Kage Baker: my perpetual lead-in, topic and inspiration, but not one that leads automatically or easily into many areas. She doesn’t guide one instantly into something like Oxygen: Why It’s Still Poisonous! Or How Do New Islands In Indonesia Affect the Sunda Plain? Or Just In Time For Lent, 10 New Recipes for Lamprey!
That last one was one of Kage’s favourite examples of DIY titles from Elizabethan England. As it happens, there was a large and healthy publishing industry by mid-16th century, and a lot of the new titles were aimed at the recently evolved middle-class housewife. That one about the lampreys is a (rough) translation of an actual pamphlet … and she was willing to bet there were similar masterpieces produced all the way back to cuneiform.
However, Kage’s name itself does not lead so easily into many topics. Time travel. Women in science fiction. Redheads, left-handers, creativity on the autistic spectrum; all those are possible if I want to get really personal. And from time to time, I have.
But today, on this dim, quiet and quickly cooling Sunday afternoon, my brain and my funds of energy are alike empty and echoing. I managed to get two socks that matched this morning, and realized as I pulled them on that my willpower had peaked for the day. I know I have blog and story ideas; but I can only see them faintly, obscured by some mental and obviously low-quality isinglass.
Iisinglass, Dear Readers, as you may or may not know, is traditionally made from the swim bladders of various fish – especially catfish, if you want nice big pieces of it. Since it was often used for window panes in things like roll-down windows on sports cars and fringed surreys, big fish yield better bladders. If you’re using it as a clarifying agent in your ale – Guiness does – then any old scrap will do … however, as a focus for cerebration, it sucks.
Checking my various favourite timelines (also a trick Kage often employed) I see that today is the anniversary of the Nika Riots – which figure prominently in my story “Pareidolia”, which comes out next month, Huzzah! It’s also the wedding anniversary of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, when that gentleman founded the Tudor dynasty on that lady: culminating in the reign of Elizabeth 1st, Gloriana: Live Forever, Great Queen! Henry Morgan captured Panama; James Cooke discovered the Hawaiian Islands (they were both sorry later). The Bentley Motor Company was founded.
There are, of course, simply scads of historical war events on this day, which grow thicker and thicker as you approach the 21st Century. They are all balanced against a pitiful few visitations of the angels of our better natures – like the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King, officially celebrated nationwide for the first time on this date in 1993.
But aside from these peculiar bits of facts that leap into my barely-turning mind, there is nothing at all moving in the halls of my cerebral cortex. The bridge of my corpus callosum is empty of idlers and fishermen. Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas are like empty bars, dust sparkling faintly in the breath from a slow, slow overhead fan while the lone barmen polish glasses.
It’s dead in this town, Dear Readers.
But, hey, it’s late in the afternoon on a Sunday. The liveliest sound in my neighborhood is the primate hoot-panting chorus from the football fans – the Seahawks clobbered the Greenbay Packers a little earlier, and now the Patriots are decimating the Colts. All else is sleepy digestion and outright snoring; the cats are purring, and Harry is making a lovely little noise like water droplets chiming into a fountain. And all thought of Kage is leading me to is dreamy quiet and the urge to re-read something she wrote.
Excitement tomorrow. Rest today.
Rest up, dear lady.
My late friend Georgea Coleman and I wondered about creating an opera based on the life of Elizabeth of York, to which I gave the somewhat prosaic working title ‘Woman At The Crossroads.’ She was so very pivotal, as you say, in so very many ways to the Western world – not only the Sceptered Isle, no indeed. Another of Georgea’s good friends was Colin Graham, one of the most important opera stage directors of the 20th century. He handled the premieres of nearly all Benjamin Britten’s stage works, and wrote the libretti for most of them. And he wrote many other works as well. Colin said an historical opera was no longer feasible, that tastes within the Commissioning Class and opera house management had changed too much. And I recall imagining Kage, at the time, saying, “Horse pucky!”
Yeah, she’d have dismissed the idea that historical operas were outdated. Elizabeth of York would make a marvellous heroine!
I just recently located, on CD, Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John In Love” – one of my favourite operas. I’ve been hunting for it this modern format for years, and now I finally have it! Of course, it’s hard to have a bad opera when your librettist is William Shakespeare.
Vegans might be surprised to find out that there’s fish bladder in their beer.
There’s so much to enjoy about Elizabeth of York and her extended family. Wasn’t one of her portraits the model for the queen on decks of playing cards? Her mom, Elizabeth Woodville, was said to be the most beautiful woman in England, with blonde hair and big, heavy-lidded eye “like a dragon’s,” according to a contemporary account. (Because dragons, like Bette Davis, apparently had bedroom eyes.)
Some of my friends – who are both vegetarians or vegan AND beer fanciers – are not happy about isinglass at all. Especially considering its part in Guinness. It’s one of those eternal “grownup” conundrums, where you have to balance ethics with religion. Some of those friends have decided fish bladders are not food, or are vegans for health reasons: and drink Guinness anyway. And some, of course, have given up Guinness. It’s a choice I am glad I don’t have to make.