Kage Baker loathed entropy. And she fought it remorselessly. Yeats’ dire and despairing poem, The Second Coming, was the epitome of everything Kage would not accept, and fought all her life.
The idea that everything eventually winds down was personally insulting to her. She believed (or, in her dark moments, at least wanted to believe) that perpetual motion of some sort was possible, somewhere. If mere flesh couldn’t support it, then spiritual energy would have to keep things going. Kage would not, could not, accept that things – just -end.
She was quite distressed when – in the course of a casual conversation – I explained the theory of the heat-death of the Universe. The image of the entire spangled wheel of the Universe slowly spreading out and slowing down to a thin cold soup one atom thick everywhere: for Kage, that was more horrifying than King Kong taking the roof off to look at her while she slept. (A picture that deeply troubled her childhood …).
“I wish you hadn’t told me that,” she said then, fixing me with her basilisk glare. “How am I gonna get that out of my head now?”
It was notoriously difficult to get things out of Kage’s head. Even for her. Guilt-stricken, I went researching further, looking deeper into the ideas of How and Why and When it all began; not to mention when it was scheduled to end. Bearing uneasily in mind that I had gotten the idea originally from a science fiction novel, I sought further enlightenment in, like, actual science books … which ultimately yielded theories that comforted both of us.
Kage loved the idea of the Big Bang. It was the ultimate explosion, and she adored explosions; she didn’t view them as wicked cool destruction, but as creative outbursts: lights! Colour! Action! I am absolutely positive she envisioned the birth of the Universe as the Fourth of July over Pismo Pier: just writ very, very large. When I found, and passed on, the idea that the Universe breathes – that velocity tears it apart and dark energy and dark matter pull it back together – that the Big Bang occurs over and over, a regenerative BOOM! that births a new Universe – Kage saw it immediately as THE story that made sense to her.
She took it as given that somewhere, someone with a better brain than either of ours had considered this and found it logical. And that was enough for her. It made sense to her, on the visceral level that was always her last arbiter of truth: it felt right. And after that, she not only stopped worrying, she was able to absorb all the ever-increasing information and theories and outright mad guesses about the life and death of the Universe with complete calm and considerable interest.
It was personal to Kage, you see.
String theory, though, she rejected with some energy. No theory that requires 7 invisible pocket dimensions to explain this one we’re in could possible be right, she said. That’s Universe-building with your fingers crossed, and Jacks wild on every second Tuesday. God may well play dice with the Universe, Kage proclaimed, but He sure as hell doesn’t play Fizzbin!
When we reached our half-centuries, she and I, we told one another we could see the edge of the Universe up ahead. Kage said it was a T-intersection: we’d have to go right or left, but our forward road would end there. When I queried – as I had so many, many times before – which way to go, she told me to be patient.
I’ll know when we get there, she said.
And I guess she did know. Alas, I failed to make the turn when Kage did, and have been coasting through Uncharted Lands ever since, praying for landmarks and racking my memory for directions she left me. Some times have been easy. Some others have found me on no roads at all, but making my way over rocks and chasms, empty pizza boxes and broken beer bottles everywhere.
Because things DO fall apart. It’s a shame and a sorrow and an enduring pain; also, a damned difficult thing to get over. But eventually, gravity begins to win and all the sparks and lights begin to fall back to the center to ignite and live again.
It’s not the same center, not exactly. But it remembers the old one, and there are plaques and statues and old buildings here and there to memorialize it. You just have to wait, and then find them.
Yeats didn’t quite figure that out. But Kage did. And she told me. And I believe her.
THE SECOND COMING
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Lordy, I can apply that poets thoughts about that poem’s thought to so many things I’ve seen and done and dreamed since I first read it when I was 17 or 18. So many worlds standing on the edge since then.
A new one every day, my dear.
I envision Kage swinging over from her Isthmus Of Panama to Yeats’ Ship Of Poesie, landing on deck with cutlass in hand, to roar, “Oh, no ya don’t, ya wimp!” Yes, a determined souls, she and her sisters.
I think it comes of being educated by nuns, Tom.
There is a lot to be said about a religious education. Some of it very good. (did I say that?)
The older I get, the more I appreciate the non-religious habits the nuns taught me, Steven. First and foremost, they taught me how to learn. And in those long-ago days, we got a good helping of a classical education at the same time – we’re about the last generation of ordinary kids who did, I think.
I don’t know what remains of that scholastic tradition in parochial schools of today. Surely they must be better than most public schools. Of course they are to some extent bound to the soul killing testing modules. I know that a good education can be had, at great cost, at the plethora of private schools here in Pasadena. Perhaps thats the place to spend your money as a parent and let the college tuition take care of its self by scholarships and student jobs. I have been exposed to most of them by doing living history presentations there. At least one of them has shop classes and extensive arts curriculums. I have advised my grandchildren to invest in trades education.
As far as I can tell – both my sister and her husband being LAUSD teachers – the parochial schools still have the edge over most public ones. Simply private or charter schools don’t have quite as good a record as actual parochial schools – parochials can distance themselves more from the damned testing regimen, and usually have more concerned PTA-type organizations. But it’s an uphill fight everywhere. What Kimberly finds in her kindergartenders is astonishing and appalling.