By The Rocket’s Red Glare

Kage Baker held to John Lennon’s wisdom – well, not in much, but definitely this: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

And she was always shaking her head at me, as I trailed home with thistles and rose petals stuck to my clothes; with no idea how the knotted clothesline soaked in vanilla milk shake ended up on the dashboard of the car; mysteriously tattooed (even though it turned out to be a press-on) … she’d shake her head at me in despair, and say, “I can’t take my eyes off you for five minutes!”

It was usually a fair cop. And life runs in huge, awkward, unexpected circles …

So, today I went into hospital for a couple of echo cardiograms. Despite my fears, I was blessed with a sympathetic set of nurses, a deft and modern anesthesiologist, and a miraculously smooth journey through the cardiac labs and ICU. All tests are done, and I have a clear diagnosis: calcification of the mitral valve. I am now beginning the planning for heart surgery, and I really don’t mind – I have a diagnosis,  a plan, and a good expectation of restored health and stamina.

Imagine my surprise, then, at coming home, sitting down, and spending the next several hours watching Iran and the United States begin a shooting war.

Kage wouldn’t be surprised. Horrified, yes, but not surprised. We both watched CNN being born by the light of tracer bullets over Bagdad. The wise men at that nativity were on their knees, all right,  peeking over window sills in  besieged hotels, narrating a monstrous conflict.

For all the good it did. We’re still crouching in the dark, on someone else’s territory, trying to find a reason for whatever the hell is going on. Only this time, the insane thug with a god-king complex is the POTUS.

Still, Dear Readers, I myself feel I have gotten good news. My problem has a name and a solution. Brighter times may lie ahead of me. Spring will bring the breeding birds; Summer will bring roses. Autumn will bring the ripened corn, and come next Winter – I will dance one more time at Dickens, and sing with the Hallelujah Chorus.

If  we all live that long, anyway.

 

 

 

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Old Christmas Is Past, 12th Night Is The Last

Kage Baker loved the celebration of Twelfth Night. It put a proper end on the Christmas Season, rather than the  abrupt murder of all decorations and good cheer that takes place in most American homes the very day after Christmas.  There are homes where part of the Christmas Day festivities is denuding the tree. On my block here in Los Angeles, two houses have already put their trees out on the curb. What a horrible letdown!

Tonight is Twelfth Night, Dear Readers – the last of the 12 days of Christmas. Armenian and other Orthodox Christian friends are celebrating Christmas; a lot of Latin countries and neighborhoods just celebrated the Three Kings arrival at the manger yestreday. In my house, all our lights and deco are still up; we’ve eaten most of the leftovers, and I just polished off the fruit cake.

Kage knew a song for every holiday; including this one, of course. Some of the holidays no longer exist; others are antiques, celebrated by the few who always ready to lift a glass. The Renaissance Faire contributed a lot of them, as well as to a lot of them – once you get actors and musos well lubricated, they’ll start ad libbing on all the songs we all learned off the same few albums by Steeleye Span, Pentangle, Fairport Convention …

First we all learned the same songs. Then we began to riff on them. And then we began to write our own. Those of us who had no composition skills just memorized everything we heard, and sang it all back through the mutating force of differing harmonies.

Some of them were from the Anvil of the World universe, and others were from the Middle Ages, Tudor England, the industrial revolution – those Luddite hymns had some snappy tunes, you know? Some were out of stories, and some from histories. And some of those (songs, stories and histories) Kage wrote herself.

Kage was an alto and I am a soprano. We could sing anything in parts, sometimes in harmonies so close that other singers couldn’t find their way into the mix. (Sorry, Athene – we were annoying!) Everyone we knew could sing, or fiddle, or play a trombone (lots of weird brass out under the oaks in the Old Days), a creuth or a serpent or a shawm, or at least keep time with the bones or a tambourine. We used to spend the late afternoons under the trees in the Innyard, dozens of folks with instruments and mugs and bottles, singing their hearts out as the light turned golden and timeless.

I’m especially happy about 12th Night this year, because tomorrow I go into the hospital for a couple of cardiac tests. One is nothing much; the other is a  transesophageal echocardiogram, and it worries me quite a lot. I shall probably come through it scathless, but the very idea is upsetting me. So the jollies of tonight are particularly welcome, even if it’s only the happy consumption of fruit cake and chocolate coins. Bear me in your mind, Dear Readers, if it’s not too much trouble – I have to get up before the sun even rises!

I’ll just lean into the memories of those endless afternoons under the oak trees, taking comfort from the voices rising up all around me. I was a pane of coloured glass in a cathedral window in those afternoons; we all were, held in place with the silver of violins, the polished wood of shawms, the weight of beloved shoulders against mine as we sang the sun down into the West …

I suspect we are still sitting there. Certainly, I can hear us in my mind.

