Kage Baker always said, her high school experience was the best time of her life prior to age 14. Those 4 years at Immaculate Heart, she said, were the most formative and valuable of her life to that point. That may not seem like much – being 14 is hardly a great old age – but when it constitutes your entire life experience to date, the four years of high school become highly weighted and very important.
Kage hated grammar school. Quite frankly, she slunk through it, hoping to be ignored and assiduously practicing invisibility. This was because her teachers were, by and large, psychotic. We went to a private, parochial, Catholic school. What the nuns did was automatically correct, even the lay teachers were regarded as somewhat anointed, and complaining about the teachers was unheard of. In the 1960’s, no one worried too much about grade school students. And Kage had the misfortune to get the teachers whose wimples were, like, too tight …
I was both luckier, and harder to annoy. I was so dreamy and absent-minded that most teachers were lucky to get me to notice classwork, let alone sarcasm. Not so Kage – she was sensitive, she was focused, she noticed everything in Panavision, Technicolour and Surround Sound. And she was smart, which was the ultimate sin for a girl-child around 1962.
She got locked in closets for completing more work than had been assigned. She spent afternoons on her knees in cold corridors to meditate on the hubris of knowing her lessons too well. One creative teacher had put her pointer through the pencil sharpener, and liked to elicit answers from kids with that sharpened point resting between their eyes to goad recollection: Kage’s slight strabismus prevented her from going cross-eyes, which enraged Sister Edmond. Most teachers had no hesitation in slapping anyone showing the sins of pride or disobedience.
Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist would have been right at home in Kage’s grammar school experience.
Going to Immaculate Heart High School was expected of every bright girl in the local grammar schools of the Archdiocese. When Kage was shuttled off to the (literally) ivy-ed halls of IHHS with the other clever maidens, she discovered an atmosphere of almost unbelievable freedom. It was 1966, and the Sisters of the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were seriously pondering their vocations – and in the resultant confusion, the students were left to blossom unharassed in a veritable garden of intellectual license.
That’s why the next four years were the best of Kage’s life to that point. This is where her skills at invisibility, her technique of watching life from ambush, her powers of observation and analysis and research all came to fruition. Her devotion to a word, the word, all words: her habit of writing for herself a better world than the one she lived in.
It’s where she cracked the eggshell, abandoned the nest. It’s where she broke through the wall of thorns and found the universe was infinite. Having curled deep within herself in a time of cold and drought, Kage spread her wings and discovered that the inside was much, much wider than the outside.
She never came down.