At WorldCon: 2 of Who Knows

Kage Baker was one of the shyest people I ever knew. Her premier fashion choice, had it been possible, would have been invisibility.

Two things assisted her in dealing with it: online communities and conventions. (Faire helped, too, but most of the time there, she was someone else.)

There is a wonderful phenomenon that happens at cons. People are so primed to meet the dreamers, the artists, the writers, that they look for them actively. Everyone reads name tags. Everyone is delighted to recognize a favourite author, a popular editor or a truly enthusiastic fan. Heck, you can get public acclaim just by always showing up in a good costume – talent, verve, skill, even obsession are all lauded and appreciated at a con.

People were thrilled to see Kage. She never got over the wonder of that. She never stopped being grateful for it, either.

I am not the public figure Kage was – I’m her surviving sister; who – oh, yeah – has also written a few things. And there is this blog, which has apparently gotten more notice than I ever anticipated. But WOW! I got greeted by people everywhere I went, and only a few were from Faires! Faire and cons overlap a lot, so there have always been old friends to see. What stunned me today were the strangers.

It may have been helped by my name tag. To the embarrassment of the Registration staff, my name got split into two lines. One reads “Kathleen Bartholome”. The second line, neatly centered, reads “w”. Just “w”. However, I like it – it turns a typo into potential found art. It makes people look longer at my tag. And so it gets me recognized: which delights me, and gives everyone else a good laugh.

Things like that are wonderful. There is a concerted effort at Cons to stand out, to be seen, to proclaim yourself, or your chosen race ( today I saw a merqueen, a Klingon and too many animal ears to count) or your favourite food – I once saw someone I think was the Meat of the Day, resplendent and serene in a “parsley” decked wheel chair.

People here are so happy to be themselves: whatever that may be. They’re happy to see whatever you are too, which is a tolerance all too rare …

As the  New Radicals so aptly put it: Wake up, kids: you’ve got the dreamers’ disease

Ain’t it great?

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At WorldCon76 1 of Who Knows

Kage Baker would have loved this Con. It’s huge, amazing, rich in detail, full of truly unusual visuals and everyone is polite and happy.

This will be the first of several snapshots, due to the almost-total collapse of my computing abilities. My phone won’t reach out through the Convention Center walls, the handle broke off my computer case as I went to my room last night, and the conputer within died. I am now on my Kindle, AND a totally unsecured network, but hey – it’s a route to the world.

I will just be careful with my passwords. (FYI, most of them are SCREW YOU!)

Sorry, Dear Readers, I am in a funny mood. Discovering the new limits of my body is a sobering experience. Or, no: it’s a get drunk and howl at the moon experience.

But I am a mature woman, so instead I am sitting here in the Hub of the Con. I have my writing hat on. I have my writing necklace on. And I am writing.

Back in a bit. I need to find some coffee …



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A Hundred Million Miracles*

Kage Baker lived in the sure certainty of miracles.

That was not a posture  of religion. I don’t think Kage actually attributed miracles to God; I think she expected them as a natural aspect of the workings of the Universe. She expected God to be rather more workmanlike than to indulge in petty static  like miracles. Maybe she expected memos or some form of advance warnings. And for all I know, she got them.

Me, I’m bouncing from miracle to miracle tonight. The first miracle is that my computer is working. Mirabile dictu! Thank you, Thoth and Athena! Papa Legba, too, as he is usually regarded as having power over the Internet.

Also, I’m getting packed for my first road trip in over a year. It takes a miracle to get me packed even in ordinary circumstances. Kage used to make lists, and check them off prim and proper; I, alas, didn’t remember I needed a list until half of what I wanted was packed already. And then, I didn’t dare make one, because I just know I would have included things I’d already packed, and then run around like a madwoman trying to find things that were already in a zip pocket in my wheelie bag …

I have had to resort to counting on my fingers and visualizing the various scenariae I will encounter over the weekend. Do I have everything I need for the bathroom? Do I have all my meds? (I now need a pill box with 28 compartments, for all my life-maintaining drugs: pills 4 times a day, for up to a week at a time.) I recall wistfully the dear old Who, stuttering out: Hope I die before I get old!