 

 

TWELFTH NIGHT CAROL  (which we sang to our queen, rather than the traditional king)

Joy, health, love, and peace be all here in this place
By your leave, we will sing concerning our Queen

Our Queen is well dressed, in the silks of the best
In ribbons so rare, no Queen can compare

We have travelled many miles, over hedges and stiles
In search of our Queen, unto you we bring

We have powder and shot to conquer the lot
we have cannon and ball to conquer them all

Old Christmas is past, twelve tide is the last
And we bid you adieu, great joy to the new

 

 

 

 

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Well, Happy Freaking New Year

Kage Baker had no especial personal attachment to the calendrical New Year. As she pointed out, it was completely arbitrary anyway: the month was stolen from the Roman god Janus; the various American celebrations were an accrual of various social customs over the last 1,000 years, mostly in Europe. Some of them were invented by bartenders and camera crews.

In addition, the change from the Gregorian to the Julian calendar in 1582 cost us a couple of weeks when Pope Gregory sprang that one on Europe. It supposedly made it easier to calculate the solstices and equinoxes, but now – 5oo-0dd years later – almost no one remembers what the solstices and equinoxes even are, let alone what to do about them.

Also, one must never underrate the power of Hallmark Cards. Nor, as Kage used to warn hoarsely, glancing over her shoulder, “the all-powerful funny hat and glitter lobby”. That always cracked me up. I’m not sure why it seemed so funny, but, we ran fevers a lot in January …

We had holiday meals and rituals, of course. Our household ran on the power of ritual activity, among other odd alternative energies. But Kage personally celebrated several New Years over the course of a calendar 12 months, ranging from Samhain to her own birthday to the opening date of the Hollywood Bowl. Anything that had personal resonance and could be enhanced with toasts, candles and a feast. If you actually sit down and think about it, the year becomes studded with marvellous markers and turning points. Most years, Kage was celebrating several years at once.

Just for fun – and so you too, Dear Readers, can cherry pick among calendars to find the holidays you like the best – a brief comparative table is included at the end of this blog. They’re a fun way to start, and you can always add things from other calendars as you prefer – Middle Earth, for example, things from dwarfs or elves or hobbits. Shakespeare is a gold mine. Various literary calendars exist, as well, and can be plundered to great effect.

So happy New Year to you all, Dear Readers. I do hope you had a good one. I myself enjoyed the holiday, staying up on the Eve to watch the Ball drop in Times Square. Then I spent a classically quiet New Year’s Day with my family, eating ham and Christmas candy  while watching the Rose Parade and the Twilight Zone marathon.

Today, I went to see my cardiologist, as part of striving mightily for a year in which I can accomplish more – like, walking more than 20 feet. Or breathing consistently. I can’t do either of those things right now, and it’s astonishing how little one can do while panting. I had an idea that it might be an unavoidable side effect of congestive heart failure, and I was extremely depressed by that. I can’t even exercise anymore; a walk around the block would take all the daylight hours there are this time of year.

But a new test – a detailed ultrasound – revealed a new and amazing thing: I don’t have congestive heart failure. For the last 13 years, I have been told that  I do – I have had heart attacks attributed to the condition, and have tried several medicines designed to make my heart beat more quickly, more slowly or stronger. But that’s not the baseline problem. My heart is 66 years old, slightly damaged, and very tired. But what I have is valve disease!

One of the valves on the lung side of my heart is not permitting blood into or out of my lungs adequately. That’s why I start panting when I exert myself to any degree – like walking to the bathroom. It’s why I can’t sleep on my back, because blood is sloshing messily around in my heart. It’s why I am constantly out of breath. Apparently, the assumption of congestive heart failure has been presumed, for the last 13 years, by the evidence of  my realio-trulio heart attacks. Also, imaging tests that show blood hanging about where it should not, like tide pools left behind in a wrack of seaweed and dried foam.

Anyway: I have no idea, yet, what will cure me of this – but my cardiologist says that 1) it can be solved and he can give me more strength; and 2) it won’t even be difficult. I figure it can’t be as difficult as turning unflattering shades of lavender and gasping like a lungfish. I will feel both better and different; and that will be a glorious thing.

The only thing which I am now dreading, is that a specialty echo-cardiogram has become necessary. I have had the good old snake-a-tube-up-from-your-groin echo-grams before, and they are a dawdle. But now I also need a TEE – that means a transesophageal echo-cardiogram, and involves a tube with a camera put down one’s throat. Apparently, this gives a superlative view of the valve suspected of conking out. I’ve had one before. The problem is, the test is administered while one is still, mostly, conscious.

