Inauguration Day

Kage Baker simply was not particularly interested in politics.

She paid her taxes (years when she made enough money to actually owe any), and assiduously exercised her right to vote (because she was an historian, and knew what her exercised right had cost). But she was always suspicious of cults of personality, and felt that most politicians took ruthless advantage of the tendency of the public to follow such cults.

Even politicians that have no personalities, such as Ted Cruz. All the man is, is a walking air horn – blatting spite and nonsense whenever he thinks it profitable, and counting on his determinedly conservative, largely rural and overwhelmingly Texan constituents to carry him forward. Another one – I hesitate to say “man” – is that well-greased weather vane, Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina. He’s not so much a chameleon as a warped mirror – whatever you want, he’ll support it, and give the object of his adulation comfortingly fun-house reflections of themselves.

I actually thought of something clever, Dear Readers, to say about the loathly David Madison Cawthorn, of North Carolina. But it would be mean and nasty, and I am disinclined to treat a man in a wheelchair as his own party usually treats them. And he kind of has a personality. He is, however, a piece of work.

Anyway, Kage tended not to get emotionally involved with politicians. They were public servants and she expected them to behave that way and just get on with their jobs, as quietly as possible. Kage had very old-fashioned ideas about servants … The only politicians I recall her having feelings for were Nixon (CON!) and Obama (PRO!)

I have similar inclinations myself, though I am much more susceptible to a virtuous or heroic man or woman. Gimme an epic, a hero’s journey, a fairy tale, and I am halfway hooked. Our new President and Vice President so well embody my emotional weaknesses, that I have been in a tizzy of joy all day. Mind you, in order to get rid of Trump, I might have seriously considered Beany and Cecil; so getting a truly virtuous man and a redoubtably heroic woman has been a dream true.

Anyway, today my household has been glued to the telly from 7 AM to 7PM (Jeopardy must not be missed), drinking in the pageantry of the triumph of decency and truth. I wept during the oath-taking; and giggled, too, when snow glittered through the crowd and when Garth Brooks ran mad among the high and mighty, hugging everyone in sight. I prayed with the generations of power at the Tomb of the Unknown, which is enough to gut anyone. I both cheered and tore my hair when President Biden kept dashing out of the parade line on the way to the White House to greet people – why does he DO things like that? I was surprised the beleaguered Secret Service guys didn’t handcuff him to his wife.

And the sun shone, and the wind made the Field of Flags on the National Mall glitter like the Potomac, and babies were little coat-wrapped burritos trying to fall out of the arms of Biden and Harris kin. People wandered around in the high atmosphere of our nation’s highest ceremony, grinning and back-slapping like they were at a barbecue. Dogs were mentioned and impatiently anticipated by the press; it was reported that the Bidens are looking into a rescue cat, as well.

Kage has been well out of it the last four years, and I have been constantly grateful that she wasn’t here to see the mess America had become. But today would have pleased her. It sure pleased me.

And it slowly dawned on me, Dear Readers, that a significant portion of our government is once more in the hands of human beings. Wow! Retro me, Sathanus! And take those damned lizard people with you.

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We’ve Been Spinning Since the Solstice

Kage Baker was not one of those people who forgot a holiday as soon as it was over. There’s nothing actually wrong with doing that – one must move on,after all – but she always liked to wring just a little more glitter out of a special day. Kage’s celebrations of birthdays tended to drift along for days – whole weekends were favourite – but by the time we were in our 40’s, my birthday and hers tended to run for a week or two.

She kept Christmas until 12th Night. The quarter days (the solstices and equinoxes) were probably 2-days festivals when Kage’s Celtic ancestors celebrated them; the Celts counted time by nights, so most of their celebrations took in the days on either side of the Big Night. Mayday used to pair with Walpurgisnacht on April 30th; Halloween paired with what is now observed as All Saints Day on November 1st. And in some places, they still do. And our household was definitely one of those places.

Now, obviously, today is not the Winter Solstice anymore. Nor is it yet the Spring Equinox. But Kage always kept the memory of the most recent quarter day in mind, to see if anything appropriately amazing happened between then and the next one. As Sir Terry Pratchett was wont to say, It can all go myffic at any moment. So, what with the unsettled times we’re been having – what with the modern Plague and the modern Caligula shaking things up – I’ve been keeping an eye on this weary world’s spinning progress, to see if miracles of any hue are in the offing.

And, lo! As we have been turning into the light, we have also been turning into the Land of Miracles.

First and foremost, of course: oh, frabjous day! Calloo callay! We are about to get a new President! Despite his considerable, although amazingly stupid, attempts to deny it happened, Trump lost the 2020 election. Joe Biden will be inaugurated as our 46th President and Kamala Harris as his Vice-President. Being as we are on the West Coast, that means champagne for breakfast, as the ceremony will start around 9 AM our time. And the mere fact that it is happening at all is a freaking miracle! Most of the country seems to feel like its luck has changed for the better. Woo-hoo!

