Watching The Lights

Kage  Baker was as likely as anyone else to go boneless and lazy on a suddenly-warm summer evening.

She loved sitting in the living room with no lights lit but candles and lava lamps, idly brainstorming. We would watch the restaurant lights stream across the waves a block away, or time the rotating spotlight at the Nipomo airport as it passed over and over in the dark.

Sometimes the light would dim, or miss a cycle. We always told one another it might be an alien craft; they were known to cruise around out there, mutilating strawberries or cows, knocking out the electricity when they broke the glass insulators off by skimming the power poles. There were reports of fires out there all the time, telephone poles going up like tiki torches amid shards of melted glass and charred metal.

However, there was also fog rolling in and out all the time: often no more than a story or two high. And we knew what the airport was like, we’d driven out to see. It was the approximate size of an AM/PM. When the night-shift crop dusters took off, they had to either block the light on our side, or hit the tower. So it wasn’t all that likely it was flying saucers.

Kage cherished the idea of space aliens out in the dunes, though. God knows, there was a lot of legitimately weird stuff and people out there. But even Kage admitted that not even vegetable rustlers, born-again Celtic hermits and the pot farmers of the Temple of the People guaranteed that space aliens were bopping around out there as well.

But she did love the idea, so much so that she wrote several stories about the exceedingly weird little town of Pismo Beach, and the truly odd things and folks that dwelt there. The Company ended up doing lots of work out in the dunes, with bits of real Egyptian temples buried with the old movie sets of same. Her little stupid guys flew their saucers there. Cthonic gods were worshipped by sailor-suited buskers in old cocktail bars. And she put a strange but charming Irish hermit out there to commemorate the Gaelic Renaissance of the 1930’s.

It was all enormous fun, and good memories.

I was going to post a little excuse for not writing an actual Kage and writing blog tonight, but then I was distracted by the memories of strange lights out our living room window, and the glowing waves on Pismo Beach … and, BTW, the Temple of the People (which is quite real) still stands in vaguely saucer-shaped splendour on a dirt road amid the broccoli fields in the tiny town of Halcyon.  The Post Office across the street sells wonderful incense and diverse crystals, and imported chocolate bars …

Here’s a picture of it for you, Dear Readers. Have fun watching your own lights tonight.










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June’s Bugs

Kage Baker waited frantically for June each year. She lived for its arrival for lots of reasons.

School was out – an event that carried such spiritual weight for her that she still honoured it no matter how many years had passed since it had made any difference to her life. “Of course it matters!” she told me when I observed that, at 50,  it was no longer the big deal it had been when she was 14. “I still notice, don’t I? Summer vacation is one of the big borders of life! There’s something fundamentally wrong with the Universe that makes it stop just as life gets interesting.”

And I guess there is. Kage was certainly not the only person I have known who still depended on the idea of summer holidays to give shape to life. She just really, really worked at it: to the point where being free all summer was a major goal of her life. It was one of the biggest reasons she worked so hard: just so she could stay at home . Self-employment meant not getting up early for work, not knowing or caring what day of the week it was, spending the whole summer in tee shirts and jeans. Kage’s goal was to spend the last 18 years of her life the same way she had spent the first 18.  Being a writer was how she accomplished it. And every year when June leaped above the burning horizon of the world, Kage celebrated the return of summer vacation.

Writing was what she did on her summer vacation. It was what she did the rest of the time too, but she said it was more fun to define it that way. She was getting away with being on permanent holiday. She loved getting away with things.

Of course, June had other charms. Summer does begin during this month. Things got hot, and Kage could actually be warm for a few weeks. (Though on foggy summer nights, there were still some epic battles over the thermostat.) And of course, Kage’s birthday was in June. Sometimes the celebration for that was all of June.

