Kage Baker loved summer vacation. After 12 years of schooling, that break over the hot months was ingrained in her; she was also a creature of ferocious habit, and anything that imprinted over 12 years was never going to leave her system.It was the pivot of her personal year – around her birthday you started having the days free, and they stayed yours until the myrtle trees bloomed in September.
That was the way it was supposed to be. There was no firmer proponent of “the way it ought to be” than Kage Baker. Ever. Faith may move mountains, but simple stubborn habit can alter space-time continuae.
This was not, however, some hippie attempt to drop out. Kage was always willing to work. She just didn’t want a job that would make her work through the summers. And if she had been able to maintain her household by office work that let her work at home from June through September, she might never have bothered to try writing for a living. But it became obvious over the years that the only way to get those golden days of freedom back was not to have a conventional job at all.
Throughout her 20’s, Kage tried very, very hard to make her living with her art. We spent weekends at art shows and street festivals; she took itinerant lettering and illustration work; she painted signs and glass frescoes and nursery walls. (Remember the demon bunnies in the nursery from House of the Stag? She always wanted to paint those …) She almost succeeded. Which is not a bad track record, in the arts. Eventually, though, even she had to admit she needed a regular paycheck, and so she entered the Pink Collar Ghetto.
She was 27 when she got her first “real” job. A lifetime before that spent working 24/7 until a project was done (Sleep? Breaks? What are those? The first coat is dry; back to work!) had endowed her with a ferocious work ethic and inhuman powers of concentration. She was lauded by her employers; she got promotions and raises. And she hated every minute of it. Especially during the summer months …
She wrote constantly at home. She longed for summers to herself.
The American workplace folklore says that if you work hard, the natural rhythm of the economy will reward you. And so it was with Kage: she worked steadily for almost 20 years, then the economy collapsed and she was fired. She was “too qualified” to get another job, by which you may understand that her cinnamon hair was now liberally adulterated with sugar. Some reward? No, it was just what she needed. We moved to Pismo Beach, she finished a novel, and she found an agent.
We had found the Summer Lands, and Kage was free in them to do whatever she wanted.
The last 15 years of her life were, mostly, bliss. She wrote all the time; she stayed up late and got up when she pleased; she gardened when she wanted. And she took all summer off. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, she remained happily uncertain of what day of the week it was. Unless it was a Friday when we were driving to a Faire, and even then she didn’t much care.
I stuck it out longer in the job world, mostly just through the luck of not getting fired. But I too missed that ancient cycle of summer and winter. It was all right, though; we knew I’d get out. We figured we’d manage on our combined resources until retirement age; Kage would keep writing, I would retire, and we would slowly turn into Entwives – happy, productive, fat old ladies. We’d always been so poor that Social Security really would be an improvement. We’d be professional aunties, living in our cottage by the sea; which one of our nieces ecstatically described as always covered in birds and flowers.
I could resort to a popular euphemism here and state that Kage graduated before I did – she has gone on to that Eternal Prom, and her date is certainly King. Endless Summer Vacation! Screw that. While she may indeed be slow-dancing with God (probably is, in fact), what she did was DIE. And it was hard and nasty and grievous, and I cry nowadays as much for relief that her pain ended as outrage that mine persists.
But, you know what? It’s summer, and somehow – I am free. Gotta be grateful for that. Gotta open the doors and turn up the music and light some incense, and rock out. This is the Summer Country, man, these are the good old days: nor am I out of them.