Kage Baker had a will of iron. This led to a lot of unfortunate confrontations in her childhood – she had a quiet but unbreakable adamancy that drove many adults to hysteria. She couldn’t be bought off with one treat in place of another, already-promised one; she never forgot and seldom forgave, and she would not compromise.
She was once promised a tricycle for being calm and good while rushed to the ER for a cut hand. On returning home un-exsanguinated, it was decided that a trike was too dangerous – the house being perched high above the street on a hill crest, with no flat land around it – and she got a 6-pack of Coke instead. Which she had to share with all her younger siblings.
She was still recounting this incident with grim disapproval in her 50’s.
To her credit, Kage held herself to the same high standard as everyone else. She disliked outside direction, and was wont to perform an assigned task her own way – but she always got it done. If the assigning adult couldn’t cope with Kage doing something her own way (and a surprising number of them couldn’t), then fireworks and frustration arose. But not for Kage. She went right on and did things her own way, and more often than not she was right.
She ultimately came to believe that this was one of her best traits as a professional writer. The same determination that led her to do all the homework in her take-home English book in one long weekend – and end up in detention for the sin of pride – ensured that she missed only one deadline in her entire career. And she then turned in the commissioned novel within a 60-day extension, producing Empress of Mars in a frenzied 6-week marathon.
Obviously, Kage resented all distractions: one of the ways she managed 12 hour days that really were spent writing, was to establish an armed perimeter round her desk. That was why she loved her computer -she could maintain her self-imposed purdah from there.Some of you, Dear Readers, had deep email relationships with Kage; believe me, she answered much more readily from behind the rood-screen of her keyboard. She was more relaxed as an anchorite.
It was why we had an answering machine on the phone, and that no call was ever answered until callers identified themselves. This led to much profanity and threats of violence from friends and relations, who were sure we were there and just hiding (because that’s precisely what we were doing); we got some extraordinary messages left for us. It also led to our friends and relations talking to Harry, in hopes we’d hear them, relent and pick up the damned phone. To this very day, Harry gets excited when the phone rings, and jumps up and down calling hopefully “Hello? Hello?”
It was why Kage sometimes complained of the noise made by Harry preening, or how loudly I turned pages or knit. I remember her clutching her head and growling that the pulse in her ears was too loud.
The bottom line of all this domestic security was that Kage tried to be completely undistractible. It worked, too. Between me walking the perimeter and her own will-power, Kage could focus with inhuman intensity. And the more she wrote, the more she wanted to write, so that something very like a perpetual motion machine was set going … or maybe like the nuclear fusion in a star working its relentless way up the elemental table in its urgency to create light.
I’m not so happily armoured. I am wildly distractible – and years of being an aunt, a director, a foster mother, and a general herder of cats have honed my hearing to a kind of radar. I have no OFF switch. I can’t not hear stuff. Somewhere, someone way be about to fall in the toilet or make a poor tool use choice or set themselves on fire. Noise level has nothing to do with it; noise doesn’t bother me. What bothers me and yanks me out of the creative daze is suddenly realizing I cannot account for all my beloveds’ activities or locations. Or that funny noise coming from the kitchen.
I’m afire to write just now. But things keep interfering – episodes of mad cat syndrome, the Corgi detecting the approach of hobgoblins and badgers, my tendency to fall asleep for hours at a time when my blood sugar dips too low. The little black cat adores the heat exhausts of computers, and when she comes to snuggle with my hard drive, she disconnects the leash of the modem hub and my internet access goes down.
Mendicant vendors have been coming to the door, inquiring whether or not we want to sell our house, buy their candy, sign up for automatic tamale deliveries. We keep getting calls (3, so far, today) from earnest people assuring us in broken English that they are detecting malware on our computer long distance, which they will gladly remove if we will just give them control of our computer. Does anyone ever say YES to this? I cannot believe there are people more ignorant than the poor dimwits making these calls, who do not know how to pronounce “technician”, think all computers are Apples running Windows, and advise me to beware “The Hacker”: singular and with audible caps, like a super-villain.
However, despite the allure of World’s Finest Chocolate and world’s stupidest cyber thieves, the voices in my head are the louder. Even the monotone that recites scene seques and descriptive background (it’s dove grey and smells of violets. Devon violets.) is more commanding. That alone can keep me from being distracted, can prevent me from deciding I need a game of Mahjong or an episode of Supernatural.
You have to listen to the voices in your head. And if they are faint, you have to block your ears and concentrate.
Kage said so.