Also, I am no longer completely dependent on extra oxygen! Noticing that it was quite wearying to carry the oxygen accumulator with me around the house, and that my breathing was getting much easier, I decided last night to make the journey to the bathroom unencumbered Also, I figured I wouldn’t frighten my family that way. And it worked! No panting, no exhaustion; no aches in my shoulder from hauling around 10 pounds of purring machine, either. Kimberly, with the honed reflexes of a mother, was awake when I came back to the living room – but she was as delighted as I was. While I am not madly more active, I can now perambulate so much more energetically. I am clearly getting better. A small miracle, I will admit, but mine own.

Respiration is great, Dear Readers.

There was also the Great Conjunction earlier this month, when Jupiter and Saturn appeared to be huge and side by side in the evening sky – a sight not seen so clearly in 800 years. I love these once-in-a-fairy-tale-while phenomena, like Haley’s Comet (which I have also seen) and unexpected meteorites, and Century Plants, and fertile mules – which are always female, for some unknown reason …

Not all miracles are necessarily good, of course. We have just concluded a most unseasonable spate of summer-warm weather here in Southern California, and now we are in the grip of monster winds. And rain and snow and fire. In fact, this evening, it’s been snowing in the mountains and raining in the hills: while trees, electrical lines, small zeppelins and squirrels are blowing in the wind and all directions. We are under a winter weather watch, a wind watch, a fire watch, AND a flash flood warning. This is the sort of malign weather magic that Titania is lamenting at the beginning of Act 2 in Midsummer Night’s Dream, when she tosses Oberon out of her dance party.

All of this I take as part of the dizzy earth twirling on her toes. Last year, as corroborative proof (sort of), the planet actually sped up in her rotation, contravening the habits of the past several million years. Scientists are considering subtracting a leap second from the official clock, which is quite a quantum quake.

So, things are strange, Dear Readers. They always are, of course; if you examine the local warp and woof closely enough, it’s clear that the Fates are usually weaving our fortunes while seriously under the influence. It’s just standing out a lot more this year, at least here at the beginning.

Kage would be amused. And unsurprised.

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So, This Old Lady Walks Into A Bar …

Kage Baker didn’t attend Dickens Fair consistently the last few years of her life. She was beginning to be at constant demand for her work, and sometimes found it easier to write when her noisy roommates (me and Harry), were off carousing in faux London. I brought stories back to her, for her amusement.

I didn’t bring this story back to her; she was already dead when it happened. And the incident shocked me so much I never told anyone except Kimberly. But right now, it has achieved sudden relevance, with the loathsome Donald Trump about to finally leave the White House … this was my own first taste of what the next 4 years would be like.

So! We set our scene in London, as that great city exists in transient glory in the Cow Palace …

Mr. Charles Dickens reads daily in the Parlour of the Green Man Inn, from his “new” classic, A Christmas Carol. It’s a madly popular show – people crowded all around the long Parlour table where The Great Man sits; taking every chair and sofa, leaning in windows, even sitting on the rug at his feet. My staff and I go happily bonkers: waiting at the Parlour door to take his hat and coat, setting up a nice little fancy tea where Dickens sits, with one of the ladies standing ready to pour him out a fresh cuppa when he appears. The Keeper of the Book – a facsimile edition of Dickens’ own performance copy – would hover anxiously by his place, dedicated to putting the volume into no hand but his.

On this day, a friend of mine was visiting Dickens, and asked me to save a space at the table for his lady – she had never heard it before. I was happy to do them the favour, and resumed my Dickens-watch holding the back of a chair for her.

And then an elderly lady suddenly walked up and sat down in the chair I was holding, PLOP. She didn’t even look at me; I apparently did not exist. I deduced this by the way she then tried to hitch the chair forward, and was surprised to find me holding on to it.

“Pardon me, Madame”, I said in my friendly innkeeper voice. “I am holding this seat for a friend of mine. May I seat you – ” and I gestured at an empty chair across the table ” – closer to the head of the table?”

See how sneaky I was? But, really, it was a better seat. However, she just gave me a long blank stare over one shoulder, and then turned away; I really did not exist.

So I repeated myself. I caught the attention of one of the Parlour maids, and asked her to hold the other seat for my apparently stone-deaf visitor. I leaned beside the chair as obsequiously as really good corsetry would allow, offered a cup of tea, pointed out the plates of biscuits at the other chair … nothing. However, a younger woman came up as I was repeating that the seat was saved; she was apparently the elderly lady’s daughter, and joined me in urging that her mother change chairs so I could seat my guest.

At this point, I need to mention that I am white. The old lady and her daughter were white. But my dear friend and his lady are black.

And so: the elderly lady looked up at her daughter (still treating me as a part of the chair) and said, in a shockingly normal tone of voice: “But, honey – Trump won in November. We don’t have to be nice to them any more.”

