This Is Where I Came In

Kage Baker always made as much of a to-do about my birthday as possible. Not only did she like any excuse for a party; she felt that the older one got, the more one ought to celebrate one’s natal anniversaries. After all,  it took such a long time to get there … By the time Kage died, we were spending a solid week on each of our birthdays.

Today is my birthday. Not only does it fall on a Saturday (which automatically and legally extends a birthday to 2 days, in case you didn’t know that, Dear Readers) it comes as it always does on one end of the 4th of July weekend. Which means my birthday can be extended to 4 days with no trouble at all!

I don’t require a lot of pomp and circumstance to celebrate, even on the day itself. But I have had a wonderful day so far! My family is in a lovely mood, even the pets. I woke up to a fresh bouquet of Japanese irises. There were jelly doughnuts for breakfast, and there will be perfect enormous steaks for dinner. It’s cool and breezy here, and the neighborhood smells of barbecues. I had over 200 birthday greetings on my computer this morning.

And today I am 64 years old. This is an age in the realm of science fiction! To prove it, I have platinum in my heart, artificial plastic lenses in my eyes and my birthday congratulations arrived electronically on a screen on my desk … from all over the entire world. Just contemplating this is an enormous gift all by itself.

Plus, 64 is a magical birthday. It was a marker foretold by  the Beatles in the Golden Year of 1967, on the Golden Disk of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Which is itself 50 years old this summer. All Beatles fans look forward to this birthday, and I get to celebrate it in the 50th year. As Kage would have said: Boss!

The one crappy thing that is happening today is that my keyboard is being recalcitrant – moving too slowly and freezing, so that if I type at my usual speed, letters are doubled or dropped and in general it comes out like Etaoin Shrdlu translated into Klingonee. This is making me insane.

So, Dear Readers, I’m going to go eat leftover birthday doughnuts, and wait for my birthday steak, and just bask in general in the soft summer afternoon. And listen to Sgt. Pepper. Thank you all for your many greetings, and may you all have a lovely day as well.

And to help you on your merry way, here is Happy Birthday in Welsh, sent to me by my good friend Tom Newman. Thank you, Thomas bach!

Penblwydd hapus i ti, Penblwydd hapus i ti,

Penblwydd hapus annwyl Kathleen…

Penblwydd hapus i ti!!

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Not Bad, For A Start

Kage Baker‘s favourite season was summer. It was the time of year when she was least likely to be confined to the house, at school or cold. Days were long, plums were in season, rum drinks grew on every  tree – or could be made to do so, when the wind blew the right direction from Faerie Land.

If the wind was not cooperative, we’d set up the tropical standing fan in the living room (the fan boasted vanes and a stand decorated with bronzen palm fronds), and make our own damned breeze. Kage changed to white silk pajama tops and pinned all her head on top of her head: which kept her cool and also amused the bird, who liked to lie between her shoulders and the back of her chair and pull bobby pins out.

She had a variety of interesting martini glasses, and glass swizzle sticks decorated with everything from pineapples to dolphins to smiling skulls. We were always running out of ice because Kage hated ice cube trays, and seldom realized she was getting near the bottom of the latest bag of ice. But in a beach town, there are ice machines in every motel parking lot, all the gas stations, and the 7-11 down the block … so she never ran out for long.

The last few summers here in our natal city of Los Angeles have been – well, pretty ghastly. Global warming has been manifesting here as triple digit heat and years-long drought: the Permian Extinction Redux, I think, will start here in Southern California. But! Weather being inconstant, and climate being freaking insane, we do get some unexpected relief. It actually rained this winter, and the month of June has mostly been merely warm and grey.

It’s normal weather for L.A. in June. True, fires are starting up every few days just about everywhere, but so far they’ve been successfully put out. We’ve had but a week or so of deadly heat, and not much at all where I live: plus, the house is well-cooled and protected, and so far, it’s not been too bad. There’s a good chance this will not be another year where the heat gauge downtown melts.

Plus, I’ve still got some stories out being considered. And, out of the blue last week, Tachyon Publications sent me 2 recent (!!!) positive reviews on Kage’s only juvenile work: The Hotel Under the Sand. You may read them at the links below, Dear Readers, if you are interested:

With two positive reviews done so many years after the original publication, Tachyon feels there is something good there. They mean to push the book again, try to get a larger following; everyone who has read it has liked it. I have a tear-jerker letter file from people who wrote to Kage about it, praising it and thanking her; most of them came in during her last few months alive, and they all contributed to her dying in peace. God bless all those readers …

I think we may even try angling for some movie interest on this one. Heroines are cool. And if any of you Dear Readers do go check out these reviews, give a gander at what Tachyon is offering at the moment. They are an excellent house and simply amazing people, well worth anyone’s time.

