Kage Baker wrote that line referenced above to describe Mendoza’s reaction to Joseph’s initial lecture about what lay ahead for her. Of course, he was talking about her fate as a mortal – but the line has stayed with me for the nearly 30 years since I first read it: it’s such a perfect description of the dark side of the learning process.
It’s more prevalent when you’re little; 5 and 6 and 7 years old, newly sent to the nuns (or whatever votresses handled education in your town), and being exposed the Big World for 7 hours a day. There’s so much to learn, so much to realize. A lot of it is scary, and it’s not an unusual reaction for small kids to develop stress problems. Especially in these days, since the domestic television tends to be ON damn near 24/7. What the kids hear in school, what they see on the television – what they experience walking home on the streets between those two fountains of wisdom – is enough to frighten any kid. The shining horizon of the new world is suddenly perceived as being lined with glittering razor wire.
Sister Anne developed a fear of the Communists somewhere around 2nd grade: she was scared constantly for years, too aware of the Cold War at too young an age. Anyone remember the illustrations in LIFE magazine, of bomb shelters in the buttresses and stanchions that hold up the L.A. freeway system? I had to explain to Kimberly, who was even younger, that those were just a guess, not a real thing. But I worried …
It’s gotten worse since then. When Katie, the eldest niece, was about 6, someone famous died of old age. It wasn’t traumatic, he’d reached a goodly age, and when it was announced on the television no one was surprised or upset. Until little Katie looked up from her dolls on the floor and asked matter-of-factly: “Who shot him?”
At the age of 6, she couldn’t envision any other way for a person to die, except by murder.
One of the reasons that Kage’s personal view of current events stopped in the 18th century was the everything after that was scary as hell.
So what does she choose as a career? Writing, which is as full of scary moments, processes and events as Spotted Dick is full of currants. (That’s a lot of currants, in case you have never had a Spotted Dick pudding …) And she leaves it to me – or me to it – when she sails into the Uttermost West.
This week I have discovered my own new horizons in terror. I finished a story! I sent it off! And I got back replies from both agent and editor saying, Um … not quite. Not enough cilantro, too much vanilla. Lose the peppermint entirely, please.And cut the recipe in half. All perfectly valid comments and queries, but … I am new at this part of the process, and my first reaction is to run around in circles howling. But I used to talk Kage through this part; I knew I needed to just sit down and work my way through the referenced difficulties.
So I did that. I think. Cutting the story into two pieces was the easiest part, and now I will have a spare story to do something else with when I am done. But now I am sitting here gnawing on my fingers (waaay past nails) hoping the fix worked. wondering what I will do if it didn’t. Trying to read the comments sent back to me that are only readable in Word, which I do not have …
I am firmly convinced, Dear Readers, that I will indeed be able to take control of this re-write process and produce a version of the story (now entitled “Hollywood Icons”, by the way) that pleases my patient publisher. However – and here’s the terror part – I am also firmly convinced that it will never work, that I have taken on a job I cannot do, and that I will end up writing copy for soup can labels and disgraced political candidates.
New horizons in terror … oh, why does that line have to echo so resolutely in my memory? And under it, behind it, I can also detect Kage’s faint rely: “Oh, screw you. The world is round, dummy; you never hit the horizon! So shut up, sit down and write.”
World is round. Write. Right.