The daughter looked horrified, and stared around to see if anyone had heard. Only me, of course – and I had the back of the chair in stranglehold as a wave of rage poured over me. It felt like ice cold water rising up into my throat. I was thinking: Here, of all places? Is this my moment to to live up to my ideals? Because if I answer this old bat as she deserves, I am going to get fired. My face must have been rather weird: I suspect it was frightening, since the daughter grabbed her mother’s arm, yanked her out of the chair, and walked her rapidly out of the Parlour.

My friend and his lady came back as I stood there, shaking. Staying in character is a great way to hide your feelings, Dear Readers; I was able to slide back behind Mrs. Bombay and welcome my guests warmly to the Reading. Just then, Mr. Dickens made his entrance, and I excused myself to wait by his chair at the head of the table. I poured his tea, laid The Book by his saucer, exchanged some cheery seasonal badinage, and left the Table in the excellent hands of Mr. Dickens.

Then I went and stood behind the Bar, fixed a vacuous smile on my face, and shook for a half hour.

Dear Readers, I cannot really actually describe the horror of that encounter. There in my own Parlour, at Extreme Christmas, in the liberal haven of San Francisco, out of the mouth of a decent-looking, amiable little old lady – the festering and yet so normal-sounding hatred that would come to be one of the hallmarks of Trump’s regime. I didn’t know, yet, that ordinary people would go instantly mad under Trump’s control, and crawl out of every rat-hole like the living dead; that they would turn out to be legion.

But I definitely felt I had been missed by a bullet – I hadn’t had to put my ass on the line, my friends did not meet this horrible old lady face to face. I could see them seated there, listening raptly, happy as anybody should be to be listening to Charles Dickens read A Christmas Carol. They thanked me afterwards, and I never told them what had happened. They never gave me any hint that they had heard it, either; perhaps we were all desperately trying to spare one another’s feelings. If so, I was and am grateful – because that day I was ashamed of my skin colour, my nation, my own craven thankfulness that I didn’t have to take more action myself.

But that scene has never left my mind for long, not through the last four long, ghastly years. I’ve never been completely off-guard, never stopped watching and listening for another Trump-zombie to wander up and slime all over my day. As my health got worse and worse, I couldn’t make it out to march or protest – though I did proudly knit a pussy hat for a friend who wore it to that first women’s march. I sent letter and emails, I signed petitions. And every time I did, I heard that old woman saying in a calm, reasonable voice: But, honey, we don’t have to be nice to them anymore!

Even spending most of last year hospitalized, there were other patients, members of staff, whose casually ugly remarks reminded me. I spoke up whenever I heard them, the way you do to let some beer-bellied jackass know that his x-rated “joke” is not funny. Some nurses refused to tend me; at least one roommate objected to sharing a room with me. I spent my last 3 months there essentially in solitary, as my roommate was comatose. Video calls with Kimberly and Michael were almost my only human contact.

I watched much worse things happen, as people were shot, spat on, run over, harangued. Their attackers looked normal, but acted like lunatics. Trump was even worse, offending and alienating all America’s friends and allies with behaviour so awful even SNL had trouble parodying it. Could anyone actually be as horrible as he was? And with every action, he showed us that he could get even worse.

But that old lady stuck in my mind. She’s haunted me for 4 years. Now maybe the bitch will lie down and die in my memory.

So, Dear Readers, this old lady walked into a bar and learned that the world had changed. And it was her own bar! Like everyone else, she began to learn that the light was fading. Atlantis was well and truly sunk, there were no faeries, the Dark Lord had not only won, but he was much uglier and more inelegant than the stories had led us to believe.

But soon he’ll be gone, gone to live (in defiance of his lease) in Mira Largo. He’ll be Florida’s problem then. Mind you, I don’t know how the hell we’re going to get Air Force One back from him. And he’s walking off with the nuclear football, too, but at least we can turn that off long range …

Damn, but it’s been a long,dark walk into that bar.

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New Year’s Day, 2021

Kage Baker. An acknowledgement of the import of the date. A few references to obscure, eccentric and/or amusing customs in other lands and times. A genial well-wishing to my patient Dear Readers.

That is the basic structure of any of my blogs, and particularly for this first holiday of a New Year. And that is about all I’m going to manage to get down here tonight, as I am tired beyond words. We have all escaped from the pernicious gravitational tide of 2020, but just at the moment I am barely keeping my head above the retreating tide of evil murk.

Ah, Kage, my dear old buddy – we certainly fought and ran from a lively selection of horrors in our time! We survived Reagan’s amiable mismanagement of first California and then the entire nation; we found and kept jobs in the worst of economic times, because we had to do it. Remember when you were working sales for a company that sold suspicious sports memorabilia? Or when I worked for that crazy sweat room business that made custom window treatments? (Never just blinds, o no!) Ah, we had some good old times. I miss you.

Here’s to the the end of the year we all spent in the garbage crusher! May its like never be see again in my lifetime. Or yours, Dear Readers, as some of you are significantly younger than I am. I lived through Nixon and the Watergate break-in; through Reagan’s beatification of the Nicaraguan Contras as “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers; through a myriad demented Defense schemes, and not-quite wars, and all the times our government pulled faces and spit at other countries.

