Kage Baker was a duty-oriented person. She took duty very seriously – especially if it was one you had taken on yourself of your own accord. She gave almost as much weight to those less-satisfying responsibilities that just …. attach to you, like whiny cockeburrs, as you walk through life.
But she did her best to live up to all of hers. She didn’t stop working on stories until she shut her eyes for the last time. And that is meant literally: in the quieter moments of that last afternoon, which bubbled over with the loving chaos of friends and family, she dictated the framework of a last story to me. She was determined to see to it that I understood; determined to have my promise that all the things she told me would get written.
Kage wasn’t concerned about what happened go her or her goods. She assumed I would come up with something sensible for all that, and had already put the problems firmly behind her. No, she was just worried that I would forget a detail, or a plot, or drop a story somewhere I couldn’t reach it again. I was always losing things under the fridge or behind the couch, and I wouldn’t have her long arms to reach them out for me again …
It’s my duty and my joy to keep going. Nothing matters but the work, she whispers in my ear. And I believe it. For sure, nothing feels as good as the work does; nothing makes me feel more alive.
But, truth to tell, picking up her pen has been harder than I thought it would be. Even beyond the unavoidable problems caused by the general collapse of my health, sometimes it’s been really difficult to write her stories. Some days, all I manage to do is make notes and outlines, and I’m not always real happy even with those …
But, you know, I can’t imagine how anyone could take up this pastime cold, and be as fast and dexterous as Kage was. She juggled razors and rainbows, and was left-handed besides – it takes time to learn those tricks. When I first sat down at her computer, all I could do was cry. Then I began to read her notes, and sift through them – it was still months before I sat down seriously to work on Nell Gwynne II. But it worked. And there are bits and pieces coming along in several conditions and places, now. I am confident they will see the light of day. It’s just more like pulling teeth that I expected …
Tor Books is asking after some of Kage’s older stories right now, for some sort of collection. When I have them satisfied there, I’ll see if I can interest them in something new. There are some new things, mirabile dictu. They’ve grown slowly, in the dark and over the long days, like crystals in a cave. I don’t really have control of them yet, you know? But the ideas and the rhythms and the words are all coming together, as slowly as a rose blooms.
Today I’ve been so tired, I feel like I need to stick a bike pump in my ear and re-inflate myself. The comforting portal of the computer screen grew teeth around the edges earlier today, and snarled at me – I swear. So I retreated to the safety of my bed. Harry sang to me, and the little black cat came and slept wrapped protectively around my feet. My toes are safe from demons, at least.
I think a dull, hazy, unbearably beige sort of day just sucked all the strength right out of me. My duty was impossible to fulfill, short of life and devoid of joy. With joy, you can carry on with anything, you know – without it, all us aging caryatids just fall right over …
A night’s sleep and I will be myself again. I can pick up that damned stone and stand up straight again under the temple roof, and take joy in my duties. Nothing does matter but the work.
And nothing is as joyous.
Your devotion is worthy of those determined and black-wrapped women under whom you studied. One hopes, on the better days, you have a little more fun than did they.
I didn’t know how literally you meant “up to the end.” Didn’t know, but am not surprised.
Good thoughts, best wishes – and if sent wishes were horses, you’d have quite a zoning problem!
Tom – the best of those dear ritual virgins were the happiest women I have ever met. They really were. Sister Lucy – my favourite teacher ever – used to talk about God the way an old lady talks about the old man she still loves and occasionally cuddles. Once I got over the shock, I could only be in awe of that kind confident familiarity with the Divine. And Kage had that, too.
Agreed, some could be surprising. Sister Marguerita could tell you the tale of Prindercella And The Three Sisty StepUglers at blinding speed. I think she margarined her tongue, first. Sister Bernardis would go target shooting with me and my pal. She’d been on her high school’s rifle team. She ruefully admitted one day that her best scores came from prone position. Emma Peel in a habit, and a voice to match Dame Diana.