My struggles with Medicaid, Medicare and L.A. Care continue, but progress is being made. Slowly. The new diabetes medication my doctor ordered for me was denied, and the side effects from what he can prescribe gave me vertigo for 2 weeks. I have been walking round the house at a slant, clinging to the furniture: the Author As Fruit Bat. I haven’t dared drive and I could barely type. On top of which, the meds they will cover are doing little to reduce my blood sugar, which has taken off to the stratosphere to hobnob with its fellow wizards.

But! (Again) Time is still my friend, at least a little. The side effects are wearing off, so I no longer walk at a tilt, and I am getting a reference to an endocrinologist. That is someone who should be able to get me on more effective drugs, with fewer effective side effects. Something mild and manageable, you know, like ass’s ears or glowing in the dark.

So things are looking up. There are stone fruits everywhere. The roses are blooming. I can kind of write again. I got new glasses and they work exquisitely. There is Chinese food for dinner.

Best of all, it’s summer. No matter what the world in general is doing on its way to Hell – throwing trash on the banks of the River Styx, I suspect, and yelling rude things at the attendant demons – summer cannot be denied.

And there, I hope, we are all happy.


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Summer Solstice, With Flames and Old Cars

Kage Baker felt Summer was the season for fancy paint jobs on cars. She was an enormous fan and dedicated connoisseuse.

She especially adored the flames that are painted on to peel back from the engines of cars – beautiful pale flames, twisting and delicate as scarves. Ghost flames, in pale icy blues and whites, were her favourites. She said they made it look like the car was running on a nuclear generator.

She also liked cars painted like the old mansions and row houses in San Francisco: the Painted Lady effect, with layers and shapes like dragon scales. On a vintage car like a Devaux Coupe or a Durant, she said it made them look like elegant hallucinations. She also liked the very modern paramagnetic or chameleon colour-changing paints – they made even the dullest Toyota or Ford look fascinating. She’d hang out the car windows like a werewolf in mid change, red hair flying and screams of delight echoing as she tracked some car through a full spectrum change.

Car shows were an all day event for us. Pismo Beach held a couple of good ones every year, and Kage paced through the entire field in a trance of wonder. Usually with a green silk parasol over her head. I favoured pith helmets, with memsahib scarves fluttering.

I now own a PT Cruiser because it has bones like a 1939 Ford: Kage loved that. It’s black and silver – only because Kage’s innate love of pirates came to the fore, and she couldn’t bear to paint flames on it. It was her own Black Pearl.

Last weekend was Father’s Day, and car shows were rampant. It’s one of those weekends when gorgeous, fancy, unlikely cars are everywhere on the roads – because their proud owners are on their way to shows. Kage and I spent a lot of Fridays on the California roads ourselves, en route to various events – part of the fun of the road was seeing all those insanely preserved and decorated cars, right out in public with nasty little Toyotas and wanna-be nouveau royals like Lexuses.

And they will be out there now for the rest of the summer. Today is the Solstice, and for 3 months now every hot white road will lead to the Summer Country. The ghostly cities off I-5 will shine more brightly; the half-glimpsed strangers in passing expensive cars will be more gorgeous. It’s the season of beautiful cars, in California.

We were often on the road on Fridays and Mondays especially, when the exquisite Phantoms were out there (often literally), in convoys and sets and occasional singletons. Kage always claimed that when they zoomed by, she could catch the scents of champagne and gin and tonic: she figured they probably ran on those summer beverages. She also claimed that any one of them could be a faerie vehicle, since – in these modern times – that was how the Fair Folk travelled: in perfectly preserved antique cars, themselves adorned with silk scarves and perfect faint tans, and sunglasses as black and opaque and prism-reflecting as pools in deep caves …

You can find glimpses of them in her stories “Her Father’s Eyes” and “The Summer People”, as well as a few little hints here and there. She told stories about them at Faire, when it was late at night and we were gathered relaxing in the dark Innyard, wondering at just who the pale wanderers might be who drifted past our gates out of range of the flickering lanterns. She said they haunted I-5 for speed, and Highway 1 for privacy – Highway 1 has almost no lights or telephones, and no cell service either; it falls off the edge of the continent every other year or so. And when it does, beautiful old cars appear on the disconnected stretches of pavement, visiting between the gated canyons that open off the road at intervals. The drivers never look aside, their perfect pale noses in the air.