Man, I sure missed that one by a country mile.

Do I have enough shirts, pants, underwear?  Do I have enough beyond that to survive pouring gravy over myself, or falling into a fountain? (I’ve done both, on trips … ended up on the local photo page of the Hawaii Star Advertiser, I think it was, after one such fountain incident many years ago. I was covered in bubbles.) Do I have enough thumb drives? Did I copy the work I want to do on to the right ones? Do I have charger cords for my phone, my Kindle, my computer? How about a nightgown? Whoops, excuse me a moment –

Okay, now I have a nightgown.

Do I have some jewelry? I don’t need much; I accidentally let my ears heal closed … Do I have some knitting? Not just yarn; did I pack sewing notions, and actual knitting needles? If not, I do have two matching fountain pens … Did I remember to pack a brush and a comb? Did I find the shoes I want to wear? Did I pack a second pair in case I lose the first ones? I did that in Boston, once, at another WorldCon. Lost them, I mean. Made getting on the plane home easier, but I was a trace en deshabille at the awards ceremony. Luckily, eccentricity is hardly noticeable at a science fiction convention.

But now, I do think everything is just about set. Despite all my carrying on all afternoon and evening, I have only 3 bags – a big wheelie, a computer case and a tote. My clothes for the morning are all laid out, and I have all pertinent reservations. And that is a miracle, too.

Just to spread the general miraculousness around, I include here a picture of one of the most amazing things I have ever seen: a hummingbird nest built on a ripe peach.

Dispatches from the road begin tomorrow!




  • From The Flower Drum Song
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Bad Relationship

Kage Baker enjoyed an adversarial relationship with her computer, its OS, its platform host(s) and all the Thrones, Power and Choirs of its programs. She had not the faintest idea how they all  worked, except that it had something to do with storing information in light. Her clearest understanding of how the machine worked was encapsulated in a line from the Moody Blues: … You’re magnetic ink …*

When it didn’t work, she handed it off too me and went and watched movies. or cartoons. It kept her calm.

y computer  is not behaviing well tonight. As so often happens, it got a mandatory, unxplaiined, irreversible update from Mcrroft last night. It has beenby, sslow, unrresponsive or too responsive, speaakkinng in tiongus all eveniung.

I can’t even backspace to correct the intteresting erroors youu see here: the missinng andf doubled letters, the epileptic spacing

I therefore givee up. Gonna go watch Nova drop some vulcanologist into MaunaKkea.

Catch you tomrrow.









*In The Beginning album

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Just The Facts, Man

Kage Baker loved the collecting of diverse facts.

Any facts, on any topic. If the topic was peculiar, that gave it bonus points. If it wasn’t weird to begin with, she sought strange facts with which to burnish a dull subject. It was all prime entertainment, for her.

She could happily spend whole evenings tracking strange trails and footprints through the Internet. If a topic turned out to bore her, or confound her, or just not be accessible, she would usually assign it to me. I will read anything; I’m never happier than when immersed in the printed word. I’m a junky. Sooner or later, after all that work, we’d turn on all the Lava Lamps in the living room and brainstorm – which meant just opening the stopcocks on our mouths and babbling until Kage grabbed hold of a plot.

It was like playing darts with live dragonflies. I miss it.

Sometimes the facts Kage hunted were in the initial pursuit of a story point, in the course of research. She was a steely-eyed researcher, always in search of a fact so odd it would put the most lurid story in the shade. Luckily for the world in general, I think, she was honest to a fault: she hated lies, had half a hundred tells to give her own away, and just found it easier to never, ever lie

“But, hey -” you say, Dear Readers, ” – but, hey, she wrote fiction. Isn’t fiction falsehoods?”

