Kage Baker viewed the structure of time as a great helical Moebius strip, woven and interwoven into something like a tube. She really did; it wasn’t just a way to explain her time travel story line. Rather the opposite, in fact, as her decision to write time travel stories arose in part from her personal conviction that “time” was an artifact of human perception and actually operated in a non-linear manner.
“Everything happens at once,” she explained to me many times over (for lack of a better word) the passage of years. “It only looks like it’s going forward because that’s the way our senses face.” This is a theory of the Arrow of Time iterated by Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking as well, which pleased Kage no end. She figured that was a coincidence – she and mathematics were not even in parallel universes – but it was satisfying nonetheless.
She was also intrigued by the fact that gorillas -at least, based on the sketchy metaphysical conversations possible with a non-human primate via ASL – seem to be facing the other way: what they see is the past, and what is coming is a total mystery. Humans are not much more aware of the future, but that is the way our temporal vision faces – it’s the past that we have to turn our heads to see. Sir Terry Pratchett must have come across this interesting observation as well, as he gives a gorilla-like time perception to his trolls.
Kage always lived much more in a constant “now” than I did. Time was vast, fluid and universally congruent. She could walk through the streets of a town and be commenting on what used to stand there, with utter lucidity – we’d stroll past Chele’s Restaurant at Cypress and Pomeroy, but what she was seeing was the Cowgirl Cafe (1990’s; best sausage on the Central Coast) overlaid by the old Red Rooster Pool Hall (1950’s) and the Peppermint Twist Lounge (1960’s, of course; a seaside hive of scum and villainy). But those watery reflections on the ceiling? Those were from the days when the building housed an indoor salt water bathing pool; which abandoned natatorium still lurked dreaming in the darkness under the planked floor … and yet she knew it was 2004. That label just didn’t matter very much to her, because it was all still happening.
Some of our neighbors over the years undoubtedly thought Kage had vision problems, as I habitually took her arm at curbs. But, despite using only one focusing eye at a time, she had fine vision. Her problem was attention. I was always afraid she’d step off a curb in our childhoods and end up under a truck from our 40’s …
We once navigated our way across most of San Francisco, with Kage in her habitual role of navigator, to find a particular square somewhere to the west of the City. After a while, I noticed peripherally that Kage was no longer consulting the map much. “There’s something wrong with it,” Kage complained. But we got to our destination – where a perusal of the offending map revealed she had somehow been holding it upside down. She got us to our destination by triangulating between what she remembered from written accounts of the Sunset District, Inner Richmond and Sea Cliff.
Part of what Kage remembered reading about wasn’t even there any longer. But she knew where it had been, and used that. It worked. Cartography lost a miracle worker when Kage Baker decided to write fiction.
Now that I am in my second year back in Los Angeles, I have begun emerging slightly from reclusivity. I am taking little side trips and excursions back into the Lands I Used To Know: the dubious edges of the Hollywood Hills where Kage and I grew up, and lived until our 30’s. And I find that navigating by landmarks is working better than Google Earth, even though some of the landmarks have changed. Or mutated. Or maybe migrated back into whatever faerieland birthed them in the first place; because some of the roads we used to drive back then were curious indeed.
Nonetheless, I am finding the dear old places. This weekend I took a misty grey morning drive into the Hightower area above and behind the Hollywood Bowl: not a large nor well known area, but we lived there for 20 years. I know every dead end street (And most of them are. Some of them dead-ends on both ends. It’s a strange place.), every illegally but creatively subdivided house we lived in. I even remember how to get turned around in the cul de sacs without driving off the hillside or through someone’s breakfast room. The houses are better painted these days, the ones that have not been covered like Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Copa d’Oro or bougainvillea or roses; but I can still recognize the shapes under the blossoms and the thorns.
I was a girl here, to paraphrase old Ebenezer Scrooge. Kage and I used to sit on the corner right there, eating French rolls and Rose’s Lime Marmalade, ignoring the glares of homeowners who weren’t quite sure how to chase off two book-laden girls in parochial school uniforms; Kage would gesture round at the golden hillsides and unlikely houses, and state with great conviction: “Someday we’ll live up here, kiddo. We’ll found an Embassy. The Embassy of us.”
And we did, too. And to my amazement, its memory is still burned on the air up there.
Tomorrow: some tales of the Embassy on the Edge of Another World.