Kage Baker kept to a strict schedule of when and how her traditional holiday events occurred. I think it was an attempt to triumph over the chaos that always overwhelmed us at the end of the year – the holiday season was usually a ride on a carousel powered by out- of-sync sky rockets.
Therefore, no matter what, the Christmas tree (always a live one) went up on December 15th. If we happened to be in London on that day, the tree went up as we packed for that weekend of Dickens; we decorated it, glassy-eyed with weariness and cheer, the Monday after we got home. It provided a glowing, glittering beacon of calm and reason for us, and we could spend the rest of the season relaxing in the glow of coloured lights, admiring all the ornaments. Kage would lie back in her chair and breathe in the balsam-scented exhalations of the tree, like the breath of a lover.
I’ve followed this schedule for most of my life. But this year, all is inside out and upside down. I am just coasting, letting other people set the scenes and enjoying being an audience. My nephew Michael has heroically been hanging lights and garlands on everything; tonight, he’ll set up the tree right on schedule, just to please me. Bless him! It’s a gorgeous tree, despite being faux; one of the elegant ones with needles made meticulously of fine paper, so it’s as lovely as a live fir. And mostly cat-proof, which is why my sister uses a faux tree in the first place.
The cats nest in it anyway. But it’s less disastrous this way.
I’m not doing Dickens this year, on the principal that an actor who can’t walk 20 feet without panting like an old basset hound, is just not very festive. And Dickens didn’t write any characters like that, anyway – Mrs. Wititterly, from Nicholas Nickelby, comes closest. But she is a thoroughly unpleasant hypochondriac who enjoys her own ill-health, as well as a heaping helping of malice – and she’s not very festive, either.
I know my jolly Inn crew would have loved coping with my new role as acerbic baggage: it would have been hilarious and waaay too exciting, and probably led to wheelchair races in the streets of London – if not in the actual Parlour of the Green Man. But that kind of mayhem is self-indulgent and also not very festive: all Christmas really needs in the way of mortality is the cast A Christmas Carol, with its adorable Tiny Tim and the looming Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Not to mention all the miserable ghosts of venal businessmen flitting through the London night like big penitent moths …
So here I am, marking off time in the candy-coloured glow of several hundred lights, in the smouldering warmth of Los Angeles rather than the icy Bayside London of Dickens Fair. I miss everyone, but it’s a relief to know they won’t have to figure out how to dispose of my dead body with the empty kegs at the end of the day. I have just enough sense to realize I’m not a great casting decision this year.
But I’m writing! I’m giving a final polish to two or three stories I’ve produced this year, and will send them off tomorrow to test my agent’s new energy. Look! I cry into the aether. I have produced stuff! Find me the eager publishers!
Christmas presents are stacking up in my room, as I have sensibly done my shopping online. My December stash of Mullah coffee has arrived, too, renewing my ancient pledges of fidelity to Faire-brewed coffee and vegetable alkaloids. I managed to sleep upright in the recliner for a solid 2 hours last night. I even resisted rose-flavoured Turkish Delight for lunch – mostly.
And here is my blog post for the day. The last 2 months have been spent in a ghastly fog of weakness and despair – I imagine it as damp, billowing clouds of a sickly greyish tan; the colour the Elizabethans called “dead Spaniard”. (These were people who dyed cloth hues named “Puke”, “Turkey” and “Sad New Colour”, which probably luckily remains a mystery.) But the nasty clouds are thinning, drawing away, evaporating in all the lights of all the exulting evergreens.
I sit now in the growing tent of light, every shade of star and diamond and white, white, white: the waxing tide of the year’s renewal. And the tree rises in glory.