Kage Baker liked sabbaticals.
The dictionary definition includes the classical meaning of a year off granted to a teacher, for study and/or travel – usually every 7 years. Kage liked the ritual sound of that, as if (she said) you got to make periodic pilgrimages to the Pierian Springs to refresh your knowledge.
The dictionary also has the secondary definition of a vacation or relaxation from routine: but Kage liked the idea of going off on a scholarly journey. We frequently went haring off for no particular reason – she never saw a horizon she didn’t want to see up close – but whenever she could, she planned research goals into the itinerary. We might not be sure where we would sleep that night – that happened a lot, actually – but Kage knew exactly how far to the purported remains of an adobe tavern on an unnamed crossover between Highways 1 and 101 we needed to go.
Sabbaticals are cool. The peaceful acquisition in information is a divine way to spend time; and it usually was peaceful, too; because Kage planned them to avoid contact with anyone we knew. So no one heard from us for a weekend – no reason to panic. Our sisters might well have objected had they known we were wandering around 3/4 lost most of the time, sleeping rough and living on weird sandwiches … but since nothing ever did eat us, we always made it back with interesting tales and ideas for stories.
I have lived, in this pursuit of both information and high-octane sensation, a life rich in unusual experiences. One doesn’t have to indulge in extreme sports to manage that: following the impulses and directions of an eccentric lady novelist can provide a surprising amount of adventure in life. More than anything else, the sabbaticals were fun. Such things we saw and did … chased by feral cattle through a field; sleeping 1,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean in a meadow full of bear tracks; lying snug in our sleeping bags and looking up into the night sky above a newly-mown hayfield, arguing about whether the blinking silver dot we were watching was an alien spacecraft or moonlight on the breast of a passing bird …
The world, as they say, is so full of a number of things.
Of late , though, it’s also been full of crap. I can manage to cope with my own problems; I don’t like being made faint and ill by the heat, or having to cope with a heart given to tantrums. But, you know, it’s the common fate of humankind, and I am 60 now, and have led a, shall we say, strenuous life … so that’s not so bad. Getting old is certainly nothing for the faint of heart and purpose to undertake, but on the whole I think I am managing rather well.
But the world isn’t, and the last little bit has been intolerable. Politics is an ever-increasing snake pit. The government is a bad joke. Plane crashes, fires, explosions, murders – they all evoke louder and louder hyena choruses of blame and vilification; no one wins. Schoolgirls die in plane crashes, and the media of a major city indulges in 4th-grade humour at their expense. My home town (all right, it’s a huge, demented, ravenous dystopia; but it’s MINE) is busily shooting itself in the feet, setting fire to itself, and just generally having a public melt-down. And this all over a travesty of a trial on the other side of the continent …
Those damned suffering animal infomercials from the ASPCA are on all the time. And the protesters in L.A. – most of whom do have a valid reason for demonstrating – are tonight being reputedly joined by the Communist Party, two groups who claim to be Black Panthers (and aren’t), and a revival of the Wobblies. We are descending into the surreal around here.
So I have been on sabbatical, Dear Readers. In my own head, mostly, where the vistas are vast and empty and I can drive for a thousand miles and not see another being. But also in books, which have always been my refuge and sanctuary. It’s interesting in books; you meet marvellous people and magic flourishes wild and free. You can go it alone or share it with someone; I’ve always best enjoyed travelling with my sisters, and so Kimberly and I are sharing literary journeys right now.
But I am a little ashamed to have run off to the Territories with no notice. I wanted everyone to know I’m all right. It’s too hot, too loud, too political, too freaking stupid to put up with right now. But I’ll surface a bit more regularly and wave at everyone from my tent in the Hinterlands.
Just – not quite yet.