Kage Baker was not a “people person”. She liked many folks; she loved some; she was fascinated by the species in general and was a devoted people-watcher. She just wasn’t very comfortable associating with large numbers of Homo sapiens.
Children were different. But among the many arguments over child development is the theory that we all learn how to be human. Children are something else, still experimenting with the idea of growing up to be otters or trees or robots or squirrels. Kage was more comfortable among people who were not yet decided on what human means, and most of those are little kids.
Most of the rest are individuals engrossed in the arts. She got on pretty well with quite large crowds of actors or artists, most of whom were paying no more specific attention to her than she was to them. That was a group dynamic through which Kage could move with ease and comfort. Book conventions – which she had initially dreaded – were thus much more natural environments for her than she originally feared. All those people were making something – art, new worlds, social constructs – and not just circling round in cocktail party predation.
Kage could watch, relatively unobserved, and join where she felt safe. And that was what she most enjoyed – watching from the comfort of a hunter’s blind; sliding through the crowds in her own ghillie suit, a social Tarnhelm. I think one of the reasons her observations of the human condition were so sharp and accurate is that she made them while safely, objectively, effectively invisible.
A friend recently posted a definition of writing that was Kage Baker exactly:
Writing: an occupation for introverts who want to tell you a story, but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.
Kage adored telling stories.She never outgrew the childhood desire to be the very first to break exciting news; I remember her even getting a kick out of telling people she had cancer. She hid it for months – but when she went public, she ordered me anxiously, “Now, let me tell it my way!” And she wasn’t sparing anyone’s feelings. She was calculating effects.
In childhood, Kage made up stories for other kids to base games on. More often she scripted her own play, inventing entire worlds and personae to enact through the faeryland of the family gardens. One of them was a squirrel – when Kage was tiny, the squirrel made tea sets out of eucalyptus nuts and leaves, and hid stashes of goodies all over the yard. As Kage got older, the squirrel adventures grew ever more exciting and detailed; Amazonian bows made from saplings, secret code messages in invisible ink hidden in the stones of Momma’s dry-stone walls, secret doors reached by rappelling off the roof. When we were in our teens and 20’s, Missy Squirrel tended to suddenly appear sometime after midnight, a cocktail in paw. Many were her escapades in the Hollywood Hills, accompanied by her faithful sidekick, a Mouse.
Firesides were among her favourite places to tell stories. Even symbolic fires: any light in the darkness was a fireside, and she told most of her tales there. Dashboard lights on late night highways; campfires in woods by the sea, waving a marshmallow on a stick like a wand. By lantern light under oak boughs. Anywhere that eyes gleamed fascinated and blind out of the safe, transforming dark – Kage told stories. Some of you, Dear Readers, heard her then; all of you have heard the results, when she polished up the tales she made to accompany beer and S’Mores, and wrote them down.
You can tell stories so much more easily from behind a mask. The squirrel saga was private and silly; and, yes, alcohol was usually involved. Kage’s other masks, though – satin and leather and beaten gold, engraved and embroidered and gemmed with magic jewels; with eye wide and filled with mirrors and flames, so that you’d think no one could ever see out of them. But Kage did. And didn’t have to make eye contact with anyone but the gods.