Friendlier fay haunt the roads, too. Some friends of ours were once rescued by an artichoke farmer when their car died somewhere around Santa Cruz on its way to Los Angeles. He drove a perfectly restored 1930’s truck, of course. The way they described him, he must have been a descendant of good old Farmer Maggot, except he sent them on their way with a trunk full of artichokes instead of mushrooms. And they could never find him again.

Another group of friends once ended up stranded in a walnut grove somewhere off the I-5, where the transmission of their car fell out into the ocean of leaves. They followed music – Santana, to be precise – to a tidy little house in the middle of the grove; where they found some nice people who drove them (in a nice old truck) to someplace with lights and human beings where they could get a tow truck and a mechanic. But they didn’t find the house again by daylight …

Today is the first day of Summer. It’s the season for bright pale flames and dancing in the streets; for journeying, and festivals, and meeting the Good People in the perfumed woods at night. This is the longest day and shortest night of the year – technically, we’re now falling into darkness, but it’s a long and deliciously dizzying process. No one will notice until the year reaches equilibrium again on the Equinox. Right now, it’s time to play forever. Summer, while you’re in it, never ends.

And so – a happy Solstice to you all, Dear Readers!




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Does LA Care?

Kage Baker was adamant in her conviction that you must be careful in your wishes. “Watch out what you wish for!” was her watchword at birthday candle extinctions, on sighting falling stars, or when fighting over wishbones. She was positive that the gods or Fates or whoever she was placating at that moment was only waiting for someone to utter a deadly specificity: then, their eldritch wrath would descend on the dummy who made their desires so clear.

She was indoctrinated early by all those stories about Monkey’s Paws and magic lamps. The escalating misfortune that came to greedy Fisherman’s Wives made a deep impression on her. In her adolescence she discovered both Plautus and Zero Mostel; their intersection in the deathless A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum indelibly marked Kage’s soul. For the rest of her life, upon receiving good news or fortune, she had two reactions: she danced in glee, and she threw a beseeching look to the heavens and yelled, “She’s ugly! Ugly, I say!”

That latter was intended to fool the gods, you see. Whatever had happened was not really good, anymore than young Philia was actually lovely. That was the idea, at least. I’m not sure if it ever worked – Kage was pretty beloved by fortune and most gods anyway – but it did garner us a lot of funny looks in public.

Yestreday, I was feeling very sorry for myself. It was Kage’s birthday and she was still dead. Oh, poor me, I whined, here I am stuck eating plums all by myself. Oh, I wish I weren’t.

Well. I should have remembered. I should have kept my mouth shut. I can see Kage in my mind’s eye, shaking her head at me disapprovingly …

My insurance is administered through the ACA, via a program called L.A. Care. I’m lucky it does; did it not, I suspect I’d have been dragged into the street and garrotted by now. What has happened is this: this morning, on a Sunday, no less, at the tender hour of 8:30 AM, a representative of L.A. Care called me to advise me that my doctor’s request for a new diabetes drug for me has been denied.

Why call me? I don’t know. Why on a Sunday? I really don’t know. Ordinarily, they won’t talk to me except during regular office hours, M-F, 8 AM to 5 PM. What I do know is that my doctor ordered a new drug because my old ones 1) were not reducing my blood sugar adequately; and 2) were causing kidney damage. And I only have one. Kidney, that is. When I mentioned this to the young lady on the phone, she told me there were several other drugs that my doctor must try first, before they could even consider approving his first choice. She even gave me their names.

They ALL cause kidney failure. None of  them grows you an extra kidney, either. When I pointed that out, she told me to take it up with my doctor, whom she was not planning on calling. That step was up to me.

It’s a good thing L.A. does Care, huh? Imagine what would be happening if they didn’t.

Anyway, here I am. Tomorrow, I shall re-open negotiations; my doctor won’t be open before then, and L.A. Care doesn’t answer their phone on a Sunday. They only call out …

I must admit, it took longer for my medical care to get hinky than I originally feared. It’s been almost 6 months since the Inauguration. At this rate, I am certain to make it to my 64th birthday next month. Maybe Social Security will make a difference. Maybe the Beatles will intervene.

In the meantime, I refuse to lie to the gods. She is not ugly. I am not expendable.

There. Are. Four. Lights.


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June 10, 2017

Kage Baker would have been 65 years old today.

By this time, we would be as far North on Highway 1 as we could be. That happens to be 100 yards north of Ragged Point – where there is a wonderful restaurant, a wonderful hotel and a wonderful garden – and we would be standing at the blockade where the highway is closed. It’s closed for some undetermined space of time at the moment, because this is one of the years when Highway 1 falls off the side of the North American continent.