But (other than being as unconstrained by routines and schedules as she could manage) what summer brought was the Silly Season. In the hot depths of summer, people get … peculiar. Monsters go wandering, UFOs buzz everywhere, men bite dogs in droves. It used to be when news agencies had so little real news that two-headed cows and the Ascended Masters of Mount Shasta appeared and made headlines. Even now, the Internet carries some crazy news every day – radioactive catfish in the cooling ponds of Chernobyl, the (mythical) carburetor that lets your car run on water, virgin births and honest politicians. But in summer … ah, in summer, even in these modern and over-informed times, it all gets even stranger.

Kage waited eagerly for this time of year, specifically to replenish her files of Weird Stuff, Uncanny Science, and General Craziness. It was one of her major sources of Story Ideas. She liked archeological finds that turned out to be customized dog skulls, or spark plugs. Living (briefly) frogs in geodes. Some English village deciding to reinforce the ancient law that said you have to wear a white wool cap on Sunday. Bugs – embarrassing  bugs in computer networks, hungry bugs in Biblical hordes, mystery “space” bugs in local tomato patches. And, or course, all the bugs in people’s heads. Those were the best of all.

For instance, she always wanted to witness a UFO flap, but somehow never managed to be in the right place at the right time. Despite living in the Hollywood Hills and in Central California for most of her life, she was never resident precisely where there were Gulf Breeze-levels of flying saucers. UFOs were locally believed to be all over the Nipomo Mesa near Pismo Beach, but Kage never saw one. Though when the power went out on hot summer nights, killing our vital fans, she’d shake her fist at the sky and curse the aliens. (It was probably the extra 25,000 people in town for the summer. Though you never know. Aliens are apparently dreadfully inept pilots …)

I am still reading new books on UFOs, partly to honour the Silly Season coming in. When it gets a little warmer at nights, I’m going to sit out on the front porch and look for anomalous lights. I’m also waiting eagerly for the DNA analysis of Loch Ness to come out, so we can see if there are plesiosaurs in there. There is always the chance that Betelgeuse will go nova, which is expected to happen in the astronomical equivalent of any minute now, and would be an amazing sight. Statues may start drinking milk or weeping blood. There may be another plague of carnivorous frogs on Florida golf courses. Someone may decipher the Voynich Manuscript. Again.

In the meantime, I need to put up the mini flamingo lights at my desk. And then I think an ice cream bar is  in order.

It’s summer time.



PSA: there were no possums in my house last night. I traumatized the cats, charging into the kitchen with a flashlight every time I heard crunching in the dark, but no possums. It’s what the cats get for falling down on the job, anyway.








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Up All Night. And All Day (So Far, Anyway)

Kage Baker rarely wrote in the middle of the night.

She was a daylight person. She stayed up late to work, most nights: but her idea of late was any hour past midnight. By that time, she was visibly flagging. Her eyes would develop the fixed, glassy stare of someone who has been driving for 12 hours, and is still 2 states away from their exit. Ultimately, she would drive off the information highway and fall  asleep in a ditch by the road.

I can count the number of times Kage had actual insomnia on the fingers of one hand. And two of those occasions she was sleepless due to worry over a family member. On any normal night, and some pretty abnormal ones, she was essentially sleep walking by 2 AM and could  be put to bed with no more resistance than a toddler.  She learned to stop writing by then, because she’d get up the next day and find it was gibberish and all to be done again.

“I can’t write if I’ve turned into a pumpkin,” she fretted. Then she’d go to bed and plot whole stories in her dreams. Nice work, if you can get it …

I have insomnia. I have insomnia the way I have brown eyes, or the knack of twisting my tongue into a tube, or congestive heart failure. It’s not an occasional condition; I am habitually awake more nights than I am asleep. It’s worse in the Spring and Fall, like allergies, though one memorable year I failed to fall asleep after a Halloween party, and was more or less awake until May Day. I am accustomed to seeing dawns and sunsets and then new dawns in matching sets. I recently calculated that my accumulated sleep debt is  now longer than my actuarial lifespan.