Well, no. Not the way Kage did it. Not when she was doing it. If it turned out to be fake later, that was neither Kage’s doing, nor her fault. Everything she wrote was based on a true story, when she wrote it down.

That was how she composed. It was the premise behind her conception of time travel. It was the base line of her reality: which was, reality is situational. Being situational, it was in the control of whomsoever had the most facts. Or the loudest ones. Or maybe the ones in ultraviolet or infrared, or woven of shantung silk, or chocolate flavoured. And there was never a map or a menu on offer. All you could do was hang on and wait to see how Kage was interpreting a fact.

That included Kage, too. She was often surprised (and occasionally appalled) at how characters insisted on behaving, or  how plots designed their own evolution. I suspect all writers feel that way from time to time, especially the ones who let themselves get immersed in their stories.

What made the surprises so startling to Kage was that she was absolutely not one of those artisanal writers who let the Universe flow unhampered through her hands. Kage kept stern control of her hands, and a jaundiced eye on the damned Universe. This stuff just happened. Which was why she was always on the hunt for good, cold, hard facts. She knew they were going to turn to melty cobwebs and moonshine as soon she took her eyes off them.

But they certainly were good cobwebs, and splendid moonshine, weren’t they? And that’s a fact you can trust.








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I Think I have a Shoggoth Allergy

Kage Baker was an annual victim of warm weather respiratory infections.

She caught colds all spring and summer; by August, midway between the Spring and Autumn Renaissance Faires, she was usually working on a repeat round of bronchitis. She used to morbidly predict the onset of bronchiectasis – from which her idol, Robert Louis Stevenson, suffered- but she was tougher than poor, dear RLS. All he did was grow up in Edinburgh, affectionately known as Owd Reekie: Kage grew up in Los Angeles, and her lungs were probably up to resisting mustard gas.

We are tough breathers, we natives Angelinos.

But she still spent part of each Summer hacking spectacularly.

I was immune. I rarely caught so much as a cold  per year. This, despite smoking for 30 years and also growing up in California’s Valley of the Smokes; however, when my warranties all began to run out in my 60’s, I started catching colds. And flu. And strange unknown respiratory complaints, doubtless  from the cold dark spaces between the stars.

Or maybe I’ve developed some sort of allergy, too. I seem to be reacting to something blowing all unseasonal on the hot red wind, something that hasn’t bloomed since the last Ice Age; something ancient and evil now sending up its antique spores from the bottom of the sea ..

I sneeze on you, R’yleh, in drippy defiance! I blow my nose on you, you Elder gods! Even though and as my sinuses dissolve and run festering down my throat. The Black Goat with a Thousand Young can eat my used Kleenex!   … I just do not need this shit, you know?

Or maybe it’s just a summer cold. You never know. I’m gonna have some tea, hoard tissues and go to bed early. And I’m going to the Convention on Friday, regardless!




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June And Other Summer Bugs

Kage Baker hated bugs. All kinds, colours, sizes, and sonic ranges of cries: she hated ’em. She couldn’t even tell the absolute difference between an arthropod, an insect and a bug, and she didn’t much care. As much as she was a stickler for details in most of her personal data base, anything with at least 6 six legs and a minimum dozen eye lenses was on her fecal roster.

Why am I on this theme today? Well, summer is the season for bugs, even in the barren flatlands of Los Angeles. And I have grown weary of large and serious subjects, and I got too little sleep last night due to a spider, and well – Kage’s arthropodaphobia was an integral part of her character. Therefor, let us light citronella candles and tell triumphant stories of the death of bugs.

Kage was a meticulous housekeeper, (I am a slob) and bugs in the house were a constant source of anguish to her. She was fond of Bug Bombs in our pre-parrot days, and I’m not sure how she never blew out a window. God He knows, she’d have counted it a small cost to rid the house of ants. But you have to go pretty green on cleansers when you start living with a bird. They have fragile respiration. Kage learned that nearly anything would derail an ant trail or daze a cockroach – screen cleaner, spray-on olive oil, Simple Green – and then she could do the Mortal Tarantella on them and wipe up the remains with a Swiffer.