That happens every few years. This is an especially comprehensive year – there have been several landslides between Ragged Point and Big Sur, and large stretches of the road are now missing. Where the road still exists, it’s serving the creatures and people who are the local inhabitants, as well as being really exciting parking for the construction crews trying to put the road back.

It’s going to be a few years yet before the revenant William Randolph Hearst equips Highway 1 and the lovely town of Gorda with anti-gravity …

Until then, people who want to get to Big Sur or several points of interest North of Ragged Point are out of luck. In some few instances, they are off road, as well, trying to get to those locales via goat trails and fire roads. I know how to do that; and if Kage were still alive, I am certain she’d have insisted we try … and we’d probably have spent the night in a tent 1,000 feet above the Pacific on a cliff, hoping not to get eaten by bears.

Before attempting the road beyond Ragged Point, we’d probably have had breakfast in Morro Bay (at Dorn’s) or in Cambria (at Medusa’s Tacqueria). Maybe with lemon ice cream and beers at Budu’s Diner at Moonstone Cove, or whatever it is actually called … I don’t know what it’s called, in real life; only what we called it when it was one of the places we frequented within sound of the blue Pacific. There are 396 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and we had a special place approximately every 5 miles.

Here in Los Angeles, it’s a beautiful soft afternoon. The morning was grey and cool, perfect classical June weather for California. It was the weather Kage most loved on her birthday, when one could set out on the road with pockets full of plums and pace the Pacific Ocean until the Royal Road of the Sun materialized out of the Uttermost West and lured one to take it.

I wish I was at Ragged Point, strolling down the middle of the empty road with a glass of beer in my hand. We’d be talking about how Edward shot the bear on the vast lawn there (Ragged Point is where that happened) and debating whether or not we could make it to Jade Cove the next day by following fire roads along Nascimiento Ridge. We would cock snooks at the CalTrans signs forbidding passage past the Point. Kage would speculate on what strange beings and beasts were having a lovely summer, with the wild hills beyond us all to themselves. And beside us, the golden road of the sun would begin to pave itself across the water …

Kage, of course, has long since taken that road.

I’m still here, eating plums by myself.

And I wish I were not.


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De Day

Kage Baker always marked certain holidays with especial emphasis. The most important ones led to meditation on ancestors.

Today is one of them. Today is the anniversary of Project Overlord, D-Day, the Normandy invasion that led pretty much directly to the defeat of the Axis powers. This is a day we should all mark and remember – especially in this ghastly, troubled world – as a moment when we shone brightly. It was personal for Kage. It’s personal for anyone who had grandparents or parents alive in 1944. As it should be for all Americans, if we stop chewing out one another’s throats for a moment.

Kage’s choices in these things were predicated on historical significance (as decided by her), in the fine tradition of maiden ladies doing research projects. She came from a proud line of ladies – most of whom lived as spinsters, even if they weren’t – and who devoted their lives to that peculiar combination of national history and familial anecdote that is a hallmark of iron-willed Steel Magnolias and Roses everywhere.

The coastal cities on most American coasts, as well as all of England’s, are full of these ladies. They usually run the local museum, or Historical Society, or chapter of the National Trust. They chair patriotic pageants and parades; they organize bake sales and knitting bees for anyone who needs them; especially, but not exclusively, for the local military. Sometimes they are enormous pains in the community arse, a tradition lovingly immortalized in the person of Mrs. Eulalie McKechnie Shinn in 76 Trombones.

The reason this is still funny to me, Dear Readers, is that I am descended on the maternal line from McKegnies. Which are probably a version of McKechnie. Which are both probably connected to the better-know McKenzies … although, as an erudite friend of mine told me long ago, it’s all translated from Ogham anyway, so the spelling is optional. It always cracked Kage up, because – being that sort of genealogically inclined lady – she knew all that, and found the hare-brained historical hubris of Mrs. Shinn’s character utterly in keeping with me and mine.

Not that Kage’s was much better. Though I have to admit that her family was better-established than mine, both of us are descended from the same bizarre combination of Celts and East Coast Native Americans; but hers all had higher social standing than mine. They were all equally loony, though. That may have had something to do with our lines of descent, from many folks who are historically, shall we say, eccentric. Kage and I were both scions of deeply rooted nuts.

One of her ancestors was a famous hanging judge in the Bloody Assizes (George Jeffries, still affectionately remembered by the family because he was loyal to his King). Another spent a year or so pickled in apple cider, waiting posthumously and fragrantly for his tomb to be completed. My family tended to get hanged, or to die weirdly on the way home from the local in an alcoholically-enhanced haze; although they also dug holes all over Alderly, and have connections to even larger holes in New Mexico.

