Lares and Penates

Kage Baker did not trust machinery – at least, none with moving parts. She wanted to trust them. Kage liked personal relationships with her tools. It was just hard for her to trust anything more complex than a draw knife, or a croquill.

After long acquaintance, she did reach emotional compromises with our car, her computer, some of the kitchen appliances … The food processor, for instance, could be relied upon to crush ice to a cocktail-usable consistency, and that won Kage over pretty much. The KitchenAid mixer was not only Empire Red but came with an ice-cream maker attachment: Kage got very chummy with it, due to these exemplary virtues; although she never managed to make the bread hooks work.

She never really came to terms with her computer. She depended on it, needed it, lavished praise and love on it – but she knew it could fail at any moment, for (by her reckoning) totally insane reasons. Everything she knew how to do with computers was skill learned by rote. It might as well have been a ritual; she followed the instructions like a voudon rite or a Wiccan spell, and absolutely did not understand when it didn’t work.

I think most of the problem was software. Kage’s was not compatible with anything commercially produced. From time to time, inevitably, I would hear a rising howl of profanity, accompanied by banging noises: I’d go tearing in to find Kage slamming her fists on the desk and yelling at the computer. The computer, in turn, would have inexplicably converted a mordantly hilarious soliloquy by Joseph to gibberish in a size 36 Wingdings  font … Kage had an unparalleled ability to unwittingly input and activate macros; and since she didn’t know how she’d done it, she never knew how to reverse them.

And although computers have very few moving parts, they are not entirely free of the weaknesses of the flesh – belts can snap. Fans can freeze. Cunning little slidey parts can jam, usually with the only copy of her current writing project stuck in them.  Things along those lines got better when thumb drives came along, but until data storage became a portable plug-in, Kage fought bitter wars with every permutation of electromagnetic media.

What with its being so vital to her work, and so possessed of an alien and antagonistic intelligence, Kage had a stormy relationship with her computer. It’s much less vicious nowadays – I can keep it clean and functional and freer of eccentric input than she did – but it does seem to me that it runs more slowly. Even the newer bits. It misses Kage. But we slog on together, it and I. I’ve even carefully put up various bits of juju to keep it happy – not the ones best beloved of Kage, like the hand-scripted invocation to Poppa Legba (whom she felt was the loa most likely to look after computers)  but genuine little thingies that mean something to me. You have to be honest with these things.

The most important of which, of course, is the box with Kage’s ashes in it.

My lares and penates, they are: the little household gods that keep the milk fresh and the fire going and the temporary files cache from incubating malware. A ceramic hare that looks like she’s made out of chocolate. The plastic skeleton that holds my daily pill cup between his bony knees. Various candles, all half-burned or battery-powered; I’ve yet to try and light one of the battery lights, but you never know … there’s a rose-scented Yankee Candle, and the Lamps of the Weird, and a miniature Stonehenge set in a little box. Outsized glass gems tend to roll out between the stacks of Kage’s books and fall into my coffee cup.

Kage’s own magic tokens ran heavily to maritime tools and action figures. I’ve kept her windup crab that she used to set dancing sideways on the desk, and the yellow jackdaw that hops. What with climate change and the weather going nuts round here, I mean to add her barometer to the mix as well. It can go on the wall under my Kit Kat Klock.

It’s the approach if Spring Cleaning that sets me thinking and cataloging my charms and talismans. With Dickens and Christmas and New Year’s done with, it’s time to dust and reduce last year’s clutter somehow. I’m sure I’ll find things that took up residence last Spring that I have since forgotten, buried under the pile of dried tulip petals on the top right corner of the desk.

That’s half the fun of the household gods – finding new ones in the corners where you least expect them. Or old ones that you thought had buggered off. Clean faces for all! And a hopeful renewal of luck.

PS: Dear Readers, I will indeed get around to describing the interesting monitor currently glued to my chest. It’s named Zio …

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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4 Responses to Lares and Penates

  1. Tom says:

    You have an Italian uncle monitoring your chest???


  2. Kara says:

    “The plastic skeleton that holds my daily pill cup between his bony knees.”

    I admit – I laughed at Death! But what a great image you describe there of Death lending a helpful hand (err, knee). How gentlemanly!


  3. Kate says:

    Thanks, Kara – always glad to provide a laugh! Kage and I always subscribed pretty much to the Terry Pratchett version of Death – a nice guy with a difficult job, fond of cats and curry, and always a gentleman.


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