Kage Baker was not a repetitive-motion sort of person. Considering it, I’m a little surprised to realize it – but she just didn’t indulge. Not a thumb-twiddler, nor a desk-drummer, nor a rock-back-and-forther, was Kage.
She did tend to tie vast, complicated knots in her own hair, but that may have been self-defense: there was such a lot of it, and it twined around things she sat near like copper ivy. When she was engaged in conversation or watching something, she would start twining a strand around her finger; then, gradually, into cat’s cradles and webs and radiating knots. She never seemed to notice she was doing it, until she tried to move and found she’d either macrame-d herself to her chair or couldn’t get her hand out of her hair. More than once, Kage knotted herself to the person she was sitting beside. She tied knots in other people’s hair, in gentleman-friends’ beards, in the fringe on garments, and in my knitting.
Other than this Arachne-esque absent-mindedness, though, Kage was not much of a fidgeter. She talked with her hands – probably couldn’t have gotten a coherent sentence out if you’d handcuffed her – but when she was silent her hands lay quiet and well-behaved. Except for the knots .
I’m the opposite. I like to keep my hands busy unless I am talking; years of training in debate, improvisation and motion isolation have taught me not to wave my hands around aimlessly. But I do … fuss. I run my hands through my hair, twiddle my glasses, beat little rhythms out on my knees. I do this while driving, and it always drove Kage insane – she was sure someday I would drive us off the road while scratching my nose. After rubbing my ear. After re-fastening my hair clip one-handed …
“Will you please for God’s sake keep your hands on the wheel?” she’d finally shriek as I was pushing my glasses back up my nose.
“I’m fine! My glasses slipped!” I would yell back.
“I don’t want to end up backwards on the center divider again, like in Santa Barbara!”
“Oh, bring that up again! I choked on a date -” ( True story, that. Absurd, embarrassing, but true.)
Anyway, I’d eventually settle down and drive for the next 50 miles fuming, with my hands resolutely at 10 and 2 on the wheel. Then I’d start sneezing, and Kage would hand me a Kleenex. And all would return to normal. And at the next gas stop, I’d have to use a mat-knife to get her un-knotted from the window crank …
Where Kage practiced repetitive motion exercises was in her mind. Part of it was always working, running through memories and histories, selecting shiny bits and loose pearls and promising strands. Then she’d plait them together, experimenting and replacing and trying out various effects – hardly aware of what was happening up in the front of her mind, I think, where like as not some other story entirely was being fashioned. Ultimately, some rare and glorious yarn would lie in a neat skein, all ready for use; and I’d hear her finally muse aloud, “What do you suppose it would really take to transplant a head?”
Or back-breed a relict animal? What actually happens in an auto-immune reaction, and what does the body pick on to suddenly hate? Do the strange ices that plate themselves across the faces of meteors ever survive the fall to Earth? Why does damage to a certain part of the temporal lobe always result in hallucinations of dwarves?
That was Kage’s thumb-twiddling. She never forgot anything, and in her idle moments she would sort through all that stuff – trash and treasure, emeralds and wrought gold and a nicely cut cabochon of beer bottle – and her long white hands would weave it into the textiles of imagination. Scheherazade with a loom and needles made of lightning.
I just knit socks, mostly. But I’m broadening my horizons.