Unusual Personal Aspects of Writing, Part I

Kage Baker, like most writers, carefully constructed an optimum place and method to keep herself isolated enough to write.

As a teenager, she moved into the topmost point of Momma’s house: a semi-cupola known as The Tower. Kage dwelt up there like Saruman in Orthanc, free and silent above the world. As an adult, the Sanctuary came to be the Wall of Silence that surrounded the half of the living room that was her office: a semi-eldritch force field that contained Kage, her desk and her computer.

Nothing penetrated it without her permission. She could usually turn off her hearing and peripheral vision like a Tibetan monk in a trance: she literally did not hear me, the phone, the parrot, street noises … when her control was not so perfect, there were many basilisk glares and growled complaints about the noise Harry made cracking nuts. Did I have to turn pages so loudly? Could I please stop making so much clicking with my knitting needles?

I now knit exclusively with wooden needles. Kage’s hearing and writing are why.

Writers’ families get used to this kind of behaviour (or not), because a lot of that time and space comes out of family time and territory. The boundaries are both precise and guarded; there is no meeting ground. Some writers try to be considerate of their families – others are infamous for tyrannical isolationism. But all writers, at some point or another, retreat to their fortresses and ignore the world.

The writer takes over the spare bedroom or the corner of the dining room or the phone nook, and crouches in there like a spider in a dictionary: webs of words gradually darken all the approaches, piling up along the stairs like the walls of a badly-maintained tunnel. This is often literal: stacks of notes and manuscripts can become a threat to life and limb in the writer’s redoubt. The great Harlan Ellison was nearly killed during an earthquake, when manuscripts stored along a second story railing took flight and swooped down on him … this happens all the time in writers’ houses, although usually without seismic involvement …

In extreme cases, Kage would require to be driven off into the wilds of somewhere. We’d take a room without a phone (small motels on Highway 1 are great for this); if the room had a phone, we’d unplug it and confine it to the closet. Occasionally the phones were hard-wired and I had to surgically remove the ringer or the handset … I only forgot to put it back once, which was rather amazing. Anyway, it was all in the service of Kage’s privacy.

I now need the Zone of Silence myself. I do my work at the desk, which is situated at the foot of my bed – so I have some windows to look out, and I am near the heart of the family life but tucked away in a corner. Sound is not the problem with me it was for Kage; I can fold my writing around me as I learned to fold my reading – the same road into other worlds, although I have to work harder to walk uphill. When you’re writing the road you’re walking, it’s a lot more tiring than just skimming along happily in someone else’s wake. But the acoustic baffles between the world imagined and the world real are just the same, thank goodness.

All that can really disturb me here are outright screams of panic (they do happen, even in the most well-regulated of households) and the little black cat. As far as she is concerned, my bed, desk and person are all hers; she springs from the bed, vaults from the floor, or comes delicately picking her way through all the juju on the desktop to visit me. I think she gets to the desktop by flying off the top of her cat condo … but she is always happy to see me, and makes of every visit a state occasion. Writing stops when she comes by. My business then is soley with silky ears, velvety cheeks and tiny licorice paws.

Oh, well. Even Kage had to stop for parrot frolics across her desk. At least the little black cat doesn’t chew on my pens.

And now I must stop for an interruption of the screams of panic type. The last Presidential debate is coming on soon. I cannot miss that! It has been suggested to me that bureaucracy will always be an evil stalking the surface of Mars, and so Marswife needs some. I’m studying politicians for some templates.

All is grist, they say, for the writer’s mill. Even predigested pap.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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