It’s like being water-boarded internally. I did my best to swallow the damn camera last time, and passed out while it was still being forced down my throat. I woke up with no real damage done, hardly even a sore throat. But I still have nightmares about the process, as well as the doctor who callously told me to just relax, it couldn’t be that bad. Well, you asshole: yes, it could. Yes, it was.

I’m going to explain this before hand and request that I be as totally anesthetized as is physically possible. At least give me “twilight sleep’ so I don’t remember it. If that can be done for a woman giving birth, it can damn well be given to a woman trying to keep her own life going.

Mind you, I am going to accede to the test, no matter what. It’s necessary. But if I can talk someone into giving me a break, for once, I am willing to throw all false courage aside and whine. Think kindly of me next Tuesday, Dear Readers, at about 8:30 AM. I am going to try to lay back and think of England, even if my surroundings are more like Gitmo.

And in the meantime Dear Readers – take one from Column A, and two from Column B (below) and have a good New Year.

Gregorian calendar 2020
MMXX
Ab urbe condita 2773
Armenian calendar 1469
ԹՎ ՌՆԿԹ
Assyrian calendar 6770
Bahá’í calendar 176–177
Balinese saka calendar 1941–1942
Bengali calendar 1427
Berber calendar 2970
British Regnal year 68 Eliz. 2 – 69 Eliz. 2
Buddhist calendar 2564
Burmese calendar 1382
Byzantine calendar 7528–7529
Chinese calendar 己亥(Earth Pig)
4716 or 4656
— to —
庚子年 (Metal Rat)
4717 or 4657
Coptic calendar 1736–1737
Discordian calendar 3186
Ethiopian calendar 2012–2013
Hebrew calendar 5780–5781
Hindu calendars
 – Vikram Samvat 2076–2077
 – Shaka Samvat 1941–1942
 – Kali Yuga 5120–5121
Holocene calendar 12020
Igbo calendar 1020–1021
Iranian calendar 1398–1399
Islamic calendar 1441–1442
Japanese calendar Reiwa 2
(令和2年)
Javanese calendar 1953–1954
Juche calendar 109
Julian calendar Gregorian minus 13 days
Korean calendar 4353
Minguo calendar ROC 109
民國109年
Nanakshahi calendar 552
Thai solar calendar 2563
Tibetan calendar 阴土猪年
(female Earth-Pig)
2146 or 1765 or 993
— to —
阳金鼠年
(male Iron-Rat)
2147 or 1766 or 994
Unix time 1577836800 – 1609459199
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Pirates and Chocolate and Rice

Kage Baker liked to use the week between Christmas and New Year’s as a resting place. She played her new games or read her new book, or just sat happily watching telly and snacking. She could easily subsist for the entire week on the contents of her Christmas stocking – that was one of the things Christmas stockings are for, after all: to feed you during the black, cold heart of winter. You could wrap up in half a dozen comforters, watch the sea and old movies, and live on imported chocolates and cheese.

That’s largely what I’ve been doing these last several days, too. Leftovers, sweeties from my stocking (Violet Crumble! Marzipan pigs!) and filling in the corners with cranberry sauce, prime rib and breakfast pizza. I still feel like I am drowning  most of the time; I tend to sneeze 18 times in a row, and I am quite sure that the rising fluid level in my skull is visible in my eyes. However, small, separate bits of me – my mouth, my warm feet – are feeling better. In celebration, I have a few found goodies to share with you.

Kage loved pirates. And chocolate. She loved them both to obsession, with the passion and heat of the proverbial thousand suns. I was therefore delighted when I found this strange little article about a botanist buccaneer, one of whose passions was the cultivation and exploitation of the cacao tree. So singular and peculiar was this man’s story, I figure he had to have recruited by the Company – as a sort of mortal gardening Janissary, if not as an actual Operative. If he was an Operative, he had to have been having the very best of all assignments: ploughing the briny wave under the black flag, all the while collecting plants and inventing European hot chocolate.  A dream come true!

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/who-invented-hot-chocolate

Kage was also much concerned with the questions of global food: the inequalities in its distribution, the stupid politics that leave a million children crying with hunger. The lack of any real attempt to improve the stable crops – hey, we had beer and bread and crudities, right? We had potatoes for crisps and vodka; barley for porridge and whiskey; oats for oatmeal and brose – are we seeing a general theme here, Dear Readers? If you could manage to eat some of the food and made booze of all the rest, that surely was enough?

