Happy Christmas

Kage Baker loved Christmas.

And for all our many years of devotion to Dickenson Fair and Extreme Christmas – and believe me, the delights and ecstasies are many and enormous – the crown of all the season is Christmas Day with the family.

I’m not a Christian, and Kage’s devotion was eccentric and highly personalized. For her, the main thing was the Young Lord, and the general adoration of the resurrected god.  But today was special. Today is the celebration of love.

I am with my family, replete with oranges and homemade fudge and bagels. Dinner will be prime rib with appropriate extras, and the roast is even now perfuming the house with promises of culinary heaven.  (The cats are walking around with their noses in the air,  sniffing …)

The living room is warm and lit with coloured lights. We are all together. The aether has let me send greetings to all my loved ones who are not here: like you, Dear Readers.

Peace and joy to all. The year has reached its turning point and now we run toward the light. Let’s make it a good run this year, kids; let’s make it to the next level, further up and further in, let’s evolve this time.

Excelsior, and Happy Christmas to you all.

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Two-Day Holidays. With Food.

Kage Baker never felt that a single day was sufficient for a holiday.

She stretched birthdays into celebratory weeks. The run up to Halloween lasted a whole month of steadily increasing lights and Beistle paper decorations and bowls of rehearsal candy. Christmas was the same, only more so – in both cases, lights began on the first of the month and just grew exponentially.

Even Thanksgiving got some respect. Kage loved those honeycomb paper pumpkins, and garlands of autumn leaves. I like festival lights shaped like turkeys. (Yes, they exist.) We tolerated one another’s favourites, and compromised on chocolate turkeys from See’s.

(My family is the same. Being in our living room is like being in the Time’s Square Ball right now.)

What Kage liked best, though, was stretching a holiday over two consecutive nights. This was easy for us, as most of the Celtic holidays  stretched out like that – most of the Celts counted the years by nights, not gaudy, blabbing and remorseful days*: to quote what is probably Shakespeare’s worst ever line. Both of us thought that was a great idea, and tried to honour it as much as we could.

It helped that Kage grew up cooking in an enormous household, and never learned how to make food for just 2 people: we always had leftovers, usually an entire second feast. Remember the nursery rhyme about Good King Arthur?  

When good king Arthur ruled this land,
He was a goodly king;
He stole three pecks of barley-meal,
To make a bag-pudding.

A bag-pudding the king did make,
And stuffed it well with plums:
And in it put great lumps of fat,
As big as my two thumbs.

The king and queen did eat thereof,
And noblemen beside;
And what they could not eat that night,
The queen next morning fried.

This pretty much describes Kage’s attitude toward holiday foods, although we usually bought the ingredients. But I can testify from personal experience, Dear Readers, that proper pudding of every sort (NOT Jello!) is delicious when fried next day, even by a lowly me. Yorkshire pudding gets leftover gravy, Christmas pudding gets leftover Bird’s Sauce, and even make-do’s like date nut bread and fruitcake benefit by a re-heating and a dose of butter. I once fried up fruit cake in bacon grease, and it was divine; especially on a cold morning. Don’t knock it unless you try it.

Anyway, we tried to celebrate most things over at least 2 evenings.

Now, last night was the Winter Solstice and I did not blog. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!  (I’d beat my breast, but my shirt has buttons and it hurts.) In fact, what I mostly did last night – was sleep! Yes, I slept and slept, in double digit hours gratefully cast upon the bosom of Somnos; the best in weeks. I’m going to do my best to do so tonight, as well. I think two nights spent thoroughly asleep is maybe the best way to celebrate the Solstice that I have hit on in ages.

Last night, my family nibbled its drowsy way through very personal feasts of individual favourites. I personally had a merry meal of sausages and angel food cake. I recommend it as pre-hibernation fare – you can fall pretty deeply asleep while your stomach is in shock.

Tonight, I think we are having roast duck and noodles. There’s no special liturgical reason; just my brother-in-law was recalling some meals his German grandmother made, and Kimberly found a butcher with ducks to sell. If it works out well, it will become a tradition. If not, there will be another buffet of finger foods, cold cuts and cookies to celebrate the Solstice.