Now, in cultures unlike our own … on the last night of the year, Colombians place three potatoes—one peeled, one unpeeled, and one half peeled—beneath their beds. At midnight, they reach down and pull out the first potato they touch. Peeled means they’ll have financial problems, unpeeled indicates abundance, and half peeled…well, somewhere in between. So if you want an excuse for the desperate life you usually lead, you can rely on the potatoes.

In Italy, they eat lentils; in the southern USA, they eat black-eyed peas and rice; in Spain, they eat 12 raisins as quickly as possible while the clocks chime the 12 strokes of midnight. It’s supposed to be for good luck – I guess if you don’t choke while cramming raisins in your gob during the 24 seconds the bells take, it counts as really good luck.

In the Philippines, they eat 12 round fruit – any round fruit, they are meant to signify coins and thus prosperity. There doesn’t seem to be any time limit, so I guess you’re ahead of Spain right there. In Denmark they eat boiled cod with mustard, and then marzipan doughnuts. At least, I think it’s sequential. I had some friends who liked kippers with powdered sugar doughnuts, but I never thought to ask them if it was traditional or some peculiar aberration of Faire exhaustion.

In parts of Canada, they go ice fishing (and presumably, eat them afterwards.) In Ireland, they throw bread against the walls of their houses. In Greece, they bake special yeast bread and give it to the poor. In China, and other parts of the East, they make special super-long soba noodles called “crossing-over noodles.”

And everyone, everywhere, sets off fireworks. And shoots guns into the air. And starts fires and shoots holes through property, trees and the neighbors. In the LA Basin area, police helicopters will not fly around midnight on New Year’ Eve, because they have gotten hit and disabled in the past …

But, you know what, Dear Readers? It’s all to honour the point where the stars slip from one domain to the next. It is rather arbitrary as to date and time, but the global weight of belief that now accompanies all this panoply surely tips the celebrations over to significance. There are a lot of philosophies that contend human being are the sensory equipment of the Universe – we are how stars and cosmic dust and Martian sand worms and coelacanths and every variety of Bug-Eyed Monster (including Homo sapiens) recognizes itself and the Universe and the relationships between them.

So be certain to take note of all the amazing stuff that goes on around you, Dear Readers. You are the eyes and ears of the Universe.

Happy New Year, y’all.

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The Empty Days

Kage Baker always shut down as far as she could for the days between Christmas and New Year’s.

She felt that that week should be a buffer, a waiting period, a comfortable domestic hermitage. The jobs we held while we lived on the Central Coast of California – an area still largely rural and determinedly touristy – always shut down for at least that week; sometimes two. We lived off Christmas leftovers, Christmas candy, Christmas bonuses and Kage’s writing. We stayed at home and did as little as possible, in a happy torpor.

FYI, the Aztecs observed a five-day empty period at the end of their annual calendrical cycle. It had a formal name, accepted customs, enormous symbolic weight: the Aztecs were very into even numbers, and the partitioning of those five days was necessary to make the year come out even. However, they didn’t like it and so declared the entire dead days period to be bad luck – they stayed home and did as little as possible, in a quiet dread of something horrible happening.

When I told Kage about that, she was very interested and found it logical; except the existential terror part. She felt the Aztecs were taking it too far in that. If you want to read about it, Dear Readers, and decide for yourself if you want to spend the final week of the year in either happy lassitude or paranoid suspicion, check out the link below. The Wikipedia entry should give you a start for research.

As the result of doing as little possible this week, I have therefore not posted many blogs. Sorry, Dear Readers: the holiday season this year is a vast expanse of alarm, worry, despair and exhaustion. My family is holding on hard to home and hearth, and hoping we will survive until the horological rhythm of the world renews itself and starts over. Let’s face it – we all ran out of interest in the year 2020 around the time the first earthquake hit Puerto Rico … things never improved much after that.

Now a third of a million Americans are head, hundreds of thousands more are sick, the economy is collapsing, continent-wide storms have begun and hospitals are staring at a shortage of beds, staff, supplies, and even oxygen. The parasite in the White House did leave, but there is no guarantee he will stay gone; and I don’t think anyone has any more plan for keeping him out than they had for getting him out in the first place. There will be no crowds in Times Square. There will be no Rose Parade in Pasadena. There will be countless careless New Year’s Eve parties, which will flood into the overburdened health system around the feast day of our Lady of the Poor. Fun times, eh?

Nonetheless, many of us have managed good Christmases. Lots of people came to a new realization of just how important it was to be with their friends and family. We have renewed hope, what with multiple effective COVID vaccines making their (too slow, but better than nothing) way to the public; we are hesitantly hoping for better times when the new President takes office on January 20th. Weird as it has been, this at least has not been the year without a Christmas.

My family has been clinging to one another and enjoying sweeties while binge-watching Dr. Who on BBC America. Everyone got at least one nice present; the annual prime rib with Yorkshire pudding was divine, and there will be equally time-hallowed ham and Hoppin’ John for New Years.