Except it wasn’t, of course. And to Kage’s continued distress, no one ever seemed to get the really basic concept of making something that could easily feed the masses. Being an American of Brit descent, Kage fixed on corn to fuel her heroine Mendoza’s identical mania. Mendoza eventually wrought super maize to feed the world. It was insanely nutritious and would grow anywhere; it was pretty, too.

However, back in the real world, corn is not the grain that most of the world eats. Pride of place there goes to rice. I give you this interesting article on heirloom rice, and the fascinating varieties that have been winkled out of private rice paddies and uncultivated marshes, and mustered to feed the billions.  Basudha is a rice conservation farm that grows 1,420 traditional rice varieties, including some that are no longer found anywhere else in the world. Here, one can find such rare cultivars as Garib-sal (“garib” meaning poor in Bengali), an ironically named folk rice with nano-particles of silver in each grain. Or Sateen, meaning “co-wife,” a rice that contains three grains in each hull.

https://tinyurl.com/v5yfrkj

And there is also the brand new cultivar, Golden Rice. It grows anywhere, is resistant to damn near anything rice-icidal, and grows like a weed. And it’s pretty, too. Naturally, though, the countries that need it the most are rejecting it as a GMO demon and its inventors have been reduced to literally lying about it just to get people to plant and eat it. Bangladesh, though, has recently agreed to try it; so the dream of a universal grain may yet be realized.

I haven’t sussed out the connection between Basudha and the Company yet, but I will. It’s bound to be a damp. convoluted trail, but the aesthetics should be marvellous.

In the meantime, Dear Readers, I leave you with these few little shining pictures to contemplate. Cough syrup and eucalyptus fumes are calling my name, and it’s about time for me to melt into goo in my armchair. The little black cat is eyeing me, and meowing little cat curses to try and get me to make a lap for her to sit on.

So it’s back to being a happy sickie and watching Dr. Who. May you all have a lovely quiet evening as well, Dear Readers, with all the purrs and liquors and chocolates and telly and books you will need for what remains of the 12 Days of Christmas.

 

Golden rice compared to its pallid cousin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Time To Die – Not!

Kage Baker would have bet that Christmas would not arrive, sooner than that her annual bout of bronchitis would not arrive. She’d probably have won the bet, too.

She caught colds that promptly mutated into bronchial infections every year between high school and her death: they got a  little better after her tonsils were evicted in her 30’s, but never quite went away. She only found surcease in her very last winter, just before she died:  because she was having radiation therapy and enough chemo to supply a plague ward.

Although, in her own opinion, what really knocked the bronchitis on its ass was the hot toddies I made every winter. That particular combination of Irish whiskey, lemons, sugar and hot water was the universal panacea, for Kage. As long as I made it, anyway. Kage thought I had some sort of weird healing bartender vibes …

Alas, nothing works that well – or deliciously – on me. Tonight I am dying of a cold as vile as the bug that took out Wells’ Martians in War of the Worlds. My throat hurts, my sinuses ache so much all of my teeth ache as well, I am half deaf and all but voiceless. My fingers work a little though … I can at least complain to all of you Dear Readers.

Luckily for me, Kimberly and Michael are taking excellent care of me. I have lots of hot drinks and smooth foods to comfort me – if I can’t taste them much, at least the warmth and the texture are comforting.(She even found me some nice cool creamy ambrosia, an antique treat that soothes me marvelous well.) I will never run out of tissues. I have many warm blankets, meds to combat mucus and sneezes, and occasional cats to keep me warm. Harry has learned to mimic my coughing, which he does at hilarious length – I don’t know what he’s saying, or what thinks I am saying when we hack at one another. But it’s pretty funny, and charmingly companionable.

If I die, it will not be because of neglect. Kimberly watches over me as if I  was a prize orchid, needing a special atmosphere to grow and flourish. Personally, I think she is wasting her time on me, but I am too freaking grateful for all her care to tell her to stop. I cannot imagine what horror would be looming over me without my family’s ferocious care.

I don’t have enough oxygen, though, to write much. So I am going to sign off after this brief little banner, waved weakly at you all from the trench of my soggy illness. Oh, and just for inspiration – today is the anniversary of the 537 CE date of the completion of Hagia Sophia. Let us all celebrate the temple of wisdom!

To which end, I am going to go gargle. Maybe with gin …

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It’s Boxing Day Again!

Kage Baker was fascinated with the varied history of Boxing Day. She spent years figuring it out (the sources offer wildly differing ideas), and that led her into a lifelong affection for all things British.

