13th Night

Kage Baker, as I have often recounted, had an extraordinary memory.

I bring this up today because I myself somehow forgot that yestreday was 12th Night. How, you may ask? Damned if I know; despite writing the date all day and making plans for the best way to get the Christmas deco back in the garage in a relentless deluge, I never twigged to the realization that Old Christmas was passed. I was wrapped up in other things, among them working on a story and catching a miserable cold; so I forgot 12th Night. I also forgot to sit down and write an actual blog entry until, oh, about 2 AM when I went to bed.

So, belated 12th Night, Dear Readers. I’m picking up where I dropped things, with a few images from the “B” side of my imagination. Fellow writers will recognize this phenomenon – even while one is writing, part of one’s mind is working on other ideas. It’s the inevitable static that accompanies use of the mind; like any device with moving parts, some part of its energy is frittered away, like waste heat or sawdust. These ideas float around in one’s stream of consciousness. Sometimes they clog things up. Sometimes they ferment.  Sometimes they spontaneously combust.

One of the things floating in my mind has been Kage’s memory. Not the memory of her (which has a permanent home somewhere in the right side of my brain)  but her own, personal, peculiar memory.

One of the extraordinary qualities of it was its selectivity. “Quality over quantity,” she used to maintain, but that wasn’t really it. She knew incredible tons of stuff; her memory was of the Attics of the Smithsonian variety. But the quality was wildly various, at least on an objective level: everything Kage recalled was vital to her, but other people were frequently flabbergasted at what she found important enough to remember.

It was like Sherlock Holmes’ analogy of his mind as a lumber room. He tossed out anything that was not of immediate use to his obsessions, leading to the famous moment when Dr. Watson discovers Holmes is ignorant of the Copernican model of the solar system … which, by the way, so was Kage until age 18. I know this for a fact, because I was the one who enlightened her. And she was about as interested in it as Sherlock Holmes was.

However, years later, she suddenly had to understand how planetary orbits worked, why we on the surface of the Earth only ever saw one side of the Moon, what Mars and Mercury are actually doing when they’re in retrograde … resulting in a hilarious evening in a brew pub where I improvised an orrery out of oranges, piroshki and balled-up beer coasters in order to demonstrate orbital mechanics to Kage. (The people at nearby tables were all greatly entertained.)

She kept the information in mind, too. Pictures of actual orreries helped, partly because they are usually gorgeous brass, glass and geared mechanical toys of the sort Kage most especially loved.  I always wanted to get her one of her very own. But we ran out of time.

Anyway: Kage did that same selective culling and transplanting of facts that Holmes did. It was all in service of whatever was fascinating her at the moment; most often, there was a storyline somewhere at the bottom of it, but not always. Sometimes she just fell in love with a concept, and absolutely had to know everything about it. If stories came out of it, fine; if not, that was fine, too. It was the hunt and the fascination that mattered to her, and the filling up of a special room in her Memory Palace. Like the one dedicated to pottery glazes. Or vintage strains of apples, cows, composition shoe soles or faux gems.

Her wanderings through the aether of the Internet were all based on that eccentric  appetite for the acquisition of facts. And if she couldn’t work up a fanatic desire for something she felt she needed, she assigned it to me – I didn’t have her relentless burning desire to light my way, but I do know how to research and make a tidy report.

And, you know, that kind of thing does leave you with a sort of hunger. You get used to the Snakes and Ladders journey through the museum of Time; the hidden doors, the cryptic keys, the sudden whoosh of a sealed door opening to reveal – wonderful things, as Carter gasped to Lord Carnarvon. And sometimes you just forget where you are, what the time might be, what day it is.

I’ll leave you, as a 12th Night gift, with a couple of the goodies I ran across yestreday. I’m not sure what they are for, yet, but I’ll figure it out. There must be something enormously interesting in finding out that praying mantises can see in 3-D …

An orrery, rather old-fashioned.

An orrery, rather old-fashioned.

A mantis in 3-D glasses, stuck on with beesewax.

A mantis in 3-D glasses, stuck on with beesewax.




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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2 Responses to 13th Night

  1. Jill Hand says:

    You make some good points. It’s sad, too, about how much has been forgotten. Nobody knows the rules to playing Dun in the Mire anymore, or why the jokes in Punch circa 1862 and thereabouts were considered to be funny.


    • Kate says:

      Dun in the mire! It’s in “Romeo & Julliet” and thus fell prey to our compulsive efforts to winkle all the period references out of Shakespeare! The game sounds like a nightmare for any lady of a house – involving a log in the parlour, which all playing try to get out of the room while also trying to prevent everyone else from doing so. It starts with 2 players and gradually becomes a mob. Ropes are optional; dropping it on toes is evidently required … what a friend of mine called a “cluster-f**k”. Sounds rather like an indoor version of Town Ball, which was the second most lethal ballgame ever invented (the most lethal was ōllamalitzli).

      I once spent a happy year working in an office lined with shelved copies of Punch; the entire staff read them all the time. The problem with the jokes is that they were the equivalent of “Laugh-In” – pop culture jokes and gibes, dependent on slang, current events, popular sports and entertainment figures, and contemporary politics. If you can find out any of the necessary background, they really are pretty funny … and vulgar.


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