It’s an acknowledged fact that loss of sleep will fry your brain and most of your autonomic metabolism. Torturers use it for that reason, and it’s reputed to be more effective than pain. (I believe that, because with enough pain you can eventually pass out.) Scientific American has a tidy littlel article online, that says the world record is 264 hours: about 11 days, set by some teen-aged kid back in 1965. ( I am willing to bet that some other miserable teenager has since met or bettered this record. Adolescence is like that.

I have been slow-dancing with insomnia all May. It’s much easier now that I am retired, I must admit; I can stay awake until the sun rises, then sleep for 6 hours with an utterly clear conscience. If I am really awake – like, manic with it, which happens – I can write until late into the night, and it’ll still make sense 12 hours later when I am pouring coffee down my throat and my pants in an effort to wake up. But when I am too tired; when I have been awake for a day or 3 and my only real claim to wakefulness is that my eyes are still open: then I read. I crave the printed word with an addict’s ardour. I NEED to read. I used to have panic attacks when I thought I didn’t have enough fresh books to hand to last me through the night.

My Kindle has saved me from that terror, at least. I have over a thousand books safely in my Cloud, and new ones are an instant gratification as long I have a wifi signal. And I always have a wifi signal. This is an addiction of long standing, and I have moved with the times to accommodate that erudite monkey on my back. It means I can write all night, too, if I want to do that: witness my tendency to write blog entries between 9 PM and midnight. Then I can spend the wee small hours in the arms of Thoth, Seshat, Nabu and Cadmus. Or any other deities of the written word who might be awake for a foursome of spades, or a little four-in-hand dancing.

The last few nights, I have been reading up on UFOs. This is almost total junk food;  sometimes you get a nugget of information, like some real cheese on a greasy burger of dubious meat; but mostly, it’s comfortable junk food. It’s a nostalgic topic, too, as Kage and Kimberly and I spent many, many nights watching the stars and hoping for sightseeing aliens. I can’t state for sure we ever saw any, though we did see UFOs aplenty: if you can’t tell what it was you saw, it’s a UFO, right? My favourite left Kage with an inexplicable sunburn in the middle of the night (probably ball lightning) while Kimberly and her husband were wandering helplessly in an old quarry in the dark – Kage had the flashlight, of course. My second favourite turned out out to be a goose flying overhead, with the moon reflecting silver off its breast.

UFOs are cool.

My nights have been further enriched lately by the apparently endless stream of baby opossums who have been toddling indoors through every loose window screen or chewed-open vent in the house. How the hell do we suddenly have so many possums? Last night was Opossum #3, announced with a sort of of resigned bewilderment by Michael about 4 AM. We had a brief bug hunt through the bedrooms, then gave it up till morning – the little bugger left on its own sometime during it all, leaving just me to watch and listen till dawn. The cats were no use at all: the black cat never woke up, and the red cat just sat  in her cat tower crying piteously. Possums are scary, I guess.

I chased aliens through to the ere-dawn, and then fell over for a couple of hours. After which I was again wide freaking awake, and so was able to advise Michael (who did not need it) on how to possum-proof all the windows.

The good part – and yes, there is a good part, Dear Readers! – was that there is a story in this. I am going to work on it a little as soon as I post this … because if infinite possums can come through the walls at night, who knows what else might be out there?

I’ll leave a light on.



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May Grey, June Gloom

Kage Baker loved this time of year. At least, she loved the classical weather of our childhoods, when sometimes May and always June were dim and quiet under a grey sky … this is no longer a sure thing, as climate change is underscoring the desert part of sub-desert in Los Angeles; but this year, at least, it still pertains.

It’s actually rained a little, three or four times this May;  an even rarer occurrence in the LA Basin. Or maybe it’s really heavy dew. The temperature this morning was only 59, and the dew point was 57 degrees. The marine layer was breaking over the domes of the Griffith Park Observatory like ghostly waves. The front garden is wet and aromatic with it, and everything with leaves is still a fresh and vital green; the streets are slick and shining. It’s  paradisial.