She was an enthusiastic and scholarly Anglophile from an early age. I think it was due to British children’s stories from people like  E. Nesbit and Alan Garner, plus the psychedelic rainbow of fairy tale books from Andrew Lang. A lot of them are English, Scottish, Welsh … and written in rather nutty dialects that took us years to translate. The “Black Bull of Norroway” still sticks to my memory, as it was written in a weird form of somewhat Lowland patois, and was especially grim, as well. Lots of blood.

The young lady who is the heroine completes all sorts of onerous tasks while wearing iron shoes, by the way, while her paramour prince lies persistently narcoleptic due to a curse.  Trying to read this story, in particular, was an initial introduction to both dialect and antique grammar. It didn’t do a lot for spelling, either – not mine, anyway. Kage recovered from that eventually.

But that sort of reading was what made Kage the Anglophile she became. She got into history, and became fanatic about the purity of sources and the dichotomy of fact and fantasy. She despised bodice rippers, she loved Shakespeare. She and I taught Elizabethan English as a theatrical accent for over 20 years; the inchoate prose of The Black Bull was always in the back of our conjoined mind.

So was the crystalline upper-class  speech of small children observed by E. Nesbit; the WWII slang of the school kids in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books; and all the Victorian voices of Charles Dickens, of course. And since all of these tales had an undercurrent of fantasy (Even Dickens. Justice does not happen that easily in any real world, Dear Readers.), everything British retained for Kage a patina of faerie lands.

Finding out what Boxing Day actually meant was part of that. Americans believe a lot of demented things about the day, many of them being childish jokes; Kage dug for the real, societal reason and was as happy with the anthropological verity as she would have been to discover it was based on a Goblin Market. I won’t bore y9u again with what Boxing Day really means, Dear Readers. I’ve done that in other blogs. It’s an essentially un-American  ritual, too, so you may be better off with the idea that it’s the day you box up the Christmas decorations.

Americans have largely forgotten which days are the actual 12 Days of Christmas, anyway.

Consequently, there are already Christmas trees out on the curb in my neighborhood, abandoned by clueless people who think Christmas ended on December 25th. That is traditionally the day it begins, really. It will go on to January 6th, which is 12 Night. And that’s a holiday invisible to most Americans unless they are Eastern Orthodox Christians, or some other, less modern flavour of Christianity. Also Anglophiles, and the devotees of Christmas as practiced in the British Isles for the last 1,000 years.

This blog wanders dreadfully, Dear Readers. My apologies! Blame Boxing Day, and my consumption of seasonal delicacies over the last 2 days. I’ve been asleep most of the day, while the lights of the tree played over me – my family likes a few grotesques for the Yuletide decorations; I’m no worse, under my blankets and cats, than Cthulhu Claus on the mantle in his red hat. Tonight I have feasted on peach pie while I type this, and listened with half an auditory processing lobe to the Rachel Maddow show. I’m lucky I can form sentences at all …

What I wanted to do was explain a little of Kage’s mental wellsprings. Not where she got her ideas, but how her mind was shaped to translate stories into something someone else could understand. Spelunking into traditions is a great way to start.

At least, it was for Kage.

 

 

Seven lang years I served for thee,
The glassy hill I clamb for thee,
Thy bluidy sark I wrang for thee;
An’ wilt thou not wake and turn to me?

From The Black Bull of Norroway; Andrew Lang, The Blue Fairy Book.

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Happy Christmas, All

Kage Baker loved Christmas. No matter how huge or small or poor or lavishly funded or weekend-ish or all the time she wanted after retirement: it was the season she loved best.

It’s dear to me as well. As are all of you, Dear Readers. This is why I am resuming my bloggery tonight, Christmas night, of all the good old nights in the good old world (to misquote Charles Dickens slightly), returning to my old place on the splintery soap box in the dark square of my life. A Happy Christmas to you all, whoever is out there listening for me in the winter night!

Kage spent her adult life hunting down and resurrecting the holiday goodies she had loved best as a child: EBay was a circle of Heaven, for Kage. She had a wide fund of mental treasure that she tracked down relentlessly – Beistle cardboard cutouts, Glasswax and its accompanying stencils, real lead foil tinsel. (Great stuff, that – you could melt it down and recast it as anything you could find a mold for, while burning interesting holes in the kitchen table.) Blown glass German ornaments – weird unearthly birds, pickles and plums and pamplamousse, elfin horns of every shape and colour.

Her ornament collection was amazing. She had a squirrel, a hedgehog, a stag; a lighthouse, a hot air balloon, a roadster. She had lilies and roses and holly and ivy; she had a peach, an ice cream soda (with straw), a whole tiny village of adamantine houses and an entire galaxy of stars, comets and moons. All of them were silvered glass, painted in jewel colours, and over the 40-odd years she collected them, she never broke but one. Kage did not break things.

