was finally open, and every day thunderheads floated out over the blue, blue Pacific. If we were going to have summer thunder storms, this is when we got them – and for Kage, those were God’s fireworks. We’d sit in the dark living room with cold cider to hand, and watch lightning strike down into the sea, and listen to the soundtrack from Frankenstein until the power inevitably went out.

Good times, man. Good times.

Today is August 1st, which is Lammas as ever was. It’s also the birthday of one of Kage’s favourites among her characters – the Dread Gard, born on a hot evening of thunder-weather, when the sky was grey …

July is finally gone. It’s been a slow walk through Hell for me, and I feel better just knowing the damned time is gone. I need a calendar change, a demarcation point, a change of season – also, Coke Black and iced coffee.

I haven’t been posting this July, Dear Readers, because it has been a slow walk through Hell and it’s better not to inflict those on other people. Especially ones you like. Creativity has curdled, my diabetes is being fractious, my agent keeps promising action but nothing has happened yet, two stories got rejected, and someone told me to stop referencing Kage because she no longer mattered. Also, the world in general has been decaying like an aged pumpkin.

All this means that I have essentially died during July. And no one likes a wrathful ghost. Writing daily blogs would have entailed dragging you all through a slow-motion emotional breakdown. I decided to refrain from that self-indulgence.

But now it’s Lammas, and August, and I can see September from here if I climb on a stump and jump a little. Much better. I have an appointment with an endocrinologist later this month. My new batch of Mullah coffee beans got here on time. I have plums and pluots and something new and celestial called a “chummy” – which is a hybrid of plums and cherries, or claims to be. Tastes like one, anyway, which means it is like kissing a young god … highly whoopee.

So anyway, I plan on resuming writing this month. If anyone is still listening, I hope I can still turn a phrase to please. If not, I shall shout hopefully into the abyss until someone answers.

As they say, the good side of hitting bottom is that it’s easier to head back up.


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National Birthday

Kage Baker loved the Fourth of July.

Part of it was because Kage loved the United States of America. She had a deep, personal, everyday sort of patriotism – she wasn’t much of a flag waver, she simply did her duty by her country as it requested it of her. She always voted, and always knew the issues – she understood the laws, and she abided by them as best she could. When she thought the laws or the issues were in the wrong, she campaigned against them: all according to the rules.

Kage worked at voting booths, and volunteered on public land campaigns. She protested injustice. She signed petitions, but always read them first. She paid her taxes. She sent her menfolk off to war when it was necessary; she’d have gone herself, if any portion of the Armed Forces would have had her … but even the Postal Service threw up its hands in horror (her health was always fragile), which was awfully fortunate for the story-telling business.

But what Kage really, really loved about the Fourth – was fireworks. Fireworks were a psychoactive experience for her; she lost her mind when the sparks began to fly, and was blissfully in another dimension as long as the display lasted. If she’d had the chance to be a gunner for the USA, she’d have been in paradise.

I love our country, too. These last couple of years, that has grown increasingly difficult and dangerous: but I do love it. I do my duty as well as I can, including all those everyday acts of patriotism that – since January 20th – have become subjects of scorn and disapproval from an especially loud, judgemental, and nasty minority of our population. It’s all made a bit more difficult since that minority seems to include Congress and increasing portions of the Executive branch. Still, one soldiers on as best one can.

I love my country; I fear my government. On the other hand, if my civics and history teachers could see how much attention I pay to current events these days, those good ladies would be astounded. I hope they’d be gratified, too. I am au courant with politics as I have never been in my life, and there aren’t even any tests pending! No marks will be given for how well I understand what is going on in the halls of power. But I fondly hope that it might mean better, longer lives for a lot of people, including me.

It’s never been a good time to rest on our laurels. Maintaining freedom, civil rights, a working democracy, that fabled government of, by and for the people: these have never been easy, and every time we sit back and decide we’ve Made It – something bad comes along to bite us on our fat, self-congratulatory asses, and make us fight for the Good Side again. This is one of the most obviously endangered Fourths of July in my lifetime: but it’s always been a fight, really. We need to pay attention. We need to be vigilant.

We need to take care of our people, our land, our world, our government. And it’s not a bad placed to start – with barbecues and picnics, with singing the National Anthem as the sky lights up in glory, and each of us stands side by side with people we love.  We just have to remember that it’s not only for today, not only for tonight. We have to remember to get up tomorrow morning, and do most of it all over again. Not just the fun bits, either.

Though it won’t hurt to enjoy them today. The smoke from celebratory fires and victorious fireworks is needed, too. We need to make a glorious light in the sky, if only to remind ourselves of the beauties for which we fight.

Happy Birthday, America. Long may you wave, long may  you be be the home of the free, long may the better angels of our natures carry the victory for all our people.


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