Personally, I’ve gotten permission from my pulmonologist to have my ENT take out my tracheotomy tube soon. I cannot express the deep craving with which I look forward to life without a plastic tube in my neck. I shall probably need supplemental oxygen for a time, but I now have a lovely oxygen accumulator instead of nasty tanks. The accumulator is the size of a large lunchbox and extracts oxygen from the ambient atmosphere for my use: unbelievably keen. Just before I made the switch, I made in incautious tango turn around my oxygen caddy, and fell on my face – miraculously, I broke no bones, did not hit my head, and am merely stiff from strained muscles and dignity. But I have new hope.

These may be the empty days, Dear Readers, but they are not back luck, nor a prelude to disaster. They don’t have to be, any way. We are still on our feet, and around all of us are loved ones to help us stand just little longer. We have passed the Winter Solstice and are falling into the light once more. We can tentatively take this as a quiet time, to rest up and recover some strength.

And eat Christmas sweeties. Even the best chocolate doesn’t keep forever.


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Christmas Eve, 2020

Kage Baker was wont to sing (along with John Lennon): So now it is Christmas, la la la la la … At which point she’d stop and look rather disgusted and remark “Really, Johnny, this song has stupid vapid lyrics.”

Which it does. Kage felt she could get away with that judgemental remark due to her life-long devotion to the Beatles, as well as her own innate good taste. It’s a silly song; though not as brain-dead as Paul’s Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time. Secular Christmas carols tend to be silly.

Kage – and I – always adored the old religious hymns; the ones with a hint of blood and thunder and pagan sacrifice, murderous kings and foreign potentates ignoring international borders, camels in surrealistic profile along the dunes, and an entire winter sky full of angels. Hosanna, hosanna inexcelsis! Wings, wings and more wings (cherubim alone have an aerodynamically-unlikely seven wings apiece), song falling over the ha-Negev like the Aurora Borealis.

Nonetheless, today is, finally, at last and much too soon: Christmas Eve. Our goal, Kage and I, was always to get the presents wrapped and under the tree tonight, our stockings crammed beyond the bounds of Euclidean geometry, and a wonderful holiday dinner of prime rib, Brussels sprouts, Yorkshire pudding and gravy coming to life on and in the oven. We usually did it on Christmas Eve, so as to spend the holiday dinner itself with our sisters and their families. Tonight, though, with Dickens Fair gone virtual and all sensible people keeping to small-household quarantine, we are snugged down safe and sound at home.

It’s been a whacked out and somewhat difficult Christmas Eve. We’ve had repeated power failures, which has left us whining in the dark and feeling the good warmth dissolve out of the house. Thank goodness for propane gas and fireplaces! Not a great deal of shopping got done, but we have managed to set aside guilt and resolved to delight in giving one another what we can. It will be the 66th annual anniversary of my not getting a pony for Christmas, but I am content.

I’ve been slowly drowning in my own secretions, waiting endlessly for some miracle drug that promises to dry me up. It has never come … I have been dying by Godotian increments. But due to Kimberly being a ferociously ruthless telephone caller, she got the pharmacy to send it today! I have had the first treatment – it must be inhaled and tastes like the ghost of some brassica dead by heavy metal poisoning. On the other hand, my throat feels as smooth as a tin whistle, and I am every so happy!

The house is warm. The living room is filled with coloured light; so is the front yard, and tonight is the night when we leave the lights on all night long. It must work – Santa has never missed the house, and the Solstice has never spitefully reversed itself.

NORAD is tracking Santa. A small rain has been gently falling all day, and we got just cold enough in the power failures to appreciate being warm now. All in all, we here at Chez Bartholomew are pretty well set for the grand winter celebration.

So I wish you all a warm, cozy, Christmas Eve, Dear Readers. Hold close to however many of your loved ones you have managed to bring to shelter, and wave over safe distances to the rest of the family. Listen at midnight for the glassy whisper of the stars singing Hallelujah, and for the velvet susurration of your dogs and cats, and any other livestock you may have around the house, wishing one another Merry Christmas.

I’m going to watch one of several endless viewings of Christmas Story tonight, and later on read A Child’s Christmas In Wales for my own delectation. Tomorrow will be Hogfather. At some point there will be grain and salt on the door sill, because we all have our own special rituals don’t we?

It all comes down to blood on snow, as the man says. But this year, may it be less of our own.

rising sun running deer
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Christmas Eve Eve

Kage Baker referred to December 23rd this way; she got it from me, I fear. It can be carried to as absurd an extreme as one would like, until you find yourself referencing an endless chain of Christmas Eves, all the way back through Halloween and Harvest Home.

And it can be very comforting to begin the Yuletide celebrations early, in a particularly bad year – as 2020 most certainly has been, and seems determined to continue to be until the Old Year murders it with that scythe of his. Of course, you have to know in advance when to start the recursive mirror-reflection count down to get the best effect, and it isn’t usually easy. We probably should have realized back in March that 2020 was going to be No. 5 with a bullet on the fecal roster – but most of us didn’t.