This has been a hard Christmas for me, Dear Readers. Harder still for my sister Kimberly, and my nephew Michael – the first since my brother-in-law, Ray, died. The first holiday season is the hardest, in my experience; they don’t ever actually improve, mind you, but they do get less ghastly as time goes by. That first one is a right bitch, though. Missing Ray, I miss all my other beloved dead anew; almost everyone I’ve loved has died in December, which decks my personal halls with ghosts.

Kage politely did not die in December; but it was on Christmas Eve when we discovered she had a tumour in her brain. Ray didn’t die in December, either, but this was the first one without him – for Kimberly, the first in more than 30 years. For Michael, the first in his whole life.

We did what we could, though. And we pulled off a damn good Christmas, too.

We’ve filled the living room with lights. They flicker, strobe, blink and communicate with passing aliens, for all I know; what I am sure of is that they are beautiful and the house glows like a forge making rainbows.  Last night, we walked down the driveway to view the whole effect of the house and the yard. And while we stood there in the sweet cold storm-perfumed night, voices from the church down the street began to sing: Oh, Holy night, the stars are brightly shining …the hand of God was on our shoulders.

We have a totally rad electric fire in the fireplace (Kimberly loves a fire, but not to the point of contributing to smog in this Valley of the Smokes), and it not only flickers and glows, but casts convincing faux flame images on the back of the fireplace. And it’s a lusty space heater, as well, so we are warm and the little black cat can curl up in front of the fire with no danger of getting sparks in her fur. Not that that eventuality would stop her …

We had presents and roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. True, the hot grease in the Yorkshire pudding tins filled the house with smoke, but that’s a risk you have to take with traditional Christmas foods: they can catch fire. The resulting Yorkshire pudding was perfect, despite the rifts and rafts of beef-scented smoke. The prime rib was downright sacramental.

We have spent days watching old seasonal movies (and Dr. Who, tonight), secure in one another’s company. It’s been Family Time, as deep and sweet as whipped cream, and we’ve made it work. Everyone is pretty content right now, as we watch Dr. Who riding in Santa’s sleigh and debate whether or not anyone will have room for dessert …

And I am back. The season has been hard, but it’s peaked now with no new horrors. My health sucks more each day, but I am still alive and moderately mobile. Sorrow has visited us, but – well, it does that, doesn’t it? Part of the price of being alive, I think.

Oh, and I successfully completed NaNoWriMo, with 53,000 words to my credit. That’s about half a novel. I shall finish it after the New Year, now that I have wrestled it into submission.

And I will be back writing this blog. I have some amazing things to tell you, Dear Readers!

 

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I Don’t Know Where I Am, But I Don’t Like It

Kage Baker used her writing as an anodyne for pain, a refuge from fear, an outlet for obsessions, a fun-house mirror for whatever was displeasing her with its general looks.

Twisting something into a Mobius curve can change its entire outlook on life.

There was, for Kage, no distraction as rich or successful as the unmarked paths through her  mind. She was able to wander there while ignoring not only the stress and discomfort of the daily grind, but the natural signposts put up by her conscious intellect. With a bit of concentration – or DE-concentration, I guess – Kage was able to be completely lost in worlds of her own making and never, ever be sure where she was going. And this always pertained, though she was scrupulous about making outlines and notes before she began a story; but once she moved to the rhythms of fingers and keys, all the careful directions and cartography went right out the metaphysical window.

She was usually surprised by where her stories went. She counted on it, in fact, and was never in a better mood than when she realized she had no more idea of what came next than the most confused of her characters. As long as the words kept flowing, anyway – when Kage found herself not only lost but without ideas, she became peeved. That’s when she would loll bonelessly at her desk, tying knots in her braid and whining that she wanted someone else to tell the story.

About the best I could do to help, at those times, was to throw ideas into mid-air and let her bat them out of the way like catnip mice. She may not have liked all my ideas, but the mere act of tossing them away would substitute for action. Sooner or later, her unconscious would be push-started into movement again, and she could resume her venture through her personal darkness with gun and flashlight.

This wasn’t boredom, you understand. When Kage was bored (which was rare, rare, rare) she watched The Wrong Box or played Monkey Island games. It was just when she not only couldn’t tell where she was, but had dropped the map on the floor of the car.

