Red Tape Doesn’t Hold Anything Together

Kage Baker  faced all the wretched details of her mortal illness with extraordinary courage and grace. She didn’t cry or whine, she remained polite to nurses and technicians, and she always tried to treat her caregivers with courtesy.  She said Please and Thank you, in situations where behaving like Virginia Woolf would have been excusable. Not even the Southern ladies in her ancestry could have faulted her behaviour in this worst of all possible difficult times.

But she couldn’t cope with bureaucracy.

Paperwork was something she loathed and despised; it carried a curious power to shut down her higher mental functions and instill a gazelle-like panic. You could tell, when she was facing some vital piece of legalese or contractual crap, that she was on the verge of eye-rolling terror – she was just inches away from leaping straight up in the air and running for the horizon at 40 miles per hour.  This is not an exaggeration. Full blown panic attacks resulted from Kage trying to find her way through official documentation.

Paperwork was, and always had been, my domain. After an initial bout of cursing, I can settle down and sort through paperwork: it’s a Zen thing, almost, and whoever does the taxes in your households, Dear Readers, undoubtedly knows what I mean. It’s just what one does, if one can. If one cannot … one finds someone who can.

So I handled all Kage’s contracts, all her editorial notes, all her tax and employment paperwork. On the few occasions she had to file for unemployment, I did that, too: those 2-weeks-at-a-time forms drove her insane. With me handling things, all she had to do was sign where I said and things got returned in time, to whatever soulless organization was demanding them.

When she  was diagnosed with cancer, the second thing her doctor handed her was a list of places to apply for financial and medical assistance. This was in the Bad Old Days before Affordable Care; Kage hadn’t had health insurance in 20 years. Even if she had been inclined to try, the combined weight of her diagnosis and all that paperwork would have been too much for her to shoulder,  especially when it became clear – as it quickly did – that it was going to be hard as hell to get her admitted to a program that would help her.

Ultimately, we managed. I resorted to ruthless bullying, callous lies and shameless histrionics to get Kage the care she needed; and it still turned out to be too slow, too little and too late. Bt at least she didn’t have to try and do it herself while she was also busy trying to survive. She’d have been too paralyzed to do anything, and her last year would have been much more painful and hopeless.

As it was, her first disability check arrived 2 weeks after she died. When I called her case worker and asked where to return it – seeing as how the recipient was, you know, dead – the woman was so flustered she could barely talk to me. Evidently the paperwork required to reverse the claim payment would have broken the entire State benefits system; she just closed the case and told me to keep the check. So, if the State of California ever cares to double check, I guess I owe them a few bucks …

I came out of all this hating the paper mill as much as Kage always had. But I can still mostly fight my way through it.

That’s where I was  for a large part of today – trying to prove that I am still disabled with the same incurable conditions that disabled me last year. (The faith of the Great State of California in sudden miracles is amazing.) Somehow, my appointment had been scheduled during my case worker’s lunch hour; I waited an hour and a half to see her for 5 minutes. She handed me a new sheaf of forms, and told me to go home and bring the forms back when they were done. I believe she had some specific instructions for me concerning special forms she also needed, but I couldn’t understand her – and I discovered a couple of years ago that asking for an interpreter because your caseworker can’t speak English badly impacts the enthusiasm of the Social Security office.

Anyway, I took all my booty home – it’s a success merely to have winkled the forms out of them! – and am now printing, filling out, signing, collating, and attaching sticky notes to all manner of paperwork that will hopefully prove I am still alive,  still sick,  still at the same address and have not changed my blood type or eye colour.

Which all boils down to: I’m not writing anything today except for explanations of why I glow in the dark (or don’t, depending on what they demand), why my family doesn’t charge me market scale rent,  how an independent writer cannot forecast how much she’ll make in a year, and why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings!

Instead, Dear Readers, I’ve taken a therapeutic half hour to whine to all of you. Thank you for listening. We’ll resume real life tomorrow, when I’ve put all this damned paperwork away. And poured myself a beer.



