Your Needle Points North, My Needle Points … Green

Kage Baker had a compass in her head. She always knew where she was; she always knew where North was. She was a whiz with maps, but even without one she could navigate from where she was to where she wanted to be – just by steering in as straight a line as possible between those two points.

Nonetheless, we spent a lot of time lost. Since she didn’t know what was in the between, our progress was often unexpectedly exciting. What Kage’s mental compass told her was that we had to go more that way: more left, more right, more East or South. It wasn’t Google Earth or a GPS, though, and she didn’t know what would turn up in our way.

“No, of course I don’t expect you to drive through a fence,” she would concede when I objected to some new barrier. “We just need to find a way around it. Head to the left.”

“Why there?” I would ask suspiciously.

“The hills look lower, and we need to lose some altitude,” Kage would explain. Which was not exactly comforting to the geographically-challenged driver, me. I’d done this before,  and there were times when our roads had devolved into goat-tracks and game trails. What was a broad line in Kage’s head often turned out to be, in reality, a crumbling ledge along the face of a cliff.

Whatever was in her head worked, though. It may have been tiny specks of magnetite, such as are believed to guide migrating birds; perfectly natural phenomenon. I must point out though, that no one knows yet what the mechanism is, that permits pigeons and cranes and people like Kage to translate the movements of the nanoparticles of metal in their central nervous system and steer confidently through the curtains of the planetary magnetic field. You can’t feel the movements of the mitochronidria in your cells – how does anyone feel the movement of microscopic bits of magnetite?

She didn’t even have to have been to her destination before. She did need to have seen a map of some sort, demonstrating a connection to some feature or local she could identify. Even a written description would suffice, as long as it included some landmark she knew; the holograph in her head would then slot the previously-unknown into the already mapped portion of the universe, and her unconscious would solve for x. This made Kage both tremendously competent at reading maps, and frighteningly prone to ignoring their instructions when her head told her there was a more direct way.

In a way, we got lost so often because of the map in Kage’s head. She knew where we’d been and where we needed to be: just not exactly where we were at the moment. That middle process part of a problem was always what she found hardest to explain to someone else, whether it involved getting us to an island in the middle of the Columbia River or writing the middle third of a novel. Kage knew her sources – she knew her goal – and somewhere in the middle of the equation, a miracle happened.

There are  lots of people with this talent, and I’d bet they don’t know how it works, either. On the other hand, what’s in my head is evidently more like a lava lamp – the pattern melts and reforms and is never the same twice in a row. I am apparently capable of losing my way in my sleep: I often wake up confused as to where I am, unable to identify which bed I’m in, what house out of the many I’ve lived in, who is asleep down the hall – or even the physical relationship between my room and the rest of wherever the hell I am.

This is because I wake up not knowing where the hell I am. I’ve woken in the middle of the night, and walked straight into walls or closets in the firm belief I am walking to the bathroom; only that bathroom is not connected to this bedroom. Sometimes, as on camping trips or sleeping on Faire sites, there isn’t even a bathroom to find … but since I think, for the first few seconds, that I am in the two room apartment illegally jiggered out of Fay Wray’s old house in the Hollywood Hills (where we lived in our early 20’s), I fumble around in confusion  trying to find a porcelain door knob on a tent flap.

Sleeping so much these day, and having had such a world-shattering year previously, I am now particularly prone to waking up totally lost. I’m experimenting with ways of orienting myself automatically. The best one so far is to close my eyes and ask myself, “Where would Kage say we were?” And ultimately, my brain sorts through a thousand memories of her confidently pointing out a window and declaring: “There! That’s North!”

And you know what? Most often, it is. The lava lamp in my head settles down, and I know where I am. And Kage has saved me again.

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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3 Responses to Your Needle Points North, My Needle Points … Green

  1. Valerie says:

    I’ve learned to be very mellow about getting lost. Have to be! Places just don’t stay in my head. I’ll confidently set out going this way, but it turns out it ought to have been that way. And trying to retrace my path is very, very chancy. Modern technology is a blessing, as I can now call my husband and get him to unravel me from places that I’m not very sure where they are…

  2. widdershins says:

    I am a map reader, my wife is the compass and together we often have the various kinds of adventures that you described. And aren’t they all wondrous adventures … with hindsight!

    • Kate says:

      Widdershins – that is a good, sensible arrangement. Part of our problem was that the map and the compass were the same person.

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