There’s no rule to it. When Kage couldn’t manage a full Solstice feast, after all, we used to have pizza. She always said it was a close as she could get, culinary-wise, to a burning wheel … although one year, she did paint scented lamp oil on our round barbecue grill and set it ablaze. Which is one of the reasons we used a pizza as a back up after that.

Anyway, Dear Readers, may you all be enjoying the new-born winter now. The world is turning slowly to the light, but the long nights are deep and restful. It’s almost Christmas. Most of the evacuation orders for the fires have been cancelled, and most of the fires are under control – even the burning Santa Ana River where it runs through the city of Riverside.

And for those who might miss my usual Solstice pedantry, here’s a link to an old sermon. Enjoy, Dear Readers, and Happy Solstice!



* “The gaudy, blabbing and remorseful day Is crept into the bosom of the sea; And now loud-howling wolves arouse the jades. That drag the tragic melancholy night; Who, with their drowsy, slow and flagging wings, Clip dead men’s graves and from their misty jaws. Breathe foul contagious darkness in the air.”  Shakespeare, Henry the 5th, part 2; Act 4, Scene 1.

Spoken by the Duke of Suffolk, William de la Pole, who loved the Queen of England well if none too wisely, and shortly had his head cut off for his troubles.


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Kage Baker was wont to judge throw up her hands on certain days, and consign the entire diurnal period to the trash bin. Not in general, either – specific days were thus tossed on specific faults and flaws, and often consigned to specific Circles of Hell.

The trash bins in Hell are customized to their respective circles, you see. Like the ones in Disneyland. But with less cuteness and (perhaps) more imagination; not to mention a superfluity of body parts in the garbage, as opposed to Carnation ice cream bar wrappers.

Anyway: Kage rated days on quality, not quantity. It was not the number of her days that mattered to her (unless she was counting down to a deadline), but how good they were. Some were a waste of ink on the calendar pages, and her own energy in acknowledging them. Thus they were damned to some wet, cold ring of Hell; because Kage hated wet and cold over all other weathers.

Today would have found itself in the 9th circle: buried to the hairline in ice, eyes frozen open and unable to weep, fixed on Satan’s hairy shanks in the centre of the icy waste. Wandering Italian poets* and science fiction writers** would tread on their protruding noses, and smear toe jam on their frigid corneas.

I am, as I  have mentioned, afflicted with congestive heart failure. I had a heart attack in mid-October, and have been trying ever since to get an appointment with a cardiologist. It seems to me, with my admittedly lay knowledge of medicine, that consulting a cardiologist is what I need to do at this point: as opposed to a podiatrist, or a hair dresser, or someone to realign my chi. Thus armed with common sense, I have been trying for over 2 months to actually be in the same room with a heart specialist. In this, mere common sense has been but a frail reed, weapon-wise.

I’ve been put off by cardiologists repeatedly; in fact, my heart attack on October 14th came as I was waiting for a November appointment, from a September referral … their solution was to give me a new appointment in December. Then January. Then February. I finally resorted to the only thing that got Kage in to finally see an oncologist – I called the appointment clerk and screamed and wept. I’d like to say my skills as a thespian won the day, or at least the sheer number of phone calls made to and fro: but I think it was the very real fear on their part that I would stroke out right there on the phone.

The clerk gave me an appointment, which she generously made for me, without consultation: for tomorrow. With a doctor who has never seen me, and who won’t see me unless I send them my medical records. Which I don’t have, and which the hospital will not release because they don’t have a release naming that particular doctor – whom I have never seen, remember … and so I spiral down into insanity, not to mention the toilet.

I got the cardiologist to change the appointment, giving me a few days to secure the records. The records clerk initially refused to send me the release form until I gave her my fax number, but I don’t have a fax number so she finally agreed to email it to me. (Which has not yet happened, and this was over an hour ago.) I figure I now have time, though, to go to the hospital and lay personal siege to the Records Department. They can let me sign the release there, or they can choose between having me go into cardiac arrest on their floor: before or after Security tasers me, I don’t care. Dealer’s choice.

