The Road of Excess Leads To The Palace of Wisdom

Kage Baker thought that famous statement was largely a cop-out. She saw it as a teenager’s excuse for a natural lack of discipline, claiming a pious moral evolution long afterwards, when he could no longer traverse that Road of Excess anyway.

“Of course, the Road of Excess leads to the Palace of Wisdom,” she’d snort. “You get tired, don’t you? You only get points for it if you turn off before you’re too old and fat to be wicked anymore!”

Kage herself was by nature abstemious. Physically, anyway. She rarely over-indulged in corporeal excess, tending more toward quality than quantity. For instance, she drank soda by choice: but only certain sodas. Usually a Coca-Cola product. And she would not drink anything else – no compromises for Kage. She would simply, quietly, stubbornly do without if she could not get exactly what she wanted.

Also, she tended toward a disciplined sort of OCD behaviour, wherein she would identify precisely a food or drink or location or activity that promoted contentment, and stick to it with single-minded focus. She could happily eat the same meal for days on end, once the craving took her. She never listened to an album only once: it was over and over and over, usually for a couple of weeks. (It was apparently hereditary – Mamma got evicted from an apartment in her young womanhood for listening to The 1812 Overture all day every day for a couple of week. My sympathies are with the landlord …)

Kage, as is well known, was very fond of chocolate. But she was not a binger, despite some hilarious scenes of theobromos overdoses written into her Company novels. No, I’m the one who has actually worked her way through an entire Pound Plus Belgian Chocolate Bar from TJ’s in a single encounter … Kage could make your standard Hershey bar last a week, eating one square at a time with total emotional commitment. A box of See’s candy at Christmas never saw the New Year with me; Kage usually ate her last Scotchmallow on Candlemas – slowly, prissily, while I rolled around on the floor howling with envy.

Part of her habits were due to a profound dislike of change. As she said, that’s what habits are for: so you know what you like and how to do it and how not to waste time messing around with things you don’t enjoy. So once she knew she liked something, she stuck to it. She was aware that getting cranky if we missed a vista she enjoyed because I turned right a block early on the way home was, yes, indicative of obsessive behaviour. But she didn’t care much. Kage saw nothing essentially wrong with obsessive behaviour, as long as it wasn’t making trouble for someone else.

If I needed to skip part of an habitual route so we could get to work on time, she never complained. But if it didn’t matter, she preferred me to take the route she was expecting, the one she was anticipating, the way she was almost already on before I made each turn: because it was engrained on her nervous system. “Don’t mess with my engrams,” she would say, “all my neurons need to do this. Turn left or my head will explode.”

“Oh, come on, let’s live a little. Let’s go past someone else’s garden today.”

“Okay. Okay. I’ll just sit here and twitch, then,” which she would promptly do with great grotesquerie.

“Oh, screw you!” I would yell. But I usually turned left.

And you know what? There would be a rare bird in that garden as we passed, or a $20 bill would blow in the car window, or a hideous accident would occur where we would have been if we hadn’t proceeded according to Kage’s obsessiveness. Which is why I usually turned left.

And that’s most of the other reason she stuck to her habits, right down to the weird little details: they worked. Good things happened. If she followed the routes, the rites, the routines worked out by trial and error and sanctified by repetition, she didn’t have to waste as much time. She could go straight to the still perfect center where she could think and work and write. The place where miracles happened. So her road of excess and obsession did indeed lead to a palace.

That’s the one thing Kage always did indulge in – the writing. Her work. The work. Because, you know, nothing really matters.

Except the work.

Tomorrow: is John Lennon’s Birthday.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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