Those that did were assured by their friends and family that they were just being paranoid – how bad could it get, really? Man, were we in for a series of nasty surprises. Kage would be shaking her head in professional gloom, she being naturally of a dour temperament and therefore unlikely to be surprised at the really amazing obnoxious tenacity of this year. Oh, we need a little Christmas indeed, right this very minute: and Kage just hated having to break into show tunes for the background music.

December has always been been the very worst month for me. Most of the people I have loved, who have died, have done so during the month of December. This very day, the 23rd, is the anniversary of my favourite grandfather’s death. My mother died on the 15th, my father, 20 years later less a day, on the 14th. These are memories which tend to sneak up on me during tree-trimming and present wrapping. Pets, friends, two lovers – my beloveds really tend to kick the old jam jar during the ultimate month of the calendar. It’s always cast a decided pall over the whole thing for me’ hence the buck-and-wing view of the run-up to Christmas as a series of nesting-doll Eves.

Backing up really improves the view, Dear Readers.

This is not to say I am sitting here, marinating in grief like a poor-quality tea. I love this season, I wouldn’t give up my memories of my beloved dead for anything. I just wish they were balanced a bit more evenly around the year. After a year like this last one – with the President leaving sticky, flaming fingerprints all over the government, with my own health varying from barely breathing to panting like a grampus, with my very hair falling out and my feet swollen like bread dough every day and a keg pump set up down my throat – it’s a little hard to stave off the blue demons and stay cheerful.

But I am managing. After all, it is Christmas that is glowing and glittering on the horizon, no minor festivity! I am home, with my beloved family, and we can celebrate the glorious day together as it comes round. It will be wonderful.

And after all, another thing to remember is that one of the nicest things Kage ever did for me was NOT to die in December. I have memories of her unshadowed by grief or loss. She’d slap me upside the head, too, if I tried to build a mausoleum on her memory. What a waste of Christmas Eve Eve! she would cry.

And so it would be. And so I won’t.

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Conjunctions and Configurations

Kage Baker read her horoscope every day. That’s because, she said, it was right there on the L A Times funny pages with the other daily nonsense. Had she had to search for it, I doubt she would have bothered. Certainly, whatever it said each morning was gone from her memory by lunch.

Oddly – or maybe not – she knew the characteristics of the various zodiacal signs, and cast a rather good natal horoscope herself. It was something she had picked up in her teenaged years, along with reading Tarot cards. She continued casting natal horoscopes for such friends as had new babies and would appreciate them, and did the forecasts up all proper with coloured ink and careful calligraphy. It was rather nicer than another stuffed teddy or sherbet-coloured onesie. She never expressed any faith in the things herself, but she knew how to do it correctly – and growing up in the latter half of the 20th Century, and on the fringes of several art scenes, she found it was a valued skill.

Kage was quite good at reading the Tarot cards, though, and there she maintained a small but precise faith. She would never take money for a reading, because the woman who had taught her had also told her that doing it for money would negate the power of the cards. It was barter or good wishes or nothing at all: but she got lots of schoolmates to keep her in Doritos and Coke in high school.

Later on, at Renaissance Faires, she also eschewed payment: because there were several very talented readers trying to make an actual living at it among the crafts people, and she didn’t want to take away their custom. But she would sometimes do a reading for a friend, for a pint of ale. She also watched her few patrons, though, and if they were clearly not following the cards’ advice – she’d drop them; gently and politely, but quite permanently.

As Kage always said, in her warning prologue to a reading: Be careful, because the cards never lie. The old Gypsy woman, she’s full of shit: but the cards never lie.

I’m not sure how many people believed her, thinking it was all a part of her spiel. She meant it, though, and the rare folks she 86’d probably figured it out eventually. I would like to go on record as stating that I did believe her – although she never read the cards much for me, except sometimes as an exhibit or to practice a new configuration. She said I was too close to the center (i.e., her) to be seen clearly. I learned a lot about the cards, though, from watching her.

Kage favoured the Waite deck. She admired the artistry of several others, but was leery of decks where prettiness obscured the basic symbology of the cards. She said the origin of the cards was handed down from an ancient time of divine guidance, but that the gods worried that the the meanings would get blurred or forgotten. So they cast the divinatory images as a deck of cards, because – according to the gods – men would be less likely to forget something they could use as a vice …

At that point, she’d usually start singing some song about gamblers, just so you didn’t miss the point. We did a nice version of House of the Rising Sun.

Kage could read fortunes using a regulation playing deck, but usually didn’t bother. We did use the Minor Arcana for endless games of poker and gin in the Inn Yard, though, until someone located a reproduction of an old German playing deck. Kage won a suspicious amount of the time. She’s the only person I ever saw get dealt a natural winning hand of 11-card gin.