There are camellias and  geraniums and roses blooming in our front yard, and the rosemary is covered in blue flowers and bees. The mulberry tree has leafed out, and and borne fat sticky black fruits as well; the birds and squirrels eat some of them, but never enough:  they’re full of seeds and peanuts instead, the little ingrates, and the porch has big purple polka dots all over it where the berries have splattered.

My xeriscaping efforts, alas, have not thrived. We planted all sorts of drought resistant plants, and they all died. The little rain we had this winter has apparently dissolved the redwood bark we laid down, and instead brought up a fine virile crop of dandelions, milkweed, wild oats, cranes bill, and a few varieties of bunch grass that are not worth the powder to blow them to Hell. They are certainly verdant, though. Tomorrow, I’m going to take Mike out and buy us a nice cordless electric lawn mower, and at least reduce it all to something that looks like a lawn. It’ll be flat and short and green, at least.

We’ll leave the roses, and spread some new bark. For all I know, the skunks are eating it and we are supplying a native animal population. Maybe we can add a few matiljja poppies, and some grama grass, or bluestem or some purple needle grass. Those are all native, and tend to be sold as larger plants. Hopefully they’ll survive. And in the meantime, we at least are not wasting precious water on a self-indulgent Beverly Hills lawn.

It looks like it will stay seasonally cool for a while, too. This was weather Kage adored. It’s been a little chillier than she liked – Salamander-woman disliked anything below 75 degrees or so. But  she loved the mild air and pearl skies, and the deep, rich perfumes that rose up everywhere as all the gardens and wild empty lots began to bloom.

We used to leave school at the end of the day, when she was a senior and I was a junior, and walk along Franklin Boulevard to Highland Avenue. Lots of magnolias along that route, smelling of lemons for blocks around; then you get into jacaranda trees blooming like psychedelic purple clouds. At Highland we’d walk North to the Hollywood Bowl, where grow things I think might be enormous, ancient ficus trees.  I don’t know. But they have silver bark and spreading green boughs, and we called them mallorns in our Tolkien-saturated teens. We’d hike up into the Bowl itself,  and watch the fog drift in curtains across the empty, echoing shell, sitting huddled on the silvered wooden benches; we’d eat Violet Crunch candy bars, and Kage would plot out the stories she would someday write.

I lost 3 shoes doing that. If I’d kept my damn shoes on instead of playing at being a barefoot elf-maid, or if I’d remembered to put them all in my book bag, I’d have had an extra pair and a half of cheap sandals by Senior year. I never remembered I’d worn shoes until one of our mothers had come at our pleading phone call to pick us up and take us home. But I’d get enthralled by the stories Kage was telling; it was pure luck I didn’t forget my school books, or my head.

Good times, man, under the ageless mist in the gleaming shell of the Bowl. Why we never kidnapped by white slavers, I will never know. Maybe the white slavers were too smart to be out in the cold in the empty Hollywood Bowl.

I must try to get back up there though, before June Gloom burns away entirely and leaves us to broil under the summer sun of July. Dreams and memories wander there, and some of them are mine. I could use a visit with some of those …





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Memories In May

Kage Baker never (as far as I could tell) forgot anything. Things she did not wish to recall were somehow shunted away –  probably into her tertiary consciousness; I know she had one – until and unless some reflex forced her to remember them. Her idea of important did not include things like “Where did you leave the car keys?” or “Did this recipe call for teaspoons of mustard, or tablespoons?”, which added enormously to the everyday excitement of life.

It did prioritize things like “What was that book I liked? You know, it had a green cover and had a jam stain shaped  like a paisley on the dedication page. I got it out of the Library once …” That kind of thing could rule our lives for weeks at a time as she searched all our books (in case we had forgotten to return it to the Library), went through increasingly convoluted search protocols on line, and racked our combined brains. I was usually reduced to insane screaming eventually. The really annoying thing was that this routine usually worked, and she would find the damned book.