Kage was intensely patriotic. It wasn’t in the flag-waving way. It was in the pay your taxes, vote in every election, resist tyranny, make sure some of your own in every generation go into the service of the country sort of patriotism. You know, patriotism for normal people …  that was something we agreed on, as the maiden lady historians tend to do. Patriotism is  not well-expressed in what you yell hysterically at traumatic moments – it’s in how you live every day as an involved citizen. And that means thinking about the Past on  Dos Special Days, like Dis D-Day.

(See what I did there, with all the D’s? I am such a word-smith.)

Anyway. All this has been wandering through my head this afternoon, as I listen to the ever-awful news and try to fit another day into some kind of sane life. Ancestors, descendants, heroes kept alive in family histories: the history of sane men and women, making the world a fit place for children to grown up. I think the most important justification for all the spinsters keeping histories in small towns may be just that connection – keeping glory and history firmly attached to what real, human, not-crazy human beings do.

The beaches of Normandy didn’t fall to greedy lunatics – they were liberated from them. That, surely, is something to remember along the way.


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The Work and Its Ethic

Kage Baker did not consider herself a fan of the Protestant work ethic.

That is a theory that subscribes to the idea that – in theology,  sociology, economics and history – hard work, discipline and frugality are a result of a person’s subscription to the values espoused by the Protestant faith, particularly Calvinism. This was probably an idea with proponents long before Christianity arose – it’s a dour attitude that seems natural to a portion of humans – but it got its current name when Protestants became such noticeably un-fun members of the Christian spectrum. (unlike, say, the Anabaptists …) It’s closely associated with America, especially since America began its run toward nationhood by making bright colours, sex and Christmas illegal; stunts it followed up by occasionally criminalizing various pain-killers, antibiotics and ALL alcohol.

We all know how those campaigns turned out … and are, in fact, still turning out, in new and unexpectedly horrible ways. Nobody profits when law and custom lean more heavily on long lists of “Thou Shalt Nots” than on anything else.

Still, Kage believed in duty, and in discipline. Sometimes she espoused it in the cock-eyed Gilbert & Sullivan fashion: Duty, duty must be done; The rule applies to everyone! as Sir Despard and Richard carol. Of course, then you get lost in hair-splitting Moebius insanity, and end up arguing with your dead ancestors about how actually wicked you really are, if you deliberately flout a curse by being virtuous …

More often, though, Kage’s devotion to what MUST be done was so automatic that even she didn’t think about it. And she thought about everything. But the vital necessity of writing every day, all the time, no matter where she was: that was inviolable and did not require thought. Like breathing, it was a necessary component of life itself; and staying alive is a duty that cannot be shirked. It’s why she gave – first to Mendoza, and then to all her Operatives – the Prime Directive of her Universe:

Nothing matters. Except the work.

It’s what Kage herself believed. She believed it because she could see it demonstrated; because she had experimented, and that worked better at keeping her happy than anything else. She believed it with the intensity of a nun to whom God is not a Mystery, but the plainest bedrock Truth. It wasn’t a grim or joyless creed, either, but rather the basis of all  delight. Kage discovered, at an early age, that doing what you were meant to do was the ultimate satisfaction: that while you couldn’t escape the sorrows and pains of the world, you could fight them by doing what you should.

It took a little effort to find out what you ought to be doing in the first place, of course. And a lot of people argued with you. But once you found it, your course was set and nothing, nothing, would ever be as bad again. Nothing matters, except the work.

Kage wrote damn near every day. But even the worst days in her life (and those days happen to everyone, even someone as stubbornly cloistered as Kage Baker) could be assuaged by her Work. So when she was sad, frightened, angry or ill, she wrote. When she couldn’t write, she talked to me. When even tossing ideas was too hard, she dictated what she had already composed – no argument and no discussion, but it got the Work done nonetheless.

I meant to write an extremely whiny and self-pitying blog yestreday. I meant to do it today, too. Things are rotten in the State, Dear Readers; I am feeling pretty whinish and definitely self-pitying. Why, oh why, is MY old age being troubled by such insanity in the world around me? Why can’t I live out MY Golden Years in a Golden Age? Like anyone ever did, right? It’s semi-human nature, though; you just find yourself bitching when it finally happens to you …

But Kage’s great discovery came to my rescue. I got so intrigued by what I was saying yestreday that I got over being depressed. A lot of that has to do with the enchantment of one’s own voice, of course, but so what? It works, doesn’t it? And that is the big difference, and why Kage didn’t consider that she was driven by the Protestant work ethic. And why I don’t, either.

Because it does work. And it is joy. And it will heal all wounds, assuage all pains, cure all ills. Because really – reallio trulio, Dear Readers – nothing at all matters.

Except the work.


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