Kage would have enjoyed seeing the Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, currently burning its way down into the West. Anything that only happens at 800-year intervals is more than worth taking a look at. Also, she used the legend of Time (Saturn) eating his children until one child, (Jupiter) gave him a terminal bellyache as one of the founding myths taught to baby Operatives by the Company. Besides, she could have used her classy nautical brass spyglass on it, and seen at least 3 or 4 of the Jovian moons, as well as Saturn’s rings.

Tonight, you can still see the blazon of the Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the Western sky – it’s not as big or clear as it was on the Solstice, or so I am told, but to the naked eye there is not much diminution obvious. If your sky is unclouded (most of California is not, alas) you can still see the great jewel of the distant Father and Son reunion. Certainly, I would want to keep the old bastard at least 450 million miles away from me, if Saturn were my daddy.

In the Midwinter meantime, Dear Readers, we have now passed the winter solstice. Rejoice! The earth has balanced satisfactorily on her toes, and now we are falling into light for next half year. May it be a good year, a better year than the last several; a banner year, a Jubilee. May the harvest be enormous and shared equally; may every wanted birth come to healthy term, and no unwanted one imperil any apron-band. May peace reign a little more than it has lately, and no new wars come to our unwilling hands. May all our hearts be warmed with love and buttressed with courage, and all our loved ones come safely home to shelter in our arms.

That would be a Grand Conjunction.

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The Season of Winding Up (And Down)

Kage Baker called this last week before Christmas the home stretch – as, indeed, most people probably do. Except those of us who have been reduced to drooling babbling by this point …

However, despite the very real and huge looming terrors of this Christmas season, I am proceeding at some peace. My family is gathered in its tiny fortress, ably defended and decorated by Kimberly and Michael. The tree is up, there are lights everywhere, and sitting here in the living room is a lot like sitting in a geode. One lined with Swarovski crystals. There’s not a damn thing I can do to help, but I certainly do appreciate the effect.

My latest doctor’s appointments have been largely teleconferenced, but the ENT specialist had to see me in person – he’s responsible now for the trach tube in my throat, and the person who will help get rid of the thing. As a first step, he downsized the tube by 3 sizes – from a 7 to a 4. I am not entirely sure what that means in terms of physical reality, but it does include my suddenly having a much shorter tube down my throat. So much shorter, in fact, that I have already coughed it out once. That was both ickily messy and quite frightening, but one good thing came of it – we discovered that I can, yes, actually breathe without the tube. When the time comes, and the tube is removed when I am not having a panic attack, the results should be grand.

Other that that, I totter around the house with my oxygen caddy, and frequently cough like a Victorian consumptive. The problem is not an infectious process, but rather an inhuman excess of mucus: mostly caused by the fact that there is a plastic tube in my throat. My throat considers this an extremely unnatural and irritating situation, and continues to try and flood the thing out. All it manages to do is half drown me in my own secretions.

Secretions is such an ugly word, don’t you think, Dear Readers?

In other domestic news, our elder cat, the beloved mini-panther Alexandria, is fast approaching her passage over the the Rainbow Bridge. Our main concern for her now is quality of life – as long as she is happy and interested in her food and petting, we won’t hurry her along. But she’s fabulously old, has a tricky heart, arthritic joints, and what we fear is a return of cancer in her velvety little skull. It might turn out to be a bad eye infection, and we are treating that for her comfort: but in any case, it seems that if she gets to share Christmas with us, it will be a small miracle. Which we shall embrace with joy.

No packages have been high-jacked by porch pirates, which is amazing. What little shopping we can do is almost exclusively by mail, and we have been both careful and lucky. When one of our purchases was accidentally delivered to the wrong address – by an apparent idiot – the freight company got its replacement to us right away.

You have to be grateful for these things, this time of year. So much of life is currently lived perforce in solitude and darkness, we need to cling to every light and piece of luck we can. In deference to the machines that keep me breathing while I sleep, and in order to keep a close eye on the gently fading Alexandria, Kimberly is now sleeping in the living room with me – I am either in the recliner, or stretched out at an angle, supported by all the pillows in the world, on the couch. Kimberly is wherever I am not, and Alexandria wedges herself in by whomever’s feet are available. It’s actually been rather pleasant; when we can’t sleep, we watch television and chat. Haven’t done that since we were children.

So, the cat is winding down, Christmas is winding up, and I am winding both up and down – resulting in a sort of whole-body sideways twitch. It’s slightly confused and disheveled around here, but I am so happy to be here in the house with my family that I don’t mind. God He knows, I’ve had crazier Christmas seasons – nearly any of the many I have spent doing Extreme Christmas at the same time as decorating my own house for the festivities – just because I drove 700 miles a weekend for two days of costumed insanity, didn’t mean I failed to put up lights and garlands and candles and bows … the very craziest years were the ones where Dickens Fair ended on, like, the 23rd or 24th of December. Then it would be a truly demented rush to pack and clear the set, get home, drive 200 miles in the opposite direction, and celebrate with my family.

I must admit, despite the problems we’re having, this year is easier in so many ways than some past ones. It’s certainly better than the last 3, as we now have a growing hope that we will all actually survive this year’s ending.