I gradually came to the conclusion that she was actually forcing the multiverse to create these things, and then cough them up for her. And I most sincerely wish I could do that, too. Determination and skill at search engines has made me better than anyone else in the family at finding the dimly remembered and poorly described, but I am not in Kage’s league. She could locate extinct paper popup bat decorations, and the last known bottles of outre liqueurs not distilled since WWI. And these are RL examples, folks. My best score to date has been finding Knorr Hunter’s Sauce Mix, though only in German packaging. Luckily, Kimberly reads German.

And now, some fun with past, future and current events. Which are inextricably tangled.

In France, enormous blue worms have been found. They resemble planaria, which every biology student will recall as being those clever little buggers you can split like a twig to produce worms with Cerberus heads: but these French worms are up to 3 feet long. And blue, although I bet that is not a pertinent fact; just interesting. The really interesting facts are that 1) they are being found not only in France, but in French territories (there still are French territories; I had no idea) which would indicate that there is something special being shared amid places as disparate as Paris and Polynesia, some distinct worm  terroire. And 2), while the worms are new to the world in general, French gardeners have known about them for 20 years.

Oh, and they are carnivorous. What a blast from the past!

The world is predicted to end on June 24th this year. They mean it, now! It’s been  calculated by adding the Number of the Beast to numbers of local UK crop circles, along with the current crop prices. This makes slightly more sense than most Apocalypse predictions, since it would effect beer:  but I still wouldn’t count too much on it. On the other hand, Kage always said that every such prediction was true and actually happened, only no one noticed.

On the further subject of Time … today is the anniversary of the Spanish Armada beginning to leave for England (it took 2 more days to clear the Port of Lisbon); it didn’t turn out well. Louis Agassiz and  Ian Fleming were born; so was Stephen Gillan. All those turned out very well indeed.

Today is a day for remembering. The late sunlight is shining through the lace curtains in my bedroom, and the shadows on the walls recall the oak trees casting acres of deep, fractal shade at ancient Renaissance Faires. I found an old Hawaiian shirt in a drawer, and am remembering the crazed book signing to which I originally wore it. Tom Barclay sent me a necklace of red beads and brass clock faces with no hands: which recalls all the unquiet, unregulated, strangely constructed Time in Kage’s vicinity … and lets me wade a little in that stream, and search the bottom for interestingly coloured glass fragments.

Kage said Time is not a river; or if it is, it’s all oxbows and meanders. You can reenter wherever you like, if you are intent enough.

I have no screed or sermon to add to this day’s memories – only the general idea that we should remember as much as we possibly can, because everything is worth it eventually. And, as Kage firmly believed, not only does nothing ever end, it’s all happening at the same time. Which  is Now.

There is an old British folk custom of telling your daily events to the bees. Perhaps memories should be told to the poppies.


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Daily Weirdness, With Possums

Kage Baker firmly believed that the basis of the world as we know it is weirdness. Most human endeavour, she felt, was an attempt to explain, ignore, or encompass weirdness. People don’t usually like it, you see, and they structure their lives – their habits, their families and civilizations – to normalize the surrounding sea of weird that is actually the normal state of the Universe.

Artists, writers, scientists, mystics and loonies are often just the folks who fail to do that. Sometimes they can’t help but notice these things, and it makes them very unhappy. Lots, though, just don’t care – those folks tend to be creative,  and often happier than others. Unless they get committed or something, of course; and sometimes, they’re both. Van Gogh, for instance (whom Kage took as a combination mentor/bad example), seems to have been quite contented when he was actually painting – it was only the rest of the time, when the poor man could not reconcile himself with the “normal” world, that he suffered.

Kage’s solution, personally,  was to ignore as much as she could manage of that world that insisted on the consensus view. She dodged that dreadful moment of despair that takes out so many sensitive people, and managed to survive the fatal season of adolescence. The world was weird, and she could live with that a lot easier than trying to live in a world where she had to pretend not to see the weirdness. It was one of the generators of her writing.