In the meantime, I have been consistently prevented by this insane carousel of fuckery from working on Marswife, which was my choice of task today. In desperation I at least finally solved a long-standing problem as to what happens next in the story – my heroine, Jacinthe, has passed out in a booth at the Empress of Mars.

I wish I could.

So here I sit, overflowing with creativity, hysteria and rage, sipping from a fine crystal goblet of chilled brine. No, this is not a fancy metaphor for my anger: I like to drink pickle juice when I have heartburn. Which is what I hope the pain in my chest is … anyway, it looks like yellow absinthe, or Dr. Jekyll’s pharmaceutically screwed-up serum, and it soothes all my over-producing systems.

A glass with you, Dear Readers! Ice cold brine as yellow as a harpy’s eyes. If I keel over from apoplexy, I will rise as a vengeful zombie and frighten the Records clerk out of her teeny hamster mind.



*Dante, The Divine Comedy

** Niven,  Inferno

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Is THIS Real Life?

Kage Baker was not a great fan of real life. It was full of trivial discomforts, and unpleasant people whom you could nonetheless not kill. It gave small pleasures, small hurts – so that one could not even strike an heroic pose, nor rise very far above the mud.

It wasn’t even deep mud. It was just a thin slick  on the road of life; enough to suck your shoes off, or provoke a pratfall onto your ass. It’s hard to be a hero, in real life. The stuff is flat out boring. Kage preferred a day to day existence with sharp contrasts – life in chiaroscuro, with velvet drapes and carven furniture, deep shadows and  sunlight like the glance of a god.

“I want to be dazzled and blinded,” she would declare. “I want to achieve heights and depths and widths, damn it!”

Which she certainly did. Though that is not to say that she scorned the joys of domestic tranquillity, either – but even there, Kage liked the delights of life at home to be bold and bright. She wanted joy, passion, an intensity to her comforts; she liked to be snug in a small haven while winds howled in the eaves and the threat of storms and power outages was always looming … just the threat, mind you. When Fate got too obstreperous and actually killed her computer access, she was mightily peeved.

On the other hand, she could cope well with actual disaster. You may prefer to quaff ale on the swaying seat of a gypsy wagon, or breakfast on champagne and fried oysters – and who would not? – but when you actually get to sometimes do those things, it can make it easier to cope with a mere leaking window. Dealing with thirsty warlords and foaming maniacs (even when you know the foam is produced with Alka Seltzer under the maniac’s tongue) makes handling a cranky postal clerk a snap.

And if, along the way, you learn to be alert for drama and high magic, your life is enriched wherever you are. Learn to always keep a cheeseboard and cloth serviettes  in the glove box, and you are prepared for picnics anywhere. Always travel with ripe peaches, or imported chocolate, or a split of champagne. Drink out of crystal and eat off pewter or porcelain: eating with your fingers then becomes a fashion statement, not a loss of dignity. Keep friends who can quote Shakespeare and the Táin Bó Cúailnge,  sing O Salutaris Hostia, and take a few stitches in a knife wound or a torn sleeve. Cultivate acquaintances who can juggle, or shoe a horse, or juggle shoes … or horse shoes. Or horses.

Kage maintained these habits her entire life, and never ever dwelt willingly in a world she didn’t help make. When corporeality proved too thin or too tiring or too scarce, she built entire universes and inhabited them; she did it so well, she convinced thousands of others to live in her universes, as well. She was lauded by queens and captains; she knew real magicians and walked with real gods. Her last day of life, a friend drove 300 miles on impulse to hold her in his arms when she died.

Just about all her friends juggled.

I was the luckiest of her audience – I lived in her universes all the time for half a century. I still live in the vicinity of them, and from time to time I can walk right into them and cohabit again with all that glory and passion.

Which brings me to the hideous mundanity of the current day, and why mumping is the best choice right now. The world is a sewer. Real life sucks like a vacuum cleaner with a vampire in it. The government is a belly-ache, Congress is a paper cut; the President is a rotten tooth I keep biting on when I try to eat. Fuck ’em all.