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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10 Responses to Red Tape Doesn’t Hold Anything Together

  1. maggiros says:

    I’m so with you, and even more with Kage. I find all that stuff totally brings me to tears, and I have no one else I can rely on to take care of it for me. (Jim will only put it all off a day longer than I would.) The penalty for daring to be disabled and of uncertain income is to be nibbled to death by badgers. At least I’m not, at the moment, so far, disabled.


    • Kate says:

      Handling the paperwork that modern life requires is not for everyone – anymore than speaking Sanskrit or nalbinding. It’s one of the best arguments for living in a social group: someone must be able to understand that stuff! I hate it, though I can do it; Kimberly is even better, and is besides a master-level organizer. What she has done with my medical records and Circa book systems is unbelievable.

      I held off filing for disability as long as I could – if a hospital hand’t turned me in, I probably would have held off even longer. My theory is that filing for disability is a signal to the State that you are either on point of death or have discovered immortality. And their goal is pile enough idiotic paperwork on you to find out which one it is.


  2. Tom says:

    No, not anything that will make us healthier, all that paperwork, in and of itself. Mary Lynn was the expert at making sense of all that accounting and system glop, because she had designed systems to run it on Heavy Iron, mostly, back when Ross Perot and EDS were they guys you wanted to hire. I’ve only dropped it all and given up once – but it was a big Give Up, and I will have to make it up. Gadfrey. I think there’s a Fever Tree Ginger Beer calling my name . . .


    • Kate says:

      A Fever Tree Ginger Beer must never be ignored – they only call your name because they know you need them. Do get some of your abandoned paperwork back under control, my friend – you may need it someday, and it’s too horrible to have to do it over and over.


  3. ~ Becky says:

    I think I had one of your days today. I’d join you in that beer but I’m afraid I’ve already had several decent whiskeys. Blasted paperwork! I’d say make a bonfire out of all of it, but that would rival hell and we don’t want to scare the natives.


    • Kate says:

      Was yours concerned with building permits? Or rental applications? Those are even worse than mine! Stick to your whiskey – me, I’ve now gone so far down the path to oblivion that I am considering cold Blueberry Pop-tarts. And that’s the hard stuff, man …


  4. Miz Kizzle says:

    Blenheim Ginger Ale #3, affectionately called “Old Red Cap,” is what I reach for in times of emergency, like when the plumber tells me the previously undiscovered pipe with a faucet attached to it in my garage is LIVE and it may be connected to an underground spring and we need to notify the water department immediately because apparently you need a permit from the town government to have a spring under your garage.
    Old Red Cap is hotter than the hob of Hell. It’s guaranteed to take your mind off your troubles. And yes, paperwork is horrid, although there is a certain satisfaction in filling in all the little boxes just so and knowing whether your great-great grandmother suffered from housemaid’s knee or not.


  5. Kate says:

    At least one of my great-great-grandmothers undoubtedly suffered from housemaid’s knee – she was a housemaid for several years, having come to America from Ireland as little more than a bond servant.

    How can you get a permit for a spring under your house? Isn’t a spring sort of an act of God? Or at least an act of geography? It’s not like you install it after market, like a granny apartment.


    • mizkizzle says:

      A very good question! According to the lady from the water department, if you are unaware there is a natural spring on your property you don’t need to file for a spring permit because you don’t know it’s there. However, if someone (like Bob, our plumber) tells you that the water that comes gushing out when you turn the faucet on the little standpipe that’s sat unnoticed for decades in one corner of your garage might come from a natural spring, then you are obliged to file a permit to get someone to come out from Trenton and verify that it indeed comes from a spring and not from one of the town’s water mains.
      I’m not sure how they can tell the difference, but apparently they can. If your spring water is potable, your permit allows you to bottle and sell it, should you so desire!
      I like the idea of owning a spring, but I suspect the man who built our house, who was by all accounts a conniving bastard, illegally tapped into a water main behind the property. In that case, we need to file another permit to get the water department to come out with a backhoe and dig up the pipes that lead to the garage.


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