Kage Baker loved year-end lists. She liked making them; she liked reading them. She liked exploring the categories other people thought were important – what does it say about a society that wants a list of badly-dressed celebrities? Kittens in hats? Ways to cook with nopalita cactus? (Hormel makes a nopalita cactus salad. In a can – did you know that, Dear Readers?)
She liked lists in general, being of the opinion that history, library sciences and the general use of “immortal memories” all began with some beleaguered gatherer lady counting up her baskets of acorns with a sharp rock on a spare bison rib. Certainly, the earliest examples we can find (and decipher) are lists: of cattle, baskets of grain, barrels of beer. The next oldest are lists of kings and gods. Kage said we should really take all those old king-and-god lists with a generous grain of salt – because they were apparently compiled after those ancient tally clerks got through the beer …
Maybe that’s why so many of the very oldest are actually queens and goddesses. In wine there is truth … probably even more in beer. Which was evidently invented by women.
Anyway: Kage had an especial fondness for lists. There are many Books of Lists out there: the best, in Kage’s opinion, were the ones by David Wallichinsky and Amy Wallace; we used to take those camping with us, and take turns reading the lists out loud by the fire. They were hilarious, and we were hysterical. Nowadays, of course, there are lists sites all over the Internet. Probably 3rd or 4th in number after pornography and cats. And probably, somewhere there is a site dedicated to lists of cat pornography …
Today, my blog server WordPress sent me my stats for 2014; which I promptly posted as Blog #1 for the day. It was full of fun things, like the fact that in the past year I have had visitors from 41 foreign countries. I suspected I was getting more of those, because my spam file is full of dubious comments by people whose native tongue is clearly not English. (Most of you Dear Readers sign in from the US, the UK and Australia.)
I finished a novel and sent it to my agent. I also wrote three stories, and sold 1; which will appear in March 2015. Not an amazing record for this year, but it was my very first one, after all. The list has lots of room to grow longer.
In 2014, I accumulated about 2 dozen rejected comments a day – all consigned to spam, and ultimately flushed by me, but not before I gathered a few rough ideas of my audience. Those sent to Coventry were predominantly trying to sell me things – usually sex, or at least the use of new and/or improved sex organs; but also lots of real estate, haute couture of dubious authenticity, and Schedule 1 drugs. Lots of them included cheery remarks about my blog, which made no reference to anything I said or indeed, any concrete topic at all – although all assured me I was doing a wonderful job. I’ve never gotten such friendly snow jobs anywhere as I got via this blog in 2014.
Great statistic: more people in general looked at my blogs. Good statistic: many were referenced on and on through the aether. Bad statistic: this year had the most gaps, where I failed for days to write anything here. Worst statistic: my best-read efforts were obituaries.
Lots of my friends died in 2014. I have the honour of being part of a large and very strange community, those who work and perform in Renaissance Faires. We’re entering our 4th generation of participants – the grandchildren of people who worked the first Faires are having babies – and consequently Time has claimed a lot of us who are first and second generation. It’s hardly a surprise, when you stop and realize that most of your playmates are in their 60’s; but it’s been one of those years when my especial friends have been kicking the ol’ jam jar with alarming frequency. Maybe I’ll get used to it. Maybe more of us will manage to survive 2015.
Lots of other people, too, of course: people I don’t actually know, but whose deaths are general losses, like Robin Williams and Joe Cocker. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Lauren Bacall, Harold Ramis. Many poets and writers and scientists; a king in Saudi Arabia, a queen in Belgium.
One of the last 5 white Southern rhinos in the world, the last Chinese river dolphin, the last Christmas Island Forest Skink. A variety of snails and spiders and snakes. An insect species a day, and a bird species a week. Billions of honey bees, which pollinate most of our food. Billions of fish, whom we (used to) eat. Untold numbers of plants, that variously fed, clothed and physicked us, and which – who knows? – might have rendered us immortal, or permanently peaceful or turned us all blue. It might have been interesting, but they’re gone now.
Hundreds of people dead and vanished in airline accidents. Thousands of Ebola, malaria, plague, measles, influenza. Millions of violence, starvation, exposure, thirst, and being the wrong colour, religion, political faction or gender. Heck, at least 3 dozen people died in a volcanic explosion – which is probably some sort of modern record – even as the remains of the victims of Pompeii are on a world tour …
And untold numbers of people who fell in love, had babies they wanted, survived tragedies, helped one another, loved on another. Saved one another. A weight of life and love and courage that really can’t be added up on a list – we lost the knack of listing joys, I think, about the time we figured out how to count the beer.
Life is not lists: but history is. It’s the part of human memory that doesn’t die when that lump of fat in our outsized skull shuts down. Lists are the voices of the dead, reminding us not to poke things with teeth, or eat poisonous plants, or how to keep a fire alight through the long dark. Lists are what turns us all, eventually, into lights ourselves …
No wonder Kage liked them.