In Greek tradition, Dear Readers, there are determined underground goblins called kallikantzaroi, who occupy the 12 days of Christmas (December 25th to January 6th) in frantically trying to chop through the trunk of the World-Tree. Should they succeed, we will all fall into the shapeless ylem from which creation emerged at the beginning – too bad, so sad, welcome to the primordial void. However, they get distracted during the Christmas celebrations and run around indulging in other festive deviltry until the bells of the Epiphany ring – that chases them back underground, where they discover that the World-Tree has healed and their task is all to do over again.

Our own Presidential kallikantzaro is presently running around in a confused state, trying to chop down anything he can get his tiny hands on. Luckily, Epiphany bells galore will ring on January 6th and he will be banished. Then he can fall into the ylem on his own, and choke on it. I am really looking forward to that particular wind-up.

So, all things considered, this season is proceeding in a generally fortunate direction. There will be pain and loss, but this is the black heart of the winter, when such things are inevitable. In the meantime, the little black cat is curled up on the couch on her special blanket, purring. As long as she is, all is well.

Stay warm and safe in the growing dark, Dear Readers. We have a little way to go yet before the sun dependably rises once more.

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Tomorrow – The Tree

Kage Baker had a method for getting through the holidays without losing her mind. She did everything on a strict schedule; many portions of the holidays were things she always did, always the same way – they settled obediently into their calendar areas, and almost accomplished themselves.

The outside lights went up on the first of December; the tree went up on the 15th. Indoor deco went up all through the first 2 weeks of December, and on most weekends we went flying up I-5 to Dickens Fair. And that was so carefully choreographed a travel experience, that all that was left to surprise us were the unnatural vagaries of the highway.

Hopefully, anyway. There was always the occasional disaster du jour that we hadn’t anticipated, just to spice up some weekend with ambient insanity. Sometimes half our Inn cast forgot items of clothing, and we had to beg, borrow and swap pieces in order to get everyone dressed by Opening. One of our constant solutions for undecorated hair was crocheted doilies: we somehow had accumulated dozens of them, in lovely patterns and stitches, and many of the ladies of my household spent their days with a charming little lace beanie cunningly folded and pinned atop their curls.

Despite its atmosphere of swirling chaos – and sometimes you did feel like you might be Dorothy Gale, whisked off to Piccadilly Square instead of Oz – the Fair actually rolls along to a deep, constant, implacable rhythm. All you had to do was surrender to it, and you inevitably found yourself in the right places, at the right times. Mind you, later that night you might suddenly wake up and wonder WHY you had to be doing a line-dance with the Chimney Sweeps down the Grand Concourse – but it made for a good show.

Anyway, the only way we ever got through the mad totality of December was by clinging to the schedules we made.

Sometimes you just have to let the gods of the theatre bend you to their will.

We’re following as much as of this system as we can at Chez Bartholomew: the outside lights are proudly glowing along the porch and the iron railings of the front yard, and the living room has been gradually begun glowing with colours of ice and gems. Tomorrow the tree will be fetched in, and we’ll go thought the holiday feng shui: re-arranging the room so everyone can see the tree and the telly, and has a place to sit besides.

I’ve got to admit, not doing Dickens this year is sort of an awkward gift from God. So many of us simply wouldn’t survive it this year! But our producers, the Pattersons, have moved Heaven and Earth and produced a virtual Dickens for the delight of us all. You can go the site, wander around through many of the displays and shops that usually make up our street, and purchase (from the safety of your living room) goodies you have come to love from Dickens Fair. Try going to and sampling whoever is on station this weekend.

Me, though, I am content to spend this winter pushing my convalescence to totality. I have defeated pneumonia, and dodged Covid-19; I can walk, I can talk, and I can even lie down for a few hours at a time. I have all manner of cunning techno toys to provide oxygen for me, from old fashioned tanks to the smallest and newest of the modern oxygen accumulators. In fact, the shoulder-bag O2 will make it possible for me to breeze in and out of a lab appointment tomorrow, almost like a normal person!

And I have twice so far had quite successful video appointments with my doctors – one by phone and one via my computer, but both clear and loud and easy to follow. I find I LOVE virtual doctors’ appointments. The doctors can even get a good look at my trach assembly, since a trach tube in one’s throat is not exactly a subtle thing … a good camera is as good as my being there sitting on a hard cold table under a spotlight. So far, anyway.

Kage would have liked a lot of this, I am sure. Having to live through the pandemic would appall her as well as fascinate her; she would absolutely love being able to see her doctor via her computer, though, rather than venturing out into the winter cold and winds.

And in the meantime, we proceed through the careful steps of Making Christmas. A small, cozy close to home Christmas for us, in our fiercely defended single household; but still a blessed time to be together, And maybe – maybe! – even safer this year than last.

Soon, soon, I will be able to work on a story for you, too, Dear Readers. We’ve carved us out a nice, safe place to spend the winter.

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