She dealt with garden pests as grimly and efficiently as household ones. She made exceptions, though, for lady birds and praying mantises, because they are useful. Walking stick insects, though, were summarily thrown over the garden fence (while I gibbered in the background at the mere horrible sight of them). Butterflies were welcomed, unless their caterpillars ate flowers and vegetables. Culprits were removed to open lots where they could eat weeds. Except for tomato horn worms – Kage loathed them with a personal hatred, and executed them on sight.

Many natural remedies out of folklore turn out to be good for maintenance. Chili powder, cinnamon or lemon oil will cut an ant trail; oil of peppermint will repulse spiders. Lavender and cedar oil will chase moths away. The rind and scent of cucumbers will both dismay and kill cockroaches, doing something fatal to their nasty little chitinous carapaces. Tobacco will knock out aphids: breathe smoke on them if you like, as Kage’s Momma used to do, or make a spray solution of tobacco and water. Don’t spray it on fruit, though: only flowers.

There is always the ancient remedy of boiling water (because nothing really benefits from having boiling water poured on it). Some of you Dear Readers may recall Kage’s story “The Two Old Women”, wherein a woman widowed by the Sea keeps the revenant spirit of her sailor husband in the house by  surrounding the place with Borax Powder; that was drawn from  life, as it were, since – as the old woman says to her flabbergasted sister –  It works  on bugs.

Citronella doesn’t work much, especially on a type of extremely fair-skinned white woman (like Kage. And Kimberly.), who are just natural mosquito chow. DEET works, though. So does Avon Skin So Soft lotion. And so do bug zappers, which not only clear the night-time air on a summer porch of flying bugs, but provide amusing sizzles and bursts of what looks like Cherenkov radiation as they fry the skeeters and moths. And! Now you can get LED Bug Zapper light bulbs! They screw right into an ordinary porch light socket, and last for months, as well as providing safety on your front porch from mashers, muggers and werewolves.

With the Los Angeles summer having reached its now-normal triple digit temperatures, we have suffered from recurrent ant invasions and occasional forays by cockroaches. Housekeeping has nothing to do with it: the bugs don’t want to be out there in the heat any more than we do, and they will assail any weakness in our defenses to get indoors. I can deal with the ants, annoying as they are, but the cockroaches send me ballistic – I actually like many bugs, but not roaches. Fortunately, Michael has been handling most of them, including finding the cracks and holes in screens whereby the little bastards are getting in, and it looks as though he has defeated them. Which is good, because Ashby the Maine Coon cat is a champion bug hunter; and there is nothing quite as unnerving as having a proud and affectionate kitty bringing you her not-quite-dead German cockroach prey …

Spiders: well, Kage didn’t care for them, but they also didn’t freak her out. Me, they often reduce to hysteria. Except for jumping spiders. They are charmingly furred, their 6 eyes are usually an exquisite shade of emerald, and you can pet them. Also, they don’t bite humans much. Something around here does (I suspect the common dust spider) and it is making my all-too-hot nights an even greater misery. But the A/C discourages them nicely, and there is always peppermint oil …

Kage never wrote about aliens, much, because she thought the most interesting aliens were actually other people. And because one of the great goofy tropes of science fiction is GIANT BUGS, which she hated with the heat of a thousand suns. I told her to write about non-bug aliens, but Kage said she couldn’t: no matter what she did, they came out bugs in the end. She said it was a race memory. Or something … the closest she got to aliens were the demons in Ermenwyr’s world.

Mind you, she did make some notes anyway. She never threw an idea entirely away. So I can always go through the files and see what may be found. There are whole universes in the files.

And, of course, all of them have bugs …


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