Kage Baker was a firm believer in signs and symbols.
I don’t actually know how deeply she held some of them, for all that she announced them as they appeared to her – I must admit, her distress when I put a hat on the bed always did seem more like an excuse to launch my hats across hotel rooms like floppy Frisbees. I confess to liking weird hats: I favour bag caps, solanas with wide brims, and knit eccentricities. My favourite ever – and the one Kage hated the most – was a Mongolian shepherd’s cap: a triangular leather job dyed red, that came to a peak and was rimmed in fleece. It looked like what Colbert now wears in his Big Furry Hat skit, only – you know, daintier.
But Kage claimed it was an omen of Serious Disaster.
Nor do I have any certainty of her belief that spilling salt was bad luck – only that she would go to extremes to make sure she could grab a left-handed pinch of it ASAP, and fling it over her left shoulder. It may be bad luck because this is a great way to throw salt in one’s own eyes. At best, you get in your sister’s eyes, and all over the carpet. But apparently the flinging of it, despite being a disaster in the short run, was vital for averting the End of the World and similar.
Hummingbirds meant good fortune on a trip; so did oranges in the road. And really, who cares how or even if it works? The repetition of the habit produces endorphins, and so one becomes accustomed to a feeling of joy when these things are sighted – and how can that do anything but contribute to good luck? The sight of a blue heron means money is coming, and I have never known this sign fail – eventually. I’m pretty sure the “eventually” part is the active ingredient here, but again – why doubt? To be convinced extra money is on the way is a good and cheering thing.
Never tell your dreams aloud before you eat breakfast or they won’t come true. Or maybe they will – it depends on whether they were good dreams or bad ones. Always yell “New road!” when you turned on to one; that guaranteed there would be adventures. I always felt we didn’t need any further guarantees of adventure; the only way our trips could have gotten more exiting was if we had been trying to get rid of a cursed ring … Always begin a day’s writing with a few games of Free Cell; I’ve tried to adapt this one to Mahjonng, just because I like it better, and I have to admit it seems to help focus the mind.
Kage didn’t ascribe to my rationalist views at all. She maintained that all her habits, omen- spotting and disaster cures were of immense spiritual value, and that she was in clear contact with the Ephemeral and Cosmic. The emphasis with which she would insist on, for instance, the necessity of bathing in the sea at midnight on New Year’s Day was absolutely suspect – a certain daft glint in the eye, and her resolute “You have to believe me – I’m psychotic!” kind of hinted that she was having me on.
But still, she’d do these things! And they’d work. She was the only person I have ever known for whom visualization actually succeeded on a regular basis – the ability of her whim and opinion to alter reality was undeniable. Even her Tarot readings – a practice at which she was both skilled and yet scornful – always came out right. The cards never lie, she would state solemnly; the old gypsy woman, she’s full of shit: but the cards never lie.
But she wouldn’t take money for a reading. Doing that made the cards come out wrong.
I am trying to hit a few points of observance and observation today, in an attempt to set the tone for the new year. I choose to regard the Twilight Zone marathon going on in the living room as a sign of the triumph of virtue – because even though the victory is sometimes Pyrrhic, the Good Guys tend to win in Twilight Zone stories. I choose to take my stiff back as a sign of being anchored to my desk: I will write more. I choose to take the unexpected Teddy Bear I got from my nephew – a Gund bear! A really good one! – as a sign of increased security and love. And I am resolutely regarding the ham currently perfuming the house from the oven as a promise of prosperity and plenty. Also, of ham; and how can that be anything but fortunate?
And so now, here we are at New Year’s Day. It’s a quiet one for Los Angelenos: but we are between rain storms, mirabile dictu, which promises we may escape desertification for another year. No Rose Parade or Rose Bowl today: Pasadena, in its 19th-century wisdom, never runs either the Parade or the Game on a Sunday – they say it’s a bargain with God, to prevent it raining on The Day.
Kage completely understood that.