That’s where I am now. It’s not writer’s block. I know where my NaNoWriMo project is going, I am on track and in fact ahead of schedule; I’ve written more than 4,000 words on it today, which actually left me with at least one day’s work stored up against incipient famine. The plot … does not displease me. This is the rough draft, after all. The idea is to write at least 1,667 words every day, no matter how little sense they make. You just keep knitting on to the end of the scarf, adding whatever yarn comes to hand from your stash, and you worry about seams and selvage and colours afterwards. NaNoWriMo is not for cleanup.

No, my problem tonight is that it’s not making me happy. I am nervous, sullen, twitchy as a parrot on caffeine (and if you aren’t familiar with this phenomenon, Dear Readers, take my word for it that it’s ghastly). I have an urge to throw things. I want to leap up and down and yell insults at passing cars. I tried to pet the little black cat, and gave her an electric shock. I’ve taken all my requisite drugs, I have lots of coffee, there is chocolate available all over the house, my blood sugar and pressure are within normal tolerances. I’m just in a wretched, rotten mood.

But this happens, you know? It happens to all writers, except maybe AIs and Mr. Rogers. Since I regard it as a normal aspect of the arts and crafts of writing, that makes it fair game to write about it here. It won’t do any especial good, particularly for me, but maybe I can warn someone else to watch out for this mood. Be wary, Dear Readers, and all my sibling writers! It’s worse than a haunting. It’s the antithesis of a haunting. I would rather be haunted. Any writer would rather be haunted, than to be forging grimly on and taking no joy of the journey.

The movies and games that protected Kage don’t do anything for me. I’m going to go play some computer Mahjong. I’ll try reading – Stephen King, if I start willing whimsical; or my new book on the Toba Extinction Event 78,000 years ago. When my hands stop clenching, I’ll try some knitting. Eventually I’m going to eat something hideously thick with carbohydrates: fried chicken parts. Graham crackers with canned chocolate frosting. A masa and gin smoothie.

It’s the darkest side of writing.

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On The Outside, Looking Further Out

Kage Baker never indulged in any writing contests or seminars. The last class she took in creative writing was in high school, at good old Immaculate Heart High School.

Mind you, the teacher for that class was the inestimable poet Eloise Klein Healy, who became Los Angeles’ first Poet Laureate in 2012. She resigned the position in 2014, after a bout of encephalitis nearly killed her and left her with Wernicke’s aphasia. She is still a poet and she still writes; but she has learned a new approach to language in general, and her own voice in particular.

Neural recovery  from Wernicke’s aphasia is rare, and seldom complete. Ms. Healy, who was known to Kage Baker as Miss Klein and remained Kage’s favourite teacher of all time, managed the amazing trick with elan and grace. I recommend her post-Wernicke’s collection, Another Phase, if you are not familiar with her work. Heck, Dear Readers, I recommend all her poetry, but the 5-line poems in Another Phase are particularly cogent, a sort of re-constructed haiku that twists through  dimensions of unspoken but not inaudible meanings. Sort of haiku in a Klein bottle, ha ha.

Eloise Klein was a high energy, whirling dervish kind of pixie when she taught at IHHS.  I looked at her photos online tonight, and I can barely see any difference in the way she looked 50 years ago and how she looks today. The grin is identical. So is the haircut. Her hair was dark then, and I doubt that she still wears Laura Ashley smock frocks: I’m not sure she did even back in 1970, but it’s how I remember her. I may be conflating her with Mrs. Cano, a tiny termagant who taught English composition as a martial art; or with Miss Weber, who was an actually be-smocked art teacher. We had a wildly diverse set of teachers at IHHS in the 1970’s, including the more anarchic members of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; none of them endeared themselves, or us, to the patriarchal Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but as a group, the teaching staff was exceptionally good at turning out independent, educated, empowered young women.

Miss Klein was enormously supportive and kind to Kage, and the fact that Kage eventually made a career out of her own writing can be attributed directly in part to her encouragement. She was everyone’s favourite English teacher, because she was brilliant and creative and compassionate, and imparted the joy of her vocation like the angular motion of a spinning top. She taught Kage to be truer to her own visions than to anyone’s expectations, but also to pay attention to spelling and grammar. She taught courage and fortitude along with the Oxford comma and the delicate art of the semicolon. Like Kage, Miss Klein was also left-handed, and so she never took Kage to task for Kage’s own ghastly handwriting.

I never had a class with her, which I regretted fiercely. Instead, I got an English teacher with braces and a lisp, who specialized in oral recitation; another who despised us for our intransigent insistence on being teenagers; and the aforementioned Mrs. Cano, who taught me that the reward for doing a good job was to get more work assigned to you. Oh, how I envied Kage her classes with Eloise Klein!