Some of it, too, may have been due to my first research project for her: queries into gravity, velocity, knot quality and how far the drop has to be to successfully break a neck. It scotched her plans to leap from the balcony of the Student Union at Immaculate Heart College with the two volumes of the OED clutched to her bosom; and by the time she got over being 16 or so, the urge had passed. (I may have exaggerated the difficulties somewhat …)

BTW, this is not a sad recollection. Teen aged girls do that sort of thing all the time. Luckily, most of it comes to nothing fatal, and it can be a healthy and transformative stage on the way to maturity. Learning you don’t want to die is good. Kage took the lesson. A clear-eyed look straight at the world’s weirdness confers much wisdom; and a lifetime of amusement, as well. Win/win/win situation. You’re not dead, you’re not a teenager anymore, and you’re usually entertained.

I have been much delayed over the last week by a flood of daftness. Various oddities have been making life take off on sorts of peculiar tangents around here lately. It being spring, we added a bird feeder to the squirrel feeder on the front porch; and while the squirrels cannot get to the bird seed – the feeder is suction-cupped to the window – the birds can and do raid the squirrels. It doesn’t work very well (ever see a sparrow try to make off with an entire peanut in the shell?) but the conflicts provide hours of innocent entertainment. Also, lots of fat squirrels and birds.

Of course, at night the larger wildlife come out to check out what the daytime combatants have tossed out in their battles. Raccoons, skunks, possums and coyotes will all eat peanuts, and they do come up on the porch to do so. Only the coyotes are polite enough to run away when we try to come in or out after dark; the skunks ignore us (but we can’t ignore them!) and the raccoons stretch little starveling paws out of the tree branches as we pass, begging to be domesticated. But the possums …

In the 34 years my family has lived in this house, exactly ONE (1) possum has made it into the house under its own steam, and it came through an open dog door (not presently in use). One was imported by the cats, but it was unwilling and was besides easy to extract and release to the wild; the worst result was sulking cats. As of today, we have now had two separate volunteer possums in a week, trundling around the house and eating all the cat kibble.

Four days or so ago, my nephew Mike came out into the living room in the middle of the night – I was up, insomniac and reading – to inquire in a puzzled way as to what to do about the possum in his bedroom. In the general Call To Quarters, the possum vanished into the boxes of storage in the back of the closet. Mike spent a couple of days rearranging things in there, including building a ramp to an open screen to encourage it to leave. And, in a tribute to his engineering, it did! Though we never quite  figured out how it had gotten in …

However, this morning both Mike and I were awakened at an ungodly hour by Kimberly apologetically announcing that there was another possum, this time in the living room. Armed with experience and elbow-high gauntlets, this time it took Mike only 15 minutes to corner the miscreant behind the television stand and grab it. I must admit, it was both tiny and pretty cute, and completely ungrateful to be evicted into the plumbago bushes out front.

This time, it not being the middle of the night, Mike went hunting for the means of ingress. He discovered that possums had chewed away the edges of the gasket whereby the clothes dryer vent hose exits through the laundry room wall. He has packed it round with steel wool, stucco tape and insulation foam, so we are now fairly well possum-proof. Unless, of course, we have a possum portal. Which is entirely  possible around here.

For these reasons, and several other problems, I do not quite have a working tricycle yet.  That adventure is yet to begin. But I have a great lock, a Welsh flag for the back, a good pith helmet for the sun, and my wheels will be together soon. In the meantime, observing the world is an interesting past-time once again, instead of a grief, and all is pretty good in this strange old world. I am not 16 myself any more, and am quite happy about it.

More about sinkholes, giant blue worms, California tsunamis, the next date the world is supposed to end and other strange wonders tomorrow. Hopefully, the world will be tame enough for me to write more about it. Onward and sideways!


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An Unexpected Glitch

Kage Baker. There, that’s my traditional beginning. I have now planted my banner on another dark Friday.

I am temporarily out of order, with something vile of a gastrointestinal order. I’ve probably been poisoned by the forces of darkness. However, I have in my possession a ruby, a very bad emerald, some pearls, some agates and some turquoise:  all of which are reputed to aid against poison. Also, some Pepto-Bismal.

I am going to bed. Shenanigans will resume tomorrow.

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