I feel a period of frenzied mumping come upon me now, to be followed by a prolonged creative flowering. I can feel my seed pods getting ready to explode – mump blossoms procreate by explosive incendiary. I may try for umbelliferous , this time. I may go for the frank voluptuousness of an orchid. Baby’s breath, though, is right out.

It’s starlight roses and scarlet cannas or nothing, now. Real life has had its chance.




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Tales of the Glories of Christmases Long, Long Ago

Kage Baker – even she, the most determined person I have ever known – would sometimes throw herself into her armchair and give up.

Tonight, Dear Readers, I am in just such a slough: not of despair, but a sucking vacuum of creativity. However, I’m not especially unhappy about it; I’m in good company with Kage, recalling her too giving up on the odd winter evening when she was just too tired to type.

I remember one time … a deadline was fast approaching, and all Kage’s attention had been focussed relentlessly for, like, a week on Monkey Kombat from “Escape from Monkey Island.”

(Kage could not defeat Big Jojo alone. To this day, I cannot abide bananas.)

“I am but a mump,” she declared one evening, in a hollow voice. “A boneless mump. The energy vortexes of the universe have whirled me round and spit me out.”

“Vortices,” I corrected heartlessly.

“I’m the victim of a cosmic swirly, and you’re arguing Latin grammar? You pedantic Welsh person,” Kage moaned. “All my creative energy has been sucked out of me, leaving me a mere miserable mump.”

As I recall, I started giggling at this point.

“Barbarian. Soon,” she said dreamily, “I shall bloom into a mump blossom. And then I shall go to seed.”

Which left me in helpless hysterics of laughter. Kage want on at some length about the tragic condition of mumpdom, which mainly consisted of not being able to write. And not caring.

And that, Dear Readers, is where I am tonight. Mind you, I did refine and send to my agent two new stories today. “Keep writing!” they told me. I am taking them at their word.

Of course, being as I am maturing into a full-bodied mump blossom, I’m doing this in an armchair, with several pillows, watching “Antiques Roadshow” and writing this by the light of the Christmas tree. On my Kindle.

Scattering mump seeds as I go. One may germinate into a new tale, or an old one, soon.

I shall wait comfortably amid my pillows and see what happens. Hopefully it will carry me along to victory!


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Sunday Contentment

Kage Baker loved quiet Sunday evenings. She most especially loved winter evenings; when the sun set  in the West into the Pacific in a nest of red tinsel clouds, and the sky was a deep cold violet all the way to the dreaming East.

For the last several years of her life, Kage only got to enjoy those warm, slow evenings on the weeknights – on Saturdays and Sundays, she tended to be at Dickens Fair, in the Green Man Inn, in London as built in the Cow Palace in San Francisco … she always tried to duck outside at sunset, to salute the blue silk sky over the peak of the Cow Palace’s roof, and the brave little Christmas tree that glowed there in the cold winds off the Bay.

Besides, out there was where the chemical toilets were. And it was always a good idea to visit them just before the last couple of hours of the Fair. That was the time when the major gigs were done; when Mrs. Drum could actually sit down in the Parlour. When she could indulge in a pint of ale, or a shot of whiskey, or a glass of absinthe. Or maybe all 3, in sequence.

Most of all, though, it was when the staff and family of the Green Man would take over the main table, the one reserved for the gentry. ALL the sweeties would come out to the table, the yummy leftovers and the even- more-delectable goodies we saved especially for the family…

Pound cake with homemade rum sauce (devotees like Kage were known the drink the stuff straight).  Homemade lemon curd on tea biscuits, or scones, or simply from a spoon. Fudges, divinities, window and thumb cookies; mince pies, ginger bread shaped like castles and roses, shortbread petticoat tails. Hand-dipped chocolates (for which the Parlour maids traded cucumber sandwiches and pitchers of ale).

And then, we would put on our shawls and gloves and bonnets, and process to Fezziwig’s party to watch the dancing. Our dancing days were long past, Kage and I, but we sat at the sides and held coats and hats and fans and reticules and sword sticks and toddlers for youngsters. It was grand.