On the other hand, this cast of ladies did teach me how to learn on my own …

After Miss Klein’s tutelage, though, Kage could hardly be blamed for not feeling she needed more classes. Among the vital things she learned from Miss Klein was that to be a writer, one must write. That was the thing, and the whole of the thing: ideally, you got better at writing as you performed more and more of it, but the first thing was just to develop the irresistible need to write. In that, Kage succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. I think. She had some pretty wild dreams.

I am meditating on Eloise Klein Healy tonight because I have now spent 4 days virtuously working on NaNoWriMo. Kage never needed that kind of thing, as I said. Besides, she had so much to say, so many stories to tell, that figuring out what to write was never as difficult as figuring out how to find the time to write it all. The more she wrote, the more she needed to say. The more she needed to say, the more other people clamoured for her to write specifically for them. Editors plied her with ideas and outlines. Publishers requested adventures in new genres. Kage was able to live her entire life and never run out of stories. Eloise Klein Healy was the first person who lit that perpetual fire in Kage.

So, thank you, Miss Klein-that-was. You were not my teacher, but you taught her. And you did a damn fine job of it.

 

A Klein bottle is a two-dimensional manifold against which a system for determining a normal vector cannot be consistently defined. Its inside is also its outside. But it won’t tell you which is which.

 

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Still Smoking, But It’s Cool

Kage Baker loved the transformations of the seasons.

That’s a little weird for a born Angelina, as our seasons here in the Basin are often eccentric and usually delicate. But we native children of the place know how to discern them; by the time we hit adolescence, we also know how to laugh to scorn the tourists who don’t think we have any seasons at all. For your information, visiting ignoramuses (ignoramusi?), the Earth rotates on its axis here just as well as the Midwest or the East Coast; the nutation, or changeable angle of that rotation, precesses back and forth just as much for us as for you. The solstices and equinoxes still appear.

What Kage liked especially about the change to Autumn was the speed of the season. We can drift into Summer or Winter, on slow rising tides of warmth or ice. Spring often ducks back and forth between tender blossoms and ruthless frost. But Autumn – Autumn happens like a falling curtain, black velvet across the entire horizon, casting the world into shadows that stay, blue and cold as steel, halfway to noon …

The leaves fall off the trees, too, whoosh! Like a cartoon. Two days ago, our mulberry tree looked like the Queen of the May. Today it’s bare branches, and the exposed squirrels are in a panic. Kage liked that cartoon segue effect.

Halloween is usually the first cold night of the year, somehow. It’s one of the last where you get to run around crazily, too, as we were accustomed to do when we were children in the long, long summers. It’s the perfect pivot of night, the best of the two seasons, balanced on the knife edge of celebration and hysteria. Plus, there is candy.

The Trick or Treaters were a bit on the light side this year. The smell of smoke, the ashes on the wind, are appropriate stage dressing for Samhain, but not easy on little lungs. Parents seemed to be keeping a lot of the kids at home, and I’m sure the fires contributed to that; especially here in the South, where the fires didn’t really take off until Halloween night. Now there are fires in Brentwood, San Bernardino, Riverside, Santa Paula, Simi: only yestreday, a recycling yard a few miles from my house caught fire and burned all night. An automotive center went up today in Van Nuys, and I think it’s still smouldering.

There’s black smoke everywhere. Empty houses all over the city have been catching fire, 2 or 3 per day. I assume they are the victims of desperate homeless folks trying to keep warm through the nights. Those nights are suddenly, very suddenly, outright cold. There is snow in the mountains. It’s looking like a good year to stay away from Donner Pass – it can get … fraught up there, when snow comes as early as Halloween.

Of course, it’s been raining, sleeting, blowing and snowing all over the rest of the United States already. The storms, just today, dislodged a derelict boat on the rocks above Niagara Falls, a boat that had been hanging there for 101 freaking years. Yowza! All we’re doing here so far is burning to a crisp – pieces of our landscape won’t start falling down or washing off until it rains. If it rains, of course. That is in no way guaranteed, Dear Readers, here in the Dragon Hills.

And in the meanwhile, I am started right in on NaNoWriMo. I’ve met my goals for the first 2 days (ta da!) and even acquired a writing buddy. (Hi, Neassa!) I’m not exactly brimming with vigour and enthusiasm, but I have finally managed to kindle a low, slow flame in myself. Going up like cannon fire or flash paper seems contraindicated this year. I shall aim for embers, a fire I can  bank at night and blow back to life every morning.

That’ll give me time to find new fuel each day, before I am reduced to breaking up the furniture. Whatever burns, folks; whatever give light and heat now that the days are drawing down and down.

Oh, and that’ll leave me something to sit on while I write. Kage was always big on that, too.

 

 

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