I’m not at Dickens this year, but I am warm and content in my own living room. The gas fire is a lovely orange glow, and the trimmed tree looks like a newborn nebula – thank you, Michael! I have a red glass full of Cranberry Sprite, which tastes like a Shirley Temple cocktail – or, if you were of the small boy persuasion, a Roy Rogers.

And if I lift my glass, and view the sparkling tree through the facets in it, the whole room becomes a Christmas kaleidoscope. And, yes, I am content.

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The Tree Goes Up In Glory

Kage Baker kept to a strict schedule of when and how her traditional holiday events occurred. I think it was an attempt to triumph over the  chaos that always overwhelmed us at the end of the year – the holiday season was usually a ride on a carousel powered by out- of-sync sky rockets.

Therefore, no matter what, the Christmas tree (always a  live one) went up on December 15th. If we happened to be in London on that day, the tree went up as we packed for that weekend of Dickens; we decorated it, glassy-eyed with weariness and cheer, the Monday after we got home. It provided a glowing, glittering beacon of calm and reason for us, and we could spend the rest of the season relaxing in the glow of coloured lights, admiring all the ornaments. Kage would lie back in her chair and breathe in the balsam-scented exhalations of the tree, like the breath of a lover.

I’ve followed this schedule for most of my life. But this year, all is inside out and upside down. I am just coasting, letting other people set the scenes and enjoying being an audience. My nephew Michael has heroically been hanging lights and garlands on everything; tonight, he’ll set up the tree right on schedule, just to please me. Bless him! It’s a gorgeous tree, despite being faux; one of the elegant ones with needles made meticulously of fine paper, so it’s as lovely as a live fir. And mostly cat-proof, which is why my sister uses a faux tree in the first place.

The cats nest in it anyway. But it’s less disastrous this way.

I’m not doing Dickens this year, on the principal that an actor who can’t walk 20 feet without panting like an old basset hound, is just not very festive. And Dickens didn’t write any characters like that, anyway – Mrs. Wititterly, from Nicholas Nickelby, comes closest. But she is a thoroughly unpleasant hypochondriac who enjoys her own ill-health, as well as a heaping helping of malice – and she’s not very festive, either.

I know my jolly Inn crew would have loved coping with my new role as acerbic baggage: it would have been hilarious and waaay too exciting, and probably led to wheelchair races in the streets of London – if not in the actual Parlour of the Green Man. But that kind of mayhem is self-indulgent and also not very festive: all Christmas really needs in the way of mortality is the cast A Christmas Carol, with its adorable Tiny Tim and the looming Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Not to mention all the miserable ghosts of venal businessmen flitting through the London night like big penitent moths …

So here I am, marking off time in the candy-coloured glow of several hundred lights, in the smouldering warmth of Los Angeles rather than the icy Bayside London of Dickens Fair. I miss everyone, but it’s a relief to know they won’t have to figure out how to dispose of my dead body with the empty kegs at the end of the day. I have just enough sense to realize I’m not a great casting decision this year.

But I’m writing! I’m giving a final polish to two  or three stories I’ve produced this year, and will send them off tomorrow to test my agent’s new energy. Look! I cry into the aether. I have produced stuff! Find me the eager publishers!

Christmas presents are stacking up in my room, as I have sensibly done my shopping online. My December stash of Mullah coffee has arrived, too, renewing my ancient pledges of fidelity to Faire-brewed coffee and vegetable alkaloids.  I managed to sleep upright in the recliner for a solid 2 hours last night. I even resisted rose-flavoured Turkish Delight for lunch – mostly.

And here is my blog post for the day. The last 2 months have been spent in a ghastly fog of weakness and despair – I imagine it as damp, billowing clouds of a sickly greyish tan; the colour the Elizabethans called “dead Spaniard”. (These were people who dyed cloth hues named “Puke”, “Turkey” and “Sad New Colour”, which probably luckily remains a mystery.) But the nasty clouds are thinning, drawing away, evaporating in all the lights of all the exulting evergreens.

I sit now in the growing tent of light, every shade of star and diamond and white, white, white: the waxing tide of the year’s renewal.  And the tree rises in glory.


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